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)


Gluten Free in Paris – Day 2

Day 2 began with Cafe Au Lait, sent to the room along with a piece of fruit and fresh yogurt we picked up from a grocery a couple of blocks away the previous day. DELISH! The grocery was obviously used by the locals and did have a nice selection of various a items, yogurt being one, we chose an artisan, locally produced yogurt. I highly recommend using this resource if available to you. You can pick up some less expensive eats and europeans don’t do breakfast like Americans. Breakfast is a pastry or small sweet treat and coffee. If you want something substantial, you’ll have to find a grocery and preplan. We picked up water and some munchies for breakfast. I also picked up a bottle of wine. Wine is so cheap there and SO GOOD! The hotel lent me a bottle opener, and it was nice to relax at the end of the day with a little glass.

Our plan to tackle the sights of Paris began with a walk down the Avenue Foch to Rue des Belles, which took us straight down to the Trocadéro and a magnificent view of the Tour Eiffel.

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We wanted to take full advantage of the weather, and so today was a walking day. We continued down and looking back at the Trocadéro:

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We continued down the Champ De Mars. They sell fresh popped kettle corn from little kiosk stands. Stop and grab a small bag. If you can manage to restrain yourself, it is a nice snack later on. Then we continued on to the Ecole Militaire. Not sure if it is an open museum, it wasn’t when we passed through. Museums vary their open dates there. You can read more about this museum ‘HERE‘.

It was just past lunchtime and right there on Avenue Duquésne across from the Ecole was a lovely little cafe called “Cafe des Officiers“. I had the Croque Madame which is NOT gluten free, but I was in France and when in France, Croque Madame is a must if possible!

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My gluten free daughter has the Risotto Parmesan. I tasted it, it was one of the best risottos I’ve tasted, and I make a killer risotto! If you are in this part of town, you will not be disappointed with a big bowl of this yumminess. The service was a bit slow, but that was fine by us. We were tired and just needed a place to sit a spell. (still jet lagged) We sat outside and found it lovely. Yes, there were smokers, but we sat towards the back by the restaurant doors and we really weren’t bothered by it.

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Then past the Hôtel des Invalides.

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Take a tour inside. Napolean is buried here, but the chapel was closed while we were there, so we missed out on that. We then crossed over the Seine, past the Grand Palais (which was also closed):

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But was able to tour the Petit Palais:

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enjoying the inner gardens as well as all the works of art:

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Walked down to the Place de la Concorde, and caught the Champs Elysées to walk back to the Arc De Triomphe. On the way, we stopped in to Ladurée, very famously known for their macaroons. Macaroons are gluten free, and we were tired, so we stopped to get a coffee and a sweet treat. My personal favorites were the Rose, and Orange Blossom Water.

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Back to the room to rest, refresh and find dinner. After putting 12 miles on my FitBit, we stayed close by.  L’Auberge Dab, right on the corner of Avenue de Malakoff, across from the Place de la Port Maillot with the Centre des Congrès de Paris in view was a spot hard to beat. This is a big higher priced restaurant, but the service was impeccable, the food fantastic and the decor reminded me a bit of a boat! Lots of highly polished and beautifully varnished wood. Outside the front door is the seafood preparer, and you were able to see the wonderful assortment as you went indoors. When I inquired what they had in that was ‘very good’, she recommended the ‘tiny shrimp, very sweet’. Well, tiny….they were. Creeped out…was one of my daughters!

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My oldest had the duck, ordered MEDIUM!

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My youngest played it safe with fresh cod over rice and greens:

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I had a naturally Gluten Free Scallop dish with a saffron Risotto.

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Following dinner, we made a quick stop at the grocery for the next mornings yogurt (stored in the hotel fridge) and back to our cute abode. This wraps up eating gluten free in Paris for Day 2.
Next:  Day 3.
(Don’t forget to check out Day 1)


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.