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avocado and shrimp wonton baskets

When entertaining, I like to make appetisers that err on the side of healthy.  I also make sure there’s a mix of food while being cognizant of the dietary restrictions our guests might have.  Last month I made wonton noodle soup but only used half the wonton wrappers; the rest I froze.  There’s always a bag or two of shrimp in the freezer and I usually have an avocado on hand.  This recipe is easy to make and in roughly 10 minutes you can have the filling completed by the time the wonton baskets are cooked and cooled.   Continue Reading →

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Shrimp Kebabs with Cilantro Dressing

shrimp kebabs with cilantro dressingLife is strange. I can’t recall the last time I made kebabs and yet in the space of two days I made two kebab dishes. I hadn’t planned it that way; it just happened. While I was food shopping the other day, not sure what I was going to make for dinner, I found myself hankering for grilled shrimp.  It was that simple, dinner was sorted but now I needed to think of a sauce that would enhance the shrimp but not overpower it. I had just passed the aisle where the cilantro (coriander) was and felt a Thai-infused dressing would be perfect for the shrimp kebabs. Continue Reading →

Shrimp on Polenta Rounds with Sun-Dried Tomato Relish

It was one of those days. I needed some sort of dinner inspiration (read nudge) and feeling too lazy to leave the house (I had already been out), I leaned forward to inspect the contents of the fridge and noticed a jar of sun-dried tomatoes right at the back.  I usually keep these sort of condiments closer to the front…things in the back tend to get lost or worse, have gone past their expiry and start growing some interesting fungus within!   I had shrimp in the freezer and polenta (cornmeal) in the pantry.  These would go perfectly with sun-dried tomatoes but I needed to ‘spice’ up the tomatoes – just a bit.  Sun-dried tomato relish, of sorts, sprang to mind.  After surveying the contents of the refrigerator, I finally felt I had enough ingredients to pull it all together.

shrimp on polenta rounds with sun-dried tomato relish by The Culinary ChaseAs tempting as it might be to pick up store-bought polenta, consider making your own.  It is easily made and takes 20 to 30 minutes to cook.  When its finished, add butter, chopped herbs and cheese for optimum flavoring.  Pour polenta onto a greased plate and let cool.  When it’s cool, it’s ready and can be used as a base for pizza, cut into polenta fries, grilled etc.  Once you make it you’ll find it difficult to go back ready-made.  For more home made polenta recipes, click here.

Serves 4 to 6 as a side

8 to 12 medium-sized  shrimp, peeled and sautéed until pink and golden (keep warm)
firm polenta (already cooked), cut into rounds
1 cup sun-dried tomatoes (oil-packed), drained and chopped
handful fresh parsley, chopped
1 garlic, minced
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
splash of olive oil
small shallot, minced
1/4 teaspoon chili pepper flakes

  1. In a bowl combine relish ingredients. Allow to sit 15 to 20 minutes to allow flavors to develop.
  2. Preheat broiler.
  3. Cut polenta into 3-inch rounds using a cookie cutter or the top of a glass. Spray olive oil on the top and bottom of each polenta round. Place on a baking tray and broil until tops are bubbling and starting to brown. Remove from Oven.
  4. Arrange a spoonful or so of sun-dried tomato relish on top of the polenta round topped with shrimp.  Drizzle with juice, if any, from the relish.

shrimp on polenta rounds by The Culinary ChaseThe Culinary Chase’s Note:  The relish ingredients are easily tweaked to suit your own palate.   Enjoy!

Shrimp and Cheesy Grits

Shrimp & Cheesy Grits by The Culinary ChaseWhat are grits?  There doesn’t seem to be a standardization or labeling rules as to what grits are and are they the same as polenta or cornmeal?  If you look at Bob’s Red Mill bag of corn grits you’ll notice it says also known as polenta.  Grits are typically coarse-ground cornmeal. Polenta and grits fall under the heading of cornmeal – are you confused yet?  Cornmeal comes from steel ground dried corn (maize) and is available fine, medium or coarse grind.  The most common is fine ground.  Stone ground cornmeal, however, keeps some of the hull and germ, allowing for a bit more flavor and nutrition.  My take? When all else fails, select medium or coarse-ground cornmeal and you can’t go wrong.

Serves 4
inspired by Soul Patrol

Grits Topping –
2 cloves garlic, chopped
handful fresh basil, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
1 to 2 cups chicken stock
2 tablespoons flour
6 strips bacon
16 shrimp
1/2 cup celery, finely chopped
fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons chopped chives
chopped parsley, for garnish
balsamic vinegar reduction (optional)

Cheese Grits –
4 cups water
1 cup stone-ground grits
2 cups aged cheddar cheese, grated
2 tablespoons butter

coarse-ground cornmeal by The Culinary Chase1. To make the grits bring water to a boil and slowly add grits, stir. Turn heat down to medium and cook, stirring occasionally 25 minutes or until thick. Remove from heat and add butter and cheese. Stir until combined. Cover.
2. In a large frying pan, cook bacon to desired liking.  Remove from pan and roughly chop.  In the same pan with bacon fat, sauté shrimp over medium-high heat until pink on both sides.  Remove from pan.
3. Add sun-dried tomatoes, celery and garlic. Sauté over medium heat 2 minutes or until celery is al dente. Add shrimp and bacon back to pan along with 2 tablespoons flour. Stir until flour is absorbed. Add 1 cup of chicken stock and stir until sauce is thickened (add more stock if too thick). Then add 1 tablespoon of lemon juice – add more if you like. Stir in chives and basil.
4. Place cheesy grits in 4 bowls and add shrimp mixture. Top with parsley, drizzle with balsamic vinegar reduction and serve immediately.

The Culinary Chase’s Note:  While the gits are cooking, make the topping…you’ll have a meal ready for the table in half an hour.  Adding balsamic vinegar intensifies the flavors and you’ll be scraping the bowl clean!   Enjoy!

Fresh Spring Rolls

fresh spring rollsThe house feels empty now that Aida and Laura aren’t here.  I enjoy cooking for both of them as they aren’t fussy eaters and are game to try new foods.  One morning Aida asked me if I thought my time spent in Asia made me a better cook. Hmm, a good question to which I have to say yes in that it introduced me to other cuisines.  I am what you would call a confident cook (the failed attempts fuels me more) and experimented with different styles of cooking but it wasn’t until we lived in Asia did I get a true understanding for what Chinese, Thai or Indian food ‘really’ was.   I grew up in the city of Saint John and the only thing I knew about Chinese food was from a restaurant called The House of Chan on Rothesay Avenue owned by most probably the only Chinese family (at that time) in city.  Chinese food back then was definitely designed for the Canadian palate…I shudder at the thought now (no disrespect intended).   Looking back, it was a delightful tasting experience for me that I shall always remember fondly.   Fast forward 30 years and the city has a delicious eclectic mix of Asian and Middle Eastern cuisine.  Once you get a taste of the real McCoy it’s difficult to go back.

The first time I had fresh spring rolls was in Singapore.  If Aida were to ask me what country did I learn the most cuisine-wise, it would have to be hands down, Singapore.  It’s a melting pot of cuisines all carved out from early Chinese settlers from South East China.  Singapore gained independence from Malaysia in 1965 and the food is influenced by the native Malay, Chinese, Indonesian, Indian and Western traditions (the British arrived in the 19th century).  You can well imagine the swapping of recipes, if you will, from these ethnic groups back then into what it is today – eating is a national pastime or more to the point a national obsession where food is viewed as crucial to the national identity. Singapore is tiny: 49km East to West and 25km North to South. But what it lacks in space it makes up in food! I became a spice girl – yes that’s what they called us – and gave tours of the spice garden at a culinary institute called At-Sunrice. A 60 minute educational tour covering fresh herbs and spices where I explained to the group the medicinal advantages, history and usage of the herb or spice. Imagine being able to touch the actual plant when you’ve only ever seen it in the grocery store! I enjoyed showing people the banana trees, nutmeg tree, ginger, galangal, tamarind tree, turmeric and so forth. After the tour was finished, participants would then go inside and partake in a cooking class showcasing some of the herbs and spices spotted in the spice walk.

Serves 4
8 large (8-inch) spring roll wrappers
1/2 cup coriander (cilantro) leaves
1/2 cup mint leaves
1/2 cup Thai basil or you can use regular basil
small head of Boston lettuce, roughly chopped
red bell pepper, thinly sliced
8 large cooked shrimp, slice in half lengthways

Nuoc Cham (dipping sauce)
1/4 cup fish sauce
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1 garlic, minced
1 tablespoon sugar
small chili pepper, finely chopped

spring roll ingredientsHave all the ingredients ready for assmebly. In a large bowl filled with water, dip a wrapper in the water. The rice wrapper will begin to soften and this is your cue to remove it from the water and lay it flat. Place 2 shrimp halves in a row across the center and top with basil, mint, cilantro and lettuce. Leave about 1 to 2 inches uncovered on each side.

spring roll fillingFold uncovered sides inward, then tightly roll the wrapper, beginning at the end with the lettuce.

rolling a spring rollRepeat with remaining wrappers and ingredients.

spring rollCut and serve at room temperature with dipping sauce.

The Culinary Chase’s Note: The rice wrapper can be fussy to handle if you let it soak too long. I usually give it a couple of swishes in the water and then remove. It may feel slightly stiff but by the time you are ready to roll up, the wrapper will become very pliable.  A typical spring roll contains cooked rice vermicelli, slivers of cooked pork and julienned carrots but you can use whatever suits your fancy.  Enjoy!

Grilled Garlicky-Herbed Shrimp

Grilled Garlicky Herbed ShrimpGrilled, poached, fried, battered, roasted, sautéed, steamed – you name it I’ve tried it.  Shrimp are one of my favorite crustaceans, they take little time to cook and there are health benefits, too.  Shrimp is a nutritious alternative to meat proteins as it is low in calories and saturated fat.  It is an excellent source of selenium and unusually low-fat, low-calorie protein. Many people are confused about the fat and cholesterol content of shrimp. However, based on research involving shrimp and blood cholesterol levels, avoidance of shrimp for this reason does not seem justified.  Read more on this at the world’s healthiest foods.  Start the evening off right and serve these garlicky-herbed shrimp with your favorite cocktail.

Serves 4
inspired by Martha Stewart

3 tablespoons coriander (cilantro) leaves, chopped
3 tablespoons chopped parsley
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon chili pepper flakes (optional)
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
20 jumbo shrimp, shells removed

garlicky herbed shrimp CollageCombine all ingredients except shrimp in a large bowl. Add shrimp and toss to combine making sure all parts of the shrimp is coated in the marinade. Refrigerate 4 hours or overnight. Preheat grill on medium heat. Place shrimp on grill and cook, turning once, until pink – about 5 minutes.

The Culinary Chase’s Note:
Want a Mediterranean feel?  Serve the shrimp with a roasted red pepper salad. Enjoy!