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.

Two Sandwiches

Well, Thanksgiving’s just around the corner and you know what that means…

Bánh mì and Cheesesteak sandwiches!

Yes, it’s an odd pairing and no, it has nothing to do with Thanksgiving. 

Once again, “Necessity” grabbed hold of the wheel of invention and I just sat back and enjoyed the ride.  Working on Saturdays disrupts my rhythm and I usually wind up feeling out of sorts as I head back home from work.  I didn’t have anything in particular planned for dinner, since this particular Saturday was more like a regular weekday for me.  That changed when I learned that we were expecting guests for dinner.  While I was still at work, I recalled what was in my refrigerator.  We had a small pork loin and a some thinly sliced beef.  Both cuts of meat had been in the refrigerator for several days and they would spoil within a day or two, if not cooked.

It seemed to me that sandwiches would be a good solution.  Quick and easy.  I asked my wife to pick up a couple loaves of French bread at the market and I got straight to work, after I came home from work. 

These sandwich recipes are inspired by two classic sandwiches.   I didn’t set out to make the quintessential version of  either sandwich.  I just wanted to whip up some decent sandwiches. 

I used items that we already had at home, so some improvisation was employed.  I normally wouldn’t use cocktail carrots because they give me the creeps.  They remind me of amputated limbs and they develop a weird white coating on them, as they lose moisture in the refrigerator.  Other than that, they are perfectly fine. 🙂

The key to really good Bánh mì and cheesesteaks relies on the quality of the bread that is used.  We are fortunate to have a grocery store nearby that stocks authentic New Orleans style French bread. 

Bánh mì sandwich

Ingredients:

10 stubby little carrots (cocktail carrots)

1 onion, very thinly sliced

2 cloves of garlic, smashed and sliced thin

¼ rice wine vinegar (or white vinegar)

2 Tbs sugar

1 lb pork loin

2 Tbs ketchup

1 tsp Hoisin sauce

1 tsp soy sauce

2 green onions

¼ cup cilantro leaves

1   24” New Orleans style French bread loaf  (Cartozzo’s Bakery)

¼ cup mayonnaise

1 tsp Sriracha sauce

Directions:

Heat the oven to 400°.

Slice the onions and garlic and grate the carrots.  These all need to be very thin. 

Add the onions and carrots of a bowl and add the rice vinegar and sugar.  Mix together and set aside for an hour.

Slice the green onions lengthwise, very thin. Separate the cilantro leaves from the stems. Set these aside.

In a small bowl, mix the ketchup, Hoisin sauce and soy sauce.  Smear the sauce onto all sides of the pork loin. 

Put the pork loin in a ceramic baking dish and bake in the oven for 30 minutes. 

Remove the pork loin after 30 minutes and loosely cover with a foil tent.  Rest the pork for 15 minutes before slicing.

Slice the pork as thinly as possible.  Return the sliced pork to the baking dish and mix thoroughly with the sauce and baked drippings.  Seal the dish with aluminum foil and keep in a warm place until ready to serve.

Slice the French bread lengthwise.  I chose to cut all of the way through but, I could have cut just deep enough to open the loaf like a book.  Either way is fine. Warm the bread in a 200° oven for 10 minutes.  Pull the bread out when the crust is warm and slightly crisp. 

Mix the mayonnaise and Sriracha in a small bowl.

Slather the mayo mixture on both sides of the warm French bread. 

Arrange the pork on the bottom slice of the bread.

Add sliced green onions.

Top with the pickled onion and carrot mixture.

Sprinkle cilantro on top of the onion and carrot.

With a  bread knife, cut the assembled sandwich into four equal pieces (four 6” sandwiches).

Cheesesteak sandwich

Ingredients:

16 oz Muenster cheese, sliced

1 onion, sliced in ¼” rings

2 cloves garlic

1 tsp olive oil

1 lb thinly sliced beef

1 8oz can sliced mushrooms

8 oz marinara sauce

1   24” New Orleans style French bread loaf 

Directions:

Note:  I used a wok to prepare the onions and sliced steak.  Cheesesteaks are best when cooked quickly at high heat and a hot wok is probably the next best thing to a hot flat top grill. 

Slice the Muenster cheese and set aside.

Slice the onion into ¼” rings.  Set aside.

I used a pre-sliced cut of beef.  The slices are very thin which makes it easy to cut the meat into thin ribbons. 

Slice the meat into ribbons and set aside.

Sauté the onions and garlic in a teaspoon of olive oil.  Remove the onions after they soften. Smash the cooked garlic cloves and mix with the onions.

Stir-fry the beef until no longer pink (about two minutes). Remove and keep warm.

Slice the French bread lengthwise.   Layer the sandwich with the sliced cheese. I added mushrooms to one half of the sandwich.

Bake in a hot oven until the cheese begins to melt.

Remove the bread and top with the cooked beef.  Add the sautéed onions.

Top with warm marinara.

Cut the sandwich into four equal pieces ( four 6” sandwiches).

Quick Dinner

Working moms and working dads are challenged every day.  On any given day, parents and kids are both worn out by the time they come home.  I have learned that if I sit down, when I come home, I’m pretty much done for the day.  The longer I sit, the more likely I am to order Pizza or Chinese food.  There’s nothing wrong with that but I find more satisfaction by staying on my feet and cranking out a quick, nutritious meal. 

Ironically, the more difficult my workday is, the more likely I am to push through and cook something.  Once I get started cooking I get into a rhythm and the act of cooking becomes therapeutic and strangely relaxing.  The best part is, I get to talk to my family in the kitchen while dinner is prepared and then we all get to sit together and have a meal. 

Ground beef tacos are super-easy to make and they can be accompanied by as much or little as you wish. 

This time it was just my wife and me having dinner.  My kids are young adults now and we don’t all gather for dinner, like we did in the past.  I miss that, but at the same time, I know that’s just the way life works.

After a long day of work, moms and dads don’t want to waste precious time or energy. 

Use every shortcut.  Work efficiently and always make one thing special, or out of the ordinary, and include some sort of fresh vegetables.

No recipe this time…just pictures.  It’s tacos for crying out loud!