Shrimp and Spinach Salad with Warm Bacon Vinaigrette

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Early on in my college career, I saw a lot of my mother.  Though I lived on campus, I was only about 30 minutes away from home.  My sister had jumped across state lines, so I got the brunt of parental visits as my mother adjusted from having three to just one child at home.  (To be honest, I also did my fair share of calling up mom to come visit/take me home for the weekend as well).  On one such day trip with my mother, we went to Applebee’s for lunch.  Applebee’s was the standard dinner out during my early years, especially when we visited my grandfather in Colorado.  For many years, I stubbornly refused to sample anything beyond the chicken fingers and the hot dog that huddled safely on the kids menu, until I was well past the age limit able to access that menu.  Faced with the wide, unknown expanse of the regular menu, I chose the only meal that seemed safe: the boneless buffalo wings that my mother nearly always ordered.  Just as my childhood restaurant visits were filled with chicken fingers and hot dogs, my early-teenaged years were now ruled by a devotion to hot-sauce-smothered chicken and blue cheese dressing.  With my luck, I was choosing dishes that could be found at nearly every restaurant we visited.  I think part of the reason for my steadfast devotion to eating the same dish time and again was due to my stomach troubles in my youth (as previously mentioned).  The short list of “safe” dishes may have truly been better for my stomach, but honestly, I think I was just less nervous when I ate those, and thus, less likely to decide that I felt “sick” after eating out.

 

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Through high school, I started to slower expand my list of acceptable foods, and, on this particular visit to Applebee’s, I was in the height of my obsession with tomato-basil soup.  I had also never been to the restaurant at lunch time.  They were advertising a new lunch menu: a “you-pick-two” idea of pairing soup, salad, or sandwiches for lunch.  The concept was quickly becoming popular and I felt ever-so grown up as I eschewed my usual choice of sandwich for my favorite soup (tomato-basil) and a salad that I would never have touched just a few years prior: Spinach with Shrimp topped with a “warm bacon vinaigrette”.  I am so glad I picked that salad.  It was incredible–crisp spinach just beginning to wilt with the heat of the smoky-sweet, tangy vinaigrette with plump, sweet shrimp intermingling with sharp shards of onion and soft bits of roasted red pepper.  This was the first salad that seemed to stick in my memory.  I had to have it again, and spent the next few months trying to convince my friends to do dinner at Applebee’s whenever we went out off-campus.  This was a monumental task, since my new best friend had worked at Applebee’s before coming to college and sworn off the restaurant completely.  Finally, once, I managed to get the group to go there for dinner since the restaurant was right beside the movie theater.  I was happy to see the salad was still on the menu, and ordered the full portion.  I was not disappointed.  It was just as good as I remembered.  That was the last time I went to Applebee’s.

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Nowadays, there isn’t much there that M and I can eat, and, if my friends group is going to any of the run-of-the-mill American restaurants, TGI Fridays’ happy hour specials trump all the rest.  But even now, six years later, I occasionally find myself thinking about that salad.  And, for a few weeks here, I was on a serious salad kick: unable to not pick up buckets of greens and lettuces in the store and at the farmer’s market.  In the last few weeks, I have finally tried collard greens (cooked greens!  I liked them!) and dished up several full-sized salads for dinner, including this remake of the memorable Applebee’s salad.  Unfortunately, a truly terrible take-away-salad-induced bout of food poisoning has cooled my fervor for salads, at least for the time being.  But this Shrimp and Spinach salad might just be the dish that can restore my love and trust in leafy greens.  I checked Applebee’s menu and they no longer offer this salad with shrimp, so that is now one more reason to make this at home!  I served these full sized salads with garlic bread and called it a night.  Quick, easy, and delicious dinner!

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On a quick side note, I do use tomato jam in this recipe.  E & A made a huge batch at the end of last summer and I have loved finding dishes to add the sweet-and-spicy jam into the mix.  This is one of the best so far–if you can get your hands on some tomato jam, it is absolutely worth the purchase.  If not, you can leave it out of the vinaigrette.  I mention some ideas for substitution in the recipe below.

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Shrimp & Spinach Salad with Warm Bacon Vinaigrette

Serves: 4 | Prep time: 10 minutes | Cook time: 10 minutes

For the Salad

  • 1 1/2 lbs medium-size, raw, de-veined shrimp (thawed if previously frozen)
  • 8-10 c. fresh spinach
  • 1/2 medium red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 c. (packed) roasted red peppers, diced
  • 4 Tbsp. raw, unsalted almonds
  • 2 Tbsp. parmesan cheese, shredded/grated (optional)
  • 4 slices cooked bacon, chopped  (drippings reserved)

For the Bacon Vinaigrette

  • Reserved bacon drippings (should be about 2-4 Tbsps, depending on the thickness of your bacon.  Don’t stress about it)
  • 2 Tbsp to 1/4 c. olive oil
  • 1/4 c. apple cider vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp. dijon mustard
  • 1 Tbsp. honey
  • 1 Tbsp. tomato jam*
  • Ground garlic, optional
  • Ground black pepper

*Tomato jam gives sweetness, depth, and a bit of a kick to this dressing.  If you cannot get a jar of it, you can substitute an extra tsp of honey, and 1 tsp. of chili flakes to get the basics of the flavor.  If you are able to add a touch (1/4-1/2 tsp) of tomato paste as well, that can round out the flavor.

Prep the Salad

In a dry pan over medium heat, toast the almonds.  This should only take a few minutes, so stay close to the stove, stirring or shaking the pan frequently.  The nuts are toasted when you begin to smell the almonds and they barely darken in color.  Set aside until cool enough to handle, then chop.

Add a little oil to the pan to prevent sticking.  Wash shrimp and pat dry.  Cook the shrimp over medium heat, in batches, if necessary to prevent crowding the pan, for 2-3 minutes per side, until pink, firm, and opaque.  I like to use Easy-Peel shrimp in the shell as it helps prevent overcooking.  Shrimp that have already been peeled/are not in the shell will take even less time.  (An easy way to watch for overcooking is to look at the ridge of the shrimp where the vein has been cut away.  If this edge thickens or starts to curl and turn white, the shrimp are on the edge of being overcooked.  Remove from the heat and cool as quickly as possible.)  Remove cooked shrimp and allow to cool, then peel and remove shells and tails.

Divide the spinach onto 4 plates and sprinkle each plate with the divided sliced onion, chopped peppers, shredded cheese, and cooled, chopped almonds.

Make the Vinaigrette

Reheat the bacon drippings if cooled.  Over medium heat, whisk olive oil into the bacon fat.  Continue whisking as you add the mustard, then the vinegar, and finally the tomato jam (or substitutes).  Add a dash or two of garlic powder and ground black pepper.  Whisk and cook until the jam has melted into the vinaigrette.  Remove pan from heat and whisk in honey.  Now, off the heat, is the time to taste the dressing to see if it need a bit more seasoning (pepper, salt, garlic) or more oil or more vinegar.  I tend to like a higher, more equal ratio of oil to vinegar, so do check to make sure the dressing taste good to you.  Give a final, brisk whisk to fully incorporate all of the ingredients.  Slide the shrimp into the warm pan, and turn to coat.  If needed, to warm the shrimp through, place over low heat until steaming.

Assemble the salad

Divide the shrimp among the plates and pour the hot vinaigrette over top of the salad.  Serve immediately.

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The Best Asian Pan Sauce

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I thought about calling this post “The Little Asian Pan Sauce That Could…Be Put on Everything”.  But ultimately, I thought simple was better, because this sauce is exactly that: simple.  And, yet, it is extraordinarily delicious on everything I have brushed it onto: chicken, shrimp, pork, pineapple, roasted vegetables.  These photos are from the beginning of the summer, before the camp craziness, but I have made this sauce several more times throughout the past weeks.  Even after an 11-hour work day, the fifteen minutes spent to create this sauce were well worth it.  Though I rarely remembered to take photographs over the last seven hectic weeks, I still have a respectable list of recipes (and even a craft or two) waiting to be posted.  But this sauce tops the list.

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Camp is an interesting time in my life.  I keep hoping that I will be better adjusted each time that summer rolls around, but even after three years, camp is the sprint of my occupational race.  This year, with our move, we were up by 5:30am to walk the dog, pack breakfast, dress and get out the door to beat traffic.  M’s schedule had him outside for five hours of the day, and running around in between.  My schedule had me warming-up, stretching, dancing, writing, filming, improvising, acting, blocking, and directing 30 teenagers for seven hours straight, before joining M for the final hours outside.  Besides the physical energy needed to keep up with our campers, the mental energy needed also surprises me.  We are monitoring allergies and health issues, and students’ preferences, behavior, and participation.  We are leaders, mediators, teachers, and examples, whether we are behaving correctly or not.  Especially with teenagers, the moment that their teachers disengage in an activity, their interest is lost, as well.  We eat with the students and take breaks with them; every moment between when they step out of their car, until they climb back in, is under our eyes.

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So I suppose it isn’t so surprising that camp, while exhilarating, entertaining, and uplifting; is also entirely draining.  Though I jumped at the chance to participate in any opportunities for stretching during the camp day, I come out of camp craving long walks and yoga.  I find myself needing a nap by midday, and still climbing into bed early each night.  I yearn for the contemplative time spent kneading gnocchi dough, simmering soups, and slow-roasting vegetables.  I need to savor the meditative smells of rising yeast bread, caramelizing onions, and fresh-chopped herbs.  The end of camp sends me running to the kitchen and also induces cravings for the heartier, slower autumn dishes, in spite of the August heat.  Luckily, butternut squash is already starting to appear in our farmer’s markets, and the summery tomatoes and peppers lend themselves towards these fall flavors as well.  I’m alternating between long, involved dishes and quick sautés and stir-fries as I settle into this self-imposed time of renewal.  I’m looking forward to my mornings of walking and yoga, with more slow-paced stretches of work before I come to evenings of cooking, writing, and learning.  I finally have time to truly delve into my Lynda.com subscription, and I am very excited at the variety of program tutorials waiting for me.

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I suspect that this Asian sauce will be showing up in my kitchen again, very soon.  The full flavor, so simply made, is too perfect to ignore.  I hope you will make some, too!  Let me know what you try it on–I’ve yet to be disappointed.  Shrimp may be my favorite meat to glaze with this sauce, but it was absolute divine on the peppers and pineapple in these skewers.

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Asian Pan & Glazing Sauce

Adapted from Bonefish Grill

Serves: 4 | Prep time: 5 minutes | Cook time: 10 minutes

  • 2 tsp. olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp. finely minced ginger
  • 2 tsp. minced garlic
  • 3 Tbsp. gluten-free tamari*
  • 1/4 c. + 1 Tbsp. ketchup
  • 1/2 c. gluten-free oyster sauce**
  • 1 Tbsp. lime juice
  • 2 tsp. rice vinegar
  • 2-3 Tbsp. honey or agave nectar (to taste)
  • 1/2 tsp.-1 tsp. red pepper flakes
  • 1-2 tsp. sriracha sauce (optional)

*Please always check labels.  The vast majority of tamari used to be gluten-free, but I am finding more and more that contain gluten.  San-J is a reliable gluten-free brand.

**Wok-Mei makes a gluten-free oyster sauce.  For vegetarians/vegan readers: several veg. brand are available.  Lee Kum Kee’s Vegetarian Oyster Sauce is, in fact, vegan, but contains wheat.  Please let me know if you find a reliable Gluten-free AND Vegan Oyster sauce.

Saute ginger and garlic in the olive oil in a small saucepan.  In a separate bowl, whisk together tamari, ketchup, oyster sauce, lime juice, vinegar, and honey/agave.  Once ginger and garlic is fragrant (1-2 minutes) and just barely beginning to brown, add sauce mixture.  Bring to a boil, turn down heat, and simmer for about 5 minutes.  Stir in red pepper flakes and sriracha sauce.  Remove from heat.  Sauce will thicken as it cools.  If too thick, add up to 1 Tbsp. of warm water.

Brush sauce onto grilling or frying meats and vegetables, basting with every turn.  Or, use as a marinade.  Sauce will keep in tightly-sealed container in the fridge for up to one week.


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Skillet Shrimp Scampi

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I feel like its been ages since I’ve posted.  I’m not sure what it is about the last ten days that seem to be double…maybe because I have so many dishes to share!  I’vr been on a bit of a creative kick lately, trying all sorts of new dishes for dinner.  A few are old familiar favorites that I haven’t gotten around to sharing on here yet, while others are some new, “scary” recipes. In fact, I have a quick and simple fajita recipe and a risotto recipe in the line-up, but last night I made this shrimp scampi and it was just too good to wait.  We’ve had a bag of raw shrimp in the freezer for a couple of weeks and I’ve been waffling about how I was going to use them.  Mostly due to the pictures I’ve seen on Pinterest, I had narrowed it down to a sweet-and-tangy skewered option or a more classic butter-based sauce.  Since skewers = grill in my mind and it has been absurdly cold the past few weeks: the grill was out.  Plus, I have some lemons to use up.  I thought that I would combine the inspiration from a few different recipes:  again and again things like white wine, butter, lemon, and garlic were added to shrimp, though (purely happenstance) never all of them together.  I figured if they all were paired with shrimp one way or another, they would all be good together.

scampi sauce

And they were.  Because white wine+butter+lemon+garlic+shrimp=shrimp scampi in it’s most basic sense.  Yes, I made a classic recipe without quite knowing it.  Laugh away.  I did!  I thought I was riffing on scampi–some new dish that was close but just different enough.  Instead, I recreated the basic idea perfectly.  I’m sure I’ve come across recipes for shrimp scampi before, and that was part of the reason those ingredient rang as “right” in my brain.  I may have even tasted it, but, truth be told, my preference for shrimp (beyond cold and covered in cocktail sauce) only started to grow shortly before I stopped eating gluten.  I’m not sure if I have ever had scampi tossed with pasta.  I hardly thought of that option when I was prepping for dinner.  I was bright lemon, zesty garlic, and glorious butter in a sauce that would coat the shrimp, pooling at the bottom of the bowl to be sopped up with french bread.  And that is exactly what I did.

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I think the sauce would have been delicious on my own Gluten-Free French Bread, but I didn’t have the time after work to commit to the hour-long bake time.  I wanted shrimp and I wanted it fast.  I grabbed Against the Grain baguettes, my favorite store-bought gluten-free baked good.  I knew that the decadent baguettes, made from tapioca starch, cheese, and eggs would be a perfect pairing with the butter sauce.  The insides of these baguettes remind me of popovers–soft, springy, and rich.  They were perfect!  I made a quick salad from a lettuce mix (spinach, radicchio, chard, and romaine) with a hefty portion of kale, topped with red onion, tomato, cucumber, carrots, and red pepper and mixed together a quick pepper-parmesan dressing to top the hearty greens.  I’ll post the salad dressing soon, it was delicious and quick and very easy to halve or double depending on how many you are serving.

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But onto the main event!  I thawed the shrimp completely while I prepped the salad and the dressing.  Then I tossed the baguette in the oven to warm up as I turned on the stove to medium-high under a large saucepan.  I added about a teaspoon of olive oil, just enough to coat the pan and let that heat before I added the shrimp in a single layer.  Be careful not to crowd the pan too much.  I had a very large pan and just managed to fit my shrimp in with a sliver of space between them.  Cook the shrimp for 2-3 minutes, until the downward side turns pink and the color begins to creep around the tail onto the raw side facing up.  Flip the shrimp and cook for another 2 minutes, until the shrimp are firm and completely pink.  A bit of color off the pan is fine, but keep the cooking time short, so they don’t get rubbery.

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Remove the cooked shrimp from the pan and add the lemon slices.  The juice will begin to sizzle.  Let the lemons cook for about 30 seconds, until they are fragrant.  Add the white wine to the pan and scrape the bottom with your spatula to help deglaze and get all of the tasty bits off the pan and into your sauce.  Be gentle with the lemons as you scrape the pan.  Once the wine has settled (it should bubble pretty furiously when you first add it to the pan), add your butter, olive oil, and garlic, stirring gently until the butter melts.  Cook for one minute more, then add your shrimp back in.  Stir the shrimp to coat completely, sprinkle with salt and pepper, then remove the pan from the heat.  I pour all of the shrimp into one large bowl, or you can portion them onto plates.  Just make sure that each individual gets a healthy dollop of the remaining scampi sauce.  Sprinkle with chopped fresh parsley and serve immediately, with lots of bread!

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Skillet Shrimp Scampi

Serves 4.  Prep time: 5 minutes / Cook time: 10 minutes

  • 1 1/2 lb jumbo uncooked shrimp, peeled & deveined
  • 1 lg lemon, sliced into 1/4 in slices
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced into a fine paste
  • 1/4 c. white wine
  • 1/4 c. butter
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • salt & pepper
  • chopped parsley

Coat a large skillet with olive oil and heat over medium-high heat.  Add shrimp and cook about 2-3 minutes, until the pan side turns pink.  Flip shrimp and cook for another two minutes, until firm and completely pink all the way through.  Remove shrimp from pan.  Add lemon slices and cook for about 1 minute, until fragrant.  Add white wine to deglaze, stirring and scraping the pan.  Add butter, garlic, and olive oil, mixing thoroughly.  Cook the sauce for one minute more, then add shrimp back into pan.  Toss to coat in sauce.  Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and parsley.  Serve immediately.


Vacation Stories: All I have to say about the Outerbanks…

Magic.  There be magic!

We drove down to the outer banks, enjoyed a beach house and return in under 60 hours.  I was able to stand in the waves and smell the ocean breeze for the last time for this summer.

Also, this life-changing experience happened:

 

My first steamer pot.  As far as I can tell, its almost exactly like a Low-Country Boil.  Coastal Cravings (a restaurant attached to a gas station) can boast that Guy Fieri got his steamer pot there on Diners, Drive-in’s, and Dives.  There were two options: the “Yankee pot” containing: Lobster, Clam, Mussels, and Scallops, and the “OBX pot” with shrimp, crab legs, clams, and oysters, along with potatoes, Carolina sausage, and corn in both.  We judged (correctly) that a “single serving” would be plenty, and ordered 4 orders (two each) for 6 people.  They were out of oysters and mussels, so we settled for extra portions of shrimp.  I think this was a fantastic choice, as (a) shrimp are my favorite, and (b) shrimp as seasoned liberally with Old Bay, and a triple amount ensured that everything was season with Old Bay.  Yummmm!

It was a fairly simple process.  The pots are actually just large tins, like the kind you can order from the pitiful-looking, half-frozen elementary school student around Thanksgiving, when they peddle wrapping papers and mail-order gifts.  The tins that come with ornamental holiday scenes on the sides and a cardboard divider separating the cheesy, the caramel, and the butter popcorn.  Yummmm…fluorescent cheese is always better…ahem.

Anyways, the steamer pot came in that tin.  With a hole hammered through the top and weighing similar to a small child.  I carried the toddler-sized grail of seafood up to the kitchen and we followed the exceedingly simple instructions the waitress wrote on the top for us:  Remove shrimp and scallops in bags from top of pot.  Set on stove and cook on medium-high heat until steaming (about twenty minutes), turn down heat and cook twenty minutes more.  Add shrimp and scallops and cook for eight additional minutes.

That’s all it took.  I tried to take a guess as we poured out the deliciously-steaming contents.  I know from its time in my lap on the car-ride back, and by the weight, that the bottom was filled with ice.  This kept things fresh during transportation and provided the base for the steaming.  Next was probably the potatoes, then the Carolina sausage (precooked) and the corn.  Then the clams, then the lobster tails and crab legs.  As mentioned, the shrimp and scallops were bagged by themselves and only added in the last eight minutes.

And after just under an hour, we had this:

 

Steamy, buttery wonderment!

And, though I hope you wouldn’t have to ask…we finished it all. 🙂