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Perfectly Light Asparagus

Okay, so first things first Internet.  We are moving.  We are moving to Baltimore.  Soon.  Maybe this month, maybe next month, but definitely soon.  We’re searching, I’ve been looking at a few places a week and we’re trying to find the one that will best suit us.  We’re moving to Baltimore because it’s a little more our style, a little more our pace, and the opportunities have led us there.  This is a great thing, we’re totally pumped.  It means being in a city we love in an area that will be a little more tailored to the lifestyle we want (ie urban).

Here’s the thing about moving (more) urban, we’re going to have to sacrifice space.  Even the biggest apartments I’ve seen are a step down in size from where we currently are (which isn’t very big) so we’ll likely be losing square footage.  And a dishwasher.  And probably all of our This End Up furniture.  My point being, I’m going to need some tips.  How do you cook in a tiny kitchen, what gadgets have you sacrificed, what do you do for storage?  I need suggestions, Internet, and you haven’t failed me yet.

On to the asparagus.  I’m reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver (on loan from my sister in law Megan) and loving it.  I just got through the section on asparagus, the food her family uses to kick off their year of eating locally.  In tribute to this riveting (and inspiring if we can ever afford outdoor living space) book, I picked up some local asparagus and cooked it up to accompany a light pasta dish.  I like my asparagus cooked to a minimum and freshened with lemon juice.  It’s light, fresh, and the perfect way to honor spring’s first vegetable.


Perfectly Light Asparagus

1 bunch fresh asparagus

2 lemons

2 tbsp grated parmesan

1 tbsp olive oil

Salt & pepper

In a wide pan, bring 1/4 inch of water to a simmer.  Add juice of 1 lemon and a little s&p.  Cut the bottom 1/2 inch of the asparagus and place in the pan.  Cook 5 minutes or until bright green.  Drain, drizzle remaining lemon juice, parmesan, & s&p over, and serve.

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Chorizo Shrimp & Grits

I would like to begin this post with a disclaimer- I am actually a pretty healthy (and diverse) eater.  We only eat meat two or three times a week and I try to cook with fresh, organic, local ingredients.  I promise I don’t drench everything in bacon fat.  I bring these sorts of recipes (the pie and the bacon and the grits) to you because I know that’s why you come here.  I just wanted to assure you that, despite what this site might reflect, I have a pretty well rounded diet.

Now, onto to the sausagey goodness.  When we go out to dinner and I see shrimp and grits on the menu, I am always compelled to order them.  I am of the opinion that my go to recipe, which is adapted from the famous Crook’s Corner in Chapel Hill, is perfection.  It’s cheesy and bacony and everyone that has ever tried it has been in a state of grit bliss.  As a result, I am usually disappointed by what I order at restaurants.  Not for lack of trying, the flaws of these dishes range from poorly made grits to dishes that just have too much going on.  I have, however, had a few variations of chorizo shrimp and grits that were good.  Some even pretty good.  So I decided to try my hand.

I’ll admit, I was underwhelmed with this dish.  It was good, and with a few tweaks it could have been very good, but I never once rolled my eyes back into my head with delight the way I usually do with my Crook’s Corner recipe.  And I wouldn’t say that you shouldn’t try it, just that it wasn’t the best thing ever or even the best shrimp and grits ever.  It was just good shrimp and grits.  Different.  Sausagey-er.

Instead of nitpicking through why this dish wasn’t as good as a dish that I’ve loved for years, I’ll tell you a funny story.  So we had the Turcottes (Dan’s sister Megan, her husband John, and their 3 1/2 year old daughter, Meredith) over for dinner on Saturday night.  We feasted on falafel, melon, and handpies- it was delightful.  After dinner we were sitting around trying to teach Meredith jokes.  The first one John told was the knock, knock joke I’m sure you’ve all heard that ends with “orange you glad I didn’t say banana.”  The next was another knock knock joke that ends with “I’m drowning.”  The third (courtesy of Dan) was the interrupting cow knock knock joke.  Then I told my Grammy’s favorite joke about a chihuahua (a joke for another time).  Then, it was Meredith’s turn.  It went:

Meredith: Knock, knock.

Us: Who’s there.

Meredith: Orange.

Us: Orange who?

Meredith: I’M DROWNING!

The kid is a comedic genius.  Or her parents need to tell her more jokes.

Anyway, back to the grits.  I’ll give you the recipe, plus the tweaks I would have made if I could do it again.  You should try it, you should tweak it, and you should tell me whether or not I’m just being crazy and it’s actually a great dish.

Chorizo Shrimp & Grits

2 Spanish style chorizo sausages

1/2 pound raw shrimp (unpeeled)

1 red bell pepper

1 green bell pepper

1 red onion

2 cloves garlic

1 tbsp bacon fat (I told you it would come in handy)

1 cup grits

2 cups milk

2 cups beef stock

1/2 cup beef stock

4 tbsp butter

Red pepper flakes

Salt & pepper

1/2 cup gruyere

Begin by cooking your sausage.  Remove the casing from the sausage and cook it over medium heat, using a spatula to break it up.  While that is cooking, peel and clean your shrimp (tutorial here).  Boil a cup of water and add a pinch of salt.  When the water is boiling, add your shrimp.  Cook them until pink 2-3 minutes.  Remove and set aside.

When your sausage is cooked, set it aside.  In the pan where you cooked it, quickly saute the shrimp and then set those aside as well.

In the same pan, heat your bacon fat.  Chop garlic and add it to the pan.  Slice your onion and peppers.  Add them to the pan and reduce the heat to low.  Cook for 1 hour or until the onion and peppers are completely caramelized.  Add in 1/4 cup stock, stir the shrimp and chorizo back in, and simmer.

Start in on your grits.  Heat the milk and remaining stock over medium heat.  Add butter and salt.  When the water boils, add in the grits and lower heat to simmer.  Cover and cook until thick (approximately 20 minutes).   Stir in the chorizo mixture and salt to taste.  Serve.

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Corn Bread

For the past few months, I’ve been participating in the Bread Baker’s Apprentice Challenge, an online challenge that has bloggers (and presumably other home cooks) baking their way through Peter Reinhart’s The Bread Baker’s Apprentice. This book, I have come to discover, is a bastion of bread baking tips, the ultimate home baker’s guide to bread.  It’s been slow going because I can do, at most, two loaves a week, but I’m really enjoying it.  I didn’t originally intend on sharing the recipes here because a lot of people are participating in this project and the last thing you need is my take on something that’s been said 1000 times.  Unless it’s me reiterating for the 1000th time that I love pie.

The reason I decided to post this particular cornbread recipe, however, is because it knocked my socks off.  It was out of this world good- brown sugar and honey in the bread itself topped with delicious bacon.  Thank you Mr. Reinhart, I will never make another cornbread.  Until the next amazing recipe I find.  God, I love cornbread.

Anyway, this week for the zillionth time this year I’m sick and since the weather had been rainy, I indulged in a favorite comfort meal- chili and cornbread.  I won’t lie and say it healed me (it’s not magic cornbread), but it did make me feel warm, happy, and totally loved.  Bacon has that effect.

A side note about bacon, this recipe calls for rendered bacon fat.  Which, is not a problem because I had to cook bacon for the recipe, but sometimes you want the essence of bacon without, you know, the bacon.  Which is why I like to keep a few tablespoons of bacon fat in the freezer.  I simply pour it, while it is still hot, into a glass measuring cup and then when it’s cooled a bit (but not solidified), I pour it into small glass jars and freeze.  Then, I have it ready whenever I need it.  Bacony advice from me, to you.

Corn Bread
Source: Peter Reinhart’s The Bread Bakers Apprentice

1 cup (6 oz) coarse cornmeal (or grits)

2 cups (16 oz) buttermilk

10 slices (8 oz) bacon

1 3/4 cups (8 oz) all purpose flour

1 1/2 tbsp (.75 oz) baking powder

1/4 tsp (.05 oz) baking soda

1 tsp (.25 oz) salt

1/4 cup (2 oz) sugar

1/4 cup (2 oz) brown sugar

3 large eggs

2 tbsp (1.5 oz) honey

2 tbsp (1 oz) unsalted butter, melted

2 1/2 cups (16 oz) fresh or frozen kernels

2 tbsp (1 oz) bacon fat

I give the ounces here along with the normal measurements because that’s how Pete does it.  Is it too familiar to call him Pete?

The night before you want to make your cornbread, soak the cornmeal in the buttermilk, covered, and at room temperature.

When you’re ready to make the cornbread, start by making your bacon.  Bake at 375 for 15-20 minutes, or until crispy and golden brown.  Drain the fat into a glass or metal container and let the bacon cool.  When it’s cool, crumble and set aside.  Lower the oven temp to 350.

Mix together flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda.  Stir in sugar and brown sugar.  In another bowl, beat eggs, lightly.  In yet another bowl, melt your butter and dissolve the honey in it.  Stir the honey mixture into the eggs, and add that to the cornmeal mixture.  Add the cornmeal mixture to the dry ingredients and stir with a large wooden spoon.  Mix in corn kernels (make sure to drain them if you buy them frozen).

Pour the bacon fat into a 10″ round cake pan (or a 9 x 12″ baking pan) and stick it in the oven.  Keep in the oven for 7-10 minutes or until it’s piping hot.  With an oven mitt on, swirl the fat around and make sure all the sides are greased.  Pour the batter into the hot pan.  Sprinkle the bacon over the top evenly.  Bake for 30-45 minutes until the center is solid and it’s golden brown.

Let cool 15 minutes and serve.  And enjoy!

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