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Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Having Your Fancy Restaurant Meal at Home

I've been mulling over an appropriately frugal topic all day, but have been stymied by the fact that I've been swooning over the meal I produced last night. It's been a long time since I cooked anything that good. And I suppose it was frugal, since, in a restaurant, what I cooked would have cost at least $20.00/person. Probably more.

What I made wasn't all that hard, but you, my far-flung readers, may not be able to get one of the ingredients. You'll know it when I get to it.

My dear children seldom reside chez nous, so when they are at home, I go into a frenzy of cooking. Dear Lucy Marmalade had her beloved shrimp and corn soup for 2 days. Then Frugal Son returned from France and we had a big pot of gumbo (not up to my usual standards, I'm afraid). One day remained, before both kids went off to their jobs as Residence Assistants at the Advance Program, at the site of their beloved high school, Louisiana School of Math, Science, and the Arts.

What to cook for their last night at home, after so few? Also, in spite of the many virtues of the school, the food is pretty bad. I happened to see a small piece of TASSO REDUCED FOR QUICK SALE.

KARMA. I realized that I could make a recipe I jotted down from a library copy of Susan Spicer's cookbook. Spicer, who is now a consultant for the show Treme, and was written about in the Wall Street Journal recently, owns the restaurant Bayona.

Since I jotted the recipe down, I don't have proportions. The dish is shrimp in tasso cream sauce on cheese and pepper grit cakes. Wow! That sounds fancy and too hard for mere mortals. Not so.

First, for the grits, I subbed polenta, which I made in the slow cooker. I mixed in cheddar and canned roasted peppers when it was done (leaving out milk, home-roasted poblanos, etc). I couldn't make the cakes because I goofed and added too much water to the polenta. It was still good.

The tasso cream sauce called for a roux with onion, green onion, celery (none of which I had, so I used leeks), with cream (used evaporated milk instead). Oh-and a little shrimp stock, which I also didn't have, since I was using frozen shrimp. Then I added the strips of the tasso.

Shrimp-frozen I hardly ever use frozen, but there was a price war when a new grocery opened and frozen largish-size shrimp were $3.00/lb. (I know, I know, but we won't be having shrimp much longer [BP], and it won't be cheap, so don't be jealous.)

So--a beautiful pool of polenta, with another beautiful pool of shrimp in sauce, with plain garden greens on the side to ward off the crise de foie that can come from such rich food.

The dinner itself was very pleasant, except that Frugal Son passed out from jet-lag exhaustion right as we were setting the table. His place was taken by a friend of his (who keeps saying we adopted him), who had a similar dish at a fancy restaurant in honor of his college graduation. He said ours was AS GOOD!

We saved a plate for Frugal Son, who staggered in after we finished.

No pics; we ate it all up.

Frugal Point: The food was great, the company was good, Frugal Son's collapse was accommodated, as was the presence of an unexpected guest, the cost was low.

As for Susan Spicer, here's her book:

The recipe I made isn't included in the Search Inside feature, but look how cheaply you can get a used copy ($7.50). I may buy one myself. There are lot of goodies in the book.

Do you cook anything that makes you swoon?


metscan said...

I think it´s wonderful that you are able to share your meals together so often, as a family ( with an unexpected(?) guest this time ). The culture of family meals seems to be less frequent here in Finland too. People have so much happening in their life; work, hobbies.. Arranging a suitable meal time for all, is often difficult. As long as children are small, everything works, but later-problematic!

Frugal Scholar said...

@metscan--It's very seldom, really. I felt that we had to be civilized because the food was so pretty. My son's friend hangs out with us but usually will only eat homemade bread with olive oil. I think what I made was simply irresistible!

Duchesse said...

We do, all the time, because we're a deep food-culture family. Tonight we're having fresh scallops in lime buerre blanc, lemon rice (not from a box), sauteed bok choy and tomatoes and grilled fennel.

I too would love your homemade bread with olive oil... and I'd bring a bottle of wine :)

Funny about Money said...

Wow! Does that sound gorgeous!

Sorry about the future of shrimp in your parts (maybe in all our parts). {sigh} Hereabouts of course you can't get fresh shrimp -- it's all frozen. I generally buy the shell-on shrimp, because you can shell them & simmer the shells in white wine to make a little shrimp stock.

Shelley said...

Tasso sounds like a gift from heaven! I love that you were brave enough to make substitutions based on what you had around and that it all worked. I love our homemade (in a machine) bread when it first comes out. I love a good salad with fresh veg, olive oil and red vinegar. I love fried eggs, bacon and toast! I swoon over just about any food when I'm hungry...easily pleased, I'm afraid.