Setting aside time on a Sunday afternoon to prepare a special meal or fare for the week ahead has become a relished ritual for feeding my family. I feel more productive when I have served a show-stopping main dish or stashed a few side dishes in the refrigerator.
I spend part of each weekday searching for ideas and recipes online, browsing through cookbooks or watching professional chefs hone their skills on food TV channels.
Sometimes, I come up with a gem. Other times, I’m satisfied with being organized enough to get a head start on future weeknight dinners.
In launching this column, I’m hoping to share some of my own successes and tips to help readers do a little food prepping of their own. I’ll provide recipes — and would be happy to hear from readers with comments or suggestions.
My first recipe suggestion is a shortcut version of one of my favorite treats: lobster bisque. Making the dish in cooking school took an entire day and required hours of slicing, dicing and simmering. Instead, I have been making a perfect Shrimp Bisque (thanks to my friend Isabel Reis Laessig of sundaysuppermovement.com) that inspired this lobster version.
Bisque is a French version of soup or chowder thickened with cream (for the soup), or chunks of vegetables and seafood (for the chowder). I serve this bisque as a meal. It’s hearty and delicate at the same time with flavors of seafood, vegetables and seasonings. This recipe also includes a topping of peppery candied bacon that takes the bisque to a new level of deliciousness.
I use frozen shrimp, but the recipe would work with fresh seafood, including crab or any shellfish you have on hand. The primary shortcut in this recipe is using chicken broth instead of making your own seafood stock. My family members haven’t noticed a difference.
It’s still important to take some time when adding things like cream and cheese to a hot pot; continue stirring constantly as long as necessary to incorporate the ingredients. I use fresh vegetables and the best Parmigiano-Reggiano I can find. As I always recommend in cooking, use wine you would drink on its own. For the bacon, it’s important to use thick slices to create a robust garnish. Adding the peppers to the sugary crust makes for a perfect balance of sweet and spicy flavors. The finished bacon can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for several days.
Also, when chopping the shrimp for the bisque, save a few of the larger shellfish to drape over the sides of the serving bowls for an extra portion of protein and a prettier presentation.
The bisque will stay fresh in the refrigerator for several days. I also have removed the shrimp bits and frozen the base for future dinners. I thaw it out overnight and add it to a pan of sauteed shrimp and top with some freshly grated cheese, candied bacon and parsley or other green herbs.
A side salad and crusty bread will complete this meal. I put this in my show-stopper category of recipes.
Amazing Shrimp Bisque
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 celery stalks, finely chopped
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2 tablespoons minced garlic or paste (about 2 cloves if minced)
2 pounds shrimp, chopped
2 green onions, finely chopped
4 tablespoons (½ stick) butter
5 tablespoons flour
1 cup white wine
2 cups tomato sauce
64 ounces chicken broth
2 cups half-and-half
½ cup Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper, to taste
Candied bacon pieces, for topping (see recipe)
Fresh herbs, for garnish
Heat a deep soup pot over medium heat. Add olive oil and evenly distribute it.
Add finely chopped celery stalks and garlic and saute for about 3 minutes.
Add chopped shrimp and finely chopped green onions and saute both for 2 to 3 minutes.
Melt butter in the pot and cook for an additional 1 to 2 minutes.
Sprinkle flour over the ingredients in the pot. Cook for 5 minutes, constantly stirring.
Pour in white wine while continuously stirring. Let it simmer and thicken. (When it is thick enough, it will take longer to pool back to the center of the pot when pushed with a spatula.)
Add tomato sauce and let it bubble and thicken while continuing to stir.
Once it thickens, add chicken broth and let it simmer. Turn the heat to low and wait for it to cool somewhat. Add half-and-half slowly while stirring for about 1 minute.
Sprinkle in Parmesan slowly while continuing to stir for about 2 minutes.
Turn heat back to medium and let the soup sit until it starts to bubble. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with bacon and fresh herbs.
Source: Kathy Saunders, Times correspondent
1 pound thick-cut bacon
½ cup brown sugar
½ teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
½ tablespoon crushed red pepper flakes
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with a silicone liner, parchment paper or foil. Lay the uncooked bacon slices onto the pan.
In a small bowl, combine the brown sugar, cracked black pepper, cayenne pepper and crushed red pepper flakes. Sprinkle the sugar mixture over the bacon slices, fully coating all of the slices. Using your hands, gently pat the sugar down onto the slices of bacon.
Bake for 30 to 40 minutes or until brown and crispy. Remove from oven and let cool for 10 minutes. Carefully transfer the bacon from the baking sheet pan to a cooling rack and let cool for another 10 minutes.
Source: Kathy Saunders, Times correspondent