February 19, 2020

Dear friends,
In the back of a pickup by the side of the road were two big coolers filled with ice and shrimp. Tony and I had been eyeing the setup for a couple of weekends, after spotting the sign: “Gulf shrimp. $12 a pound.”

A woman in rubber gloves fished out a couple of handfuls of the large beauties, shell-clad and with their heads still on — a pretty good clue that the shrimp were fresh. They were also wild, several rungs up the flavor ladder from the pasty farm-raised crustaceans most of us are used to.

Even before the shrimp made it to our fridge, I was plotting ways to use them. Ultimately I decided to make old-school shrimp scampi but with couscous for heft and wilted fresh arugula from the pot flourishing on my porch. I know you probably don’t have street-corner shrimp vendors or pots of arugula ready for plucking, but this is shrimp season in stores, too, and spinach is a good stand-in for the arugula.

My shrimp scampi couscous takes almost no time to make (about 15 minutes after you peel the shrimp and cook the couscous). Buy shell-on shrimp because they are more flavorful.

This recipe made just enough for Tony and I to split 60/40. Tony ate the lion’s share, then later wolfed down two brioche buns smeared with butter. So if you are a really big eater, you might want to double this. Then again, we don’t call Tony “The Anaconda” for nothing.

SHRIMP SCAMPI COUSCOUS

1 cup pearl couscous
2 tbsp. olive oil
3 large cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp. minced onion
1 cup dry white wine
2 tbsp. butter
3/4 lb. large raw shrimp, peeled and deveined
3 cups packed arugula or spinach, washed
Coarse sea salt

Cook couscous according to package directions and set aside.

Heat olive oil in a wide skillet over medium heat. Sauté garlic and onion until softened. Add wine, raise heat to high and boil until reduced by half. Add butter and stir until melted. Add shrimp and cook 30 seconds, turn with tongs and cook 30 seconds longer.

Add arugula and fold until it starts to wilt. Divide among two plates for entrees or four plates for starters. Sprinkle each portion with coarse salt before serving. Eat with large spoons.

Note: Often I skip deveining shrimp, but the flavors here are delicate enough to warrant removing the vein. And in this dish, I like the way the shrimp curl after deveining.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
A grilled hamburger on a brioche roll with mustard and onions, and sliced tomato with Kewpie mayonnaise and fresh basil; sliced tomatoes with basil, Kewpie mayo and Slap Ya Mama Cajun Seasoning (Tony’s purchase); sizzled ham, melted mozzarella, tomato and basil sandwiches on brioche; tomahawk rib steak, chopped salad, baguette and a Dreaming Tree pinot noir.

What I ate in/from restaurants, etc.:
California roll, beef in puff pastry, a buffalo chicken wing, a fried sugar doughnut, pineapple and melon at Mikata Buffet in Stuart; a grilled mahi-mahi sandwich, slaw and fries with iced tea at the Lazy Loggerhead in Jupiter; a steak and chorizo quesadilla from the Taqueria Solavino taco truck in Hobe Sound; cafe con leche and chicken croquettes from Wow Cuban Cafe in Hobe Sound; a detox smoothie from Tropical Smoothie Cafe; eight oysters on the half shell, a baked stuffed oyster, steamed crawfish, beef in puff pastry and a couple of bites of cheesecake at Mikata Buffet; Jamaican meat pie and lentil soup from the Jupiter El Sol Farmers’ Market.

THE MAILBAG

From Amy G.:
I use cake mixes a lot and when they changed the size I also noticed that my recipes weren’t turning out the same. I called Duncan Hines and they just sent me a bunch of free coupons. I figured out that if I bought two cake mixes of the same kind and added exactly five tablespoons of extra cake mix to one of them, all my recipes were fine again. Then you store the leftover cake mix for future use. I’m thinking that most of the recipes posted use the old size of cake mix. Just a guess. Duncan Hines did tell me that my recipes should be the same with the decrease in size. Not true. Hope this helps.

Dear Amy:
That is about as good an answer to the shrinking cake mix problem as we will get. Thank you for taking the time to help.

From Jill N.:
Do you ever use butter powder? I was given some this past week. As I read about it I am hearing it is very flavorful. I buy my butter from Hartzler Dairy out of Wooster. Just wanted to hear from someone who actually used it.

I grew up next to my granddad’s farm and when he stopped milking, my parents started buying that homogenized stuff. I stopped drinking milk. I do get some a few times a year when we visit some friends that still have milking cows for their family. But I don’t like the taste of the milk you buy at the stores today.

Dear Jill:
Until you wrote, I had never heard of butter powder. If it is indeed flavorful, I will buy some and skip the butterfat. Please let me know. Does anyone else want to chime in?

Your note about raw vs. pasteurized milk took me back to my childhood, when my family visited friends who owned a farm. My brother and I were (and still are) milk lovers, so the woman gave us big glasses of milk fresh from the cow. It freaked me out. While I knew milk came from cows, that glass of fresh milk put too fine a point on it. City kids.

From Bill:
Do any of your Cuban places that you try to visit make a dessert that has flan on the top and a coffee-flavored chocolate cake on the bottom? We had this delight in the Tampa area with a caramel syrup, house-made vanilla bean ice cream and whipped cream doots.

Dear Bill:
Really? Really? You are killing me. I want it now and will scour Florida until I find it. And I will feel awful after I eat it because I gave up sugar, remember?

From Chris O.:
Your question about what to do with cacao nibs reminded me of a chocolate seminar I went to in 2013 at a preventative medicine practice. The handout I got tells you everything you ever wanted to know, and more, about cacao and nibs. I forgot about grinding nibs in with my coffee. Gotta try that one. Here’s the gist of the cacao nibs info:

“Raw cacao nibs are what is found if you crack open a raw cacao bean. They have a pleasant strong, dark, bitter chocolate flavor. Sprinkle them over breakfast cereal, grind them into a powder using a coffee grinder, mix them with goji berries and raisins for a trail mix or blend them into smoothies. Grind with coffee beans in making coffee.”

From William B.:
If I could afford cocoa nibs, I would make a white chocolate fudge and stir the nibs in like nuts. I might also add chopped chocolate-covered espresso beans to it, too — as a surprise.

From Chris R.:
I LOVE the added crunch of cocoa nibs in my favorite chocolate chip cookies. My son adds nibs to his smoothies.

Dear readers:
Thanks for all of the suggestions. About 10 years ago, a chocolate company sent me an unbranded packet of nibs and asked me to let them know if I figured out a use for them. I was busy and didn’t get around to it. Better late than never, eh?

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