Cleanin’ Out My Cabinets: Head-On Shrimp

This will serve as a nice light post in between relatively large posts.  This was ready to be posted last Friday but I forgot until today.  I’m just happy to be getting some posts out during the holiday season since I’ve averaged about one post a December since I started this thing.  I believe in family time and unplugging the computer during the holidays which is why I like to post minimally.

YeeeeeeeeeeeOK, Pete!!!  I open more text messages than presents on Christmas morning.  I love technology and I’m just lazy about posting.

First, lets clarify that this post has nothing to do with the most infuriating, repetitive, and, as a result, memorable ad from the past five years:

Instead, I am trying to make clear the difference between a standard grocery store shrimp and what I cooked for this post: fresh shrimp, caught in the Gulf of Mexico, never frozen, and with the head left on.

Yeah, sooooo not my picture. Forgot to take some initial shots before cooking as usual

Most shrimp you get in the grocery store or even a fish market is previously frozen and partially cleaned (head removed and deveined) before you buy it.  Even worse is when it’s all of those things then cooked and refrozen.  I love using frozen raw shrimp as an ingredient, but the true flavor of shrimp barely exists with the head and shell taken away.  It’s like the difference between a chicken breast and a bone-in chicken thigh; both can be delicious, but only one really tastes like chicken.

I discovered the fresh head-on shrimp at the fish market on my last visit to Naples and couldn’t wait to get my hands on it again.  This time around as part of a progressive (read spaced out, random, small plates) dinner on our last night in Naples for Thanksgiving.  On the menu: stone crab claws, a pseudo Thai-style shrimp, and fish tacos with our haul from a fishing trip the day before.  I’ve covered most of these items previously, so let’s skip right to the shrimp prep.

I started with 7-8 cloves of garlic, half a red onion, a few baby carrots, a rib of celery, and some leftover ham in the mini-prep.

Mmmmm, ham mirepoix.  There needs to be a term for mirepoix or holy trinity + salty pork.  It's the base for almost anything delicious

Mmmmm, ham mirepoix.  There needs to be a term for mirepoix + garlic and salty pork.  It’s the base for almost anything delicious.  Moving forward with this blog I think I will be referring to it as “mirepete”.  So, um, write that down or something

With a few spins in each direction, the ingredients were coarsely chopped and a relatively uniform size.  I heated up a couple tablespoons of olive oil and a couple tablespoons of chili oil in a pot before dumping the contents of the mini prep in (the mirepete).  After a few minutes, the garlic and the sugar in the ham started to brown and I seasoned with a little curry powder, salt, and pepper.

Pork fat makes everything taste better, which is going to be an overwhelming and obnoxious;y persistent aspect of next week's post

Pork fat makes everything taste better, which is going to be an overwhelming and obnoxiously persistent aspect of the holiday dinner mega-post I got in queue

At this point I added a dark beer (it was actually an Odouls, still working through the backlog from Kristi’s pregnancy a year and a half later) and let it boil down for 5-10 minutes.  Once it had reduced by about half, I added a can of coconut milk and let it heat to a low simmer.

I can usually maintain this level of a simmer for 3-4 seconds, especially on an electric range, before it either goes back to cold or a raging boil.  Still haven't figured out the stovetop, will get the hang of it within 20-30 years

I can usually maintain this level of a simmer for 3-4 seconds, especially on an electric range, before it either goes back to cold or a raging boil.  Still haven’t figured out the stovetop, will get the hang of it within 20-30 years I’m thinkin’

After a few minutes of simmering, the coconut milk was well blended with the reduced beer and chili oil.

Completely unable to slow this process.  I've come to accept that this is Pete's version of a low simmer

Completely unable to slow this process. I’ve come to accept that this is Pete’s version of a low simmer

After a quick rinse under some tap water, I uncerimoniously dumped just under two dozen large head-on shrimp into the pot.

That's some trademark Pete cooking right there.  Dump some sh*t in, hold off on stirring so a phot can be snapped, then realize I've already overcooked the bottom-most item

That’s some trademark Pete cooking right there.  Dump some sh*t in, hold off on stirring so a photo can be snapped, then realize I’ve already overcooked the bottom-most item

After a quick stir to make sure every shrimp was covered in the liquid, the heat went up and everything boiled together for about 3 minutes.  After doing a quick check for firmness (three minutes was probably too long), I pulled the pot off the heat and stirred in a handful of chopped basil.

These shrimp were way bigger than the last one I bought at the same market.  I just said two pounds, not a size.  I decided to blame any over-doneness on the size since I had no other scapegoats

These shrimp were way bigger than the last ones I bought at the same market.  I just said two pounds, not a size.  I decided to blame any over-doneness on the size since I had no other scapegoats

Next step was plating and as usual I made some ungodly effort to dress things up.  It was pathetic as expected, with each dish getting three shrimp with barely attached heads and a hefty spoonful of the broth they cooked in.

Out of focus or not, just looks like some random piles of shrimp shells in someone's nice dishes

Out of focus or not, just looks like some random piles of shrimp shells in someone’s nice dishes.  Whatever, I see the potential deliciousness in things normal people may not.  At least that’s how I justify pausing and contemplating next to uneaten sausage links on room service trays outside stranger’s hotel rooms

Served with a flourish of dramatically placed basil as a garnish.

Awwwwww yeeeaaahhhhh, Pete!  Put that leaf there!  Show the world what you got!

Awwwwww yeeeaaahhhhh, Pete!  Put that leaf there!  Show the world what you got!

Eating shrimp like this is pretty sloppy, and there really isn’t a delicate way to do it.  Your only choice is to make a mess shelling the coconut milk and chili oil coated shrimp by hand, but I promise it is well worth it.

The shrimp itself doesn’t take on a lot of the chili and coconut milk flavor, but you can dip in the broth remaining in the bowl.  The combination of the rich sweetness and the spicy oil works so awesome with shrimp, and the broth actually tastes of shrimp since the heads and legs have boiled in it.

Speaking of the heads, the best part of head-on shrimp is sucking on the heads after you separate them from the bodies.  There’s only a little meat and shrimp fat to be had, but the flavors of the boil end up concentrated in the head area.  It tastes a little like mild fish liver, but also with a strong sweet shrimp flavor.  Definitely not for everyone, but if you eat lobster roe and tomalley or enjoy the flavor in the body of soft shell crabs, you will enjoy gnawing on some shrimp heads.

Might break this next mega post up into a couple posts with a few days in between.  You must be so excited.

Pete’s Recipes: “Not too much” Chili

The five soups/stews in my rotation for Souper Sundays (the adorable name I use for making a massive amount of food before the work week) are: chicken vegetable, mushroom barley, hambone, roasted vegetable, and chili.  The first four have been covered to varying degrees on this blog, but I’ve never talked much about my chili so I figured it was time to address it.  Also, I didn’t want to do two WCIC posts back to back so this was the only alternative.

I love chili and the best part is that it will be good with pretty much any meat you have in your fridge.  However, over the years I’ve found myself incapable of making a reasonable amount of chili and always end up with a ridiculous amount that I could never finish.

With painstaking precision and effort, I’ve finally figured out how to make enough chili for exactly five large, filling lunch portions.  It’s not traditional, and has a couple odd ingredients, but at least you won’t end up with extra frozen chili in your freezer that nobody would ever willingly eat.

Here’s what you’ll need:
1 medium onion
3 tbsp chopped garlic (about 5-6 cloves)
1 tbsp olive oil
1.5-2 lbs meat
2 tbsp chili powder
1/2 tbsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tbsp cumin powder
1/2 tbsp onion powder
1/2 tbsp garlic powder
2 beef bouillon cubes
12 oz beer
28 oz can crushed tomatoes
1 can black or pinto beans (drained and rinsed)
1 cup frozen corn kernels
salt & black pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 325F and heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large oven-safe pot with a heavy lid or a medium dutch oven (I use ‘lil blue).  Once the oil is hot, add the chopped onions and garlic.

When you do this you should stir the onions and oil together, not just leave them all piled up on one side, k?  Sometimes I wonder what would happen if you didn’t have me in your life.  Piles of half burned, half raw onions, that’s what!

Once the onions have cooked for 5-10 minutes and become a bit translucent, add in 1.5 to 2 pounds of meat.  It doesn’t really matter what you use for this recipe, I generally use ground turkey or chicken or both, but in this case I used a little leftover cubed pork tenderloin and some freezer burned chuck steak.

Most chili-diehards would say that the ingredients I use aren’t part of a real, traditional Texas chili.  My counterpoint would be that I use a wooden spoon, so it must be pretty traditional

Season with salt and pepper to taste and brown the meat, stirring regularly.  After a few minutes there should be some liquid that has cooked off in the base of the pot and the meat should no longer have any red or pink on it.  Add the cayenne pepper and the onion/garlic/cumin/chili powders, then stir well to completely coat all of the meat.

A good sniff of the contents of the this pot would likely cause some coughing and sneezing, but the spiciness gets well distributed and becomes way more mild than it smells once the other ingredients come in

After a few minutes of cooking the meat, onions, and garlic with the seasoning, pour in 12-16 ounces of beer.  I like to go on the 16 end of the spectrum especially if there is more meat, but it means you will have to drink the rest of the beer.  Cry me a friggin’ river.

Once the beer is in the pot, raise the burner temperature to high and heat until the liquid starts to bubble.  Then throw in those two bouillon cubes that you didn’t understand why they were on the ingredients list.

Dats some good bubblin’.  The wooden spoon stayed in most of the shots just to remind people of my chili street cred

The bouillon cubes mostly came out of a plan to compensate for the lack of meaty flavor when using turkey or chicken in chili.  So I tried a couple bouillon cubes, and when combined with beer it was basically like adding a half carton of beer flavored beef broth.  Certainly not a bad thing.

Once the liquid reduces by about a quarter, add in the can of crushed tomatoes and stir well.

I used to hate chili because I couldn’t stand warm tomatoes; soups, sauces, anything.  Got over that in my late teens.  Sometimes these little stories about overcoming my strong opinions on food make me sound far less like the stubborn jackass that I actually am

Once the tomatoes are well stirred in and heated up a bit, put the lid on and place in the preheated 325F oven for two hours.  I recommend you spend that time closing the doors to ever room that contains clothing in your apartment and putting all of the jackets in the closet, unless you want to smell like the kid who is cooking chili in his pants.

After two hours you can remove from the oven and take the lid off.

I love this part of the oven-cooked chili/bolognese/baked beans process.  Always looks so angry, spicy and thick until you stir together and make sense of it all.  Or at least that’s how I think about it

Add the can of fully rinsed beans and the cup of corn.

The biggest issue with every insistent traditional chili advocate (frigginjerkBrotherTim included) is that if you’ve ever had chili with corn in it you would never ever go back.  It’s just better

After a good stir, the lid goes back on and the pot heads back into the oven for another hour.  Which will leave you with this:

Thick chili is the only kind of chili worth eating, no one wants chili soup.  Type that up in a word document and save it on your desktop with the file name, “important stuff from pete.doc”.  Thx

Once it comes out of the oven, you can take the lid off and put the pot over medium heat for few minutes if there is excess liquid you’d like to cook off.  You can also taste and make any last minute seasoning adjustments you see fit.  I occasionally add a couple spoonfuls of brown sugar to give a hint of contrasting sweetness, which is a nice touch in chili I think.

That recipe should make about 7-8 cups of thick and hearty chili, great as a lunch or even better as a nacho topping.  The best part of chili is that you could add any of the leftovers in your fridge and likely make it even better.  And, as always, just remember that I have no idea what I am talking about and what I am doing so the last thing you should do is follow a recipe I made up.

Cleanin’ out my Cabinets: Post Summer Purge

I’m sorry Kristi,  I never meant to hurt youuu, I never meant to make you cry, but tonight, I’m cleanin’ out the cabinets. – Eminem (or something)

As mentioned previously, Kristi and I spent the summer living in Boston.  We lived in a sublet near our old apartment while I had an internship between the first and second year of my MBA program.  When we returned to Philly, all of the supplies we had purchased for our two months in Boston came back with us and overloaded our minimal cabinet space.  To make things worse, our freezer was completely packed with everything frozen over the previous year plus leftovers from our stint in Boston.  It quickly got under my skin and I made it my mission to make use of as much of it as I could, as soon as possible.

First up, one of those marinated pork tenderloins.

There is something about Hormel food products that I find incredibly unappetizing

I hate these effing things but Kristi occasionally buys them.  The marinade is always too strong, really salty, and unpleasant tasting.  I wanted to get rid of as much of that marinade flavor as possible while adding in some new ones.  I started out with sauteed onions in the Le Creuset then turned up the heat and browned the outside of the tenderloin.

I love this le creuset dutch oven. The best part of getting married is the kitchen equipment. And, I guess, the marriage too

After browning both sides, I removed the tenderloin and deglazed the bottom of the pot with a healthy pour of sherry, then added mushrooms and sage.

Loved the smells as these items simmered together, but it really stinks up a one bedroom apartment

After the ingredients simmered for a few minutes together, the tenderloin went back into the pot with some chicken stock, and the pot went into the oven for about an hour. While it was cooking I mixed zucchini and brown rice to serve as a bed for the sliced tenderloin and sauce.

Bland looking, but thats why you need a lot of salt and pepper in 'der

When the tenderloin came out, I sliced it and reduced the braising liquid.  A decent dinner.

I never said this would be a good post, its mostly just me making dinner

Next up was a concerted effort to take down equal parts freezer and cabinets but definitely needed a few fresh ingredients.  You know, to make it less gross.

I made the decision to do a spinach pie while sitting in Consumer Behavior.  Very interesting class, but unlike Wednesdays when I spend the down moments checking to see who got picked up in fantasy football, it was an iphone activity-less Monday.  So I thought about food and what I wanted to do with food.  Here’s where I started:

Title: a bunch of stuff purchased in bulk at Costco. Alt title: things I never owned in my 20's.

A few chicken breasts went into the oven to bake while the spinach thawed and I sauteed diced carrots and garlic.  Once the garlic and carrots cooked, they were mixed with the thawed and drained spinach and the can of mushroom soup.

Mixing a can of soup in your food is a very grandma move, so just think of me as your DB grandma. Actually, forget that, that doesn't work at all

Add two cubed chicken breasts, some egg beaters and a little flour.

The rare in-progress shot. I never remember to take these

Mixed together with salt and pepper and into a pyrex to bake for 30 minutes.

I knew I would like this. Not so sure about anyone else, but it is right up my alley

Served the finished product by the firm(ish) spoonful with some roasted carrots.

Maybe the carrots were a little bit more charred than I wanted, but browned carrots with lots of salt, pepper and herbs de provence are freaking delicious

To complete the freezer cleanout, I went to my old go-to: kitchen sink chili.  I had about a pound and a half of pulled pork leftover from last fall and two containers of frozen chili (probably made from 2008 leftovers).  The pulled pork browned in a pot with some smashed garlic.

The pulled pork held up remarkably well in the freezer

The chili, not so much. Had a lot of ice that needed to be scraped off

Once the pulled pork had browned a while I added chicken stock, V8, and lots of cayenne/cumin/chili powder.  The goal was to get the liquid level high enough to put the two chili ice cubes in.

just enough liquid for the...

...chili ice cubes. Very gross looking, glad Kristi didn't see this part

Once the cubes melted I added another can of black beans and the chili eventually came together well.

When I tasted it at this point, I felt like it needed a little more spice, so I acted accordingly

After simmering for a couple hours, it was ready to eat.  And that added spice was pretty apparent.

Thats the color of angry chili. I had to crumble up some biscuits to make it edible for Kristi and a few friends

The end goal of all of this was accomplished, because my freezer now looks like this:

Those two pork shoulders on the right will be showing up on this blog sometime soon

Kristi and I are heading to Boston for the long weekend and I am going to hit up Hi Lo for some football sunday inspiration.  Next week’s post should be back to the adventurous type of cooking that I prefer to write about on this blog.