Monday, April 18, 2011

Shrimp & Grits with Mushrooms, Leeks and Bacon

I am in love with the fact that second trimester has not only been extremely kind to my body, but has also marked the triumphant return of my insatiable appetite! While I have to pace out my eating a little more with smaller meals every couple of hours as opposed to plowing through a couple of giant sittings, I am thrilled to be enjoying pretty much all of the things that I love that caused for some rumblings early on in the pregnancy.

Our impending move South now only a matter of months away (five actually, woah!) combined with the slow arrival of more spring-like weather has me craving seafood. What better way to satisfy my cure something from the briny deep and prepare for Southern living than to try my hand at Shrimp & Grits! After cautiously easing into the Southern staple a few postings ago, I felt confident to take it on again.

When we first moved to town and I was on the hunt for a job, I decided to volunteer my time at the library of a local yacht school in an effort to meet some people and do something positive with my idle hands. Although I no longer volunteer there, I met Jill, one of my favorite people in Newport. About once a week after our shifts at the library we would wander down to The Pier, a restaurant just behind the library and enjoy their ½ price happy hour appetizers and drinks. It was always a great excuse to relax and gossip (as if we hadn’t already done that enough!), and we would occasionally drag our husbands along with us. Being a creature of habit, I would almost always order their Shrimp & Grits, and this recipe is based off of The Pier’s take on this classic dish. So while I am not yet immersed in the Southern culture, I feel myself getting more and more excited to enjoy all of the flavors that Louisiana has to offer, and to taste this classic comfort food as prepared by the folks that put it on the map!

It’s a pretty simple dish to pull together, and I recommend frying off your bacon first while you cook the grits (as I mentioned in my last post about grits, they’re pretty resilient and can hang out on a very low burner for a while), then putting together your mushroom & leek sauté and finishing up with the shrimp to ensure that they don’t overcook. This recipe could easily serve four for dinner with a big green salad and a crisp white wine- I made it for just the two of us, and we had the second half the next night.

Shrimp & Grits with Mushrooms, Leek and Bacon (as inspired by The Pier)

For the Grits:

Depending on the type of grits you are using, follow package instructions for four servings, or use my directions posted here, omitting the ricotta, parmesan and nutmeg. Once grits are fully cooked, stir in 1 tbspn butter, and slowly add in a generous ¼ cup freshly shredded sharp cheddar cheese. Season well with salt & pepper and set aside, covered over very low heat.

For the Shrimp:

- 1 lb. 16-20 count fresh, wild caught shrimp with tail on
- 4-5 Slices thick cut bacon, diced
- 1 Leek (medium size), sliced thinly and cleaned (see my note on cleaning here)
- ½ Package of Baby Bella mushrooms, sliced
- 1 Large clove garlic, minced
- ¼ (ish) Cup seafood or chicken stock
- Handful of flat leaf Italian parsley, chopped
- Sea salt
- Cracked black pepper
- Seafood seasoning (think Old Bay)
- 1-2 Tbspn butter
- Extra Virgin olive oil
- ½ Lemon, cut into wedges
- Hot sauce (optional)

Heat a large skillet over medium high heat, add in diced bacon and cook until crisp and fat is rendered. Remove bacon from pan and drain on paper towel. Reserve 1ish tbspn bacon fat in pan, lower heat to medium add in butter and a couple of turns of olive oil. While oil and butter come up to temp, season one side of shrimp lightly with salt, pepper and seafood seasoning. Once pan is heated, add in mushrooms and season lightly with salt & pepper. Saute, stirring until mushrooms begin to release liquid, about 2 minutes. Add in leeks and continue cooking while stirring occasionally until leeks begin to soften, about 4 minutes or so. Once leeks have fully softened, add in garlic and cook just until garlic is aromatic (a minute or two). Push mushroom/leek mixture to the edge of pan (see picture) and place shrimp into pan, seasoned side down. Season exposed side of shrimp with salt, pepper and seafood season and allow shrimp to cook, undisturbed for about 2 minutes or until bottoms just turn pink. Flip shrimp and cook an additional 2 minutes or until just cooked through. Stir shrimp, leeks and mushrooms together, and add in about ¼ cup of seafood stock and parsley. Allow to simmer for a minute or two and reduce.

To plate: Pile grits in the middle of a shallow bowl or dish and top with leek & mushroom mixture, and top with 4-5 shrimp running down the middle. Sprinkle crisp bacon on top and serve right away with lemon wedges and hot sauce on the side. Also pairs great with a light summer beer and a comfortable porch table!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Black Walnut & Chocolate Chip Banana Cupcakes

Mmmmmm…fresh baked cupcakes. Is there really anything better? Ok, how about a good, healthy smear of homemade cream cheese frosting on top? Happiness? Yeah? Me too.

Prior to becoming pregnant, I had a minimal sweet tooth- a cookie here and there, the occasional small serving of ice cream or maybe a little cake on special holidays. Now that I’m encroaching on 3rd trimester, I find myself with ridiculous cravings for sweets- not all the time, but with enough frequency that I find myself wandering over to the kitchen cabinets and seeking out some satisfaction. Rather than pick up a box of store bought cookies or cupcakes, I’m trying to stick with treats I make at home. This way, I have to really think about the craving and decide whether or not it’s something I absolutely have to satisfy, or there is another way to stave off the beast. Home baked treats are also great, since I can pack up the second half of whatever I make and bring it into my office or send it to the ship with my husband, which not only keeps me from eating six cupcakes for dinner, but also wins me some points with the boss. Win-win in my book.

I have had a HUGE craving for cream cheese frosting for quite some time now, and finally caved late last week under the guise that I would be making the cupcakes for my husband who was coming back to port after being out to sea. Funny enough, he was so kind as to inform me over the weekend that he was not a huge cream cheese frosting fan. Whoops- more for me! I am a cream cheese frosting lunatic, and after a little playing with the proportions on the original recipe, I found my frosting nirvana by cutting back the powdered sugar, upping the vanilla and adding just a hint on nutmeg. Bliss!

I’m not sure that these little baked treats would completely qualify as cupcakes per se, as they are really more of a banana bread/muffin/cupcake hybrid, but I could not in good conscious refer to them as muffins after I layered on a heavy dose of cream cheese goodness. So, cupcakes it is! I picked up the base recipes for these insanely easy treats over on, and tweaked it a bit with things that I had on hand for a really satisfying little treat. These could easily be converted back into the more healthy land of muffins by switching out some of the regular flour for whole wheat, trading the butter for applesauce, omitting the chocolate chips and forgoing the frosting (eek!). I’m sure the day will come when I’m interested in lightening them up, however, this was not that day!

Black Walnut & Chocolate Chip Banana Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting
(original recipe here)
Makes 12

-1 1/2 Cups all-purpose flour
-1 Tspn baking powder
-1 Tspn baking soda
-1/2 Tspn salt
-3 Large bananas, mashed
-3/4 Cup organic sugar
-1 Large Egg
-1/3 Cup butter, melted
-1/3 Cup black walnuts, roughly chopped
-1/2 Cup dark chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line muffin pan(s) with liners. Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt- set aside. Combine bananas, sugar, egg, and melted butter in a large bowl. Fold in flour mixture, and mix lightly. Add in walnuts & chocolate chips and mix lightly until smooth (do not over-mix!) Scoop into muffin pans and transfer to oven. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes. Cakes should spring back when lightly tapped. Remove from oven, take out of muffin pans and let cool on a wire rack.

Cream Cheese Frosting
(original recipe here)
-1 8oz. Package of cream cheese, softened
-1/4 Cup butter (1/2 stick), softened
-3/4 Cups sifted confectioners' sugar
-1 Tspn vanilla extract
-1/2 Tspn fresh grated nutmeg (optional)

In a medium bowl, cream together the cream cheese and butter until creamy. Mix in the vanilla, then gradually stir in the confectioners' sugar and nutmeg.

Once cakes have cooled, coat well with frosting and enjoy!