I know this is going to sound crazy, but I ran across this slow-fry recipe for making French fries at home a couple years ago, and it’s honestly THE BEST for that one time a year you think, “Hey, I’m going to throw caution and wisdom to the side and actually fry these frozen potato sticks.”
In essence, you dump cold, frozen french fries into a deep pot (I use a thin T-Fal 4-quart pot that I also use for making pasta, because it’s sturdy enough to work well but thin enough to transfer the heat quickly). Cover the fries with oil, preferably with an extra inch of oil above the fries. (I’ve done it with less in a pinch.) Turn the heat to medium and walk away for about 15 minutes.
From there, you’ll stir the fries occasionally for the next 20-30 minutes as they cook through. Once they’re cooked, crank the heat up to medium high and leave them alone for 10-15 minutes to brown thoroughly and get crispy.
Pull them out (I use tongs) onto paper-toweled racks or baking sheets and salt them. They end up crunchy and delicious, without spattering grease all over the kitchen (the normal outcome of throwing cold food into a hot fryer). De-lish!
PS. You can usually get more than one fry-session out of the oil, unless you’ve got weird potatoes coated in seasoning or whatever. Let the oil cool off on the back of the stove, and later that night (or the next morning), use a funnel to pour the clean oil back into your oil bottle. Leave the bottom layer, because the fry bits will have settled.
As long as you didn’t scorch the fries, you can get another round of frying out of that oil. It’ll be a darker color, but it’s perfectly fine for a second batch.
PPS. This is a great recipe to pair with my favorite Belgian beef stew, using this recipe … which ranked as one of my favorite discoveries of 2014. Our local Belgian pub, The Trappe Door (oh how I love them!), serves their flemandes stew with crunchy fries and fry sauces, and it’s lovely.
*taps* Hello? Hellooooo? Is this thing on? (You never know with time travel equipment.)
Ok. I’ve got a chance to send some advice back to my younger self, and I think it’s worth the risks. If I poof out of existence because I tangled the timelines…well, I guess this post will disappear too.
But not before I pass along some good stuff, the hard-earned coin of these past couple decades.
Don’t buy things. Buy experiences.
Young Self, I’ve been sending a lot of your stuff to Goodwill and eBay this year, stuff I bought when I was your age and then didn’t really use much. It’s easy when you’re just starting out in life to buy things that other people use because they seem to be getting so much good use out of them.
Here’s the thing: we Americans are hoarders. We’re consumers. We consume things then leave their discarded husks around to clutter up shelves and closets and the garage. It’s dumb, and it spawns a lot of needless dusting and angst. Let. It. Go.
All you need in your kitchen is …
An excellent set of knives. When the Cutco Guy shows up at your door sometime in 2002, make sure you let him in. Yes, the price is outrageous, but good tools cost money. No, you can’t afford it – buy a set anyway. We’ve been using these knives for 15+ years now and I thank Hephaestus for them every single day. We got them re-honed and factory sharpened a couple years ago. I plan to use them till I die, and then my friends can argue over who gets to inherit them.
A 12″ cast iron skillet and a 6″ cast iron skillet. You hardly need any other skillets. I don’t know why I waited so long to discover the magic of cast iron, but I’m going to blame it on the stupidity of youth. We make a breakfast scramble in the little one at least once a week and use the big one for nearly everything.
An enameled cast iron Dutch oven. This is the other half of my short list of “indispensable cookware.” You can make soup, stew, cacciatore, gravy, roasted meat, braised beef, slow cooked pulled pork….. it’s a magical device. It’s heavy, yeah, but it’s worth it. Make this beer braised pork roast and these carnitas and this Belgian beef stew all year long. I have the one by Food Network because who has money for LeCruset?
Round out the cookware with a heavy sauce pan (I have a great anodized aluminum one from Calphalon), a cheap big pot for pasta (big and thin so it boils fast; mine is left over from a T-Fal set), and a small LeCruset metal enameled pot for making rice or cheesy grits. Any small, heavy pot will get a lot of use.
A small supply of high quality tools, preferably ones that do multiple jobs (Alton Brown’s rule). My list includes silicon scrapers and stiff spatulas that resist high heat or work for scraping a batter bowl; wooden spoons for cooking because they can handle high heat and a lot of abuse; a sturdy nylon whisk and a pan whisk (so handy – go buy one), good quality ice cream scoop (this one has held up for at least 15 years) and pie server (Pampered Chef wins here); a citrus reamer (I use this metal coated one); a thin and very sharp knife (I got a few of them free at Pampered Chef parties but you can buy them inexpensively on Amazon); and these little spatulas from Pampered Chef which are absolutely perfect for cookies. We also use stainless steel measuring cups (for dry ingredients) and spoons all the time, and a classic set of Pyrex 1 cup, 2 cup, and 4 cup for liquids. Just like Mom’s! 😉
I’ve got a few other random kitchen tools tucked away, but I’ve gotten rid of a whole bunch of them and I feel so much better.
You don’t need to hoard recipes, except a few proven winners. I have a few handwritten cards of my dad’s recipes (still) and the ones given to me by ladies at my bridal shower (though I’ve cooked only a few…..hmmmm….probably should dig into those). You’ll soon learn that cooking is an art and a set of heuristics rather than an exact science, and I pull out recipes only rarely. I pared down my cookbook collection as well, though I did keep a few standards or really pretty ones.
Throw out that damn automatic drip coffee maker. Blech. Ours broke one morning 4 or 5 years ago so we turned to Google in desperation to figure out how the “uncivilized” world makes coffee. Discovered that we were the heathens, imprisoning our coffee for years in that sad machine. We’ve settled now on a simple Bodum vessel and a Black & Decker electric kettle (which also helps out for heating water for pasta). Coffee takes 109x better and our morning coffee ritual (which takes barely 5 minutes) is genuinely satisfying.
I don’t know why I waited 10+ years to buy myself an electric can opener (this is ours and we love it). Sometimes you hate doing a particular chore and it’s worth stepping up to a better tool. I should have bought one in Year One of our marriage. Durp. I put my KitchenAid stand mixerin this same category. It’s 20 years old and trucking right along. I’ve used it to make bread dough, cheesecakes, and mashed potatoes, but Coart uses it all the time to mix up chocolate chip cookie batter — and that’s a holy rite which shall never be interrupted.
Ok, enough kitchen…. on to other topics…..
Don’t pretend to be someone you aren’t, even to keep other people happy. Hold your head high when you walk into the liquor store or when you wear that pink shirt and short shorts or when you duck into Hot Topic to see what the kids are into these days or when you crank up the volume on your playlist. I still remember a lady at church talking about hiding beer in her grocery cart and feeling like she had to justify herself to people in the store: “I’m buying it for taco soup!” Look: No one cares why you’re buying beer. And if they do, is it any of their damn business? NOPE. Don’t hang out with judgey people and don’t let them dictate your actions. (But don’t be a jerk either – it’s obviously kind and caring to avoid engaging in actions you know will offend a friend. I’m talking about the non-friends who exist in your personal orbit.)
Thing is, there’s a lot of pressure on you to stay within particular boundaries, especially when you’re a teacher. Don’t go out looking for trouble, but don’t ever pretend to be something you aren’t. Eventually people will figure it out. (And teenagers will detect bullshit immediately.)
If something is wrong or harmful or unkind, don’t do it. If it’s not any of those categories, then don’t pretend like you don’t do it if you do. Simple as that.
Plant stuff in the yard the first year you buy the house! Don’t wait around (like we did, thinking “we’ll get to it….”) because then you’ll end up owning the same house for 15 years but still have zero landscaping except now you’re angry about how much nicer your yard would’ve looked by now if you’d scraped together some money for landscaping from the very start. Skip 4 Starbucks runs and buy a plant or a load of topsoil instead.
Stop working for low pay. This one might be controversial, younger self, and I’m not trying to tell you what to do. Other than this: take time to sketch out a career plan. Don’t just let your career happen to you. And don’t allow your skills to be undervalued in your earnings, unless you’re getting something else equally valuable (like experience or learned skills or fulfillment).
Get better sooner at making a monthly budget and sticking to it. You aren’t good at this. And growing up poor warped your understanding of money and finances. I know you know that you’ll get more out of retirement savings if you start sooner. Start with something like Acorns with loose change, at first. I know it’s hard to forego current delights for the sake of future investment. Not working for low pay will help you fix that problem, but adjusting your lifestyle down to enjoy experiences rather than material goods helps too. Go find a friend and hang out. You don’t need to spend $60 to visit Biltmore to do that effectively.
Don’t pay for cable. Don’t steal it either….just….hang in there. They’re going to invent this service called Netflix and also YouTube and then this other thing called Hulu and then you’ll have all the TV you’ll ever need. If you’re really lucky, you’ll have friends who pay for cable but share their online account password with you so you can watch this hot show on HBO called Game of Thrones.
I think my connection is fading, so last thing: Take care of the kids who need you –they’re going to grow up into amazing adults one day, and they’ll appreciate what you invested in them. Don’t stop fighting for the kids no one else thinks will make it. The underdogs can make it – they just need a hand up.
Of all the things I didn’t expect about turning 40, my increasing intolerance for mediocre food wasn’t on the list.
Let’s be honest: When I was 20-something, I ate a lot of food that was honestly meh. I shopped at Sam’s and bought Hamburger Helper by the case. I had my share of processed, canned, and crock pot meals that somehow tasted good to me at the time. We ate where we could afford (though even in my 20s I knew White Castle burgers are gross and Skins hotdogs are vastly overrated).
It’s no surprise that one’s taste’s mature as we age, but I didn’t anticipate the side order of snobbery that seems to have come along with it. 😉
Case in point: A couple weeks ago, the hubs and I stopped by one of Green Vegas’s up and coming hipster paradise locavore farm-to-table restaurants. The place has a carefully curated interior (I’d die to have those raw brick walls and rough-hewn tabletops in my own house).
But the food? Underwhelming. Tastes like…. well, not much of anything. Despite having “delicious” in the title of the restaurant, the food….wasn’t. It was weak. Good quality, but lacking any nuance in flavor.
I looked around at a crowd of Millennials with their knobby knit scarves and fall boots and flannel shirts and trimmed beards, munching down on food that I could have made myself far better. I longed to throw an arm over their shoulders and bring them into my kitchen to taste tonight’s beef stew, rich with the flavors formed in the pan by a little pork and a spike of both sherry and balsamic vinegar over the local farm beef chunks, slow-basted in the oven, married to carrots/onions/celery and creamy with pearl barley. There are flavors under the flavors, flavors that unpack themselves inside your mouth like a spy who’d stowed away in a shipping container, springing out to surprise you with truly golden-brown and delicious tastes.
Or consider one of our really popular hangout joints here in A-town. Formerly a noisy street tavern full of loud music and shouting drunks, the reimagined Earle Street Kitchen throbs with activity every night. Can’t even find a place to park on Fridays and Saturdays. How’s the food? Well, the goat cheese potato fritters ARE really tasty, and I can usually find something worth drinking on tap. The rest of it? Salt. It tastes like salt. No nuance here either. People from age 18 to 65 are packing out the place. What gives? (I was genuinely offended when someone I know raved about their mahi-mahi & grits. Yeah there was goat cheese in the grits and that’s a good idea and I plan to steal it but…. the rest of it still tastes predominantly of salt with a side of garlic.)
**UPDATE, Dec 2017**
I have to be honest: I was at this restaurant again a few days ago, and my meal was genuinely good. The crab cakes in particular were tasty and well-seasoned. Perhaps the kids are learning to cook. 😉
I’ve got more money in my pocket than I did at 25 (more bills too, so I think we’re even, younger self), but I’m loathe to spend it on food that, while may be the freshest and most environmentally conscious, fails to thrill. If the cooks haven’t learned to layer flavor in ways that provide a satisfying experience for my taste buds, why am I giving them money?
And can someone explain to me how Mellow Mushroom stays in business? The pizza is tasty, don’t get me wrong, but the prices are like “holy mother of beelzebub, why does this pizza cost more than what I pay for groceries monthly?” And since it seems to take 45 minutes for your pizza to arrive at the table, they must start the second rise of the dough when you place your order. I don’t get it. Am I just impatient now? #getoffmylawn #takeyourbadservicewithyou
We’ve also been mourning the demise of some of our old haunts. Maybe it IS me and my finicky tastebuds getting cranky with middle age, but the fries at McGee’s are soggy now, and everything seems to have dropped a notch in quality (except the wine list). I wish they’d team up with the brewery in their backyard to beef up their beer offerings and reopen the back deck to liven up the place. Maybe I don’t like the food as much now that the pub is funeral-quiet every time I walk in, as if it were a retiree rocking on the front porch waiting to die. The food at Fiesta doesn’t stand out like it used to compared to L Taco (but I have a soft spot in my heart for Fiesta’s burro de la roqueta). The faithful Empire Chinese on the corner is under new management, after we basically watched the former owners’ kid grow up from nugget to teenager. It’s still good, but I can taste the difference. I hope the owners have moved into a business where they can get a day off.
Even Starbucks has lost its luster for me. I like my caramel macchiato because it’s not usually overly sweet (try swapping in the PSL syrup for the usual vanilla syrup – it’s less “candy-sweet” than a PSL but you get some nice spice). But most of the Starbucks syrups just taste like chemicals to me nowadays. Blech.
But I have digressed.
To my lovely Millennials: I adore how earnestly you want your food to be sustainable and genuine. I love that you’ve said “bump this!” to boring grocery stores and are happy to let Amazon drop groceries on your doorstep. I’m glad you’ve forced Baby Boomers to learn what avocado toast is, even if they mock you for it (without good reason). I think good experiences trump having a big bank account. Your generation gives me a lot of hope that 2017 may not be the only dark apocalyptic vision available for our future. Thank you for reviving Saturday farmer’s markets and telling O’Charley’s to go die.
But please come over sometime and let me cook for you. You don’t need to spend all those hard-earned dollars on mediocre food. Learn to roast vegetables and chicken in your oven. Learn to braise a pork shoulder and serve it with good crusty bread from a local bakery. Buy a large cast iron skillet, keep it oiled, and use it for everything including those grass-fed, free-range steaks you bought at the Saturday market. Make your own damn coffee – it takes five minutes, a $30 grinder from BBB, and a $20 Bodum.
Hipster places we DO love:
– Tandem Creperie
– Methodical Coffee
– Nose Dive
– White Duck Taco (be still, my heart!!)
Non-hipster places everyone should try:
– Inky’s (Philly cheesesteaks in Easley!) – thanks, Mel! ❤
– L Taco in Anderson (owned by my neighbor!!!)
– The Pita House, a Greenville classic
– the Tropical Grille out on Pelham & 14 (and only that one) for the slow-roasted Cuban “chop” (pork & beans & rice bowl)
This is how I cook: I open up the refrigerator or pantry and say, “What’s here?” If there are enough building blocks to create a meal along the lines of something I’ve cooked before and enjoyed, problem solved.
This approach leads to occasional accidental delights (but mostly just decent supper food). Here are two that happened in my kitchen in the past month. See if you’re similarly inspired to experiment. 😉
I’ve been making chicken cacciatore since I started cooking (a few days after I got married), but I learned the recipe by watching my dad make it countless times for supper. It was easy, relatively quick, and cheap – all qualities that my dad prized in his culinary endeavors
But the other day, as I eyed a small bag of orzo pasta I’d picked up at Trader Joe’s, I had an epiphany: What If I swapped out the rice I usually serve alongside cacciatore, and used the orzo instead?
The verdict: Delicious! I cooked the orzo pasta on the side and then throw the cooked orzo into the pot of cacciatore once it came out of the oven. However, I’m wondering if I should have cooked the orzo straight into the cacciatore so it would pick up more of those flavors. Dunno. May try that next time.
Post Pork-Roast Beef Stew
So last month, I made the most incredible pork roast thanks to this recipe from an Upstate cook:
It’s an amazing recipe. So easy; so incredibly flavorful.
I make two changes from her recipe. The first, I use rendered bacon fat (cook a couple pieces, pull out the bacon, use it for something else) to sear the pork roast in the first step. The additional smokiness of a high quality bacon adds incomparable depth of flavor. Goes without saying that you need to be using a good bacon here; I keep Trader Joe’s applewood smoked bacon in the frig at all times.
Second, once the pork roast had been seared but before adding the cooking liquid (beer et al), I deglaze the pan with some bourbon or sherry. Sometimes a little of both, in succession. Scrape up the brown bits and let the meat soak up some of the alcohol before continuing. Again, it’s a layer of flavor that makes a difference in the end.
When you’re done (follow the recipe), you have pork that just falls apart and shreds with no effort at all. It’s incredible as pulled pork sandwiches; you need no additional BBQ sauce.
But then…. there’s more magic to be had in the pot! You’ll need your favorite beef stew recipe – look it up on the Internet and pick up some cheap “stew beef” at the store on your next grocery run, along with carrots, potatoes, onion, celery, a box of beef broth, and either rice or big noodles or barley or whatever.
Let the drippings cool until the fat congeals on top. Stop being squeamish; this is part of life when cooking with meat. Scrape off and discard as much of the solid fat as you can, leaving behind the beer-broth and bits of pork from the earlier recipe.
Heat what’s left on medium in your Dutch oven till it’s going pretty hard and throw in all your chopped vegetables. If you did too good a job of removing fat, you might need to add a wee bit of olive oil or butter here. Meanwhile, brown your beef chunks in a skillet on the side and throw them in with the vegetables once they get brown on all sides. (The extra work is worth it – I promise.) Add your broth and seasonings, and throw the whole pot into the oven for an hour or more, till the potatoes are completely done and the beef is tender.
If you’re going to add rice or noodles it might be easier to cook those on the stovetop and then add them at the end.
The result: Your beef stew will have this magical depth of flavor, a savory-ness that I can’t ever get when I just “make beef stew,” no matter what seasonings I add. The leftovers from the pork bring so many good flavors to the party, but nothing clashes with the traditional beef stew vibe.
I’m committed now to always making the pork recipe before I make a regular beef stew. I’m not sure I can go back to the old way…. 😉
I have a full series of biographical posts here, if you wish to attempt some armchair psychoanalysis on RameyLady.
I have only a few rules that I strive to follow at work (in addition to the basics of human kindness):
1. Don’t be too loud.
The struggle is real, y’all. I work at a rather quiet place. I think my laugh carries all the way down the hall…. to like the second floor…
2. Don’t be too weird.
If you’re reading The Backstory series, you understand: When I went off to college and spent some time with people from all around the country, I realized just how odd I am. I blame this on being raised by a struggling working-class family living on a mountain in Appalachia, raised by parents a full generation older than any of my friends, as an only child whose primary companions were a few of the dysfunctional neighbor kids, our 10 cats, whatever came over the airwaves on the TV or local radio, and thousands of books.
3. Don’t say the F-word.
…without having *very* good reason.
Three rules. Should be simple.
You’d be amazed though.
So at lunch yesterday, when the talk of the table had turned – twice – to the subject of pigs …..hunting wild hogs ….. eating wild hogs [not as much meat as you’d think] ….. pet “comfort” pigs [I don’t know, I didn’t ask]) … plus pet pot-bellied pigs had come up in conversation before that as I was walking to lunch — I had the momentary thought of telling this story to the table.
Until I did a reality check, and decided the necessity of explaining my entire background before the story could even make sense probably took me past the boundaries of rule #2.
[I made the right call, I think. Moments later, when I suggested that cauliflower tastes delicious roasted in a very hot oven with some olive oil, salt, and pepper, they all looked at me like I had 4 heads. *shakes head* People shouldn’t abuse food the way they do, like by not roasting cauliflower and eating that amazing caramelized toasty goodness on a cool winter evening. I digress.]
So here, dear reader, is the story that came to mind when the talk of the table turned to the pigs.
I don’t know why my parents started to acquire large and small animals on our 12 acres of land, but they did.
I don’t have any actual memories of this, but family lore confirms that as soon as my family had settled on the mountain in a little cement block house built by the previous owner (our temporary dwelling while my dad and brothers constructed our house), my brothers managed to talk my parents into letting them get a horse.
I’ll have to share the horse story some other day. He didn’t last long with THAT attitude….
Over the course of my life, we had – in addition to the horse – two pigs, many chickens, two dogs, and a multitude of cats….. plus my brother’s beehives (for a time)…. which led to a few visits by a hungry black bear (and the end of several of the beehives). Oh, and fish.
When I was a preschooler, we had two hogs. My dad and brothers constructed a pig pen a ways down into the woods from the house – to prevent our yard from smelling like a farm – and split trees into a fence.
The sow, black and pink and rather grouchy, bore the name Sarai for no reason that I can explain. I was probably 4; every part of the world made as much sense as anything else, no matter how bizarre, though I’m sure I asked why. Sarai had a piglet (hers? not sure) that we called Rudy. I don’t recall Rudy’s end, but I’m *pretty* certain a large wild animal feasted on him before we could do anything else with him. Like serve him for supper.
I was daddy’s girl and followed him pretty much everywhere. We took vegetable scraps and leftover food down to the pig trough for them to devour. I learned how much fun it is to torment pigs – they glare at you with beady eyes. And they’re hella intelligent. It got to where they’d always stay across the pen from me if I was outside. Inside the fence, I found them large and terrifying. All that bulk and snuffling. And mud. *ew* [insert Jimmy Fallon voice here]
Then one day in the golden autumn, my dad fired up his 1960-something Ford pickup truck, which had a rebuilt bed of wood with tall sides made of slats, and drove it and my brothers down to the pigpen. It took all 3 of them and maybe a neighbor too to pin down Sarai – who was huge and unhappy – and wrestle her up into the truck, tying her down.
The boys stayed in the back; my mom and dad flanked me on the red truck seat in the cab as we drove across the mountain to a barn-like building with a name something like Sonny’s or Sam’s or Harry’s. That’s where the men dragged Sarai squealing off the truck and then disappeared into the building for quite a long time.
I was furious at being stuck in the truck cab with my mom. Livid. My dad had left no opening for disobedience here; he was clear that I was to stay put…. plus my mom wasn’t going to let me do anything more than stare through the back window of the truck cab. So I waited. And stared.
And that was my family field trip to the slaughterhouse. 🙂
I’m sure I was given a basic explanation that Sarai had served her purpose and it was time for her to go … and that we would be able to eat bacon and pork chops and roasts all winter thanks to her sacrifice. I remember when the truckload of white-wrapped packages came back from the butcher, labeled in black sharpie. (The bacon was especially tasty.)
I don’t recall being particularly traumatized by the realization that the animal I’d helped raise was now part of supper. I don’t know what that says about my psyche, but it was normal for mountain life. We buried many pets while I grew up, lots several chickens to a hungry possum, and got rid of the troublesome horse.
Death is always near in the Appalachians. It just is.
This has been a much-requested recipe, so I’ll share a version of it here. No apologies for the rustic nature of these directions – the only measuring utensils you need are for the opening steps of the grits. The rest you can eyeball. 😉
I will say that, made well, this recipe beats nearly every bowl of shrimp & grits you will ever find. So invest in high-quality meat and spices, and break out the cream and butter. And true stone-ground grits. Do not EVEN think of making this with some crappy store-bought instant grit crap.
Also, don’t tell me “I hate grits. They’re gross and I refuse to eat them” until you’ve made them THIS WAY. Then, if you still hate them, you are still wrong but we can remain friends. 🙂
RameyLady’s Shrimp and Grits Recipe
Serves 4. Scale up or down as needed.
THE GRITS – start these first.
1 cup stone ground, local grits (I use local Timms Mill grits) – follow package directions re: sifting or rinsing
4 cups chicken stock
1/2 stick of butter
1 tsp salt
1-2 cups of cream, half & half, or whole milk (or a mix of those)
1/2 cup of shredded cheese (your choice, I like sharp cheddar or maybe smoked Gouda)
more salt, pepper, dried thyme (to taste)
To make the grits:
In a large, heavy-bottomed sauce pan or pot, combine the broth and butter over medium heat to bring to a simmer. Stir in 1 cup of stone ground uncooked grits and reduce heat to medium-low. You want the grits to bubble and cook, but they turn into a nuclear meltdown of bubbling 3rd degree burn material if you let them get too hot, so don’t go more than a minute without stirring. Stir & cook carefully for 15 minutes, then pour in 1/2 cup of cream (or milk or half & half or whatever combo of those you’d like) and stir well. Add a pinch of salt — not too much because the cheese you add at the end will also be a bit salty– and fresh-ground pepper, plus any additional seasonings you’d prefer, like dried thyme. Reduce heat to medium-low: you want the grits to bubble slowly but not so fast that they splutter. (Recall the nuclear warning, above.) Start making the Shrimp part, below…. As the grits continue to cook over the next 25-40 minutes, add cream a couple more times, about 1/2 cup at a time, until the grits are cooked through, not “gritty,” and thickened to your preference. Just before serving, add the cheese, stir through until melted, and check to see if you need any additional salt. Store leftover grits in the frig for several days or freeze for later.
THE SHRIMP PART – start this once you start adding cream to the grits
Start this once the grits are in their first cooking phase.
3-4 slices high quality bacon, diced and divided (I use Trader Joe’s applewood smoked)
1-2 lb fresh shrimp, peeled, deveined
1/2 lb high-quality andouille sausage (kielbasa works too)
splash of lemon juice or half a lemon
couple tablespoons of butter
salt, pepper, seasonings*, thyme
garlic cloves – diced or use a press
cream sherry — about 1 cup total (I use Fairbanks cream sherry – see photo below)
1 onion, diced large
1-2 bell peppers, diced large
several fresh summer tomatoes, diced large
dried thyme & basil
about 1 to 1 1/2 cups of cream or half n half (or whole milk)
about 1 T cornstarch
*I rely on two seasoning blends for my shrimp and grits; both come from The Spice & Tea Exchange, and you can order them online if you don’t have a store in your area: Cinnabar Smoke Blend adds a slightly warm, Eastern flavor to the dish; Sweet Heat packs a little more punch but the sweetness offsets the heat in everything else. If you don’t have these, that’s fine – if you’re using high quality sausage and bacon, their flavors will infuse the dish.
To prepare: Stage 1: Prepare shrimp (peel, etc) and season to taste. I use a little salt & pepper plus a splash of lemon juice and some favorite spice blends – see note above. Set aside to marinade for 15 minutes to 4 hours. Dice the bacon and if you’re using sausage, prep that as well (if the sausage is raw, I usually cook andouille as links first, then chop into pieces and return to the pan later as listed below; kielbasa can be chopped into slices without any pre-cooking).
Add 1 strip’s worth of bacon and about a quarter of the sausage to a large wide pan OR tall cooking pot (large enough to hold 4 quarts of liquid – that way you won’t get spattered) over medium heat to render fat and flavor. After the bacon is 80% cooked through, add one chopped clove of fresh garlic to the pan and star. Arrange the shrimp over the bottom of the pan in an even layer. If you have too much shrimp to cook all in one batch, split into two batches (and split the bacon and garlic as well, since you’ll want to cook each batch fresh.) Flip the shrimp after about 60 seconds and cook on the other side till the shrimp are BARELY done – firmer to the touch and pink . Pour a couple tablespoons of sherry into the pan and stir. Cook for about 30 seconds, then remove everything from the pan into a dish and keep warm to add back later– pour everything in the pan out and reserve all juices. Set aside. (If making two batches of shrimp, reduce pan heat a little and start with some fresh bacon.)
You can wipe the pan if you want. I usually don’t.
Stage 2: Add the rest of the chopped bacon (about 3 slices worth). If you’re using sausage, add the rest of it to the pan here. Let the bacon render some fat, then add either 1 tsp of butter or a couple tsp of oliveoil to the pan. Add 1-2 T fresh chopped garlic. Stir. Add the diced onion and chopped bell pepper and cook for just a minute or two until the vegetables soften slightly. You should also season the vegetables – at least throw in some dried basil and thyme, about 1 T of each. Turn heat up to medium and pour a good half cup of sherry (up to 1 cup) into the pan. Stir well and then allow the sherry to reduce by half, which will take several minutes of boiling.
Stage 3: After the sherry has reduced by half (or so), add the diced fresh summer tomatoes. Whether you include the seeds is up to you; I don’t get too fussy here. Just chop the tomatoes & throw them in. Add another round of seasoning, like basil. Add about 1.5 cups of cream (or milk or half & half or all three) and slowly pour the cream into the pot, stirring as it hits the warm vegetable-sherry mixture. Simmer on medium for 5 minutes, until cream begins to reduce. Mix 1 T of cream with 1 T cornstarch in a separate bowl; stir vigorously with a fork until every bit of cornstarch is dissolved. Turn up heat a little past high and add this to the pot; allow to boil until the cream begins to thicken (because of the corn starch).
Stage 4: Return the shrimp and their juices (and bacon/sausage used in step 1) to the pan and check your grits; you’re probably ready to add the cheese. You can safely “hold” either part of the dish on low heat until the other is done, but don’t add the shrimp into its pan until you know you’re within 5 min of eating. (Overcooked shrimp is gummy and gross.)
Serve by ladling 1/2 cup or more of grits into the bottom of a wide flat bowl, then top with about a cup of the shrimp mixture.
You really don’t need anything else with this dish – it covers all the bases. 🙂 It pairs very well with beer or wine. I prefer a warm red, but white wine drinkers can find something crisp and lemony.
It’s Olympics time. What does that mean for my household?
Well, even if an epic snowstorm in the Southeast weren’t sitting on top of my house, forcing me away from going into my day job and opening up dozens of extra hours for Olympic watching, I’d still be glued to the TV whenever I had the chance. You have no idea. I loooooooove me some Winter Olympics.
That’s old news.
As is Shaun White’s disappointing 4th place finish on the half-pipe, but at least we can feel good about the guy, despite the media hype that he’s cold & not un-chill for a skater dude.
But I digress. I came here tonight to tell you about “that time I was in Russia.” Yeah, the real one! I’m still pretty surprised myself.
As I finished up my undergraduate degree, I signed on for a 10-week mission trip traveling through both halves of Europe. As a choir, we prepared spirituals and other music to sing in public, in recital halls, in churches, on street corners. And in every town, we met (and often stayed with) locals – my favorite part.
In late June, we spent about 3 weeks in Eastern Europe, Belorussia, and Russia. I’ll save the long versions of the story for another day, but here are a few highlights:
Um, monuments. Russians know how to do spectacle. You haven’t seen a WW2 monument until you’ve seen the ones Russia built. Or the countries under Soviet rule. My first experience with this came in Brest (Belorussia), where the pock-marked brick fortress outside the city held off the Germans …. for a bit.
But if you really want to see grandeur, check out the statue within the fortress park commemorating the Russian soldiers. This photographer’s shot captures a gigantic granite solder crawling for water; behind him a huge head stares across the plains.
Russians love dill. It’s unnatural, and if I never see that herb again, it’ll still be too soon. We ate tomatoes and cucumbers sliced and sprinkled with dill, we had fish with dill, they put dill on slices of raw pork fat (ew), the borscht was probably garnished with dill. Beets and dill. Dill and cucumbers. Dill on dill. It was a dill-pocalypse.
When we weren’t being hounded by the herb of doom, our hosts served us warm fizzy water (cold stuff is bad for you, so they said), hot tea and coffee (in high summer), and the most delightful fruit juice called, generically, “sok” – which is just a term for “juice.” (The O is long, so “sok” sounds like “soak.”)
I’ve asked my Russian friends how it’s made; the best I could get was this: layer a big jar (like a sun-tea jar) with fresh fruit and sugar. Pour in boiling water. Immediately can the jar or cap & sterilize it, and then flip it upside down. Leave for several months. When you open the jar, the resulting liquid is smooth and thick, like sunshine in a jar. I’ve never experienced anything like it apart from our time with people in Russia, Belorussia, and to an extent Poland. (I Google’d it… came up with a recipe in a Slavic language I can’t read….. my search goes on…..)
It was in Russia that I had my first Magnum bar — that was heaven on earth. You can buy them in America now, but back then, a plane ticket across the Pond was the price for enjoyment. They sold them in Western Europe too; I just happened to eat my first Magnum in Moscow, I think. Or maybe Smolensk….. hafta check my trip journal.
But aside from meeting many very kind people (including several pastors with stories of years lost to labor campus because the Soviet Union pounded on churches) and learning to eat fish for breakfast (sometimes) (it was gross), I’ve got some weird stories too.
Like the time I peed in No Man’s Land at midnight-thirty, a Bathroom Stop Without A Country.
— Although the Soviet Union had fallen by the time I went to Russia, all travel required specific visas. My passport from that year is stamped with plant of border crossings – the EU hadn’t kicked in yet either. We discovered (as a group) that our contact in Russia who set up meetings for us miscalculated our visa dates and we were scheduled to be in the country a day longer than our visas allowed. And you haven’t seen anything like a border crossing into the former Eastern bloc (at that time) ….. lines could last for hours. Somehow our team leaders knew a way to cut us into the front of the line. I’m so happy we didn’t get shot……
–No Man’s Land is the half mile or so of neutral land in between two countries, the Neutral Zone if you will.
-Eastern Europe really isn’t into rest stops or public bathrooms. In fact, we were munching a quick lunch as a team in far eastern Poland when our team leader explained that travel day pit stops would take place “in the woods” from now on. That was a …..bonding experience…..? “Boys take one side of the road, girls go to the other.”
So what do you do when 1) you’re not supposed to be in a country today but 2) you have a church service to do anyway, so 3) you decide to do your border crossing in the middle of the night in hopes that the border guards will either be more forgiving or at least sleepy …. which puts you on the road for an overnight 8-hour marathon drive from western Russia to Brest, Belorussia, and to top it all off, it’s nearly 2am and 4) you all really gotta pee?
Well, you go in No-Man’s Land!
The vans pulled through the border crossing (always a bit tense), and as soon as the guard house was out of sight, we pulled over. It was quite cold, despite being high summer. The roadside was incredibly dark; I’d been sleeping (since I volunteered to stay up through the graveyard shift later to help keep the drivers awake) and I groggily stumbled down into the deep side ditch to take care of business. We weren’t going to have any other opportunities for quite a while.
I gotta admit, we did giggle a little later. It’s not every day you get to break international law…. I mean, I’m sure you’re not supposed to use boundary land as a restroom.
I don’t remember much else from that night — we saw the most glorious full moon rise around 4am, as we passed through the flat eastern lands of Belorussia. The driver and I were both dangerously close to nodding off by 5am, when we switched off and I crawled in back for a much-needed nap.
By 7am, we pulled into the outskirts of Brest to find an actual bathroom (a public outhouse; it was disgusting) and eat the only snack we could find: bars of thick, creamy, fat-filled Russian ice cream. (Seriously – the fat content in that cream was off the chain – you could feel it on your tongue.)
Of course, I’m leaving out all of the wonderful parts of traveling in the East — to see St Basil’s cathedral with my own eyes, buying matryoshka dolls and chess sets in the outdoor Moscow market (come over and I’ll show them to you), singing a cappella in the amazing Smolensk cathedral, looking out across Moscow from our hotel room on the 8th floor. It was a great experience, and I’d love to retrace many of those steps. But I’ll stick to indoor toilets…..
Bonus story: I made only two phone calls home during the 10 weeks I was away — my, how life was different before everyone had a cell phone!) — so it was from that Moscow hotel room that I rang my dad and my boyfriend both at 4am to say “I’m still alive!” (we’d been on the road 4 weeks) and “I love you!” My dad was stoic and surprised that I would call him just to say I was fine. My boyfriend (who is now my husband) was a lot more excited once he woke up enough to realize what was happening, but I’m not sure he ever quite forgave me for the 4am wake-up call. 🙂