I'm P.C., and I have studied food and cooking around the world, mostly by eating, but also through serious study. Coursework at Le Cordon Bleu London and intensive courses in Morocco, Thailand and France have broadened my culinary skill and palate. But my kitchen of choice is at home, cooking like most people, experimenting with unique but practical ideas.

I live, mostly in my kitchen, in my hometown of Memphis, Tennessee.

Shrimp Perloo (Low Country Shrimp and Rice)

Shrimp Perloo

I love delving into traditional recipes from the South, learning new things or rediscovering classics. Perloo (pronounced purlow, and sometimes spelled that way, or pilau, or any number of variations) is a dish I first heard of when my brother returned from a trip to South Carolina and suggested that I figure out how to make it. He described is as kind of a jambalaya or dirty rice, but somehow different. So over the years, I have read recipes and fiddled around with the idea, but never really understood it. Until I traveled to South Carolina and had a version of perloo in Charleston. Perloo, you see, comes in all shapes and sizes. Chicken, duck, shrimp, oyster sausage or a combination. The one I ordered had several main ingredients, in a flavorful bed of rice. I settled on shrimp perloo, because I love the combination of big, juicy shrimp and rich, seasoned rice, plus the shrimp give it a low country feel.

I’ve streamlined more traditional recipes to produce the rich flavor that could be a great party dish or a weeknight meal. If you can get your hands on some Carolina Gold rice, use that for an authentic version, but long grain white works for me. I find good seafood stock made with shrimp at the grocery, but use a flavorful vegetable stock if you can’t. Of course, it you have fresh, head on shrimp, you can go full traditional and make your own stock with the heads and shells.

Shrimp Perloo
Serves 4
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Ingredients
  1. 1 cup long grain white rice
  2. 1 ½ pounds large shrimp, peeled, deveined and tails removed
  3. 1 teaspoon sweet paprika
  4. ½ teaspoon smoked paprika
  5. ½ teaspoon celery salt
  6. ½ teaspoon salt
  7. ½ teaspoon black pepper
  8. dash of cayenne
  9. 6 strips bacon, diced
  10. 1 medium onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
  11. 2 celery stalks, chopped (about ½ cup)
  12. 1 medium green bell pepper, chopped (about ½ cup)
  13. 14.5 ounce can crushed tomatoes
  14. 2 cups seafood stock (or vegetable stock)
  15. 2 Tablespoons chopped parsley
  16. 1 bay leaf
Instructions
  1. Place the rice in a bowl and cover with cool water by about an inch. Leave to soak for ten minutes, then strain the rice through a fine mesh sieve. Rinse the rice with cool water, shaking it around a few times, until the water coming out of the sieve is clear and not cloudy. Don’t skip this step, it will keep the perloo fluffy and not gummy. Set the cleaned rice aside.
  2. Pat the shrimp dry and spread out on a plate. Mix the sweet and smoked paprika, celery salt, salt and pepper together and sprinkle evenly over the shrimp. Keep the shrimp in the fridge until ready to use.
  3. Cook the bacon in a large Dutch oven with a tight fitting lid until it is crispy and brown. Remove to paper towels with a slotted spoon and set aside. Carefully pour off all but 3 Tablespoons of bacon grease and leave it to cool in the pot for a few minutes. Add the onion, celery and bell pepper and cook over medium heat until the vegetables are soft and the onions translucent. Do not brown. Add the rice and stir to coat with the fat. Cook for about 2 minutes until the edges of most of the grains are a little translucent. Add the tomatoes, seafood stock, parsley and bay leaf and stir a few times to combine. Do not stir a lot, just distribute the ingredients. Bring the perloo to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover and cook for 12 minutes. Quickly peek under the lid to make sure the liquid is absorbed. If it needs another few minutes, cover the pot and keep cooking.
  4. When the liquid is absorbed into the rice, sprinkle the reserved bacon pieces over the top over the, then spread the shrimp out over the rice. It’s okay if there are two layers. Cover the pot and cook for 5 minutes on low, then turn off the heat and leave for a further five minutes. Take the lid off, and use a spatula to gently fold the rice over the shrimp. Do not stir like crazy or agitate things too much or the rice will get gluey. If the shrimp are not fully cooked, cover the pot and put it back on low heat for a few minutes.
  5. When the shrimp are cooked through, use two forks to gently fluff the rice. Serve immediately.
The Runaway Spoon http://therunawayspoon.com/blog/

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Baked Coconut Shrimp with Tequila Lime Butter Sauce

Baked Coconut Shrimp with Tequila Lime Butter Sauce

Crunchy coconut shrimp are sort of a secret treat for me. I don’t eat at a lot of chain restaurants, but there are a few that really excel and I make the occasional visit to sample them. The first time I had coconut shrimp years ago, I was attending the trial run of a chain restaurant opening its first branch in town. The night was a real disaster…the waiters were not ready, there were problems with the lighting and the piped in music. One of the bathrooms hadn’t been finished and the bar wasn’t opened. But the shrimp sure were good.

I generally can’t be bothered with frying at home and this baked version is a bit healthier…leaving room for this creamy tequila lime sauce. I think it adds a little Cinco de Mayo tropical flair to the crispy shrimp. Serve these as a starter to a larger Mexican meal, or make this the main with some rice with lime and cilantro stirred through. Pop open a cold beer with a slice of lime and celebrate.

Baked Coconut Shrimp with Tequila Lime Butter Sauce
Serves 4
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Shrimp
  1. 1 ¼ cup panko bread crumbs
  2. ½ cup shredded sweetened coconut
  3. 1 teaspoon salt
  4. 1 pound large shrimp (26- 30 count), peeled, deveined, tails intact
  5. 1 egg
Sauce
  1. ½ cup tequila
  2. 6 Tablespoons heavy cream
  3. 2 Tablespoon fresh lime juice
  4. 3 teaspoons lime zest
  5. 1 ½ Tablespoon chopped cilantro
  6. ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, sliced
For the shrimp
  1. Preheat the oven to 375°
  2. Stir the panko, coconut and salt together in a large, deep skillet and place over medium heat. Stirring and flipping the crumbs constantly, toast until evenly golden brown. Be careful not to burn the coating. Spread the crumbs on a plate and leave to cool.
  3. Place a rack in a rimmed baking sheet and spray with cooking spray. Beat the egg with 2 teaspoons of water in a small bowl until blended. Pat the shrimp dry, then dip by the tail in the egg. Place the shrimp in the crumbs and press to coat each side fully. Place each bread shrimp on the prepared rack.
  4. Bake the shrimp for 10 – 12 minutes until opaque and cooked through.
For the sauce
  1. While the shrimp are cooking, stir the tequila, cream, lime juice, zest and cilantro together in a medium skillet. Place over medium heat and cook, stirring frequently until reduced by half and thickened. Stir the butter in a piece at a time, stirring to melt after each addition.
  2. Serve the shrimp immediately drizzled with the sauce, or with the sauce on the side as a dip.
The Runaway Spoon http://therunawayspoon.com/blog/
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Shrimp and Corn Cobbler

Shrimp and Corn Cobbler

Shrimp and corn pie recipes appear in a number of Southern community cookbooks, and I’ve tried a few.  But I have always thought they lacked a little oomph.  But the delicious combination of shrimp and corn deserves attention, so I put my mind to it and decided on a tangy filling and an old-fashioned biscuit top to make perfect transitional comfort food.  When summer has wound up, but it is not quite cool enough for heavy winter stews.

The clean, bright taste of white wine and lemon complement sweet corn and juicy shrimp without overwhelming either.  I forego a lot of extra add-ins to highlight that simple pairing. Tender biscuits soak up the light and creamy sauce with an extra hit of lemon and thyme.  This dish is simple enough for a family dinner, but sophisticated for a gathering of friends.

Shrimp and Corn Cobbler

For the Filling:

3 Tablespoons butter

2 bunches green onions (about 12)

1 clove garlic

1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves

2 Tablespoons flour

1 cup white wine

2 cups whole milk

zest of one lemon

1 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice

salt and pepper to taste

1 (12-ounce) package frozen corn, thawed and drained

1 pound frozen Gulf shrimp, thawed and drained

For the topping:

1 cup all-purpose flour

¾ cup yellow cornmeal

1 Tablespoon chopped fresh thyme

zest of one lemon

3 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon pepper

1 egg

1 cup buttermilk

3 Tablespoons butter, melted

For the Filling:

Melt the butter in a large saucepan (I use a 1 ½ quart oven safe pan).  Finely chop the green onions and add to the butter.  Sauté until soft and translucent.  Put the garlic clove through a press of finely mince it and add to the pan with the thyme leaves.  Cook for a bout a minute, just until the garlic is fragrant.  Sprinkle over the flour and stir until you have a smooth, pale mixture.  Add the white wine and stir until the sauce begins to thicken.  Slowly add the milk, stirring the whole time, and cook over medium-high heat until the sauce has thickened, about 10 minutes. Stir in the lemon zest, juice and salt and pepper to taste.  Add the corn and stir until combined.  Take the pot of the heat and add the shrimp, stirring to combine completely.  The shrimp will begin to gently poach, but do not need to be fully cooked as the dish is going in the oven.  At this point, you can cool, cover and refrigerate the filling for several hours. (If you are not using an oven-safe saucepan, scrape the filling into a baking dish).

For the topping:

Preheat the oven to 350°.

Mix the flour, cornmeal, lemon zest, thyme, baking powder, salt and pepper together with a fork in a large bowl.  Mix the buttermilk, egg and butter together in a small bowl.  Add the liquids to the dry ingredients and mix well until you have a biscuit dough.

Scoop ¼ cup mounds of the topping over the top of the filling to cover.  Bake for30 – 35 minutes until the biscuits are firm and golden and the filling is hot through and bubbling.

Serves 6

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Comeback Shrimp Salad

Comeback Shrimp Salad

Comeback Sauce is, according to my research, a specialty of Jackson, Mississippi.  It apparently originated in Greek restaurants and is now found on restaurant tables all over the city.  It really hasn’t made its way up to Memphis, but as you meander through the Delta, you do find in on some restaurant menus.  That’s where I discovered it.  And of course it shows up in community cookbooks in many forms with many uses.

Comeback sauce is a great dip for chicken tenders or fried catfish, but pairs wonderfully with big, juicy Gulf shrimp as the centerpiece dip in a Southern shrimp cocktail.  I frequently serve it with shrimp that I smoke in rigged-up stove top or grill smoker. I had in mind sharing a shrimp remoulade recipe as a nice, cool summer salad.  Then it occurred to me that I could make it a little more regional by using a comeback sauce dressing, and I haven’t turned back.  The flavor of the sauce is so punchy, that I only add a little celery and some capers to the shrimp for crunch.  Use beautiful wild-caught American shrimp – I prefer big chunks of juicy shrimp, but feel free to cut smaller pieces.  I suppose you could use pre-cooked shrimp, but this beer boil does add a nice zing.

You can serve this on lettuce to be eaten straight up, but it makes a great filling for a po’ boy.  Kind of a redneck lobster roll.

Comeback Shrimp Salad

For the Shrimp:

3 pounds shrimp, peeled, deveined, tails off

12 ounce bottle beer

1 lemon, quartered

1 teaspoon black peppercorns

½ teaspoon mustard seeds

2 bay leaves

3 celery stalks

2 Tablespoons capers, rinsed and drained

For the Comeback Sauce:

¼ cup mayonnaise

2 Tablespoons vegetable oil

2 Tablespoons chili sauce

1 Tablespoons ketchup

1 teaspoon stone ground mustard

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

dash hot sauce

1 garlic clove

¼ a small white onion or a small shallot

½ teaspoon salt

several grinds of black pepper

For the Shrimp:

Place the beer, 2 cups of water, the lemon, peppercorns, mustard seeds and bay leaves in a large saucepan with a tight fitting lid.  Bring the liquid to a boil, drop in the shrimp, then cover the pot and remove from the heat.  Leave the shrimp for about 5 minutes, then remove the lid.  The shrimp should be nice, pink and curled now.  Leave them in the liquid, uncovered, for a further ten minutes.  Remove from the cooking liquid and drain. I usually do this with tongs – you don’t want peppercorns or mustard seeds stuck to the shrimp when you make the salad.

Cut the shrimp into bite-size pieces and place in a large bowl.  String the celery and cut it into a very fine dice and add to the bowl.  Add the capers and toss to combine.

For the Sauce:

Place all the Comeback Sauce ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth and combined.

Pour the sauce over the shrimp and gently fold everything together until thoroughly coated with sauce.  Cover and refrigerate for several hours to let the flavors combine.  The salad can be made one day ahead.

Serves 6

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Crab Cake Bites with Artichoke Tartar Sauce

Many years ago, I picked up a recipe card in the checkout line at a grocery store in London.  It had a complicated fish recipe, but what attracted me was the artichoke tartar sauce.  That card sat in my recipe file for years, until I rediscovered it and decided to give it a go.  The recipe was a complete dud.  Weird ingredients, lengthy procedures and it just didn’t come together.  It left me with a bowl of gloopy, oddly colored mess.  So I threw the card away (and the sauce).  But the idea stuck.  A tangy, creamy sauce with a nice bite from artichoke hearts that would be a great accompaniment to seafood.  So I persevered and came up with this version.  I first took it to a friend’s house for a fish fry – they fried the fish caught that morning.  It was a big hit, so I wanted to share the recipe.

But it has taken me another few years to figure out how to do it.  I don’t particularly enjoy frying fish myself, so no duplicating the tartar sauce’s triumphant debut.  Then it hit me – crab cakes.  Like a semi-deconstructed crab and artichoke dip.  I fiddled with a classic crab cake recipe, paring it down to basic flavors so the tartar sauce wouldn’t be overwhelmed.  And pressing the mixture into little muffin tins makes them easier to cook and perfect bites for a party – they tins can be filled and refrigerated just until ready to bake.  A little dollop of tartar sauce makes them pretty, and the mini-sized, crispy sides make them easy to eat.

Crab Cake Bites with Artichoke Tartar Sauce

For the Crab Cakes:

2 eggs

1 pound lump crabmeat (see note)

2 Tablespoons butter, melted and cooled

1 Tablespoon mayonnaise

1 Tablespoon finely chopped flat leaf parsley

½ cu panko bread crumbs

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning

½ teaspoon mustard powder

For the Tartar Sauce:

4 medium sized whole artichokes hearts (see note)

2 egg yolks

2 garlic cloves

2 Tablespoons flat leaf parsley leaves

2 Tablespoons capers, rinsed and drained

¼ cup safflower, grapeseed or canola oil

Beat the eggs in a large bowl. Pick over the crabmeat to make sure there are no pieces of shell, then add the crab to the eggs.  Add the melted butter, mayonnaise and parsley and fold together gently.  You want everything well combined but try not to break up the crabmeat.

Mix the breadcrumbs, baking powder, Old Bay and mustard powder together in a small bowl.  Add to the crab mixture and gently fold through.  Again, you want everything combined, but don’t break up the crabmeat. Refrigerate the mixture for at least an hour, but several is fine.  This binds the mixture together and makes it easier to fill the tins.

Preheat the oven to 350°.  Spray 24 mini-muffin cups well with non-stick cooking spray.  Fill each cup with crab cake mixture, pressing it in to fill it well.  Press a rounded teaspoon down in the middle of each cake to make a little well in the center (this will keep them from mounding up and create a nice flat surface for the tartar sauce).  You can cover the tins with plastic wrap and keep in the fridge for several hours at this point.

Bake the crab cakes for 20 – 25 minutes until golden brown, then cool in the pan for 5 minutes.  Use a knife to loosen the cakes and remove them from the pan.  Spoon a little tartar sauce on top of each cake and serve immediately, though these taste lovely at room temperature.

For the Tartar Sauce

Drain and rinse the artichoke hearts well and pat dry.  Drop them in a food processor (I use the mini) and add the capers, egg yolks, parsley and garlic cloves.  Pulse three to four times to break everything up into a rough paste; scrape down the sides of the bowl.  With the motor running, drizzle the oil into the bowl in a thin, steady stream.  Process until the sauce is thick and creamy.  Stop to scrape down the sides of the bowl halfway through.  Scrape the tartar sauce into a container and keep covered in the fridge until ready to use.  It will keep overnight.

Makes 24 crab cakes

Note:

I prefer pasteurized lump crab meat that I find in containers at the seafood counter at better grocery stores.

I generally used canned artichoke hearts in brine, rather than the marinated, quartered ones in jars because the marinated ones have some flavor additions.  If you can only find those, rinse them really well.  If you can only find quartered, use 12 quarters.

Crab Cake Bites with Artichoke Tartar Sauce

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Citrus Shrimp Linguine

Citrus Shrimp Linguine

It’s winter.  Generally, it’s cold and grey, though here in Memphis, the months are punctuated with weirdly frustrating days of seventy degree weather.  I love winter food, but I have souped and stewed and braised myself silly and I’m ready for something lighter and fresher.  This recipe started as just that.  A quick whip-up with the last citrus at the bottom of the fruit bowl and some shrimp from the freezer.  But this good enough to share, and could not be a quicker family meal or company dish.

Big juicy shrimp remind me of summer, and citrus is sometimes the one spot of sunshine in the winter foodscape.  Add a little garlic and fresh, leafy parsley and this is a bright, sunny dish.  A touch of cream adds some body, but mostly this sauce just glazes the pasta and shrimp with zest.  Use a high-quality olive oil to make sure the citrus really shines.

Citrus Shrimp Linguine

12 ounces linguine

1 orange

1 lemon

1 lime

3 garlic cloves

½ cup extra virgin olive oil

¼ cup heavy cream

small handful flat leaf parsley leaves, plus more for sprinkling

1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined

salt and pepper

Cook the linguine in a pot of well-salted water according to the package instructions.  Drain the pasta, reserving a little of the cooking water.

Grate the zest the orange, lemon and lime into the carafe of a blender.  Juice the citrus to produce ¾ cup juice combined.  Add the juice to the blender with the garlic, parsley, olive oil, cream, 1 teaspoon salt and a few grinds of black pepper.  Blend until smooth.

Pour the sauce into a large skillet or pot that will hold the pasta.  Bring to a boil and cook for about 5 minutes until the sauce is slightly thickened.  Add the shrimp and cook, turning once, until cooked through. They will be pink and firm and curled tightly.  Immediately add the pasta to the pot and a couple of Tablespoons of cooking water.  Use tongs to toss everything together, coating all the pasta with the sauce.

Serve immediately sprinkled with a little chopped fresh parsley.

Serves 4

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Mardi Crawfish Spread

As Mardi Gras time comes around, I start to get a good craving for some Louisiana cooking.  And what is more Louisiana than crawdads?  This creamy crawfish spread is perfect for a Mardi Gras party, or any time you need a little Creole kick.  I like to serve this as an appetizer or on the buffet with some thick rounds of baguette, but it ain’t bad over pasta!

Mardi Crawfish Spread

Look for frozen crawfish tails in the frozen seafood section.

2 Tablespoons olive oil

½ cup finely chopped celery (about 3 stalks)

½ cup finely chopped green bell pepper (about 1 small pepper)

½ cup finely chopped white onion (about ½ a medium onion)

1 pound peeled, cooked crawfish tail meat (thawed if frozen, rinsed and drained)

2 teaspoons Creole seasoning

1 Tablespoon tomato paste

3 teaspoon Creole mustard

1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese

In a medium sauté pan, heat the oil and cook the celery, pepper and onion until soft and translucent.  Add the crawfish meat (if it is in large pieces, chop into bite-sized bits first) and 1/3 cup water.  Bring to a boil and cook until the water has completely evaporated.  Sprinkle on the Creole seasoning and cook one more minute, stirring.  Add the tomato paste and mustard and stir to coat.  Cut the cream cheese into cubes and add to the crawfish bit by bit, stirring until all the cream cheese is melted.

You can transfer the dip to a serving dish and serve immediately, or cool it and refrigerate, covered, overnight.  Stir in a couple of Tablespoons of milk to loosen the dip and gently reheat in the oven, stirring occasionally.  Serve with French bread rounds or sturdy crackers.

Serves 8 – 10, but can be easily doubled

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Omelets in the Bag

Bag omelets, as we call them, are a favorite project for my family.  The family legend behind this is that my Dad was watching some sort of hunting and fishing outdoor program on a Sunday afternoon and they demonstrated these as a campfire cooking idea.  Dad called my Mom into watch, and they were so intrigued, they made them that night.  Well, they couldn’t stop talking about them, and the next weekend had us all over for a bag omelet party.  And so a family tradition was born.

I tell people about these all the time, but when I do, I can see them nod skeptically, and I just know they aren’t going to follow my advice and make them. Recently, I had a dozen gorgeous eggs from the chickens my friend Kristin lovingly raises, so I invited a couple of those skeptical friends for dinner, and they were finally won over.  We all loved our omelets and the chance to get creative.  They immediately started thinking of reasons to make them.

Bag omelets are a great project for any group meal.  Everyone gets their own customized omelet, all ready at the same time.  Interactive food and lots of choice are always popular with the kids in my family.  And bag omelet party is a great way to jazz up a boring weeknight meal with a special breakfast-for-dinner treat.  I can see this as the perfect project if you are stuck in the house on a snow day.  They are a perfect clean-out-the-fridge meal – great during the busy holidays when you have lots of bits and pieces hanging around, or the night after a big party.  Cut up the leftover vegetables from the dip tray, dice the ham or turkey, grate the bits from the cheese platter.

But this is also a great idea for overnight guests, adults or after a kids’ sleepover.  The same goes for an adult dinner party.  Everyone has fun discussing their creations and all the omelets are hot and ready at the same time.  These work equally as well with leftover salami and string cheese as they do with shaved truffles and duck confit. The omelets slide out of the bags as elegant perfectly shaped cylinders. They are perfect on their own, or with some crisp toasted bread or a light salad.

Tips:

Use a big Dutch oven or pot, nonstick if you have it.  Fill the pot about three-quarters full with water.  When you add the bags, the water level will rise, but you want as much water as possible.  It shouldn’t be a problem if a little splashes over the side.

Use freezer safe bags, which are thicker and stand up to the heat.  Don’t use the plastic slider kind, just the press together seals.  You’ll want to squeeze out air so the bags don’t float too much.

Use a permanent marker to write on the bags.  You don’t want the names to wash off – you might get the wrong omelet!

Set the timer and have it ready to start when to omelets hit the water.  Use tongs to lift the bags out of the water onto a plate or platter.

Wear oven mitts or use a towel to protect your hands when opening the bags and sliding out the omelets.

The Ingredients:

You’ll need 2 eggs per person, and I always recommend the best eggs you can find.  If you have a source at the farmers market or a friend for farm fresh eggs, that’s the way to go.  Have a nice selection of protein, vegetables, cheeses, herbs and seasonings.  Cut everything into small pieces, so when they are in the bag, they will mix together well, and be easy to eat.  I could definitely see doing theme nights with bag omelets – all Mexican ingredients or all Italian.  And don’t forget you can add some toppings on the top of the cooked omelet like and extra sprinkle of cheese, a spoonful of salsa or ingredient you may not want cooked in with the eggs, like diced avocado or some crisp diced tomato. Put out some salt and pepper as well, and maybe a few additional seasoning blends.

When I last made these for the photograph above, I created nice little spread of fillings, some grabbed off the salad bar to fill things out, some bits from my fridge.  Here are some ideas from that meal:

diced ham

chopped chicken

chopped shrimp

crumbled bacon

crumbled blue cheese

grated cheddar cheese

finely diced bell peppers

diced red onion

diced mushrooms

salsa

finely chopped sage, parsley and chives

Creole seasoning

Barbecue seasoning

Old Bay

Hot sauce

Salt and pepper

 

The Directions:

Bring a pot of water to a full boil.  Each omelet-maker should write their name on the outside of a freezer-safe zip top bag.  For each bag omelet, crack two eggs into a bag. Lightly seal the bag and squish the eggs around a bit to break the yolks.

Open the bag and add your choice of ingredients.  Don’t use more filling than egg, you need a good ratio.  Seal the bag three-quarters of the way and press out as much air out as possible, then seal the bag completely.

When everyone has their bags ready, gently lower them into the water, avoiding touching the bags to the side of the pan, and set the timer for 11 minutes.  Use tongs to gently push the bags down into the water if needed.  Do your best to keep the bags from touching the sides of the pot.  I have done as many as 8 bags at a time.

When the timer beeps, remove the bags to a platter.  Let them cool for a minute, then using oven mitts, gently open each bag and slide the omelet out onto a plate.

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Drunk Tank Shrimp

I dug into the archives for this recipe.  When I was fresh out of graduate school, living in my first apartment, this was a dinner party staple for me.  I guess I thought it was sophisticated, cooking with liquor.  I always cooked it in my one ceramic baking dish, and served it with rice.  I have no idea where the recipe came from, but I copied it out into my vine-patterned recipe journal, and the page has soysauce stains on it now.  I am sure I used to call it something more sophisticated, like Whiskey Shrimp, or Bourbon Baked Shrimp.  In my notebook, it’s written as Tipsy Shrimp, which sounds a little too twee for this bold dish.  At some point, the recipe was stuck in my memory and I could make it by heart.  I started thinking of it as Drunk Tank Shrimp, and the name stuck.

Like many early triumphs, this recipe eventually faded away, out of circulation, as I moved on to bigger and fancier things.  But when I became the proud owner of both an indoor grill on my range, and a monster of an outdoor grill, I started digging through the archives for food to cook over fire.  And this is a whopper of grill recipe.  The sweet, tangy marinade gives simple shrimp a dose of bourbon fire and mellow stickiness.  The reduced, syrupy sauce is half the joy. If you don’t have the grill going, this dish is also great baked in the oven.  It’s a saucy version than the reduced-sauce grilled style, so I like to serve it with rice to soak up the goodness.

Drunk Tank Shrimp

½ cup bourbon

½ cup soy sauce

½ cup Dijon mustard

½ cup light brown sugar

1 teaspoon salt

2 Tablespoons Worcestershire
sauce

½ cup finely chopped onion

2 pounds shrimp, peeled and deveined (26- 30 count)

Combine the bourbon, soy, mustard sugar vinegar, salt and Worcestershire in a small bowl and whisk to dissolve the sugar and combine the marinade. Stir in the onions.  Place the shrimp in a ziptop bag and pour over the marinade, tossing to coat the shrimp.  Place on a plate in the fridge and marinate for 30 minutes, turning the bag over a couple of times.

To grill the shrimp, remove them from the marinade, and pour the marinade into a sauce pan.  Bring the marinade to a boil, then lower the heat and cook until it has thickened and reduced by about half.  Thread the shrimp onto skewers and grill over medium heat.  Baste with the reduced sauce, turn the skewers over and continue cooking until the shrimp are cooked through.  Drizzle over the remaining sauce, or serve it as a dip.

To cook the shrimp in the oven, pour off half of the marinade, then place the remaining marinade and shrimp in a 9 by 13 inch baking dish.  Bake the shrimp at 350 degrees until they are cooked through and tender and the marinade is hot, about 20 minutes.

Serves 4- 6

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Shrimp and Grits

Shrimp and Grits, technically the child of the South Carolina Low Country has been adopted by Southerners as their own. You will find shrimp and grits in homes and on menus from Florida to Misssissippi, and of course here in Tennessee. I bet most Southerners would put it on a grand list of Southern classics without even realizing its specific geographic origin.

And I imagine there are as many recipes for Shrimp and Grits as there people who cook it. You’ll find it in simple cafes and in upmarket restaurants. I have seen versions with mushrooms, burgundy wine, yellow tomatoes or hot chili peppers. I have seen grits flavored with all manner of things. When I was planning weddings, there was one venue whose most popular item was the Shrimp and Grits bar. Martini glasses with your choice of plain grits or cheese grits, covered in gravy and shrimp, with bacon, onions, herbs, hot sauce and the like that you could sprinkle on top.

I started making shrimp and grits as a dinner for myself, nothing fancy, no real recipe and it often depended on what I happened to have in the fridge. But when I decided to make it company-worthy, I tinkered around until I hit on this version, which is what I think Shrimp and Grits ought to be. It may not be truly authentic or the way you’ve had it at your favorite restaurant, but it is good. So I hereby claim these Shrimp and Grits for Tennessee, but hope you’ll share them with the world.

It’s important to use good grits and good shrimp. You need stone ground grits, not instant or quick-cooking. I hear there are many brands available, but my preferred version is Delta Grind, made in Mississippi on an old grist mill and available online. If there is a good source close to you or online, please share it with us. I buy fresh Gulf shrimp when I can (I freeze extras when it’s available in abundance) or buy frozen Wild American shrimp from reputable stores if I have to. Personally, I never use Asian farmed shrimp. The taste is not as good and they are questionably raised.

Shrimp and Grits

For the Grits:

2 cups chicken broth

2 cups heavy cream

¼ cup ( ½ stick) butter

1 cup stone ground grits (I use Delta Grind)

2 ½ teaspoons salt

Several grinds of black pepper

For the Shrimp

1 pound large shrimp, peeled and deveined (I prefer fresh Gulf shrimp or frozen wild American)

1 teaspoon paprika

½ teaspoon regular mustard powder

¼ teaspoon smoked paprika

¼ teaspoon salt

A few grinds of black pepper

Dash of cayenne pepper

6 strips of bacon, cut into small pieces

1 green bell pepper, finely diced

¾ cups chopped green onion, white, light green and a little dark green (from a big bunch)

1 can (14.5 ounces) diced tomatoes

2 Tablespoons flour

1 cup chicken broth

1 quarter of a large lemon

Finely chopped parsley for garnish

For the Grits:

In a deep-sided large pan (grits tend to spatter), stir the broth, cream and butter together over medium high heat until the butter is melted and it all comes to a low boil. Stir in the grits, salt, and pepper and reduce the heat to low, cover and cook for 30 – 45 minutes, stirring frequently to prevent scorching. The grits should be tender and the liquid absorbed. You may add a bit more broth if needed. When cooked, the grits can be kept covered for an hour or so, then slowly reheated over low, stirring in a little broth.

For the Shrimp:

Mix together the paprika, mustard, smoked paprika, salt, pepper and cayenne. Pat the shrimp dry if necessary and place on plate. Sprinkle the spice mix liberally over both sides of the shrimp, turning over to get a good coating. Leave the shrimp in the fridge for 30 minutes to an hour.

When the shrimp are ready, sauté the bacon pieces in a wide skillet over medium high until crispy. Remove the bacon to a plate lined with paper towels using a slotted spoon. Pour the bacon grease into a small bowl. Spoon 2 Tablespoons of grease back into the pan and heat over medium high. Sear the shrimp briefly – just a few seconds per side – to seal in the spice mixture. You do not want to cook the shrimp. Remove the shrimp to a plate (you can scoot the bacon to one side and use the same plate). Reduce the heat to medium and add more bacon grease to the pan so that you have about 4 Tablespoons, then drop in the green pepper and the green onion. Sauté until the pepper and green onion are soft. As they release some liquid, you can scrape the tasty brown bits from the bottom of the pan.

While the vegetables are cooking, drain most of the juice from the tomatoes into a measuring cup. You can just hold the top of the can askew and drain out what you can – no need to dirty a strainer. Add enough chicken broth to make one cup of liquid and set aside.

When the green vegetables are soft, add the tomatoes and cook until the tomatoes are heated through and start to soften. Break up any large pieces. Sprinkle the flour over the vegetables and stir to coat. There should not be any white flour visible. Pour in the broth and tomato liquid and stir, scraping the bottom of the pan. Lower the heat a little and let the mixture bubble away until it is nice and thick, stirring to avoid scorching. Squeeze over a quarter of a lemon (making sure you’ve removed seeds) and stir. Add the shrimp to the sauce in the pan, cover and cook for 5 to 8 minutes, until the shrimp are cooked through. You can add a bit more broth if you like a saucier version.

Spoon the grits into shallow bowls and spoon over the shrimp and sauce. Sprinkle over the crispy bacon pieces and chopped parsley. Serve immediately.

Serves 4

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