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.
Stand back, everybody. I am cooking today.
No, it's NOT a sign of the Apocalypse. Stop laughing.
If you've known me for a while, you know that cooking is not something I do much of. It's not that I can't, it's that I don't want to. If Fate/Karma/God/the Flying Spaghetti Monster intended me to cook, then why did it/he/she create so many fine restaurants?
Cooking is so much work. You gotta shop for the ingredients, then do all the prep -- washing, chopping, slicing, grating, etc. -- and then the cooking, and then the worst part - the cleanup!
When I cook, somehow cake batter winds up on the inside of the kitchen cabinets I haven't even opened since I moved into this condo, and Hollandaise sauce ends up on the ceiling. I don't know how it happens, it just does. I'll find a desiccated stalk of asparagus under the Hoosier cabinet three weeks after trying to "get it to a tender-crisp state, at which it is soft enough to chew but not yet soggy."
Which is another reason I don't cook much: confusing recipes with terms like 'tender-crisp.' Those cornmeal cookies I made a while back? The recipe called for "all-purpose fine yellow cornmeal." But I couldn't find any yellow cornmeal that also had "all-purpose" on the label, let alone "fine." The all-purpose was white cornmeal, not yellow. WTF was I supposed to do?
This kind of thing happens to me all the time. The recipe says use ABC and there is no ABC on the shelf, only BCA and CAB, and I have to toss a coin and take a chance on buying the exact wrong thing. I learned the difference between self-rising and all-purpose flour the hard way.
When I first started dating the Boyfriend some thirteen years ago, I was all dizzy in love and wanted to serve him all these amazing gourmet meals prepared with my own two hands….
After six months or so, I realized that when he said he didn't care what I cooked, or even if I cooked at all, he really meant it. Yeah, he likes my meatloaf, and my roast, or lasagna, but he is also completely and utterly satisfied with a hamburger or grilled cheese sandwich.
When he kept dragging me back to certain restaurants that I find loathsome, I realized that -- bless his heart, I love the man dearly -- he has only the most basic of palates. If I put a plate of, say, ravioli from a five-star Italian restaurant, and ravioli by Chef Boyardee, in front of him, I don't honestly think he'd have a preference.
However, a FB friend has mentioned her brisket recipe a couple of times recently, and it reminded me of the brisket I'd had at the house of a friend some twenty years ago. It was amazingly tender and juicy. In fact, I still have the Corning Ware dish in which she cooked it, because she sent it and all the leftovers home with me because I'd loved it so much. (She didn't get the dish back because she stills owes me money, but that's another long story for another time.)
I'm not certain this means anything, but both of these women are Jewish. Is brisket a Jewish thing? Or maybe a Northern thing? Because growing up in the South, the only brisket I ever even heard of was barbecued. Or maybe I was just deprived and isolated as a child. I grew up eating a little "weird" because my father was the ultimate picky eater; if it didn't contain ground beef and/or potatoes, he didn't eat it. My mother cooked what Daddy ate, at least until around 1980, when she stopped trying to be June Cleaver and my house became a fend-for-yourself zone. My sister and I ate a LOT of Banquet chicken pot pies between 1979 and 1981.
I remember quite clearly the first time I ever saw tuna fish, at my friend Mindy's house. I came home and asked Mom to make it for me. She had to call Mindy's mother for the recipe.
I remember, too, the first time I ever ate a salad. We were having dinner in Disney World, and the waitress asked what kind of dressing I wanted with my salad. I blinked at her. Salad? Did she mean, like, macaroni salad? Potato salad? What's all this green wrinkly stuff on the plate?
Mom told the waitress to bring me French dressing, but I think she was just picking one of the three choices (French, Italian and Blue Cheese) at random. I think this was before Ranch had been invented. (Later on, for years, I would think a salad was iceberg lettuce and Ranch dressing.)
Now, the nearly world-famous brisket recipe from my friend, Laura, is the one she uses for Passover meals. (Yes, any of you Southern Baptists from my childhood who have not yet unfriended me, I have learned slightly more about Passover than we ever learned from Charlton Heston, and guess what? Jewish people aren't actually going to hell! How about that! AND she's from New York. How about that!) She kept talking about all the fabulous stuff she was cooking this year, and making me really hungry for things I've never eaten before.
I went about this a little bit backwards, though. I bought the slab of meat yesterday at Kroger on a wild impulse. Only then did I actually read Laura's recipe.
OHMGOD. I could lead the Israelites out of Egypt easier than I could cook according to her recipe. She's a SERIOUS cook, apparently. I glanced half way down the page and saw "On day two, open your pot and remove the layer of fat on top…."
DAY TWO? Worse, the list of ingredients called for (among other things) sun-dried tomatoes, freshly grated horseradish, shallots (I am not even exactly sure what a shallot is), fennel, sherry, and a "dab of anchovy paste."
My heart sank when I realized I didn't even a Dutch oven to cook the damned thing in. And how am I supposed to cook anything without Campbell's Cream of Mushroom soup or Crisco?*
But I already had this enormous slab of meat, so off I went to Google, searching for alternative brisket recipes to get an idea of what substitutions might be possible.
The first bright idea was realizing I could cook this in a crock pot. Thanks to my friend, Kristen Sojourner, I have a very nice and roomy crock pot. It also happens to be a very sexy candy-apple red, but that's just a bonus.
So I have taken a number of different recipes and mushed them all together. I skipped the one that basically called for a 24-ounce bottle of ketchup and a packet of Lipton Onion Soup Mix. That was a little more trailer park than I wanted to go.
I felt better about using Worcestershire sauce when I remembered that it has both horseradish and anchovies in it. The recipe I wound up going with calls for mushrooms as well as onions, and I used Marsala wine instead of sherry.
Honestly, it looks a little suspicious at this point. It will not be ready until tomorrow, but it is beginning to smell pretty damned good. We'll just have to wait and see how it turns out
Maybe one day when I've got more time, and can find a Dutch oven, and figure out what a shallot is, I'll try Laura's recipe verbatim. But in the meantime, this will do. If it turns out badly, I can always feed it to the Boyfriend.
*Ya'll realize that I'm just exaggerating for the sake of humor, right? I can cook without Campbell's Cream of Mushroom. Sometimes I used Cream of Chicken.
I LOVE THE WEB
Because nobody can interrupt me; they can only de-friend me.