I'd like to share with you all something very exciting: this weekend, I completed a marathon.
A food marathon.
With my better half in town for his birthday, a buck-wild caloric rodeo was inevitable; we kicked things off at our favorite neighborhood Mexican place, Tarascas, and a mere 12 hours later indulged in a great breakfast at Deleece, in our old 'hood, Uptown. After snacking on some sharp cheddar in the afternoon, we headed north once again for dinner at one of our favorite Italian haunts, Fornello Trattoria (where we got complimentary tiramisu and topped everything off with house-made limoncello shots). On Sunday, we had a great lunch at the new pizzeria La Madia, then stimulated the economy for a bit on Michigan Avenue.
I decided that after a weekend of eating out every meal, a nice home-cooked dinner in would be the perfect way to end the fantastic weekend and linger over goodbyes, which brings me to the Thai Shrimp Peanut Curry.
Oh, and...did I forget to mention the birthday cake? (This is one you won't want to miss.)
Read on to see how to make one tasty, simple Thai dish (it's almost as easy as speed-dialing your local noodle place - promise).
THAI SHRIMP PEANUT CURRY
(makes about 4 servings)
about 14-15 large shrimp, peeled and deveined (mine were frozen)
1 can light coconut milk
4 T. natural-style peanut butter (no sugar or salt added)
1 T. vegetable oil
2 T. Thai curry seasoning blend (available at the Spice House and specialty stores like World Market)
1 red bell pepper, sliced
1/2 white onion, thinly sliced
juice of one lime
2-3 T. brown sugar
squeeze of Sriracha (to taste)
handful cilantro leaves, chopped
more cilantro leaves for garnish
1 c. dry basmati rice
water and a little salt
Cook the rice according to directions on package until done. Keep warm.
Heat the oil in a large pan with semi-high sides. Saute the onions and peppers until beginning to soften, about 6-7 minutes. Remove from pan, but keep the heat on about medium.
In the same pan, mix the peanut butter, coconut milk, Thai seasoning, Sriracha, brown sugar, and lime juice. Whisk together until smooth.
Bring the heat up to medium-high and stir in the cooked onion and peppers, and stir in the shrimp. Cover and cook until the shrimp are pink, about 4-6 minutes, stirring/flipping the shrimp as neccessary. Stir in the chopped cilantro. Taste and season with salt accordingly.
Serve the shrimp curry over rice in shallow bowls. Garnish with more cilantro. Enjoy!
ROSS: Thai Shrimp is about two things: sauce and not overcooking the shrimp. The shrimp was crisp and not chewy. And the sauce had a little kick, which I like. It feeds my fantasy that spicy foods increase your metabolism.
MY VOTE ON MY DISH: I give this 8 stars. The shrimp was well-cooked, and the Thai flavors really came through. I have made a version of this before using Jif peanut butter (for PBJ's, I'm a total Jif loyalist), and the natural peanut butter really enhanced the texture - not to mention, it's nice to be able to control the salt and sugar in the dish. This would be great of course with chicken, and especially tofu. Next time, I'd probably throw in some broccoli florets just to pump up the health factor, but overall it was really delicious, and it came together really quickly, which I love.
I'm sure you're all dying to know about the birthday cake! After the German Chocolate Cake Disaster of 2008, I was really nervous to attempt a chocolate-based birthday cake this year, but when I found this recipe on Closet Cooking, I was confident that I could pull it off - and the best part is, the recipe involves beer! Cake + chocolate + beer = the perfect birthday treat.
I used Kevin's suggestion about using chocolate stout, and made the cake with Rogue Chocolate Stout (and there was a whole pint leftover to enjoy while the cake baked - a definite plus in my book).
Instead of a cream cheese icing, I decided to take the chocolate level waaaaay over the top and "ice" it with a dark chocolate ganache. I used Dagoba super-dark chocolate (something like 65% cacao), and it came out really delicious. I poured it over the cake right when it came out of the oven, and it sort of soaked in, making it that much more rich and chocolately.
NOTE: Making chocolate ganache is really easy. Just heat a pot over low heat, and break a bar of good-quality dark chocolate into pieces. As it begins to melt, stir in some heavy cream - I usually just eyeball it, but it should be roughly the same amount of cream as chocolate. Whisk together, never bringing the heat above low, and pour over whatever you want! Or just eat it with a spoon, whichever.
ROSS: Mmmmmm…chocolate, need I say more? Okay, I will. This cake tasted like a brownie right out of the oven. The ganache? Ohmygosh. Even the next day, it was still soft and delicious. It’s got stamina, like Lance-Armstrong-stamina.
ME: Wow. Eating a piece of this cake is as close to freebasing chocolate as it gets. Chocolate lovers: stop what you're doing and make this immediately.
My favorite thing about the cake was its dense, moist texture - it was sort of like the best things about a brownie and the best things about a cake in one incredible creation. And the ganache just took the whole thing to the next level. It was definitely super-rich - the kind of cake where you MUST have a glass of cold milk within close reach. Super-rich can be a good thing: rather than gorge myself on half the cake at once, the richness makes one small piece superbly satisfying (although it's worth mentioning that I snuck a little piece for breakfast this morning - I'm only human).
The only downside was that the cake didn't exactly turn out aesthetically perfect - hence the super-close photo. There are two levels of baking: the first level involves making things taste good, and the next level involves making them look just as amazing (something to work toward).
And the BEST PART: Ross loved it! He didn't eat as much of it as I did (story of my life), but it was so great to feel redeemed in the baking department after last year's travesty. And next year will be the BIG 3-0...I might just have to step it up and make a layer cake!
Thanks for reading! More soon...