French Mussels w/ Bacon & Leek Risotto

Thanks for the memories! This phrase says it all when I think back to the wonderful time we spent in France. Although this holiday is now 20 years past, the memories remain very vivid and special.

My sister, Loretta had joined Brion & I on this French vacation which had made it even more special. Our journey began in Paris where we had rented a car, then travelled south (about 613 km/380 miles) to the sleepy little village of St Thibery. For this segment of our trip we had rented an apartment to use as ‘home base’ during our time in this part of France. Many of these houses are from the 14th,15th & 17th century. The apartment was quaint but adequate even having a roof top patio.

St Thibery is situated between the larger towns of Agde & Pezenas and is just a short distance from the Mediterranean Sea. On one of our day trips we visited the town of Agde. It is one of the oldest towns in France and is captivating by its maze of narrow streets. Agde was built of black basalt from a volcanic eruption thus the black color of its buildings.

It was here we discovered a nice restaurant where we enjoyed some classic French steamed mussels. It would be an understatement to say how much the three of us enjoyed this feast of fresh seafood.

During the time we spent in the area, we made the 20 minute drive from St Thibery to Agde just to have some more mussels on numerous evenings.

Brion & I decided to revisit the taste of those ‘French’ mussels today with our supper meal. Of course, nothing compares to the ‘taste of a memory’!

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French Mussels w/ Bacon & Leek Risotto
Instructions
Risotto
  1. Bring vegetable broth to a boil in a saucepan, then turn heat to low & keep at a simmer.
  2. Heat a large skillet over medium heat; add bacon & sauté until crisp. Remove to a paper towel lined plate to drain & set aside.
  3. Remove all but 2 Tbsp bacon drippings from skillet (add extra olive oil if necessary to equal 2 Tbsp) then add leeks, mushrooms & shallot. Turn heat up to medium-high; season with salt & pepper. Sauté until vegetables are tender & starting to turn golden brown, about 7-8 minutes. Add garlic & sauté for 1 minute. Add rice; stir to coat & cook for 1 more minute.
  4. Turn heat back to medium; add wine & stir until absorbed by rice. Add hot vegetable broth; stir near constantly until rice is tender & all the broth is absorbed, about 25 minutes. If broth gets to a hard boil, turn heat down. Remove skillet from heat; stir in thyme, parmesan cheese & cooked bacon. Keep warm until mussels are ready.
Mussels
  1. Heat olive oil & butter in a large pot over medium high heat. Sauté the onion & garlic until softened, about 5 minutes.
  2. Add the mussels, wine, cream, butter & parsley. Season well with salt & pepper to taste.
  3. Mix well, cover pot with a lid & cook until mussels are cooked through & opened, about 12-15 minutes.
  4. Serve mussels along with the juices in the pan with risotto & crusty or garlic bread.

Shrimp Dutch Baby Pancake

A Dutch baby pancake is a cross between a fluffy style pancake and a soufflé. Its less work than standard pancakes and less complicated than a soufflé.

If you follow our blog, you probably have seen other versions, both sweet & savory featured on it. Dutch baby’s are such an easy meal to make, they are a regular in our meal rotation, not to mention how delicious they are.

Dutch baby recipes work best in cast iron pans because they retain heat and cook evenly. If you don’t have cast iron cook-ware, I find pyrex bowls will work as a substitute.

Because of the delicate nature of the batter, you can only add your toppings once the batter has baked. For some toppings, this will require cooking these ingredients on the stove top while the eggy batter bakes.

Be careful with recipes that instruct you to mix chopped veggies and meat directly into the batter. The combination of weight and moisture will prevent the batter from cooking and puffing up as it should. One exception to this would be finely grated Parmesan cheese. To help create height, bring the eggs to room temperature before mixing into the batter.

Being seafood lovers, this meal really works for us.

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Shrimp Dutch Baby Pancake
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Instructions
Dutch Baby Pancakes
  1. In a bowl, whisk together eggs & milk. Add flour & whisk until incorporated then whisk in parmesan cheese, scallions, parsley, thyme, salt & pepper. Set aside in refrigerator until sauce & filling are made.
Gouda Sauce
  1. In a small saucepan, melt butter; sprinkle with flour & seasonings. Mix well; add milk & broth, stirring until sauce becomes thickened. Blend in cheese; set aside
Shrimp Filling / Baking
  1. Peel & devein shrimp (you can chop into pieces if you prefer). Prepare filling veggies for cooking.
  2. Preheat oven to 425 F.
  3. Place 2 Tbsp butter in each of TWO 7-inch pyrex baking bowls (alternately you can use one 10-inch cast iron skillet). Place bowls in hot oven to melt butter (and heat the bowls for baking pancakes in). Once the butter is melted & the bowls are hot, divide the batter between them. Bake for 25 minutes.
  4. The Dutch Baby will puff up during cooking, but once its removed from the oven & starts to cool it will deflate slightly. At this point its nice to do the final sautéing of your filling so that when the pancakes come out of the oven you are ready to fill & serve.
  5. In a large skillet, sauté zucchini, onion, mushrooms & garlic in oil until tender-crisp. Combine soy sauce with water in a cup; add to vegetable mixture along with shrimp. Gently stir fry ONLY until shrimp is cooked, then fold in Gouda sauce.
  6. When Dutch Baby pancakes are finished baking, remove from oven & transfer to 2 serving dishes. Divide filling between the 2 pancakes & serve hot.

Herbs de Provence Shrimp

If you are not familiar with ‘Herbs de Provence‘, it is a mixture of dried herbs considered typical of the Provence region in Southeastern France. This region is known for endless vineyards, olive groves and its vibrant, purple lavender fields. Lavender is the herb that adds a distinctive scent as well as working beautifully with the rest of the herbs (thyme, marjoram, savory, oregano & rosemary) that make up this blend.

Prior to the commercialization of the product in the 1970’s, the person responsible for bringing the French phrase into the vocabulary of cooks around the world was non other than Julia Child (American-turned-French chef), who included it in a recipe in her classic cookbook ‘Mastering the Art of French Cooking‘.

This iconic French spice blend can easily elevate any number of meals. Like most spice blends, there is no set formula for the ideal Herbs de Provence. While it uses ingredients that are found in the North American creation known as ‘Italian Spice‘ (with the exception of basil), it also includes lavender flowers and has a strong floral taste.

Although I am using the individual herbs in this recipe, you can easily substitute with bottled, dried Herbs de Provence with no problem. They are readily available in the larger grocery stores. This makes such a great tasting meal …. well worth your time.

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Herbs de Provence Shrimp
Instructions
  1. In a medium saucepan, fry chopped bacon until crisp, about 3 minutes; remove from pan & blot on a paper towel. Saute mushrooms, onion & garlic in bacon drippings until softened.
  2. Add peas, basil, lemon zest & 1 Tbsp oil. Season with salt & pepper.
  3. In a bowl, combine shrimp, thyme, marjoram, rosemary, lavender & remaining tablespoon of oil. Add shrimp mixture to saucepan; cook, turning once, until opaque throughout, about 2-3 minutes. Place in a dish & set aside to keep warm.
  4. In the saucepan, bring vegetable broth to a boil & add couscous. Cover saucepan & remove from heat; set aside until liquid has been absorbed, about 10 minutes.
  5. Add shrimp mixture along with cooked bacon, lemon juice & tarragon. Gently stir together with a fork. Serve immediately.

Apricot Lemon Chicken Breast w/ Couscous

The flavors of the meal hint of Moroccan cuisine to me. It wasn’t until Brion & I visited Morocco on a holiday one year, that I realized how many of their spices appealed to me.

Moroccan cuisine is very refined because of its interactions and exchanges with other cultures and nations over the centuries. Its dishes are layered with sweet and spicy, earthy and bright flavors that reflect the vast array of spices available in their local markets.

Often referred to as the national dish of Morocco, couscous is made of tiny balls of wheat semolina, steamed so they’re are soft and fluffy. Subtle cumin and ginger spices add an exotic flavor to it.

Pairing apricot and lemon flavors with the chicken breast and serving it over couscous makes this simple meal quite special.

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Apricot Lemon Chicken Breast w/ Couscous
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Instructions
Chicken
  1. Preheat oven to 425 F. Spray a baking sheet with cooking spray.
  2. Beat egg & water slightly. Stir together baking mix, lemon pepper & garlic powder. Pound chicken breasts gently to achieve uniform thickness. Dip chicken into egg mixture, then coat with baking mix mixture. Place on baking sheet & drizzle with melted butter.
  3. Bake uncovered 20 minutes; turn chicken. Bake about 10 minutes longer until no longer pink inside. While chicken is baking prepare couscous & sauce.
Couscous
  1. In a saucepan, heat 1 tsp oil; add green onion, cumin, ginger & garlic. Cook & stir for about 3 minutes until green onion is softened.
  2. Add honey. Heat & stir for about 30 seconds until green onion is coated. Add broth. Bring to a boil. Add couscous & second amount of oil. Stir. Cover & remove from heat. Allow to stand for 5 minutes without lifting lid. Fluff with a fork & stir in remaining 3 ingredients.
Apricot Lemon Sauce
  1. In a small saucepan over low heat, combine sauce ingredients, stirring occasionally, until warm.
To Serve
  1. Place couscous on a serving platter. Top with chicken breasts & drizzle with apricot lemon sauce. Serve.

Plantain Lasagna Rolls w/ Guacamole

If you follow this blog, you have probably noticed numerous entries on plantains. For many years, prior to Brion & I living in Ecuador for three months, I saw them but didn’t take much of an interest. After tasting this veg/fruit, it definitely changed my attitude about them.

Plantains are like a cousin to the banana and depending on the ripeness you cook them in different ways. The main difference between bananas and plantains is that the former has more sugar and less starch, while the later has just the reverse and has to be cooked before eating. A plantain’s taste depends on how ripe it is. When it is almost black, that’s when its the sweetest.

If you like the combination of sweet and savory flavors, you will enjoy this meal. Basically it consists of a slice of baked ripe plantain, formed in a ring and filled with a spicy, ground turkey mixture, topped with cheese. Of course, you would never want to forget to serve them with guacamole!

It’s hard to experience another cultures food without something making an impact on your taste buds it seems. But, I guess that’s what is supposed to happen.

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Plantain Lasagna Rolls w/ Guacamole
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Guacamole
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Guacamole
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Instructions
Plantains
  1. Preheat oven to 400 F. Using a sharp knife, cut both ends off the plantain. Slit a shallow line down the long seam of the plantain; peel only as deep as the peel. Remove peel by pulling it back. Slice the plantains horizontally into 6 pieces.
  2. Spray a baking sheet & place plantain slices on it in a single layer. Lightly spray over plantains with baking spray & bake for about 12-15 minutes. Turn slices over after about 8 minutes. Plantains should turn slightly brown. Remove from oven.
Filling
  1. In a large saucepan over medium heat, brown ground turkey in oil & season with salt & pepper. Use a wooden spoon to break it into small pieces. Add onions, garlic, green pepper & saute until tender crisp. Add tomato sauce, water, olives & spices. Reduce heat to low & simmer covered about 7-10 minutes stirring frequently. Remove from heat & cool slightly. Grate cheese.
Assembly
  1. Preheat oven (if it was turned off after baking plantains) to 400 F. Lightly butter a 9 X 13-inch baking pan. Cut 6 of the slices into 4 pieces each. With the remaining 12 slices form rings & secure each with a toothpick. Place the rings in baking pan then place 2 cut pieces in the bottom of each ring to form a 'bottom'.
  2. Using 1/2 of the turkey filling, divide evenly between plantain rings. Using 1/2 of the cheese, place some in each ring on top of the turkey then repeat, making another layer with remaining filling & cheese. Drizzle or spoon beaten eggs over stuffed plantain rings (it will help to hold them together).
  3. Bake 15-20 minutes or until plantains are heated through & egg is set. Remove from oven & allow to sit for 5 minutes then remove toothpicks before serving. Serve with guacamole.
Guacamole
  1. While plantain is baking, mash avocado & add remaining ingredients. Combine well & serve with stuffed plantain.

Leek, Turkey & Mushroom Quiche w/ Rye Crust

At one time, the typical North American pantry included a single cannister of flour. Today, supermarkets stock a host of milled options, reflecting increased consumer demand for diversity in the baking aisle. Whether you are exploring health trends, culinary interests or ethnic cuisines, when it comes to flour, there are more choices than ever.

I chose a mixture of rye and all purpose for my crust today because I think rye pairs well with these quiche ingredients. Rye flour is almost malty and sweet in flavor with hints of molasses. Rye also has the benefit of being lower in gluten than wheat flour, which means the dough can be handled longer before becoming tough as compared to traditional pastry. Rye pastry, besides being flavorsome and flaky, is great paired with both sweet and savory fillings.

One of the things I find most fascinating about working with food, is that even if you’ve been doing it for a long time, there’s always something new to try, or a new way to try something you’ve already perfected. Food is amazing!

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Leek & Mushroom quiche w/ Rye Crust
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Rye Pastry
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Rye Pastry
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Instructions
Rye Pastry
  1. In a small bowl, whisk together flours & salt. Using your fingertips, rub in butter until coarse meal forms & small lumps remain. Slowly sprinkle dough with cold water, 1 Tbsp at a time, quickly stirring with a fork or your fingers until the dough becomes sticky & begins to clump together.
  2. Form dough into a disk & wrap in plastic wrap; refrigerate for at least one hour. Once chilled, roll out dough on a lightly floured surface. Carefully transfer the dough to a quiche pan & neaten edges.
  3. To avoid a soggy quiche crust, prebake the crust on 400 F. Using a fork, lightly prick the bottom of the crust. Take a sheet of aluminum foil & layer it on top of the pie crust, gently nudging it down so its snug on the bottom & the sides. Fill the foil covered crust with pie weights to hold it in place. Bake 10-15 minutes. Remove from oven & remove pie weights & foil.
Filling
  1. Cook rice; set aside. In a skillet, brown ground turkey. Transfer to a plate & set aside.
  2. Wash & trim leeks well. Dry with paper towel & slice thinly. In the skillet, heat oil & butter combo. Add the leeks & a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring, until they begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Add garlic & mushrooms & saute until browned.
  3. Preheat oven to 350 F. In a bowl, whisk together eggs, milk & seasonings. Grate cheese.
  4. Place cooked ground turkey on bottom of crust. Top with cooked rice & a small bit of the cheese. Next add the leek/mushroom mixture. Sprinkle the remaining cheese on top. Carefully pour egg/milk mixture over the entire quiche.
  5. Bake for 30 minutes or until set & just beginning to brown on top. Remove from oven & allow to sit for at least 15 minutes before serving.
Recipe Notes
  • I divided my pastry & made 2 individual quiches instead of one 9-inch size. Just a matter of personal preference.

French Tian w/ Chicken & Turkey Sausage

A tian itself, is a no-frills round earthenware dish that goes from the oven to the table. Its usually filled with layered, overlapping vegetables and sometimes a sauce, baked in the oven and served as a main or side dish.

The classic vessel is a truncated cone, flattened at the base and flaring outward to a wide rim. It is traditionally glazed on the inside but is unglazed on the outside.

As far as the ingredients go, tian and ratatouille generally share a lot of similarities. Both use some combination of vegetables such as squash, potatoes, onions and tomatoes, etc. The difference between the two is largely found in how they are prepared and cooked. With tians, thinly sliced vegetables are aesthetically arranged in a casserole baking dish. Ratatouille, on the other hand, usually involves cooking cubed or thinly sliced vegetables in olive oil until they create a hearty stew.

If your a vegetable lover, this recipe will work for you. We rounded it out with some nice chicken/turkey sausage but I’m sure just adding a loaf of French bread would be just great.

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French Tian w/ Chicken & Turkey Sausage
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Course Main Dish
Cuisine French
Keyword French tian
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Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 375 F. Coat a baking dish with olive oil spray.
  2. In a large skillet, heat 1 Tbsp olive oil over medium heat. Sauté onions until translucent, about 8 minutes. Add garlic & cook for another 60 seconds. Spread onion mixture on the bottom of the greased baking dish.
  3. Slice potatoes, zucchini, squash & tomatoes in 1/4-inch thick slices. Layer them alternately in the dish on top of the onions, fitting them tightly into a spiral, making only one layer. Season with salt, pepper & dried thyme to taste. Drizzle the last Tbsp of olive oil over the top.
  4. Cover the dish with foil paper & bake for 35 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender. Uncover & sprinkle the parmesan cheese on top & bake another 25-30 minutes or until browned.

Stuffed Pork Medallions w/ Cabbage & Apples

Tenderloin has always been one of my favorite ‘go to’ meats. Lean, tender, tastes great, so what more could you ask for?! I’m forever pairing it with another kind of stuffing or roasting it with different glazes or marinades.

Today I wanted to roast it with the classic combo of cabbage and apples. The perfect accompaniment probably because you really don’t need to add much else to the meal to make it taste great.

Cabbage isn’t glamorous. It doesn’t have a fancy name but it is common, versatile and lasts forever in the refrigerator. Even the smallest head yields enough for at least two or three meals.

When cabbage is roasted, a caramelized sweetness comes out, giving it such a nice flavor and especially when paired with apples.

Sometimes, cabbage is avoided because when cooked, the sulfur that it contains multiplies, giving off an unflattering odor. It helps to avoid using aluminum pans when preparing cabbage; aluminum reacts strongly to the sulfur present in the leaves. Stainless pots make a much better choice.

You can neutralize the odor by adding 1 teaspoon of white vinegar or lemon juice. Certain ingredients will also help absorb the odor. Try adding a bay leaf or a couple of ribs of celery to sautéed cabbage. The sulfur odor will be absorbed without changing the taste of the cabbage. Simply discard the bay leaf or celery before serving.

No doubt about it, the flavor in this meal doesn’t lack for anything.

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Stuffed Pork Medallions w/ Cabbage & Apples
Instructions
Tenderloin Stuffing
  1. Cook rice. Place in a bowl & set aside. In a skillet, heat oil & sauté onions until tender crisp. Add garlic & mushrooms & sauté for another 3-4 minutes. Add all herbs & spices; cook another minute than transfer to bowl with rice. Add Panko crumbs & egg, stirring to combine.
  2. Remove silver skin from tenderloins. Cut a slit all the way down the long end of your tenderloin, making sure not to cut all the way through. Open the tenderloins like a book, cover with a sheet of plastic wrap & pound with a meat mallet until they are about 1/2-inch thickness.
  3. Divide filling mixture between the two tenderloins & spread evenly over the surface of the tenderloins, leaving 1/2-inch at the borders. Roll tightly starting with the long end & secure the ends with toothpicks. Season all over with salt & pepper.
  4. Preheat oven to 400 F. Heat a large oven proof skillet with 2 Tbsp oil. Once oil is hot, place tenderloins in the skillet & sear about 2 minutes per side. Transfer the skillet with the tenderloins to the oven & bake for about 18-20 minutes or until thermometer reads 145-150 F. in the thickest portion of the meat. Transfer to a cutting board, brush with pan drippings. Cover loosely with foil & allow to rest 10 minutes before slicing.
Cabbage & Apples
  1. While tenderloin is roasting, prepare cabbage/apple mixture. In a large skillet over medium heat, cook onion in butter until soft & translucent, 3-4 minutes. Add garlic & continue cooking just until fragrant, 1 minute more.
  2. Add the cabbage & continue cooking until wilted, 6-8 minutes. Season to taste with salt & pepper. Continue cooking until cabbage begins to caramelize, 4-5 minutes longer.
  3. Add the cubed apple, cider, mustard & brown sugar; carefully combine. Cover & cook until any liquid has evaporated & apples are soft. Place on a serving platter. Top with sliced tenderloin medallions & serve. If you wish, you could also serve the tenderloin with some mashed potatoes & oven roasted carrots.

Scallop Shell Pies

Scallop shell pies are a nice touch in the savory pie world, I guess you could say it’s a seafood inspired twist on a classic!

We are only in the month of March, so there’s plenty of time to savor comfort food at its finest. Typically, pot pie does not have an abundance of ingredients so it is imperative to build a good flavor profile.

When making the sauce, I always use stock as opposed to water. Any thickened sauce depends on a roux. Making sure its cooked to a light golden brown helps to avoid the ‘flour’ taste and allows the other ingredients to come to the forefront.

Within the loose definition of a ‘pot pie’, its easy to add (or remove) flavors that interest you. Its all about creative expression!

When choosing the pastry, there are no right answers, just numerous possibilities that depend on the maker. Modern convenience embraces the use of puff pastry as a flakier, more delicate solution. You could call it a weeknight comfort food’s best friend.

This pot pie is made with a puff pastry ‘scallop shell’ lid and no bottom crust. The golden crust acts like a piece of bread and soaks up some of the decadence with every bite. Adding scallops to a creamy vegetable based filling creates an amazing meal.

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Scallop Shell Pies
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Course Main Dish
Cuisine American
Servings
Course Main Dish
Cuisine American
Servings
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Rating: 5
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Instructions
Pastry
  1. Thaw puff pastry. Leave on parchment & cut out 2 shell shapes to cover your ramekins. Mark with the lines on them to replicate sea shells. Place in fridge until ready to use.
Filling
  1. In a saucepan, fry bacon until crisp; remove & drain on paper towel. Sauté leek, mushrooms & garlic in bacon drippings for a few minutes. Add cooked, diced potatoes, flour & seasoning.
  2. Preheat oven to 425 F.
  3. Sauté for another minute, making sure to coat everything with the flour. Add chicken broth, stirring well to dissolve the flour; bring to a simmer. Reduce heat, add scallops, crumbled bacon, cream & salt & pepper to taste; gently stir to combine.
  4. Remove filling from heat & divide between ramekins. Top with chilled puff pastry & brush with egg wash. Bake for about 20 minutes or until nice & golden.
Recipe Notes
  • When I have some pastry scraps leftover, I make a bit of cinnamon/sugar to sprinkle on it. It makes a few little tasty sweet snacks to nibble on.

Shrimp Chili w/ Cornbread

Cornbread is one of those culinary creations that pairs well with almost anything. Over the years, I have prepared so many cornbread ‘pairings’, I have lost count. Needless to say, I love ‘everything corn’.

When it comes to chili, the version made with ground beef usually comes to mind. Although, Brion & I enjoy the original, this shrimp chili is a nice change up for us seafood lovers.

These little cornbread ‘cakes’ have only a hint of honey. This makes them a good compliment to the spicy chili as opposed to the sweeter, dessert version of cornbread (which, of course is wonderful too!)

March seems like a good month to still enjoy a bowl of chili before our thoughts turn to some lighter meals for the spring & summer.

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Shrimp Chili w/ Cornbread
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Shrimp Chili
Cornbread
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Shrimp Chili
Cornbread
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Instructions
Shrimp Chili
  1. In a large saucepan, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion; cook, stirring often, until softened, about 3 minutes. Add mushrooms & garlic; cook, stirring for 30 seconds.
  2. Stir in zucchini; cook, stirring often, for 3 minutes. Stir in spices & salt; cook for 20 seconds. Pour in tomatoes with their juice; bring to a simmer. Remove from heat. Stir in shrimp & cilantro. Pour into a 9 x 13-inch baking pan.
Cornbread
  1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk cornmeal, flour, baking powder & salt. In another bowl, whisk together milk, oil, egg & honey until smooth. Add wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, stirring only until just moistened.
  3. You can either drop heaping tablespoons of the cornbread batter over the shrimp mixture OR bake it in greased individual pans.
  4. Bake until the cornbread is golden brown (& the filling is bubbling) about 40-45 minutes if baked as a casserole. If your cornbread is baked on its own, test the cakes for doneness after about 15 minutes.
  5. Garnish with grated cheddar & sliced green onions before serving.
Recipe Notes
  • We enjoy the addition of some black beans in this chili as well.