Well, we've finally found a house that took our breath away the moment we walked in through the front door, made a bid, had it accepted and have jumped through the financing and home inspection hoops. All that is left now is to wait for the legal guys to get all the ducks in a row and, with any luck at all, we will be in our new home in time to celebrate our First Anniversary, (which is also the Ides of March...but most importantly, our First Anniversary!). All that being said, hubby and I endured a pretty stressful week last week, with hubby constantly reminding me that a 'deal's not a deal until it's a deal'. I tend to soar with optimism and he tends to stay firmly planted on the ground with realism. That, in a nutshell, is the beauty of 'us'; I teach him how to fly, he teaches me how to keep one foot on the ground. We balance each other very nicely and, as with all things in life, balance is key!
Given the strains of the week, an uncomplicated Date Night at Home meal was certainly in order for this past weekend. Neither of us had much of an appetite but we both conceded that we could pick at something. We also tend to favor Greek cuisine so I thought a Greek inspired Charcuterie Plate might be in order. I had picked up some shrimp that were on sale at the grocery store and hesitated for just a moment as to whether shrimp could have it's rightful place on a Charcuterie Plate. But then it occurred to me: there's no right and wrong when it comes to putting a few of our favorite things together to pick and nibble on and it was just for us so I hardly thought the culinary police were gonna come and slap with me with some sort of citation for adding shrimp onto the same plate as prosciutto!
I decided I was going to marinate my shrimp with Greek flavours and then grill them in my stove top grill pan. All marinades have three basic components: fat, acid and seasonings. Fat helps transfer fat soluble flavours into the meat and it also helps meat retain moisture as it cooks. Fats help ground flavour profiles and keep sharp or acidic flavours from overwhelming the experience. Olive oil, canola oil, coconut milk, full fat yogurt and other vegetable oils are examples of marinade fats.
Acid works in multiple ways to help flavour penetrate meat. It breaks down connective tissue which can slightly tenderize meat and allow for deeper penetration of flavour. Acid balances flavour profiles and adds a tangy top note that helps add zing and freshness to an otherwise heavy flavour. They also contain antioxidants which can counteract the free radicals that are produced when meat is cooked at high temperatures like with grilling. Examples of marinade acids include citrus juice, vinegar, wine, yogurt and buttermilk.
Seasoning is where marinades really come to life. The possibilities are endless but a good place to start is with aromatics like garlic, onion or shallots. Herbs and spices, either dried or fresh, add extra layers of flavour. Salt helps magnify other flavours and sea salt in particular is an excellent choice because it contains minerals that provide extra flavour. Soy sauce is also common as the salt component of marinades. Other ingredients such as chilli peppers add a uniquely spicy kick. Aromatics and chilli peppers should be minced very small for marinades to increase surface area and contact with meat. Citrus zest adds citrusy flavour without adding extra acid. Sometimes sugars such as honey, maple syrup, molasses and agave nectar are added to balance acid components but when grilling, sugars can become charred and bitter so you want to take that into consideration when you're making a marinade for meat you plan on grilling. Regardless of what combination of ingredients you chose, as with hubby and I, it's all a matter of balance. As a general rule of thumb there should be a ratio of 3:1 fat to acid, but personal preference usually factors in as well.
Since I was thinking of giving my shrimp a little Greek flair, I decided to whip up my recipe for Greek Salad Dressing as my marinade. I whisked together 2 cloves of garlic, minced, (my aromatics), 1 tsp dried oregano, 1 tsp freshly ground sea salt, 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper, (my seasonings), 1/2 tsp Dijon mustard, 1/4 c. aged balsamic vinegar (my acid) and 1/2 c. extra virgin olive oil (my fat component). I placed 14, 21/25 count shrimp in a large zipperlock baggie and poured in half of my marinade mxiture, sealed the baggie and placed the shrimp in the refrigerator for a couple of hours. I had a plan for the remaining marinade to make Greek-inspired bruschetta.
If you're not familiar with the term 21/25 count with reference to the shrimp, shrimp should be bought by the 'count' as opposed to weight. The count tells you the size of the shrimp and the number of shrimp, on average, per pound. The smaller the numbers, the bigger the shrimp. Shrimp with a count of 21/25, for example, would be larger than a count of 31/40, or 51/60. Yoiu might even see shrimp with a count of 'U/15' or 'U/10', which means there are 'under 15' or 'under 10' shrimp per pound.
When buying shrimp, the main advantage to using the count, (besides gaining instant street cred with the fish seller), is that it's a reliable, consistent measure. Otherwise, one man's medium could definitely be another man's small. Using the count identifies you as 'someone in the know' about seafood and you never know...the next time you approach the counter the seller just might be more inclined to point you to the best choices in their display case or offer you some of the primo fresh catch stashed in the back cooler for their most discerning customers.
I took my marinating shrimp out of the refrigerator about 30 minutes before I was going to grill just to bring them up to room temperature to minimize the shock of extreme temperature change from refrigerator to hot grill pan. I placed them on some paper towel and gave them a gentle pat to remove some of the wet marinade because I wanted them to grill, not steam. I then decided to prepare my ingredients for my Greek Brushetta. I chopped up one roma tomato, 1/2 a red onion and 1/4 c. black olives, pitted. I then added the reserved marinade to the vegetables in a bowl and let them soak up the flavours a little bit before spreading by spoonful onto slices of artisan baquette. The brushcetta would require more cooking time than the shrimp, so I prepped that first and placed the topped baquette slices onto a baking sheet and topped with crumbled feta cheese. I then placed the baking sheet into a 375 degree Fahrenheit oven for about 10-13 minutes.
While the Greek Bruschetta was in the oven, I skewered my shrimp and heated my stove top grill pan on medium high heat. When the grill pan was nice and hot, I added the shrimp skewers and let them cook for 3-5 minutes per side untilthe shrimp were pink and cooked through. I then started to arrange my charctuerie plate with prosciutto, sliced Italian pepperoni, aged Canadian white cheddar, Danish blue cheese (my fave), and aged Guiness cheddar (hubby's fave). When the shrimp skewers were done, I added them to the Charcuterie Plate.
The Greek Grilled Shrimp Skewers were moist, tender, aromatic, with zing from the balsamic and Dijon mustard and they balanced perfectly with the creaminess of the prosciutto and cheeses. The Greek Brushcetta added an extra layer of flavour and crispness. I opted to open a bottle of Gabbiano Chainti (approx. $16.00 at my local liquor store), to have with our meal. Gabbiano Chianti starts with wafting aromas of beef, cheeries, earth and minerals in perfect balance, before caressing the palate with warm and enticing flavors of aged steak cooked rare, dusty cherries and slight note of green olives. A hint of astringency on the finish reveals a structure that benefits food in general. Gabbiano Chianti is a good value, medium to full bodied wine that's perfect for mid-week pizza or date night Greek Grilled Shrimp Skewers, Charcuterie Plate and Greek Brushchetta! It's a great value wine that delivers above it's weight.
This meal once again proves that it doesn't have to be complicated to be good. Outside of the time it took to marinate the shrimp for the Greek Grilled Shrimp Skewers, this meal went from stove to plate in under 20 minutes and while it was simplistic. it seemed decadent and indulgent, at least to us. Everything came together in perfect balance, which is precisely what I was aiming for.
Greek Grilled Shrimp Skewers, Charcuterie Plate and Greek Grilled Bruschetta all washed down with a glass, (or bottle shared by two), of Gabbiano Chianti.....easy, healthied-up, inexpensive AND delicious!