Spanish Shrimp with Bacon, Cheddar and Chive Grits for #letslunch

Spanish shrimp and Southern grits with cheddar, bacon and chives for #letslunch.

Shrimp ‘n’ grits is a classic Southern dish, especially around the Low Country of South Carolina. I like the way grits make a blank starchy canvas that can be easily paired with so many other flavors. A pot of grits is the easiest thing in the world to stir up; make it interesting by adding some butter, a little white cheddar, browned bacon and chives.

The shrimp that go with grits are usually seasoned with garlic, Cajun style seasoning, cayenne and herbs, kind of like a kicked up shrimp scampi.

But when Mark Bittman told me about this Spanish inspired recipe that stars  Spanish paprika with ground cumin, I haven’t looked back.

The Simplest and Best Shrimp Dish

Makes: 4 servings

Time: About 30 minutes

Adapted from How to Cook Everything

Excuse the superlatives; this spin on a Spanish tapa is my favorite, and everyone I serve it to loves it. The shrimp juices infuse the oil, and the sum is beyond delicious. It’s good with bread, over rice, tossed with pasta, or stuffed into tacos.

Other seafood you can use: similar-sized scallops (or larger, though they’ll take longer to cook).

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil, or more as needed

3 or 4 big cloves garlic, cut into slivers

About 1 1/2 pounds shrimp, 20 to 30 per pound, peeled, rinsed, and dried

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 1/2 teaspoons hot paprika

Chopped fresh parsley leaves for garnish

1. Warm the olive oil in a large, broad ovenproof skillet or flameproof baking pan over low heat. There should be enough olive oil to cover the bottom of the pan; don’t skimp. Add the garlic and cook until it turns golden, a few minutes.

2. Raise the heat to medium-high and add the shrimp, some salt and pepper, the cumin, and the paprika. Stir to blend and continue to cook, shaking the pan once or twice and turning the shrimp once or twice, until they are pink all over and the mixture is bubbly, 5 to 10 minutes. Garnish and serve immediately.

From Mark Bittman.com

Pretty Green Brussels Sprout Slaw for #LetsLunch

Brussels sprouts are delicious raw, when thinly shaved and mixed with lemon, toasted walnuts and pecorino romano in this wintry slaw.

Summer won’t be here for months according to the calendar, but that doesn’t mean we have to wait until July to break out our cole slaw recipes. Cabbage is the perfect vegetable to bridge the winter-to-spring divide with its crisp texture and earthy, slightly sweet flavor.

Since heavy, creamy cole slaw doesn’t appeal to me most of the time, I was thrilled to discover some healthier and tangier slaws that hold the mayo. I developed a slew of healthy ethnic slaws for Relish Magazine, but one of my favorites is this one made with pale green baby Brussels sprouts.

Cabbage and the other cruciferous vegetables all share a subtle sweetness and can star in a range of creative salads and slaws. Cabbage is delicious raw and adds a crunchy component to any meal. Treat it like you would any lettuce: chop up the cabbage of your choice, drizzle it with olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper, cilantro and minced garlic if you dare to make a fresh and light slaw.

This slaw makes a great side dish or even a main meal with the addition of some grilled chicken, fish or shrimp.

Look for: With red or green cabbage, choose one that feels solid with smooth, well-formed leaves. Napa cabbage should look fresh and green. Brussels sprouts should be small with tight heads that are free of yellow leaves.

The facts: Just one cup of cabbage has just 17 calories and is loaded with good stuff including Vitamin A, Vitamin C, potassium and fiber.

Bonus Points: The entire cabbage family is powerful cancer fighters; it contains 11 of the 15 plant chemicals know to fight cancer, according to the Duke Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Who knew these beautiful, pale green and gold rosettes were hiding inside Brussels sprouts?

Brussels Sprouts with Pecorino and Walnuts
This simple Brussels sprout salad is based on a recipe created by Jonathan Waxman; a similar dish is a popular item on the menu at Gottino in New York City. Leaving the Brussels sprouts raw allows their natural sweetness to emerge.

1-1/2 lbs small Brussels sprouts
1/2 cup walnuts, toasted lightly and crushed
3 Tbs. large grated Pecorino Romano cheese
1/4 cup olive oil
3 tablespoons lemon juice
salt and pepper, to taste

Using a mandoline or adjustable blade slicer, slice the Brussels sprouts into thin disks. Toss lightly to separate the layers. Add the walnuts and Pecorino Romano cheese.

Whisk olive oil and lemon juice together and drizzle over the Brussels sprout mixture. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.

Makes 6 cups

Adapted from Jonathan Waxman, author of A Great American Cook, Houghton Mifflin, 2007.

Smoked Brown Sugar Crème Brûlée for #LetsLunch


Food is tied up in so many metaphors, but probably the most evocative of all are about sugar. The taste of sweetness is something all babies crave. And no matter how old we get, we never lose our fondness for sugar. Our sweet tooth just starts to crave different forms of satisfaction.

The first song about sweetness and love I remember was “Sugar, Sugar” (1969) by the Archies. It has a delightful bubblegum pop quality; what’s not to like about lines like “You are my candy girl and you got me wanting you.”

I was just 5 when the Rolling Stones first asked “Brown sugar, how come you taste so good?” in their classic song from the Sticky Fingers album. As soon as I was old enough to tune my boom box to rock music on WLS, I knew Brown Sugar was naughty, what with the slave owner taking advantage of the women he owned and the double entendre equating brown sugar with Black women and taste with, uh, tasty things. This was the kind of song my parents would not want me listening to, which of course made it more appealing.

The 1987 rock anthem “Pour Some Sugar on Me” by Def Leppard left me indifferent. The lead singer sounds like he wants to make noise more than love. Echo & the Bunnymen’s “Lips Like Sugar” from the same year is reserved and sad, a song more about longing and a passing encounter with a woman who floats like a swan across the water. If you caught her, she’d have “lips like sugar… sugar kisses.”

R & B artist D’Angelo tells the story of a girl from Philly named Brown Sugar in his 1995 song of the same name. The sexy hook is the best part: “I want some of your Brown Sugar, oh oh oh, oooh.” And there’s something appealing about the way Baby Bash & Frankie J brags about his girl, asking “Suga, suga how’d you get so fly?”

But my favorite of all these is Flo Rida’s song “Sugar” (2009) which mixes an infectious, candy-coated beat with funny lyrics and an even more humorous video of his Novocaine-induced daydream.

For my sugar-inspired dessert, I started with Alton Brown’s flawless crème brûlée recipe from the Food Network Site. My ramekins got left behind when I moved to Oakland, so I baked them in heavy-duty ceramic coffee cups I snagged at the thrift store down the street. And instead of topping the finished custards with vanilla sugar, I used a 50-50 mixture of vanilla bean infused sugar and Smoked Brown Sugar from The Smoked Olive.

Smoked Brown Sugar Crème Brûlée
1 quart heavy cream
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
1/2 cup vanilla sugar
6 large egg yolks
2 quarts hot water
1/2 cup Smoked Brown Sugar

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

Place the cream, vanilla bean and its pulp into a medium saucepan set over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat, cover and allow to sit for 15 minutes. Remove the vanilla bean and reserve for another use.

In a medium bowl, whisk together 1/2 cup sugar and the egg yolks until well blended and it just starts to lighten in color. Add the cream a little at a time, stirring continually. Pour the liquid into 6 (7 to 8-ounce) ramekins (or cups). Place the ramekins into a large cake pan or roasting pan. Pour enough hot water into the pan to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake just until the crème brûlée is set, but still trembling in the center, approximately 40 to 45 minutes. Remove the ramekins from the roasting pan and refrigerate for at least 2 hours and up to 3 days.

Remove the crème brûlée from the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes prior to browning the sugar on top. Divide the smoked brown sugar equally among the 6 dishes and spread evenly on top. Using a torch, melt the sugar and form a crispy top. Allow the crème brûlée to sit for at least 5 minutes before serving.
Adapted from Alton Brown of The Food Network.

Grandma Dorothy’s Deviled Eggs for #LetsLunch

Grandma Dorothy's deviled eggs were one of my favorite family dinner dishes.

It sound like a Black family movie cliche, but growing up near Chicago, my family got together for big family dinners a la Soul Food. Nearly every weekend, my parents, siblings and I would pile in the car and make the hour drive from the Northwest suburbs to Chicago’s South Shore neighborhood.  We couldn’t wait to visit the gorgeous three story brownstone that my Grandma Dorothy shared with her sister Aunt Fannie and Uncle Willy.

Aunt Fannie always had an amazing dessert ready: a caramel cake, chocolate meringue pie, strawberry cheesecake or maybe a three-layer coconut cake with caramelized pineapple in between. I loved sweets like the fat kid in 21 Questions loves cake (still do) so I was always more partial to Aunt Fannie’s cooking.

To be fair, my Grandma made a stellar banana cake with a baked-on crust and did some pretty good punches too; I loved stealing tastes of the sherbet punch with sweet sparkling wine or the orangy Southern Comfort punch. But Grandma Dorothy was more serious and practical, so she specialized in the savory dishes: pepper steak, pots of collard greens, cornbread stuffing, sweet potato casserole with marshmallows and deviled eggs.

It’s been years since I sat down to one of those dinners, and I miss them.

When I heard the theme for #LetsLunch was side dishes, I panicked for a minute. Though I can cook up a pot of mustard greens, melt marshmallows on top of sweet potatoes and mix up some stuffing, I don’t actually have a family recipe for any of these. And this week, I sure haven’t had time to cook anything elaborate.

But a quick call to my mom and Grandma Dorothy – who turned 96 this year – yielded her recipe for Deviled Eggs.

Grandma Dorothy’s Deviled Eggs
eight hard-boiled eggs, thoroughly cooled
1 heaping tablespoon finely chopped pickle relish (without the liquid)
1 or 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 teaspoon prepared mustard
Dash salt   (optional)
Dash white pepper
Dash sweet paprika
Carefully slice the cooled eggs in half lengthwise. Remove yolks and mash them, mixing in the relish, mayonnaise, mustard salt (if using) and white pepper.
The ideal stuffing  consistency is about that of mashed potatoes. Add more pickle relish or  mayonnaise as desired or needed.
Carefully spoon the seasoned egg yolk into the openings of the egg whites. Sprinkle with sweet paprika. If you like, Garnish with lettuce and parsley sprigs or chives.
Note: If I wanted to do a twist on these, I’d mix in a tablespoon of: bacon bits, crumbled blue cheese, caviar, cheddar cheese and sprinkle of cayenne.