Cajun Creole Shrimp N’ Grits

I think it’s universally agreed, brunch is the best meal of the weekend. For multiple reasons. Yes, the food is always phenomenal. But what MAKES brunch is the company. It’s always the perfect excuse to pick up the phone and call/text your person. Be it that friend you haven’t seen in forever, that friend you saw literally the night before, or your partner. Food brings people together. Point blank.

I’m always a fan of changing up the brunch routine, trying new places, but sometimes it’s nice to brunch in the comfort of your own home. Bonus, you get to show off your mad culinary skills to your friends/significant other. Also, bottomless mimosas or bloody marys.

Can I be honest with you? For years I hated grits. I mean absolutely loathed. I didn’t get it. Until I had REAL southern grits. They were life changing. Now, I’m pretty much obsessed with recreating the perfect grits. I’m not sure that I’ll ever accomplish this feat, but dang it, I’m gonna keep on trying. I like to change it up between smooth creamy grits and more coarse, but flavor packed grits. This recipe calls for the latter.

Great pairings include: peanut butter and jelly, bacon and eggs, peas in a pod, shrimp and grits. This is my twist on a classic pairing. Creole Cajun Shrimp N’ Grits is chalk full of flavor. The sausage and the bacon make this dish incredibly savory, the combination of spices pack a punch of heat. There’s a new combination of flavors each bite.

The key to this recipe is to let everything simmer low and slow in order to really allow the flavors to meld together. I actually started the “shrimp” portion of this recipe before I started the grits. I start by sautéing the onion in butter, add in the bacon, followed by the andouille sausage. I keep all the access liquid. This will be the catalyst to really make the grits jam-packed with flavor. While the onion, bacon, and andouille simmer and load in the spices and I just let everything live there, in the spices. Note: I do not add the shrimp, yet. No one likes overcooked rubbery shrimp.

Can we take a moment to admire this bacon? Local sourced, smoked bacon. Thick and beautiful.

I want to take a moment to write a love letter. A love letter to this bacon: Dear bacon, I love that you are locally sourced. If local love was not enough, you’re also deliciously smoked. Smokey, bacon goodness. Juicy, smokey, savory goodness. Please never go away. Love, hugs and kisses, yours truly, etc, etc. – Me. If you can find smoked bacon, absolutely go this route. If not, in house, thick cut bacon is the way to go.

Alright, so we have our savory meats simmering, it’s time to get the grits on. These will take some time. I start by bringing the water, heavy cream, and salt to a boil. Add the grits, stir and turn the heat way down. Cover and simmer for twenty minutes. During the last 10 minutes add your shrimp. This will give time for the shrimp to cook and really absorb all the wonderful flavors from the bacon, sausage, and spices.

Once the grits have simmered for twenty minutes, I had several spoonfuls of the liquid from the Cajun Creole shrimp mixture and a healthy amount of butter (because what are southern grits without a ton of butter). Not much else to it other then assembling and garnishing with fresh thyme. And of course stuffing your face with this tasty dish and bottomless bloody marys.

Creole Cajun Shrimp N’ Grits



Cajun Creole Shrimp Ingredients


  • 1lb Shrimp
  • 1 Andouille Sausage
  • 1/4lb Smoked Bacon, diced
  • 1/2 Red Onion, diced
  • 4 tbsp butter
  • 2 tsp finely minced garlic
  • 1 tbsp paprika
  • 1/2 tbsp Cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 tbsp oregano
  • 1/2 tbsp basil
  • 2 tsp dried thyme
  • Kosher salt and black pepper to taste
  • Grits Ingredients

  • 1 cup coarse ground grits
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 4 tbsp butter
  • Salt to taste


Directions


  1. Melt butter in large skillet over medium heat. Once butter is melted, add chopped red onion and garlic. Sauté until softened
  2. Add bacon. Continue to sauté until bacon is mostly cooked. Add sliced andouille sausage
  3. Toss in paprika, cayenne, oregano, basil, thyme, black pepper, and salt. Stir until spices have dissolved. Turn heat down to low
  4. Bring water, heavy cream and salt to a boil. Add grits and stir until combined
  5. Bring mixture back to a boil and then immediately reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes or until access water has dissolved
  6. The last 10 minutes while the grits simmer, add shrimp to the andouille bacon mixture. Turn heat up to medium low. Frequently stir bacon, andouille, and shrimp
  7. Once grits have finished, turn off heat. Add butter and 3 healthy spoonfuls of the liquid mixture from the grits. Stir until butter has dissolved
  8. Once the shrimp are fully cooked (ideally around the same time as you finish up the grits). Dish up grits into a bowl. Top with Cajun Creole Shrimp and a healthy amount of access sauce
  9. Garnish with fresh thyme

Jerk Chicken Tacos with Roasted Verde Salsa

It’s the most magical week day, day of the week. Taco Tuesday. IT’S HERE IT’S TACO TUESDAY! Why do I like Taco Tuesday? The alliteration, the possibility of margs, and the TACOS. What I don’t like about Taco Tuesday? It’s in the middle of the week which makes it a lot more difficult to spend a good amount of time in the kitchen. Tuesday nights I need something quick, tasty, and preferably in taco form.

The trick to keep this dinner is quick, is prepping everything before you start. Seasoning the chicken, cutting up the veggies, etc. I do recommend pickling the red onion at least 1 day in advance in order to really allow all the flavors really take flight. If you don’t, it’s not life-ending. Just make sure this is the VERY first step before you start anything else. You’ll still get a pickled flavor from the red onions, but the won’t be nearly as soft.

Pickled onions are really quite simple. First you’ll want to fetch a jar, or air tight container. Then thinly slice the red onion. I typically cut the red onion into quarters before slicing. One slice from stem to root. The other cut, width-wise. Then with the quarters I start slicing. This creates a nice crescent moon shape. If you have a mandolin you can use this to speed up the process and create more uniform slices. Add the red onions to the jar. On the stove top bring the apple cider vinegar, water, sugar, salt, red pepper flakes, and peppercorns to a boil. Stir until sugar and salt have dissolved. I like to add the red pepper flakes and the cayenne to create some depth and little bit of heat to the pickling process. Then pour over vinegar mixture over red onions. Allow to cool to room temp before putting the lid on. The great part about pickled red onions? They’ll keep for about a month. You can use these for Taco Tuesdays for weeks to come!

Now that you have the red onions pickling, it’s time to move on the chicken and salsa. Preheat oven to 425º. This is quick dry-rub jerk inspired chicken. If it were any other day other than a Tuesday I would do a wet marinade and let the chicken just live in it for the whole day. But it’s Tuesday and it’s dinner time, so I don’t have 6 hours to spare. Combine the cinnamon, dark brown sugar, garlic powder, nutmeg, allspice, ginger, thyme (I grinded the thyme for a more consistent texture) , and cayenne powder.

Thoroughly rub the mixture over the chicken breasts, top bottom, sides. Put chicken breasts on chicken breasts on baking sheet and squeeze fresh lime over top each breast. Set aside.

Roughly cut up tomatillos, yellow onion, and jalapeño pepper. Peel garlic cloves. Add to a baking sheet and lightly toss in olive oil. I would also go ahead and grate the smoked cheddar and set in the fridge until the end.

I forgot to put the jalapeño on the tray until just before I put this tray in the oven.

This is the time saving part. I put the chicken AND the tomatillo mixture into the oven at the same time. Roast the veggies for about 14-15 minutes. The chicken will remain in the oven for roughly another 10-12 minutes for a total of 25-27 minutes.

While the chicken bakes, take the roasted veggie mixture and add to a food processor or blender. Add juice of 1 lime, olive oil, cilantro, salt, and pepper to blender. Cover and pulse until everything is combined, but not completely smooth. You don’t big chunks of anything left behind, but you also don’t want to create a soup. At this point I transferred the verde salsa to a small bowl and put in the fridge to expedite the cooling process. The verde salsa really is no fuss and tasty. The jalapeño adds a little spice and the lime keeps the salsa fresh and crisp.

By this point the chicken should be just about done. You want the chicken to be crispy on the outside but moist on the inside (sorry to anyone out there who hates the word moist..). Remove from baking sheet and transfer to cutting board. Allow chicken to rest for about 5 minutes before cutting.

At this point I heat a skillet (my cast iron, because I’m obsessed with it). Next I toss the tortilla shells on the heated skilled, flipping after about 90 seconds. I don’t add any oil or any other type of liquid to the skillet. The point of this exercise is to a. warm up the shells and b. to char them up slightly. Once they’re all done, I stick them in the warm oven. Note: oven should be off by this point, but still slightly warm.

Next slice the chicken breasts. You can even chop up if you prefer. I like them better sliced, to each their own.

Assemble the tacos, chicken first, roasted verde salsa, pickled red onions, avocado, smoked cheddar, finish with fresh chopped cilantro. There you have it, tasty tacos for Taco Tuesday. I really enjoy the fusion of flavors. The chicken has a great kick to it, the pickled red onions are a little sour and a little sweet. The verde salsa keeps everything fresh and light. Avocado is, well, avocado-y and always tasty. I love smokey flavors which is why I ultimately chose to use smoked cheddar. Taco Tuesday really should be a national holiday. The best part is I didn’t end up using all the chicken. So I whipped up some cilantro-lime rice and packed it for lunch.

Jerk Chicken Tacos with Roasted Verde Salsa



Ingredients


  • 2 chicken breasts
  • 1 red onion
  • 1 cup Apple cider Vinegar
  • 1 cup water
  • 3 tsp sugar
  • 2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp whole peppercorns
  • 1/2 tsp Red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 tsp Cayenne pepper
  • 1lb tomatillos
  • 1/2 yellow onion
  • 1 jalapeño pepper
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 2 limes
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/4 cup loose cilantro (plus some for garnish)
  • 3 tbsp Allspice
  • 2 tbsp Cinnamon
  • 2 tbsp dark brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp ginger
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 tsp ground thyme
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 6 white corn tortillas
  • avocado
  • Shredded smoked white cheddar


Directions


  1. Thinly slice red onion using knife or mandolin. Put onion into a air tight container or jar
  2. In a sauce pan combined apple cider vinegar, water, salt, sugar, red pepper flakes, and peppercorns
  3. Bring to a boil and stir until salt and sugar have dissolved
  4. Pour mixture over onions. Allow mixture to cool before putting lid on. Prepare a day in advance, or before you start anything else
  5. Preheat oven to 425º
  6. In a small bowl, add allspice, cinnamon, brown sugar, garlic powder, ginger, nutmeg, ground thyme, cayenne salt, and pepper to taste. Mix
  7. Rub spice mixture on all sides of chicken breasts. Put on baking sheet. Squeeze 1/2 juice from lime on to chicken breasts. Set aside
  8. Roughly cut up tomatillos, yellow onion, jalapeño pepper. Peel garlic cloves. Add to baking dish and lightly coat in olive oil
  9. Put vegetable mixture and chicken breasts into the oven at the same time
  10. Roast vegetable mixture for about 14-15 minutes, remove
  11. Continue to bake chicken for an additional 10-12 minutes. 25-27 minutes total
  12. Add roasted veggies, juice of 1 lime, olive oil, salt and pepper to blender or food processor. Pulse until everything is well combined, but not completely a liquid. Put in fridge to quickly cool
  13. Remove chicken breasts from oven and transfer to cutting board. Allow to chicken to rest for 5 minutes
  14. Heat skillet with no liquids or oils. Heat tortillas in skillet 90 seconds per side
  15. Put tortillas in oven to keep warm while you slice the chicken
  16. You can slice or chop up the chicken in accordance to your preferences.
  17. Assemble the tacos, shell first, then chicken, verde salsa, pickled red onion, avocado, shredded smoked cheddar, garnish with chopped cilantro

Butternut Squash Alla Vodka Sage Fried Gnocchi

I’m starting to sense a theme. My last post, Tiramisu Brown Butter Brownies, was Italian inspired. This post is also Italian inspired and ALSO involves brown butter. Why? I don’t know. I love brown butter and I LOVE Italian food. Hello, proud Italian girl here. This recipe I wanted to give a classic a twist, but keep it hearty and comforting. Enter the Butternut Squash Alla Vodka Sauce.

What I love about this recipe is it can be easily be vegetarian or vegan friendly by making small adjustments. You can leave off the Prosciutto to make it veggie friendly. To make it vegan substitute butter for olive oil, substitute coconut milk for heavy cream, and leave off the cheese.

Sounds complicated, but I promise, it’s fairly pain free. Plus if you time everything out you can easily have this meal done in well under an hour. Cutting the squash and roasting the squash takes up the most time. PRO TIP: If you can splurge for the pre-cut butternut squash in the produce aisle, DO IT, it will save you prep time.

If you end up getting a whole squash, dice it up into 1/2 inch pieces, this will speed up roasting time. Chop up some fresh rosemary. Toss the squash in some olive oil with the rosemary and some full garlic cloves. Then roast at 425º for 25-30 minutes or until the squash is softened. During this 25 minutes you could: watch a short episode of Letter Kinney, read a chapter of Harry Potter, paint your toenails, or your cat’s toenails, or listen to side A of Bowie’s Diamond Dogs. Really, the options are limitless..or limited to 25 minutes. You will need to pause whatever you’re doing to get your water on the stove for the gnocchi. Take my word for it, you do not want to have to wait around for the water to boil when nearly everything else is done.

Once the squash is done toss the butternut squash, garlic cloves, and vodka, and vegetable broth into a blender. Blend until smooth. Transfer blender contents into a medium sized saucepan. Add cinnamon, paprika, nutmeg, salt and pepper to the sauce and bring to a simmer over medium-low heat. *Note: don’t turn off the oven, you’ll need it again momentarily.

By this point, your water should have come to a boil and you should have added the gnocchi. Cook the gnocchi per the package directions or until they float to the top. Drain and immediately toss with some olive oil to prevent them from sticking.

Now, if you read my previous post on brown butter, you’ll already have some idea of what’s coming next. Add the butter to a large skillet, melt the butter, stirring constantly. Once the butter’s melted, keep it on the stove, keep stirring it. Add the sage leaves. By now you should know how much I love brown butter, but do you know what I love more? SAGE BROWN BUTTER. While you’re busy browning the butter you’ll be infusing it with delicious fresh sage. Bonus: the whole fried sage leaves make for a pretty fancy garnish. Once the sage leaves are fried and crispy and the butter has browned and smells of a sagey-nutty aroma. While you’re busy browning the butter and infusing the sage, make sure to frequently stir your butternut squash sauce. Removed the sage leaves. It’s gnocchi frying time.

BUT WAIT, before you start frying those gnocchi’s there just one more quick thing you need to do. Crisp.up.that.Prosciutto. Just lay the Prosciutto out on a baking pan in a single layer and put in the already heated oven. Easy peasy, lemon squeezey. But don’t actual squeeze any lemon on your Prosciutto. That would be a travesty.

Alright, as I said before, it’s gnocchi frying time. This part is pretty easy too. Just toss the gnocchi into the frying pan and fry baby, fry. Keep on frying until the gnocchi browns and gets a little crispy on the outside.

I ❤ Gnocchi

As you’re finishing up frying the gnocchi, slowly add the heavy cream to the butternut squash sauce. Once this is done, the Prosciutto should be nice and crisp. Plate it all up, fried gnocchi, followed by the butternut squash alla vodka sauce, Prosciutto (you can choose to leave whole or crumble on top), and then garnish with Pecorino cheese and the fried sage leaves.

And voila! You have a fancy, fairly low stress meal that will have your boyfriend, girlfriend, imaginary friend, or dog wowed with your mad culinary skills.

My husband graciously humored me by grating the cheese for these pictures. Thanks hubs.

Butternut Squash Alla Vodka Sage Fried Gnocchi



Ingredients


  • 1 package Gnocchi
  • 1 small-medium butternut squash, or 3 cups chopped
  • 1/2 cup Vegetable Broth
  • 1/2 cup Vodka
  • 1/2cup Heavy Cream (or canned coconut milk if vegan)
  • 4-5 Garlic Cloves
  • 3tbsp fresh chopped rosemary
  • 4tbsp Olive Oil
  • 1tsp Cinnamon
  • 1 1/2tsp Paprika
  • Dash of nutmeg
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • 6tbsp butter (or substitute olive oil if vegan)
  • 6 sage leaves
  • Prosciutto (omit if vegetarian)
  • Pecorino Cheese (omit if vegan


Directions


  1. Preheat oven to 425º
  2. If using whole butternut squash, peel and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
  3. Toss squash with rosemary, garlic cloves, and 4tbsp of olive oil
  4. Spread evenly on baking sheet and roast for 25-30 minutes, or until squash is tender
  5. While the squash roasts, bring a large pan of salted water to a boil, add gnocchi and cook per package instructions
  6. Drain gnocchi and lightly toss with olive oil to prevent sticking
  7. Remove squash from oven and transfer to blender
  8. Add vodka and vegetable broth in with squash and blend until completely smooth
  9. Transfer butternut squash sauce to a medium saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat
  10. In a frying pan, melt 6tbsp of butter over medium heat
  11. Once butter has melted, add sage leaves. Continue to simmer, stirring constantly until butter has browned and the sage is crisp
  12. Remove sage leaves, and set aside for garnish
  13. Spread Prosciutto on baking sheet in a single even layer. Stick pan in oven (still at 425º) for about 10-12 minutes
  14. While Prosciutto is crisping, add gnocchi to frying pan with brown butter
  15. Fry gnocchi until lightly browned
  16. Remove Prosciutto from the oven
  17. Just before removing the butternut squash alla vodka sauce from the stove, slowly add in heavy creamy
  18. Assemble dish with half the gnocchi, followed by butternut squash alla vodka sauce, prosciutto, and then garnish with Pecorino and Fried Sage