Spicy Shrimp and Ham Pasta

Whenever I have a really good meal somewhere, I like to try to recreate it at home. Eating out can get expensive, so sometimes it’s nice to be able to satisfy a craving for something you had out without having to spend the extra cash.  

Also, you get to stay home and eat it in your sweats and watch TV, so just go ahead and add that to plus column too.   

I especially like to try to recreate yummy dishes we have on vacation. This is a fun way to relive those moments when you were blissfully away, not ruled by the clock or responsibilities. If the recreation is successful, you just have to try not to book the next flight out at the dinner table. 

If you remember, on the last night of our vacation a couple weeks ago, we ate at a restaurant called Saints & Sinners and I had this amazing shrimp and tasso pasta. Channing Tatum apparently owns the restaurant, and while I doubt he had much to do with the creation of this dish, I will give him a shout out for hiring the chef who did because it was one of my absolute favorite meals of the whole trip. I was so full but I couldn’t stop myself from eating it because it tasted so good. I didn’t want to waste a single bite. (PS I did my best, but my husband ended up finishing up the last few bites.) I knew as soon as I took my first bite, I was going to have to figure out how to make this at home.

When I got home, I started researching two components of this dish: 1. how to make the rosé sauce, and 2. Where to get tasso. 

Tasso is a smoked ham found most specifically in south Louisiana cuisine. It’s actually made from the pork shoulder (ham is from the hind leg), which is cured and then covered in a spicy rub and smoked. It can be eaten alone, but it is usually used for the delicious flavor that it adds to other dishes, like pasta, seafood, and jambalaya. 

Tasso is such a specialty item, I wasn’t even sure where I could get it. It wasn’t at the regular grocery store, but I figured a place like Bristol Farms or Whole Foods might have it. Nope. I looked on the website for a butcher called Huntington Meats at the LA Farmer’s Market. This place is really pretty amazing for all the different meats they have. They have it all from beef and chicken to pheasant and alligator. According to their website, they do in fact carry tasso ham. The only problem is that it really isn’t all that convenient for me to go there. It’s not that it’s far, but it is a bit out of my way. Maybe if I was making this dish for a dinner party with, say, Channing & Jenna Dewan Tatum, or something, I would take the extra step and head over there, but since it was just for us, I went a different, easier route and just got regular ham and added the spicy seasoning separate. Plus, if I want to make this more often, I’m definitely not going to Fairfax every time I want tasso. 

I was actually really pleased with how this dish turned out. I’m going to tell you how I made it and then give you a few notes at the end for what I would different next time. And there will absolutely be a next time. 

Copycat Shrimp and Tasso Ham Pasta 

For the sauce:

Olive oil (just a couple tablespoons)

½ an onion, diced

3 cloves garlic, minced

½ tablespoon dried thyme

½ tablespoon dried oregano

½ tablespoon Cajun/creole seasoning

Pinch of red pepper flakes

7 oz can of tomato sauce

1 tablespoon sugar

½ cup white wine

¾ cup heavy cream 

For the ham:

Olive oil (just for a light saute)

2 smoked ham steaks, diced small 

For the shrimp:

Olive oil (just for a light saute)

Shrimp, peeled and deveined, tails removed

Cajun/creole seasoning 

1 pound Rotini pasta, cooked to package directions

¼ to ½ cup shredded parmesan cheese  

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In a large skillet, saute your ham in some olive oil until warmed through and slightly browned on the outside. Set aside on a paper towel to drain. I used these Farmer John smoked ham steaks from the store since I didn’t have tasso and I think it worked great.   

  
In the same skillet, make the sauce. Add a little bit more olive oil if you feel like you need it. Add your onion, garlic, thyme, oregano, Cajun/creole seasoning, and red pepper flakes. Cook until the onion and garlic are soft and fragrant. 

  
  
Add the tomato sauce, sugar, and wine and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and add the heavy cream.

  
Add your cooked pasta, the reserved ham, and some parmesan cheese to the sauce and mix together. Let them hang out and the flavors get all yummy while you make the shrimp. 

  
In another skillet, add some olive oil and your shrimp. Sprinkle with more Cajun seasoning. Flip when one side is pink and cook until done. 

Taste the pasta and add salt to your preference and finish with more Cajun seasoning if you want. I did both. 

  
Serve and enjoy! 

Here are a few notes for next time: 

· I would either use chicken broth instead of the white wine or do half of each because I felt the wine was a bit of a stronger flavor in the dish than I wanted. It was still good, I just wish the flavor had stayed in the background more.

· Either double the amount of ham or make less pasta.

· I added Cajun seasoning 3 times: once at the beginning of the sauce, once at the end, and to the shrimp. I never thought it was enough as I was adding it, but then I ate it and it definitely had a kick! If you like things spicy, season away, but if you want it a bit milder, just add it at the beginning of the sauce and then taste it to see if you want more or not.

· I was looking at the picture I took at the restaurant and there is a lemon twist on top. I don’t know if that was strictly for garnish or if they somehow incorporated lemon in theirs. I didn’t taste it in theirs and I didn’t include it in mine.

· I think the salting at the end was a really good idea. There are so many flavors going on in this dish, I wasn’t sure what the outcome would be. This allows you to salt to your preference.

· Let me explain why I didn’t mix the shrimp into the pasta: one, if I take this to work for leftovers, I do not want to be the person who reheats seafood in the microwave and make the whole office smell like seafood. Also, I thought I had more shrimp in my freezer than I actually did. I only ended up making about 12 shrimp. I would absolutely make more next time. Or, like I said before, make less rotini.

 

The restaurant inspiration!

 
 

My own version! Looks pretty good, huh?

 

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New Orleans Food Tour, Day 3: New Orleans School of Cooking

As promised, my “missing” day 3 post! Better late than never, right? 
This was one of my absolute favorite things we did on this all-around amazing trip. We took a cooking class at the New Orleans School of Cooking! The class was taught by Chef Kevin Belton and it was so much fun!

  
We all sat in a big room around tables. Chef Belton was up front cooking. He told us all about the food culture of New Orleans, which is so great. Like other places in the South, so many things revolve around food and eating together. It isn’t so much about what’s on the table, but who’s at your table, which is such a great way to live. Also, he said, the only way to do Louisiana cooking wrong, is to follow the recipe exactly, which is of course a philosophy I already adhere to! If you don’t like something, don’t put it in. If you really like something, put more in! There are no hard and fast rules. Make it how you like it. (Baking is still a bit more precise, but there is still wiggle room if you look for it!) 

As he was cooking, he gave us lots of great tips. He made Gumbo, Jambalaya, Bread Pudding, and Pralines. 

  
He started off with the bread pudding because it takes a while to bake. We all got packets with the recipes in them, but like he said, we don’t need to follow the recipes, because he wasn’t! 

  
I’ve never really been a fan of bread pudding, mostly for the same reason I don’t really like stuffing. I’m a big texture person, and the whole dish is basically soggy bread. To me anyway. Chef Belton made a pina colada bread pudding and let me tell you, it was delicious!! He gave us all sorts of suggestions for substitutions and flavor combos. I’m pretty sure he has made me a bread pudding fan! He made a rum sauce to go on top that could really be used for just about anything. Just writing about this and remembering makes me want to whip up a batch!

While the bread pudding was baking, he started on the gumbo and jambalaya. I’ve made both of these dishes before, but he did give me a lot of tips to try when make them again. The biggest tip was, what I thought, was a much faster way to make the roux. 

  
Gumbo is one of my favorite New Orleans dishes. It is basically a thickened stew (thickeners can be roux, file powder, okra, or a combination). There is creole gumbo and Cajun gumbo. While the history of the dish can be traced to 18th Century southern Louisiana, how it came about to begin with is up to much speculation. It combines the culinary practices of the French, Spanish, native tribes, Africans, and even Italians and Germans, all of whose cultures lived together within the small area of New Orleans and had heavy influences on each other. In fact, gumbo is often used as a metaphor for the mix of cultures that live in southern Louisiana. Like the “American Melting Pot”, Louisiana has Gumbo. 

  
Jambalaya is a dish of Spanish and French influence. Similar to a paella or risotto, it is a rice-based dish with meat—chicken, andouille sausage, shrimp, for example—and vegetables. The vegetables are usually what is considered the “holy trinity” in Louisiana cooking: onion, celery, bell pepper. There are two “types” of jambalaya: city, or red, jambalaya includes tomatoes and began in the French Quarter when the Spanish attempted to make paella, but didn’t have some of the necessary ingredients, like saffron. That’s why there are tomatoes. Eventually the French and carribbean influences became more prominent and this dish became completely distinct from paella. The rural, or brown, jambalaya does not contain tomatoes and originates from the swamp country. It is known as ‘brown’ jambalaya due to the absence of tomatoes. It is more smoky and spicy than the “city” jambalaya. 

  
Finally, he made pralines (pronounced “Prah-leens”), which is a very sweet candy made with sugar and pecans. French settlers brought the recipe to Louisiana. They are simple to make with only a few ingredients such as sugar, butter, cream, and nuts, but they do require a lot of attention, as most candy making does. Once the mixture is ready, you drop them on a baking sheet covered with parchment or wax paper and let them cool. They are always good, but they are especially good when they are still a little warm. Chef Belton gave us lots of tips for this too, including different mix ins.

Hopefully I’ll be able to make some of these dishes myself soon and put some of my new education to work!

 PS Sorry for the “stock food footage” but I was so into this class, and eating afterwards, I completely forgot to take pictures!

New Orleans Food Tour, Day 4: Gator bites, crawfish, shrimp and ham pasta

Yes, you read that right. I skipped day 3. We did something fun and food-related that I want a bit more time to write about than I take when blogging from my phone.  So instead, onto day 4:

For breakfast, we wanted to go to Brennan’s for their legendary eggs Benedict, but apparently you need reservations and we didn’t have any. We went to a place called Stanley’s on Jackson Square and it was delicious! I just had bacon, eggs and creole breakfast potatoes. I didn’t get a picture, but it was really good.

For lunch we split an alligator Po’Boy from Oceana Grill. I had never had alligator before and the best way I can describe it is chickens seafood, but a bit chewy. Sounds strange, I know. But it really was good. I probably won’t be rushing out to have it again, but not bad.  

For dinner we went to Saints and Sinners, which is apparently owned by Channing Tatum.

My hubby had been wanting to try a crawfish boil, since they are in season right now, and they were the only ones around offering one. It was a lot of work to eat a crawfish, but it was a really fun dinner.   

   
I had a shrimp and Tasso pasta that was unbelievably good! Tasso is a type of ham that is native to Southern Louisiana. It is rubbed with cayenne and other spices and smoked. This pasta was one of my favorite dishes from this whole trip.   

New Orleans Food Tour, Day 2: Beignets and Fried Chicken 

We got off to a bit of a later start than I had planned, but c’est la vie, right? We’re on vacation without kids. If we can’t sleep late now, when can we?

We got up and headed straight to the famous Cafe Du Monde for beignets and coffee.   

They aren’t kidding when they say to get there early. By the time we got there at 10am, the place was packed with long lines! There’s a to go window towards the back that still had a line, but it wasn’t nearly as bad. 

We got our beignets and made our way to the Riverfront to eat our goodies and look out over the mighty Mississippi River.   

If you’ve never had a beignet, it’s basically a French donut. It’s nice and crispy on the outside and soft and pillowy on the inside. And absolutely covered in powdered sugar. Seriously. It will get everywhere, so be prepared. 

The coffee was good too, but I only took one drink before I dropped it, which made me really sad. Oh, well. Guess that means we’ll have to go back!

For dinner, we went to a place called Willie Mae’s in uptown (near The Garden District). I have a co-worker who is from this area and she highly recommended this place. She said the chicken was “the best fried chicken ever!” Well after a long-ish streetcar ride, we made our way over there and it certainly did not disappoint! It thoroughly lives up to the hype as the best fried chicken in America. If you are in this area, go here! There are two locations: one in Treme (the original) and the one we went to on St. Charles Street. This was cool because the streetcar lets you see the garden district and the houses here are stunning!

   
 
Stay tuned for tomorrow. I’m taking a cooking class!

New Orleans Food Tour Day 1: Po’ Boys, Red Beans and Rice, and Hurricanes 

Hello from The Crescent City, Readers!!

We arrived today and have already samples some delicious cuisine! 

When we got to our hotel, our room wasn’t quite ready. As much as I prefer to settle in when I get somewhere, it was fine because I was hungry and eager to start exploring. Our hotel is minutes from everywhere in the Quarter, so we headed out and hit up Johnny Po’ Boys. This place has been a French Quarter staple since the 1950s and I can see why. The place is small, but the food is so good.   

A Po’Boy is a New Orleans style sub sandwich. It contains meat of some sort–usually roast beef or seafood– and getting it “dressed” adds lettuce, tomatoes, dressing, and sometimes pickles and onions. The term originated in 1929, during the streetcar workers strike. The Martin Brothers owed a restaurant in New Orleans and would serve sandwiches to the strikers for free. The Martin brothers would refer to the workers as “poor boys.” The name stuck for the sandwiches and, in Louisiana dialect, came out pronounced “po’ boy.”

I got a shrimp po’ boy and my husband got a crawfish po’ boy. We took them to go and enjoyed them in Jackson Square Park with the sounds of jazz performances from the street artists on streets surrounding the square.   

Later, for dinner, we went to The Gumbo Shop. My husband got a sampler platter with crawfish etouffee, jambalaya, and shrimp creole. It was all so, SO good!  

I got the red beans and rice. Red beans and rice is a very traditional dish in New Orleans. It is also traditional to eat them on Monday and here’s why: Sunday dinner was usually ham. Then, Monday’s were wash day, so the leftover ham bone would simmer in a pot all day with the beans and seasoning while the women would do the wash. That may not be the way it is now, but the tradition stuck. I’ve made this dish at home many times, and this classic dish at The Gumbo Shop was so good.   

Finally, we ended our first night here walking up and down Bourbon Street with our Hurricanes from Pat O’Briens. The Hurricane was invented at Pat O’Brien’s back in the early 1940s. I’ll let the menu I “borrowed” from the bar tell you:  

I’ve never had a hurricane before and they are really good. REALLY sweet, but good. We took ours back to our room (because you can take alcohol to go in New Orleans) and sat on our balcony and people watched and listened to all the live music playing. And, boy, were there a lot of people to watch!    

   
Stay tuned for Day 2. This is such a cool city! 

*I’m blogging from my phone, so please forgive typos and bad sentence structure! 

Dream Trip: New Orleans! 

I sometimes mention my “Travel Bucket List” when I talk about recipes from other countries. Well, next week, my husband and I are taking a trip to a place that has been on my Travel Bucket List for a LOOOOONG time: NEW ORLEANS!  
New Orleans, Lousiana. The Crescent City, The Big Easy, NOLA… You guys, I can’t even explain to you how excited I am for this trip. The history and culture of this town has always been a fascination of mine.
Since its initial founding by French colonists in the early 1700s, the area has been owned by France, Spain, and the U.S. through various treaties and purchases. The city’s heritage remains strong in the historical roots influenced by French and Spanish colonists, as well as the immigrants—Haitian, French Creole, African (free and slave), and other European countries—who settled in the area.
  
We are staying in the French Quarter (sometimes referred to as the Vieux Carré, pronounced “voo karay”), which is the oldest neighborhood in New Orleans. Our hotel is right in the middle of the action on Bourbon Street. We are only about a 5-7 minute walk from just about everything we want to do in the quarter. If not, we can take a street car anywhere that is farther away. 

  
We have plans to see St. Louis Cemetary #1 and hit up the Voodoo Museum. I’m also going to talk my husband into a haunted ghost/vampire tour! How awesome would that be? If we find any vampires, let’s hope they’re nice ones… Or at least nice-ish… 

Oh, Klaus…

 

I’m really looking forward to catching some live Jazz shows. I’ll be keeping my eyes peeled for a surprise appearance from local boy Harry Connick Jr., but with American Idol and all, I doubt he’ll be around.

*Swoon* HCJ is the bees knees, amiright?

 

Mostly, we are just going to walk around and see what sort of adventures we can find!
And the food! Oh, how I am looking forward to the food! Gumbo, Jambalaya, Po’Boys, Beignets. My mouth is practically watering just thinking about it. I already have a list of places I want to go to, knowing full well we don’t have time to go to all of them. It’s a good thing we are planning on walking a lot, because I have a feeling we are going to need it!
  
One of the coolest things we are planning on doing is going to a class at the New Orleans School of Cooking. I’ve made my fair share of Cajun and Creole cuisine at home, but I’m hoping to pick up a trick or two from the experts to up my game.
I’m going to miss my babies something fierce, but I am really looking forward to this trip! Stay tuned for a little review of my personal NOLA Foodie Tour!