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.
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.
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