Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The Sous-Chef Shrimp

Odd Toddler rarely gets to eat dinner with us any longer, which takes some of the entertainment value out of dinnertime but which makes it much easier to clean up afterwards. The odd one crashes at 7:00 every evening, after an early evening snack of fruit, yogurt, and (ugh) jelly beans. The problem is that The Carnivore and I never seem to make it to the dinner table any earlier than 8:30. This wasn't the case for the past few years, but we seem to be reverting to our old ways now that life is returning to normal (read: we no longer have a helpless little baby in charge of the schedule).

Life with toddlers is much more fun than life with newborns, though I would give my right arm to actually HAVE another newborn in our lives, and every day seems like an adventure now. It may take an hour to pick up three items at the grocery store, since we have to stop and get a free balloon, pick out a gumball, discuss the different tomatoes, talk about spices, say hello to the lobsters in the tank, etc; but I much more enjoy simple, annoying chores like grocery shopping now that I get it to see everything through the eyes of a two-year-old. He really gets off on going to Walmart (my idea of Hell), and filling up the car with gas can provide endless entertainment. But lately, the little guy has taken more of an interest in cooking, and he'll knock me down to be the one who gets to pulse the sauce in the food processor, or scoop the coffee into the French Press, or even to carry the vegetables from the refrigerator to the chopping block.

I'm loving it. All of it.

Sometimes, when I'm stirring something on the stove and dicking around with the final seasonings, I will sit Odd Toddler on the counter and hold out the wooden spoon to get his opinion. Taste tests are his favorite part about cooking, and he watches me carefully to make sure he does his part correctly. He'll lean over the spoon, sniffing it carefully and trying to make appropriate noises. Then he'll take the smallest taste, smack his lips together, swallow, and exuberantly proclaim, "That's YUMMY for me, mom!"

So of course its mildly disappointing that Odd Toddler rarely gets to sit down with The Carnivore and I at dinnertime and discuss the meal with us. Because of course we discuss every aspect of every meal, deciding whether or not a new recipe is a keeper, whether there is enough salt or if another herb or spice might be lacking, which ingredients might be tweaked, and so on. And every night The Carnivore makes my efforts worthwhile when he thanks me for a delicious dinner (even if we analyzed the final result to within an inch of its life and deemed it not entirely delicious after all). Its nice to be appreciated.

I've been on a new-recipe-every-night kind of kick lately, and have found the time to pore over some new cookbooks and get some quality time with my cooking magazines. Variety can be difficult within our self-imposed dietary restrictions, so I'm always looking for new riffs on pasta dishes, and I enjoy adding seafood to our meals once or twice a week as a way to appease The Carnivore's desire for flesh on his plate without his having to succumb to his disgusting red meat cravings. For the past couple of weeks, I have eyed a Creamy Cajun Shrimp Linguine recipe from the September issue of Cooking Light magazine, but there were a few elements of the recipe that gave me pause and it took me a while to get up the nerve to give it a shot. I finally went for it on Monday evening, and The Carnivore and I were very pleasantly surprised (Big Mama claims its her new favorite). The flavors were simple yet tasty, the texture was great and the overall look and taste of the dish was restaurant-quality, but the dish was amazingly quick and easy to prepare. Most surprising though is how rich and creamy the sauce tastes, while being quite healthy and relatively low-fat. Maybe its time to quit dissing Cooking Light all the time. The only tweaks I made were switching vegetable broth for the chicken broth, using whole-wheat noodles instead of icky white ones, upping the butter a little, and doubling the Cajun seasoning measurement.

CREAMY CAJUN SHRIMP LINGUINE (serves 3, adapted from Cooking Light)
  • 1 cup water
  • 14 oz vegetable broth
  • 6 oz whole-wheat linguine noodles
  • 1 lb medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 3 Tbs unsalted butter
  • 8-oz sliced mushrooms
  • 1 large red bell pepper, cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices
  • 2 tsps all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsps Cajun seasoning (I used Emeril's Bayou Blast)
  • 1/4 tsp kosher salt
  • 2/3 cup half-and-half
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  1. Combine 1 cup water and broth in a Dutch oven; bring to a boil.
  2. Break pasta in half; add to pan. Bring mixture to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer for 8 minutes.
  3. Add shrimp to pan. Cover and simmer for 3 minutes or until shrimp are done; drain.
  4. Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add mushrooms and pepper to pan; saute 4 minutes or until moisture evaporates.
  5. Add flour, seasoning, and salt to pan; saute 30 seconds.
  6. Stir in half-and-half; cook 1 minute or until thick, stirring constantly. Remove from heat.
  7. Toss together the sauce, the pasta and shrimp, and the parsley.


Carolyn said...

Hi there! I came to your blog from BigMama's.

This recipe sounds yummy, so I want to make sure I get it right. In step 3, it says to add shrimp to the pan. Do you mean that the shrimp gets dumped into the pan with the pasta and the pasta water?
Also, can you describe Bayou Blast's container so that I'll know what I'm looking for? Do I find it on the spice aisle at the grocery store?

I'd greatly appreciate any help you can offer. Thanks!

Sarah (Foodie-in-Training) said...

Hi Carolyn,

Yeah- that thing about adding the shrimp to the pasta water really bothered me, and that's why I almost didn't make the recipe. But it worked. You just dump the shrimp in with the pasta and pasta water in the final couple minutes of cooking. Works great, saves a pan, and helps flavor both the shrimp and the pasta.

Bayou Blast and Emeril's other spice blends can be found in the spice aisle at the grocery store. Publix carries them, and some Walmarts do too (Kroger may carry them as well, but I'm boycotting Kroger's prices and haven't been in there in a while). They're colorful small round plastic containers, with Emeril's big head plastered across the front of them, along with his loopy signature. We also like his Steak Rub and Fish Rub (the steak rub is a little saltier than the fish rub).

Anonymous said...

Help! Got any ideas about a substitute for Half-and-half? Between my husband's easily clogged arteries and the gastric distress that milk products produce (STINKY,LOUD FARTS)I need a replacement. I can only move so quickly around a classroom and only blame so many stinks on my third graders.

Sarah (Foodie-in-Training) said...

Emily C,
I run out of half-and-half all the time, and have had fairly decent luck with substituting plain soy milk in many cases (though I haven't tried it yet with this recipe). Obviously, vanilla soy milk would be crappy here, and the "light" soy milk isn't thick enough. The beauty of soy milk is that it tends to be thicker than cow milk anyway, so you don't lose out on the creaminess factor from half-and-half(and you shouldn't lose out on the fart factor either - would be a shame to let the third graders off the hook). When soy milk isn't creamy enough on its own, a little added flour can help.

Linda B. said...

Hi Sarah,
I am a reader of yours mom's blog so check in on yours often. This recipe sounds very good. Maybe even I could attempt a try at it! Thank you for sharing it!
Love your writing!
Linda in MN