Saturday, August 17, 2013

What do I mean by "The Top 100 Meals of All Time?"

    I love to cook. I've been the family cook in our household almost from the beginning--more than 25 years now. Cooking, to me, is not a chore, it's a creation, akin to my writing. Every meal is different, every meal is made up of choices. I'm the type of cook who likes to use recipes, rather than start with something and experiment with it. Then I alter the recipe to fit my needs, my taste. I started to entitle this part of my blog the "Top 100 Recipes of All Time," but some of my choices aren't really recipes, they're just meals. You'll see.
   I do consider myself a good cook. And I'm not a gourmet cook, by the way. I was chatting with some friends once, and when I mentioned I was the family cook, another man said he was, too. He started listing the many gourmet meals he liked to make--most had French titles to them--and when he was finished he asked me what great recipes I enjoyed using. I told him I mostly fixed spaghetti, bacon-fried rice, and a dish I called "California," so-named by my mother. As far as he was concerned, our conversation was over. What he didn't realize was that I didn't cook for two people, two adults, I cooked for two adults and four children. When you're trying to feed your wife, two pre-teens, and two teenagers, you'd better watch what you fix. You can mess up now and then, as long as you've got a backup, but if you make three or four meals in a row that are losers, you'll be out of a job.
    Let me give you an example--fish soup. I tried fish soup on my clan about four times in twenty-five years. I got burned all four times. Kids won't eat fish soup, no matter how good it may taste. Me? Well, the first two times, I agreed with the kids--it was good only for the garbage can. But the third try was pretty good. Not to my wife and the kids, however. They'd got it in their minds that fish soup sucked no matter how it was fixed. Okay. Okay. I got the message. So, once the kids left home, I started experimenting again. Man, I made some great fish soups. Well, I got to eat them all by myself, too. Linda, my wife, wasn't going to eat fish soup any more than the kids did. Nowadays, I only make fish soup when Linda goes off to visit grandkids by herself. I get to savor it all by myself. For days. When I'm done, I don't need to make it again for a year or so.
    So--here goes. Number 100, in what I believe are the Top 100 Meals of All Time. Keep in mind, listing them in order is tough. By the time I get to the top ten, I may shuffle some of them around a little. And since I do use recipes for my basic ingredients, I'll try to give credit to the original cook whenever I can.
    Number 100? Leftover Shrimp and Eggplant Casserole!
    The ingredients: 2 - 4 cups leftover shrimp (and sausage, if you have it. If you start from scratch, you don't need to boil the shrimp first. Just use peeled, raw shrimp, and saute them with the onions.); 2 large onions, chopped; 2 garlic cloves, minced; 1 can chicken broth; two eggplants, par-boiled, peeled, and chopped; three tablespoons oil (olive, grape seed, or canola, with at least one of sesame); 1/2 cup of parsley; 3 eggs, beaten; 1-2 tablespoons Tony Chachere's Original Creole Seasoning; 2 cups breadcrumbs; 1/2 cup real shredded Parmesan cheese (not the Kraft grated Parmesan, unless it's all you have--it's too salty for me); spray  cooking oil.
    Directions: Don't forget to par-boil the eggplants first! I always forget to do this, so I'm warning you--peel the eggplants, chop them up, boil for about five minutes, and then drain in a colander. Now you're ready to begin.
    Preheat oven to 325; put oil in a large pan or pot, and fry (saute, if you prefer) onions and garlic; mix shrimp, broth, eggplant, parsley, eggs, and Tony Chachere's in a bowl and add cooked onion/garlic. Spray a casserole dish, or an aluminum-foil-covered metal baking dish with spray oil; add ingredients; top with bread crumbs and then Parmesan. Bake at 325 degrees for one hour.
    Originally, this recipe came from Justin Wilson's cooking show, then from his book, "The Justin Wilson Gourmet and Gourmand Cookbook," which was, and still is, one of my favorite cookbooks. I loved to watch this rascal cook on his show because he drank wine as he cooked. Lots of wine. I'm not a wine drinker, so I substituted beer. Works great. Justin likes using red cayenne pepper, genuine Louisiana hot sauce, and Worcestershire sauce in most of his dishes. I prefer Tony Chachere's.
    I start my ingredients with "shrimp and sausage" because when we fix shrimp, it's the "Frogmore Stew" variety, which adds sausage to the boiled shrimp. You won't see my version of Frogmore Stew until I get to the Top Ten. Since there is always sausage left over with the shrimp, I add both to this dish.
    You can substitute squash for the eggplant, using 6-8 yellow or zucchini squash. Or both. My favorite bread crumbs are Ian's Panko Breadcrumbs, whole wheat style. If you're feeding kids, don't mention the eggplant. Kids, for some reason, think they don't like eggplants, which have no real taste to me--they take on the taste of whatever they're cooked with. I wouldn't tell kids there's squash in it, either. Just tell them it's plain old shrimp casserole. They'll probably pull out all the stuff they can't recognize anyway, eating only the shrimp, breadcrumbs and cheese. It's amazing kids live as long as they do.
    So there it is--my Meal Number 100. It's pretty darned good, too. I'll probably move it up later.
    Next--the Top 100 TV Shows of All Time--starting with, you guessed it, Number 100!

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