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Cajun Shrimp & Cauliflower “Grits”

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I spent the day cleaning up after my little pig pens after they blew in from college like a whirlwind, and when the dust settled, the house was in dire need of some TLC.
It was quickly approaching the dinner hour and I needed something quick and easy to whip up.
My answer? Open the fridge and see what the options are.
A head of organic cauliflower? I can use that.
I always have basics on hand, onions, frozen shrimp, butter, cream, parsley, stock, and grated parmesan. A well stocked pantry is a saving grace.
That, and my girlfriend just came back from New Orleans with a gift of Cajun Seasoning!

(Ingredients List is at the bottom)

First? Get the shrimp thawing.
The FDA will not approve of my method, but I’ve been cooking for decades, have a degree in Microbiology, and I have more than a few food safety courses under my belt. So, my ‘official’ recommendation is for you is to defrost your shrimp in the fridge, as per the government protocols. (Which is fine if you are planning out this meal in advance)
But for me? All too many of my dishes in the summertime are impromptu. I use a ‘quick-defrost’ I’ve come up with over the years. I put down some parchment paper onto my granite, lay the shrimp out in a single layer and flip after the ice melts off the bottom. I wait until the same happens on the other side, peel any excess ice off (they are still nice and cold, but flexible) and I always pull the vein out of the bottom. I know that many bags of shrimp are labeled ‘deveined’ but honestly? I think they just starve the shrimp so there is less poop. As the resident super taster, I can taste it, and I don’t like it. So I remove it. With a nice sharp pairing knife. I always sanitize my surface after. I highly recommend you do too. No one wants to ruin a good meal (and night) by offering it to the porcelain gods later.

Then, pop those little shrimps into the fridge to wait until you’re ready to use. This whole process takes about 10, maybe 15 mins max. The key is to never let them get cool. They must still be cold. If you have any concerns: DO NOT USE THIS METHOD!

Next up grab a container of chicken stock and get that chopped up head of cauliflower cooking in a pot. My pot was a 1.5 quart because my head of cauliflower was small. (While your shrimp is thawing the cauliflower is simmering) Add some salt to the stock.

While that is burbling away, slice some onions. I happened to have a yellow onion on hand, but a red, white or sweet would all work.

When the cauliflower is tender, drain really well. (You can save the stock and make a soup, or feed it to your dogs in their bowl. Not saying that’s what I did (wink, wink)….but its an option.)
Take that drained cauliflower (I always think of Arnold Schwarzenegger and his KALI-for-nia, and giggle a bit) and mash it. Don’t puree it, just mash it with a potato masher. I like it kinda textural, because it reminds me of grits, but mash it so there are no big pieces. Small, and granular is what you are going for. Back in the pan, cook it just a bit to reduce and concentrate the liquids that remain. Then, when looking a smidge dry, add a little dollop of cream and a sprinkle of parmesan, season to taste and set aside, covered.

Heat up a 12 inch saute pan to med-high heat. Add a little olive oil (regular, don’t waste extra virgin on cooking) and throw in the onions. You are just giving the onions a little color, not cooking until they are limp, especially if they are sweet onions. Take your shrimp out of the fridge, season to taste with your favorite Cajun seasoning and throw those in a single layer over the top of the onions. Toss and cook, flipping the shrimp as needed. You want them cooked through, not over-cooked, otherwise they turn to rubber. The cooking time will depend upon the size shrimp you use. I used 21-25 count (21-25 shrimp to a pound) and it took about 3 minutes or under. The smaller the shrimp, the faster they cook. They will be pink with no grey to them.

(**I say ‘season to taste’ because the Cajun seasoning I have is HOT. We like spicy, but some do not. If your seasoning is too hot, be sure to add a little salt before cooking. The less seasoning you use, the less salt you are adding, unless its a salt-less mix)
Garnish with the parsley near the end of cooking and again just before serving. Some will wilt and some will be fresh.

While the shrimp is cooking, turn on the flame for your ‘grits’ to warm them back up, uncovered. The pan is on only for a few minutes, just enough to warm it back up.  You are not cooking the grits, just reducing that cream a bit and making sure the consistency is pudding-like, not soupy. The chefs call this ‘tightening up’. I call it – concentrating the flavors and improving the texture! You can also microwave if you make these in advance or have leftovers from another meal.

Plate like the photo above and ENJOY!

To balance the heat, I made a creamy, quick-cucumber salad with diced cucumbers, sweet onions, lots of dill weed (yes, simple dried and jarred), dash of onion granules (Penzeys), and a couple spoonfuls of Creme Fraiche. (Ok, so i have a REALLY well stocked pantry) Season to taste. You can also use Fage Plain yogurt, or sour cream. When you salt the cucumbers, they release some water, so you want something a little thick, because the water released will thin it, quite a bit.

That’s it. It really is that simple to throw together a quick meal at the end of the day, and an even easier option to entertain in style…without spending your day in the kitchen!
With dishes as easy as this…there is no reason to keep good food and easy entertaining only for the weekends!
(If you make this ‘recipe’, please give me feedback. I’m always trying to make cooking easier, and more understandable.)

Shrimp n’ Grits for 2

Grits:
1 Head Cauliflower
4 cups (1 box) chicken stock
1 tbsp salt
2 tbsp cream (optional-dont cook off water if eliminating this)
1tbsp parmesan cheese (this is also optional for those cutting dairy or fat)

Shrimp:
1/2 pound Shrimp
1/2 onion, medium sized, sliced
2 Tbsp Parsley, chopped
Cajun Seasoning, to taste
Olive Oil to cook-likely 2tbsp or 3.
Parsley to garnish, chopped (this does add nice bright freshness, so I don’t think its optional)


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Sunny Summer Salad

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Try this yummy, refreshing and healthy salad when produce is at its’ peak during the summer. It’s a snap to put together, and stores well for a few hours, or is delicious served right away. The only special tool you need is a good sharp peeler. I prefer a Y style peeler, and I think Rösli is the best brand, it stays sharp. I love zucchini this way. It has such a different flavor than when cooked. If you don’t think you care for squash, try this recipe, you just might change your mind!

This serving size is for a generous 2, so double it for more servings.

Sunny Summer Salad

1 Yellow Squash, small
1 Zucchini, small
1/4 a medium sweet onion (Vidalia or Walla Walla)
1/2 each of 1 Red and Yellow Roasted Bell Pepper, sliced into ribbons. (store bought or homemade)
Parsley, minced
1 large clove of Garlic, peeled, minced

Dressing:
1 Tbsp fresh Lemon Juice (about a 1/4 of a lemon)
1/4 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil.
Salt, Pepper to taste
Optional: 1/2 tsp of any mediterranean style spice mix

Optional: Fresh Ricotta Cheese.

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1. Cut the top and bottom off the squat. Using your vegetable peeler, ‘peel’ it into ribbons working from top to bottom. I peel down just to the seed core, then rotate it 90 degrees and slice the next side, working your way around the vegetable. Toss the core.
2. Cut your whole onion in half, then in half again. Lay on its cut side and holding one of the root ends, slice into thin quarter rings.
3. Whisk the olive oil into the lemon juice, add the garlic and seasoning.
4. Toss all the ingredients together.
5. If desired, top with a dollop of ricotta, fresh as possible.
Tip: If storing for longer than a 1/2 hour, do not salt it until serving. Squash has a lot of water. Salt will pull that water out and your salad dressing will be diluted and weak tasting.

This is one of those dishes where there are very few ingredients, as such, buy the highest quality produce you can find. And if your store doesn’t carry fresh Ricotta, any decent Italian Deli will carry it.

Summer in Minnesota is short, so I don’t like to dawdle in the kitchen. Toss this together, pair it with a protein and head outside for a picnic!


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Strengthening Your Core

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In weightlifting, the key to being able to heft increasing amounts of iron is to have a sturdy, strong Core: your foundational strength you build on.
You don’t develop a core overnight. It is built up – workout by workout, day by day, month by month. As it grows in strength, it supports and assists the development of your other muscles. I didn’t just start lifting 200 pounds one day. I had to build up my core strength, increase my bone density, and build the muscle in an intentional way. My ability to lift is dependent upon the foundation I have laid. I am fortunate and blessed to have (the best!) trainer in the world to mentor me and keep me safe. Under his watchful and experienced eye, he has seen me go from puffing away under a few measly pounds of barbell weight, to lifting a full 200 pounds…more than once. Having a firm, sturdy core allows my body to not only perform in the gym, but also in all other aspects of life: carrying groceries, lifting my bike up on the rack, vacuuming, climbing stairs. All are easier because we have invested in its development.

My favorite way to illustrate this is with a tree: A towering Redwood would not stand with a weak core. It would topple under the weight of the branches, or snap with simple gust of wind. It stands though, because it developed its Core along the way.

What I would like to suggest is this: Is your Core strong?
In this case, I’m not talking about your physical strength. I am talking about your non-physical Core. I’ll call it your spiritual side, the ‘you’ who makes you, you. It’s what resides inside your head, that little voice that whispers only to you.
Is it strong? Have you taken the time to develop it? Do you have what it takes to weather the storms in life? Can you stand strong through the hurricanes of life? Can you remain standing, like the Redwood?

This subject is pertinent considering the news of the day:  A potential Greek economic collapse and the negative potential it has for the Eurozone. We are seeing the rise of barbaric beheadings and persecutions going on in the Middle East. Here in the States we feel the division in civil discourse and financial concerns growing. The entire world feels on edge, and in this case (unlike in past world shifts) we have social media to make it all broadcast in real time.

So I ask again, how is the condition of your Core? Have you invested in it, given it the conditioning and training that are necessary to weather the pounding waves that life throws at it?

First you must take an assessment:
What are your weaknesses, what worries you?
What are your strengths, where do you feel confident and in charge?

Next, take those weaknesses and develop a plan to strengthen them. I was terrified of some sort of economic disaster that would lead to hyperinflation and obscene food prices. To alleviate myself from that fear, or weakness, my husband and I developed a plan to stock up on and store food. I taught myself how to can food both water-bath method and pressure canning. I taught myself to preserve foods. I shopped sales and stocked up on dry and canned goods that I know we will eat. We invested in some long term food storage. Tackling that fear and developing a plan we followed, removed that from my ‘weakness’ category. Now, it’s a strength.

Build on your strengths. One of my friends sweetly calls me Miss Martha. I have always loved to entertain and socialize. I love being a Domestic Goddess. I love home-keeping, nurturing and gardening. Knowing this is a strength, I have used it to build my social network. I have ‘loved on’ friends and family, securing those bonds tight. In times of adversity, it’s those bonds we have forged that can help us weather through tough times.

Lastly, stay in shape, build on the core you have developed. I never, in my wildest dreams, would have thought that I could ever lift that much weight. But I did. And I am continuing build on it, so that I hope to one day lift 2 of the big plates, which is 235 pounds. I also continue to build on my spiritual core. I continue to look at the areas I harbor fears and doubt. I tackle them one by one, working to turn them into strengths, shoring up, and building on that internal core.

When the winds, or hurricanes of adversity blow through my life, with a strong foundational tree trunk, I should be able to weather them and be a shelter for others. And lets be honest, isn’t that a much preferable way to approach life? I want to be stable in my boat when the oceans turn dark and stormy. I want to be able to have what is necessary, emotionally and physically, to ride out the squall. And, as a person of faith, I want to be a source of comfort, stability and hope for others who’s boats may be sinking, or taking on water.

I am reminded of the story in the Bible of the Disciples out on the Sea and getting caught in a storm. Jesus, exhausted, was resting in the bow of the boat, calmly sleeping through a ocean raging around them. His followers freaked out, waking him up and carrying on about how they were all going to die…AND DIDN’T HE CARE?
Jesus, being a dude I’d have love to have met face to face, calmly stands up and with a wave of his hand, the seas turn flat as glass. In the disciples recounting, he gets a bit crabby and frustrated at their lack of faith.

Just think if those disciples had strengthened their inner Core, would they have panicked the way they did? They certainly were buff guys in good shape, they were seasoned fishermen. But what about their inner core? Maybe they would have been calm, maybe not, because Jesus was a guy who liked to teach and they had a lesson they needed to learn. But I can learn from their unpreparedness. I can read about their weaknesses and I can learn from it. I can be strong spiritually as well as physically. A calm place, in the middle of a stormy sea, for others.

I hope this gives you the motivation to not just be focused on the ‘physically’ fit. I hope that it inspires you to take your inner core as seriously as you might your physical one. I am no prophet of old, but just read the headlines sometime. There is a storm on the horizon. It may not come ashore, but it may. I know that I sleep better at night now, knowing I’ve been strengthening my Core.

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