Cha Cha Cha Cajun Shrimp

When I lived in San Francisco in the 1990’s, one of my favorite restaurants was Cha Cha Cha in the Mission. The menu is Cuban and Puerto Rican inspired while also fusing some of the best of many other cuisines.

I recently came across the restaurant’s cookbook in the used cookbook store in New Orleans (Kitchen Witch). The literary revisiting of their restaurant made me hungry and sent me to the kitchen to cook. One of the dishes that I really liked, I fixed for my folks this week. Cha Cha Cha Cajun Shrimp is a tapas dish there and is colorful and flavorful. It can be a little spicy, so I dropped the spice level from the original (1 1/2 cups!). Serve it with lots of crusty bread to dip into the delicious sauce.

We ate it as a main course after doubling everything and served it with rosemary sweet potatoes medallions.

I will be returning to their cookbook for other recipes soon!

Cha Cha Cha Cajun Shrimp

1/2 cup Cajun Spice Mix
12 ounce dark beer
2 cups heavy cream
1 lb peeled medium sized shrimp

In a heavy saucepan, mix cajun spice mix and beer. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly with a whisk to make a thick paste. Gradually stir in cream to make a smooth sauce. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally for 8 to 10 minutes or until sauce thickens. Add shrimp and stir. Reduce heat and cook shrimp over low heat for 2-3 minutes or until shrimp are opaque. Serve with fresh, crusty bread.

Revisiting Oceana Grill

After Latoya Cantrell’s historic inauguration ceremony, my friends Lisa and Vincenzo and I followed Madam Mayor’s second line out of the Mahalia Jackson theater into Armstrong Park.

Madam Mayor in the light blue dress and white umbrella, stage left

Afterwards, we went seeking sustanence. It was Monday and our first two options weren’t open. We went with number three – Oceana Grill on Conti @ Bourbon. The last time I was here was 8 years ago and it stands the test of time as a casual dining establishment. It was as filled with local workers as tourists and we were served quickly with large portions of good food.

I went with the fried shrimp platter. Lots of them on the plate, plus hushpuppies and french fries. Nice bite to the jalapeno hush puppies and a nice fry on everything else.

Lisa had the Black and Bleu burger with blackening seasoning and blue cheese. Nice and beefy burger with a tangy sauce.

Vincenzo had the seafood platter, pilled high with oysters, catfish, shrimp. Lovely cornmeal batter on the thin and crispy catfish.

The server was friendly and quick with refills. For French Quarter dining, the prices are reasonable. I’d definitely stop by here again.

Oven Baked Shrimp Fajitas

My dad will pull a shrimp trawl several times over the summer and then we get to enjoy Alabama shrimp for the rest of the year. Here is a picture of him sorting the catch – we throw all the small fish back and the dolphins and pelicans come to feast.

This recipe uses a dry spice mix on the veggies and a one hour marinade on the shrimp for a quick, weeknight dinner. I served these on flour tortillas with refried beans, cheese, salsa and guacamole. 

The picture illustrates my family’s preferred shrimp to veggie ratio!

Oven Baked Shrimp Fajitas

1.5 to 2 lbs medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 to 2 14.4 packages of bell pepper and onion stir fry
10 flour tortillas

Shrimp Marinade

1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup red wine or balsamic vinegar
1/3 cup lime juice
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
3 cloves minced garlic

Veggie Spice Mix

1 teaspoon of kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 teaspoon of chili powder
1 teaspoon dried cilantro flakes
½ teaspoon of garlic powder
½ teaspoon of onion powder
½ teaspoon of ground cumin
½ teaspoon of smoked paprika

Whisk together all of the ingredients for the shrimp marinade and place in a zip top bag with the peeled and deveined shrimp. Smoosh the bag around to completely coat the shrimp. Place in the fridge for one hour.

Put together the dry spices. Place the veggies in a large bowl and toss with the spice mixture.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.

Lightly oil a large, rimmed baking sheet. Put down the veggies as a base layer. Sprinkle the shrimp on top. Place in the middle of the oven and bake for about 8 minutes. Remove the shrimp and turn on the broiler. Cook for 2 additional minutes until shrimp is done.

Squeeze a little lime juice over the dish and serve with warm tortillas and your choice of add ins.


Graham’s Fish Camp

On Highway 588 in Collins, Mississippi there is a small restaurant that does a booming business on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. Only open from 3 to 9 on those nights, Graham’s Fish Camp is packed the entire time.

689 Highway 588. Collins, MS 39428

They start you out with a huge bowl of coleslaw while you look over the menu, although most folks seem to already know what they like. From looking at the other tables, catfish (Mississippi farm raised) was a heavy favorite.

We started with fried dill pickles and onion rings. One of Elvis’ favorite snacks, the dill pickle chips are battered in cornmeal and quite crunchy and tart. The onion rings were thick and hand battered. The baskets are huge, so I’d recommend the half portion sizes.

I had the fried shrimp platter – 12 shrimp, 3 hushpuppies and a mess of French fries. Crunchy batter on flavorful shrimp – quite tasty. The house made tarter sauce was tart and creamy.

Michelle had chicken tenders plus a catfish filet. Thin sliced with a delicious cornmeal batter, it was fresh and clean tasting. I can tell why so many people come here.

They end the meal with soft serve ice cream and your choice of toppings. For as busy as they are, the wait staff is friendly and quick with refills on the drinks and to check to make sure you don’t need anything else. The cost is quite reasonable, too – for under $20 a piece, we had a huge amount of great food. Definitely worth a visit.

Shrimp Quesadillas

I was craving drunken shrimp and decided to put them on flour tortillas to make quesadillas for a quick dinner.

Oh, and feel free to use the remainder of the limeade concentrate to make margaritas. I used drained Ro-Tel juice as part of the liquid for Spanish rice.

Shrimp Quesadillas

1 lb medium shrimp – peeled, deveined and butterflied
1 tablespoon paprika
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 cup limeade concentrate
1/2 cup tequila
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 cups Monterey pepper jack or cheddar cheese, grated
1 10 ounce can of Ro-tel diced tomatoes and green chilies, drained
8 flour tortillas

Combine paprika, garlic, salt, pepper, cumin, limeade and tequila and mix well. Place shrimp in marinade and refrigerate for no more than one hour.

Heat a large skillet with the oil and sauté shrimp and the marinade until shrimp are cooked through. Remove from heat.

Place 4 tortillas on a baking sheet. Sprinkle with cheese. Arrange shrimp on tortillas and sprinkle on Ro-Tel. Top with more cheese. Place remaining tortillas on top.

Bake until the tortilla is crisp and golden brown and the cheese is melted and bubbly, about 5 minutes at 450 degrees F. Let sit for 2 minutes and then cut into slices. Serve with guacamole, salsa and sour cream and a side of Spanish rice.

I basically do a cheat for the Spanish rice. This is enough for two people. Bring 1/3 cup of drained Ro-Tel juices and 1/3 cup water to a boil. Add two tablespoons of Ro-Tel diced tomatoes and green chilies, 1/4 teaspoon each of garlic powder, onion powder, chili powder and ground cumin to 1/3 cup rice. Stir well, cover and reduce heat to low. Cook until all the water is absorbed and serve.

Seared Shrimp and Artichokes With Rosemary Lemon Beurre Blanc

My next door neighbor sometimes gets shrimp from a buddy of his from Plaquemines Parish. I bought a pound of very fresh shrimp off of him and then stared into the refrigerator. I had cream, butter, lemons and a huge bunch of rosemary – guess it is time to make a beurre blanc sauce.

White butter sauce is decadently rich. It gets some of its velvety texture from stirring in the final bit of butter off the heat (and it keeps the sauce from breaking). The original recipe used 2 sticks of butter but you won’t miss the 4 tablespoons I left out. The limoncello adds a sweetness to the dish but, once you add the shrimp and artichokes and pasta, it will be perfectly balanced,


Seared Shrimp and Artichokes with Rosemary Lemon Beurre Blanc

1 small sweet onion (like Vidalia), minced (about 1/3 cup onion)
4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, divided
1/2 cup limoncello or white wine
2/3 cup heavy cream
2 teaspoons fresh chopped rosemary leaves
1/2 teaspoon each of kosher salt and black pepper
1 1/2 sticks cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes

1 lb shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice plus zest of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon coarse salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 box frozen artichoke hearts (or a can, drained)

Add onion, 3 tablespoons lemon juice and limoncello to a small saucepan. Bring to a boil and reduce until you have 4 tablespoons worth. Then add the cream, rosemary and salt and pepper. Cook until the cream is reduced by half. Reduce the heat and slowly whisk in one stick of the cold butter, a few cubes at a time, making sure that they dissolve completely before adding more. When it is entirely incorporated and has the consistency of a hollandaise sauce, take the saucepan completely off the heat and whisk in the remainder 4 tablespoons of butter and final tablespoon of lemon juice. This will ensure that the sauce will stay creamy, and the butter won’t break. Adjust seasonings.

While the cream is reducing, toss shrimp in olive oil and lemon juice to coat. Combine lemon zest and coarse salt. Sprinkle lemon salt over the shrimp with a few grinds of black pepper.

After the sauce is made, coat the bottom of a large sauté pan with oil and heat over medium-high heat. Working in batches, add the shrimp and sear on each side until lightly golden brown, about 1 to 2 minutes per side. Remove to a plate. Sauté the artichokes in the same pan until warmed through. Set with the shrimp.

Toss shrimp and artichoke hearts with rosemary lemon beurre blanc and serve with pasta. We used angle hair pasta.

Grilled Lemon Rosemary Salmon

For Valentine’s Day I’m cooking dinner for my sweetie. We are going to have grilled salmon, grilled asparagus rafts and fresh corn corn bread (recipe here).

As I don’t want to leave any fish attached to my grill grates, I’m cooking the fish in foil. You want to fold it so that it forms a tent over the fish, so that the smokey steam cooks the fish.


Grilled Lemon Rosemary Salmon

2 lbs salmon fillet
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons of butter
1 lemon (juice and slices)
4 stems of rosemary

Place the salmon fillet in the center of a large piece of aluminum foil. Lightly salt and pepper the surface of the salmon.  Next, cut the butter into several pieces and place the pats of butter evenly over the salmon. Squeeze half a lemon over the salmon fillet before topping it off with thin slices of lemon. Take the rosemary stems and lay them cross ways across fillet.

Fold the foil length-wise around the lemon rosemary salmon leaving breathing room above the salmon. Fold in the outer edges but do not fold them tightly — you want to allow the heat to travel through the outside of the foil and be trapped in the middle to create steam.

Cook indirectly beside medium coals in a closed grill for about 15 minutes. It’s ready to remove when the flesh just turns opaque and the fish flakes when tested with a fork.


Grilled Asparagus Rafts

Break asparagus at the natural bend. Toss in olive oil. Thread about 8 stalks onto two skewers. Continue until all asparagus is on skewers. Sprinkle with kosher salt.

Grill over medium coals, rotating clockwise and turning over until just cooked through about 5 to 8 minutes. Pull off skewers to serve.



Charleston Shrimp Perloo

Perloo came to the New World from France (where it was known as pilau) and is kin to a pilaf or paella. It is most well known in the low country of South Carolina and combines rice and tomatoes and whatever meat you’ve got handy together in a single pot. In this case, I’m using shrimp but chicken, sausage and even mushrooms will work to make a filling and delicious dish.

The two tricks with this dish is to first make a stock. The process isn’t that much to turn the shells or bones into fragrant stock and it will add layers of flavor once the rice has absorbed every drop. The second is to be sure to sauté the rice before adding the tomatoes and other liquids so that it doesn’t get mushy and each individual grain is soft and tasty.


Shrimp Perloo

Shrimp Stock:
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
The shells from 3 lbs large shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 onions, quartered
2 celery ribs, chopped roughly
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon peppercorns
6 cups water
2 bay leaves

5 tablespoons butter
1 onion, diced
1 green bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and diced
2 ribs celery, diced
2 1/2 cups long-grain white rice
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon Creole seasoning
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 cup white wine
4 cups shrimp stock
3 lbs large shrimp

For the stock: Melt butter in large saucepan over medium heat. Add shrimp shells, onion, celery, and salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until shells are pink, about 10 minutes. Add water, peppercorns and bay leaves. Increase heat to high and bring to boil. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes. Strain shrimp stock through fine-mesh strainer, pressing on solids to extract as much liquid as possible; discard solids.

For the Perloo: Melt butter in Dutch oven over medium heat. Add bell pepper, onion and celery and cook until vegetables are beginning to soften, 7-10 minutes. Add rice, garlic and seasonings and cook until fragrant and rice is translucent, about 5 minutes. Stir in tomatoes and their juice, the wine and 4 cups shrimp stock and bring to boil. Reduce heat to low, cover, and cook for 30 minutes.

Gently fold shrimp into rice until evenly distributed, cover, and continue to cook 10 minutes longer. Remove pot from heat and let sit, covered, until shrimp are cooked through and all liquid is absorbed, about 10 minutes. Serve.


Blackened Broiled Gulf Shrimp

I was flipping through a family recipe book and came across one from my Great Uncle Garrett Griggs. He basically took 2 pounds of shrimp, two sticks of butter and some salt and pepper, tossed it all together and made a dish of delicious broiled shrimp.

I decided to update the family recipe with my version of blackening spice but to leave most of the rest intact because…well, butter and spice make everything nice!


Blackened Broiled Gulf Shrimp

2 tablespoon paprika
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon brown sugar
2 teaspoons whole thyme
1 teaspoon oregano
2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 teaspoons black pepper
1 teaspoon cayenne
2 sticks butter, melted
2 lbs raw, shrimp in shell

Mix the first nine ingredients together to form the blackening spice. Store in an airtight container.

Thoroughly grease a shallow baking pan with melted butter. Toss shrimp with a generous coating of the blackening spice. Thread onto skewers. Set onto the baking pan and sprinkle with more spice mix and then baste with melted butter.

Cook in a preheated 475 degree F oven until pink, about 3 minutes. Rotate the skewers and baste with more melted butter. Broil for 4-5 minutes until done.

Since this is peeled with fingers at the table, serve with a good supply of paper napkins and the remainder of the melted butter. Depending on how spicy you like it is how many fingers you should lick!

As he wrote at the end of the recipe: Messy but good

Rosemary Lemon Shrimp

Remember those earlier posts about how much I love rosemary? Well, here is another great recipe using it – this time for shrimp.


Rosemary Lemon Shrimp

3 pounds large shrimp peeled
4 to 6 long branches rosemary, leaves removed to yield skewers, 1/2 cup leaves set aside
2 lemons, zested and juiced
4 ounces limoncello
4 bunches oregano, leaves removed (about a 1/4 cup leaves)
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

In a blender, combine the lemon juice and zest, limoncello, rosemary, oregano, garlic, salt, pepper and olive oil and pulse until leaves are in small pieces. Remove 1/2 cup of marinade for basting. Place shrimp in the remaining marinade for at least 30 minutes and up to 2 hours.

Divide the shrimp into four or six equal portions and skewer them on each of the rosemary branches. Place in the refrigerator until ready to grill.

Preheat the grill or broiler for direct cooking. If using a charcoal grill, just before beginning to cook the shrimp, scatter remaining rosemary leaves over the coals. Cook each skewer for three minutes, then turn and cook for a minute or two more, basting with the marinade.

Garnish with lemon wedges and a sprig of rosemary.