Tag Archives: seafood

Shrimp and Grits…yes, please

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?

img_3353

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!

Creamy Grits and Collards...it's a natural!
Creamy Grits and Collards…it’s a natural!

Shrimp and Grits

  • Servings: 8
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Grits

  • 1 3/4 cups stone ground grits
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 5 1/2 cups water
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 4 ounces cream cheese
  1. In a large, heavy pot bring the water and salt to a boil then reduce the heat to low.
  2. Using a whisk or large wooden spoon, stir the water in a circular motion while slowly pouring in grits and stirring constantly.
  3. When the grits begin to thicken add the milk, cream and butter.  Stir until all the ingredients are incorporated.
  4. Cook over low heat for 30 minutes or until grits are tender, stirring often.
  5. Add the cream cheese and mix until the cheese has melted into the grits.
  6. Cover, set aside and keep warm on low.

Shrimp

  • 5 slices thick sliced bacon, cut into matchstick size pieces
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 large garlic clove, finely minced or grated
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 2 pounds wild caught uncooked shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • 1/4 cup cream or half and half
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • serve with Tabasco sauce or Crystal Hot sauce on the side, optional
  1. Place the bacon pieces in a medium size skillet and cook over medium heat until crisp, 6-10 minutes.
  2. Using a slotted spoon, remove the bacon and set aside in a small bowl.  Leave the bacon drippings in the pan.
  3.  To the bacon drippings add the onion, bell pepper and garlic and cook over moderate heat until the onions are clear and soft but not brown, about 5 minutes or so.
  4. Add the butter and stir until melted.  Add the shrimp, lemon juice and white wine.  Stir well to cook evenly.  Cook until shrimp just turn pink.
  5. Quickly add reserved bacon and stir well and remove from heat.
  6. Spoon warm grits in shallow soup bowls.
  7. Using a slotted spoon top grits with shrimp
  8. Pour remaining sauce evenly over shrimp and grits.
  9. Serve immediately.

http://www.theirreverentkitchen.com

 

Advertisements

Crab Cakes, the real deal

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!

Dad and Grandpa on the dock a thousand years ago!
Dad and Grandpa on the dock a thousand years ago!

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.

img_3080

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!

img_3082

Crab Cakes

  • Servings: 6 crab cakes
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

  • 1 pound lump crab meat, picked over and cleaned, liquid squeezed out by hand
  • 1 scallion, finely chopped
  • 1/2 -1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour, divided
  • 1 1/2 cups Panko breadcrumbs, unseasoned
  • 4 tablespoons butter, divided
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  1. Place cleaned and drained crab meat gently in a medium size bowl.
  2. In a small bowl combine scallion, cayenne pepper, salt, black pepper and egg.  Mix well so all ingredients are completely combined.
  3. Pour egg mixture evenly over crab meat and gently toss crab by hand to combine but take care not to break up lumps of meat.
  4. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of flour over the crab and toss carefully by hand to mix.  Sprinkle the second tablespoon of flour, toss carefully and repeat with the remaining tablespoon of flour.
  5. Using a 1/3-cup measuring cup, scoop 6 firmly packed portions and place on a small baking sheet or dinner plate.  Packing them firmly helps them to keep their shape.
  6. Place the Panko in a shallow bowl (I use a shallow soup bowl).
  7. Carefully place a crab cake in the bread crumbs, coat the top of the cake with Panko and gently pat into place.  This will cause the bottom also to be covered with crumbs.
  8. Place back onto tray or plate and continue dredging all the crab cakes.
  9. Line a clean plate with paper towels to drain cooked crab cakes and set aside.
  10. Heat a large frying pan or skillet over medium heat with half the butter and half the olive oil.
  11. Place three of the cakes in the pan and cook until golden brown, about 3-4 minutes.  Carefully turn each crab cake over, cover pan and cook for another 3-4 minutes.
  12. Transfer cooked crab cakes to the paper towel lined plate, add the remaining butter and olive oil to the pan and cook the other three crab cakes in the same manner.
  13. Serve immediately.

http://www.theirreverentkitchen.com

Shrimp Paste…reason enough to have a cocktail hour

IMG_1391

Ever had shrimp paste?  It’s a Southern indulgence.  Whether spread on finger sandwiches, swirled into grits or served with raw vegetables and toast points, shrimp paste is a treat you really ought to experience.  It’s set out at breakfast, lunch and dinner.  You don’t see it often now at parties but when I was growing up shrimp paste was the stand-by spinach artichoke hors d’oeuvre of the day.  Fort Lauderdale was still a sleepy, Southern resort town.  Locals pronounced Miami “Miamuh”.  “Up on the highway” referred to US1, Federal Highway, the biggest main road that I can remember.  Going to dinner at bar/restaurant, MaiKai,  and seeing the Polynesian floorshow was cause for envy amongst my friends and  considered major exotica.  I mean, where else could you see beautiful women dressed in only grass skirts and coconut halves covering their breasts, dancing the hula while behind them handsome island men juggled fire-lit torches to the beat of thundering drums?  Pretty hokey now but in those days that was almost fast living!  Simple as life was then, there were some hard and fast social rules.  For instance, napkins when entertaining.  Linen napkins were used at every party…cocktail, dinner and luncheon.  Luncheons were quite common back then as that was the time women could get away from the house for a few hours with the explanation of “I’ve got a club meeting.  Be back this afternoon!”  There seemed to be more women’s clubs then than today.  Mama belonged to a good handful.  These were invitation only clubs although they benefitted the community.  Beaux Arts was the women’s club affiliated with the Fort Lauderdale Museum of Art and, boy, could those ladies throw a luncheon meeting.  All meetings were held in different member’s homes during the day, never at night, I imagine because all these ladies of the ’50’s, ’60’s and ’70’s had to be home to prepare dinner for their husbands and families.  And let me tell you, these ladies turned out for their meetings.  Heels and dresses, baby, then wild pantsuits in the mid-’60’s.  Lots of gleaming pearls dangling off of graceful necks, later years replaced with chunky, mod necklaces.  Late morning the street where the designated meeting was to be held would fill with big, ol’ parked cars the size of boats in all different pastel colors.  I don’t know why, but you didn’t often see black cars back then.  Cream, baby blue, mint green, even soft pink land yachts sat bumper to bumper on both sides of the street as the women made their way into the house, heels crunching on gravel lined driveways, heavy charm bracelets softly tinkling while the women waved and greeted each other.  I remember when Mama had meetings at our house the days prior would be a flurry of activity.  Frankie, our housekeeper, was in charge of making certain the entire house was spotless and, on the day of the meeting, replenishing the punch bowl and platters of food on the dining room table.  She also oversaw the polishing of the silver by older sister, Cynthia, and me.  Mama would pay us each 50¢, sometimes a DOLLAR, big money back then to clean the silverware.  My  sister and I always seemed to be the designated invisible help relegated to collecting empty cups and crumpled napkins or emptying ashtrays.  It was understood we didn’t engage anyone in conversation; that we were to speak only if we were spoken to.  Wait.  We were also expected to greet all the members…it was “hello, Mrs. So and So”, “very well, thank you”, “yes ma’am” and “no ma’am”.  The meetings were only for a few hours although to us they felt like an eternity but, on the upside, we were allowed to eat as much as we wanted, however, only in the kitchen.  When the meeting was called to order and the ladies got down to business, for instance discussing the finer points of their fundraising cookbook or the next preview party prior to the upcoming Calder exhibit, Frankie, Cynthia and I would load up with shrimp paste on toast points, dainty finger sandwiches filled with chicken salad or cream cheese and olive, salmon mousse  and bite size quiches.  It was a stolen hour of enjoyment without Mama telling me to stand up straight or put down that 17th sandwich as I was well on my way to a stomach ache followed with an emphatic “One day you’ll thank me for this!” or simply “Because I said so!”.  The silky, creamy shrimp paste had been spread on small triangles of toasted, white bread which melted in my mouth and, when given the opportunity, I gorged myself on them.  All the finger sandwiches were made by Frankie or Mama the previous day; the mousse, quiches and anything else would have been dropped off by the caterer that morning on account of the fact that Mama couldn’t cook.  Obviously, it was a different time and different school of thought for women in general.  Sometimes life was good for these women…sometimes not so good. These meetings were all about being with close friends and, hopefully, making a little money to help establish a truly strong museum of art.  Perhaps these women were at times a bit frivolous but, over the years, their meetings taught these two little girls the finer points of leadership, organization and service.  Today we have a vibrant, robust museum partly due to the unflagging, tireless fundraising commitment of these ladies.  And we still have shrimp paste.

IMG_1385

Shrimp Paste

  • Servings: 1 1/2 cups
  • Print

Slathered on toasted French bread or flavoring a breakfast bowl of grits, shrimp paste is best served at room temperature.  Easily it can be prepared and kept chilled a day or two before serving, just bring it out about an hour prior to your guests arriving.  It’s glorious atop warm slices of new potatoes, with cold, rare beef or grilled fish.  I prefer my shrimp paste to be splashed with dark rum and seasoned with mace but you can easily swap the rum for sherry or brandy and one or two teaspoons of onion juice can take the place of the mace.  Also, if you happen to stumble upon wild caught shrimps, by all means, snap those babies up.  The spread tastes leagues better with shrimp that hasn’t been farmed but it’s not easy to find.

  • 1 pound shrimp, shelled, deveined and rinsed
  • 1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground mace
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • juice of one small lemon
  • 2 tablespoons dark rum
  • salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  1. In a large skillet heat the butter over high heat until foaming but not brown.
  2. Add the cleaned shrimp and cook until they are just pink, about 4-5 minutes.  Stir often.
  3. Using a slotted spoon, put the shrimp in food processor fitted with steel blade, leaving the pan juices in the skillet.
  4. Drop the heat to medium-high and return the pan to stove top.
  5. Add the mace, cayenne pepper, lemon juice and rum, stirring constantly until the mixture has reduced to 3-4 tablespoons.
  6. Pour the butter mixture into the food processor and pulse 8-10 times.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl and process until completely smooth.
  7. Transfer paste to serving bowl or crock, cover with plastic wrap and chill for at least 3-4 hours.
  8. Remove from refrigerator 1 hour prior to serving.  Serve cool, at room temperature.

Fresh and Spicy Salmon Burgers

IMG_9163

Here in Boston it seems that spring has sprung.  Everybody’s out walking, with dogs or pushing baby strollers.  Young girls are out sporting tank tops, sandals and legs so lily-white that I have to remind myself that staring is impolite.  I find myself quickening my pace as I walk to see if the girl in front of me is wearing white hose.  I catch myself thinking, “Can there possibly be any blood in those limbs?”.  And go back to my original thought, “That’s not very nice, Alicia.” to which the other side of my brain responds, “Well, I’M not very nice”.  Flowers have bloomed everywhere; the Public Garden and the Common are a riot of color with purple globes of allium, banks of roses and borders of pansies.

IMG_9195

Toddlers run every which way on soft beds of grass as the sunlight bounces brilliantly off the emerald-green leaves of massive elm trees.  This is the weather that begs for clean food, light food, tasty, healthful food.

IMG_9190

I started craving fresh salmon burgers for dinner a few days ago and set about to fulfill that desire.  Here in Boston at the beginning of summer finds me without a fully equipped kitchen.  At home I would pulse fresh salmon through the food processor a few times and not give it a second thought.  Luckily for me salmon is soft and delicate and with the aid of two dinner forks I easily scraped the fish off of the skin leaving a lovely coral mound with the same texture as that of ground beef.  In fact, I much preferred the fish I flaked by hand as it’s just too easy to over-process it in the food processor.  I added panko crumbs to lighten the dish; I didn’t want a heavy, dense burger plus I knew that addition would help the burgers keep their shape.  I mixed the bread crumbs with all the herbs and seasonings so I could taste it and check for seasoning adjustments before adding the salmon.  That done I shaped four large patties, covered them with plastic wrap and set them in the refrigerator to chill for a few hours.  That, too, would help them retain their shape while cooking.

IMG_9192

After a workout on Commonwealth Mall and catching up with all my SoFlo peeps it was time to prepare dinner.  I put together a quick Asian style slaw to serve with the open face burgers so we wouldn’t miss the buns.  Totally fooled my stomach!  And they came out great.  I’ve since discovered uncooked salmon burgers freeze extremely well so keep that in mind when salmon goes on sale.  Make some for dinner and throw a few in the freezer for the nights you come home too tired to cook.  Life is good.

Fresh and Spicy Salmon Burgers

  • Servings: four large burgers
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

  • 1 1/4 pounds salmon filet, SKIN ON!
  • 3/4 cup panko bread crumbs
  • 3-4 thinly sliced scallions, all of the white and 3/4 of the green
  • 2 tablespoons freshly grated ginger root
  • 2 cloves fresh garlic, finely grated
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 3 tablespoons reduced sodium soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons sesame oil

IMG_9158

  1. Combine all ingredients except salmon in a medium-sized bowl and mix well to combine all flavors.  Taste for adjustments and set aside.
  2. Place salmon filet skin side down on a non-skid surface such as a wooden cutting board.
  3. Use a dinner fork in one hand to hold fish in place and holding a dinner fork in your other hand gently scrape fish off skin working from one end to the other.
  4. Without overworking fish, combine salmon with panko mixture until all ingredients are evenly combined.
  5. Gently form into four patties, cover with plastic wrap and place in refrigerator to chill for at least one hour.
  6. Heat a non-stick pan over medium high heat.  Cook salmon burgers for three to four minutes per side for medium rare.
  7. Serve immediately open face or on toasted buns.  If you go with the buns, drop a little heat or sesame oil into some mayonnaise and slather that on one side of the bun.

http://www.theirreverentkitchen.com

 

Remoulade’s Got Me Stoked

 

 

Wow, was last week great, or what?  The week ended with a brilliant Easter day here in south Florida.  I didn’t cook.  Jimmy, ever so generously, took us all to brunch.  James ordered Crab Benedict which got me to thinking THIS week about crab….and remoulade sauce.  Homemade remoulade sauce.  And not some chemical-laden, jarred mayonnaise with a bunch of dried up, processed herbs and spices thrown in.  NO, I craved the mile-long list of ingredients remoulade from the likes of Craig Claiborne and Julia Reed sitting alongside Pat Conroy’s crab cakes.  Lee Bailey’s recipe is also lovely but his makes up 6 cups.  A little more than I need on this spring day.  Easy and quickly made, the sauce does require quite a few components but I’ve got to tell you, you probably have all the ingredients in your pantry and refrigerator.  I ate my weight in remoulade during the late 70’s in New Orleans.  I was living in Atlanta and I was so lonely and lost.  Those were bad…BAD years for me.  Since I worked with Delta I would fly to N’awlins any chance I could and stay with a dear, sweet ex-neighbor from midtown Atlanta.  His partner had up and left him for a richer man so my friend, Tommy, put in for a transfer to New Orleans and got it.  We spent countless nights depressed and unhappy, losing ourselves in bourbon and gorging ourselves with the freshest of local seafood.  Every time I left I was still a sad mess but I always welcomed the incredible escape of that city and its celebrated cuisine.  Remoulade is spicy and the heady mix of ingredients will play in your mouth hard and long.  It’s heaven.  And it stays fresh in the refrigerator for a good week as long as you are diligent making sure your knives, cutting board, food processor and blade, etc. are spotless before using.  Don’t skimp on the lemon and vinegar as those two ingredients also help to prevent bacteria.  Furthermore it’s not just good with seafood.  How about a BLT on a pretzel roll slathered with remoulade?  Oh, and the tomato is a tart, fried green tomato.  Mercy.  This recipe is from Julia Reed’s book “Ham Biscuits, Hostess Gowns and Other Southern Specialties”.  You’ll love it!

IMG_8804

 

Remoulade Sauce

  • Servings: 2 cups
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup scallions, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup celery, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1/4 cup prepared horseradish
  • 1/4 lemon, seeded and cut up including rind
  • 1 bay leaf, crumbled
  • 2 tablespoons Creole mustard
  • 2 tablespoons ketchup
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon Tabasco sauce
  • 1 tablespoon garlic, minced
  • 3 tablespoons capers, drained
  • 2 teaspoons sweet paprika
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  1. Place the yolks in a blender or food processor and blend for 1 minute.
  2. With the machine running, add the oil gradually in a thin stream until the emulsion is thickened.
  3. One at a time, add the remaining ingredients and process until well blended and the lemon rind is finely chopped.
  4. Transfer the sauce to a covered container and chill for at least 2 hours.
  5. Note: This should be enough to toss with a pound and a half of medium to large shrimp.

http://www.theirreverentkitchen.com

Whelks, Periwinkles and Mussels…mais oui!

20131008-111415.jpg We are in Normandy…land of cream, butter, mussels, periwinkles and whelks. It is insanely beautiful. And although it is Autumn the leaves have not changed colors…yet. Late nights and early mornings are cold and crisp. We are a group of four, traveling with our best friends of 30+ years for a glorious few weeks. Every night after a late dinner we settle into the ancient courtyard of our inn for a Calvados nightcap. We discovered years ago that the four of us travel quite well together enjoying symbiotic enabling relationships. “Would you like another glass of wine?” “Well, why don’t we just order another bottle?” Or “I’m having some chocolate with hazelnuts. Would anyone like a piece?” And someone ALWAYS does! You have to love the person who encourages you at breakfast to take the last slice of Chevre because, “Hey! You’re in France!”. I shouldn’t be surprised but I always am at how the French don’t ask for much but what they DO ask for must be the best! The quality of life in rural France is truly based on common sense and the four of us have come to the conclusion that the French want and expect beauty in all aspects of their daily lives. No gargantuan, neon electric signs, no in-your-face billboards glaring down at you, no running shoes on fat people and, for that matter, no fat people. I understand and embrace that concept. I work very hard to maintain pretty all around me. The first night here we walked down to the village of Arromanches-Sur-Mer for dinner. We were thrilled with the narrow, cobblestone streets, the two and three story stone houses each topped with several chimneys, and windows framed by wooden shutters that actually open and close keeping out wind, rain and light. In other words they’re truly functional. Not like at home where shutters are purely decorative. Eeeeww. Equally heinous are the bogus fireplaces crammed full with candle collections. Non, non, s’il vous plais!! But I digress. The night was foggy and rainy, full of beautiful mystery and excitement. Perfect for a mountain of sweet, local mussles cooked in white wine with some aromatics. With a salad, some crusty French bread to sop and a few bottles of wine? Mais, oui!

image

Moules Mariniere Mussels in White Wine

  • 2 pounds mussels
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • butter
  • shallots, finely minced
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped bacon, smoked ham or pancetta (optional but it’s REALLY GOOD!)
  • 1 tablespoon flour (omit if you want gluten free)
  • fresh parsley, finely chopped
  1.  Place all the mussels in a large bowl of salted water for 10 minutes or so.  Discard any that open.  Any that have a “beard” need to be cleaned by firmly pulling on the beard in the direction of the hinge.
  2. In a large pot pour the white wine, bring to a boil and add the drained mussels.  Cover and steam for 7-10 minutes.
  3. Remove from heat, separate mussels from cooking liquid and pour the liquid in the pot into a measuring cup to settle.  DO NOT THROW OUT COOKING LIQUID!
  4. In a large, deep pan melt the butter and saute the pork if using.  When a little golden on the edges add the shallots and cook until clear.
  5. Carefully add 1 cup of drained cooking fluid to the pan being careful not to include any grit lying on the bottom of the cup.
  6. Stir and add flour to thicken.
  7. Continue stirring until thickened to your liking.
  8. Place warm mussels in a large serving bowl and pour sauce over.
  9. Sprinkle with parsley.
The view from our front window.  I'm lovin' those sweet cows!
The view from our front window. I’m lovin’ those sweet cows!

Serve with a salad of mixed baby greens, crusty peasant bread and wine.  Mmmmmm..

Movin’ On with Blackened Shrimp Bites

IMG_4889

This past night was my favorite nephew, Christopher’s, high school graduation party.  I spent most of the day cooking and fretting about how I was going to get all this food into my car and not ruin my hair during the 72 hour monsoon that hit South Florida from all sides.  I have always been a fervent believer in the “your hair is your crown and glory” religion.  As I peeled the shrimp for the hors d’oeuvre I was taking, Blackened Shrimp Bites (recipe follows), I thought about when he entered our family.  Of course, we already had the Darling of Naughty, Catherine.  It’s not as if we were going to take her down to the river and drown her.  We recognized her uniqueness…boy, did we! But a boy child?  Well!  Ain’t NOTHIN’ like a boy child.  He king.  That’s all there is to it.  He duh king!  He and James got along famously from day one and have shared a continuing passion for baseball.

Cousins. And baseball love.
Cousins. And baseball love.

I thought of the first time Jimmy took James and Christopher to a Marlins game.  Christopher must have been all of five?  He was a peanut!  Li’l half-pint legs too short still to hang down just stuck out in front of his seat.  Anyway, Jimmy later told me that Christopher just sat there.  Didn’t say a word.  Jimmy was worried that he might be bored…not understand the game or like it.  Turns out Christopher was concentrating with an unheard of intentness for one so small, his little brain just whirring with numbers, names, stats.  Booty, one of Christopher’s nicknames, was in his element!!  We still laugh at how later in the game he turned to Jimmy and in a tiny, little boy voice said, “Mr. Carras?  Will you buy me a hotdog?”  Haha!!!  Mr. Carras!!  Gently Jimmy replied to Bootie, “Christopher, my name is Uncle Jimmy and of course you can have a hotdog!”  I shook my head and chuckled as I remembered Bootie’s fourth birthday party.  It was to be pirate party and they were having it at the Yacht Club.  Chris made arrangements and the day before dug a big pit in the sand at the volleyball court.  He then lowered a large, ornate chest that Pamela had filled with pirate treasure and candy and finally covered it with sand.  The clues to find the pirate’s treasure were then hidden through the grounds.  All of Booty’s special people were to be there.  That would have been family and the boy’s from St. Anthony’s Pre-K, Mrs. Sharpe’s Rainbow class.

The birthday boy with his sword, a pirate friend and his pirate grandfather, Jungle Jack.
The birthday boy with his sword, a pirate friend and his pirate grandfather, Jungle Jack.

The following day we all arrived at the party; the grownups made a beeline to the bar for the requisite Bloody or Mimosa.  A few of the hard cores just went to into the club for scotch or rum.  Anyway, Pamela had Chris all set up.  He was to be the pirate.  She had a black scarf tied around the side of his head and a black patch over one eye.  On one ear he donned a large gold hoop and on his cheek he sported a drawn-on mammoth scar.  She finished off his outfit with a flowy, open down the front shirt, a black vest and for pants…an old pair of scrubs!!!  He had rubbed dirt all over his feet and he was barefooted.  Argh!  Wait!! He also had a huge sword that he was waving around!! He looked quite the part.  In fact, Chris looked so good  that some of the old guard sitting on the outside patio lunching didn’t recognise him and drew back with fear and revulsion when he passed by with his junior pack of future buccaneers!!!  I think they just though he was some big zero trying to make a few bucks at a little boy’s birthday party! Haha!!!  It was a great party!!  All the little people got great pirate’s booty and the grownups got tanked.  But that’s not the funny part.  What we REALLY laugh about now is that Christopher didn’t realize until just a few years ago that it was his father playing the pirate.  Hahaha!!  All this time he thought it was “just some pirate”.  Oh, God, we just scream about that.  I can still see Chris stomping around waving that sword, his gold hoop earring glinting in the sunlight and all those little pirates throwing their heads back and screaming “AAAAAARGH!!!”

How can you NOT know this man is your father? I mean really!!!
How can you NOT know this man is your father? I mean really!!!

And now our little pirate is going off to college.  He’s movin’ on and probably won’t look back.  (They never do.)  So here’s my pirate treasure for you… another little gift from the sea.  Blackened Shrimp Bites.

IMG_4884_2

BLACKENED SHRIMP BITES

yield:  48-64 depending on how thick you cut them

  • 2 pounds peeled, large shrimp
  • 1/2 cup Cajun blackening seasoning
  • 1 tablespoon cayenne pepper, optional
  • 2 8-ounce packages softened cream cheese
  • 1 teaspoon paprika or cayenne pepper
  • 4 cloves of fresh garlic, mashed into a paste
  • 1 12-ounce jar roasted red peppers
  • 1 package 10-inch flour tortillas, I used 11 tortillas
  • 1 bag fresh baby spinach leave already washed
  • 3 ripe Haas avocados, slice them as you need them so they don’t turn in color.  When you do use them they will be cut into 1/4″ strips.
  1. Combine shrimp, blackening seasoning and cayenne if using in a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and chill until needed.
  2. In another bowl combine cream cheese, paprika or cayenne and garlic, set aside.
  3. Drain red peppers and pat dry.  Cut into thin strips lengthwise.
  4. Cover a large pan with non-stick spray and bring up to a high heat.  When pan is hot add shrimp.  Stir and move shrimp so they all cook uniformly.  Remove from heat when they are cooked through.
  5. With a spatula spread a thin layer of the cream cheese mixture over the entire tortilla.  This is your glue that’s going to keep the tortilla intact.
  6. Over one half of the tortilla press one layer of spinach leaves into the cream cheese.  If you layer too many spinach leaves the tortilla won’t roll tightly and you’ll just have a big mess.
  7. Add two or three strips of red pepper in one straight line down over the spinach.
  8. On top of the peppers add another layer using two or three slices of avocado.
  9. Top with one or two good spoonfuls of shrimp, add where needed or take off if it’s too much.
  10. Starting at the spinach side, roll up tortilla as tightly as you can and place on a cookie sheet or pan.  You’re going to chill all this for a while so make certain it fits in your refrigerator.
  11. Continue until finished gently putting rolls on top of each other and place in refrigerator to chill for at least a couple of hours.
  12. Prior to serving cut each roll into 6 to eight serving pieces, secure each bite with a wooden pick and stack prettily on a platter.
One of the nicest boys on the planet. He's got it goin' on...and he's got my heart!!
One of the nicest boys on the planet. He’s got it goin’ on…and he’s got my heart!!