You get what you pay for.  This is true at the fish counter, beef counter and plastic surgeon’s office.  All places where a two for one deal won’t save you anything in the long run.   It’s scary to find out that we can’t trust the labels on our food.  What we think is grouper might actually be landshark.  Or that our meatball was the last place finisher at the Kentucky Derby.   If you haven’t read about DNA testing for fish in the supermarket, read this article.

We eat a lot of seafood but I am very careful about what I buy.   I try to stick with fish labeled  “wild” and “produced in the USA”.  I try to stay away from anything that has been processed and frozen in a half a dozen plants in three different countries.  Staples in our house are wild Sockeye salmon and the frozen scallops from Costco.  I also check Fresh Market for local seafood specials each week but price is a driver for me.  There is a fine line to walk between not overpaying for seafood and getting what you pay for.

Our Fresh Market often has  South Carolina shrimp for $12.99 a pound.  That’s not a steal but if you serve it with a pound of pasta and a salad, it works out to about $25 to feed a family of four.   I love this recipe for shrimp and pericatelli with a lemon cream sauce.   Pericatelli is thick hollow tube of pasta normally used in casseroles.   It’s a great way to stretch one and a half pounds of shrimp.  This recipe comes together really quickly but feels very luxurious.    Be sure to pass crushed red pepper at the table.              -Andra

Pericatelli with Shrimp and Lemon Cream Sauce  

3 tablespoons butter

4 teaspoons grated lemon zest

1 cup dry white wine

Juice of 2 lemons

1 clove of garlic, crushed

1 cup heavy cream

Salt and pepper to taste

1/2 cup fresh basil, finely chopped

1 pound pericatelli

1 cup grated Parmesan or Grana Padana

1 1/2 pounds of medium shrimp, peeled and deveined

extra-virgin olive oil, best quality, for serving

Place a large pot of salted water over high heat to boil.

Bring large pot of salted water to a boil.  Add the pasta.  While the pasta cooks, assemble the sauce.

Melt the butter in a large saute pan over medium heat.  Add the lemon zest and stir until it is fragrant but don’t let it brown.  Turn up the heat and add the wine.  Let the wine reduce for a few minutes and then add the lemon juice and garlic and simmer for 3-4 minutes.  Add the cream and simmer for 3-4 minutes more before adding shrimp and cooking until the shrimp are cooked through, about 5-6 minutes.

When the pasta has finished, add it to the sauce and stir to coat the pasta.   Serve and top each portion with chopped fresh basil, grated cheese and a drizzle of olive oil.

If You Grill It, It Will Come


This weekend was the first one that felt like Spring in SoJo this year.  I don’t know if that has more to do with weather patterns or the fact that we grilled twice; I like to think we played a part in ushering in the warmer weather.  On Saturday, we had shrimp tacos, which can be made in under 30 minutes and everyone loves.  The hardest part about shrimp tacos is peeling and deveining the shrimp, but it’s so worth the effort this step takes instead of buying frozen.  I found fresh (not previously frozen) Gulf Shrimp on Saturday and knew instantly what we would be having for dinner.

This dinner is as easy as stringing the peeled and deveined shrimp on skewers, brushing them with olive oil, squeezing fresh lime juice over them and then dusting them with homemade blackening seasoning (I use this recipe for the rub).  I let this “marinate” for 15 minutes or so, just long enough to get the grill hot and then grilling them just until done, no more than 2-3 minutes per side.


While the shrimp are grilling, I use my tortilla skillet to get the tortillas ready.  I don’t know what the original intention of this cast iron skillet was, but it’s the perfect size for these new uncooked tortillas you can find anywhere, and make the whole meal so much better.  After buying these tortillas, I’ll never go back to buying the cooked, doughy version that develop a gummy texture when you heat them up.


My parents gave me this skillet, and I’ve looked online to determine what that number 8 (or B?) represents, but I haven’t figured it out yet.  My theory is the 8 denotes the number of tortillas you can get perfectly crisp and full of air bubbles while your shrimp are grilling.



After the shrimp and tortillas are done, the rest of the meal is just condiments:  thinly sliced cabbage, guacamole, cotija cheese (or ricotta salata), diced tomatoes, avocado, cilantro and salsas, green and red.  Everyone can prepare their own tacos, making them as spicy as they like.


Then on Sunday, we ate a quintessential Spring meal:  grilled chicken, coleslaw and potato salad.  Growing up, I loved coleslaw, but only at home.  The creamy version that other mothers made with mayonnaise tasted very foreign to my mother’s coleslaw.  Her coleslaw, made with a bracing vinaigrette was the perfectly crunchy, refreshing side dish to my dad’s black chicken.  (Yes, you read that correctly,  not “blackened” chicken, black chicken.  That’s a whole other post).  Because coleslaw is such a summertime food, I’m always puzzled at the creamy versions; who wants to put that on a picnic table under the hot sun to wait for the chicken to turn a perfect shade of black?  Not to mention that my mother’s version is so much healthier than those creamy versions.


I hate to focus so much on why my mother is so much better than yours, so I’ll turn the focus to my husband, and why his grilled chicken is way better than anything your husband could make.  My husband doesn’t do much cooking, but his marinated grilled chicken is the indisputable favorite in our house for grilling occasions.  His marinade is one of the few recipes he has hand-written on a piece of scrap paper from a barbecue he went to sometime in the years after college and before meeting me.  I picture him at that barbecue, drinking a beer and politely turning down an offer to go out with a Victoria’s Secret model because he just wanted to wait to find “the one”, who I’m sure he described to his friends as being a lot like me.  (He assures me I’m much better looking than a Victoria’s Secret model; as long as mile-long legs and bouncy hair aren’t your thing.)

For the potato salad, there is no better recipe than Cook’s Illustrated’s French Potato Salad, which is actually a Julia Child recipe.  So, although you might not agree with my assertion that my mother and my husband are better cooks than those in your family, I think we can all agree that no one beats Julia.  Follow this recipe to the letter and you’ll never make potato salad another way again.

– Catherine

Not Your Mother’s Coleslaw, My Mother’s Coleslaw

1 small head cabbage, any color, thinly sliced (I use the food processor and the slicing attachment)

In a large bowl that you plan to serve the coleslaw in, whisk together a basic vinaigrette of 2 tsp whole grain Dijon mustard, 1/4 cup seasoned rice wine vinegar and just over 1/4 cup grape seed oil, salt and pepper (you want an acidic vinaigrette, so it’s about equal parts of vinegar to oil).  Add sliced cabbage and toss together until coated.  Shredded carrots are delicious in this coleslaw, but I didn’t have any this weekend.  Add more salt and pepper to taste.

Not Your Husband’s Grilled Chicken, My Husband’s Grilled Chicken

2 parts soy sauce (we use a little more than 1/2 cup for four to six large chicken breasts)

2 parts olive oil (my husband insists on olive oil, but I use canola because it’s cheaper and I don’t think the flavor of the olive oil comes through at all)

1 part white vinegar

3 cloves of garlic, chopped

1 Tbsp sugar

Whisk all ingredients in a container large enough to marinate your chicken.  Add chicken and marinate for at least one hour, up to six.  Discard marinade after removing the chicken.

Cook’s Illustrated French Potato Salad, from The New Best Recipe Cookbook All-New Edition

Serves 6

If fresh chervil isn’t available, substitute an additional 1/2 tablespoon of minced parsley and an additional 1/2 teaspoon of tarragon. For best flavor, serve the salad warm, but to make ahead, follow the recipe through step 2, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate. Before serving, bring the salad to room temperature, then add the shallots and herbs.

2 pounds red potatoes (about 6 medium or 18 small), scrubbed, and cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices

2 tablespoons salt

1 medium clove of garlic, peeled and threaded on skewer

1 1/2 tablespoons champagne vinegar or white wine vinegar

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

1/4 cup olive oil

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

1 small shallot, minced (about 2 tablespoons)

1 tablespoon fresh minced chervil

1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley

1 tablespoon fresh minced chives

1 teaspoon fresh minced tarragon

1. Place potatoes, 6 cups cold tap water, and salt in large saucepan; bring to boil over high heat, then reduce heat to medium. Lower skewered garlic into simmering water and partially blanch, about 45 seconds. Immediately run garlic under cold tap water to stop cooking; remove garlic from skewer and set aside. Continue to simmer potatoes, uncovered, until tender but still firm (thin-bladed paring knife can be slipped into and out of center of potato slice with no resistance), about 5 minutes. Drain potatoes, reserving 1/4 cup cooking water. Arrange hot potatoes close together in single layer on rimmed baking sheet.

2. Press garlic through garlic press or mince by hand. Whisk garlic, reserved potato cooking water, vinegar, mustard, oil, and pepper in small bowl until combined. Drizzle dressing evenly over warm potatoes; let stand 10 minutes.

3. Toss shallot and herbs in small bowl. Transfer potatoes to large serving bowl; add shallot/herb mixture and mix gently with rubber spatula to combine. Serve immediately.

So you say it’s your birthday?


Our Thanksgiving was so much fun.  We spent four days with Catherine and her family and you know what they say about house guests after three days?  There are two possible reasons why we may have started to smell like fish.  1.  Our pet fish, Murphy, came with us.  2.  Catherine served shrimp on the third day.  My guess is that it was combination of both.   I don’t know that I can speak for Catherine and her family, but we had the most fun Thanksgiving break.  So did Murphy!


Over the last few years, we have made it a habit to spend the Thanksgiving holiday with my sister and her family which usually means I am there for my birthday.  This puts added pressure on Catherine to prepare a birthday celebration while still trying to put away the Thanksgiving dishes.  Her solution was brilliant; don’t use dishes!   She made a Charleston style shrimp boil.  All of the ingredients were layered into a pot with Old Bay seasoning; potatoes, onions, sausage, corn, and the shrimp going in last.


Had we been in a balmier climate we might have sat outside where flying shrimp shells are not a big problem.  But New Jersey weather was bitter cold forcing us indoors into Catherine’s elegant dining room.  Never-mind, she  poured the whole pot onto her dining room table that had been covered in plastic and newspaper.  We didn’t use  plates or utensils.  All we needed was a roll of paper towels.  If you’re  a six-year-old boy,  you don’t even need paper towels; your napkin is built into your sleeve.   (So is your kleenex).


This was so much fun and so delicious!   I can’t wait to see what Catherine makes for me next year! -Andra

Pasta Puttanesca (a.k.a Slutty Pasta)

Now that I’m the mother of two young girls, I try to embrace the most innocent aspects of Halloween; the sweet girly costumes, the pumpkin crafts and the candy.  I know a time will come after the Jessie the Cowgirls and the Disney Princesses that girls their age will start to wear the “Slutty ____” costumes for Halloween.  (Slutty Nurse, Slutty Policewoman, Slutty Astronaut).  Hopefully, this will happen in college, when I’m not around to see it.

In the meantime, to fill the slutty void, we ate “Slutty Pasta” before Trick-or-Treating last night.  I really think Puttanesca has a bad reputation.  It’s supposedly named after Italian ladies of the night because of its ease to prepare (I assume after a hard night’s work).  I’ve always loved it because it’s the most savory, salty, spicy pasta on most menus and we almost always have the ingredients in the pantry.  I especially love it with shrimp, but last night I used a can of good tuna packed in olive oil.

Trick-or-Treating went fairly well.  We live in New Jersey and are so grateful for electricity. There was only one downside.  Not ONE Bit-O-Honey in my girl’s buckets.  Or pennies for that matter.

– Catherine

Pasta Puttanesca

1 large onion, quartered and thinly sliced

2 cloves of garlic, chopped

1 28-ounce can whole tomatoes

1/2 cup pitted Kalamata olives, roughly chopped

1/4 cup capers, drained and rinsed

1 7-ounce can good tuna, packed in olive oil (or 1/2 lb shrimp or 1/2 can of anchovies*)

1 lb pasta, preferably spaghetti (although I used penne last night)

Sauté the onion in about 1/2 cup of olive oil over medium heat until translucent, about 5 minutes.  Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant.  Add the olives, capers and canned tomatoes with their juice and simmer for 10-15 minutes.  Use wooden spoon or a potato masher to roughly crush the tomatoes.  Add the tuna and continue to cook and stir over medium heat until tuna is heated through and incorporated.  Drain pasta and add to sauce and toss to combine.

*If using anchovies, add them before the onion and cook until they disintegrate in the hot oil before continuing.

Pan Roasted Salmon with Warm Lentil Salad

Somewhere in Europe, or maybe even a blue state, I bet parents enjoy a meal of salmon and lentils with their young children without their two-year old taking a bite of her salmon and then leaning over her plate and dramatically spitting it out while making a beginner’s phony gagging sound.

I was more annoyed that she ruined her serving for the rest of us who loved it than I was that she went to bed hungry.  Does that sound insensitive?  If so, it’s because I chose the wrong person to split my salmon with.

– Catherine

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