Shrimp Crostini with Blackened Tilapia

Recently, on my way home from work, I had a sudden craving for shrimp toast, you know, the classic Chinese takeout appetizer.  I wanted to try making it at home, even though I’d never attempted it. 

There’s always that moment, during the drive home, when I consider whether I know exactly how to make the thing I am thinking of, or if I will need to improvise.  This was definitely going to require some improvisation.   

I imagined how shrimp toast tastes as it’s pulled out of the fryer.  Hot and crunchy on the outside and soft and creamy shrimpiness on the inside.  And then, as I waited at a red light, I came to a sad realization.  Shrimp toast is great when it’s hot and fresh but given time, it cools and becomes a squishy, oily, shrimp-flavored sponge.  The craving for takeout-style shrimp toast was gone.

I took a moment to think about what I was actually craving.  In my mind, I imagined a baked, creamy shrimp spread on top of thick slices of toasted French bread.  I couldn’t recall what the dish was actually called but I was evoking crostini.  I kept referring to it as “shrimp toast” as I drove home and, in truth, that’s really all it is…it’s just not the deep fried Chinese takeout variety.

Since I was already in a seafood frame of mind I decided to pair the crostini with New Orleans-style blackened fish.

Shrimp Crostini with Blackened Tilapia

Ingredients for the Shrimp Crostini:

½ lb fresh shrimp, peeled, deveined and finely chopped

¼ cup diced green onions, chopped fine

3 Tbs mayonnaise

3 Tbs cream cheese

1 tsp garlic powder

1 tsp Cajun seasoning

½ tsp salt

9 slices of good quality, fresh French bread (1” thick)

2 Tbs butter

Directions:

Peel and devein the shrimp.  Rinse thoroughly under cool water.  Chop into small pieces.

Add the shrimp and remaining ingredients, (excluding the bread!) to a large mix bowl.  Beat the heck out everything with a whisk, fork or any other suitable weapon. 

Prepare a 9” round ceramic backing dish by spreading 2 tablespoons of oil across the bottom and sides of the dish.  Wipe away excess with a paper towel.

Add the shrimp mixture to the dish and press the mixture down firmly with your fingers, spreading it to the edges of the dish. 

Bake in a 400° oven for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the top begins to brown.  Remove and cool on a wire rack.

While the shrimp cools, prepare the French bread.

Slice the bread into 1” thick pieces. 

Melt the butter and brush over both sides of the bread slices.

Place the pieces of bread in a 9” glass pie plate.

Using a spoon, or a small spatula, add dollops of the baked shrimp mixture to the toast.  Press the toast together as tightly as possible.

Put the pie plate in a 400° oven for 5 to 7 minutes, or until the sides of the toast are crisp.  Remove and cool on a wire rack.

Ingredients for the Blackened Tilapia:

3 Tbs Cajun seasoning

1 tsp oregano

1 tsp dried onion flake, ground fine

1 tsp garlic powder

1 tsp cayenne powder

1 tsp dried thyme

4 tilapia filets (about 1 lb)

Directions:

Mix all of the dried seasonings together.

Spread the seasonings across a large platter.

Lay the tilapia filets on the seasoning and press down firmly with your hands to coat the fish.  Turn the fish over and repeat. 

Heat a heavy steel skillet or cast iron skillet to high heat. 

Once the skillet is screaming hot, add the butter.  Just as soon as the butter is almost completely melted, which will happen quickly, add the filets.

Stand back.  Don’t mess with the fish.  After about two minutes, the butter will brown.  Carefully turn the fish over with a large flat spatula and let the fish fry for another two minutes.  Press the fish with the side of your thumb.  If it feels firm, it’s done.  If it doesn’t feel firm, it will in about another 30 seconds.

Carefully remove the fish with a spatula and place on a serving dish. 

Serve on a bed of steamed rice and steamed broccoli. 

Louisiana hot sauce is the preferred condiment for the Shrimp Crostini and Blackened Fish.  Use as directed.

Po’ Boy Burrito

This whole stay-at-home stuff is really weird.  I’m adjusting to it but I have to admit that it’s really hard to break the habit of trotting down the grocery store every time I want something that I don’t have in the kitchen. 

This time it was fresh baked French bread. 

I wanted a Po’ Boy sandwich and perhaps the single most important ingredient of a Po’ Boy is an excellent loaf of French bread.  I could have jumped in the car and raced down to the store to get a loaf of bread but I decided to resist the urge and improvise.  Thus, the Po’ Boy burrito was born!

What I find interesting is that I had every other ingredient for a Po’ Boy, except the French bread.  Go figure.

This recipe makes 3 Po’ Boy burritos.

Ingredients for the remoulade sauce:

½ cup mayonnaise

2 Tbs dill pickles, chopped

1 Tbs lemon juice (I used lime, since I didn’t have lemon on hand)

1 tsp Louisiana hot sauce

1 tsp capers, mashed and minced

1 tsp paprika

1 tsp Dijon mustard (or creole mustard)

½ tsp Worcestershire sauce

1 garlic clove, minced

1 green onion, chopped

Ingredients for the pickled cabbage:

½ cup cabbage, sliced thin

½ tsp cayenne pepper

¼ cup vinegar

2 tsp sugar

Ingredients for the fried shrimp:

15 medium shrimp, peeled, deveined and butterfly cut

1 cup flour

½ cup corn meal

Oil for frying

Additional ingredients:

½ cup lettuce, sliced thin

1 sliced tomato

3 large burrito sized tortillas (9”)

Directions:

Prepare the  remoulade sauce.

In a mixing bowl, add mayonnaise, chopped pickles, lemon or lime juice, hot sauce, capers, paprika, Dijon mustard, Worcestershire sauce, garlic and green onion.  Set aside.

In a separate mixing bowl, add the cabbage, lettuce, cayenne pepper, vinegar and sugar.  Swirl to mix.  Set aside.

Prepare the shrimp.

Mix the flour and corn meal in a bowl and set aside.

Lightly beat two eggs in a bowl and set aside.

Dredge the shrimp in the flour/corn meal mixture and tap off excess flour.  Dip the shrimp in the egg wash and then dredge in the flour/corn meal again. 

In a medium sized sauce pan, fry the shrimp in hot oil.  I fried the shrimp in batches of five.

Remove the fried shrimp to a bowl and keep warm.

Once the shrimp are cooked, assemble the burritos.  Add remoulade sauce, lettuce, tomato, shrimp and pickled cabbage.

Serve with hot, crispy French fries.  See, I found a way to have a little French after all!

Stay healthy and eat well!

Scalloped Potatoes with Cold Cuts

I haven’t been making regular trips to the grocery store lately.  Time constraints mixed with a dash of laziness is a recipe for invention.  Despite the lack of grocery shopping, my pantry and refrigerator are still full of all sorts of odds and ends, which is a good thing. 

This meal came together quickly and it provided a warm, hearty end to a cold and dreary day.  This was made to serve three, but it could stretch to serve four.  The various cold cuts added to this dish turned simple scalloped potatoes into something special.

Ingredients:

3 large russet potatoes

3 cups cooking oil

6 oz cold cuts (capocollo, calabrese, pepper salami and cured ham)

1 tsp coarse salt

½ tsp whole black pepper

½ tsp Cavender’s Greek Seasoning

5 green onions

1 celery stalk

4 Tbs butter

4 Tbs flour

2 cups chicken stock

¼ cup heavy cream

Directions:

Peel the potatoes and slice them into ¼ discs. 

Fry the potatoes in the cooking oil.  Once the potatoes begin to turn golden brown, strain them and set aside.

While the potatoes cook, prepare the other ingredients.

Cut the cold cuts into ½” pieces.  Set aside.

Chop the celery and green onions.  Set aside.

Grind the salt, pepper and Cavender’s Greek seasoning in a mortar and pestle.  Set aside.

Using the same skillet that was used to fry the potatoes, turn the heat to low and add the butter.  When the butter melts, add the flour and whisk to form a roux.

When the roux begins to bubble and becomes frothy, add the seasonings.  Whisk.

Slowly introduce 1 cup of the chicken stock and whisk.  Add the cream and continue whisking.  As the sauce thickens, add the remaining cup of chicken stock.  Whisk until the sauce thickens again. 

Add the celery and green onions and stir to incorporate.

Add the cold cuts and stir.  Simmer for about 3 minutes, while stirring occasionally.

Fold in the potatoes and simmer for a few minutes.

Scoop out portions to serving bowls. 

A Night at the Improv

There comes a time in every cook’s life when they realize that they don’t have an ingredient they need for a recipe.  Sometimes those moments happen in the midst of preparing a meal.  Sometimes cooks just have to improvise.  Sometimes cooks just have to “fake it” and force their way through life’s unexpected problems.

I’ve had some long, long days at work recently, which is why my blog posts have become less frequent.  A few nights ago, I came home from work and I was craving something spicy.  I wanted to make a variation of my Yin and Yang Chicken Wraps because it was quick and easy to prepare.  I prepped the vegetables and chicken and just as I was getting ready to fry the chicken, I realized that I didn’t have any eggs.

Eggs are something that I always keep on hand…except this time. 

I usually fry chicken by dipping the chicken in egg and dredging it in flour.  That’s Chicken 101.  Of course, buttermilk could be used instead of egg… that’s the classic recipe for southern fried chicken.  Buttermilk is not something I usually have on hand.

In a moment of inspiration, or desperation, I decided to use milk and Italian dressing instead of eggs. 

Why Italian dressing?  Why not?  I figured that if I was going to improvise I might as well try something completely new.

The result was some very crispy and very delicious chicken.  The rest of the preparation was smooth sailing and I made some extremely spicy wraps.  So, satisfying!  

Italian dressing contains oil, among other things, and that, combined with the milk, gave the flour something to stick to and it produced great flavor.

I ate two of the large wraps and went to bed an hour later.  Big mistake! The joy I experienced while eating the spicy chicken wraps was perfectly balanced by the upset stomach I experienced 5 hours later as I drove to work the next morning.  Yin and Yang, indeed!

So, don’t panic when you find yourself missing an ingredient.  Trust your instincts and face adversity bravely.  Improvise.  Be daring!

Oh, and don’t go to sleep an hour after you eat…especially if you eat something very spicy!

Do as I say, not as I do.