Cool Shrimp Remoulade

The month of July has been a brutal test of our endurance, here in the South.  Daily high temperatures have ranged from 92° to 99°, with heat indexes as high as 110°, due to the high humidity.  It’s been a long, relentless stretch of extreme heat, but I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know if you live somewhere on this planet. 

One way to beat the heat is to have a cool, refreshing salad and one of my favorites is shrimp remoulade.  I’ve made this many times and I rarely adhere to a strict recipe, and that’s one of the things I like most about the salad.  It’s versatile and easy to make.

As usual, I looked at items I had on-hand to help steer the recipe.  The parsley, from my garden, didn’t produce much this year, but it contributed to one of the essential ingredients in a respectable remoulade.  We had a bunch of lemons that need to be used, so I used the juice in the remoulade, and I added the rest of the lemons to a half gallon of water, for the shrimp boil.

Any size of shrimp can be used.  I used one and a half pounds raw, peeled, and deveined jumbo shrimp.

Finally, if you want to do it right, use Duke’s mayonnaise.  I used to think that mayonnaise was mayonnaise, regardless of the brand.  That’s until I performed a side-by-side taste test to compare Duke’s to another leading brand.  I strongly suggest doing that with all sorts of store-bought items, when possible.  I found that Duke’s has a rich, robust flavor that the other brand didn’t have. (I’m not getting money or sponsorship from Duke’s…I just like the stuff.)

Ingredients:

Juice from 2 lemons (reserve lemon rinds for shrimp boil)

2/3 cup mayonnaise (Duke’s, of course!)

1 Tbs horseradish (I used horseradish mustard)

1 Tbs Dijon mustard

1 tsp Louisiana hot sauce

½ tsp cayenne pepper

¼ cup fresh parsley leaves, chopped (reserve stems for shrimp boil)

8 cups water

4 or 5 large bay leaves

1 Tbs Cajun seasoning

1 Tbs Old Bay seasoning (or any other seasoning mix that you like)

3 garlic cloves, crushed

1 ½ lbs raw shrimp (peeled and deveined)

8 ounces uncooked pasta (I used rigatoni)

1 head of romaine lettuce (trimmed)

¼ head of iceberg lettuce (cut into wedges)

2 Roma tomatoes, sliced

1 green onion, chopped

1 or two pickled banana peppers, sliced

2 tsp capers

Directions:

Trim the parsley and reserve the stems for the shrimp boil.

To make the remoulade sauce, start by adding lemon juice to a mixing bowl.  Add mayonnaise, horseradish, Dijon mustard, hot sauce, and cayenne pepper.  Add the chopped parsley.  Mix thoroughly.  Store for at least 20 minutes, or up to one day, in a refrigerator. 

Prepare the pasta according to the directions on the package.  The finished pasta should be cooked just the point where it is soft, but not overcooked.  Rinse the pasta under cool water and chill, until needed.

Bring 8 cups (one half gallon) of water to a rolling boil in a large pot.  Add lemon rinds, parsley stems, Cajun seasoning, Old Bay seasoning and garlic. 

Continue to boil for a minute and then turn the heat off.  

Add shrimp and stir gently for about two minutes, or until the shrimp turn pink and are tender.

Strain the water from the shrimp.  Run cold water over the shrimp until the shrimp are cool to the touch.

Add the shrimp and pasta to the remoulade and stir gently to coat the ingredients with the sauce.

Arrange romaine lettuce around the rim of a large platter and scatter a few wedges of iceberg lettuce.

Add the shrimp remoulade to the platter.  Top with tomato slices, banana peppers, green onion, and capers.  Serve chilled.

Stay cool!

Crazy Days and Crazy Nights

My day officially started with me leaving my lights on when I parked my truck at work.  You see, I drive a wonderful little 1994 Ford Ranger pickup, and back in the olden days, cars and trucks didn’t have fancy sensors and computers that would automatically turn off headlights.  I love the truck and wouldn’t give it up for the world, but I’m prone to “Nutty Professor” moments that make me forget the little things in life, like turning off headlights, while I ponder the great mysteries of life, or trying to solve work problems, while I drive to work. 

Fortunately, one of my co-workers arrived almost two hours after I arrived and exclaimed, “You must have a really good battery because your lights are still on!”  She was right, on both accounts. 

I made the long trek through the warehouse and went outside and turned off the lights and whispered a silent prayer.  Lo, and behold, when I cranked the engine, the truck started like a champ!  Indeed!  What a battery…especially since I had put the poor battery through the same sort of torment four or five times during the last few months!

I felt unbalanced and slightly out of control for the rest of the day.  Some might use the phrase, “getting out on the wrong side of the bed”.  I told myself that I was in for a real treat of a day!  Sometimes, the life unbalanced leads to unexpectedly good things.  Other times, it can lead to a chaotic mess that wreaks havoc on everyone and everything in your wake.

On the way to work I listened to the CD “Fragile”, by the band Yes, and when I was driving home, I was listening to the CD “Bloodletting”, by the band Concrete Blonde.  Anyone who knows anything about these two albums, or bands, should pick up on the notion that my day was a little off kilter. 

I recently took on a new assignment at work.  It’s been exciting and rewarding, and it has been a refreshing challenge.  Sometimes I feel like an Olympic swimmer, and twenty minutes later I feel like I’m barely treading water.  That sort of back-and-forth sensation might make other people nervous, but those are the waters I enjoy swimming in the most.  Swimming at peak performance and swimming to survive are both exhilarating experiences.

As I drove home, listening to Concrete Blonde, I thought of Stevie Ray Vaughn’s rendition of Jimi Hendrix’s “Little Wing”.  

Stevie Ray Vaugh was no fool.  His covers of Jimi Hendrix songs were nearly perfect.  He paid homage to the brilliant, raw power chords of Hendrix and he lovingly reworked them, (and then mastered them), and the end result was like a swinging hammer draped in satin and silk.  I have nothing but admiration for Jimi Hendrix and his contribution to the evolution of modern music, and to my endless enjoyment, but I have to say, there’s no cloud in the great blue skies that Stevie Ray can’t fly over!

Listen to Stevie Ray Vaughn’s rendition of “Little Wing”.  Tight.  Clear. No Lyrics.  This is a cover song like no other.  Slick finger work, up and down the fretboard.  Jazz and Rock and Electric blues, all wrapped up with strength and subtlety.  What a tribute!

My journey was nearing an end and I realized that I needed to finish the work week with a good dose of pizza.  I pulled into the driveway, went inside, laid my wallet and keys on the counter and immediately started the pizza dough.  I always make two or three pizzas and tonight I decided on three.  I knew two of them would be traditional, Italian cold cuts, beef with mushroom, but the third was still a mystery.

It wasn’t until I pawed through the refrigerator a few times that the third pizza became clear, in my mind.  I found 2 ounces of crumbled blue cheese that needed to be used and wondered what I might pair it with.  About a half hour later, while the dough was still rising, I remembered I had a smoked chicken thigh, left over after last week’s grill, and I knew I had found a perfect match.  I imagined the finished pizza in my mind, and I knew that a slight drizzle of Sriracha sauce would complete the deal. 

There aren’t a lot of blue cheese aficionados in my family, which is a subtle way of saying, I like blue cheese and most of the family tolerates it, or detests it, so I thought this might be a good way of promoting my old friend, blue cheese.

The pizzas came out of the oven, one by one, and they were sliced and presented, side by side, on the kitchen counter.  We all grabbed some slices and sat down at the table and quickly jumped into lively conversation. 

My son briefly discussed plans about moving into a house with his friend.  My daughter gave us an update on her boyfriend’s recent bout with Covid, and my wife had just finished a phone conversation with her 80-year-old aunt who wants a pair of red ballet slippers. 

The dinner, and the conversation, was going well.  Until the cat made a sudden and unfortunate appearance.

Our cat came from out of nowhere and skittered across the kitchen floor, leaving a slimy trail of poop behind her as she fled, out of sight.  That killed the entire family dinner instantly.  Some of us jumped up to go after the cat.  Some of us ran to grab Clorox wipes to clean up the mess.  Some of us just gawked at the trail of mess that was left for us to clean up.

Two minutes later, my son and daughter were removing plates from the dinner table, wrapping up leftover pizza in aluminum foil, and washing plates.  Dinner was officially over, and I, the slowest of eaters, still had two pieces of uneaten pizza on my plate.

“What about the pizza?”  I selfishly thought.  “Does anyone want to say anything about the sort of genius mind that could come up with the notion of a pizza made with char-grilled chicken and blue cheese, with a delicate drizzle of Sriracha sauce?” 

As I sat there at the table, still trying to eat the last few bites of pizza without thinking about cat poop, I realized that this is all part of the game.  It’s all part of the deal.  It’s family at it’s best.  It really capped off a weird and funky day, quite nicely.   I really couldn’t have asked for, (or expected) any other sort of ending to this topsy-turvy day. 

So, now as I write, the clock finds its way to midnight and I pass from Friday to Saturday, in the blink of an eye, while

I listen to Vangelis : Blade Runner soundtrack (Esper edition).   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k3fz6CC45ok

R.I.P Vangelis –  Evángelos Odysséas Papathanassíou!  Your masterful compositions will never be sidelined or sullied by a ridiculous cat!

It almost seems anticlimactic now, but here’s my recipe for grilled chicken blue cheese pizza:

Ingredients:

Homemade pizza dough (see some of my previous posts on pizza, or use your own recipe)

1 grilled chicken thigh (grilled bone-in, skin on, then deboned, skin off, and chopped)

2 ounces crumble blue cheese

2 ounces Mozzarella cheese

½ cup marinara sauce

Directions:

I roll out the dough and pre-bake in a 400º oven for 10 minutes, flip over, and bake another 5 minutes.

Add sauce to the semi-baked pizza

Add Mozzarella

Add the grilled chicken

Add the blue cheese

Bake at 400º for 10 minutes

Slice and serve!

Before baking

Carnitas (Shredded Pork Tacos)

Home cooks are always on the lookout for economical ways to make a meal.  When it comes to selecting meat, beef has become something I only buy on rare occasions, due to skyrocketing prices.  Pork and chicken prices have also increased over the last few years, but good deals can still be found.  Chicken thighs and leg quarters tend to be the least expensive cuts.  Pork loins and pork rib meat find their way into my shopping basket more and more, because of their affordability.

Country-style pork ribs are cut from the area of the hog where the loin meets the shoulder.   Country-style ribs are a blend of lean white meat and rich dark meat, which makes them a versatile cut of meat.

Carnitas are typically made from roasted pork shoulder, but they can be made from slow-cooked pork loin, too.  Since I chose country-style rib meat for this recipe, I chose to sear the meat in a pan and then gently stew, with broth and vegetables.

Homemade tortillas make this Mexican dinner even more special!

Ingredients:

2 lbs. marinated country-style pork rib meat

¼ cup cooking oil

1 medium sized onion, chopped

1 large jalapeño, seeded and chopped

1 cup picante sauce (salsa)

1 cup chicken stock

Chopped lettuce, tomatoes, and onions (for the tacos)

1 lime, sliced

10 warm flour tortillas

Tapatio hot sauce

Directions:

I’ve got to confess that I forgot what I used in the marinade for the pork.  Most likely, I used a combination of tomato sauce, dark soy sauce, lime juice, dried onion flake, cumin powder, red chili powder, paprika, garlic powder, and a pinch of turmeric.  A marinade will help tenderize the meat, but it’s not necessary, since the meat will be braised in a little stock and vegetables, until it becomes tender

Absorb excess moisture from the pork with paper towels.

Seed and chop the jalapeño.  Chop the onion.  Set these aside.

Add cooking oil to a cast iron skillet (or any other oven-proof pan).  Set the heat to medium/high.

Sear the pieces of pork on all sides.  Remove the pork and keep in a warm place.

Add the chopped jalapeño and onion to the skillet and sauté at medium heat for about 3 minutes.

Add the salsa to the skillet and stir for about 1 minute.

Add the chicken stock.

Return the pork to the skillet. 

Cover the skillet with aluminum foil at bake in the oven at 350º for 40 minutes.

Carefully remove the foil.  The pork should be fork tender.  If the pork is not tender, return to the oven for another 10 minutes. 

Shred the pork and mix with the braising liquid. 

Serve on warm tortillas and add lettuce, tomato and onion. 

Serve with fresh lime wedges and Tapatio hot sauce.

  • If you’re familiar with Tapatilo hot sauce, you might be wondering what looks different about this particular bottle.  The regular image of the sombrero-wearing Tapatio has been replaced by comedian Gabriel ‘Fluffy’ Iglesias, along with Fluffy’s chihuahuas, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Tapatio.

The Big Reveal

I don’t know why I’m making such a big deal out of this.  It’s really just me prepping for dinner. 

So, in case you were wondering what I was up to with onion, celery, bell pepper, garlic and okra, I’ll tell you. 

It’s Gumbo, baby!

There’s no greater joy than making and eating a great gumbo.  It’s also a little scary, but that just makes it more thrilling!  Making a proper roux has been difficult and sometimes disastrous for me in the past, as I’ve mentioned at least once before in previous posts, but this time I took the training wheels off!

One thing that I love about gumbo is that it’s never made the same way twice.  I should clarify.  I don’t believe it should (or could) be made exactly, the same way twice.  As one of my favorite local DJs says, on his “New Orleans Big Beat” radio program, “You never know what you’ll find in the gumbo.  It might be jazz, funk, rock and roll, blues, or soul…it all goes into the gumbo!”

Gumbo is a soup/stew.  The one thing that is essential in a gumbo is a roux and, if you are familiar with roux, you might be thinking of the butter, flour mixture that you whip up before adding stock, or milk, if you’re making a béchamel.  It’s the basis of nearly every good sauce. 

Gumbo roux is an entirely different critter.  Traditionally speaking, a gumbo roux is made with vegetable oil or lard, or a combination of the two, and flour.  Gumbo roux isn’t finished when the flour incorporates with the oil.  It must be cooked to a point where it turns dark brown, to produce the desired flavor.

Once a year, or so, I put myself to the test and try to make a gumbo that can stand up to the good gumbos that I have eaten, over the years.  With all modesty aside, I really nailed it this time!

Looking back on this particular gumbo experience, I would say that there were three key things that made the gumbo so tasty.  First, I was wise enough to prep for the gumbo the night before I made it, as I mentioned in my last post.  I could have pushed on and made the gumbo that night but, I didn’t want to make everyone wait for dinner and, my instincts told me to prepare some of the ingredients so that when it came time to make the gumbo, I wouldn’t be pressed for time or be stressed. 

Secondly, I did what any great chef would tell me to do.  I made a stock.  I will describe how I made the stock later, but I assure you, it was the signature touch that not only made this gumbo different than ones I have made before, but it gave a depth of flavor that can’t be pulled out of can or a few bouillon cubes!

The final touch was the roux.  As I said, I took the training wheels off and made a doggone roux the way it should be made.  My previous attempts at making a roux involved nervously whisking oil and flour over a medium-low heat, trying to avoid the dreaded “burnt roux”.    Cooking the roux at a lower heat resulted in 20 minutes of whisking only to wind up with a burnt roux.  I was too timid.  I’ve seen people make roux and the process should only take about 10 minutes.

You might be thinking, “how do you know if a roux is burnt?”  Well, all I can say is smell it and be honest with yourself.  If it smells burnt, it’s burnt, and there’s no turning back.  Throw the roux out and start all over again. 

This time, I added the oil to the pot and turned the heat up high.  Not maximum, killer-high, but high.  I let the oil get very hot and then I added the flour, all at once.  The flour began to brown instantly, and even though I wanted to take some photos during the process, I had to keep whisking furiously.  I turned the heat down to medium-high and whisked until my wrist was about to give out.  Seven minutes later, I had a deep, dark roux.  I turned the heat off and transferred the roux to another bowl, to stop the heating process and give the roux a chance to cool down.

The good thing about a dark roux is that it makes a rich gumbo.  The downside about a dark roux is that it won’t thicken a gumbo as much as a lighter, blonde roux will.  Big deal.  I’ve got fresh okra!

The origin of the word gumbo comes from Africa, and it refers to okra, which brings me back to the memories I have of my first visit to New Orleans.  The wonderfully diverse city of New Orleans, and the surrounding areas, owe its alluring charm to the many cultures that has made it what it is today.  Africans, Acadians, Spanish, Native American Choctaw and just about every other nationality and culture you can think of helped build New Orleans.  The list of immigrants continues with Germans, Mexicans, Caribbean Islanders, Chinese, Jewish, Vietnamese, Italians…I’m not making this up!  When people speak of American as a “melting pot” of cultures, they shouldn’t just think of big cities like New York or Chicago.  New Orleans was founded by and supported by a mélange of people and cultures.  It is truly a remarkable city, and New Orleans is a testament to the notion that a diverse population is a beautiful recipe for a community.

Ingredients:

16 medium whole, fresh shrimp

3 Chicken thighs (bone-in, skin on)

½ bell pepper, chopped

1 large tomato, chopped and divided

1 large sweet, white onion, finely chopped

1 large bell pepper, finely chopped

4 celery stalks, finely chopped

2 or 3 garlic cloves, mashed and minced

½ lb. andouille sausage, cut into ½” pieces

2/3 cup vegetable oil (I used canola oil)

1 ¼ cup all-purpose flour

64 oz chicken broth (8 cups)

6 oz fresh okra, cut into ½” pieces

3 Tbs Cajun seasoning

Several sprigs of fresh cilantro (for garnish)

Directions:

Chop onion, bell pepper, celery and garlic.  Mix the vegetables in a large bowl and set aside.

Peel the shrimp.  Reserve the heads and shells.  Set shrimp aside.

Rough chop ½ bell pepper and set aside.

Add about 1 tablespoon olive oil to a skillet.  Set heat to medium/high and add the chicken breasts to the skillet, bone side down.  Cover and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes. 

Turn chicken over and sear, skin side down, for 15 minutes.  Turn the chicken over again and add half of a bell pepper, chopped.  Simmer for 5 minutes, or until the bell pepper softens. 

Remove the chicken, separate the crispy skins and return the skins to the skillet.  Set cooked chicken aside to cool.

Add the shrimp shells and heads to the skillet.  Add 1 cup chicken broth and half of the chopped tomato.  Cover and simmer at low heat for 20 minutes. 

Remove the cover from skillet and mash the softened shrimp heads.  This is not the time to be squeamish.  Just remember, you’re using every part of the shrimp, which is honorable, and you will be rewarded with a very tasty sauce.  This is a must! 

Simmer uncovered at medium heat for another 10 minutes, to reduce the stock.  Pour the stock through a strainer and reserve the finished sauce.  This will make about 1 ½ cups of sauce.

I’m not kidding when I say that I’d be happy just to sit at a table and slurp down this stock and forget about making the rest of the meal.  It’s that good!  But, I know what this relatively small amount of sauce is going to contribute to the gumbo.

After a few moments of enjoying the aroma of the sauce, and dreaming about consomé de camarón, I was ready to get back to the action.

Add a teaspoon of cooking oil to a large stock pot.  Put the pot on the stove and set heat to medium/low.

Slice the andouille sausage and add to the pot. 

Sear the sausage, without stirring, for a few minutes. 

Briefly stir and continue to sear the andouille until the sausage browns slightly.  Remove the andouille and reserve the oil in the pot. 

Add the chopped onion, bell pepper, celery and garlic to the pot.  Cook at medium heat, stirring frequently for 10 minutes, or until the onion begins to turn translucent.  Remove the vegetables to a bowl and set aside. 

Remove the bones from the cooled chicken thighs.  The bones should easily pull away from the chicken.  Chop the chicken and set aside.

Now, go back to the large pot that was used to cook the vegetables.  Wipe the pot dry with a paper towel, to prepare for making the roux.  You don’t want to add oil to a wet pot!  Add 2/3 cup vegetable oil to the pot.  Turn heat to high. 

Once the oil is hot, add the flour, all at once.  The flour should begin to brown as it hits the oil.  Don’t panic.  Quickly whisk and reduce the heat to medium/high. 

Keep whisking as the flour incorporates with the oil.  Over the span of a few minutes, you should see the roux turn from blonde to tan.  Keep whisking and scraping the sides of the pot with the whisk, occasionally.  Let your nose guide you as you whisk.  The aroma should smell something like roasted nuts, or toasted sesame seeds.  The color of the roux should go from tan to dark mahogany.  At this point, reduce the heat a little and bring the roux up to a dark brown.  Again, let your nose guide you.  If you think that the toasty aroma is approaching anything that might be considered burnt, shut everything down. 

Turn the heat off and remove the pot from the stove.  A roux does not have to be chocolate brown to be good.  I’ve stopped at blonde before and have still enjoyed the final product.  This roux wound up being the color of dark, milk chocolate.

As I mentioned earlier, this was the first time I made a roux using high heat.  It came together quickly. I transferred the roux to a bowl, to stop the heating process.  After the roux cooled a little, I carefully tasted it.  Be very careful when tasting a roux.  It’s as hot as lava.  There was a slight hint of flour when I tasted the roux, which told me that I would want to simmer the gumbo for a long time.

Add the remaining chicken broth (7 cups) to the pot.  Turn the heat to medium/low and stir, mixing the residual roux with the broth. 

Add the cooked vegetables. 

Add the andouille. 

Add the okra and remaining chopped tomato.

Okra is a natural thickener.  A dark roux is more flavorful than a light roux, but a dark roux will not thicken a gumbo as much as a light roux.  Okra can make a soupy gumbo thicker, like a stew.

Add the chopped chicken. 

Add the incredible shrimp sauce. 

Add 3 tablespoons Cajun seasoning. 

Add the roux.  Stir gently to blend in the roux. 

Turn the heat down to low and simmer, uncovered, for an hour to and hour and a half. 

Remember, back at the beginning of this post, when I said that you never know what you’ll find in the gumbo?  Well…while the gumbo simmered on the stovetop, I was also finishing a smoked pork shoulder roast in the oven.  A few days earlier, I applied a dry rub to the pork roast and smoked it outdoors for about eight hours.  It was a cool and windy day, and it was difficult to maintain the proper heat in the smoker, so the roast needed a little more time to finish.  I wrapped the roast in foil and put it in the refrigerator and brought it back out while I was making the gumbo. 

The wrapped pork should slow-roasted for two hours in the oven and, when I pulled it from the oven, I saw that some of the juices escaped the foil wrap and left a sticky glaze on the pan.  I added a little water to the residue and whisked it.  That produced a smokey, spicy sauce that just had to go into the gumbo!

Add the shrimp and simmer for another 20 minutes. The gumbo is ready to serve. 

White rice completes the dish. 

Top the rice with a healthy portion of gumbo and top with cilantro.

I’ll never be able to replicate this gumbo recipe, and I’m fine with that.  There will be other gumbos to come, and they will have their own special place in my heart.

Eat well and eat with your family and friends every chance you get!

In case you are interested, the radio program, “New Orleans Big Beat” is presented by volunteer radio station, WEVL, in Memphis, TN.  Check out their diverse and eclectic programming schedule here: wevl.org

All in Due Time

Sometimes a pot needs to simmer.  Sometimes meat needs to rest before it is sliced.  Sometimes words need to be arranged just so, like silverware on an elegant table.

This is one of those moments.

What began as a silly game of “Guess what I’m making for dinner” has turned into something more than I expected. 

So, for now, I will leave another clue.  And, if you can’t put two and two together and arrive at four, that’s your own fault!

More to come.

Guess what I’m making for dinner…

Let’s play a little game, shall we?

Take a look at these items and tell me what I’m making for dinner.

Hmmm…that looks like bell pepper, celery, onion and garlic.  Well, those are all common items found in lots of recipes but, if you know me well enough, you’ll be able to guess what I’m up to, right away.

Do you want a hint? 

Maybe this accidental shot of my hand beneath the cascading sunlight will give a clue…

OK. Do you need another hint?

Sorry, no more clues.  Let’s jump to the finished product.

If you guessed meatloaf, you’re only partially correct.

This meatloaf contained onion and a few slices of bell pepper on top, but it didn’t have any celery or fresh garlic in it.

So, what gives? 

Here’s the deal.  I planned on making one of my favorite meals and I realized that time was running out.  So, I spent my time wisely.  My first step was to continue prepping some of the ingredients for the meal that I REALLY wanted to make while going to a backup plan, at the same time.  This is something I have learned over the years.  Just because I want to make something wonderful and delicious, I might not have the time to pull it all together in time for dinner.

Enter meatloaf.  (RIP Michael Aday)

Meatloaf is one of those things that can be thrown together quickly, and it can be made with all sorts of ingredients.  I like to use ketchup, as well as dehydrated onion flakes, Worcestershire sauce, a little soy sauce, a dash of hot sauce, a couple of eggs, some dry oats, and salt and pepper to taste.  I drizzled some barbecue sauce over the top of this one, just for grins.

I think most Americans would serve this with mashed potatoes and a steamed or sauteed vegetable dish on the side, but I decided to make put a twist on a traditional salad.

In case you’re interested, here’s an approximated recipe for the meatloaf.  I was serious, when I said that time was of the essence.  I didn’t measure anything.

Ingredients and Directions:

2 lbs 80/20 ground beef

2 eggs

1 ½ cup dry oats

1 Tbs Sriracha sauce

2 Tbs Worcestershire sauce

1 Tbs soy sauce

Combine the following in a mortise and pestle: 3 tsp dried onion flakes, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp cracked black pepper, 1 Tbs seasoning salt, 1 Tbs Cajun seasoning.  Grind to a powder.

Mix all of the ingredients thoroughly and press into a casserole dish. 

Lay a few rings of bell pepper on top and zig-zag some barbecue sauce on top.

Bake in a 350° oven for 1 hour.

Serve warm.

Dinner was served and I was able to prepare for the next night’s meal.  Win – Win!

Stay tuned!

Creamy Garlic Shrimp over Fries

Over the last several years, I have seen “Cheese Fries” or “Cheesy Fries” appearing on several  restaurant menus.  I have to admit, I get a little grossed out when I think about Cheese Fries.

I like French fries and I like melted cheese, but do I want gloopy cheese glopped on top of my French fries?  – – Heck, no!  Most Cheese Fries recipes call for melted processed cheese, which is fine for ballpark nachos, but I don’t want that gloopy mess on my French fries.

Despite my ranting about the utter wrongfulness of cheese fries, I’m not totally insensitive to people’s cravings, even if those cravings might lead them down the perilous path of gluttony!

So, with that, I tip my hat to the Cheese Fries lovers and offer them something I deem worthy.

Ingredients:

6 medium sized russet potatoes, peeled and cut, French fry style, ¼’ thick sticks

1 ½ cups canola oil (or just enough to cover the potatoes in the skillet)

Seasoning salt to taste

3 Tbs. olive oil

1 lb. raw, deveined shrimp (tails on or off)

3 Tbs butter

6 cloves garlic, mashed

1/3 cup roasted bell pepper, chopped

1/2 cup chicken broth

1 1/2 cups half-and-half

Salt and pepper to taste

1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

½ cup grated Swiss cheese

Directions:

Peel and cut the potatoes.  These can be ¼” French fries or thick steak fry wedges.   

Soak the potatoes in cool water to remove some of the starch.  Strain potatoes and air dry for several minutes.

Fry potatoes to golden brown. Remove and strain.  Return the hot oil back to the skillet. After a minute, add the fries back to the hot oil and fry for another minute, to crisp. 

Put the finished fries in an bowl and keep in a warm oven.

Remove most of the oil from the pan and reserve a few tablespoons.  Set heat to medium.  Add shrimp.  Turn shrimp over after two minutes and cook for one more minute.

Remove shrimp to a bowl.  Set aside.

Melt the butter in the skillet and sauté the garlic over medium heat for a minute. 

Add the chicken broth and reduce the sauce by one half.

Add roasted bell pepper.

Add half-and-half and simmer at low heat for a few minutes.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

Sprinkle the grated Parmesan and Swiss cheese over the sauce and simmer, at low heat, without stirring, for a minute.

When the cheese melts, turn the heat off.

Add the cooked shrimp to the sauce.

Add warm fries to serving bowls.  Cover the fries with the creamy shrimp.

Serve with a cheesy movie!

May I suggest, Mystery Science Theater 3000: “The Magic Sword” ?

Stuffed Pork Chops

I like stuffed pork chops but, it seemed that every time I made them I over-baked them, to the point where they were dry and tough and the stuffing fell out of them while they baked.  I butterfly cut the chops, making a long, deep cut into the meat, which made them easy to stuff but, not very pretty when they made it to the table. 

This recipe calls for piercing a small hole into the side of the pork chops and maneuvering a knife inside of the chops to create a large cavity.  The pork chops were seared on both sides and then baked in the oven, covered, to help keep the meat moist and tender.

Prep time can be reduced, if you are in a hurry, by using prepared breadcrumbs, rather than making them from scratch.

Ingredients:

3 Tbs butter (divided)

2 Tbs olive oil (divided)

French bread (6 inch loaf)

1 green onion, chopped fine

2 tsp dried sage

2 tsp dried thyme

1 egg, lightly beaten

4 thick cut, bone-in, pork chops

Directions:

Cut French bread into ¾” slices

Melt one tablespoon olive oil and 1 tablespoon butter.

Brush bread slices with the melted butter and olive oil.

Toast the bread on a parchment paper lined backing tray in the oven, at 300° F.  Remove when bread has toasted and begins to turn golden brown. 

Allow the toast to air dry for a few minutes.

Crush the toasted bread, to make breadcrumbs.  Combine breadcrumbs with green onion, sage, thyme and egg.  Set stuffing mixture aside.

Insert a small, sharp knife into the center of  the edge of a pork chop (opposite side of the bone.) 

Cut a semicircle through the meaty part of the pork chop, while working the knife back and forth, using the insertion point as the center of the radial cut (see visual aid, below.)  Turn the knife blade to face the opposite direction and make another radial cut, to complete the cavity. 

Remove the knife and pack stuffing into the cavity.  Try to fill the entire cavity with stuffing.  Repeat the process with the remaining pork chops.

Sprinkle salt and cracked, black pepper on both sides of the pork chops.

Preheat oven to 350º F.

On the stove top, bring a large oven-proof skillet to medium/high heat.  Add a few tablespoons of olive oil to the pan.  Once the oil is hot, lay the pork chops in the skillet and sear for three minutes.  Turn the chops over and sear for another two minutes. 

Add dollops of butter to the tops of the pork chops, (about two tablespoons of butter.) 

Cover the skillet with aluminum foil.

Bake the covered pork chops for 30 to 35 minutes in the oven.  Check the internal temperature of the pork chops.  It should reach 145º F.  Remove the skillet from the oven and remove the aluminum foil.  Allow the pork chops to rest for 5 to 10 minutes.

Serve the pork chops with anything you like.  Mashed potatoes, glazed carrots, cooked greens, apple sauce or, macaroni and cheese would all make great side dishes. 

I served the pork chops with potatoes au gratin.

Valentine’s Day Shrimp Alfredo Pizza

Here’s something for the couple that wants to celebrate Valentine’s Day but doesn’t want to go out to eat, after a long Valentine’s Day, at work.

Ingredients:

5 or 6 large raw shrimp, peeled and deveined

4 or 5 cloves of garlic, mashed

1 tsp red chili flakes

3 Tbs olive oil

2 Tbs clarified butter (I used a garlic dipping sauce from a recent pizza delivery)

1 uncooked, spicy Italian sausage

1 Tbs butter

1/4 cup heavy cream

1/4 cup dried Parmesan cheese (straight from the can!)

2 ounces sliced Mozzarella cheese

a few black olives, pitted and sliced

3 green onions, chopped

prepared pizza dough (follow the recipe of your choice)

Directions:

Prepare the pizza dough and let it rise. While the dough rises, prepare the other ingredients.

Slice the shrimp in half, lengthwise. Marinate the shrimp in olive oil, garlic and red chili flakes.

Pan fry the Italian sausage and chop into small pieces. Set aside.

chop the green onion and set aside.

In a medium sized skillet, add the clarified butter and butter. Simmer at low heat to melt the butter. Add the heavy cream and mix, briefly. Turn the heat up to medium to thicken the cream sauce. Add the Parmesan cheese and gently whisk to combine. Remove from the heat when the sauce is thick and creamy.

After the dough has risen, roll out the dough out on a floured surface. Spread the dough into a circle. With a pastry cutter, slice a triangular wedge from the rim of the pizza dough. Curl the edges of the dough with your fingers and form the tip of the heart, on the opposite side of the triangular cut. Curl the edges of the dough in the cut area to form the top of the heart.

I prebake pizza dough in the oven at 400° F for about 10 minutes and then remove to add toppings.

Pour some of the olive oil marinade onto the prebaked dough and spread it across the dough. Add the raw shrimp and mashed garlic. Add the Mozzarella cheese slices and chopped, cooked sausage. Top with sliced black olives and green onions.

Bake until the cheese begins to brown.

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Slice and serve!

Happy belated Valentine’s Day!