March 8, 2012

GOOD GIRL, BAD GIRL: Shrimp and Chocolate

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I always start with good intentions.

At the time that some people are grinding their way through another all-nighter, I pop out of bed for my usual early morning workouts. Afterward, I make sure to eat well throughout the rest of the day, fueling myself with simple, satisfying food. Today, it was a spinach salad with garlic pan-roasted shrimp, finished with a simple combination of bright lemon juice and smooth olive oil.

The list of ingredients for this recipe is embarrassingly short, but that’s what I love best about eating simple, healthy meals. Each humble ingredient gets its moment to shine and to show you what it contributes to the overall meal. Also, if you’re a beginner like me and are dabbling in the art of self-taught cooking, this is a great recipe to add to your growing repertoire.

What I loved best about this salad was the tried-and-true pairing of warm, heady garlic and cool, light lemon. It made the shrimp and spinach salad full of flavor without any unnecessary ingredients. I’d recommend this salad as a nice alternative to the warmer, heavier dishes you normally see in the winter. The salad would also be perfect in the summer, especially as the temperatures begin to rise and the desire to cook in hot, humid weather drastically drops. (Or is that just me?)

I always start with good intentions. However, occasionally my good intentions falter under a much more powerful force — my sweet tooth. Sure, I can resist dessert most of the time or trick my palate with delicious-but-deceiving substitutes: an apple, a cup of plain, nonfat Greek yogurt mixed with honey and cinnamon or a few handfuls of Kashi GoLean Crunch cereal. (I know…woohoo! Way to live on the wild side of decadence and indulgence.)

But when the dessert is fresh, homemade and includes one of my top five flavors for dessert — apple, lemon, almond, peppermint or red velvet — my poor good intentions don’t stand a chance.

This week, it’s red velvet. Specifically, red velvet brownies.

(Okay, maybe labeling red velvet as a “flavor” isn’t technically correct, but when I see Food Network Magazine articles, Twitter trends and Pinterest boards dedicated to red velvet desserts, I’m going to go ahead and take that liberty).

It’s strange to think of red velvet brownies as rich and indulgent, especially when you compare them to their richer semisweet and dark chocolate counterparts. Maybe it’s the deep red hue that makes them seem forbidden, and, consequently, even more attractive. Maybe it’s the deceptively light cocoa flavor that tantalizes people’s curiosity and beckons them for a taste. Maybe it’s the perfect marriage with smooth tangy cream cheese frosting that just puts the dessert over the edge and keeps dessert junkies coming back for more.

Whatever it is, it’s delicious. It’s dangerous. And it’s enough decadence to kick my good intentions to eat healthy again into high gear.

Or enough motivation to go for another run and use the “extra exercise” excuse to indulge again.

I always start with good intentions. And I follow through with them. Most of the time.         *                   *                   *                   *                   *

Pan-Roasted Shrimp with Lemon, Garlic, and Spinach

(adapted from a recipe by Bob Greene from The Best Life Diet Cookbook)

Serves 4

4 cups spinach, well washed4 cloves garlic, mincedVegetable oil cooking spray1 pound raw shrimp, shelled and deveinedJuice of 1 lemon1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil1/8 teaspoon saltBlack pepper to taste


Place the spinach in a large bowl and set it aside. Heat a large heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-low heat. Coat the garlic with cooking spray and cook it in the skillet for about 3 minutes until it is slightly brown.

Coat the shrimp with cooking spray. Increase the heat to medium and lay each shrimp in the pan on one side, cooking on each side for 2 minutes. Avoid crowding the shrimp and give each one its own space.

Add the shrimp to the bowl of spinach and toss with lemon juice, oil, salt, and pepper. Serve and bask in your success in preparing a delicious, nutritious meal. That is, until you make…

Red Velvet Brownies with Cream Cheese Frosting

(brownie recipe adapted from How Sweet Eats, frosting recipe adapted from Pinch My Salt)

For the brownies:

½ cup unsalted butter, room temperature1 ½ cups sugar2 eggs2 teaspoons vanilla extract1 ¼ cps all purpose flour¼ teaspoon salt3 tablespoons cocoa powder (I used Ghirardelli Chocolate Unsweetened Cocoa)2 tablespoons red food coloring (1 fluid-ounce bottle of red food coloring)2/3 cups chocolate chips (Optional: If you want to make these brownies even more indulgent, add them. If you’re a red velvet — or red velvet brownie, in this case —purist, leave them out)Nonstick baking spray

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Spray an 8” x 8” cake pan with nonstick baking spray.

In a small bowl, combine cocoa powder, red food coloring, and 1 teaspoon vanilla to create a paste. (Note: If your paste is grainier and more solid than liquid, don’t worry. Just mix the ingredients as best as you can; the mixture will disperse itself evenly when you mix it in with the rest of the batter.)

In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar until fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, then add remaining teaspoon of vanilla. With the mixer on medium speed, add in cocoa powder paste. Beat until batter is completely red. (At this point, you can add more food coloring if your batter is not red. Color will depend on brand.) Add flour and salt, mixing until just combined. Fold in chocolate chips, if desired.

Spread in the 8” by 8” pan. Bake for 40-45 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. (The original recipe calls for a baking time of 25-30 minutes, but from my personal experience, I’ve found that brownie batter takes longer to bake. Baking time will depend on accuracy of oven temperature.)

Let cool completely before frosting.

For the frosting:

16 oz. cream cheese, softened½ cup unsalted butter, softened1 teaspoon vanilla extract2 ½ cups powdered sugar, siftedPinch of salt

With an electric mixer, blend together cream cheese and butter until smooth. Turn mixer to low speed and blend in powdered sugar, salt and vanilla. (Be sure to add the powdered sugar in small batches rather than all at once.) Turn mixer on high and beat until light and fluffy.

Use immediately or refrigerate, covered, until ready to use. If refrigerated, the frosting will need to be brought to room temperature before using. (After frosting softens up, beat with mixer until smooth.)

Note: If you prefer a sweeter and/or stiffer frosting, you can add more powdered sugar (up to 4 cups). However, this cream cheese frosting is meant to be on the tangier side, so the more sugar you add, the less tangy the frosting will be.

Original Author: Elizabeth Young