One thing that’s been happening in my kitchen lately is an attempt to utilize my “food hoard.” Before you picture me sitting on top of a mountain of old food and wrappers, sleeping in my car, and having to use a phone to talk to my husband “across the hoard” (I’ve actually seen all of these things really happen on hoarding reality shows), allow me to explain.
Multiple factors have contributed to me having A LOT of random ingredients around. I have a full freezer, pantry cupbard, additional cupboard, and 2 rolling trolleys housed in another room, also full of food. So yes, my food hoard is neatly organized, but it’s still a bit excessive. I even have an additional refrigerator in the garage – you know, for food-storage emergencies.
My day job involves recipe development and testing. Sometimes, recipe testing means that you need to make a recipe or part of a recipe several times to get it just right. This means that you need to make sure you have extra ingredients on hand. Well, sometimes you get it right on the first try. Then you still have those extra ingredients. Sometimes, a recipe will call for 1/2 cup of wild rice, but the grocery store only carries a 1 lb. container.
I love to try new recipes from magazines and the internet, as well as invent my own. So I’m often buying new ingredients in order to try new things. I also like to visit specialty food shops (like Biercamp Sausages in Ann Arbor). In addition, my “souvenirs” from vacations are most often foodstuffs I can bring home (tupelo honey from Savannah, maple syrup from Maine, chicory coffee from New Orleans). People also buy me food gifts (which I love! don’t stop!)
All of this has combined to mean a mega-sized food hoard for my tiny-sized house. And I’ve gotta start paring it back. For real. So, at least once a week, I’m going to try to make a dinner using no newly purchased ingredients. Or, in a pinch, maybe just one new ingredient.
This week’s dinner was pretty easy – I had the whole hoard to choose from! I decided to make a cajun-style shrimp, andouille (Biercamp!) sausage, and polenta dish. I kept casually referring to it as “shrimp and grits,” which confused my husband. Turns out, there’s really zero difference between polenta and grits. I think polenta is just something fancy northern people say to pretend they’re not eating down-home grits. But, they are. For this dish, I had all of these ingredients on hand, except for the handful of shrimp I bought to prevent the dish from being too sausage-heavy.
Cajun-Style Shrimp & Polenta
1 cup polenta
Pinch kosher salt and ground black pepper, to taste
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 carrots, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
1/2 white onion, chopped
3 tablespoons tomato paste
2 links andouille sausage (about 1/3 to 1/2 pound)
1 tablespoon creole seasoning (it sounds cheesy, but Emeril’s recipe for this seasoning mix never fails).
1 can (14.5 ounces) diced tomatoes
1/2 lb. shrimp (peeled & deveined)
Cream cheese, butter and/or parmesan cheese for finishing polenta
1. In a heavy saucepan or Dutch oven, heat 3-1/2 cups water and a pinch of salt to boiling over high heat. In another small saucepan, bring more water to a simmer (4 cups should be plenty). When the water in the first saucepan is boiling, turn the heat down to medium and gradually sprinkle in the polenta, while whisking. Reduce the heat until the polenta is just barely bubbling. From this point, you’ll be doing the same thing over and over (risotto method, if you’re familiar) – add a ladle-ful of the simmering water at a time, stir it in, and let it cook, stirring frequently. When it looks like the polenta has absorbed all of that water, add some more. Keep doing this for about 45 minutes – you’ll know it’s done with the polenta looks creamy and it starts to pull away from the sides of the pot a little.
2. After the polenta has cooked for about 20 minutes, start the rest of your meal: In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add carrots, celery, onion, and a pinch each of salt and pepper. Cook 6 to 8 minutes or until vegetables are softened.
3. Add tomato paste; cook 2 minutes or until tomato paste starts to brown. Add sausage and creole seasoning; cook for 2 minutes (andouille is already fully-cooked when you buy it, so you don’t need to cook it here, but sautéing it for a few minutes allows it to release some flavor). Stir in diced tomatoes, reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer until polenta is almost done; adding 1/4 cup of water at a time if mixture gets too thick.
4. Just before polenta finishes cooking, add shrimp to the sausage mixture and cook over medium heat 3-5 minutes until shrimp are opaque throughout.
5. When polenta has finished cooking, you have a few options as to how to finish it. It’s often finished with a pat of butter and a sprinkle of parmesan cheese. I had a scoop of cream cheese in the fridge that I wanted to use up, so I used that. Serve sausage and shrimp mixture over polenta.