I should know better than to be fancy; it totally backfires. This looks completely twee. I should know how to play to my strengths by now, those being “heap crap in a bowl and put a [sprig of appropriate herb] on top.” I diverge from that, I end up with a dish that could be the photo on a Lean Cuisine box. Sad, because this dinner deserves better than that.

This dinner – yellow coconut seafood curry – is a testament to both my lack of foresight and a well-stocked pantry. My lack of foresight, because I hadn’t planned anything for tonight, hadn’t bought food in advance, hadn’t considered it during the day and hadn’t stopped off anywhere on the way home to pick anything up.  The well stocked pantry (and freezer), because I still managed to make a dinner that wasn’t a bowl of Special K. Which also wasn’t an option, because I forgot to place a Fresh Direct order yesterday and we have no Special K.

It also makes me feel virtuous for making good use of the pantry, and forced me to inventory the inhabitants of the “canned goods” shelf so I now know that I actually already have 38 cans of cannelini beans and really don’t need to buy them the next time I think I need them. I also have a can of Trader Joe’s spicy refried black beans from 2005, a bottle of clam juice – I love a good Clamtini in the summer – and no less than four half-eaten packages of candied ginger.

AND it makes me feel like dinner was free even though I know that coconut milk and turmeric do not magically appear in the pantry or grow organically from the spice drawer. There might be a way to make that happen. The MacBook can do pretty much everything, there’s gotta be an app for this. iCoconut or some shit like that. If there’s not, I’m writing a letter. If Steve Jobs can make an iPod small enough to  be implanted under the skin of my forearm, which I have no doubt he can, he can make coconut milk appear in the pantry.*

*Dear Steve, Not that “Lite” crap, like I found in there today. Love, Me

I pulled out an onion, a carrot, a red pepper that was a few hours away from ascending to pepper heaven, some garlic, and the giant knob of ginger I keep in the freezer that never seems to get any smaller despite repeated use (or as I’ve come to think of it, iGinger). Sauteed them up in some olive oil, added some turmeric and cayenne to bloom, and stirred in a can of coconut milk and a little dried lemongrass. (Cheap, and two ounces = a giant ziploc bagful.)*

I let everything simmer together for a while, tasted it, and it was not so hot, if I’m being honest with you, which I always am.**** Good, but flat; I blame the light coconut milk and whatever mental lapse caused me to buy it in the first place. Salt helped, as did a little more cayenne, but not enough. Maple syrup is my flavor panacea with beef dishes, but seemed inappropriate here. Somehow, dark brown sugar didn’t seem inappropriate, so I chucked a couple hunks in. Which totally didn’t work. Awesome.

*Note: It does look like weed especially if you leave it in the baggie, so maybe don’t store in the glove compartment of the car.**

**Not that I know what weed looks like, or what it even is. I’ve just heard people talk about it.***

***I feel the need to add this despite the fact that both my parents are dead and I’m 31 years old. And it’s true that I don’t actually know what week looks like, but that’s because I’ve only ever consumed it post-incorporation into baked goods.

****Yes, your ass looks huge in those pants. But in a good way.

Kidding! It totally did. The sweetness gave a boost to the light coconut milk – which is WAY more of a pathetic excuse for coconut milk than I knew – and since it was dark brown sugar, it added depth as well.

While this was going on, I had some jasmine rice on the back burner. You may see said rice above. While I was re-sizing, brightening and otherwise assisting these photos to the meager extent of my capabilities, I spent no small amount of time adjusting the white balance on this, a picture of WHITE RICE. Do you know what that is? That is FUCKED UP. For god’s sake, you already KNOW what rice looks like; it’s not like this photo is the whole of your rice experience.

Truly, the foodblogger sickness has taken hold. I’m going to have to have and/or acquire a baby now and become a mommyblogger for a few months to get it out of my system, although I hear that like an advanced case of Lyme Disease, it never truly leaves. Sometimes the problems just compound themselves, and then you have to become big and famous and quit your full-time job like Dooce, and who wants to deal with that headache. APERTURE, YOU HAVE RUINED ME.

When the time was right – 7:19PM, if you’re going to try this at home – I threw in half a bag of Trader Joe’s mess ‘o frozen seafood, both a bargain and a fantastic thing to keep in your freezer at all times, so stock up when you go. The mass of frozenness dropped the temperature of the coconut-curry sauce, leaving me free to head out to the yard to pick some Thai basil.

I almost didn’t make it back because the patio is covered in rotting peach corpses, which smell only marginally better than they sound and are very, very slippery. From what I can glean, all the peaches on the tree decided to ripen within 30 seconds of one another, and they chose to do so while we were out. Upon not being picked, they became deeply depressed and simultaneously flung themselves to the ground. Apparently they coordinated this mass suicide so they would all land on paving stones and not elsewhere in the garden. I consider it quite a passive-aggressive move on their part.

I am a little sad that we missed peach minute, but also secretly a little glad. Who plants a cling peach tree? Cling peaches annoy the crap out of me. Do you know how hard it is to make a cobbler with cling peaches? I DO and that’s why I’m nurturing restrained glee at their demise, which I can do because I did not actually break a leg while picking basil.

We’ve already established the overt preciousness of the plating, so we’ll ignore the rice and move on.

This dinner made me happy. I didn’t have to go to the grocery store, even though I had a moment of panic when I realized I wasn’t actually sure I had any coconut milk but had already changed into a stained tank top and pyjama shorts. It took all of 20 minutes. It incorporated the protein, vegetable and coconut food groups into a single bowl.

Oh, and it was good. The spice level was low-grade enough for the seafood to come through, and we’ve already been through the whole dark brown sugar/coconut thing. The red pepper and carrot added their own subtle sweetness, along with different textures.  As the seafood poached, it infused the curry sauce with the goodness of the sea. I’m sorry, I’m watching Deadliest Catch out of the corner of one eye and that was the best phrase I could turn.  All in all, it was an excellent meal to enjoy while watching TiVoed episodes of So You Think You Can Dance, effectively distracting me from the presence of Katie Holmes, while making enough to feed both of us plus leftovers.

Well played, me.

Quick and Dirty Yellow Coconut Seafood Curry
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 med. onion, roughly diced
6 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp. grated fresh ginger
1 large carrot, but into 1/4 inch slices on the bias
1 bell pepper, seeded and diced
1/2 tsp. cayenne
1 tsp. turmeric
1/2 tsp cumin
1 tsp. dried lemongrass (optional)
1 15oz. can coconut milk
3 tbsp. dark brown sugar
1/2 lb. seafood of choice (shrimp, firm white fish, Trader Joe’s bag o’ shellfish, whatever)

Heat the oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and carrot; saute for 5-7 minutes until the onion is softened and the edge is taken off the carrot. Add the pepper and saute for another 2-3 minutes.

Add the garlic and ginger, saute for 1-2 minutes; add the dried spices and cook for 2 minutes more, then add the coconut milk and sugar.

Bring the mixture to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes, allowing the flavors to combine. Check for seasoning, you’ll definitely need salt, and maybe a smidge more sugar.

Add the seafood and simmer until it’s cooked through. Serve over rice.

You could add other veg if you’d like; heartier veg at the beginning with the carrot and pepper, quicker-cooking veg simmered in the sauce itself.

[tags]food, cooking, recipes, curry, seafood, fish, shellfish[/tags]