Sunday, July 22, 2007

A Taste of Home

Saturday afternoon I prepared a simple summer lunch for my boy and me, happy and relieved that for once we could spend a weekend together and just relax and wile the time away, doing nothing in particular. We so rarely get to do this! I had been to the local market in the morning and had stocked up on some much-needed fruit and veggies, including the requisite melons and peaches for this time of year, as well as some end-of-season mara des bois strawberries and some lovely tomatoes. Probably not my best market run by far, but still a fair one, with enough goodies to keep us set for at least a few days.

I also treated myself, for the first time in a while, to two cheeses from the fromager, something I don't do very often simply because the cheese can sometimes be quite pricey. I try to save excellent cheese like that for special occasions, like when we have guests over for dinner -- but this weekend together seemed like a special occasion to me, so I splurged. We already had some coulommiers in the refrigerator that some hotel guest had asked my boy to throw out (*gasp! the horror!*) and which he slipped into his bag and brought home. So I picked up a nice chunk of vieux comté and a small sliver of gouda au cumin. I was also tempted by a chèvre but figured I better limit myself, because the last time I went crazy on the cheese we never finished it and it stayed in the fridge for far too long. (I have to add here that this cheese splurge was also partially inspired by the wonderful posts over at Chez Loulou, who has a weekly cheese celebration, and Amy at C'est la me... who does some occasional wine and cheese pairings.)

So we had our melon et jambon de parme combination along with these lovely cheeses, some fresh bread, as well as a simple baby spinach salad mixed with cherry tomatoes and a shallot-infused vinaigrette. Simple, fresh, but filling. The night before I had thrown together the same salad I had brought with me to Katia and Kyliemac's Bastille Day picnic: tomatoes, cucumber, feta cheese, fragrant olive oil and cilantro. I swear, I never tire of summer meals! (Can you tell?!)

Midway through the meal, it hit me that I was dying to make my mother's famed Steamed Shrimp Macaroni Salad -- it had been far too long since I had thrown together a batch, and I had just so happened to pick up some shrimp on my morning shopping trip. Of course, this recipe is difficult to replicate here in France, namely because I don't have easy access to the key "secret" ingredient: Old Bay seasoning, something any true Marylander and Chesapeake Bay resident has in her kitchen closet/pantry. But lo and behold, I had (for once) cunningly picked up a bottle of the seasoning last summer and had been waiting for just the right opportunity to make good use of it.

Now, every summer I get a craving for the one thing I simply cannot have here in France, and the one food that I always say I so desperately miss: Maryland steamed crabs. I unfortunately won't be making it back home this summer for my crab fix, but shrimp comes a close second. And like I mentioned in my earlier post, the pathetic tourteaux they have here just don't come anywhere near the beauty of Maryland crabs, and of course they are all missing the spices the crabs are steamed in back home. Over the years I've gotten more and more addicted to spicy food, and now Old Bay just seems like child's play to me -- but it does pack a punch if you're not used to the spicy stuff! And I know the French don't tend to like spicy things in general. (On a side note, this reminds me of a French joke I heard ages ago, "Manger épicé en même temps, ce n'est pas facile" which is basically just a silly play on words -- it sounds like "Manger et pisser en même temps, ce n'est pas facile"... Translates to "Eating spicy food at the same time isn't easy" but also sounds like "It's not easy to eat and pee at the same time" -- Don't mind me, guess that was altogether off-subject -- but it made me laugh to myself!)

Oh, so getting back to the subject at hand: my mom's shrimp salad recipe! I did copy it down years ago, and like I said, I don't get to dig it out all that often, but I decided I need to start making more dishes that remind me of home and that may also be appealing to my boy and his family. This salad of course makes for a great vacation dish, is a big hit at picnics, and given the fact that I'm trying to assemble some good vacation recipes for my trip down to the Atlantic Coast in August, this seemed like the perfect addition. It's easy and quick to put together (the longest part is probably just peeling all the shrimp and dicing the veggies) and you can make lots of it at once! Depending on how much you need, of course. My mom's recipe serves about four as an accompaniment, less as a main dish.

In fact, this recipe may appeal to those back home in the U.S. who can get their hands on the Old Bay seasoning, but for my expat readers here in France, it may leave you wanting! I'm afraid I don't have any suggestions for a substitute, aside from perhaps some paprika or a spice of your choice -- but again, to my mind, it just wouldn't be the same. In fact, the shrimp at home in Maryland is actually steamed in Old Bay, and then of course my Mom adds more into the recipe, so it's doubly delicious!

So without further ado (finally, I know!), voilà the classic Steamed Shrimp Macarani Salad:

1 pound (about 500 grams) steamed shrimp, peeled and deveined
8 oz. elbow macaroni (also not quite the same in France, but any pasta resembling macaroni is fine, of course!), cooked, drained and rinsed
3/4 cup mayonnaise (again, my Mom's notation here is for "Hellman's real" mayonnaise, which just makes me chuckle... in France, of course, most people make their own mayonaisse, but I'm not going to quibble with that -- and I have to admit that I cheated and used bottled mayonnaise myself)
2 tbsp. vinegar
1 tbsp. mustard (also not the same here -- I brought back some French's mustard from home, but I imagine Dijon would work just fine, although it might just give it all the more of a kick!)
1 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. pepper (2 pinches)
1/2 tsp. Old Bay seasoning, or to taste
1 cup sliced, chopped celery
1 cup chopped green or sweet red pepper
1/4 cup chopped onion

In a large bowl, stir together mayonnaise, vinegar, mustard, sugar, salt and pepper until smooth; add in Old Bay seasoning last. Add macaroni, celery and onion; toss to coat well.

At this point, I cut the shrimp in half, and sprinkle some additional Old Bay seasoning on them, as they haven't been steamed in the spice here in France. Then you add the shrimp into the salad, stir together once again, cover and chill in the refrigerator until serving.

Enjoy! I don't know about you, but this sure reminds me of home...


ViVi said...

mmmmmmmmm that sounds divine!! I would love to try your recipe, but mayonnaise is a big no-no for me right now. But! I do have some Old Bay that I brought back with me (it's well known in the south, too!) and I do have a steamer... I'm getting some ideas!!! Why didn't I think of it before?

The Late Bloomer said...

Ooooo, you have a steamer? Lucky you -- you can steam your own fresh shrimp! And lots of other things. What a great idea!

I understand you on the mayonnaise -- I kinda cringed when I added in all that yesterday. To be honest, it seemed like a bit much. I'm sure the salad would be just as good with a bit less. Or with a substitute that isn't as heavy and rich.

In any case, steamed shrimp with the Old Bay -- heck, they're great like that on their own! And silly me, I didn't even realize it was used as much in the South, but I guess that makes sense.

Reb said...

I love Old Bay. I put it on everything, even the baby's food. And the tin appeals to my husband's design sensibilities.

Linda said...

I think I have a container of Old Bay's Seasoning somewhere. I love shrimp and, since it is Summer, your recipe sounds perfect.

The Late Bloomer said...

Yes, the tins are vintagey and so perfect! Crabs always remind me of home, and my mom gave me a pewter crab years ago to keep in my purse at all times. It's like a good luck charm!

Linda, it definitely is great for summer -- I only made a small batch this time around, so I'll be finishing the last of it at lunchtime today. Then again, it's probably best not to make too much in advance, because the shrimp can only be kept in the fridge for so long. I'll definitely bring the recipe (and the Old Bay) with me on vacation next month though...

Emily said...

Looks delicious!

Gabrielle said...

Your recipe sounds great, but as soon as I saw "crab" I started salivating for crab cakes. Mmmmmmm!!

Dumdad said...

Maryland crabs sound great.

I enjoyed your joke ("Manger épicé en même temps, ce n'est pas facile") and shall try it out on my French wife soonest.

The French in general don't like food too spicy; our local Indian is nice but very bland compared to the ones in London.

Anonymous said...

Oh you know what is a fun salad...tomatoes, feta cheese and onions. Easy and gorgeous.

Doc said...

You had to go and mention crabs, didn't you?

That is beyond evil.

I'm going to go be pathetically homesick now...

(I might be a Carolina girl but my mom was born and raised in Baltimore--and as we lived on the ICWW, blue crabs--steamed in Old Bay because there is nothing else-- were a staple. And I MISS them!)

La Page Française said...

yum, my mouth was watering reading about all these lovely summer meals. I love simple refreshing salads in summer too. And you can't go wrong with a cheese plate, a baguette, and spinach and cherry tomato salad with shallot vinaigrette. As for Maryland crabs, about ten years ago I drove from New York to DC one summer and on the way we stopped in this little town in Maryland, I think it was on the Chesapeake Bay, and as luck would have it, they were having a crab festival that particular day. It was so pleasant to sit by the water and eat lovely Maryland crabs and crabcakes. A nice memory. I'm going to give your salad a go if I can ever find this Old Bay seasoning (haven't heard of it, wonder if it's possible to pick it up in California)

The Late Bloomer said...

Yeah, crab cakes -- no kidding! Don't get me started... That's one of the major things I'm homesick for, too -- if I can't have the actual steamed crabs, I settle for crab cakes. But I really do love the whole process of using a mallet to crack open the shells and dig inside for the backfin crab meat -- mmmmm! My dad and I would have competitions to see who would find the biggest piece of lump crab meat... Ahh, memories.

Like I said, when I get to go home in the summertime, I always manage to have crabs at least a few times, but not this year... :( Last summer my dad brought home a big bag for me and we sat around the picnic table, just like when I was a kid, and cracked into the crabs.

Dumdad, glad you liked the joke! It just came to me randomly, when I was thinking about spicy food.

Delphine, you're absolutely right -- it's the simple things that are the best, as cliché as that might sound! It's so true.

And Doc, at least I know I'm not alone! Trust me, I'm feelin' the homesickness too. I get it the most at Christmastime, and then in the middle of summer. Bizarre, no?

Page française, that does sound like a great memory! And I bet you can find Old Bay in California -- just check in the grocery stores, or ask around. I'm sure it must be stocked there. Like Vivi said, it's a seafood staple, so I think it's available all over the country really.

little fugitive said...

I love your recipe! Macaroni salad sounds so good. I found this food blog:
that links to an eBayer selling Old Bay...

Betty C. said...

This sounds great! We have enjoyed a few classics here in the Pacific NW -- homemade macaroni and cheese with Tillamook cheddar AND a great macaroni salad. I didn't know that much about Old Bay, although I have heard of it.

thethinker said...

Reading all of that made me hungry.

Karina said...

Hey just thought I'd post on my reply on your blog too ;-)

Thanks! I did it with a glass engraver similar to this one: which i bought at an art store here in town (for much more than the price on that website!) but it has paid for itself over and over! Plus I have a good time picking out different designs and objects to engrave, you just need a very steady hand :-)

L said...

Haha, reminds me that my secret ingredient that I hoard is ground cloves. I'm also in need of some allspice, which is next to impossible to find here in France.

Hooray for authentic american cooking!

Scribbit said...

I love shrimp, I love macaroni, what's not to love about this recipe?

ColourMeCrazy said...

I've never had Old Bay Seasoning but reading your description of all that food is just making my mouth water! And shrimp! Impossible to get good fresh seafood in Frankfurt! I'm going to go nibble on muesli's all I have in the appartment at the moment :-(

Anonymous said...

I get so jealous of people who love all these wonderful cheeses. For some reason I do not like cheese but I feel I am missing out on something great. Is there any way do you think for someone to learn to like cheese

Anonymous said...

I am from Maryland and live near the Chesapeake Beach area. Crabs are one of the BEST things of summer in Maryland and something other people just don't understand. Old Bay runs through our veins! Your recipie sounds great.

The Late Bloomer said...

Hmmm, in response to anonymous, I'm not sure about acquiring a taste for cheese! I'm all for giving everything a chance, so I say why not?! Sometimes it takes a few attempts at appreciating something before it really sinks in, so if you find some cheeses to be too strong or not to your tastes, move on to a different kind -- they're all SOOO different! I've found that if I remain open-minded, I tend to discover things that I might not have tried otherwise. That's what I would recommend. I'm not a huge camembert fan, but every once in a while I fall on one that I really enjoy. But if you don't like the "oozing" cheeses, so to speak, try a cheese like comté or beaufort, which the cheese purists may not bless as "real cheese" but I think certainly deserve the recognition.

Oh, and as to the second anonymous reader -- yup, I certainly have to agree with that one! No matter how far we travel from home, Old Bay stays with us as a part of our heritage. There's just nothing quite like it in the world.

sognatrice said...

Alice, I just read your interview over at ExpatInterviews, and I have to say I'm surprised (and a bit sad) that I haven't run into you sooner!

I loved your answers there, especially those that reflect your general positive attitude, and if you're wondering, I'm commenting on this particular post because I get Old Bay shipped in (via my mom) as well ;)