Kitchen Exhibitionist
The Culinary Quests of a Food Enthusiast Stuck in the Sticks
Wednesday, September 12, 2007
Cooking By The Book - Lychee-Coconut Sorbet
Cooking By The Book - Lychee-Coconut Sorbet

My overflowing kitchen library shelves contain three types of books: cookbooks (hundreds of them), collections of food essays/memoirs, and reference books. In the latter category one of the most referenced volumes is Culinary Artistry, by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page. Peeking from the edges of its pages are several paper sticky-tab dividers I placed to quickly open to the most used sections: Food Matches Made in Heaven, Seasoning Matches Made in Heaven, and Common Accompaniments to Entrees.

Culinary Artistry has introduced to me to some surprisingly delicious flavor pairings, such as beets and horseradish with corned beef, and lobster and vanilla. One day while trying to decide what to do with a can of lychees I had purchased at an Asian grocery store a while back, I thumbed open The Book.

It took me a moment to find the tiny lychee section under “litchi nuts”, where I learned that coconut, cream, and kiwi fruit are great partners for lychees. Sounded like dessert to me. Some quick searches of my recipe files and the Internet uncovered quite a few lychee ice cream recipes, but one particular one for Lychee Coconut Sorbet from Gourmet Magazine stood out because not only did it contain two of the three items considered to be the lychee’s flavor mate, but it appeared to be a breeze to make, with only three ingredients and about 5 minutes preparation time.

The secret to its quick and easy preparation is canned Cream of Coconut, that thick sweetened, creamy ingredient used in making pina coladas and other tropical cocktails. Coco Lopez is the common brand but Goya also makes one. The cream of coconut, along with some fresh lime juice, the canned lychees, and some of their syrup are simply pureed in the blender until smooth and frozen in an ice cream maker.

Tropical sorbet made from canned convenience foods?! Well, I had all the ingredients on hand and a few minutes to spare so I quickly whipped up a batch and in about 35 minutes I tasted Lychee Coconut Sorbet.

The aroma was tropical, almost floral. The sorbet was tangy and very refreshing, with the subtle coconut flavor mellowing the lychee flavor. This is guest-worthy!

Lychee Coconut Sorbet is perfect dessert fare after a spicy Asian meal (Chinese, Indian or Thai). Gourmet’s recipe serves it with fresh mango slices but I paired it with homemade Mango Gelato.

Lychee Coconut Sorbet
Adapted from Gourmet, June 2004
Yield 1 pint

1 20-oz can lychees in syrup
1/2 cup well-stirred sweetened Cream of Coconut (not coconut milk or coconut cream)
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

Drain lychees, reserving syrup. Purée lychees, cream of coconut, 1/4 cup of the reserved syrup, and 2 tablespoons lime juice in a blender until smooth. Freeze in ice cream maker.

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Wednesday, September 05, 2007
An Indian Side Dish Goes Mainstream - Potato and Green Bean Chatt
An Indian Side Dish Goes Mainstream -
Potato and Green Bean Chatt

I seem to have become an avid collector of flexible side dish recipes. A “flexible” recipe for me must meet quite stringent criteria. It can fit comfortably in several slots of a menu, as a starter, salad, side dish or vegetable course. It tastes equally good served warm, room temperature, or chilled. And most importantly, despite a strong flavorful personality, it must get along well with many types of foods and cuisines. Potato and Green Bean Chatt is my latest such discovery.

Because of its Indian background I first served it with Grilled Tandoori Lamb chops. The fresh mint in the Chatt complemented the lamb, as mint traditionally does, but it also offered a cooling contrast to the spicy heat of the Tandoori flavors.

Despite its Indian origins this chatt is not limited to an Indian menu. The warm cumin flavor makes it a perfect partner for Mexican food. Its bold seasonings of lemon, mint, and mild spiciness complement the simplicity of broiled fish, roasted chicken, or grilled beef. Served cold as a potato salad, it goes well with almost any simple sandwich.

And those concerned about their fat and sodium intake will appreciate the complete lack of fat in this recipe and how little salt is needed, unusual for a potato dish (although when served chilled, the flavors are muted and it needs just a bit more salt).

Potato and Green Bean Chatt has earned a place in my “flexible side dish” files, right alongside previous favorites such as Summertime Roasted Tomatoes and Onions, Beet and Feta Salad, and Tortellini with Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto.

Potato and Green Bean Chat
Adapted from Sunset Magazine May 1989
Yield 6 servings

1/2 pound fresh green beans, ends trimmed
6 medium-size red thin-skinned potatoes (2 to 2 1/2 lb. total)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon cayenne (or more, to taste)
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground mustard
1/3 cup hot water
1/3 cup chopped fresh mint leaves
1/4 cup thinly sliced green onions
1/4 cup lemon juice
Salt to taste
Mint sprigs for garnish

In a 5- to 6-quart pot, bring about 3 quarts water and a spoonful of salt to boiling. Add green beans and cook uncovered until just tender, about 6 - 8 minutes. Lift out beans with tongs and immerse in ice water to stop cooking. Drain and dry.

Add whole potatoes to boiling water and simmer, covered, until tender when pierced, 25 to 35 minutes. Drain and let cool until comfortable to handle.

Meanwhile mix together cumin, cayenne, black pepper, coriander, mustard, and hot water. Cut green beans into 1 - 1/2-inch lengths.

Peel potatoes, cut into 1 inch cubes, and place in a large bowl. Pour water-spice mixture over potatoes, toss lightly and let stand about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

To potatoes, add green beans, chopped mint, onion, lemon juice, and salt to taste. Mix gently and pour into a shallow bowl. Garnish with mint sprigs.

May be served warm, room temperature or chilled.

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Wednesday, August 29, 2007
Killing Two Birds with One Stone - Smoky Zucchini and Potato Stew
Killing Two Birds with One Stone - Smoky Zucchini and Potato Stew

Late summer is a time of plenty; plenty of sun, plenty of heat, and plenty of fresh local vegetables. One vegetable in particular, the lovely zucchini, is superabundant this time of year. It must be all that sun and heat. So come late summer we’re all looking for different ways to utilize that prolific green squash.

When I was growing up, a summertime staple for meatless Friday evening fare was giambotta, a simple, flavorful Italian zucchini and potato stew. Although a stew may sound heavy for hot weather, giambotta was a light and perfect summer meal, served with a fresh tomato salad and good crusty Italian bread.

A few years ago I encountered a recipe for what looked like a Mexican version of giambotta. The key ingredients were still there: zucchini, potatoes, onions, and garlic, but it had a few interesting twists, so I had to try it. It was wonderful and has now become a favorite meatless main dish.

Like most stews it is pure comfort food, loaded with chunks of tender vegetables in a light savory broth. Raising it a few notches above comfort food though, is the spicy heat and fragrant smokiness from the canned chipotle chile in adobo sauce, which enriches the broth and makes it almost drinkable. The chunks of zucchini just thrive in that environment, absorbing the flavors and becoming so much more than plain old squash. The potatoes add an earthiness which reminds you, “Hey, I’m still comfort food”. It is a great combination of flavors that keeps your spoon going back to the bowl for more.

If you’re looking to feed vegetarians a delicious summer meal while using some of the overflowing zucchini crop, here is a great way to kill two birds with one stone.

Smoky Potato and Zucchini Stew
Adapted from Vegetables Every Day by Jack Bishop
Yield: 4 - 6 servings

If you don’t like things too spicy hot, use one of the smallest chiles from the can and scrape out the seeds and discard them.

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
4 medium zucchini (about 2 pounds), cut into 3/4-inch dice
1 chipotle chile in adobo sauce, minced with 2 teaspoons of the sauce
2 medium garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspons minced fresh oregano leaves or ¾ tsp dried
3 cups chicken or vegetable stock
2 pounds red potatoes, scrubbed and cut into 1/2-inch dice
salt to taste
2 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro leaves
Fresh warm flour tortillas on the side

Heat the oil in a dutch oven or other large pot. Add the onion and zucchini and sauté over medium-high heat until lightly browned, about 7 minutes. Add the chile, sauce, garlic, and oregano and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute.

Add the stock and bring to a boil. Add the potatoes, cover, and simmer for 10 minutes. Uncover and continue to simmer until the stew thickens and the potatoes are tender, about 5 minutes. Add salt to taste. Stir in the cilantro. Be gentle when stirring so as not to break the tender zucchini.

The stew can be covered and set aside for several hours. Reheat gently before serving.

Ladle the stew into bowls. Serve with fresh warm flour tortillas.

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Wednesday, August 22, 2007
Top Secret Topping
Top Secret Topping

I love simple little twists on basic ingredients that create something new and spectacular, like this top secret topping.

Imagine a crystal dish of beautiful fresh strawberries or sliced summer peaches garnished with a large dollop of a snowy white, creamy topping that tastes smooth and rich and a bit tangy. Is it sour cream? crème fraiche? cream cheese? yogurt? Nope, nope, nope, and nope.

Believe or not, this luscious, rich-tasting sublime sauce is made from only cottage cheese. That’s it. Plain old cottage cheese is treated in a simple secret way that turns it into a special topping for fruit or other desserts. The secret? Whirling the cottage cheese in a food processor until smooth and creamy and then chilling it until thickened.

The credit for this creation goes to Maida Heatter, my favorite dessert cookbook author. I have all her original books from the 70’s and 80’s and I see they still continue to be reissued in various formats. Her recipes are always fabulous and I highly recommend any and all of her books.

Heatter accidentally stumbled upon this trick while experimenting with cheesecake recipes using cottage cheese instead of cream cheese. She had some leftover blended cottage cheese in her refrigerator and in order to use it up she plopped some on top of fresh strawberries. She took a mouthful, expecting it to taste like cottage cheese, and then swooned with delight.

I don’t understand the science behind how simply processing and chilling plain old hum-drum cottage cheese turns it into something this rich-tasting and creamy; I’m too busy enjoying to find out.

This topping is the perfect foil for fresh fruit, especially sweet berries. Its tanginess plays against the fruit’s natural sweetness, creating seesaws of sweet and tart flavors on the tongue. And it is great for those watching their fat and calorie intake. If you like, you may sweeten it with a small amount of sugar or honey and/or add a tiny bit of flavoring, such as vanilla extract.

I like it honey-sweetened on strawberries, or sweetened and embellished with a bit of almond extract on fresh peaches. I love it slightly sweetened with sugar and tossed with coins of ripe banana, which duplicates the flavor of a favorite childhood dish my great-grandmother used to make for me with sour cream.

Top Secret
From Maida Heatter’s Book of Great American Desserts

This is best made with large curd 4% cottage cheese. If you use the low fat version, it will be thinner and not as nearly delicious. For best results, use a food processor, not a blender.

1 pound (about 2 cups) large curd 4% cottage cheese
sweetener (sugar, honey, etc.) - optional
flavoring (extracts, etc.) – optional

Dump the cottage cheese into the food processor with the metal blade. Process on high speed for one full minute (time it; longer is better), stopping once to scrape down the sides with a rubber spatula. Then process it a few more seconds for good measure.

Scrape into a bowl, cover tightly and refrigerate for several hours.

Optional enhancements: Sweeten it with a few teaspoons of sugar, honey or other sweetener per cup of cottage cheese. Flavor it with 1/8 teaspoon of flavored extract per cup of cottage cheese. You may add these during the last part of the processing.

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Wednesday, August 08, 2007
Watermelon, Arugula, and Toasted Almond Salad
Watermelon, Arugula, and Toasted Almond Salad

In the sweltering days of August nothing satisfies the palate more than a crisp cool salad. During a heat wave salads are often the only dishes that seem even remotely appealing. After a while though, even the freshest salads made from the ripest local produce may get a little boring. When that happens, its time for a summer salad that will jolt your senses and titillate your salad-weary taste buds. This is it!

The first delight of this salad is the slice of crisp juicy watermelon on which the dressed greens perkily perch. The next surprise is the sweet and tangy dressing, made from a reduction of watermelon juice and cider vinegar. Each mouthful of salad bursts with the contrasts of the sweet melon, the tangy dressing, the slight bitterness of the arugula, and the crunch of the toasted almonds.

Watermelon, Arugula and Toasted-Almond Salad
Adapted from Homegrown Pure and Simple:
Great Healthy Food from Garden to Table
by Michael Nischan

1 small watermelon (about 6 pounds)
2 scallions, thinly sliced, whites and greens separated
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
3 ounces baby arugula leaves (4 cups loosely packed)
Sprinkling of fleur de sel or other natural coarse sea salt
1/2 cup slivered almonds, toasted until lightly golden and fragrant

To peel the watermelon, slice off both ends to reveal the flesh. Stand the watermelon upright, cut side down, on the cutting board. Using a large knife, slice the rind from the flesh, working from the top to the bottom in one long slice if possible. Repeat all around the melon, using the white of the rind as a guide for the knife, until the melon is completely peeled. Cut the flesh into 1-inch-thick slices. Trim six of the best looking slices into 3 or 4 inch squares or diamond shapes that will fit on salad serving plates. Refrigerate if preparing salad in advance but allow slices to come to room temperature before serving.

Chop the remaining watermelon into chunks, reserving 1 ½ cups to make the dressing. Refrigerate the rest for another use.

To make dressing, in a blender or food processor, puree 1 1/2 cups watermelon until smooth. Strain through sieve to make 1 cup juice. In a small saucepan, sauté the scallion whites with 1 teaspoon olive oil over medium heat, until soft. Add watermelon juice and vinegar; bring to a boil over medium-high flame. Lower flame and simmer until reduced to about 3 tablespoons, stirring occasionally, 20 to 25 minutes. Pour into a small bowl; cool. Whisk in remaining oil, salt and pepper.

To make the salad, arrange the watermelon squares on six chilled salad plates. Sprinkle with some fleur de sel. In a large bowl, combine arugula, almonds and sliced onion greens. Add 2 tablespoons dressing and toss gently. Top watermelon squares with salad. Drizzle with remaining dressing.

Yield: 6 servings

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Wednesday, August 01, 2007
An Exceptional Use for Oregano

An Exceptional Use for Oregano

A long, long time ago, when I was young and unencumbered by such things as a career or a mortgage, I spent several months traveling around Europe by myself with a backpack, a railpass, and very limited funds, visiting 9 different countries. Each country had its own unique personality, its own language, its own flavors, and its own currency. Every time I crossed a border I sensed a new adventure was on the other side.

I recall Greece with particular fondness. Some of my favorite food memories of that country are….

- the ubiquitous roadside eateries serving the exact same, never-changing, delicious menu of spit-roasted lamb, frites, salad, and wine for about 3 dollars

- the dense chocolate coconut stick confections sold by Athens’ street vendors in the Plaka

- the luscious fresh creamy yogurt, so thick a spoon could stand upright in it

- the faint aroma of cinnamon in all the tomato-based casserole dishes, like moussaka and pastitio.

- the surprising discovery that Greek salad, real Greek salad, contains no lettuce

One beautiful fall day, Greg and I were traveling through the rugged countryside of Crete on a rented motorcycle. I had met Greg two weeks earlier in Rome, one of the stops on his year-long trip around the world. We discovered we had a lot in common so we teamed up for a few weeks to explore southern Italy and Greece together.

We stopped the bike at the top of a peak to admire the gorgeous view. A small old man dressed in an ancient black suit tottered over to us from a nearby house and began chattering excitedly to us in Greek, and then in German, neither of which we understood. He realized we were American and although he didn’t speak English, he did know a few English words.

“Goot vine!” he announced as he waved around an unlabeled bottle.

“Good wine,” we interpreted.

He poured a little wine from the bottle into a glass he was carrying and offered us a taste. It was pretty good wine, homemade by him we surmised.

“50 Drachmas,” he offered for the bottle, which at that time was the equivalent of fifty cents. We found him adorable and wanting to support the local economy we purchased a bottle of his wine for a pittance.

He returned to his house and then quickly came running back to us, waving something in his hand and exclaiming, “Goot elinika!” We didn’t understand that word but when he presented us with a small clear plastic bag containing some dried green herbs we were momentarily taken aback. Greg and I looked at each other, wondering if this old Greek man in the middle of the remote Crete countryside was trying to sell us marijuana. I opened the baggie, inhaled its fragrance, and smiled. It was wild oregano, which he had gathered from the local hillsides and dried to sell to tourists that passed by.

To this day, whenever I cook with oregano and catch a whiff of its aroma, I am reminded of that old Greek man and my adventures in Greece. Were he to offer me some of his oregano today, this is what I would do with it.

Provoleta al Oreganato
From an ancient issue Bon Appetit

This simple appetizer or snack for two is sort of a rustic Italian fondue. As it cooks, the kitchen smells exactly like a pizza parlor.

1/2 pound Provolone cheese, in one thick round slice (about ½ inch thick)
1 teaspoon dried oregano, crumbled (or two teaspoons of fresh oregano)
1 finely minced garlic clove
2 tablespoons olive oil
sourdough bread slices

Preheat broiler and set rack 6 – 8 inches below heat source.

Set cheese in small, shallow round baking dish, just the size of the round of cheese. Sprinkle with oregano and garlic. Drizzle with oil. Broil until cheese melts, about 8 minutes.

Serve immediately. Use small knives to spread cheese mixture on bread slices. As it cools, it will firm up and may require reheating.

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Wednesday, July 25, 2007
Passatelli in Brodo
Passatelli in Brodo

I first learned of Passatelli in Brodo over 15 years ago on the old PBS cooking show, The Frugal Gourmet Cooks Italian, and instantly I knew it was something I would love.

Passatelli are small noodle/dumpling hybrids. If pasta mated with spaetzle, their offspring would be passatelli. Instead of flour, they are made from dry bread crumbs and Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, and then simmered in a delicate, flavorful broth until tender, and served as a light soup course. Well, I love pasta, I love bread, I love cheese, and I love good broth so I decided this dish was right up my gastronomic alley. This was a “must try”.

Thereafter, every time I dined at an Italian restaurant I searched in vain for Passatelli in Brodo on the menu. Even a trip to southern Italy failed to introduce me to this object of my gastronomic desire. Eventually, I forgot all about Passatelli in Brodo. For some reason it never occurred to me to make it myself.

Then suddenly last fall, during a cooking a lesson in Emilia Romagna, there I was, making Passatelli in Brodo. It seemed a very momentous occasion as we sat down at the table to eat, but after such long anticipation for this dish I feared there could be disappointment.

The broth, about which I’ve previously written, was light and delicate but very flavorful. The passatelli were tender, yet had just enough resistance to the tooth to make them satisfying. Unlike bland pasta or dumplings, these plump little morsels had the nutty robust flavor of Parmigiano Reggiano spiked with the subtle sweet peppery bite of nutmeg. It was even better than my overactive imagination had dreamed!

Like many traditional Italian recipes, this one is fairly simple, made with only a handful of basic ingredients. And like all Italian dishes, the key to success with such simplicity is to use only high quality ingredients. The breadcrumbs must be made from chunks of stale but good Italian bread, which is grated or ground in a food processor to make fine crumbs. The cheese, of course, must be nothing other than real Parmigiano Reggiano, freshly grated. And the nutmeg is scraped from the whole seed at the last minute.

To form the dough into the appropriate shape we used a passatelli maker, which is a heavy metal plate pierced with holes and framed by two handles. It was pressed onto mounds of the fresh pasta dough and pushed forward on the table surface until little worms were extruded. Back home I used a giant round slotted spoon to press onto the dough, but there are several other options described in the recipe below.

Passatelli in Brodo

1/2 pound fine dry bread crumbs
1/2 pound Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, freshly grated
large pinch of nutmeg
salt and pepper
4 eggs
handful of flour
homemade broth

Mix together bread crumbs, cheese, and nutmeg on a flat surface, like a wooden board. Add a pinch each of salt and pepper. Make a well in the middle, drop in the eggs, and mix with a fork and then hands. Knead into a big ball, sprinkling in flour until a soft dough forms.

Pinch off big chunks of dough and press through holes to form passatelli. If you don’t have a passatelli maker, use any kitchen device with holes about the size of small peas. I’ve used a large, round flat slotted spoon to press onto dough, pushing forward until 1 inch long worms are extruded. Some recipes suggest using a potato ricer with the largest holes, or a meat grinder without the blade. The goal is to make 1 – 2 inch long extrusions of dough about ¼ inch in diameter.

Bring the broth to a gentle simmer. Drop in the passatelli and cook gently until they float to the surface, and cook until firm but still tender, which takes just a few minutes. Serve immediately.

Yield: 8 first-course servings

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Wednesday, July 11, 2007
Recycling Food Scraps – Save the Shrimp Shells
Recycling Food Scraps – Save the Shrimp Shells

As a youth growing up in the land and time of plenty, I had never given much consideration to the food scraps my family tossed away. Bones, egg shells, vegetable peelings, and fat were considered garbage. But during my college years I discovered how food scraps that are often tossed away could be used in delicious and interesting ways.

I was working as a waitress in the dining room of a hotel where a large percentage of the kitchen staff, from sous chefs to prep cooks to dishwashers, came from the West Indies island of Barbados. Walking from the dark-paneled staid dining room filled with elderly Jewish couples, tired businessmen, and over-the-hill call girls, into the bright kitchen resounding with musical Caribbean accents and tinkling laughter was like emerging from a dark musty closet into an island vacation.

The Bajans would often make snacks from the food scraps that would normally be thrown away, and if they liked you, would share. I remember the first time Vanta, a prep cook, held out a sizzling broiler platter containing some tiny bits swimming in garlic butter over which she squeezed a bit of fresh lemon juice.

“Try this,” she offered, handing me a piece of bread to mop up the mysterious fragrant things.

“What is it?” I asked.

“Just try it,” she insisted.

I tasted it and it was good, sort of like shrimp scampi but without the shrimp. The little bits in it turned out to be the intestinal tracts of shrimp that had been removed from the shrimp during the deveining process and recycled into this tasty snack. Yucky, yes, but it really was good.

Another time I was offered a fried fritter. I didn’t ask what it was, not only because I knew it would be good but mostly because I was pretty sure I didn’t want to know its secret ingredient. It turned out to be a mushroom fritter, made from the stems of the mushrooms that were removed from the caps to make stuffed mushrooms for the dining room menu.

From then on I became curious about recycling food scraps and compiled lists of ideas on using meat bones, fat, chicken skin, and cheese rinds and I discovered how these item that were normally tossed away could lead a second life.

One of the most valuable kitchen scraps, I discovered, are shrimp shells. Never throw away raw shrimp shells! Whenever I cook shrimp for shrimp cocktail or shrimp salad, I utilize the shrimp shells to add an extra layer of shrimp flavor to the shrimp. Here’s how, along with my secret ingredient shrimp salad recipe.

How to Cook Shrimp for Shrimp Cocktail or Shrimp Salad

First, peel and devein the shrimp, leaving on the tail segment if desired. Toss the shells into a saucepan and add water just to cover. Add a spoonful of seafood seasoning, such as Old Bay, a couple of peppercorns, and a spoonful of pickling spices, if you have it. If you don’t have pickling spices, toss in a bay leaf, some mustard seeds, coriander seeds, or whatever flavorful whole spices you have on hand. Add a splash of a light vinegar, white wine, or a few squeezes of fresh lemon juice for some acid.

Simmer the mixture for about 20 minutes to extract the flavor from the shrimp shells and the seasonings into the broth. Strain the broth and return it to a simmer. Add the raw peeled shrimp, cover, and simmer for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow to rest, covered, for five minutes. Drain shrimp and chill.

These shrimp are plump, juicy, and flavorful and have a great texture. I always use this method to cook shrimp for Shrimp Cocktail. Then if I have leftover shrimp and cocktail sauce, I recycle again to create this special shrimp salad.

Lydia's Recycled Shrimp Salad

cooked peeled shrimp, chopped in big chunks
finely chopped celery
finely chopped scallions

Hellman's or Best Foods Mayonnaise
Cocktail sauce
Old Bay Seasoning to taste
Worcestershire Sauce (just a dash or two)

Combine salad ingredients in a bowl. Mix dressing ingredients in a separate bowl, adding enough cocktail sauce to the mayonnaise so the sauce turns a pale salmon color resembling Thousand Island dressing. Pour sauce over shrimp and toss. Chill.

Serve shrimp salad mounded on bed of mixed greens and garnished with grape tomatoes, cucumber slices, and quarters of hard-cooked eggs.

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