I love it when a plan comes together, when a dish in your imagination turns out as delicious as the actual experiment. This is one such meal.
Last night I put a little gourmet Italian twist on southern-style Shrimp n’ Grits, then added a serving of smoky-garlicky greens as a side. The results? Not only was the presentation gorgeous, it tasted heavenly. As in I would absolutely put a this recipe in the category of “the perfect bite” and serve it up in a spoon to Nigella Lawson and Anthony Bourdain on the show “The Taste”. Then step back and wait for them to swoon and hand me the prize without further debate.
In place of the traditional grits, I pan-fried thin slices of ready-made polenta, often used in Italian recipes. I used Trader Joe’s brand, which comes in package shelf (not refrigerated), usually near the Italian section of the store. It looks like moist, cooked cornmeal made into a log and wrapped in plastic. That is because, well, it is. It is not the most appetizing looking food when you open it up for slicing. (Think yellow corn grits that may have been left too long in a pan.) However, once you’ve pan-fried them in olive oil and butter, with a little salt and pepper…. Look out, Louise. They turn into crispy-edged, buttery disks of corny decadence.
I can’t wait for you to try this recipe, a Taste of Tuscany meets South in Your Mouth.
Bon appetito, Ya’ll!
Shrimp Alfredo with Crispy Polenta and Greens
½ log of pre-made polenta
1 T. butter
1T. olive oil
Dash salt and pepper
For Shrimp and Alfredo:
20 pieces of raw medium shrimp, cleaned, peeled, tails removed
1 T. olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cup cream
¼ cup Parmesan cheese
1 T. Olive oil
2 cloves garlic minced,
½ red onion, diced fine
2 slices pork or turkey bacon diced fine
4 cups loosely packed, rough chopped kale and/or other greens, thick stems mostly removed
½ cup water
1 t. smoked paprika
1 T. vinegar, your favorite
1 T. brown sugar
Salt and Pepper (or Grill Seasoning or Cajun Seasoning) to taste
Tabasco or Frank’s Red Sauce or Red Chili Pepper to taste
Start the greens first, so they can simmer on the back burner. In your largest deepest skillet, saute olive oil, garlic, red onion and bacon, until bacon crisps. Pile the greens on top of this mixture in the skillet, cover with ½ cup of water, cover, and let the greens cook down about 5 minutes over medium heat. Take lid off and stir in paprika, vinegar and brown sugar, add salt and pepper and hot sauce to taste. Cover again and simmer while you make the shrimp and sauce. (Adding water if needed to keep from scorching, but no more than necessary.)
In another skillet (I like my iron skillet) let oil and butter melt and get hot while you slice the polenta into ¼ inch or so rounds. Place the rounds in the skillet and turn heat up to medium high so that the polenta starts to pan fry. When it is golden brown in places, turn it over and brown the other side. Sprinkle the tops very lightly with salt and pepper. Remove to a paper towel to drain any excess grease, then cover with another paper town to keep warm.
Wipe out the iron skillet with a paper towel, and then put in oil and garlic and shrimp. Cook for just a minute or two until shrimp just turns pink on both sides. (You can add a little water to the pan if the shrimp starts to stick.) Add cream and parmesan cheese. Stir and heat until cheese is melted and the shrimp and sauce is heated through. Season lightly with salt to taste, if needed.
Put about 5 or 6 rounds of polenta on each plate. Pile with shrimp and sauce. Sprinkle with smoked paprika. Serve with a side of the greens.
(Becky, the Mama) Now that summertime is here in Colorado, it is hard for me to stay away from the perfect weather on our inviting back porch!
We nap, visit and eat outside as much as humanly possible. Yesterday, we hosted a group of young couples and little ones for an outdoor brunch. A friend dropped by last night and we enjoyed a plate of nachos and cool drinks as we rocked and swung and chatted in the evening breeze. Tonight we had some dear friends and their little girls over for an old-fashioned supper-on-the-porch that brought back memories of meals around my own grandmother’s table. I made garlic & lemon roast chicken, baked sweet potatoes, Asian peanut buttery green beans (recipe to come soon!), corn, and my simple rustic, pastry-style cherry-blueberry cobbler (a festive July 4 recipe, by the way, with a little scoop of vanilla ice cream and raspberrg sorbet).
But it was the refreshing side-dish that I prepared for tonight’s meal that made me wax nostalgic for potlucks and picnic tables of my childhood: sweet n’ sour refrigerator pickled cucumbers & onions. I updated this beloved Grandma dish by using the small Asian or Persian cucumbers that are often sold in little packages of six to twelve, and becoming increasingly popular in grocery stores everywhere. Sliced a little on the thick side they hold their crunch for days in this pickling liquid. I like to keep a container of these marinated cucumbers and onions hand in the fridge all summer long to add a crisp, cold delightful punch to almost any meal.
You can get creative and add some diced fresh tomatoes, olives, artichoke hearts or any kind of cooked beans and a handful of fresh chopped herbs to this basic dish to create a quick, pretty, refreshing marinated salad for potlucks, picnics and summertime side-dishes. Crunch on and enjoy!
Crunchy, Easy, Refrigerator Pickled Cucumbers & Red Onions
6 to 8 small Asian or Persian cucumbers, sliced about 3/4 inch (leave peel on)
1 small red onion, peeled and sliced thin, pulled apart in strands
1 cup white vinegar
1 cup water
1/4 to 1/3 cup sugar (depending on desired sweetness)
1 T. sea salt
T. dried dill (or 2 T. fresh chopped dill)
1 T. celery seed
1 T. black sesame seeds (optional)
Directions: Mix all of the above together in a dish with a lid. Let the mixture sit on the counter , with lid on top, at room temperature for about an hour and then put in fridge to chill until ready to serve. (Let the veggies marinate at least 3 hours for the best flavor through-out.) Will keep in fridge up to a week, maintaining its crunch.
People often ask me how I cook with Jackson around. In We Laugh, We Cry, We Cook, I wrote about how cooking with him was kind of like cooking on an obstacle course. For a long time, that was what it felt like. But recently, I realized at this stage–the two’s–cooking with him is one of the easiest things on my to-do list to accomplish with him around. Not easy…but it’s something he’s come to feel at ease around. It’s kind of “our” thing.
I left him with a friend the other day for a few minutes and when I returned she shared this little conversation they had.
Sarah: Do you have a dog?
Jackson: No, I have a mommy.
Sarah: Oh, well that’s almost as good as a dog.
Jackson: Yeth, I cook with mommy.
Well, there you have it. Dogs don’t make very good cooking companions for kids, but mommies are very good for that.
My other to-dos don’t have the same smiley affect on him. Writing with him around. Yeah right. Phone calls. Let’s just say, the last conference call I was on with our editor, I had to muffle the phone while I hollered, “Jackson, don’t stick your head through the fence” and then again while he hollered, “Noooooo! Don’t wipe meeee!” as I was trying to discreetly potty train mid-call.
Cooking is mostly a piece of cake…because he can participate, he can be a helper. And even when he can’t help with something like chopping onions, he’s still content because we’re together and I’m talking to him, not somebody else on the phone or looking at a computer screen.
And with a little creativity, there’s almost always a way to get a child involved in the cooking if they want to be.
I don’t cook every day, but the days I do, the moments we are in the kitchen together, are often the moments we enjoy the most. The kitchen is a place where our lives intersect, where my almost 30-year old female joys and interests cross with my two-year old little boy’s interests. I don’t have to pretend that the lego tower we just built is the tallest most amazing piece of architecture I’ve ever seen. He doesn’t have to be patient with me as I make a quick call or pick up groceries. The smells of cloves and cinnamon, the colorful block puzzle from butternut squash, the sound of the blender engine purring excite us both. We don’t have to pretend. We just have to be. Together.
Roasted Butternut Squash Mole Enchiladas
5 cups diced butternut squash
1 tablespoon oil (canola, olive, grapeseed)
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
8-10 corn tortillas
1/2 cup raisins, soaked for 10 minutes in warm water and drained (optional)
2 cups Mole Sauce (I used this easy recipe from Vegetarian Times)*
Preheat oven to 400. Toss butternut sqaush with canola oil, brown sugar, chili powder, and cinnamon. Bake at 400 for 20 minutes or until tender and cooked through. Resist temptation to eat all the squash now.
Reduce oven temp to 350. Ladle 1/2 cup mole sauce into bottom of a 9×13 casserole dish. Wrap corn tortillas in a damp paper towel and heat in microwave for about 30 seconds, just enough to warm them up and make them pliable. Dip corn tortilla into mole sauce. Fill with about two tablespoons of butternut squash and a sprinkle of raisins. Roll up. Repeat. Ladle a generous amount of sauce on top. Bake at 350 for 15 minutes.
Serve with black or wild rice. The nuttiness from the black rice went perfectly with this dish.
*I blended half of the sauce this time. I think I’d leave it unblended next time though, because it was a lot prettier unblended.
There comes a time in every gardener’s life when they ask themselves, “What am I going to do with all these tomatoes?” And until that day comes for me, I will pull up my dead plants with my black thumbs, quietly curse those gardeners under my breath, and smile graciously when they offer up some of their overwhelming bounty to me.
I’ll display them on the counter for a day or so until I can’t take their mockery anymore.
And then I will cook my way out of despair.
And remember the gifts I can offer my family, even if a plentiful vegetable garden is not one of them.
Instead, I will slow roast my way into their hearts with sweet peppers, carrots, onions, and garlic (store bought, but flavorful nonetheless), garden tomatoes (generously given to this less fortunate gardener), and a few sad looking twigs of rosemary and oregano (just barely surviving in my garden of doom).
And I’ll bring those flavors together in one delightful pureed sauce. My husband will declare that he may never eat jarred sauce again. My toddler will slurp his pasta up with messy reckless abandon. And I will stand over the pot eating the sweet rich roasted sauce by the spoonful, my self esteem having made a complete (near manic) turn for the better.
For those of you who feel the need to do something good and right by your family, I give you this recipe. It will restore their faith in you, and your faith in yourself.
Roasted Tomato and Sweet Pepper Pasta Sauce
~ 3 pounds of tomatoes (I don’t have a scale, but I used about 12-15 smallish tomatoes), cut in half
~15 mini sweet peppers (or 3 red, yellow, or orange bell peppers), cut in half and seeded
1 carrot, peeled and sliced thin
1 red onion, quartered
8 garlic cloves, peeled
2 twigs fresh rosemary, removed from stem (or 1 teaspoon dried)
1 tablespoon fresh oregeno, removed from stem (or 1 teaspoon dried)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
generous sprinkle of fresh cracked pepper
1/2 teapoon salt
1/2 teaspoon molasses (or brown sugar)
handful of fresh parsley, rough chopped (or 1 teaspoon dried)
Other: 1 lb pasta, cooked (I used whole wheat thin spaghetti, use gluten-free if needed)
Heat oven to 400. Put chopped vegetables and herbs on a large deep-sided roasting pan or dish. Stuff the garlic cloves into the tomatoes so they don’t burn. Drizzle with olive oil and toss with salt and pepper. Roast for 45 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes.
Carefully pour the veggies and their sauces into a pot on the stove and use an immersion blender to puree the vegetables. (If you don’t have an imersion blender, let the veggies cool to room temperature, then transfer to a blender or food processor and puree. Then pour into a pot on the stove.) Add parsley, salt, and molasses. Bring to a boil and then reduce to low heat. Simmer for 30 minutes. My sauce was thick already, so I simmered with the lid on, but if you have really juicy tomatoes, you may want to simmer with the lid off until you reach the desired consistency. Check for seasoning. Adding more salt or molasses (adds sweetness and cuts acidity) as needed.
Make it Salsa: This base recipe could easily be turned into a salsa by switching up the seasonings — add a few jalapenos and cilantro, omit rosemary, oregeno, and parsley. Pulse in the food processor for a chunkier version. Would be delicious served hot or cold with chips.
Make it Soup: Add a little broth or cream for a delicious roasted tomato and pepper soup.
Make it a Meal: While you’re simmering the sauce and the oven is still hot, roast up some chickpeas tossed in olive oil and Italian seasoning for a crunchy protein-filled topping. Wilt some spinach into the sauce in the last five minutes to sneak in some greens.