Cheers

It has been 363 days since my last blog post, and I’ve decided, at this nearing-one-year mark, that I will continue this investment in sharing the recipes and random thoughts I deem internet-ready. There have been several reasons for my absence, all more or less justifiable and unjustifiable, like being too busy or having only rare recipes worth sharing. In evidence of my excuses, it is true that I’ve since searched for and bought a house, moved in a specifically wonderful roommate, endeavored into the endlessly demanding world of DIY projects, began growing a garden (which has just nearly failed but not entirely and not yet), spent every dollar I’ve made at Home Depot (approximately), did enjoy several small to medium-sized vacations, and cooked almost everyday… things that didn’t seem especially notable.

But when I first started this blog, its intention was to share all of those recipes that I made everyday. I preferred posting about recipes that utilized prevalent pantry items, or involved maybe only 2-3 “new” ingredients, or featured a skill that was actually much simpler than it sounded. After all, this was supposed to be about dinner for Brian, and he’s barely 21. So! With that all in mind, here I come, ready to share on a probably-inconsistent-but-hopefully-relevant basis some things I find delicious and easy and interesting and filling. I even have a taste-tester with whom I share at least 60% of my meals, so in consideration of his sign-off, I have twice the sample size to substantiate my confidence.

This recipe I’m sharing not because it’s astoundingly amazing or challenging (in fact, like most drink recipes, it’s more of a recommendation), but because it makes use of my first-grown vegetable from my garden, the jalapeno! I’m taking this hobby as a point of learning and interest rather than successful product yield, because I am as expected not overwhelmingly talented at gardening. These jalapenos and the (possible) 2 tomatoes I hope to harvest may very well be the only products of my once-was 12-vegetable planter bed. But I’ve researched garden tactics and read almost every pertinent page of the farmer’s almanac, so I’m already feeling excited for the fall growing season. I can’t wait until I’m the most expert elderly woman tending to the community garden following my 50+ years of eventual experience with raised planter beds.

Below is the simplest drink ever, that’s so surprisingly spicy it mandates very small frothy sips, followed by the coolly cleansing taste of fresh watermelon. On Monday, Brian’s 21st birthday, I’ll allow him to try (as he has never had alcohol ever. Of course).

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Watermelon Jalapeno Cooler

Makes 1 glass

1 cup watermelon, cubed, frozen

2 oz jalapeno vodka

  • 1 whole jalapeno, sliced
  • 1 cup vodka (I used Tito’s)

Add the watermelon and jalapeno vodka to a blender and blend until frothy and smooth. Drink and enjoy!

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Vanilla Pudding

I’m not sure if Brian likes vanilla pudding. Maybe he prefers chocolate or will only have chocolate or will have none, of it, thank you. But I love vanilla pudding. Actually, the real intention here was to try out a vanilla pudding recipe in thoughts of eventually making a super legitimately delicious banana pudding. I love vanilla pudding, but banana pudding is AMAZING. I thought it was literally banana-flavored pudding, but it’s actually vanilla pudding with sliced bananas and (usually) vanilla cookies. I’ll get there eventually, but in the meanwhile I had to try my hand at scratch-made pudding in general. Now, when I was a first-year grad student, desperate for some dessert, I actually whipped up chocolate pudding, mexican chocolate pudding, and mocha chocolate pudding a few times. I had no recipe to base it on, besides the forever internet influences, but I knew cornstarch was a thickening agent and pudding was basically milk, otherwise, so I went at the stove with a plan and actually got some really good results. But for vanilla pudding, and my eventual banana pudding, I wanted to know traditionally how it was done. I altered the recipe a bit, cutting some butter and sugar, just to make a tiiiiny bit “healthier” (I mean, pudding is basically breakfast foods, right?), but this still comes out like the classic. Indulgently creamy, cool, and smooth, and really not much more difficult that adding milk to a Jell-o packet, you should definitely try this at home.

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Vanilla Pudding

Based off this recipe

Serves 4

1/4 cup sugar

2 tbsp. cornstarch

1/4 tsp. salt

1 tbsp. honey

2 1/4 cups milk

3 large egg yolks

1 tbsp. unsalted butter

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

In a medium pot, add the sugar, cornstarch, and salt, whisking to combine. While whisking, add 1/4 cup of milk to make a smooth paste is achieved. Add the honey and the rest of the milk, while whisking. Add the egg yolks and whisk to combine.

Turn the heat to medium and cook the pudding, whisking frequently, for about 5-10 minutes, until the pudding just begins to boil. Lower the heat to medium-low and, using a rubber spatula or wooden spoon, begin to constantly stir the pudding. Continue to stir, making sure to scrape the bottoms and sides, for another 5 minutes, or until the pudding has thickened (a way to discern this is if the pudding drizzles atop the pudding without being absorbed into the pudding below). Add the butter and vanilla extract and stir to incorporate.

Pour the pudding through a mesh strainer into a bowl. Once strained, pour the pudding into separate ramekins. You can add plastic wrap to the top to prevent a skin from forming, but I love the skin, so I don’t. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours prior to serving (unless you want to eat it warm!).

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Shrimp and Grits

Shrimp and grits is one of those meals- delicacies, rather- that I never enjoyed until moving to North Carolina. There were a lot of firsts upon entering the South as a formerly-Midwestern girl. I remember the first time I saw the Atlantic ocean, the weekend before moving, staying in a beach-front hotel in Wilmington. The expanse of sand and water was so much greater than what I’d previously known to be a “beach”- the shores of Lake Michigan and the dunes of Northwest Indiana. Not that there’s anything less valuable or beautiful lakeside, but there is something different about salt-water air. I remember that first summer absolutely gasping for air, drowning in the intense humidity, and realizing my hair was actually kind of curly once saturated upon stepping outside. I noticed how much more friendly everyone was, how much more welcoming. I still feel like the South is the most inclusive and comforting of places, a recognition that some may disagree with. But I made such wonderful friends, met such driven yet kind people, and truly relished my time living there. I left for the city life and my Midwest “home” for grad school, but while Chicago is a different kind of excitement and comfort, it doesn’t quite feel right anymore.

I don’t remember the first time I ate shrimp and grits, I think it may have been at a nice restaurant with my family, or maybe a divey yet upscale hole-in-the-wall joint in Chapel Hill; either way, it immediately made a jump to one of my top 10 meals. I used to believe I didn’t like seafood, shrimp occasionally included, but shrimp and grits is definitely an expansion upon its nominative parts. The grits are creamy, cheesy, and indulgent; the shrimp spicy and succulent, usually swimming in a bit of broth with aromatics. It’s comfort food at its finest, and it wasn’t long before I was making it at home.

This version is a bit more elaborate than my usual weeknight shrimp and grits fare. Not that it’s overly labor-intensive, more just that I actually bought all of the ingredients and components I wanted to make it my version of perfect. I more often just throw together some pantry staples, a varying mix of the components listed below. So it’s worth mentioning that this can be prepared more simply, but if you’d really like to blow yourself away, go for the whole shebang.

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Shrimp and Grits

Serves 2 (could easily be doubled for 4)

To prepare grits:

  • 1/2 cup grits (or corn meal)
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 1 cup water, reserved
  • 1/4 cup shredded cheese, a mix of cheddar and monterey jack
  • 1 tbsp. butter
  • 1/2 tsp. smoked paprika
  • 1/4 tsp. salt

To prepare shrimp:

  • ~20 frozen shrimp, peeled and deveined, defrosted
  • 1 tbsp. butter
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 1/2 red bell pepper, sliced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tsp. smoked paprika
  • 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 tsp. red chili flake
  • Salt & pepper, to taste
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1/2 cup chicken stock

1 cup arugula, to serve

To prepare the grits, heat a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring chicken stock and milk, whisked together, to a boil. While whisking, slowly add the grits to the sauce pan. Reduce the heat to low, and continue to whisk the grits into the liquid until somewhat bound, about 2-3 minutes. Cover the sauce pan and simmer over low heat, stirring/whisking regularly, about every 2 minutes. Cook until the liquid is absorbed and the grits have softened. I used a fine corn meal, which cooks through in about 10 minutes. Depending on how coarse your corn meal, it may take longer. If needed, add up to 1 cup of water to thin the consistency as it cooks. I added about a 1/2 cup of water during cooking. Once the grits are finished, add the cheese, butter, and spices/seasonings and whisk to combine. Cover and let rest, removed from the heat.

To prepare the shrimp, heat a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the butter, and, once melted, the minced shallot. Heat the shallots until translucent, about 3-5 minutes. Add the bell pepper and continue to sauté an additional 2-3 minutes, until the pepper has softened. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30-60 seconds. Add the shrimp to the pan, keeping evenly spaced with good contact to the bottom of the pan. Cook the first side for about 1 minute, then flip. Cook the shrimp for an additional minute, then deglaze the pan with the juice of 1 lemon and about 1/2 cup of chicken stock. The liquid should bubble violently and begin to reduce. Stir the shrimp mixture and cook until the liquid has reduced by about half, about 1 minute longer. Remove from heat and set aside.

To serve, scoop the warm grits onto a plate or shallow bowl. Top the grits with about a 1/2 cup of arugula, which will wilt slightly on contact. Add the shrimp, peppers, and aromatics to the grits, and pour some of the pan sauce over the top.

The grits will firm slightly on the outside, but, when attacked with a spoon, will yield that smooth, creamy interior. Devour at will.

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Show Brian this picture and tell me his mouth won’t start watering. You should probably double the recipe.