BACK TO NORMAL – WELL, AS NORMAL AS IT GETS AROUND HERE

December 31 – January 6, 2019

annie and hilda (2)

Annie and Hilda at Annie and Dennis’s New Year’s Eve Party – Hidla had just received either the life-time achievement award or the award for best actress.  I forget which, but I think it involved Aunt Pat’s pin

Monday                       New Year’s Eve at Dennis and Annie’s – Great food, great drink, great house, world-class friends

Tuesday:                      New Year’s Day at Janice and John’s – forgot to take pictures of this hilarious dinner during which Nancy and Beez told us all as much as anyone could ever want to know about Briarcliff.  Well, they probably kept back some of the crazier things, since I was there.

polenta soup

Wednesday:                Polenta Soup with Crispy Pancetta and Kale / Naked Pizza

Thursday:                    To Philadelphia; Dinner at Savona with Mauri and Lindsey – good food, superb company

shrimp and grits 1

Friday:                         Shrimp and Grits

beez and hilda

Hilda and Beez

Saturday:                     Hilda and Tim’s – Iron Born Pizza (Lawrenceville)

rosie and patsy

The picture of the chicken was hideous – Billy would have been critical.  Here are Rosie and Patsy from the Cestra’s New Year’s Eve bash

Sunday:                       Crispy Mustard Chicken and Frisée

As you can see, we didn’t really return to normal until after I got back from Philadelphia.  We have, simply, the grartest bunch of friends anyone could wish for.  But now we’re well into the daily grind and if you are, here are some tips that might help.

I don’t know how many of you face the task of cooking every day.  There’s no denying that it is a challenge.  But, depending on how you approach it, one that can give great joy or, conversely, great aggravation.  Now, ask yourself which you would prefer to have in your life – constant aggravation or constant inspiration.

I thought so.  Look, I’m not denying that there are days when I’m so busy or so weary or just so interested in something else that I would rather not cook.  But, honestly, to hear Beez or Billy or Andrew or Emily or Greg or Hilda or Kelly or Mike tell me that something tastes great – even if they tend to exaggerate, as kind people generally do – is worth any expenditure of energy.

Here are a few secrets that keep me happy, organized and effective.

The first is very simple – just draw up a list of menus for every day for the next week.  I do this on Sunday.  Don’t kill yourself over this – and understand that time, missing ingredients, sudden guests, hurricanes, earthquakes, Armageddon and, of course, knee replacement operations, may force you to change your plans.  To create my list I find it useful to burrow into good cookbooks (I’m channeling Ina Garten’s new cookbook just now) and to flip through Milk Street or bon appétit, or to look at the recipes in the NYT or the WSJ or the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and sometimes I just try to recreate good restaurant meals or good meals we’ve had at friends’ homes.

Now you have your menus in place – a direction for the week – and that vast, uncharted area “what am I going to cook tonight?” is illuminated and reduced to manageable proportions.

The second task – buying groceries – is considered a terrible burden by many people.  And, of course, you can now order groceries to be delivered to your home or to your car in the parking lot.  But, here’s my advice:  go into the store and pick out the produce and everything else, yourself.    Just leave enough time so that you can relax and enjoy the experience.  Take the time to observe the people who, when you’re in a hurry, merely get in your way, but now that you’ve calmed down, you realize are simply trying to do what you are doing – put together a good meal and feed family and friends.  You might even learn something, if you listen to their orders to the butcher.

The last thing to do is to schedule (each day) when you need to start prepping and when to thaw out the shrimp, or put the butter out to soften, or marinate the chicken.  And then you can get on with the rest of your life and turn your attention to cooking only at the end of your busy, productive day.

From there on in, it’s pretty smooth sailing if you’ve been cooking as long as I have.  It also helps to have a good on-line music source to carry you through the menial tasks involved in cooking or cleaning.  Having a dog who will help you by eating anything that you accidentally drop on the floor is also useful, though not strictly necessary.

Now that you are prepared to handle the responsibility of cooking for your family in a sane manner, here’s a recipe that made Beez very happy last week.  And that made my day.

shrimp and grits 2

SHRIMP AND GRITS

(adapted from a recipe in Ina Garten’s Cook Like a Pro)

Ina cooks the shrimp shells with some tomato paste to create a sauce.  We did not – this is a quick weeknight adaptation – some weekend we may try the fish broth sauce.  Ina also uses instant polenta – we used the real stuff – it doesn’t take any more time than “instant” (I know, that’s confusing – but it’s 25 minutes whichever you use.)

Timing:                        35 minutes if your shrimp is thawed (add 30 minutes, if not)

Ingredients:

1 Cup of Stone-Ground Grits
4 Cups of water
3 Tablespoons of butter
2 Cups of grated Sharp Cheddar Cheese
1 pound of shrimp, peeled and deveined, leaving the tails on
3 or 4 slices of thick-cut bacon – 6 slices of the thin stuff [Ina uses less, but then, she has the shrimp and tomato-paste sauce]
Lemon Juice to taste (2-4 teaspoons)
Handful of chopped parsley
4 thinly-sliced scallions
Salt and Pepper

[Note:  Ina uses hot sauce, which probably works with her shrimp broth and tomato paste – we left it out]

Prep: 

Thaw out shrimp, then let sit in salted water in refrigerator for 20 minutes and then dry off well(This is our own approach to getting nicely plump shrimp)

Measure out grits and water

Slice bacon and scallions

Chop parsley

Halve lemon

Cook:

Bring the water to a boil, then add salt and pepper.  Now add the grits, whisking constantly for a minute or so.  Cook until grits are soft and water is incorporated, probably 20 minutes.  Remove from the heat and stir in the butter and the cheese.

Fry the bacon in a large skillet until browned (you’ll be using this for the shrimp).  Remove to a paper-towel-lined plate, but leave the grease in the pan.

Add the shrimp to the hot grease and cook until pink, turning once.  Add the lemon juice, bacon, parsley, scallions and some minced garlic if you wish (we didn’t).  Sauté this mixture for about 3 minutes.

Serve:

Spoon some grits into a serving bowl.  Add the shrimp mixture on top.  Enjoy.  (More New Year’s Eve Pictures below)

julie and dennis

Julie and Dennis (our host)

steven and annie

Stephen and Annie (our hostess)

katie and dave

Katie and Dave

ceil and beez

Ceil and Beez

 

 

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