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Sunday, January 17, 2010

Dining In

Let me say right off the bat here that I love eating out.  I've always loved it.

When I was about eight, my family spent a long weekend on Mackinac Island at the Grand Hotel.  On our first morning there, we sat in the hotel's formal dining room for breakfast and were treated to our plates of scrambled eggs and French toast delivered to the table topped with high-domed silver covers, which the waiters removed with a flourish.  My mother loves to tell the story of how I turned to her after first seeing this and  said  "I feel like a queen!"

It is indeed a treat to have someone prepare and serve your meal...BUT...(you knew there was going to be a but, right?!) for the past several years, I've been championing a different style of eating out.  I can't pinpoint exactly which overcrowded Saturday night out at a 'hot' restaurant with an hour-and-a-half wait converted me, but there was indeed a turning point.  No more going out on Friday or Saturday.  It had simply become unpleasant to eat out during the weekend.  And, remember Anthony Bourdain's book, Kitchen Confidential?   I've taken to heart his admonishment that weekend diners are getting the worst service and food.  

So for some time now, we've been following the George Costanza rule -- Do The Opposite -- and eating out on the occasional weekday, while saving weekends for cooking and having friends over.  So here I am...ready to convert you, first, by telling you that this schedule is AWESOME!  No more jostling in the bar with the crowds, no more trying to flag the overworked wait staff for a water refill or another glass of wine.  And, think about really does make sense.  If you cook or entertain over the weekend, you'll have time to shop and when your friends are over and enjoying a leisurely dessert, no one will be pushing you out hoping to turn the table quickly.

Over the holiday weekend, we were cleaning out a closet filled with moving boxes and I came across my long-missing file folder boxes of Cook's Illustrated magazines.  It was as if I had found a long lost friend.  These were back issues I'd saved from when the magazine first started and I affectionately referred to them as The Cooking Nerds.  So I spent a highly entertaining hour sitting on the hallway floor reading and, wouldn't you know one of my favorite 'recreate-a-restaurant-dish-at-home' recipes ever!

Remember when Italian restaurants were just that?  Typically they had red checkered tablecloths and things like Veal Scallopine, Eggplant Parmigiana and Spaghetti with Meatballs on the menu.  (...reminds me of Rao's Cookbook!)  If you grew up in Chicago, or New York, Italian restaurant menus often included Shrimp Scampi.

This was always my favorite--tender shrimp, bathed in a delicious garlicky, lemony, sauce, perfect for mopping up with a slice of Italian bread.  Mark Bittman is also apparently a fan of Shrimp Scampi, and he put together the recipe below for Cook's Illustrated.  It's fantastic and ridiculously easy--my favorite combination.  I had it marked from the January 1999 issue where it first appeared, and made it pretty regularly.  Since moving almost two years ago, the recipe has been sadly out of sight, and out of mind.

That very afternoon I found the magazines, I made the shrimp scampi and served it right from the pan.  With a nice salad and a loaf of good bread for soaking up the lovely sauce, it was the perfect 'restaurant' meal, at home.

I'm happy to report...there was no wait for a good table.

*          *           *           *

Simple Shrimp Scampi
serves 4
adapted from Mark Bittman, in Cook's Illustrated

NOTE:  My own adjustment is to use a larger skillet (Bittman originally suggests 10-inch).  Make sure you have all your ingredients prepped and ready to go -- this dish takes just minutes.

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
4 medium garlic cloves, minced
2 pounds large shrimp (21-25 count per pound) peeled, deveined and rinsed
1/4 cup minced fresh parsley leaves
2 tablespoons juice from 1 lemon
Cayenne pepper

Heat oil and garlic in a large (I used 12-inch) skillet over medium heat until garlic begins to sizzle.

Reduce heat to medium-low and cook until fragrant and pale gold, about 2 minutes.
Add shrimp, increase heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, until shrimp turn pink, about 7 minutes.  Be careful not to overcook or the shrimp will become tough.

Off heat, stir in parsely, lemon juice, and salt and cayenne pepper to taste.  Serve immediately.

Dining out photos, above:
Tacos at Tacubaya, Berkeley, CA
Fish and Chips at Fish in Sausalito, CA
Vegetable kabobs at Greens, San Francisco, CA

1 comment:

Jane said...

I recognized those fish and chips!