Tag Archives: shrimp

Creole Cornmeal Fried Shrimp…sweet Jesus!

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.

Creole Cornmeal Fried Shrimp

  • Servings: 6-8
  • Difficulty: easy
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  • 2 cups medium ground white cornmeal
  • 1/4 cup paprika, NOT smoked
  • 2-3 tablespoons cayenne pepper
  • 2 tablespoons Creole seasoning, Tony Chachere’s or Zatarains are my favorites
  • 2 pounds shrimp, shelled and deveined
  • 1 egg white
  • canola oil to fry
  1.  Pour 3/4″ canola oil into a large skillet and heat to medium high.
  2. In a large bowl combine the cornmeal, paprika, cayenne pepper and Creole seasoning.  Mix well with a whisk or fork until all the ingredients are completely incorporated.  Set aside.
  3. In a separate small bowl combine shrimp and egg white.  Using your hands, toss the shrimp lightly until all the shrimp is coated with the egg white.
  4. Drop 1/3 of the shrimp into the cornmeal mix with your left hand.
  5. With your right hand lightly toss the shrimp so it is completely coated with the cornmeal mixture.
  6. Rinse your hands and gently drop each cornmeal coated shrimp into the hot oil.
  7. The shrimp will fry for 1 minute.  While the shrimp fries, mix the second 1/3 of the shrimp in the cornmeal mixture.  Set aside.
  8. Using tongs turn each shrimp over and fry for 1 minute.
  9. With a slotted spoon or spider, remove shrimp from frying pan and place on paper towels to drain.
  10. Place waiting shrimp in cornmeal in hot oil and fry for 1 minute.
  11. While shrimp is frying, coat the last third of shrimp in the cornmeal and set aside.
  12. Turn the shrimp in the pan over and fry for 1 minute.
  13. Remove from pan and move to paper towels to drain.
  14. Place last third of shrimp in hot oil and fry for 1 minute on each side, removing to drain on paper towels when done.
  15. Serve immediately.

http://www.theirreverentkitchen.com.

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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?

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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
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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

 

Shrimp Paste…reason enough to have a cocktail hour

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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.

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Shrimp Paste

  • Servings: 1 1/2 cups
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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.

Shrimp, Sausage and Chicken Jambalaya…let the good times roll

Mardi Gras is coming to a close, people.  Ash Wednesday is day after tomorrow and this is the time when suddenly I begin to crave pork and beef and chicken and all manner of dishes that will be given up by me once I get that black cross of ashes traced onto my forehead.  Every year I say “Oh, I don’t care about meat.  I don’t even like it!  I never eat it anyway.”  That’s right about the time when visions of $12.00 bacon cheeseburgers, spicy, homemade jambalaya and hot, crispy chicken wings begin to pop up in my head.  I pulled out my giant pot, the one big enough to bathe a baby, and set about to make the best pot of jambalaya I’ve ever had.  I’ve been making this for the longest time and I think I’ve worked out the kinks.  That said, no shortcuts may be taken ie: frozen bags of the Trinity which always leave you waiting for the promised burst of flavor.  This iconic dish begs, no, DESERVES, to be prepared properly…leisurely, and it will reward you by delivering that slow and sultry combination of Louisiana flavors that cause you to roll your eyes back in your head.  Well-made jambalaya, good jambalaya, is like finger-poppin’ music in your mouth.  Layer upon layer of ingredients make themselves known, some subtly others not so discreetly.  It is a one-pot marvel of unpretentious components that ultimately yield a sophisticated dinner of comfort food while at the same time an over-the-top indulgence.  And it is the best possible way to celebrate Fat Tuesday.  So put on some boom-boom radio or zydeco, haul out your big pot and get to it.  Laissez le bon temps rouler!

My pot holds 3.5 gallons. the spoon could probably be used as a paddle in a row boat!
My pot holds 4 gallons. The spoon could probably be used as a paddle for a row-boat!

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Jambalaya is a great dish for a crowd.  It’s best prepared in a large, heavy bottomed pot with a lid that fits well.  Having all your ingredients cut, chopped and ready to go will also ensure a fantastic meal.  If you’re not able to locate converted Louisiana white rice just substitute it for a good quality, converted, white, long grain rice.  What cannot be substituted is the Andouille sausage.  I get mine from the butcher’s  and if they’re out I use Aidell’s brand which is stocked at Publix.  I find using sausage other than Andouille in this dish ends up tasting like hot dogs.  Not a flavor I want after I’ve been standing in the kitchen for a few hours.  So put off making jambalaya until you can find the real thing.  I use a mammoth, wooden spoon to stir this dish.  You’ll want to use the largest spoon you can get your hands on as the ingredients become heavy and bulky as you get further into the cooking.

Shrimp, Sausage and Chicken Jambalaya

  • Servings: 10-12
  • Difficulty: easy
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  • 5 cups converted long grain rice
  • 3 tablespoons smoked paprika
  • 1 tablespoon celery salt
  • 3 teaspoons dried thyme
  • 2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
  • 1 pound ground pork sausage, preferably spicy
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1 pound Andouille sausage or 1 12-ounce package from the grocery store, thinly sliced
  • 12 boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed of all fat and cut into 1″ cubes
  • 3 large, sweet onions, diced
  • 2 bell peppers, seeded and diced
  • 6 stalks of celery, leaves included, diced
  • 1 large head of garlic, minced
  • 3-4 fresh bay leaves
  • 6 cups chicken stock
  • 1 1/2 cups canned crushed tomatoes
  • 3 pounds medium-sized shrimp, peeled and deveined, preferably not farmed
  • salt and pepper
  1. In a medium-sized bowl add paprika, celery salt, thyme, cayenne pepper and rice.  Stir well to break up any lumps in the spices.  Set aside.
  2. Bring a large pot up to medium heat and add ground sausage, breaking up and stirring while it browns.
  3. When sausage is browned add oil and Andouille sausage.  Stir occasionally but allow Andouille to brown and get color.
  4. Add chicken pieces and cook until golden.  Stir occasionally.
  5. Add the onions to the pot and stir continuously.  Cook until clear.
  6. Add the bell pepper, celery and garlic and cook for another 7-10 minutes stirring all the while.
  7. Add the rice mixture to the pot and stir so the grains of rice are evenly coated with the contents of the pot.
  8. Raise heat to high, add bay leaves, crushed tomatoes, chicken stock and stir well.  Taste broth for seasoning and add salt and black pepper as needed.
  9. When pot comes to the boil, drop the heat to medium-low, cover the pot and simmer until rice is cooked according to package instructions.
  10. When rice is cooked, gently mix in the shrimp, this is where you truly need a big spoon, again cover the pot and turn off the heat.
  11. Allow the shrimp to cook in residual heat another 15 minutes then serve.

 

http://www.theirreverentkitchen.com

 

Devilish Shrimp for the Christmas drop by

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We all get phone calls from someone whom we really like but never see saying, “Hey!! Listen, I’m on your side of town just finishing up some Christmas shopping and thought I’d stop by for a quick visit IF THAT’S OKAY.”  Well, hopefully you like this person.  If you don’t exclaim how you’d LOVE to see them, it’s been SO long since you’ve gotten together, but you’re just walking out the door to pick up ____ (fill in the blank here) at the airport and we have to go straight from the airport to ____’s (again fill in the blank here) party, an imaginary colleague is totally fine, but we NEED to get together.  Really.  When things settle down.  That’s if you’re not crazy about the caller.  But if it’s your sorority sister that you absolutely ADORE even tho you’re awful at calling and keeping in touch, (I love you, Lor!)… well, I’ve got a super fast, super easy hors d’oeuvre for you.  I try to make it a point to have certain ingredients on hand at all times especially during the holidays.  And these are some of them.  This is a FOUR (4) ingredient stunner.  Camarones al Diablo, Deviled Shrimp.  They’re pretty, easy to handle and go perfectly with a glass of wine or champagne or a stronger spirit.  They’re most excellent at Christmas but also in the dead heat and humidity of summer.  You don’t necessarily need to use Harissa.  Hot curry paste or Thai hot pepper paste would be great. The same for Vietnamese or Korean.  All hot pastes work.  Keep these ingredients on hand and you and your guests will be happy, happy, happy!  Now pour me a glass of that  champagne you’ve been saving.

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Camarones al Diablo

yield: as many as you make!

  • large, extra-large or jumbo shrimp with tails intact, that’s the handle to hold on when eating.
  • 1 sheet of phyllo dough for every shrimp
  • harissa, a hot, spicy paste from North Africa and the Middle East found in most ethnic markets.  It usually comes in small tins.
  • Butter, melted and a brush for spreading the melted butter

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  1. Preheat oven to 400°.
  2. Make a brine for your shrimp with what you have on hand.  I used a few tablespoons of sugar and salt.  A few whole peppercorns were thrown in.  I didn’t want to use a whole navel orange so I halved two clementines.  Squeeze them and then throw in the shells.  Who doesn’t have those around at Christmas?  I threw in some fresh and dried oregano and then a few fresh rosemary sprigs.  Use what you have on hand.  Lemons, limes, oranges, tangerines, ANY fresh herbs and then add your salt, sugar  and peppercorns.
  3. While your shrimp is brining get everything else in place.  Open your harissa, melt your butter and open the phyllo.  Cover the phyllo with a clean, damp tea towel.  Remember, phyllo sheets dry quickly so, again, have everything in place.
  4. When ready to assemble, pat shrimp dry with paper towels.
  5. Take one sheet of phyllo and fold in half lengthwise.  Fold again lengthwise.
  6. At one end place one teaspoon of Harissa.
  7. Place one shrimp over Harissa with tail sticking out to be your “handle”.
  8. From the shrimp to the opposite end of the phyllo brush with butter.
  9. Starting at the shrimp end roll to make a small packet but stop maybe two to three inches from the end.  If you use all the phyllo the appetizer gets too “doughy”.  Cut off the excess phyllo.
  10. Brush the top of your “packet” with butter.
  11. Place on tin foil lined baking sheet.  Continue rolling the rest of the shrimp until you’ve finished the number you want.
  12. Bake for 10-12 minutes depending on the size of your shrimp.  When the shrimp is opaque and the phyllo is golden remove from the oven and serve immediately.

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Movin’ On with Blackened Shrimp Bites

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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.

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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!!

Baked Orzo with Lemon, Shrimp and Feta

It’s April and coming up on First Communion time at Saint Anthony church, the Catholic church where I grew up, heck, where we all grew up.  Tommy and Pamela were baptized there, all four of us made our First Communions there and Cynthia and Pamela were married there.  As an adult I discovered the beauty of Sunday’s 7:30 a.m. mass.  No organ playing, (I can’t stand organ music), no shrieking children’s choir, but more importantly, blessed anonymity.  There’s nothing worse than going to that cocktail party called “10:30 Mass”, looking out at your fellow parishioners and thinking, “Jesus H. Christ.  What does she have on?  I mean really.  Don’t tell me she looked in the mirror  and thought, “Now this is the look I want.  I am ready now.”.  That little voice inside me scolds, “What are you doing? You are in the house of the Lord.  Of our Lord.  Stop it.”  Back and forth it goes, so it’s really best if I go to the 7:30 service.  I stand in the very back… I lean against the confessionals and take in the cool quiet, the beautiful wood of the beamed ceiling and the sun streaming through the original stained glass windows, colors dancing and splashing onto terrazzo floors.  I think, “Bless me Father, for I have sinned.  It has been 12 years since my last confession.  Hope you packed a lunch.”.  Those same confessional doors were there when I made my First Communion.

Dad would take Cynthia and me to confession every Friday night, around five or six.  And, sometimes after confessing, IF we had had dinner, he would take us down to the beach to a little shack where they would make fresh, hot waffles from a little machine.  Then, with a practiced hand, cut off a big slab of Neapolitan ice cream and sandwich it between the steaming hot waffles.  Heaven.  We’d always take his car, an Austin Healy, with the top down, and park in front of the church’s double doors where he would wait patiently until we came out.  Cynthia was eight and I was six.  Right after my First Communion I went on a typical Friday night to confession,  stood in line outside the confessionals, and then, when it was my turn, went in, and knelt down.  A little muslin panel was pulled across a window so only a blurry profile was seen.  I began, “Bless me Father for I have sinned.  It has been one week since my last confession.  And my sins are…”  I can only imagine what my sins were since I was only six.  I didn’t even steal change out of my mother’s purse.  What,  I talked back when it was my turn to set the table?  I didn’t make my bed?  I called somebody the positively worst word I knew… SKUNK?  Whatever my sins were, I confessed.  I knew I had been stained by original sin, thanks to Adam and Eve, but I never dreamed I had committed mortal sin.  I didn’t really feel it was just to throw me into the venial category either.  But that was the first time I felt the skies had parted and God’s wrath had been hurled down directly at me.  That man, that priest, whoever he was, bellowed from the other side of the curtain, “YOU WHAT?  YOU HAVE SINNED!  YOU ARE A SINNER AND YOU HAVE SINNED!”.  The huge, thunderous voice rained down on me until I drowned in absolute terror.  No one had ever raised their voice at me, at us.  Not my parents, not a teacher, grandparents, neighbor, no one.  I wanted to be an angel.  I wanted to be holy.  I was six.  Six.  I just crumbled.  Huge, hot and uncontrollable tears spilled over.  I slipped out of the confessional, didn’t even say my penance, and ran from the church.  Cynthia was already in the car.  She wasn’t much of a sinner so it didn’t take her very long.  I don’t remember if I told my parents, but it shook me through and through.  And, sadly, at that age, adults are always right, even when they’re wrong.  The days rolled by and, once again, it was Friday, confession time.  Cynthia hopped out of the car, brightly announcing, “I’ll be right back”.  Yeah, we know.  I didn’t get out of the car.  My father asked, “Aren’t you going in?”.  “No”, I answered.  “Why not?”  “I don’t want to.”  “Okay.”  Okay.  That’s all he said.  Okay.  Gotta love that man.  Week after week Daddy took us to confession and I stayed in the car.  Then one Friday, Dad asked, “You going in?”  Opening the door and answering at the same time I replied, “Yup.”  I strolled right into St. Anthony’s and stood in line outside the confessionals. When it was my turn, I went into the confessional.  And guess what??  Nothing happened.  One Act of Contrition, two Hail Mary’s and an Our Father later, I had a brand new soul!  AND…a waffle and ice cream sandwich.

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This is the dinner I would have liked to have had on a Friday night instead of Mama’s hour-long baked fish.  It is so light and savory, the flavors compliment each other well yet surprise with their lingering tones.  The dish is quite flexible, any small shaped pasta works great.  There is a little chopping, but, hey, you will be rewarded handsomely with clever and discerning compliments and your family will love you even more.  In place of shrimp you could use scallops or squid rings.  And goat cheese or any soft, crumbling cheese that marries with the acid of the lemon and tomato could be put to use rather than feta.  It’s what you like.  It’s a pretty dish and works well for a buffet or to serve a large number of people.  The lemon, fresh oregano and feta are insanely good together but if you wanted to dress the dish up a bit, a splash or two of Armagnac or ouzo will do the trick, added when you mix the tomatoes into the sauce.  I have to confess, it’s truly superb!

 

 

Baked Orzo with Lemon, Shrimp and Feta Cheese

  • Servings: 6-8
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

  • 1/2 pound small shaped pasta, such as orzo
  • 1 pound large shrimp, shelled, deveined and cut into bite sized pieces
  • 2 cups crumbled feta, crumble it yourself.  Don’t buy that already crumbled garbage.  Really.
  • 1 large bunch flat leaf parsley, washed, dried and chopped
  • 1 bunch fresh oregano, leaves chopped
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 4 or 5 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 large lemon, zested and juiced
  • 1 28-ounce can whole San Marzano tomatoes, rough chopped with juices
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste
  1. Bring a large pot of water up to a boil for your pasta and cook pasta to box directions.
  2. While the pasta cooks and adding the feta last, add the remaining ingredients to a large bowl and mix to combine.  Add the feta, lightly mixing so as not to completely break up the cheese.
  3. When the pasta is al dente, drain and put back into pot.  Add all the ingredients from the bowl.  Stir to combine.
  4. Pour into a baking dish prepared with non stick spray.  I use a 4-quart or 11″ X 13″ baking dish.
  5. Spray a large piece of tin foil with non-stick spray and cover baking dish tightly, crimping edges and corners to keep the moisture in.
  6. Bake 30-45 minutes.

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