Kitchen Sink Shrimp and Grits with Corn, Bacon and Rhubarb

I must admit that I am a bit embarrassed to post about grits so soon after I waxed poetic about polenta, as the two foods are so similar. On top of that, the ingredients in this dish will look a little bit repetitive if you have been following what we’ve been cooking the past few weeks. I promise we’re not totally boring people who eat the same thing over and over again. This time, at least, there is a good reason for our redundancy; our cooking this past week was influenced heavily by the need to clear out our fridge in preparation for a trip to Barcelona (!!!). I find the week before a trip kind of frustrating in terms of cooking, as while it’s all very well and good to try and use what you have, what you have always seems to consist of random odds and ends that don’t really go together, leaving one, at the end of the day, with a whole lot of hot dogs for dinner. And pierogi. Etc.

I was therefore pretty pleased with myself when I pulled this dish together the other night, combining some staples we had in our freezer (bacon, shrimp) with some produce that needed to be eaten (rhubarb, lime, corn). I am always kind of excited when I use our stone ground grits, too, as we only recently discovered them. For a long time, I had been obsessed with the idea of grits because I, like every other person on the planet, am totally enamoured of Southern U.S. cooking. But they are seemingly impossible to find north of the border, so for a while they were this elusive mystery to me. Luckily, I have wonderful culinary accomplices. At first, a dear friend literally mailed us some from the U.S., with strict instructions from her very southern mom on how to cook them. And so I was hooked. I have since taken to bringing some back I have travel down south myself. And even my mom is in on it–whenever she goes to the condo in Florida she comes back with a package of stone ground grits for me. She has no idea what they are, exactly, but she knows I always need some!

Anyway. I wasn’t sure this dish was going to work out at first, and indeed, Graeme looked at me skeptically when I plunked a savoury dish involving rhubarb down in front of him. I was a bit worried that I was going out on too much of a limb for myself (I am generally not very courageous when working without a recipe), in a feverish attempt to not let my precious rhubarb go to waste, but we both should have had more faith: it was AWESOME. Pairing flavours like bacon with sweet things is hardly a new idea, and rhubarb particularly lent itself beautifully to such a combination. I made a simple compote that I kept nice and tart so that it added just a little bit of sweetness, and a lot of lovely tartness to brighten up what could otherwise feel like a bit of a heavy, muddled plate of food. This dinner was a victory over the oftentimes humdrum nature of week-before-vacation eating.

If you’ve got any leftover rhubarb and you are tired of baking, I really recommend throwing together the compote; the recipe  below made far more than was necessary to accessorize this dish, and we therefore ate it with everything we could think of for several days. It was most notably delicious for breakfast one morning, when I prepared an open-faced sandwich of toast, arugula, bacon, a poached egg, and a little bit of  compote. It worked ridiculously well and was one of the most interesting/exciting breakfasts I have prepared in a long time! (And I love cooking breakfast.)

Kitchen Sink Shrimp and Grits with Corn, Bacon and Rhubarb
Serves 2 (hungry, hungry hippos) – 4 (birds).

1 cup stone ground grits
5 1/3 cups water
1 ear’s worth of corn
5 stalks of rhubarb, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup sugar*
1 lime, zested
2 slices of bacon chopped into strips
1 onion, chopped
A glob of butter
1/2 cup of cheddar, grated
A dozen frozen shrimp, thawed
Salt and pepper to taste

Bring 5 cups of the water, salted, to a boil. Once it reaches a boil, turn the heat down low and stir in the grits carefully, making sure to avoid clumps. Cook this way, stirring often, until the mixture is creamy, thick and pulls away from the sides of the pan a bit, about 35-45 minutes.

In the meantime, put the compote on. In a small saucepan, combine the rhubarb, 1/3 cup of water, and sugar and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and let it simmer until the rhubarb is nice and soft and the mixture has thickened a bit.

When the grits look like they’re almost done, get started on the topping. Over medium-high heat, saute the bacon pieces and onion until they both start to brown. Add in the corn, and stir for a couple of minutes until it cooks a bit. At the very, very end, throw in the shrimp, and cook for just a couple of minutes longer, to let them heat through and get a little crispy. Season the mixture.

At the same time, once the grits seem just about done, stir in the cheddar and a generous glob of butter, and season (be generous with the salt!). Remove from the heat.

Serve grits with shrimp mixture on top and a little bit of rhubarb compote. Enjoy!

*As I previously stated, this ratio of sugar to rhubarb made for a pretty tart compote, which I loved, but if you prefer things a little bit on the sweeter side, then definitely up the sugar!


Satisfying Salads

Lame as it may sound, Graeme and I both get a little bit over-excited about big, hearty salads–the kind that come in huge bowls and are a meal unto themselves. As the weather warms up, especially, big meal salads start showing up in our dinner plans more and more frequently, especially once we can make them using greens from our garden. I think my love of an enormous salad comes from my more general love of dishes that allow me to combine a million of my favourite ingredients on one plate; I go through over-the-top sandwich phases for the same reason. Also, a big salad begs for some kind of special bread-y accompaniment, which means that these sorts of dinners usually give me an excuse to either pick up something fancy at the neighbourhood bakery, or to experiment with some baking myself.

The other evening I decided to throw together one such giant salad, using lettuce, asparagus, avocado, goat cheese, grapes, shrimp and other bits that were hanging out in the vicinity of our fridge in a vaguely Asian-style gingery dressing. I whipped up some of these biscuits  to accompany the meal; they come together shockingly easily and have never failed me. It all tasted fresh and delicious. This was a really satisfying meal even after a long afternoon of slaving away in the garden, getting it all set up for the season. I share the recipe with you as an example of the kind of thing we often make at this time of year, but obviously it is barely a “recipe” and should not require one. For me, big salads are generally about combining lots of different textures and tastes to make each forkful an exciting prospect, and about including enough protein/fat so that they will be good and filling as main dishes. And I would love to hear from you, too, regarding the sorts of big meal salads you like to make; we are always on the lookout for ideas and for more creative possibilities!

Gingery Shrimp and Asparagus Salad
Serves 2.

Dressing: [Note: this was too much dressing for 2 people.]
1/4 cup Thai sweet chili sauce
1/8 cup rice vinegar
Juice of 1/2 a lime
1 tbsp toasted sesame oil
1 tbsp fresh grated ginger

Big bunch of mixed salad greens
50g nice crumbly goat cheese, crumbled
1/2 an avocado, chopped
1/4 of a red onion, chopped
1 tbsp butter
12 shrimp (we used frozen precooked, but this would be even nicer with some fresh shrimp)
8 or so asparagus stalks, chopped into 1″ or so pieces
A dozen or so green grapes halved
A handful of slivered almonds

Combine all of the dressing ingredients in a small bowl and whisk thoroughly. Season and adjust the dressing to your liking.

Divide the greens, avocado, onion and goat cheese between two large plates or bowls. Melt 1 tbsp butter on medium-high heat in a frying pan/skillet and when it’s nice and bubbly, throw in your asparagus. Saute for a couple of minutes, then throw in the slivered almonds, to toast them. After about 5 minutes total the asparagus should be getting tender and the almonds should smell amazing; now throw in the shrimp (which, if you have thawed them from frozen, you have patted as dry as possible), and the grapes, season the whole thing and saute for one more minute or two, just until the shrimp get nice and browned and crispy. Divide the asparagus/almond/shrimp/grape mixture evenly on the two plates, pour some of the dressing on each, and serve.