All Photos © Christine Elise McCarthy 2012
Last weekend, I went to San Francisco with my parents for a wedding. Our first breakfast in SF was at a place I found (by Googling terms like “best breakfast in SF”) called Brenda’s French Soul Food. It was a Friday morning, probably around 9:30am & there was a wait for a table. Again, I loathe waiting but trying to find another spot in an unfamiliar city & then drive there & park – etc etc – would take longer -so we waited. The interior of the room was really cool. High ceilings, a collection of mirrors on one wall & a huge mural of a crawfish (or a lobster?) on the other.
The wait wasn’t long and, as it happened, we were seated just beneath the mural. We were quickly served delicious coffees and we perused the menu. Beignets seemed to be a house specialty & they had a savory one (made of crawfish) that intrigued me. Still – I am not much of a pastry person & I very seldom eat sweets – so – I opted for the shrimp & grits. My stepdad got the beignets, however, and they were gloriously huge & very tempting.
That front one is the crawfish beignet & it was, in fact, quite tasty. Still – it could not hold a candle to the insanely delicious shrimp & grits – which I ordered sans bacon.
These were piping hot – too hot to eat, in the beginning. The grits were very thin, too thin to eat with a fork (which I liked) but there was more cheese involved than I thought was ideal. The shrimp were amazing – and I am not a crazy shrimp person. In fact – sometimes I get a bit weirded out by the texture – as it really must be very much the same as giant grubs or some other sick thing that most of us would not dare sample. Shrimp are really just giant ocean insects, no? Why are we cool with eating them but not, say, THESE? Anyway – this shrimp & grits definitely ranks as one of the finest combo of breakfast flavors I have ever experienced.
Yesterday, my newest son, a rescued pug now named Memphis, had to have a little dental surgery & got two VERY stinky teeth removed.
He is guesstimated to be three – which is quite young to have teeth in the condition his were – but a life in the sex trade as a backyard breeding dog (poor Memphis’ sad past) can take its toll. You will be happy to know that his teeth are restored to a sparkling white & he no longer has that “what died in your mouth?” breath. I picked him up after his surgery & brought him home. I was supposed to head right back out & see one of my favorite musicians, Mr. William Elliott Whitmore (check out his awesomeness HERE), at the Roxy with some friends – but, as I feared, Memphis was pretty groggy & disoriented when I got him. So – I stayed home to observe his recovery. Look – he looks drunk even just sitting there:
So – last night I stayed in with my kids, watched a lot of bad news for Romney on MSNBC & chatted with my Arkansas-bound boyfriend on the phone like a teenager. And – I made my first attempt at Shrimp & Grits! And – I am happy to report – it was a 5 star success. Do not be intimidated by the steps required. Each step is very easy & this comes together very quickly & elegantly – once you’ve roasted the stuff that needs roasting. This recipe should feed 4 people fairly generously.
Also – as an aside – if you are an inexperienced cook & want to develop confidence – not only should you cook more often (duh) but do things like – put a measured teaspoon of salt or a measured tablespoon of sugar in your palm & try to get used to eyeballing what those quantities look like. Pour a measured cup into a pan & see what that looks like in there. I very seldom use measuring devices & it is the hardest part of this blog for me. I am continually forgetting to measure accurately as I add things & taste & adjust – so reporting to you how I did it gets tricky. Furthermore – we all have different tastes. Some hate garlic others love extra spice – etc etc. Most of my recipes have a lot of wiggle room for you to adjust things to your own palette. In fact, MOST recipes out there in the world can, and often should, be adjusted. The only time measuring becomes critical is in baking. Baking is a precision thing. So – anyway – practice eyeballing quantities & start weaning yourself off the two cooking crutches – the measuring spoons & the measuring cups. You will learn to trust yourself far more quickly this way.
Shrimp & Cheesy Grits
Preheat the oven to 400
1 large tomato cut into big chunks. I used half an enormous heirloom tomato
1 red tomato – diced (for garnish)
10 tomatillos, papery skin removed & halved
2 small red onions – one sliced thickly, the other sliced thin
6 garlic cloves (I used more like 15 – but this is your call)
6 oz (or more) of grated smoked cheese – cheddar or gouda work well
1 LB (or more) of the jumbo shrimp – peeled & deveined. Any shrimp will work – but the bigger the better.
1 tsp fresh lemon juice
Sliced scallions for garnish (optional)
2 cups Grits
3 cups vegetable (or chicken) stock (I had leftover vegetable broth in my freezer from when I made the tortilla soup. It was very handy in this recipe.)
3 cups half-and-half (I used fat free)
Extra grated smoked cheese as a garnish (optional)
IMPORTANT NOTE – I used the fancy polenta corn grits that I bought at Figueroa Produce yesterday! These grits required a ratio of 1 cup grits to 3 cups liquid. The ones you use may differ & have different cooking instructions. THOSE instructions should replace mine here on how to cook the grits. Also – these grits (as I outline) came out fairly thick & I added a cup of more of water at the end to thin them. You might like yours thick – or thinner than I did. This is a personal call so use your own judgement. Lastly – the grits – like most starches – will get thicker as they sit hot on the stove & you don’t want to remove them from the heat or they will cool too much before you use them. So make the grits dead last after everything else is done & ready to go. They cook pretty fast so this doesn’t add a lot of time to the process.
LOOK at the awesome heirloom brainy tomatoes I got a Figueroa Produce!
Heat the oven to 400. Line a roasting pan with parchment paper. Or don’t. All the parchment does is keep your pan clean & the roasted veggies won’t stick. It is pretty useful – but not totally necessary. Anyway – once you have your roasting pan lined (or not) – put the large chunks of tomato (not the diced red tomato), the halved tomatillos, the THICK sliced red onion (reserving the thinly sliced one) & all but two cloves of garlic in the pan. Drizzle with olive oil & sprinkle with salt & pepper. Toss to coat & put in the oven for 50-75 minutes – or until the vegetables are softened & begin to char a bit on the edges.
Blend these roasted delights in a food processor or blender and add the lemon juice and some S&P. Set aside.
Heat a tablespoon or so of olive oil in a pan & saute the thinly sliced onion & the two remaining garlic gloves (smash the cloves with the flat side of a large knife) until the onions are caramelized. This takes between 5-10 minutes. Remove them from the pan & set aside.
Toss your cleaned shrimp with some olive oil, a pinch of the smoked paprika (very different stuff than regular paprika – so try to use the smoked variety) and some S&P. Cook these shrimp in the onion pan a few minutes on each side until they are pink. Try not to OVER cook the shrimp. You can stop cooking & set them aside – even before they are cooked through thoroughly – as they will continue to cook from their own heat for several minutes. Once you think they are nearly done – remove them from the heat & set aside.
Heat the vegetable stock and half & half until nearly boiling. Add the grits & bring to a boil. Lower heat to medium-low, cover the grits & set them aside for as long as your package directs. In fact – cook the damned grits the way your package directs – just substitute a half veggie stock & half half-n-half mix for however much liquid they suggest you add to two cups of grits. Once the grits are done, stir in the cheese and a solid teaspoon of smoked paprika. Here is where you decide on the thickness. If they are still too thin – cook them over medium-low heat until they thicken to where you want them. Conversely – if they are too thick, add water & stir in over low heat until they thin to the point you desire.
Spoon a good amount of grits into each bowl. Place some of the caramelized onion-garlic mix on top of that. Arrange the shrimp atop that, spoon some of the tomatillo puree into the center & garnish with chopped red tomato, scallions & extra grated cheese – if you are using them. Individuals can add more S&P to taste. Serve immediately!!!