After taking a week off -- and eating poorly -- I’m back in the kitchen with Home Chef’s Brown Butter Shrimp and Gouda Grits. That’s right. You heard me. GOUDA!
I’d been hesitant about ordering meals featuring seafood. I mean, I’m from the Georgia coast, so I know something about shrimp. Real shrimp doesn’t get delivered by Fed Ex, you go pick it up down at the dock from a guy who spent all day catching it.
Now, from the arrogance with which I wrote the above, you’d never guess I never ate shrimp until I moved inland, would you? In our Leave-it-to-Beaver-style home (even in the 70s), Mom mostly cooked what Dad would eat, and that did not include seafood. (Have I told you this story before? How we made Mom take her sardines outside on the porch to eat? Or the one about our trip to New Orleans?)
I didn’t discover shrimp until I was in college in Atlanta. It was our dorm mother’s birthday, and a group of us went to the Sun Dial, the revolving restaurant on top of Peachtree Plaza, to celebrate. I was starving. I mean, I was so hungry I was ready to start gnawing on the waiter.
Then the waiter in question sat a bucket of iced shrimp on our table. A big damned silver bucket. Everybody around me dug in, as I sat there and whined about starving to death.
“Shut up, Belinda,” someone laughed with a smear of cocktail sauce on her upper lip, “and eat some damned shrimp.”
That’s when I had to admit I had never eaten shrimp, and, worse humiliation, I had no idea how to eat peel-n-eat shrimp. I may have even questioned whether it was actually cooked or not. I mean, they were cold.
They patiently showed me how to pinch the little tail off, and peel the translucent exoskeleton from the little pink curl of a sea creature. I was still highly doubtful as I dipped the first shrimp ever-so-delicately into the cocktail sauce... and bit into it.
Well, the rest is history. Nearly two tons of shrimp and thirty years later, I now eat shrimp fried, broiled, grilled, boiled, sauteed, barbecued, alfred0ed and scampied. Bubba Gump got nothing on me. I can put away two pounds of peel-n-eat at one sitting without a belch.
But tonight, friends, ushers in a bright new horizon in the land of Belinda’s bottomless stomach! Tonight I cooked the best damned shrimp I’ve ever cooked (which is to say, the only shrimp I’ve ever cooked that didn’t involve a wok). But still, this stuff was FABULOUS, even if I did have to devein it. Let me tell you, nothing is as appetizing as spending fifteen minutes spent pulling shrimp shit out of your dinner. The instructions didn’t even mention deveining. Do some people just cook it with shrimp intestines fully loaded? Shudder.
The shrimp was seared on one side in a hot pan with olive oil, then put aside while the stunningly delicious brown butter sauce was made. Butter was cooked in the same pan until it started to turn a deep brown, then the white part of a scallion was thrown in. Grainy mustard, some lemon zest and juice from the now-naked lemon, and crushed red pepper flakes all joined the party, mingling with the cooking butter. Then the shrimp were joyfully reunited with the pan, and it all simmered together for about three minutes.
If my neighbor next door happened to have her ear pressed up against the wall we share, she might have thought I was having particularly satisfying sex. At the first mouthful, I may have actually moaned, “Oh, my God....” It was that good.
They nearly lost me with the grits, though. They sent me INSTANT grits. I mean, come on! But they turned out really well. The Gouda cheese brought a subtle smoky cheesiness far different from the shredded mild cheddar I usually put in grits. The shrimp and the brown butter sauce was poured over the grits, garnished with the green parts of the scallion and some smoked paprika... and then devoured.
The meal came with fifteen good sized shrimp, meant to feed two people. I ate them all. And I’m not sorry.
When I pulled this out of the box from Home Chef, I thought it was some kind of particularly ugly ginger, but turns out that it's something they called a "sunchoke." Googling it, I found they are more commonly known as Jerusalem artichokes. If a potato and a raw almond had a baby, it would probably taste like this. Supposedly they are very good for diabetics because of something about fructose. They are also reported to be very gas producing, which is such a relief because I haven't been farting nearly enough lately. I won't be able to confirm this until later, but I can already attest that these babies are a pain in the butt to clean and dice.
But here you see the finished meal: Pecan and brown sugar crusted pork medallions with carrots and Jerusalem artichokes, roasted with sun dried tomatoes and red pepper flakes.
I still can't make my plates look as spectacular as the recipe cards, but then again, I'm not a professional photographer using glue and varnish to stage the perfect plate. I did, however, cook a pretty damn fine plate of pork tenderloin medallions. I take that as a big step forward in my culinary development, because I've never cooked any kind of pork tenderloin, in any way, form or fashion, before. Following the times in the recipe precisely, they were perfectly done.
Verdict: the Jerusalem artichokes and carrots were okay for something different, but probably not something I'll try again. Combining the sun dried tomatoes with roasted veg, though, is a definite keeper for my own repertoire.
The pork however... man, oh, man that was delicious! The sauce made from the pan drippings with the brown sugar/egg mixture from the top of the medallions, with a 1/4 cup or so of sherry and then a veal demi-glace -- made my eyes roll back in my head. I must have made a little moan of some kind because Doolittle, my cat, looked at me funny.
I licked the plate, seriously. I've been told that I can buy that demi all by itself either online or at Whole Paycheck… I mean, Whole Foods. But if you've read my writing for a while you know what I think about Whole Foods. Any store with a $7 loaf of whole wheat bread scares the crap out of me.
P.S. Reports of the flatulency potential for the Jerusalem artichokes were not exaggerated. At the risk of sharing too much information, I will just say that, at one point, Doolittle left the room.
May 17, 2016. I tried one week of Freshly, a service that sends -- supposedly -- high quality, healthy gourmet meals already prepared, all you do is heat them up!
What is it they say? If it sounds to good to be true, it probably is? Well, Freshly gets less appealing with every meal... It tastes okay enough to swallow but it is not particularly enjoyable. Sigh. I had such high hopes for never cooking again. And I have four more of these to eat.
The entree is supposed to be roasted turkey, but I swear it had a weird texture, like some faux fowl. And the side veg? I don't even know what the hell that is. I think it was supposed to be kale and squash and… something.
I mean, look at this. Would you want to eat it? I gave up, and stopped at Sonic on the way home. I needed a chili dog, onion rings and an lavender milkshake to get the taste of this mush out of my mouth.
May 1, 2016. Today's luncheon (and tomorrow's) from Blue Apron: zucchini and spinach quiche. I think the crust got a little over done. I need a decent oven.
I think I may have goofed up the recipe. They sent a big cluster of garlic, and I was enthusiastically dicing it all up, tossing it into the pot, and then I glanced at the recipe card again and realized: OMG I WAS ONLY SUPPOSED TO USE TWO CLOVES, NOT THE WHOLE DAMNED THING!
I tried to get most of it out, but in the end, it was just too garlicky. Not bad, but probably not as good as it should have been.
Still one of the prettiest things I've ever cooked!
April 29, 2016. My first meal from Blue Apron, one of those new food services that sends you a certain number of meals in a big box. They send you everything except salt, pepper and olive oil. I mean, they even sent me a tablespoon of butter! It's cute how everything comes in little packages.
I really like the lack of waste. I had kale in this but I didn't have to buy a huge bundle of it, just to have most of it rot in the fridge before I got around to eating it. I didn't have to buy a whole jar of Dijon mustard grain just to get two tablespoons for this recipe. It's hard cooking for one person, even with the occasional dinner guest.
This serving had about 700 calories. True, skin was on the chicken -- but my serving was kept to one chicken breast. And you only make enough for two meals at a time, so overeating would be limited if you actually had two people eating together. Me, I suppose I could have eaten both servings, but one made me really full.
One tablespoon of butter in whole thing, 4 teaspoons of olive oil. Everything was fresh, not frozen, not processed. And that's a huge difference for me, because I so often fall back on quick convenience foods.
The "intro special" for Blue Apron cost $30, for six individual meals. $5 a meal isn't bad at all, not when it's fresh and mostly healthy -- certainly healthier than I normally eat. The normal price is $50 for the package; that's a little over $8 a meal, which wouldn't be too bad if i could do it maybe once a month, instead of this every week deal.
While cooking, though, I had my doubts. How do you know when a purple potato is done, anyway? The veggie medley was certainly not a combination of things I'd ever tried: purple potatoes, onion, kale, one Granny Smith apple, almond slivers and Dijon mustard grain. It doesn't look good here, but it was surprisingly tasty. And it was an adventure, because I would never have come up with this on my own. (I could have done without the apple in it; for me, it was just one flavor too many.)
I'm not sure how the leftovers will reheat, though. This was really yummy because of the crispy seared skin. I'm so proud it came out well because I have this slight, uh, phobia about cooking chicken. I'm always afraid it's not done, and I'm sure it's due to a past brush with death brought on by bad chicken salad. Which actually came from a respectable restaurant in town, not something I'd cooked. But still, you only have to spend 24 hours puking your guts out and praying for death to be marked for life.
I just don't know if I can afford to stay with the program. This is probably very cost effective for people who are used to cooking. But I'm not. I'm cheap and lazy when I shop for groceries, and I fall into that trap that so many of us po' folk do, which is choosing cheap but filling crap instead of healthy. It's expensive to eat fresh and healthy. Corporate American wants us fat, depressed and dying.
Sigh. I hate money. Probably because I don't have it, but it just gets in the way of doing what you'd really like.
April 30, 2016. Tonight's dinner from Blue Apron: Grains of Paradise Crusted Steak with mashed plantain, collard greens and ginger peanuts.
I was really impressed with the collards -- i may be cooking them like this again - though I'll end up with a huge mess of greens that I can't possibly eat. Anybody want to split a mess of collards with me? The ginger peanuts, well, I had my doubts, but they were really good! The steak was a little fatty -- excellent flavor, but I've not eaten any kind of steak except for filet mignon in over a year -- I just got tired of crappy cuts of meat, and would rather go for three months without steak at all, so that when I did splurge, I could go for something that I really liked.
The "sauce" of olive oil, lime juice and parsley was a waste, though. Really had no use for it.
May 14, 2016. My first Home Chef meal. Onion and mushroom smothered flat iron steak with mashed sweet potatoes and salt crusted green beans. Tasty but nothing mind-blowing or different for me. We'll see about tomorrow's dinner.
Home Chef, May 15, 2016. The potatoes are fab! The chicken came out a little dry but the sauce of Demi glacé with shallots and butter is really good. I'm talking, drinkable. The potatoes are cream, shallots and Parmesan. OMG.
If you have noticed my postings recently on Facebook, you are aware of my current love affair with the plethora of food box services. They ship you fresh ingredients for meal recipes, you cook it. (And then you clean it up. Sigh.)
You may have noticed, too, that I’m promiscuous, spreading my affections around. I started just checking out different programs to see how they worked, if i liked them, if I could afford them. And taking advantage of first order discounts. I like discounts. Discounts are good. Discounts are my friend and Free is my soul-mate.
On the first few boxes, the estimate for “time to prepare” was a big fat lie. The first meal took me almost two hours -- but that’s because I almost never cook, and I had crappy tools, and I was really slow. Probably took me half an hour to peel and dice an onion. All that endless veggie washing and peeling and chopping. The prep is what takes the time, not the cooking. The first two recipes made me a little nervous, because for the first time in my life I had to “zest” a lemon, and then a lime. (I had to buy a zesting tool, of course; I could have used my grater, I suppose, but I was worried about ruining the whole thing by not zesting correctly.)
In the beginning, I spent a lot of time staring at the recipe, almost afraid to start for fear of mucking it up. But it's been a lot easier than I thought it would be, and with practice, I've gotten faster. The most recent meal took about an hour from prep to plate, and was ridiculously easy.
I've been impressed with how clear the instructions have been, because this has always been a stumbling block for me: recipes that assume everybody knows what “zesting” or “blanching” is, or how to make “creme fraiche.” If I, as a charter member of the Society for the Domestically Challenged, can say a recipe was simple, you can believe it really is.
I'm also finding that having the right tools helps enormously. I did not actually own a decent knife or frying pan when I started. Now I do, and the difference is amazing. Of course, I spent $200 at a kitchen store in Opry Mills, but that’s beside the point. I was suddenly compelled to buy a bunch of little prep bowls. And a salad spinner. And special kitchen scissors. A $60 ceramic frying pan. Two new knives that will take my fingers off. And a Keurig coffee maker. Which had nothing to do with my cooking projects, but it was there, you know? I wanted it for my desk at work.
I will overlook the $10 bucks I spent on a really crappy slap chopper. I’ll go old school and chop by hand. It’s just that possibly of losing a fingertip that has me concerned.
The benefits to this experiment are even more numerous that I anticipated:
Because people have asked about my culinary adventures, here is a breakdown of the ones I’ve tried so far:
Overall: the delivery, instructions, food freshness and recipes have all been very good.
MARLEY SPOON (MARTHA STEWART)
Absolutely AVOID. They do pre-prepared fresh food that you just microwave. I so wanted this to be good, because it sounded perfect for a single person who didn’t like to cook. But the food was barely edible, some downright nasty in taste and appearance. Really disappointing.
I will be following with postings of my dishes and critiques of their worthiness. Stay tuned.
Today I once again made what one of my coworkers has dubbed "crackies" instead of cookies, due to their highly addictive nature. Yes, these are the to-die-for Double Chocolate Expresso Toffee cookies.
And this photo shows off my newest culinary purchase: a cookie scoop. I thought it sounded stupid at first, but then I had such a hard time with that last batch of cookies trying to convince a nice consistent amount of dough to get its ass off of the spoon/spatula/knife and onto the cookie sheet.
The cookie scoop -- amazingly available at Kroger -- works very well, and made that step of the process go so much faster. No, I don't have a Cuisinart or food processor or dutch oven or meat thermometer or any of the popular toys of culinary divas, but I do have a cookie scoop.
That should tell you something about me.
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