Last night we did our final mardi gras meal and king cake for the season. There was much build up after all the recipe testing and fanfare. I even found these fun mardi gras masks.
After reading an article recently from the SF Chronicle about grits making a comeback in restaurants, I thought I’d try their Shrimp and Grits with Tomato-Bacon Relish for Fat Tuesday dinner. This was great and did not dissappoint. I wasn’t able to find yellow grits, so I made white. I only used half the amount of Tabasco and substituted smoked red pepper powder for the cayenne in the shrimp, as my kids are not always excited about too much spice. I ended up deconstructing theirs (shrimp without sauce, and grits on the side), as the sauce was still a bit hot for my daughter. But they really loved the meal, especially the grits with cheddar cheese. I will make this again and would even make it for guests as it was easy and very pretty, besides tasty. (See entire recipe below)
The moment everyone was waiting for was the king cake. I decided I had made the cresent version and the cupcake version and was time to try and compare a traditional version of someone else’s. And sometimes I have to remind myself that I can’t make everything, all the time. It was difficult to find a local king cake, but I called around and ordered one from Arizmendi Bakery in San Rafael. They were making them for Fat Tuesday only. This was a good option because while it was still large it wasn’t giant like many of those online and most of the recipes (makes 2 cakes to serve 12 – 18 people). This was mid-week, after school, Tae Kwon Do and doctor’s appointments, so I would be able to squeeze in a cake pick-up but not a make from scratch cake.
My first impression was “This is lovely and very reasonable at $15.” While it had all the mardi gras colors, it was somehow not as tacky as many pictured online. Plus everything from Arizmendi (pizzas, scones, muffins etc) is wonderful. After out great dinner it was time to cut the cake. I explained to my family what the baker had told me about the “baby”, and that it was “a baby made out of sugar”. We were so anxious to see the sugar baby. We each chose a piece and took a bite. My next thought was “This cake is great”. Sweet frosting on top of wonderful layers of brioch. We found the occassional hole that we thought the baby was hiding, but no. We only ate about 1/4 of the cake and no one found the baby. My kids and I were very curious. We decided to cut the remaining cake into slices.
Still no baby. We were still hopeful and not yet ready to wreck the yummy cake. We waited…
Overnight. Again after dinner, we each chose a slice. No baby was found. It was time to butcher the cake. We cut the remaining slices into small pieces and we never did find the sugar baby. However we did find a hole with about 1/8 teaspoon sugar. Was this once the baby? Did he melt? Or was this just another sweet bite and the baby made an escape before baking? We’ll never know. This baby didn’t bring us luck, but lots of intrigue.
From Brenda Vuenviaje, chef-owner of Brenda’s French Soul Food cafe in San Francisco. Prepare the grits – which should be soft and spoonable – with 4 parts salted water and 1 part grits.
- Tomato-Bacon Relish
- 1/4 pound smoked bacon
- 1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/4 medium red onion, about 1/2 cup
- 4 teaspoons minced garlic
- 1 cup diced tomatoes, some juice reserved
- 1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons hot sauce like Tabasco or Crystal, to taste
- 1/2 to 1 teaspoon dark brown sugar, or to taste
- 3/4 teaspoon sherry vinegar, or to taste
- — Kosher salt and pepper, to taste
- Shrimp & Grits
- 2 cups prepared grits (Bob’s Red Mill yellow grits preferred)
- 1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese, about 2 ounces
- 1 to 2 tablespoons canola oil
- 2 teaspoons minced garlic
- 1 pound large shrimp, 26-30 count, peeled and deveined, tails on
- — Kosher salt, to taste
- — Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- — Cayenne pepper, to taste
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 2 to 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
- — Thinly sliced green onion, for garnish
For the relish: Thinly cut bacon crosswise into lardons about 1/4-inch thick. Cook bacon in a medium-size skillet over medium heat until crispy and fat has rendered. Move bacon to paper towels and reserve. Drain skillet and discard excess fat, while wiping away any burned bits. Add olive oil, onion and garlic. Cook – stirring frequently – until onion is a medium brown color, about three minutes.
Add tomatoes, hot sauce, brown sugar and sherry vinegar then bring to a simmer. Cook briefly until slightly thick, stir in bacon and add salt and pepper to taste. The relish can be made a day or two ahead and kept refrigerated. Makes about 1 cup.
For the shrimp & grits: Preheat oven to 350°. Portion hot grits into 4 large, oven-proof dinner bowls, sprinkle cheddar over and place in oven until melted, about 3 to 5 minutes. Or melt in the microwave, about 30 to 60 seconds per bowl.
Meanwhile, add 2 tablespoons oil to a hot saute pan over medium-high heat. Add garlic and saute briefly until slightly brown. Add shrimp then season with salt, black pepper and cayenne to taste. Saute briefly until edges of shrimp start to turn pink.
Add 1 cup white wine, deglaze pan and cook until wine is reduced by half. Add the Tomato-Bacon Relish and 2 to 3 tablespoons butter. Cook for another minute until sauce is hot and slightly thickened and shrimp are cooked through.
Divide shrimp and sauce into the bowls and garnish with sliced scallion.