Hospitality and Friendship

I’ve mentioned before that a dear friend of mine recently gave birth to a baby. I’ve also mentioned that it’s a “cultural norm” in my church to sign up to bring meals in such cases as these… And everyone should know by now that I’m up to exploring and exciting the palate with new dishes.

This can be risky. Conventional wisdom asserts that you ought not make a dish you’ve never made before to others. You’re supposed to “test it out” first. This is to prevent any unforeseen disasters that may arise in the creation. I respect this rule, buuuuut I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t precisely follow it. At all. Fortunately for me, this hasn’t resulted in too many culinary catastrophes.

Image courtesy of Betty Crocker’s Entertaining with Betty, 1959

I’d be lying if I said I accepted the defeats graciously. I get internally frustrated and once I nearly cried over ruined Crêpes Suzette. Everyone still ate the ugly lumpy masses, but I knew they were duds. In this case, it was the wrong pan that interrupted the magic. I would’ve known this had I tested them beforehand. I WILL make them again. Correctly.

I digress. For my friend and her newly minted family of four (well, at least for three of them), I chose bold, but familiar, flavors. This is the same friend who loves fruit salsa. So when I saw a recipe in the Laura Bush White House archives (from her time as First Lady when her husband George W held office) for Smoked Shrimp with Mango Salsa, I knew it would be perfect for them!

I usually follow recipes pretty closely, less out of fear of failure and more out of a desire to maintain the integrity of the dish and to taste what the recipe creator was tasting. On occasion, I detract from a recipe. In the case of this recipe, I wanted the flavors of the dish but I wasn’t making tea sandwiches for a ladies luncheon. In the spirit of the recipe, I took the components and made a family-sized taco spread instead!

Gulf shrimp was on sale a few weeks back so I had a 2lb bag in my freezer. After thawing, peeling, and deveining the shrimp, I tossed them with a drizzling of grapeseed oil and a dusting of Urban Accents Fisherman’s Wharf Seafood Seasoning while the Mr got the smoker going. Once the smoker was ready, we placed the shrimp in a single layer on a foil pan and placed it in the smoker. The shrimp smoked at 225° for about 30min. If you don’t have a smoker, feel free to grill, bake, or sautée the shrimp to taste!

Along with the usual tortillas and lettuce, I included Brazilian-style rice and pinto beans along with the unadulterated mango salsa. The whole meal was unique, but so recognizable in flavor. The smokiness of the shrimp was a pleasant change to a typical taco spread and the mango salsa was not-too-sweet-not-too-spicy perfection.

My friend’s husband was not only excited to be getting something other than a casserole (allow me to interject: there’s nothing wrong with a good casserole, it’s just that they can grow mundane with repetition), but excited at the variety of flavors presented. I’m not saying you need to create a gourmet meal each time, just work with good flavors and don’t be afraid to branch out even just a little.

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