Friday, July 19, 2013

Firecracker Shrimp Two Ways

by Ann
Firecracker shrimp served with a sweet chili sauce for the 4th of July
Firecrackers are the perfect icon for the 4th of July.  I found a firecracker-themed appetizer to prepare for the holiday party at my niece and her new hubby’s place a couple of weeks ago by going where I think most women go today for ideas – Pinterest.  The preparation method came from the blog Steamy Kitchen, but the marinade was inspired by the Pioneer Woman.  (Back to my post from a couple of weeks ago – Who needs cookbooks when a simple computer search brings you directly to great ideas from bloggers or recipe sites??)
For a "17th of July" meal I grilled some of the original smaller shrimp to put on salads.  Without the breading they are much more "firecrackery" tasting!
The concept is to marinate the shrimp in a spicy mixture, roll them in egg roll wrappers, fry them crisp, and serve with a hot chili sauce.  I swear that I had not fried anything for a least a year (really!), and yet here I am doing fried shrimp a couple of weeks following fried chicken.  Hmm…  I won’t let this become a trend because for as much as I don’t like the extra calories (they are reserved for wine consumption) I really don’t like the smell of oil that lingers in the air.
Marinade ingredients are simple - hot sauce, olive oil, pressed garlic, and a sweetener to balance out the flavors.  The first time around I used sweet chili sauce, the second honey.  Both were good.
Mix the marinade in with the shrimp and let marinade for at least 20 minutes.
Even though I knew I would not be serving these piping hot, my guess was that they would be good at room temperature, which they were.  My one complaint was that even though I only used half of an egg roll wrapper on each shrimp the breading was too thick for my tastes.  There must be different types or qualities of egg roll wrappers because since then we’ve had Thai food out that had much thinner skins.  I need to investigate.  When I learn about the nuances of wrappers I will certainly let you know!

When I was looking for marinade recipes, the beloved Pioneer Woman jokingly reported that she thought that there might be “millions” of recipes for this treat.  Although I didn't read quite that many, I would agree that there are lots out there, and most are pretty similar to one another.  Just add or subtract ingredients that would suit your family’s tastes.  To get the “fire” flavor a hot sauce is key.  At Sur la Table we use Sriracha in all sorts of recipes, so that’s where the heat for this recipe came from.

Here’s what I used for the marinade for about 40 jumbo shrimp:

3 T sciracha sauce
3 T olive oil
1-2 T sweet chili sauce or honey
4 pressed cloves of garlic

There were 22 egg roll wrappers in my package, so I could make 44 firecrackers.  Buying the shrimp proved to be a bit problematic in that the first batch I bought were raw, peeled, and deveined (critical), but the tails had been removed, and every fireworks-lover knows that there must be a flame end on the firecracker, so for overall effect the tails needed to be on – hence another trip to the store!  The first batch I bought were “large” (31-36 per pound) and when I compared their size to half an egg roll wrapper, they were too small, so at the next trip to the store I bought “jumbo” which were better sized for the task at 21-25 per pound.
To roll the shrimp in the wrappers they must be straight, which requires cutting some notches in the bend of the shrimp.
Wrap the shrimp as tight as you can, being sure to seal the edges with a cornstarch/water wash to act as the "glue."

The cornstarch wash is simply a tablespoon of cornstarch dissolved in 1/4 cup water.  Brush the edges lightly at the end of the rolling process and press to create a seal.
See why they needed to be tail-on shrimp?  (Looks like the one on the end lost his...)
Don't overcrowd in the frying oil.  Knowing that I wasn't serving them hot, I used a smallish pan and did several batches.
With some of the large shrimp I didn't use on the 4th I decided to get the marinade together a second time tonight to grill them.  The flavor was much more pronounced without the breading.  Delicious!  Spicy!  The honey helped mellow it out.

Quick and easy to grill.  I don't think it took more than two minutes on each side before they were done.
I wish preparing dinner was always that quick and easy...

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

DIY Cement Countertops Part I

by Sheila

My son Alec has what we sometimes refer to in my family as the "genetic defect".  He likes to do projects and fix up property, and he has recently taken this to a whole new level.  He has become an expert at DIY Cement Countertops.  He started with his bathroom vanity counter, and progressed to his upstairs bar top.  He is going to do his kitchen next, and I was gracious enough to offer up my Cairo property as yet another test zone.  He agreed to help me (this really means that I will assist him, as I have no idea what I am doing, but I am willing). And so the fun begins.  

Now don't get the wrong idea here.  This is a lot of work.  It's messy.  There are a lot of steps involved.  It takes lots of muscle to move the countertops around to polish them and put them in place (as in call my son's friends and my Dad).  It takes patience and time to have your kitchen torn apart. But, if I haven't scared you off, I think it's a really beautiful, affordable option for a durable counter surface.  

There are a number of tutorials for concrete countertops available online.  Alec watched a lot of You-Tube videos, also.  He recommends starting with a smaller project and then working your way up. This was our process:
The kitchen "before".  Hard to see the chips in this old formica, but they are there, making it look dingy and worn.
After removing the old countertop, sink and cooktop, we cut plywood to screw down as a base for the cement to rest on.

We then made "templates" out of 1/8" plywood strips.  These strips are glued together with a glue gun and used to build the forms and strategically locate stuff like the sink, faucet and cooktop within the form.

Here is the master at work.  He is marking out the location of the sink and faucet.  Note the glue gun heating on the counter.  Makes it seem kind of like a craft project, huh?
Yeah, that's me, lest you think I didn't get my hands dirty.  I am cutting out the cooktop and sink openings in the plywood with a jigsaw.

When the concrete is poured in the form, the bottom surface will become the top.  Therefore, it's really important to know which side is what, so that you polish the front edges and not the back, etc.  This is where detailed labeling comes in handy!
No sense polishing the back edge against the wall!  Label all edges.

The forms are made from melamine, providing a smooth surface.  The blue tape lines here are creating a clean line for a bead of caulk all around what will become the top edge of the counter.  This makes for a softer edge/corner and less grinding later.  The tape will be removed after caulking and prior to the pour.  The caulking will easily peel off after the cement is hardened and removed from the forms.
A close-up shot of the taped off area for the 1/4" caulk line to soften the finished edges.
3/8" rebar and 4x4" metal grid provide extra strength and stability within the concrete.  This is tied together with additional wire.  This one is for the sink.  Also strategically placed, because the faucet has to fit in along the narrow edge as well.

An easier one - the long slab with no cut-outs. Note that we used a sheet of plywood on sawhorses for pour tables.  These were covered in plastic and leveled before we poured.
This foam is cut to the exact size needed for the sink and cooktop cut-outs.  It is then screwed directly to the base of the melamine form to hold it in place.  A large washer around the head of the screw keeps it from disappearing into the foam.
I chose to add black and clear reflective glass to the cement countertop mix.  This will give it a little sparkle, but remain very neutral.  I didn't add color to the cement either - yielding a "bone" white/beige color.  There is no limit to the colors you can add, or the glass sparkle.  Alec used broken up beer and wine bottles in his bar top, giving it a beautiful brown, earthy color.

Best to used mix specifically designed for this purpose.  This is from a local supplier in Phoenix.

This is when it gets fun; mixing the cement, adding the sparkle.  Remember making mud pies?  This is a giant one!

Glass added.  There is "aggregate" or small stones already in the mix that will add color and texture, so this is just added sparkle.
After it is shoveled into the form, a screed board is used to level it off.  A 2x4 using a back and forth motion does the trick.  This is when you definitely need extra hands.  I really am working here, but stopped to take photos!
An old sander is used against the edges of the form to vibrate the air bubbles out of the cement.  The more of this you do, the smoother your concrete will be.  Work your way around all of the edges several times.  I thought my teeth might vibrate out of my head at the end of this day ;-)

This is the mess at the end of the pour day.  107 degrees in Phoenix.  Good thing water is involved, so we could squirt each other to stay cool!
This project so far has taken two long days. I am kind of glad that my son and I both have to go to work so that we can get some rest!  He works like a madman.  Check in next Wednesday for the grinding, installation and the finished product!

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Mint Butterflies and Gold

by Heather

If you've been following my posts, you know that I've had an infatuation with the color mint this summer. The love affair continues with the addition of a couple of summer sweaters and a new pair of shoes. I know what you're thinking: What the hell is she doing wearing sweaters in AZ in the middle of the summer?!
J Crew Factory sweater and shoes; Chico's jeans; Michael Kors purse and watch; Chico's wide bracelet; Nordstrom's gold bangles; navy and gold bangles -- local Scottsdale store
Both sweaters I'm showing today are very lightweight and can work in Scottsdale temperatures, but I swear I'm going to leave town soon for a colder climate. The trip to Oregon was put on hold with the arrival of Liberty Bell, our rescue Wheaten, but we're going to take her on a road trip in the near future so she can check out the mountains north of the Valley of the Sun. There she will be able to prance around under the fir trees with temperatures in the high 50s overnight to the low 80s during the day. Now that is summer sweater weather!
Anthropologie sweater; Target cami; Nordstrom NYDJ jeans; Michael Kors watch, purse, gold ring, and sandals; Coach gold and white ring; white/gold and mint/gold bracelets with nautical charms are from SeaSideStrands on Etsy; Dillard's mint and gold earrings

Hope your summer is going swimmingly!