Making Something From Nothing

When I was a kid, I was always amazed at what my maternal grandmother, Annie, who practically raised me, could do with food and especially leftovers. Annie made everything from scratch and when the plates of food were placed on the table, my mother would always exclaim, "Mom, such great color." Annie was definitely an early proponent that healthy eating should be both pleasing to the eye (color) and the palate (taste).

But, mostly, I remember how talented she was at taking leftovers—which I was not even interested in them in their original form—and making something completely new and exciting with them, which I would always love. Leftover mashed potatoes? Voila, potato puffs. Leftover roast and vegetables? A delicious hash. (Annie's best friend always thought she should write a cookbook on what to do with leftovers...it was that impressive.)

So I thought I had great inspiration and knowledge of what to do with things you couldn't possibly do anything with. And then I lived in Mexico where their sheer resourcefulness is extraordinary. It's sensational, remarkable and ingenious.

I remember we had just moved there and taken over the hotel when the CD player quit working in the restaurant—which was outdoors and had obviously succumbed to the wet, salty air. We knew that the only way to get another CD player was to drive 120 miles south to Acapulco and get one at Costco or Sam's. It was the middle of December and we didn't have time for that. Our hotel was going to be full of guests before we knew it and we had employees working around the clock to make everything perfect—painting everything, regrouting the pool, you name it.

But have no fear, our manager told us, "We can have it repaired in town." Ha, we thought, "This old thing can never be fixed. We need to get a new one." But, alas we were wrong. We took it to an electrical repairman in town and before we knew it, the CD player was back and fully restored. Ahhh...we were amazed and speechless and for just 50 pesos ($5). Living in Mexico had its advantages, we amused ourselves.

So when Sabino, my beloved chef and amigo, deveined approximately 50 pounds of shrimp everyday, he dare not throw away the shrimp shells....well, they might go in your trash, but in Mexico and in many restaurants, the shrimp shells are used to make a stock. (He also added the lobster shells to enhance the stock for making the lobster bisque.)

So, what do you do when your freezer is full of five bags of shrimp shells, and one beautiful bag of shrimp heads and shells? You make shrimp stock, of course! Granted, the more shells you have, the more flavor the stock will have. And so this is what I did yesterday.


Shrimp Stock

(Print recipe)

1-2 ziploc bags of shrimp shells, and heads, if you have them
2 carrots, coarsely chopped
1 onion, quartered, with skins on
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 cloves garlic (optional)
2 T. black peppercorns, whole
2 t. salt, Kosher

Place shrimp shells and vegetables in large soup pot and put just enough water in to cover. Turn on medium-high heat and when the water begins to boil, turn down to a simmer and let it cook for at least 4 hours—or longer if you can. The longer it cooks, the more depth of flavor it will have.

When stock attains a rich color and flavor, taste it to see if it needs additional salt or pepper and, if so, add and continue tasting until it's where you want it to be. Then turn off the heat and let sit for another 2 hours to cool. Strain the broth, removing all of the shells and vegetables—now is when you can throw the shells away. Use broth to make a seafood soup, shrimp chowder or freeze.


Shrimp and Corn Chowda (aka Shrimp and Corn Chowder)

(Print Recipe)

Makes 2 servings or 4 smaller servings

4 cups shrimp stock
1/2 pound shrimp, deshelled, deveined and coarsely chopped
1/3 onion, diced

2 carrots, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
1/2 poblano, diced
1 tomato, chopped
1 ear of corn, shucked and corn cut off the cob (I threw the corn cob in the stock, which you can see in the picture)
EVOO (extra virgin olive oil)
Salt, Kosher
Pepper, freshly ground
Chopped cilantro and cubed avocado, for garnish

In medium sauce pan, add 2 T. EVOO and saute onion and celery until translucent, about 3-5 minutes. Sprinkle with a little salt (1/8 tsp. or a "smidgen," as Annie used to say) to extract the juices from the vegetables. Add celery, carrot and poblano and cook another 3 minutes. Add another little sprinkle of salt. Toss in chopped tomato, and another bit of salt. Cover with shrimp stock. Let simmer for about 15 minutes.

Add chopped shrimp and corn and cook about 5 minutes, or until the shrimp are thoroughly cooked. Serve, top with chopped cilantro and avocado, a sprinkle of Maldon salt and a grind of fresh pepper.

While we did eat some soup last night, soup always tastes better the next day, so we're going to enjoy more tonight along side a BLT. I got fresh, vine-riped tomatoes at the farmers market yesterday and David picked up our favorite no nitrates, low sodium, low fat bacon at Whole Foods.


We're trying to hold on to the last flavors of summer while we can.
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