10 Minute Shrimp Scampi (Camarones al Ajillo)

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This recipe is the one that, to me, proves even something as delicious as shrimp scampi can make a quick and easy weeknight meal. It’s fancy enough to serve at a dinner party but fast enough to whip up any time you find yourself with a craving for some buttery garlic decadence. I loved ordering garlic shrimp whenever I was by the coast in Ecuador and this is very similar to camarones al ajillo, although you’d be more likely to see cilantro in place of the parsley I use here.

What You’ll Need:

1 pound large peeled, deveined, tail-off shrimp

6 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons garlic

¼ white wine (we like the brightness of pinot grigio for this dish)

2 tablespoons fresh parsley

1 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon black pepper

How To:

Rinse the shrimp and pat them dry. If you’re using frozen shrimp, make sure they are completely thawed; usually just a few minutes under running water does the trick. Melt two tablespoons of butter in a sauté pan over medium heat. Add the shrimp and cook until just turning opaque, approximately two minutes each side. Set shrimp on a plate to the side and add the remaining four ounces of butter and the garlic to the pan and cook for about one minute until the garlic turns golden brown. Add the white wine allow to simmer about three minutes. At this point, taste the sauce to make sure the alcohol taste has cooked out and to adjust salt and pepper to taste. Then add the shrimp back to the pan and toss with the fresh garlic for about one minute.

This can be served over pasta or rice, but we like to serve it alongside Spanish or Italian style tomato bread. We just halve a baguette or piece of Italian bread, drizzle with olive oil, and top with garlic, salt and pepper before bake at 350 degrees for about ten minutes until toasted. Once baked, we halve tomatoes and rub the cut side over the bread before cutting into one inch slices. The tomato bread compliments the scampi nicely and soaks up every last bit of that wonderful, garlicky, buttery sauce.

The Vine:

Parsley (curly or flat-leaf Italian) is a great way to add splash of brightness to a dish. As with most fresh herbs, it’s best to add it in the last minute or two of cooking or to sprinkle on top after the dish is plated. Though it’s usually associated with Italian dishes, I use it a lot in Latin American cooking as a replacement for cilantro. I’m not a big fan of cilantro but parsley makes a great substitute for the touch of herbal freshness without the bite of cilantro. This is another herb that grows well indoors or outdoors with lots of light and weekly watering, the main difference is that it’s best to harvest this herb from the bottom of the stem rather than the top like most other herbs.

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Baked Feta with Roasted Tomatoes and Oregano

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Once I get into a certain food mode it’s nearly impossible to get myself out of it until I’ve hit the spot. So, when my husband’s gig at a local Greek restaurant was postponed because of Austin Snowpocalypse 2014, there was no way I was going to be able to cope without baked feta in my life. So, it was time to come up with my own recipe. This is going to be my go-to for the next party we go to for sure. Yes, I show affection by bringing people cheese.

You’ll Need:

8 ounce block of feta

1 cup of cherry tomatoes

Olive oil

Pepper

Oregano (preferably fresh)

1 tablespoon minced garlic

Optional: Crushed red pepper flakes

How To:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Slice the cherry tomatoes in half and mix the tomatoes, a drizzle of olive oil, garlic, oregano, and black and crushed red pepper to taste in a bowl. Place the feta in an oven safe dish (we used a pie pan), drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with black pepper. Pour the tomato mixture on top and back for 30 minutes or until the cheese has softened and the tomatoes have roasted. Serve with crackers or bread and enjoy!

The Vine:

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Oregano is a super versatile herb to consider for a home garden. It is about as easy to grow as basil with full sun and weekly watering. Taking clippings from oregano encourages it to grow, so this is a “use it or lose it” kind of herb. This is a fun one to grow at home because it can grow into a nice big bush. The one pictured started in a 4 inch pot and is now filling a 7 gallon container. As a bonus, if you live in a cold climate and have an outdoor garden, it can winter over, meaning it will come back the following year if you just leave it outside. This is a great herb to toss into just about any Italian or Greek dish and the plant smells fantastic.

Last Minute Thanksgiving Tips and Tricks

It’s the final countdown before the big day! This seems like a good time to offer a few last minute tips and tricks. These are just a few I’ve picked up but, of course, feel free to leave additional tips or questions in the comments section if there’s anything I missed!

1. When carving the turkey, many people start by slicing the breast from the outside in, which can lead to the first slice getting all of the skin. If you remove the whole breast, lay it on the cutting board, and slice from there, each piece will have a nice piece of crispy skin. This photo from foodnetwork.com illustrates this idea well.

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2. If you have a spare burner, it can be handy to leave a pot of stock warming on a back burner as you prepare the meal. One of the major sins of Thanksgiving, dryness, can be easily overcome with a ladleful of hot stock. This is also a great way to reheat things if your dishes didn’t all come out at the same time. Just hit that stuffing, potatoes, or turkey with some hot stock to warm it up.

3. Consider cooking the turkey upside-down. This leads to a less beautiful presentation, but if aesthetics aren’t a concern or you carve the turkey before presenting it anyways, this can lead to extra moist white meat.

4. If you are serving a large crowd, you could consider cooking two smaller turkeys rather than one large bird. This helps to prevent the breasts from drying out before the rest of the turkey is cooked and can keep more guests happy. Four legs are better than two!

5. Think about using squash for serving. One year we didn’t have enough serving dishes for everything we wanted to make so we served the stuffing in roasted acorn squash and incorporated it into the centerpiece. This year we’re serving pumpkin soup inside a pumpkin instead of a big bowl. This can add a festive touch and give you one less serving dish to wash at the end.Image

6. If you have trouble with lumps or grit when using flour to make gravy, you can skip the flour and make a slurry by whisking corn starch and stock and then using that mixture to thicken the gravy. We came across this trick when we moved and forgot to buy flour but had corn starch on hand and it was the smoothest sauce we had made to date.

7. I realize I sound like the ambassador of cheese, but I think it’s a good trick to keep in mind that if anything seems a little bland, a nice shred of parmesan cheese can go a long way. This works great for squash, potatoes, brussel sprouts, and lots of soups. We’re even grating parmesan into our gravy this year.

8. Don’t forget the herbs! Sage is the superstar of Thanksgiving. If you have any dish that doesn’t quite taste enough like the holidays, my first suggestion would to be to add more sage. This works whether you use dried sage or fresh. This is a photo of our awesome purple sage plant. If you ever think about starting an herb garden, this is a great one to start with because it grows quickly and the thing just won’t die despite our best effort.

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9. Keep in mind that there are many things you can do today if you want to get a head start. Some casseroles like the broccoli casserole that is a staple on our holiday menu since it was passed down from the Southern grandmas can be mixed up the day ahead and just baked the day of Thanksgiving. Just save any crispy topping (like the dry stuffing mix on this one) for the day of so it doesn’t get soggy. Celery, onion, and carrots can all be chopped up in advanced and stored in plastic bags also.

10. Don’t forget to give thanks! It’s easy for foodies like us to get wrapped up in the gastronomical whirlwind that is Thanksgiving, but giving thanks is really a highlight of the day. I can always be thankful for a day full of food and family.

Finally as you cook your way through the day, don’t be afraid to improvise!

“Recipes are road maps not contracts” ~ Michael Voltaggio