Cajun Shrimp & Cauliflower “Grits”

IMG_2212

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)


Shrimp Pasta in a White Wine reduction sauce

Shrimp Pasta in a White Wine reduction sauce

When I need a quick meal, I turn to my pantry and freezer, looking for what can be defrosted quickly.

Shrimp is a sure bet for a quick nights meal. I lay mine out on parchment on top of my granite. The stone pulls the cold out of the shrimp and defrosts it lickity split.

While your shrimp is defrosting, start the water in your stock pot over high heat and get your sauce going:

Chop a couple of large shallots in to a fine dice,

Melt a couple tbsp of butter in a saucepan and add the shallots, cooking until they are translucent. Add a good generous glug of white wine (about a cup). I used a chardonnay. It should be a wine you would drink, since you will be reducing it and icky/off flavors will only get amplified.

Reduce the wine by more than half, until it starts to look more golden in color and all the alcohol has been burned off. If you start with 1 cup, reduce to 1/3ish. I eye-ball it based on the starting level in the pan.

Add 1-1.5 cups of seafood stock, fish stock, lobster or shrimp stock; or in a pinch, chicken stock. Reduce this by half again.

Your water should be boiling by now, generously salt the water and cook the pasta according to package directions. If you are using Gluten Free Pasta, you will drain and rinse the pasta in hot water. You must generously salt the water or your pasta will taste flat. I use the palm of my hand for about 6 quarts of water.

Back to the stock, while it is reducing, prep your veggies. In this dish I used some leftover baby spinach, part of a leftover heirloom tomato, defrosted green peas, and a little finely diced red pepper. I put these in a large serving bowl with some fresh finely chopped parsley.

When the shrimp are defrosted (you can use a colander and running cold water to defrost, but be sure to pat dry), toss with a generous amount of fresh minced (or put through a press) garlic, salt, pepper (I used Szchewuan) and a good squeeze of lemon. Cook in a sauté pan over medium-high heat with a good dollop of olive oil. Don’t waste extra virgin oil, just use regular. They should be done in about 2 mins top. Set aside and keep warm.

When your sauce is done reducing, add a squeeze of lemon, some crushed tarragon, remove from heat and swirl in a couple tablespoons of unsalted COLD butter. Swirl until the sauce looks thick and glossy.

When the pasta is al dente (meaning it has a bit of bite to it, not super soft), then use your tongs and straight from the pot, to add the pasta directly to the sauce. You want some of that starchy pasta water to help thicken the sauce and add flavor. (If you are cooking GF, save a small amount of water, drain, rinse and then add the noodles. Add water if you need to loosen it up in the sauce) The heat of the sauce will continue to cook the pasta. Do not overload the sauce with pasta, you most likely will not use a whole package of pasta, eyeball it. Pour the entire thing over the top of the veggies and toss till the spinach wilts.

Serve with the shrimp on top, a glass of the white wine, and a nice salad on the side.

*See recipe modifications to make with GF noodles.


Oh Mahi Mahi this was GOOD!

Oh Mahi Mahi this was GOOD!

I was already missing the tropical breezes, roaring ocean and balmy breezes a week after returning from our island visit. So to appease my yearning for anything to (as the Calgon commercials go) ‘take me away’, I pulled some Mahi Mahi out of the freezer and set to work creating something for dinner.

As I’ve mentioned previously, I have a well stocked fridge and pantry. I just love to cook and I love to cook spontaneously. I hate having my creativity limited by having nothing on hand. So, I keep a well stocked pantry, fridge and freezer.

This entire meal was ‘created’ using my Flavor Bible as a food/spice pairing guide, creative juices and what I had on hand. This is a ‘one pan’ meal, all cooked in stages in my trusty cast iron skillet.

First to be cooked were the potato medallions. I had duck fat in my fridge, and there is nothing better than potatoes cooked in duck fat! Seasoning them with salt and pepper, I let them cook until well browned and tender. On an oven safe plate they went in to a 200 deg oven to keep warm. I left the pan with that lovely seasoning and next;

I bloomed some Alleppo Pepper in the pan, adding a little olive oil, and a lot of garlic. I ‘shaved’ the brussels sprouts while the potatoes were cooking and sauteed them in the pan. When tender but still crisp, into an oven safe container and put in the oven. I wiped the pan clean with a paper towel.

Next came the fish, seasoned with salt and pepper, then pan fried with extra virgin olive oil.

While the potatoes and sprouts were cooking, I mixed up a simple salad in a bowl. Sliced radishes, cucumber and red bell pepper. I made a simple dressing of white wine vinegar, grapeseed oil (very healthy for you), a pinch of sugar, good healthy splash of Yuzu, salt, pepper and a handful of chopped cilantro.
Also while the fish was cooking I made a pistou of cilantro, salt, garlic and EVOO (extra-virgin olive oil). Simply chop the cilantro and garlic fine on a cutting board, add some kosher salt and with the flat side of your knife mash and combine by ‘smearing’ it on the board. Add to a bowl and add enough oil to make it look like the photo. It’s really a ‘to taste’ type of condiment.

The end result was heaven on a plate. And yes, for a brief moment, if I closed my eyes I could pretend I was back there in paradise.