Love Letter to Rick Bayless: Mojo de Ajo Shrimp Pasta

My favorite way to workout in the wintertime is to hop on the elliptical when I get home from work and catch up on favorite shows that I’ve missed. The TV takes my mind off the chore at hand, makes the time fly and the calories burn. I’ve been known to watch an entire movie (fluffy romantic comedies need only apply) while exercising. Monday night, I had a hard time picking something to watch, and eventually settled on an episode of Rick Bayless’ PBS show, Mexico One Plate at a Time.

As usual, I decided that I needed to make whatever Rick was cooking and hopped off the machine to grab paper and pen to make a shopping list. Crazy, right?! So, my workout pace might have slowed a bit, as I scribbled few notes about this recipe. But if you catch this particular episode, you’ll understand why I was so captivated by a simple sauce of garlic and olive oil. Make this, and I think you’ll agree that your kitchen will forever be changed.

Rick explained that this simple sauce is called mojo de ajo which literally means “bath of garlic,” and it is exactly that. 2 cups of smashed garlic cloves. 3 cups of olive oil. A sprinkle of salt and a dash of red pepper flake. Lime juice. Bake. That’s the whole recipe. Simple, right?!

This is one of those dishes that is definitely more than the sum of its parts. I’ve made roasted garlic olive oil before, and it’s wonderful. But the simple additions of red pepper flakes and lime juice sends this dish over the edge into culinary heaven. You add the lime juice partway through the slow-roasting, and the citrus flavor is softened by a few moments in the oven. When the mixture is done relaxing in the oven, you can spoon off about two cups of the pure garlic oil to save in a separate jar for salad dressings, roasting potatoes, and just about anything you want to make – I added a spoon of garlic oil to a bowl of homemade refried beans, and we found the bottom of that bowl FAST.  Then, scoop the other two cups of garlic oil goodness into a jar…this is your mojo de ajo. Use a spoonful or two of mojo in pasta, slathered over chicken before roasting, added to a simple tomato sauce – I think this sauce would be a welcome addition to just about any dish. I can’t wait to roast some potatoes with it.

For my first meal with the mojo, I settled on a simple shrimp scampi pasta (much as Rick did on his show). It highlighted the garlic oil perfectly and we found ourselves fishing through the bowl of pasta to spear a sliver of smooth, mellow garlic with every forkful. All I can say is that you need to make this. Now.

Mojo de Ajo
From Rick Bayless6 heads garlic
, about 2 cups peeled garlic cloves
3 cups fruity olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
1/2 cup fresh lime juice

  1. Heat the oven to 325 degrees.  Break the heads of garlic apart, then mash each clove (a fist against the side of a knife is what I do) to release the clove from its papery skin.
  2. Stir together the garlic, oil, pepper flakes and salt in an 8×8-inch baking pan (make sure all the garlic is submerged), slide it into the oven and bake until the garlic is soft and lightly brown, about 45 to 55 minutes.
  3. Add the lime juice and return to the oven for 20 minutes for the garlic to absorb the lime and turn golden brown.  (If you’re using the larger quantity of oil, ladle off 1-2 cups—no garlic cloves—and store it in the fridge for use in salad dressing or sautéing.)
  4. Using an old-fashioned potato masher or large fork, mash the garlic into a coarse puree.  Pour the mixture into a wide-mouth storage container and refrigerate it until you’re ready to enjoy some deliciousness.

Mojo Shrimp Pasta
serves 2

6 oz dried (gluten-free) pasta, whatever shape you like best
6 oz shrimp – peeled, and sliced into bite sized pieces
1 T garlic oil
3 T mojo with garlic chunks
red pepper flakes to taste
1/2 cup pasta cooking water
parmesan cheese and cilantro to garnish

  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook according to the package directions. When you’ve got about 5 minutes left in pasta cooking time, heat a large non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add 1 T of the garlic oil and red pepper flakes, then saute the shrimp for 2 minutes. Drain the pasta when it is done cooking, reserving 1/2 cup of water. Pour the drained pasta and reserved cooking oil into the pan with the shrimp. Add the 3T mojo de ajo, and gently toss to coat everything in the beautiful garlic oil. Grate in some parmesan cheese, and serve. Garnish with cilantro.

682 cal per serving, 290cal from fat, 34g fat, 170mg cholesterol, 380mg potassium, 380mg sodium, 67g carbs, 3g fiber, 28g protein

Seafood Gumbo

This New Year’s Eve, Mark and I had a very traditional Sutherland Family celebration with a quiet evening at home in Chicago. This means staying in your pajamas all day, mimosas in the afternoon, and then a late, leisurely dinner featuring crab. We feasted on king crab, spicy roasted potato wedges and green salad. It was awesome.

The second part of the tradition occurs on New Year’s Day, when you take your saved crab shells and toss them into a pot of chicken stock (homemade, of course), and magically turn it into seafood stock after a short simmer. The resulting stock is nothing short of magical, and begs to be at the center of a meal. The New Year’s tradition in our family means using that stock in seafood gumbo.

I have to apologize to my Southern friends up front – this isn’t a traditional Louisiana gumbo – there’s no roux or okra, but the flavor is just as good as anything I’ve had in a restaurant. I skipped the customary step of beginning with a roux since I wasn’t sure a gluten-free roux would hold up in a soup. I am happy to report that a sprinkling of corn flour on the mirepoix at the beginning of the process and a teaspoon or so of file powder stirred in at the end produced a beautifully thick gravy with no gluten!

Gumbo needs a little kick to it, so don’t be shy with the cayenne and spicy andouille sausage. When you serve the gumbo over brown rice, the spice will be soaked up by the rice just a bit, and provide a nice heat without sending you for the water pitcher. For those who like it really hot, put a bottle of hot sauce on the table, so your guests can dose their bowls to their liking.

Seafood Gumbo
Adapted from Momma Sutherland and
Cook’s Illustrated
Serves 8, serve over brown rice

1 pound small shrimp, shelled, and deveined (if desired), shells reserved
4 cups chicken stock
1 small pinch saffron threads
leftover crab shells (or 8oz bottled clam juice)
2 cups water
1 T oil
1 large onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
1 carrot, peeled and diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1.5 tsp dried thyme
1/4 tsp cayenne
2 T corn flour
1 14oz can of fire roasted diced tomatoes
1 T tomato paste
2 bay leaves
8 oz turkey andouille sausage (Wellshire Farms), sliced in half lengthwise, then sliced into bite-sized pieces
1.5 cups diced, cooked chicken breast
1 1/2 tsp gumbo file powder
salt & pepper to taste

Garnishes: parsley, scallions and serve over brown rice

  1. Bring reserved shrimp shells, crab shells (or clam juice), chicken stock, pinch of saffron and water to boil in stockpot or large saucepan over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low; simmer 20 minutes. Strain and discard shells. Set stock aside.
  2. Heat oil in a large soup pot over medium-high heat for a minute or two. Add onion, bell pepper, celery, garlic, thyme, salt, and cayenne; cook, stirring frequently, until vegetables begin to soften – about 3-4 minutes. Sprinkle the vegetables with the corn flour and stir to coat the vegetables. Stirring constantly, cook for two more minutes, then pour in the canned tomatoes and tomato paste. Cook for another 5 minutes, stirring occasionally – the mixture will get thick and turn into the consistency of loose paste. Add 1 quart reserved stock mixture and stir. Increase heat to high; bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, skim off foam on surface, add bay leaves, and simmer uncovered, skimming foam as it rises to the surface, about 30 minutes.
  3. After 30 minutes, stir in sausage; continue simmering to blend flavors, about 30 minutes longer. Stir in cooked chicken and shrimp; simmer until shrimp are cooked through, about 5 minutes longer. Off heat, stir in parsley, scallions, and filé powder. Let rest until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Adjust seasonings to taste with salt, ground black pepper, and cayenne; serve over about 1/2 cup of brown rice per bowl.

Gumbo: 250 cal per serving (about 1.5 cup of gumbo), 70 cal from fat, 7.8g fat, 155mg cholesterol, 770mg sodium, 380mg potassium, 15g carbs, 5g sugars, 29.4g protein

Brown rice: 108 cal per 1/2 cup, .8g fat, 22g carbs, 2.52g protein

Asparagus & Chard Risotto

Beautiful rainbow chard & asparagus inspired me to create a risotto to really make the first local tastes of spring sing. When asparagus comes into the farmer’s market, you know that spring weather has arrived, if the gorgeous tulips in bloom around the city have not already convinced you that the season has indeed turned.

We love asparagus, and its arrival and departure are but a brief window in the growing season, so we generally eat as much asparagus as we can while it is so good. I will never buy asparagus in the grocery store – much like tomatoes, store-bought asparagus bears little relation to the vegetable grown in local soil, picked and eaten soon after it has left the field. This risotto received rave reviews from Mark, and is a perfect start to the local eating season ahead.

Asparagus & Chard Risotto
Serves 5

1 1/2 cup aborio rice
3/4 c white wine
5 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 T butter
2 cloves garlic
1 small onion, diced
1 bunch rainbow chard, washed, chopped and tough stems removed.
1 bunch asparagus, cut into bite sized pieces, and steamed briefly, then cooled
8 oz shrimp, cleaned and deveined
salt & pepper to taste
handful of fresh basil, roughly chopped
3 T chopped roasted tomatoes or sundried tomatoes
1/4 c grated parmesan cheese (optional)
salt & pepper to taste

  1. Warm the broth in a covered pan, and maintain temperature at a bare simmer throughout the cooking process.
  2. Heat 1 T butter on medium heat in a large non-stick skillet. Add garlic and onions, sauté for 30 seconds. Add rice and stir frequently until rice is coated with oil, about 2 minutes. Pour in the white wine, and stir until most of the liquid is absorbed. Continue cooking, and adding broth in 1 cup intervals, while stirring until absorbed. After 20 minutes of stirring, add the fresh chard, and stir into the risotto. Season with Salt and pepper as the risotto cooks. Continue adding broth until risotto is nearly done – about 8 more minutes. Add in the steamed asparagus and shrimp, and stir. Cook 2 more minutes, or until rice and shrimp are fully cooked.
  3. Stir in the chopped basil, freshly grated parmesan and oven roasted tomatoes and serve.

Mango & Curried Quinoa Salad

Quinoa is a gift to the gluten-free people of the world. This tiny, earthy protein-packed grain is as open to inspiration as the other main grain in my life – rice. The ladies I work with are also quinoa lovers. Betsey eats quinoa and ghee for breakfast most mornings, Lori makes a veggie stir fry with quinoa, and I adore this spicy quinoa and black bean salad. Last week, Jen jumped in with her own quinoa recommendation for this curried mango quinoa recipe – and I knew I had to make it. WOW. I think this may be my new favorite spring salad – especially while the mangos are so good.

This recipe is simple to prepare, and completely delicious. I made some alterations from the original recipe (of course), adding carrot and cilantro, and making more dressing than the recipe originally called for. The resulting salad has the tang of the yogurt and limes and a nice heat from the curry powder, and the mangos are a perfect cool counterpoint to the heat. We’ll happily be eating this for lunch the rest of this week.

For lunch-storage purposes, I’ll add the mango each morning before I leave for work, so the fruit doesn’t get all soggy from being mixed into the salad for days at a time.

Mango Curried Quinoa Salad
Serves 6 as a main course

6 Weight Watchers Points per serving

1 cup greek yogurt, 0% fat
1/3 cup fresh lime juice (from 2-3 limes)
3 teaspoons curry powder
2 teaspoons finely grated peeled fresh ginger
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup olive oil
1 1/2 cup quinoa
2 ripe mangos, peeled, pitted, and cut into 1/2-inch chunks (2 cups)
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 carrot, scrubbed, then grated
1 fresh jalapeño chile, seeded and minced
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped

  1. Optional protein garnish – saute a few shrimp with a dash of curry, minced clove of garlic with a little olive oil, and top the salad with the shrimp.
  2. Rinse quinoa in a bowl using 5 changes of water, rubbing grains and letting them settle before pouring off water (if quinoa does not settle, drain in a large sieve after each rinsing).
  3. Cook quinoa in rice cooker along with 1 tsp curry powder, using appropriate amount of water for your cooker. Set aside cooked quinoa to cool. If you don’t have a rice cooker, cook quinoa on the stovetop according to the package directions.
  4. Whisk together yogurt, lime juice, 2 tsp of curry powder, ginger, salt in a measuring cup. Add oil in a slow stream, whisking until combined.
  5. In a large bowl, combine the cooled quinoa, bell pepper, jalepeno, cilantro, carrot and cilantro. Drizzle about half of the yogurt dressing over the salad, and mix with a spatula. Add the rest of the dressing, and mix thoroughly.
  6. When you’re ready to serve, top with the diced mango, and optional shrimp.

Not Quite Kruse Muer: Saffron Shrimp Pasta

My favorite restaurant back in Michigan is Kruse & Muer – it’s probably been my favorite restaurant since I was a teenager. Kruse & Muer specializes in seafood, pastas and pizzas…which a lot of restaurants certainly do well, but there is a special magic to the Muer restaurants that starts with a long loaf of the most amazing homeade bread dropped off at the table as soon as you sit down.

I’ve been gluten-free for almost 7 years, and for the most part I really don’t miss all of the stuff I can’t eat. But I still miss Muer bread – and going to the restaurant, smelling it and watching my family enjoy this special treat is almost too much for me to bear. The bread is brushed with butter and topped with poppy seeds. The bread has a chewy crust not unlike the very best bagels, and a soft, fluffy interior. It’s amazing stuff.

Anyway, this post is not about their bread – it’s about my other favorite dish there (which I can no longer eat) – the lobster and shrimp a la creme pasta. It’s a creamy dish of goodness with that mysterious flavor of saffron adding to the beauty of the tomatoes, white wine and cream. I sought to recreate the recipe, and while it wasn’t exact, it was VERY tasty.

Saffron Shrimp Pasta
Serves 3

1 T butter
1/4 onion, minced
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 cup canned tomatoes, diced and drained
1/4 cup sun dried tomatoes, sliced
pinch of saffron threads
3/4 cup white wine
1/3 cup half & half
8 oz raw shrimp
2 handfuls of fresh baby spinach
1/2 cup grated parmesan
salt & pepper to taste

6oz dry pasta

  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
  2. Heat a large skillet over medium heat, add butter, onion, garlic and saute for 2 minutes. Add canned tomatoes, saffron and white wine and cook for 2 more minutes.
  3. Add Pasta to the pot, and cook until al dente while the sauce simmers.
  4. Add half & half and return the sauce to a boil and allow it to thicken – about 1 minute. Add shrimp and spinach to the sauce and cook shrimp through – about 1-2 minutes. Add spinach and parmesan cheese and stir. If the sauce needs to thicken a bit more, add a little cornstarch & water slurry to the sauce.
  5. Drain the cooked pasta and return to empty pasta pot. Pour shrimp sauce over the pasta, toss to coat and serve.