Beach trip proved food doesn't have to be fancy to be good
By Kara Kimbrough
The past week was filled with dichotomies. I went from sampling what can only be described as "peasant food" - tuna salad and white beans - to the following night, dining on fresh seafood topped with a heavenly homemade sauce. The meal was a special treat, but simple foods are most likely the ones I'll reach for as summer arrive and temperatures hover in the high 80's. Cool, easy and here's that word again - simple foods that we might dismiss during other times of the year are appealing in our never-ending quest to keep our homes cool without the heat of an oven.
My peasant food meal came about after viewing a post on an online cooking page I follow on which members post descriptions, photos and recipes of their meals. Someone who's known for her advanced culinary skills posted the following simple almost-summer meal menu: "Tuscan white bean and tuna salad with pimento cheese-topped crackers. Drizzled with Tuscan olive oil." An accompanying photo of the light meal, enjoyed outside under a leafy tree, was enough impetus for me to head to the supermarket and purchase the items for a similar supper.
The following night I found myself in a Gulf Shores restaurant enjoying a meal of crisp, cool wedge salad topped with a homemade remoulade dressing, followed by stuffed shrimp and fried green tomatoes topped with delicious cream sauces. A conversation with the chef revealed the intricate steps and the perfect blends of cream, seafood and spices leading to the culmination of the finished product. I couldn't help but think of my simple supper the night before.
As I mentioned the two meals to the chef, he remarked that not every dish on the menu required multiple steps or a great deal of time to create. Shrimp scampi, one of the restaurant's favorite side dishes, can be stirred together in mere minutes. As he ticked off the list of ingredients and preparation steps, I grabbed my cell phone and began texting the recipe to myself. Getting the recipe for this delectable dish was one of the highlights of my trip.
Back home, I perused the cooking page for Memorial Day menus and photos. As expected, simplicity was the overriding theme. One menu included "Kansas City spareribs on the grill, tomato salad, grilled corn on the cob, fresh butter beans and watermelon salad." Another was filled with "Grilled burgers topped with blue cheese crumbles, pickle relish, red onion, lettuce, sliced tomatoes and homemade mayonnaise, potato salad loaded with vegetables and baked beans, with blueberry pie for dessert."
However, not every poster chose All-American cuisine on the patriotic holiday. Billed as "My annual splendid Memorial Day paella," the appetizing photo featured smoked chicken, Country Pleasin' sausage, smoked ham, shrimp and clams and rice. A fancier Memorial Day meal featured "Lobster bucatini with lemon, capers and brown butter, Delta wet salad and focaccia bread." I've already messaged the poster of this meal asking for the recipe for this meal filled with all of my favorite ingredients.
My past week's meals and menu suggestions received from the cooking page prove one thing: meals don't have to take hours of preparation or multiple ingredients to be delicious. And on the flip side, every now and then, it's important to treat ourselves to a "fancy" meal, whether we visit a restaurant to find it or prepare it ourselves.
To kickstart your "simple can be delicious" journey, here are two recipes I discovered this week. One was provided by the seafood restaurant chef and the other was uncovered in a Depression-era cookbook. Both take just minutes to prepare but you'd never know it from the appearance and taste of the finished products.
Gulf Shores One-Dish Shrimp Scampi
1 pound linguini 1 pound shrimp, peeled, washed and deveined
1/2 cup chicken broth (more to taste as dish cooks)
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes (this was not in the chef's original recipe, but I added it for flavor)
Juice of half of a lemon
1 teaspoon chopped parsley
Salt and pepper to taste
Parmesan cheese, optional
Cook linguini according to package directions; drain and set aside. Melt butter in a large skillet, then stir in shrimp, garlic and olive oil. Stir and cook until shrimp turns pink (3-5 minutes). Add chicken broth, lemon juice and tomatoes; bring to a boil. Cook and stir for 30-45 seconds. Add salt and pepper to taste. Pour shrimp mixture over pasta; sprinkle with parsley and parmesan cheese, if desired.
Note: I like to remove the shrimp tails prior to cooking for easier eating.
Depression Pie Plate Cobbler
1 cup self-rising flour 1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 cup milk
1 stick butter
2 cups peaches, coarsely chopped
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place butter on Pyrex pie plate and place in oven to melt. When butter melts, pour flour, sugar, baking powder and milk into plate and stir until combined. Add fruit to top and stir lightly. Bake for 30-40 minutes or until top is browned and fork comes out clean. Kara Kimbrough is a food and travel writer from Mississippi. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org..