I told myself I was going to start trying to make dinner from food I already had on hand, but for some reason that process scared me. I'm not really used to cooking blind without a recipe yet. Last night, however, I was in a really relaxed mood, and I just didn't feel like going to the store. The boyfriend and I had eaten a late lunch at a diner and had spent the rest of the day at the book store, so by the time we got home in the evening neither one of us was starving.
When we began to think about the prospect of dinner, long before either one of us was hungry, my boyfriend reminded me that we had some frozen raw shrimp. He suggested that I try to use up what we had, including the bottom of a bag of rice that just barely measured out to one cup. I didn't panic. Nobody was in a rush, and there was plenty of time for me to survey my fridge and pantry and start to form ideas.
Maybe it was because I was in such a great mood that everything went really smoothly. I had a general idea of what I wanted to make, and I didn't stress about the details beforehand. I let everything kind of come together as I was making it, adding things that I hoped would work well as I went along. I had a fun record on in the background (Eat Your Paisley,) and I didn't feel any pressure to finish cooking at any particular time.
I didn't make any exact measurements, but this is generally what I did. Go easy on the salt in this recipe because lots of the ingredients are already individually pretty salty.
Shrimp with Avocado and Bacon over Seasoned Rice (Georgeanne insists that I call this recipe Jill-balaya, but I think I'll stick to the basics here)
1 cup of long grain white rice
1 onion, chopped
2 carrots, diced finely
2 cups of chicken or vegetable stock or water (I used two boullion cubes dissolved in two cups of water, which added to the saltiness factor)
tomato paste (I don't think I had more than a teaspoon on hand)
old bay seasoning
a few cloves of minced garlic
1 pound of raw shrimp (I had medium, I'm sure large would be even better)
crumbled bacon (I had a pack of that "real bacon" crumbled stuff that's good on salads, but probably crammed with preservatives. Fresh bacon would be delicious, and I'm sure cooking the shrimp in the bacon fat would take this to a whole different level)
cilantro for garnish
Heat a layer of olive oil in a medium saucepan. Add onions and carrots and cook until soft. Add the tomato paste and old bay seasoning. I didn't measure the old bay, but I used at least a tablespoon. Add the rice to the oil and stir until it is coated with the seasonings. Zest the lime into the pot and let the rice toast for a moment, stirring. Add the stock to the pot, some juice from the lime, stir, and taste the broth. Adjust the seasonings. If it can use more old bay, add some. Bring the mixture to a boil, then lower the heat and cover. Let the rice simmer for 15-20 minutes or until all of the liquid is absorbed. Remove from the heat, and let stand, covered, for a few extra minutes. If this method sounds familiar, it's because I was trying to follow the general steps I witnessed our neighbor-chef using the other week.
Heat olive oil in a frying pan large enough to hold your shrimp in one layer. Add the minced garlic and chili flakes and stir fry for a few moments. Add the shrimp and season with a little salt and pepper. Add a few dashes of cumin and a little bit of the crumbled bacon. Fry the shrimp until it is opaque throughout, then remove it from the heat. A good method is to let it fry on one side until you can begin to see the shrimp turning white, then flip it over and let it finish cooking. You can also just stir fry until you no longer see any grey/clear spots.
Cut an avocado in half, remove the pit, and dice. Chop up a nice handful of fresh cilantro. Add a layer of rice to your serving plates. Place the shrimp on top of the rice, and sprinkle it with more crumbled bacon. Place the chunks of avocado on the plate, being careful not to smoosh them. Sprinkle the whole thing with cilantro. We ate this with a crunchy cucumber salad and a corona with a lime.
I was pretty thrilled with the results of my fridge-scavenger dinner. Most of the ingredients were left over from the superbowl party last weekend (carrots from chili, avocado and cilantro from guacamole, limes from corona, etc..) This was actually my first experience cooking this way, without an exact plan formulated from beginning to end. I think I got lucky that this turned into an absolute home-run on my first attempt, not to mention the fact that I don't usually have most of those ingredients just sitting around. Still, the whole experience was pretty encouraging and I can't wait to try cooking like this again.