Sometimes a girl just has to have a big, steaming bowl of lovely Asian-style deliciousness for dinner. How many times have we made our way home at day’s end after spending 10 hours working… working hard. To add to our woes often a last-minute run to the grocery store is required if we expect to have dinner. All of the ingredients for this dish are available at your grocery store and, get this, if you’re so beat you’re willing to take the easy way out, most of the makings called for are already cleaned, prepared and/or cut up. Yay for grocery store food prep! I don’t know about you but I’m slow as molasses in the kitchen and that’s on a good day. So if I can get a little help to speed things up I’ll take it. The recipe can easily be halved but I like to have leftovers for lunches the following day so take that into consideration.
This dish can be served over noodles, (rice, udon or cellophane are all fine), or it may be served over rice, (white, brown, jasmine or basmati), it all works. If you’re staying away from carbs altogether add more broth and the dish becomes more soup-like. Nice, huh? Most of the vegetables can be found already chopped in the produce section of your grocery store, the shrimp has been cooked and is in the seafood department and the sweet potato can be thrown in the microwave to “bake”. The sweet potato is SO good paired with the savory lemongrass! The spinach is tossed into the pan straight from the bag and the basil leaves are torn from the stalk and added without having to cut. Also, in the produce section, you’ll find tubes of fresh lemongrass, grated ginger paste and minced garlic in the jar. Oh, the glory of it all! Wait, wait! I almost forgot to mention that in the “international” section of the store are already prepared udon noodles in cryovac and, if you prefer glass noodles, just know they don’t have to be cooked. They soak in hot water for 15-20 minutes so they’re ready when you’ve finished the shrimp part of the recipe. Can you believe it? Again, if you’re trying to watch your weight, using “lite” coconut milk is perfectly fine. I try to have boxed chicken broth always on hand and it’s perfect with the shrimp but feel free to use what you have in the pantry. Speaking of pantry, the jarred herbs and all-ready-prepared noodles are great staples to stock up on as are a few bags of cleaned shrimp in the freezer, perfect for last-minute soups, salads and stirfrys. I know this recipe calls for a lengthy list of ingredients but please keep in mind, this is pretty much a “dump and stir” meal. I’m thrilled with the ease of it and I know you will be, too. Enjoy!
In Puerto Rico cod fritters, or bacalaitos, are a quintessential party food. Wildly popular, these fritters are even sold at the beach. Right on the sand are wooden shacks with tin roofs, some with a few tables, some only serving take out. Typically salsa is blasting at full volume while a stiff ocean breeze tempts bathers with the perfume of garlic and culantro. If you spy a cook working behind her bubbling pot still in her house coat with pink foam curlers in her hair, hips swaying in tune with the music, I strongly suggest you stop there to eat! I promise you won’t be disappointed. When I was growing up in Puerto Rico, summers and holidays, these fritters were not often served. In those days my family was suspicious of any street food and would have been horrified if we had even asked for a bite. My grandparents felt anything worth ingesting was just as good or better at home. And that would have been fine except we never had bacalaitos at home. Why, I don’t know… because they’re bad for you? (They ARE fried!) Nevertheless, on outings with uncles, aunts and cousins, we were often rewarded for good behavior at the end of day with a little fried something.
Big doin’s for me when the treat happened to be cod fritters. I don’t know why they’re called “fritters” as they’re not the shape of, say, apple fritters or conch fritters… they’re not rounded in shape but flat…like a cookie. Crispy on the outside but tender and chewy on the inside, these “frituras” were served hot out of the fat and wrapped in a paper napkin. Sometimes, if we happen to be in a really upscale shack, the fritters were loosely wrapped in a napkin then tucked into a small, brown paper bag. We tossed the napkins and let the paper bag soak up the excess oil while savoring every salty nugget of bacalao, cod, studded throughout the fritter. Tanned, barefooted and covered with beach sand is how I like to remember enjoying this street food!
1 pound salt cod, deboned and soaked in cold water 8-12 hours, changing the water several time to get rid of the salt
10 garlic cloves
10-12 whole black peppercorns
1 bunch culantro (approximately .75 ounces) or 20 leaves, ripped into 2″ pieces
2 3/4 cups broth from the cod. You’ll be boiling the fish briefly so don’t throw the broth out!
3 cups all-purpose flour plus additional if needed
2 teaspoons baking powder
Discard the water the cod has soaked in and place the fish in a pot covered with 1″ of fresh, cold water. Bring the water to a boil and cook the fish for 10-15 minutes.
Remove the fish from the broth and set aside to cool. Reserve the broth for later in the recipe.
While the cod is cooling, add the garlic, peppercorns and culantro to a food processor or blender and process until you almost have a paste. If the ingredients stick and won’t process, add a tablespoon or two of the fish broth and continue processing.
When the cod is cool enough to handle, gently pull the fish apart with your hands. You want it chunks in your fritters as opposed to a feathery mess.
In a separate large bowl combine the flour and baking powder.
Mix the broth into the flour by hand. The batter should be the consistency of pancake batter. If too thin, add a bit more flour. If too thin, add a little more broth but, in either case, not too much.
To the flour/broth mixture add the flaked cod and the garlic/culantro mixture and mix well by hand.
Allow to sit for 5 minutes or so to let the baking powder do its job.
In a heavy-bottomed frying pan or pot, pour in vegetable oil until it reaches 1″ on the sides. Heat the oil on high.
When the oil is hot and “shimmers” spoon 1/4 cup into the pan making 3-4 fritters, depending on the size of your pan. You don”t want to crowd them. If the fritters are browning too fast drop the heat down to medium-high.
Fry each fritter 3-4 minutes or until golden, turning only once.
Drain the fritters on a paper bag or paper towels. If you want to be truly authentic, thread each fritter through the middle with a metal skewer and hang across a large pot allowing the oil to drain to the bottom of the pot.
Serve immediately or keep warm in a very low oven.
Heads up, people. This Sunday’s Mother’s Day and we have high expectations. I’m offering some tips…consider it a guideline because if you know your Mama, and you better hope you do, this is almost common sense. Tip number one, and this is the most important one. Don’t mess with her. At all. She would never say the “F” word but you really wouldn’t want her to think it, would you? I thought not. Tip number two. I’m sure there are some mommies out there who don’t care for champagne but I’ve never met them. We love champagne, good champagne and lots of it. Please don’t skimp here. She’ll be thinking the “F” word and, again, we really want to avoid that. Tip number three and the final suggestion. Moms want to be treated to brunch with a presentation which is sumptuous, sensual and stunning. We don’t want purple daisies from the grocery store, unless they’re pick out by your four-year old who loves them, is so proud and is positively beaming. No. Do something nice. Get her some orchids. I have to say this old mom has all her string and beer tab necklaces, plaster of paris handprints, special hand-picked rocks and construction paper cards adorned with crayon flowers and stick figures and, people, I love them all. All! But we REALLY, REALLY like to be treated super well and pampered. Jus’ sayin.
This gorgeous salad pairs beautifully with sliced avocado and radishes. It can also be served on a bed of mixed baby greens. If it’s to be served over or with a salad of greens, go ahead and mix up another batch of dressing. There is only enough in one recipe to dress the crabmeat. Champagne is perfection with this crabmeat salad…the bubbly seems to bring out the sweetness. The fresh orange sections highlight the tartness of the palm hearts and any avocado slipped on the plate rounds out the luxuriousness of this indulgence. This salad is best assembled just before serving.
Isn’t it great when family members can help other family members with academics, college or careers? One of our nieces, Meg, reached out to her Uncle Jimmy for help with a skype interview for a summer internship. We’re so happy to learn she got it! When Delta Airlines made moves to open a reservations office in San Juan my aunt, Madrinita, helped me out and secured an interview for me. It was certainly no guarantee of being hired but it got my toe in the door. The rest was up to me. Hundreds and hundreds of people were interviewed for 13 positions. I was just out of college, young and foolish and completely unaware of any competition for these highly coveted positions. With the beauty and confidence of one in their early 20’s, I sailed through all my interviews happy to be on a mini-vacation during the day while spending precious moments with my family at night, secure in the knowledge that the world truly was my oyster. I scored that position myself but had my aunt not let me know, had she not set up the initial interview, that chapter of my life would have been rewritten. I lived with my relatives for some time and although we had a few disagreements, (for instance, how can I be home by 10:00 pm if I’m not leaving the house until 11:00pm. Right?), we all enjoyed this unexpected gift of time spent with each other. I gained a fierce loyalty and love of the island and its people, from the cool, wet mountains down to the white, hot beaches. I had some great times and, of course, some not so great moments but regardless, Puerto Rico is my safe haven, my refuge, the stuff of my dreams. My hope is that you’ll pour “dos dedos”, two fingers, of rum, crank the salsa and explore this island recipe. Buen provecho!
This recipe has so many Caribbean flavors. Sweet potato and pumpkin are huge in the islands and linger softly in the background tone of so many dishes such as beans, soups and curries. Coconut milk is used in both sweet and savory dishes while cilantro plays a major role in countless savory dishes. I put a whole scotch bonnet pepper in the the pot and fish it out before serving. If one of your guests mistakes it for a chunk of tomato they’re in for one helluva bad surprise. If you like your food screaming hot then, by all means mince two or three of the peppers and throw them in but I find one is just fine. This curry is served over rice and I prefer an organic, short grain brown. Short grain is sweeter than long and pairs well with this dish. Please know all these ingredient amounts are easily changed. If you’re not crazy about pumpkin then leave it out and double up on the sweet potato. Not a fan of zucchini? Add carrots or potatoes instead. And basil is brilliant in place of cilantro so play around with this forgiving dish until you come up with your own island version. Enjoy!
Oh, y’all. Taking these photos is killing me. I crank the music loud and that’s okay except if I hear loud music often I pour a drink…regardless of the time of day. This recipe liked to kill me. I had several ideas for props and one of them was to stack a few biscuit hot from the oven in the background. I baked them off and although I didn’t even use them in the photos I ate two. I’m filled with shame. I thought maybe I’d toss a few potato chips behind the photo of the shrimp po’ boy. As I walked down the chip aisle at my neighborhood Publix, my eyes fell on “Hot ‘N Spicy Pork Rinds”. Well! I’m half Puerto Rican. Pork rinds hold deep meaning for us. Into the cart they went alongside the frozen biscuit I knew I wouldn’t eat because…c’mon, they’re frozen. I don’t eat that garbage. I ‘magine that’s why I only ate two. I stopped by the bakery to pick up a few freshly baked hoagie rolls for the po’ boy photo and I can honestly say all I ate of THAT product was the tip I cut off of one roll for aesthetic purposes. People, I was like the mayor in the movie “Chocolat”, who also went crazy during Lent. He couldn’t control himself from eating chocolate and that’s how I was with all these tempting carbs while taking these photos. I didn’t touch the shrimp…I needed them and this was the fourth and last time was frying them to take some photos. No. I focused on the biscuit and pork rinds…and my cocktails…at 2:17 in the afternoon. Ugh. I keep thinking, “Can I get any fatter?”, and the answer always, always is yes. But I had a good time setting up the shoots. I danced alone in the house with the dog and Earth, Wind and Fire. Chaka Khan and Bobby Womack may have shown up. I boogied to “Love Rollercoaster” and Shalamar’s “Make The Move”. And when the shoots were over there’s a chance I indulged in a shrimp or two. (Insert shameful face emoji.) So I will share with you this recipe that, again, I have made four (4) times because my family and I kept eating all of it before I took pics. It is heavenly!
Once you fry shrimp in cornmeal you will never batter up again. It’s just a light dusting of cornmeal but its presence makes all the difference in the world. I start with good size, large shrimp, shelled and deveined. Sometimes with and sometimes without the tail, but always wild caught, never farmed. Farmed shrimp has a muddy, dull, one-dimensional taste. I’ll do without shrimp rather than eat farmed. I prefer a medium ground, white cornmeal as I find a fine ground is too processed and without flavor. If I’m ingesting these cornmeal calories, by God, I want to taste and enjoy them! I keep Tony Chachere’s in my pantry as my all time favorite but Zatarain’s is probably just as good for an all-around Creole or Cajun spice blend. I’ll admit the amount of cayenne is somewhat alarming for some readers but I find cooking with hot spices seems to tame their heat greatly. These shrimp are not as spicy as you think they’d be. That said, if they’re not spicy enough for you, lightly dust each batch with a little cayenne pepper immediately after taking them out of the hot oil and placing on some paper towels to drain. And that’s all there is to it. This shrimp recipe is perfection in a po’ boy…especially if you slip a couple of spicy pork rinds in the sammie for a little crunch. On top of slow cooked grits, alongside corn bread or standing alone, these shrimp are a phenomenal flavor bomb.
Last week we had a monstrous hurricane bearing down on us and after getting the house and yard storm ready all I could think of was the enormous amount of beautiful dolphin, wild caught shrimp, grass-fed beef and organic chicken lounging in my freezer. We lose power in our house about the time a storm picks up off the coast of Africa. It takes nothing for us to lose power. I hate it. A car can drive by and all of a sudden, flicker-flicker, and flat silence descends. No sound, no light, no cooling ceiling fans and no AC. The worst! And then, of course, things start thawing and dripping in my freezer. Not knowing if we would get a direct hit from Hurricane Matthew, and I thank God everyday that we did not, I figured I’d cook up a large portion of my frozen treasures and we would eat like kings for a few days. Here in south Florida we are blessed with a type of shrimp called Key West Pinks, so sweet, succulent and, yes, pink. And although their season peaks in June, they’re still quite easy to find in seafood markets. I quickly steamed a few pounds in a spicy lemony broth and set them aside for us to enjoy cold with cocktail sauce. I had all kinds of food items in my refrigerator that I was loath to toss. Bacon, peppers, milk, cream, butter, cheese…what’s a girl to do?
Well, I’ll tell you what this girl did. I prepared for dinner the most luxurious, creamy dish of Shrimp and Grits this side of heaven. I always have grits on hand, good grits. Slow cooking, stone ground grits. Not that highly processed, quick or instant, grocery store mess. All watery and bland. No. I like coarsely ground grits, loaded with texture and full of corn flavor that easily stand alone on their own merit. In fact, these are the grits you almost want to eat without anything on top but then I think of the sweet Pinks. I daydream of the bacon seasoned sauce puddling on top of creamy, white grits and I’m back on board. Oh, and by the way, Trader Joe’s store brand grits are really super if you don’t have a grist mill down the street. The shrimp will be gone in two seconds flat but you’ll probably have some grits left over. It can be gently warmed again the following day and eaten as is with nothing added but a quick grind of black pepper. The grits will take about 30 minutes to prepare so don’t start cooking your shrimp until the grits are almost done. If the grits get too thick it can be thinned out with a little warmed milk, half and half or cream. Pork is usually included in the shrimp mixture. Bacon, andouille sausage and Tasso are typically put into service. My first choice is bacon as its saltiness really brings out the sweetness of the shrimp. Andouille is good but I find its taste completely overwhelms the delicate flavors of both the shrimp and grits. Tasso is wonderful but it’s also strong plus can be difficult to find. This, Gentle Reader, is comfort food at its best. As there is such a difference in wild caught shrimp versus farmed so is there a vast difference in stone ground grits as opposed to highly processed, quick or instant. Make the effort to find wild caught shrimp and stone ground grits. You’ll be positively delighted at the difference they make in your dishes. I hope you enjoy these two recipes as much as my entire family does. They’ll do ya proud!
These sweet yet salty crab cakes are every crab lovers dream. How many times have we gone to a shi-shi restaurant and hopefully ordered crab cakes which should be crunchy and buttery on the outside, pearly white, sweet but briny on the inside only to be served a couple of heavily doctored, gluey, deep-fried, fish-like patties? Gosh, I hate it when that happens. So many restaurants trash seafood, from overcooked tiles of fish or rubbery, heavily breaded fried shrimp to our loved crab. It was different when we were growing up here in Lauderdale. As a child, there wasn’t the selection of dining spots we now have available. Our grandfather, Grandpa, had moved here from Cleveland when our grandmother passed away. He, too, lived on the water and loved to throw out a dozen or so crab cages. Every two or three days he’d let me walk down to the canal with him and pull up the cages. Each cage had small, round floater tied with a piece of monofilament making it easy to haul up the cages and check our catch. Every crab cage had been baited with either pieces of mullet, their heads, bodies and tails, or raw chicken necks. I loved everything about it!
After strolling down to the water’s edge I would lie on my stomach on the dock while Grandpa pulled up the heavy metal cages. My job was to tell him if we had caught anything. If we had he’d continue pulling, if not he’d drop the heavy box back down to the muddy depths of the canal. Most of the time, though, there were sweet, luscious blue crabs. We’d throw our haul into waiting plastic buckets, always being careful not to get pinched, then walk back to his apartment where Grandpa would spend the rest of the morning picking the crabs. I wasn’t allowed because I guess my parents thought I’d cut myself with a knife…and I probably would have. The waters were clear back then and the meat that came out of those crabs was the sweetest I’ve ever had. Grandpa made a gorgeous crab salad and his bisque was magnificent.
I’m sharing with you my recipe for crab cakes. I think they’re fabulous and they taste of crab…nothing else. No crackers, mashed potatoes or breadcrumbs mixed in. No fillers here. The Panko crumbs and butter make a light and crispy coating allowing the crab meat to positively shine. Serve with a homemade remoulade sauce or simply with freshly cut lime wedges but either way I hope you enjoy them!