Jack Grits with Grilled Shrimp, Zucchini, Shiitake Mushrooms and Bacon Poblano Pepper Cream

DSCN5057I’ve been having one helluva summer, folks!  I am simply dripping with friends this year, and I’m loving every minute of it!  That also means I’ve been out of the house, and away from the kitchen, for some time – hence my AWOL status of the last few weeks.  But last night we enjoyed a breezy summer’s evening on ye ol’ roof deck, firing up Little Red – our trusty, 10yr old Meco electric grill – to do all the heavy lifting.  The nice cool wind allowed us the soul-warming pleasure of some stick-to-the-ribs home cooking: a bowlful of  steaming, creamy Monterey Jack cheese grits bathed in a spicy roasted poblano pepper cream studded with bacon, zucchini, shiitake mushrooms and tender shrimp all grilled to juicy meaty tender deliciousness.  Shrimp and grits – taken up a notch.


Jack Grits with Grilled Shrimp, Zucchini, Shiitake Mushrooms and Bacon Poblano Pepper Cream

10-12 large tiger shrimp
4 slices bacon
2 poblano peppers
1/2# shiitake mushrooms
1 small zucchini
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup grits
EVOO, white balsamic vinegar, sea salt, cracked black pepper, crushed red pepper
snipped chives for garnish

DSCN5039This dinner relied on quart sized zipper bags as much as it did Little Red, since I wanted to do some quick prep indoors before moving completely outside to finish the food on the grill.  I started with my poblano pepper by trimming it into 8ths and removing all the seeds.  Do yourself a favor, dear reader: handle hot peppers with gloves.  Their heat is communicable and tactile – believe me when I say you touch your eyes and other orifices with fingertips more often than you realize, and pepperfingers BURN.

DSCN5041I placed each veg in a quart sized zipper bag of its own, and doused them with EVOO (about 1/4 cup), sea salt and cracked black pepper.  For the zucchini, I added a glug (2 tbs) of white balsamic vinegar and a shake-a shake-a of crushed red pepper flakes.

DSCN5042I de-stemmed my mushrooms, washed them thoroughly, and then stuck them in a bag as well with their own EVOO, salt, and pepper marinade.

DSCN5043After I peeled them, my shrimp were plump, quivering, pink sweet little morsels  of temptation just shy of perfection.  But I wanted a *perfect* presentation for this meal, so I sliced them shallowly up the length of their crest to devein them, then trimmed with my paring knife those little edges which the incision created.  It’s not necessary to devein shrimp – I usually don’t – but it does look nicer.

DSCN5044I chopped up a few cloves of garlic, which I chucked into another zipper bag with the shrimp and about 5 tablespoons of EVOO, some more sea salt, and a ton of black pepper.

DSCN5045All my little fun-bags – ready to go.  (Yes, I intended that double-entendre…)  I headed outside and fired up the grill.

DSCN5047Once the grill was nice and hot, I put my bacon directly on the rack on one side, and my sliced peppers – skin side down – on the other.  I closed the lid, and let it go for about 10 minutes.  I’d never actually made bacon on the grill before, but Little Red has always surprised me with its versatility. so I thought “What the hell?”

DSCN5048And Little Red didn’t disappoint!  After 10 minutes, my bacon was already almost fully cooked and perfectly crispy.  I flipped them for good measure and cooked for another 5 minutes…

DSCN5049Meanwhile, the skin of my peppers has already begun to blister, so I flipped them to soften the insides as well.

DSCN5050When both the bacon and peppers were finished, I removed them from the grill.  The bacon I set aside, but the peppers I put into a paper bag so the skin could steam off them somewhat, making it easier for me to remove later.

DSCN5051I next filled the grill with the remaining ingredients.  I had 3 cups of water in my small saucepan, which I sat directly on the rack, and then I laid out my zucchini sticks and mushrooms over the rest of the surface.   These sizzled for about 15 minutes (I flipped the veggies about halfway through) while the water in my pot heated up.

DSCN5052In went the grits.  These were quick cooking — 5 minutes – but since the heat on my grill isn’t too too hot, I just kept checking back to see when the grits were thickening – stirring every once in a while, and flipping my veggies so they’d get nice grill marks on each edge.

DSCN5053I assembled the rest of the stuff I’d need: the shrimp, which had been chilling in the fridge; some snipped chives; some black pepper; another small pan for the sauce; and cubed Monterey jack cheese.  I chucked this all onto a cutting board and walked it to the deck.

DSCN5054After about 15 minutes, the grits were nice and thick, so I dumped the cheese into them and gave it a stir.  In the other saucepan, I added my cream and my skinned and chopped poblano peppers, which I sort of macerated with my wooden spoon.  I piled all my zucchini and mushrooms on the coldest part of the grill surface to make room for the shrimp.

DSCN5055But before I got the shrimp going, I chopped the bacon and added it to the already thickening peppercream.  Bacon and hot peppers: love.

DSCN5056Then, there was shrimp.  Using tongs, I carefully placed them as close to the heating coils as possible, then I closed the lid for 5 minutes before turning them once, and cooking an additional 5 minutes.

DSCN5059As the sun set on the horizon, the flavors in this bowl burst onto my palette with each complex and wholesome bite.  The velvet cheesy grits were a warm corn cushion upon which a luxurious bath of spicy unctuous porky cream undulated, while tidbits of hotwetcrunchy zucchini, chewy crispy-edged mushrooms, toothsome garlicky shrimp and bites of braised grilled salty bacon danced deliciously on my tongue.  Everything I loved seemed to live on each forkful I brought to my lips, and I devoured each sensuous bite like it was my last.  If not cooking for a while makes me feel the sweet sweet pleasure of accomplishing dinner so much more acutely, perhaps I should take breaks more often?  For now, I leave you with this relatively simple but super-scrumptious recipe for your next dinner on the deck.  Let me know how it turns out!


Queen Grits: Scallops, Shrimp, Serrano Ham, and Ouzo Cream with Chives

DSCN4681There are a handful of pseudo-cliches I could start this posting with, like “you can take a girl out of the South, but you can’t take the South out of a girl”, and “once a redneck always a redneck,” and “roots run deep” – but I couldn’t possibly do that, could I?  Instead, I’ll straight up admit it: I love shrimp and grits.  It’s a classic dish o’ mine, stemming from a season working at Jim Shaw’s on Vineville after college, where they serve their grits as a side dish, but where the perfect compatibility of shellfish and hominy first entered my consciousness.  A few years later, in the Florida pan-handle, I enjoyed the Boss Grits at Boss Oyster, the first time I’d seen OTHER stuff thrown into the bowl – like bits o’ pork and a sweet white sauce.  Tonight’s dinner is a variation on this theme: succulent shrimp and seared scallops atop cheddar grits with sauteed Serrano ham and my favorite ouzo cream.  The meal is warm and satisfying, steaming and buttery, fragrant and briny, unctuous and sweet: a perfect plate, in less than 30 minutes.  If you’ve never married grits to sea critters before, I urge you to correct that discrepancy in your gastronomic resume.  You’ll be glad that you did.


Cheddar Grits with Shrimp, Scallops, Serrano Ham, Chives, and Ouzo Cream Sauce

1 cup grits
4 1/2 cups water, salted
4 tbs butter
1/4# slab Serrano ham (about 1/2″ thick)
4 large shrimp
2 large scallops
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1 cup cream
1/2 cup Ouzo
3 tbs chopped fresh chives
sea salt, cracked black pepper, Adobo seasoning, paprika

DSCN4669This is, at heart, a very simple meal.  I start by getting a few tablespoons of butter melting in my largest non-stick fry pan, while I get my water boiling for my grits on the back burner.

DSCN4670Once the foam has subsided, I throw my chopped Serrano ham into the lightly browned fat to saute and crisp.

DSCN4671Moving these meat bits around often, I toast them up really good.  I add a dash of black pepper and some paprika to the pan as well, which combines with the smoked pork to make a dizzying aroma.

DSCN4672Once my water comes to a boil, I stir in my grits well, lower the temperature to simmer, and cover the pan for about 10 minutes – reaching in to stir only once or twice.

DSCN4673I wish I had a flat grill, but alas.  Instead, I’m crafty.  I push all my cooked ham to one side of my pan, which I slide off the burner and balance on the raised edge of my stove – which is at the same height as the burner itself.  This leaves an exposed half of my pan directly over the heat, and allows my pork to stay warm but without the element underneath.  When you have a crappy kitchen, you learn to improvise.

DSCN4674On the exposed surface of the pan, which is still glistening with porkypaprika-y goodness, I layer my shrimp (which I’ve peeled to just the end of the tail) and my scallops, which I’ve sprinkled with salt and pepper.  I let them sear for about 3 minutes on each side, until the shrimp is perfectly opaque, and my scallops are seared to a crispy golden brown exterior.

DSCN4675Meanwhile, my grits are cooked perfectly, so I toss in 1 tbs butter and all my shredded cheddar cheese, which I mix in well.  I also add a dash of Adobo seasoning – which has garlic and pepper in it as well as salt. This I blend well until all the cheese is melted.

DSCN4676At the last few moments, I remove my proteins from the pan, and put them aside on a warm dish.  I put the pan back on the burner, add my last tablespoon of butter until it melts, then in goes my sweet sweet ouzo.  I let this reduce for about a minute over high heat.

DSCN4677In goes my cream, which I whisk in very well, leaving the heat on high so it can bubble and boil.

DSCN4678It thickens nicely.

DSCN4679A steaming mound of warm, sharp cheddar grits are surrounded by a pool of fennel scented rich cream.  Mounded on top of this tempting pile are the buttery shrimp, sweet seared scallops, and salty crispy-edged tidbits of Spanish jamon, scattered with the mild oniony tang of snipped chives.  Wholesome, delicious, and heart-warming.  What better for a weeknight dinner after a long day’s work?

Scallop, Shrimp, and Cod Skillet with Parmesan Grits and Spinach

DSCN4347Those of you wonderful people who follow my blog know I have a weakness for anything cooked in a cast-iron skillet.  There is something so old-timey about cast iron, and I love how they serve today as both cooking equipment and serving platter – as they do in my house.  Maybe it’s the weight of them; maybe it’s just the tradition of them — I don’t know, but everything seems to taste better in cast iron.  No wonder, then, that tonight’s offering is a one-pan meal: a mixed grill of seared scallops, shrimp, and cod filet, served with piping hot cheese grits and some quick wilted spinach.  Light, healthy, and warming — just the thing for a chilly winter’s night.


Scallop, Shrimp, and Cod Skillet with Parmesan Grits and Spinach

6 large shrimp, peeled
2-4 large scallops (8oz total), adductor muscles removed
1/2 lb cod filet
6 oz spinach
1 cup grits
4 tbs butter, melted and divided, plus 1 tbs butter, cold
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 lemon

This meal was inspired largely by the super-huge scallops on display at Whole Foods.  They were simply enormous, and my soul ached for them at first glance, but my pocketbook was unprepared for the hefty price-tag which came along with them.  So instead of doing without entirely, I purchased the two fattest bivalves I could find (they came to almost 1/2 lb on their own!), and augmented them with some more reasonably priced seafare — some large tiger shrimp and a nice codfish loin.  The shrimp I peeled while raw, and the fish I cut into bite sized pieces.

DSCN4333This is actually a *very* quick meal, and super-easy — it’s just  the expense that sort of knocks it out of the Weeknight Wondermeal category.  I started by melting my butter, which rather cooled back to room temperature before I started cooking in earnest, while I assembled everything else.  I wash and spin dry my spinach, grate my cheese, and get my grits all measured out.

DSCN4339I divide my melted butter roughly into 6ths, placing 1 dollop into each skillet, which I then position over hot burners.  As soon as the butter has begun to brown, I layer in my seafood, starting with the scallops and fish, which I let sear on one side for about 4 minutes, before flipping each piece carefully.

DSCN4340I then add the shrimp, with a dollop more butter on top to melt over them, which I cook for 2 minutes on each side, making a total of 4 minutes for the fish and scallops.  Y’see, the shrimp doesn’t take as long as the other stuff …

DSCN4341I remove the protiens briefly to a warm plate, which I cover with plastic wrap for a few minutes.

DSCN4338The skillets remain on the heat with their butter still bubbling hot.

DSCN4342In goes my spinach, which I sort of roll around in the butter and let wilt over the heat.

DSCN4343Meanwhile, I’ve made my grits according to the package directions (1 part grits to 3 parts water is the magic ratio), and have added my cold tablespoon of butter and most of my grated cheese, reserving a bit for garnish.

DSCN4344After only a few moments, my spinach is almost completely wilted, with some bits browning and crisping nicely on the pan’s surface.  I push all this to one side, and divide my grits between the two skillets, pouring them next to the spinach.

DSCN4345The fish, scallops, and shrimp get placed back into the skillets, with my last dollops of butter placed on top, before I throw both in a very hot oven for about 8 minutes to heat completely through.

DSCN4346A dash of salt, a sprinkling of pepper, a cross-hatching of shredded cheese, and a wedge of lemon are all the compliments needed for this rich, warm, satisfying seafood dinner.  Each protein brings something different to the plate: the cod is flaky and tender, the shrimp is fresh and firm, and the scallop is sweet and seared to a crisp.  Along with the stick-to-your ribs corn grits and helping of verdant greenery, this is a complete dinner in virtually no time at all.  Dig in and enjoy, my friends.  I sure did.

Seafood Sunday! Steamed Crab Legs and Shrimp with Molten Parmesan Polenta

Most of the time, when I want shellfish, I want it as simply prepared as possible, since it tastes so damn good just the way it is.  Shrimp and crab legs in particular (and lobster, of course) are best, in Lolita’s world, when they’ve been steamed or boiled, and then served with melted butter.  I’ve had them made in myriad other ways, too, and enjoyed it – but if I see “boiled shrimp” on a menu, I go gaga.  They can be expensive, though, and here in Boston they cost $2-$2.25 *each* when purchased at a raw bar.  That’s why I make them myself; at even $16/lb for the large 16/20 count shrimp (that means there are between 16-20 shrimp per pound), I’m saving a ton of money — which means I can buy and eat more shrimp!  On Sunday, during a foray south to the sleepy little metropolis that is New Bedford, MA, to visit their thrilling whaling museum, we foraged through the industrial waterfront area seeking a seafood market that sold to the public.  Boy oh boy, did we find one!  The perfectly plump shrimp and long, shapely snow crab legs you see above were so sparkling fresh, that they needed very little by way of accouterments other than a simple beer and spice infused steambath- but Lolita whipped together a fun and flavorful parmesan polenta overflowing with a creamy cheese sauce anyway, just to add a little starch to this swimmingly spectacular meal of fruits from the sea.

Steamed Crab Legs and Shrimp with Molten Parmesan Polenta

1lb snow crab legs
1lb 12/15 count tiger shrimp
2 cans/bottles of beer
whole peppercorns, fresh cracked pepper, juniper berries, sea salt, bay leaves
2 cups polenta
heavy cream
grated parmesan cheese
1 1/2 sticks butter
truffle salt

New Bedford is a rather economically depressed little town, which is sad, considering its rich history.  I betcha not many people outside of Massachusetts are really hip to it, unless they’ve been lucky enough to read Moby Dick. It’s an American masterpiece for a reason; for those of you who’ve never tried, or have tried and failed, to read the novel, I encourage you to READ MELVILLE.  I realize that, as a lifelong student and lover of literature, I’m hard-wired to read where many fear to tread, but Melville’s voice is one every person on the planet should hear in their own heads as they absorb the words off his pages.  Moby Dick may be a whale of a book, but it is a work of incredible beauty and of almost divine grace, a story which captures the motion and passions of the sea, and harnesses it for its readers to ride to dizzying heights and soulful depths.

Fleet Fisheries Fisherman’s Market might have been one of Melville’s favorite places to shop for seafood, if he weren’t at sea himself (and dead and buried these past 120 years).  Their storefront, hidden in the back of their warehouse with an unobtrusive signpost pointing the way to an unassuming single door leading in, was like the TARDIS – I expected a small counter and a cramped cooler with a couple of fish in it, and instead I was greeted by a huge white space chock full of iced shelves bursting with tons of fish in various states of deshabille – whole to gutted to filleted to cooked.  And the prices!  $14/lb for  12/15 count shrimp! (Those are usually $21-$25/lb at Whole Foods.)  $8.99 for snow crab legs!  Shut the front door!  Less than $30 later, Clayton and I had the makings of a killer seafood feast.  It may be worth the hour and a half drive down there to shop again…

Just look at that plump, beautiful shrimp.  We got about 20 from our 1.25 lb, so Clayton and I were pleased as punch.

Now those are some legs, baby!  Two clusters, each with five legs and one handsome claw.  These are, of course, not harvested anywhere near the Massachusetts coastline — they come from much farther up north, as anyone who watches “Deadliest Catch” knows — but given the major seaport that New Bedford still represents, they can bring them in in bulk and pass the savings on to voracious leg-lovers like me.

Nothing goes better with shellfish than beer.  I’ve been drinking this Session Black Lager lately with gusto, and El Claytonious has been enjoying the ubiquitous, and local, Narragansett tallboys.  I used one of each in my boil.  Why?  Because we each only had two beers left, and the day was early, and we were too lazy to head to the store for more.  I don’t recommend using a port or stout or barley wine or anything too heavy for a beer boil, but lagers do provide a surprisingly good flavor base.  It’s not the alcohol, it’s the hops and malt that infuse the tender meat inside these exoskeletons with flavah.  I pop both open and dump them in my pasta boiler/steamer pot.

I also add about 1 quart of water, some peppercorns, juniper berries, bay leaves, and a healthy amount of salt.  All this gets set over the burner and brought to a boil – which takes a little while (considering how much liquid there is, and how cold my beers were).

Shrimp and grits are standard house fare at Lolita’s, but I try to shake it up from time to time with some polenta – grits’ less ground-up cousin.  2 cups of corn meal whisked into 3 cups of boiling salted water gets me started, and I cover this and reduce the heat to low so everything can simmer and thicken.

Now that my shellfish boil is roiling, I add my shrimp to the deep pasta pan and lower them into the beerwater.

I then put my crab legs into the shallow steamer basket, fit that on top of the pot (above the shrimp), and then cover.  This only needs about 5 minutes to cook, which is good – since my polenta is almost ready.

It’s nice and stiff, the corn toothsome but no longer hard, and I add a tablespoon of butter and some parmesan cheese.  But it’s too dry for me, and I want something more creamy and flavorful.

At the last moment, I decide to whip up a quick simple parmesan cheese sauce with about a cup of heavy cream set over medium heat to simmer, about 1/2 a cup of grated cheese, and some black pepper, sea salt, and a scratch or two of fresh nutmeg.  I whisk all this together and allow it to thicken slightly.

Our assortment of weapons, and our baths of butter.  I add a few dashes of truffle salt to my butter (because I’m decadent that way), and Clayton starts banging his shellfish forks on the table, demanding his dinner.  (My favorite is the furthest fork, with the wee little tines on one end, and the lobster-clawed, inner-knife-edged cracking/splitting apparatus on the other end.)

To moltenize my polenta, I first dished it up into a buttered 6oz ramekin to set the form – which only took a moment or so.  I then carved out the center of the form, removing a wine-cork sized plug from the middle, into which I poured my parmesan cheese sauce.  The result?  A delicious and fun to eat mountain of sweet/salty corn grits spilling over and out with a creamy river of omygoditsogoodness.  My perfectly boiled shrimp and steaming hot crab legs are redolent of only the best parts of beer, with a little kick and sweetness from the juniper and pepper berries.  The truffle butter bath is the perfect dipping sauce for my firm white thumbs of shrimp, and it dribbles lazily down my chin from the threads of my hard-won crab leg meat.  I should have dashed some chopped parsley or green onions over the plate for presentation purposes, but damn it if I wasn’t too hungry for this meal to waste the time with flair.  Sometimes, it’s the simplest things that make the most wonderful in the mouth.

Butter Poached Lobster and Seared Salami over Gruyère Polenta

Last week, I felt like Bradbury’s Margot, weighed down by perpetual rain, locked away from a sun which surely had to be shining somewhere – as it hadn’t been seen in Boston in almost 10 days.  But this weekend … this weekend it is BEAUTIFUL (and I don’t use my capslock lightly); and today… today it was warm and sunny and breezy and the weather and warmth simply begged me to take a long, leisurely, athletic bike ride.  I’d been seeing, lately, all sorts of  buzz on one of our usual destinations — Boston’s Seaport — to which we used to ride to visit the Barking Crab, previously the only real fun lunch place and bar to be enjoyed down there.  But this winter, at least 4 new restaurants have opened overlooking the water — a Legal Seafoods, an upscale Mexican joint which offers roast suckling pig (which I *will* have, oh yes I will), a sports bar with every seat simultaneously facing the sea and huge TVs, and a fancy shmancy steakhouse — all on one pier.  But more on that later.  The last, best place Clayton and I discovered down there before the winter set in last October was the Yankee Lobster Company, a seafood counter (where the fish was good but where both soups floury and disappointing) and a fish market — where the prices are at least $1 less per pound/item then their more urban uptown neighbors, James Hook and Co. So after we indulged in our lunch, we rode over to Yankee’s unassuming and almost unwelcoming retail door, hidden somewhat behind their only slightly less unassuming restaurant facade (Clayton thought I was breaking in, misremembering our last visit), walked past the surprising swimming pool sized lobster pens, to order our 2# bug (@ $7.99/lb) and our two stuffed quahogs (@ $2.50/each) from the friendly but barely conversant and seemingly bewildered fisherman behind the floating counter, and to pay our money to the official looking, but congenial, man behind the glass door.  It’s all very DMV, but it’s worth the experience – given the fresh product and reduced price.

I realize this is a very lengthy introduction, and I’ve not yet even touched upon the plat du jour.  My apologies, dear reader — I am deep into Byatt again, and she is one of very the few writers who truly fertilizes my (perhaps misguided) literary loquaciousness.  (See what I mean?)  So to dinner: our Stan’s sweet inner meat was drowned in fennel scented butter, and served over a fluffy bed of baked polenta that had been stuffed with a nutty Comté and studded with a spicy seared salami.  This riff on my Boss Grits (see here, here, and here) is an incredibly simple, thoroughly elegant interpretation of one of our favorite meals.  It’s shrimp and grits, people — only much, much better.

Butter Poached Lobster and Seared Salami over Gruyère Polenta

1 2# fresh, kicking lobster
1 cup polenta
1 1/2 sticks butter
1/4 lb comte de forte gruyere cheese
1/4 lb rosette de lyon salami
fennel salt
minced garlic
sea salt and black pepper
2 stuffed quahogs (optional)
fresh snipped chives

There’s out little guy: I called him Stan.  He’s glaring at me from within his cold bag, knowing his number is up.  But we will love you, Stan — we will eat every bit of you with worship and thanks, because you are not only beautiful, you are delicious.

Stan goes into my deepest pot.  I don’t want to fully cook him yet, but I do need to loosen his meat from his shell, and I got some great advice about how to do that from a marvelous blog named French Laundry at Home.  Stan sits waiting while…

… I get enough water boiled with which to cover him (I’m using both my large saucepan and my kettle).

Right before I douse my lobster, I spill about a tablespoon of distilled white vinegar into the scalding water.  This is the same principle as adding vinegar to egg poaching water – it helps solidify all the foamy bits, and encourages the meat to shrink away from the shell.

Then, I pour all the hot, vinegar’d water over Stan, covering him completely.  He wiggles around a bit, I’m sorry to say, but I am merciless when it comes to my meals, and so I hold him under his jacuzzi bath, whispering soothing words about how with butter and spice I will treat him, and oh so how lovingly I eat will him.  He blanches for about 3 minutes.

See?  His hard outer shell is turning a nice deep red, but not the hot crimson it would if I were cooking him totally through.  I’ll be doing that when I poach his naughty bits later.

After my 3 minutes, I remove Stan from his bath, and break off his claws (using the point of my chef’s knife right at the flimsy joint where his arms meet his torso — to define him in human physiological terms — where’s a professor of organismic and evolutionary biology when you need one?) …

… and I set his body aside, re-submerging his arms for an additional 5 minutes or so (they require more cooking to separate from their shell).

Using my kitchen shears, I cut the semi-cooked tail meat out of Stan’s back-end, and rinse it quickly (in the hot water that is still cooking the claws) to remove the green tomalley.  After 5 minutes of steeping, I remove the claws from said water, and snip out their meat, too (including the knuckles.  Mmmmm, knuckles…)  I set Stan’s marvelous meat into a bowl, and set it into the fridge to hold until I need it later.

One of Central Square’s newest coolest corners is at Mass Ave and Albany Street – where the Paradise has always been, and where the new bakery Flour, and – more pertinent to tonight’s meal, – Central Bottle has recently opened.  Central Bottle is this great wine boutique and salumeria, with excellent charcuterie and cheeses.  As two key components in any Boss Grits is cheese and smoked meat, I stopped there to buy some tidbits that would more perfectly compliment the luscious lobster we carried in our bike panniers.

 I selected a lovely, nutty, firm comté le forte, which is a delightful Gruyère …

… and I also purchased a healthy hunk of Rosette de Lyon, a hard, French dry sausage sweaty with its own oils, flecked with pepper and paprika.

Using my sharp chef’s knife, I cut my sausage into a small 1/4″ dice.

I do the same with my cheese – cutting the dry edges off.  There’s enough meat and cheese for a wee bit of picking… and it is good.

Polenta is just grits’ older, more urban, more refined, more connected (read: congealed) cousin.  I start with 3 cups of salted water on boil, and one cup of polenta.

I dump my cup of corn into 3 cups boiling salted water, and whisk well to break up all the chunks.  It takes about 30 minutes for my polenta to cook to the right consistency over very low heat; I stir it constantly to keep it from clumping.

When it’s ready, I dump 1/2 my cheese cubes into my pan (now removed from the heat), and stir well.

A little sea salt, black pepper, and butter later, stirred in well…

I immediately pour this cheese studded golden goodness into two buttered ramekins, and let them cool on my counter…

… so that they can set – which takes about 15 minutes.  When the slight pressure of my fingertips pulls the pudding cleanly from the edge, it’s ready to bake.

During that time, I’ve lined a baking sheet with foil and have placed my stuffed quahogs on it into a 350 degree oven.  They need to cook for at least 20 – 25 minutes, and I want my polenta to bake for at least 15, so the stuffed clams need a 10 minute head start.

It’s also time to start my salami, which I’m searing over high heat with black pepper, for 8-10 minutes, or until nicely heated through.

Perhaps I missed a link somewhere in French Laundry at Home’s post, but I seemed to need to go elsewhere – namely, the always reliable Jaden Hair’s The Steamy Kitchen –  to find out exactly the process for “poaching in butter”.  I surmised it would be more than just butter, but was surprised that it was no more than simply a tablespoon of water added to butter which constituted the poaching liquid, and, ultimately, the final sauce.  I dump my wee bit of water into my small saucepan, which is just large enough to hold my lobster meat in a single layer.  I bring this to a simmer over medium heat.

I’ve taken a stick of butter out of the fridge at this last moment, and have sliced it into tablespoons.

Whisking constantly, I add my cold butter slices, one at a time, waiting ’til the previous tablespoon is fully incorporated, to my sizzling 120 drops of water.  Constant whisking over low heat will emulsify the water/butter blend, making a thick cream that will coat and soak up my lobster.

Clayton bought me this marvelous fennel salt some time ago, and I add about a teaspoon to my butter blend.  My Boss Grits usually calls for an ouzo cream sauce, but I don’t want to go that route entirely – so I add a smidgen of the anise flavor ouzo imparts by substituting my fennel salt instead.

I’ve but Stan’s tail into smallish bites, and have now layered all his lovely meat into my smooth, silky, butter emulsion.  My heat is set to medium low, and I stir this around periodically, over the next 8 minutes, to cook my lobster thoroughly through.  My meat turns opaque, and my sauce turns lobster pink.

 Right before service, I take my polenta ramekins out of the oven – where they have delightfully risen in the heat – and turn them out onto my large plates.  They are steaming hot, slightly softer in the center, and firmly set at the edges.

Puffy pillows of polenta are stacked with sweet lobster meat, salty peppery bits of French pork sausage, semi-melted tidbits of stringy, savory cheese, all swimming in a supple butter sauce, scented with fresh snipped chives and served alongside a steaming hot stuffed quahog.  Summertime means seafood in Lolita’s casa, and this light, sublime, spectacular supper is just the first sunshine meal of the season.  Oh hai, Sun God – bathe me in your glory, and set the world in fire with your warming summer rays.  I salute you with this offering of gastronomic delight!  Do you dig it?  ‘Cuz we sure did.

Weeknight Wondermeal: Polenta with Serrano Ham, Seared Scallops, and Sweet Ouzo Cream

This is a play on one of our favorite dishes: shrimp and grits — which I’ve made many many *many* times, in all sorts of permutations.   Clayton and I spent a Thanksgiving on St. George Island in the panhandle of Florida, indulging in all the fresh cheap seafood they had to offer (this was before the BP spill — I’m not sure if they were jeopardized…), and one of our favorite places was Boss Oyster on Water Street, right against the river, in Apalachicola.  Their special — “Boss Grits” — was a heaping bowl of golden corn goodness topped with some spicy sort of ham, fresh plump shrimp, a sweet cream of some sort, some scallions, paprika, and some sort of melty cheese — if I remember correctly.  Who cares – what I remember was HEAVEN!  And heaven is good no matter how you spoon it up.  So I’ve used different sweet morsels of seafood (from shrimp to turbot to crabmeat to scallops) and different porks (from salami to pepperoni to prosciutto to pancetta to dry sausage) and different cheeses (from swiss to cheddar to robusto to gouda) – in endless combinations.  But the basics remained the same: grits, my favorite ouzo cream, and fresh scallions.

Tonight, for the first time, I’m futzing with the base by using polenta instead of grits.  We’ve always been grits sort of people, but we’ve been going polenta recently, and it feels good.  Same difference, right?  But no…  NOOOoooooo.  Polenta is creamier than grits are, but also manages to congeal more quickly – so it both absorbs sauce and holds it at bay deliciously effectively at the same time.  A firm but forkable cheesy corn base, draped in sweetly scented cream sauce, and mounded with seared scallops and savory bites of ham.  For those of you who think of polenta as porridge – I recommend you put your prejudices on vacation and dig into this easy but elegant delicious dinner.  30 minutes of cooking is a night’s delight.

Polenta with Serrano Ham, Seared Scallops, and Sweet Ouzo Cream

1 cup polenta
1/4 lb serrano ham
4 very large dry sea scallops (about 8oz)
1/2 stick butter
1 cup half and half
1/2 cup ouzo
1 cup minced scallions
3/4 cup shredded parmigiano reggiano cheese
sea salt
cracked black pepper

Scallops.  When Clayton and I first got married, he said he didn’t like them.  Oh really, I thought.  Well – that’s gonna change.  And, pouf!  After continuing to make them whenever I wanted, in the ways I liked them best, why Clayton just found he LOVED scallops.  I’m not sure how he’d been eating them before, but when they’re seared in butter, they’re just the way he likes them.  But they have to be sea scallops, and large, dry ones, too.  Just trust me on this…

Serrano ham is a delightfully intensely flavored side of cured pork, but it lacks the super-salty nature of its Italian cousin, proscuitto.   Savenor’s had to cut into a whole new haunch — and I was pleased.  The hunk I purchased was a little larger than I’d wanted, but I’m going to use the other half soon.  I cut about 1/4 pound into small little cubes.

So I melt a tablespoon of butter in my large wok.

And I throw my ham bits in.  I sautee this for a few minutes, while I…

… start my polenta.  1 cup of ground corn to 3 cups of boiling water.  I lower the heat, and stir constantly for about 15 minutes until the polenta is creamy but fully cooked.

I’ve added a tablespoon of butter, most of my cheese, some sea salt and black pepper to my polenta, have stirred it well, and have removed it from the heat so all the flavors can blend.

Meanwhile, I’ve removed my ham from the butter I sauteed it in, and I’ve brought the heat back up to high, browning the remaining butter slightly.

I’ve trimmed the membranes from my scallops, and have placed them in my hot butter to sear.  I see chefs on “Hell’s Kitchen” all the time getting yelled at by Gordon for not knowing how to sear scallops — I mean, they seem to send them out raw all the time.  These are *very* big, but they release their own brine and temper the butter, lowering the heat.  I may push them around slightly, but for the most part I leave them on the heat to caramelize for about 5-7 minutes (since they’re so damn thick).

You can see the heat searing up the sides of the scallops, turning the pale, slightly translucent pink to opaque white with a golden brown edge.  Many recipes call for you to clarify your butter before searing, to remove the quick-to-brown milk solids, but I frankly like the way the foaming butter bronzes the meat.

See?  The cooked is almost halfway through, and the seared side is crispy and perfectly kissed with caramel.  Oh yeah.

Here’s a group shot.  Them’s some beautiful babies.  I sear them for another 5 minutes or so on the other side.   When the white cooked look has worked it’s way through the sides of my scallops, and when they are firm like a medium well burger to the press of my tongs, they’re ready.  Maybe it’s some sort of 6th sense, but that’s all I’ve ever needed to know when scallops are ready.  If you’re worried — cut into the thickest one to see if it’s just white throughout.

I’ve made a nice pillow of polenta in the middle of a deep, dark bowl, and I lay my scallops in the center.  The next bit goes very quickly.

I return my pan to high heat after removing the scallops to the plate, and I add my ouzo to the already sizzling scallop and ham flavored butter.  I let this reduce for a few moments…

I then add my cream, and bring this to a hearty boil.

I add my ham back into the pan, and bring it to a boil one mo’ time.  This will thicken the sauce slightly — but not too much.  Soupy is good for this recipe, since the polenta will be so stiff.

At the last moment, I mince my scallions for garnish (along with the rest of the grated cheese).

 There’s nothing like a heaping warm bowl of hearty corn porridge, tender pan-seared scallops, and savory Spanish ham, all drowned in a sweetly scented fennel cream, blended with sharp Italian cheese, and sprinkled with snappy fresh scallions.  An ooey gooey yumtastic dinner of epic proportions — all on one little plate.  Dig in, friends.  I did.

Baby’s Boss Grits

It’s Clayton day! My husband finally agreed to let me buy him a new computer – a netbook, to be exact – and to celebrate its nativity in our little family, I’m making him his FAV-OH-RITE! dinner – Boss Grits. Y’see, we enjoyed this shrimp and grits extraordinaire at a sweet little place in Apalachiacola, FL named “Boss Oyster” (sorry, they don’t have a website!) If you ever find yourself there, check it out, if only to enjoy this eponymous delight.

We had to special order our grits from a company called New Orleans Gourmet Foods, through Amazon.com. We sure hoped we’d like them, since we had to order 4 lbs. Verdict: worth every cent!

What you’ll need, for dinner for 2 (or three):

1lb 16-20count tiger shrimp, shell on
¼ lb thick slice prosciutto di parma
½ lb shredded cheese – this is a combination of Monterey jack and sharp Wisconsin cheddar
1 cup coarse ground grits (I suppose you could use polenta… I’ve never tried!)
1 cup heavy cream
½ cup Ouzo
salt and pepper
butter (not pictured, for grits)

Shrimp. The sea’s widdle pinkies, just waiting to be nibbled. I get all gushy inside at the thought of a perfectly plump shrimp. Like, sort of perversely gushy and giddy. Here are some lovely lovelies, all raw and translucent and all a’quivering for a hot boilin’.

Beer. Shrimp NEEDS beer. As Meat Loves Salt.

Set the contents of your can (or bottle) to boil, augmented with enough water to make about 6 cups. More beer doesn’t really make a difference, so don’t overdo it. One can’ll make it happen. Old Bay Seasoning? P’shaw! This is all you need.

When boiling, drop your pink lovelies into your frothing Jacuzzi bath, and let them cook until they float—about 5 minutes.

Then pull ’em out, cool ’em, peel ’em, and set ’em aside.

This is some lovely prosciutto di parma. Trust me people, if you can, always buy prosciutto di parma. There are some lovely American prosciuttos which are nice, as well as some other fine European varieties, but there are also shanks of crap littering the marketplace (Shaw’s, I’m looking at you!), and this porky perfection is worth the price. As it was, I didn’t need the honking big piece you see in the front there, after dicing the smaller pieces in the back, so I have something left for a salad or a carbonara later…

Diced into little tiny cubes, this will sear and sizzle until savory and salty.

Add a few glugs of EVOO to a hot wok…

..and toss your prosciutto cubes into it. Tossing occasionally, let each facet fully sear, without over-browning any one edge.

And add a bit of cracked black pepper, to sweeten the pot.

Meanwhile, slice up your scallions.

When your prosciutto is perfectly caramelized, remove it from the pan and set aside. Put the pan back on medium heat…

… and add your cup of heavy cream. Whisk thoroughly, evenly distributing the heat…

… until the cream begins to bubble.

Ouzo. The hair of the dog of the Gods. I’ve had this bottle forever, and I use it for this recipe every time. There”s something about the flavor of anise with shellfish.  Once you try it, you’ll see what I mean.

Add about ½ cup of ouzo to your prosciutto fat cream, and whisk well to encourage evaporation.

Add your shrimp to your boiling ouzoporkcream, and chuck some cracked black in there, too. Heat through thoroughly, then plate.

Perhaps I was blinded with starvation, but I simply couldn’t focus on my stargazing shot, so Sylvester Stallone’s seminal portrayal of Zombie Squad specialist Marion Cobretti in Cobra won’t be seen overshadowing my supper tonight, as it should be. However, here’s a little something to whet your whistle: a hot steaming bowl of grits (one of the things I actually do allow Clayton to do in the kitchen is make the grits. One cup grain, three cups water, 10 minutes, a lot of stirring, and some butter and ½ my shredded cheese), shrimp, prosciutto, ouzo cream, cheese, scallions, and paprika. These lovely layers of flavors fill the mouth with textures and taste. The beery briny drunken shrimp burst, the salty seared pieces of pork savor, the anise ouzo cream coats, the cheese and scallions are sharp and slathery, with the corny stone-ground grits as the perfect pedestal. 10″ of snow tomorrow? I’m ready!