Tag Archives: recipes

Cooking My Mother’s Recipes #9

The above photo is of my youngest brother, Jeff, my mother, and my grandmother in our kitchen. My grandmother was actually the gumbo queen in our family. The photo below looks like it was taken at one of our Christmas open houses.Scan_20181105 (7)

Gumbo

One of the most iconic recipes in the South is gumbo. The dictionary’s definition of gumbo is “a soup or stew thickened with okra”. I take issue with this for two reasons. First, there are variations of gumbo by region in the south and some Louisiana gumbos do not have any okra at all. Second, the okra isn’t what thickens the gumbo. Roux thickens the gumbo.

My mother had a gumbo recipe in her cookbook. You will find that all gumbo recipes are best if you make them using ingredients you love. For instance, I don’t use chicken or sausage in my gumbo, because I prefer only seafood. You may like chicken and sausage better. Either way, yours will be tasty. There’s a secret ingredient or two I’ll share at the end.

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In case you can’t read this, the ingredients are as follows: One big ham bone, or chopped ham (2 cups). Simmer in water. (She says add the 2 cups crawfish tails and/or cleaned shrimp here. But experience tells me those little morsels will become rubber. Best wait until the end to add them.) 2 cans stewed tomatoes. (I use diced canned and fresh tomatoes.) 1 whole green pepper seeded and chopped. 6 garlic cloves, minced. 3 cups cooked, diced chicken. (I don’t use chicken or sausage in my gumbo, only seafood.) 2 Tablespoons Tony Chachere’s Cajun Seasoning.  6 whole bay leaves (I take umbrage here. I can not stand bay leaves. Nope. This isn’t the proper gumbo flavor in my opinion, but you may love bay leaf, so I’ll be quiet.) Bring to a simmer and stir often and serve over rice. She forgot to put okra. She always used okra, so she forgot to write that in. We all love okra.

My mother was from the Midwest where every good soup or stew had a ham bone in it. But southern gumbo doesn’t always have a ham bone in its broth. I’m afraid I went a little “hog-wild” and excluded the ham bone, opting instead to add bacon grease to the roux, as I used two boxes of store-bought chicken broth.

And you need a good roux for your gumbo.

Here is how I make Roux: Peel the raw shrimp, saving the shells, and put the shrimp in the refrigerator to keep very fresh. (At this point I’m going to put my fresh fish fillets in milk in the fridge, this takes the “fishy” flavor out.)SAM_1948

 

 

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Take the shrimp shells (we always call them peels) and put them in the fry pan and add about two cups of water. Boil until the shells are very soft. Strain through cheesecloth to make sure and get the little bits of shell out, discard. Reserve the liquid.

Add three tablespoons of flour to a cup of water (don’t use cornstarch) and stir until dissolved, set aside. Put two tablespoons of bacon grease in your pan with the shrimp peel liquid (remember, you’ve removed the shells) and turn up the heat until it is boiling, add the flour water and stir until thick.SAM_1958

 

 

 

 

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Turn down the heat and add a little more bacon grease so the mixture doesn’t burn. Keep stirring the bubbling mixture. It will turn a nice brown. This is roux. You add it to the boiling gumbo at the end and the gumbo will thicken.

Okay, so you’ve done the roux. Set it aside. It doesn’t matter if it cools.

So now, for the gumbo: You’ve got your seafood keeping cold in the refrigerator. Good. Shrimp, fish, crab, whatever is fresh. If using crab – boil and clean first. Then, add the crab still in the shell to the broth. It can cook along with all the veggies. The crab shell adds good flavor, and picking the crab meat out at the end is part of the experience.

Your broth is important. If you want to make your broth ahead of time that is fine, or use the boxed broths from the store. I never use anything stronger than chicken broth, in other words, don’t use beef broth. Using a ham bone to make your broth is fine, it makes a good broth, but watch your salt content. You don’t want it overly salty.

Bring the broth to a nice simmer and add the pepper, the garlic, the tomatoes, and the okra. Use fresh okra. Always make sure as you slice up your okra that you use okra that the knife slices right through. If the okra is too tough for your knife, it’s going to be too tough to eat.SAM_1952

Okra, to me, makes a gumbo a better gumbo, but I was raised in Texas eating my mother’s and my grandmother’s gumbo. (I have been working for years to make a gumbo similar to my grandmother’s.) She died with her recipe. I think the entire family has been working on this for all these years, too. It was THAT good!

SAM_1951Here is a picture of Tony’s Chachere’s Cajun seasoning. You can get it on Amazon if you can’t find it in the store.

But the real secret ingredient and the other thing my mother forgot to mention in her recipe is the gumbo file. That’s pronounced ‘fee’ lay’. File is made from ground sassafras leaves. It is also a flavoring in the old-fashioned fizzy drink sarsaparilla. Without file you will have a nice seafood bouillabaisse. I’m sure you can find gumbo file online, too. I get mine at H.E.B. You just have to look for it.

So now you’re going to bring all your veggies to a nice boil for about thirty-five minutes. You want the okra and pepper to be very tender. If you love spice, add a tiny bit of Tabasco to your gumbo. A tiny bit, I say, because one extra drop and whooo-eee, call the fire department! SAM_1963

Now, you can add your fish fillets, they will break in pieces as they cook, and always add your shrimp last. When you see the fish is flaking, and the shrimp are a nice pink, add your roux and stir.

The gumbo is done and you’re now in for a real treat. Serve it up with a bowl of hot rice. Be sure to let me know how your gumbo experience turns out.Scan_20181105 (4)

Here’s a photo of my beloved grandmother with fish that my brother Jon, in the photo, and my grandfather caught. Looks like catfish and some flounder. The photo looks to be about from 1967. You can bet there was a big fish fry, and likely some gumbo for the entire extended family.

I hope your Thanksgiving is wonderful this year. Have a happy one.

Here are my grandparents at Thanksgiving.Scan_20181105 (6)

Cooking My Mother’s Recipes #8

Ginger Snaps

I wanted to post some photos of my father on this Father’s Day. My mother wouldn’t have been the great cook she was without him. Even when, at the end of his life he couldn’t eat, he looked out at the spread that Thanksgiving day and proclaimed to all the family present, “Your mother is such a wonderful cook!” We had no idea he was so sick. He died two months later.

Scan_20180617 (5)He was born in South Africa, but grew up in San Antonio and South Houston. He shared a passion for mechanics with his father. He didn’t do so well academically. His worst subject was English. I believe he could hardly read his entire life. His dyslexia must have been off the scale. He was brilliant. He could put anything together by looking at it. He had no patience until he was an old man. He loved a good practical joke. When he was young, he and some friends took a preacher’s car and pushed it off a cliff. It took a long time for the preacher to find his car. My father and his friends winched it out of the gully and fixed it up good as new.  He was in the Navy during WWII, but saw no action. He helped repair and build ships, stationed in Chicago and San Diego. He didn’t like to talk about his service. My mother said it was because he felt ashamed that he didn’t get shipped to the front lines, though the war was mostly at an end by the time he was in.

Scan_20180617 (3)He loved my mother most dearly all of their sixty years together. She loved to cook for him.This ginger snap recipe is one my mother made often. They are easy to whip together. Mind you, the recipe is down to the bare bones, so I will explain some things I learned, because I made them several times to get them just right.

The ingredients are easy:

SAM_1936When my mother says shortening she means “Crisco”. Do not substitute. This is a cardinal rule with Crisco. That’s always the case, but in this instance, here’s what happened to me.

I first made the recipe with coconut oil because I had no Crisco. The cookies tasted fine but had a strange consistency – like powder when you bit into them. I guess that means, they weren’t that good. I took them to school with me though, and someone ate them. Bless them.

SAM_1937The next effort to making them, I used butter, because I still had no Crisco. They were delicious, but a bit like hard-tack to bite into. So again, for this recipe…use Crisco.

Finally, I used Crisco. Perfect consistency. A bit chewy on the inside, and crisp on the outside.

The ingredients are precise – don’t use two eggs, only one. When it says twelve minutes at 375 degrees F. it means just that.

Also, don’t leave the dough in the fridge overnight, and then think it will be easy to pull out of the bowl. No. The dough when chilled is hard and non pliable, like dried paste. Leave in the fridge only 15 minutes. I don’t have to tell you the lengths I went to trying to get that first batch out of the bowl after leaving in the fridge overnight. I just had no time the evening before to bake them.

SAM_1939So the next time I rolled the dough into a long tube shape. Much easier to slice and lay out on the cooking sheet. If the dough is cool, it’s very thick. Trying to scoop and roll them into a ball with a spoon is a bit like trying to spoon out very frozen ice cream, needs to warm a bit first. Just roll into a roll and wrap in wax paper or a parchment sheet.  If you don’t cool in the fridge for fifteen minutes the dough is very sticky and uncooperative. Cooled, it is very easy to slice and lay out on the pan.

When I take cookies out of the oven, I always flip them over, because the heat from the pan continues to brown them on the bottom. This insures an even color all around.

The end result was really good. These are cookies that are guaranteed to bring back good memories for you. For me, the ginger and molasses in this recipe remind me of so many great holidays with my parents. I think you can see some empty spots on the pan of cookies.SAM_1941

Note: Everything is so easy to buy at the grocery. Cooking from scratch is going to a lot of trouble, going an extra step or two. So many times we are busy and feel pressed for time. Indeed, time is a very precious commodity. Even getting a decent home-cooked meal ready every evening can feel like a burden. Just keep in mind, the reason we would cook a cookie recipe is to share our good memories with our loved ones. I remember when my son was very small he asked me how I made what ever it was we were eating that evening and I told him that I had made the recipe from scratch. He looked at me with that adorable four year-old matter-of-fact way he had and said, “I don’t know where you get scratch, but I hope you can find it and make it again.”

 

 

 

Cooking My Mother’s Recipes #2 (Redo)

The feature photo was taken by my mother. I believe it is Christmas of 1962 because my youngest brother is so small. He would have been about sixteen months here. We are sitting on the front porch of the Ave B. house in South Houston.

My mother would often work on recipes over and over again until they were great. The thing about the Rumtopf cake recipe I have in #2 is that this would likely be the original recipe. The last time she made this cake was when she would have been in her seventies and it was remarkable.

I wanted to redo the Rumtopf cake because the original cake recipe wasn’t very good. So I’m combining the dump cake recipe with the rumtopf fruit that marinated in an expensive (for me) bottle of Calvados.

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I used crushed pineapple from a can and dried tart cherries from Trader Joe’s. Yummy all by itself. I added a cup of white sugar and the entire bottle, which at this point came to about two cups of the Calvados. You can substitute Triple Sec, but I wouldn’t. I stir the mixture until the sugar is dissolved.

I stir the mixture once a week. Six weeks go by.

Check the recipe under My Mother’s Recipes #4. This is the dump cake recipe. I’m going to use it for the cake part.

With a few differences such as using a box of white cake this time and one and a half sticks of butter, and no nuts, the recipe is the same. I buttered a glass 9′ X 13′ casserole dish. I poured about two cups of the fermented fruit mixture into the dish. It smells divine. Okay, I tasted it. It’s delicious. It would also make a great ice cream topping.

I have a little left in the jar that I pour into a freezer container and freeze. I don’t want a bit of it go to waste. My mother would be proud.20180308_174036

 

Sprinkle dry box cake mixture over the top of the fruit evenly. Pour the one and a half sticks melted butter over the top of that. Yes, I know the recipe calls for two sticks of butter – or one cup – but the fruit had plenty of liquid in it to make up the difference, so I cut a quarter cup of butter and call it “diet”!

 

Bake for one hour at 350 degree F. Oh wow, it smells delightful! It’s obvious I couldn’t take the photo of a complete cake fast enough. Except for the six week wait for the fruit to ferment properly, this is a quick cake to make. Enjoy!20180308_174016

 

Cooking My Mother’s Recipes #5

I’ve posted the photo above from my family tree. The couple are my great-grandparents. They immigrated to Canada from Scotland and then entered the United States and settled in Mason City, Iowa. The girl on the far right is my grandmother, Mary.

Sponge cake

Scan_20180206 (3)Here is me and my family at the table, probably 1961.

I don’t know if my mother’s recipe for sponge cake was one passed down to her from her mother and her grandmother, but it may well have come from the ancestral home in Scotland. I know my mother made this cake many times because she talked about making it. I don’t remember her making it. It may be I was just too young.

I did remember the taste of it after I made it.SAM_1891SAM_1892

She liked to experiment with new recipes and this one must have been one she decided she didn’t need to make in lieu of the new ones.

It is a simple cake to create from scratch and requires few ingredients. I hope you’ll come along and bake it to taste the delicious, fluffy egginess of it.

SAM_1890

You will need a candy thermometer. That’s the most exotic thing about this recipe.The ingredients are: 1 cup flour, 1 teas. cream of tartar, 1/4 teas salt, 1 1/3 cup sugar, 1/3 cup water, 1 teas. vanilla, 7 egg whites, 7 egg yolks.

Add Cream of tartar to egg whites and beat egg white mixture until stiff. This is the perfect Easter recipe. Let me tell you about the eggs I used. My brother gave them to me. They’re from his free-range chickens, and his wild ducks. The duck eggs have larger yolks but as you will see the dark yellow yolks from all the eggs made for and extra rich, and very yellow cake.

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Boil sugar and water to soft ball stage (on candy thermometer). You might think this is too much of a complication. It is really very easy and takes less than five minutes.

Pour hot syrup over the egg whites and beat for 5 minutes, adding the vanilla and the salt.

Add to the white fluff, the  beaten egg yolks. (These will be creamy not fluffy).

Lastly, fold the flour  into the fluffy mixture.

Pour into an ungreased tube pan. Bake at 350 degrees for an hour.

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Here is what is not written on the recipe but is how my mother taught me when making an angel food cake from scratch, which is much like the type a cake a sponge is.

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Turn the hot pan upside down using something to hold the pan’s edges off the counter. I used cereal bowls. My mother used to use her laundry starch bottle.  Let sit for another hour like this. The cake will be fluffier. After an hour, gently tap the bottom of the tube pan to loosen and slowly pry the cake free. (It should be cool enough to handle.)

My mother wrote – “ummm – good!SAM_1903

 

 

Cooking My Mother’s Recipes #3

Scan_20180206My earliest recollection of my mother’s cooking was that there was a lot of food and it was good. We often had relatives at dinner. My mother would cook a large meal and we might eat leftovers for a few days after. Sundays after church we would run across the field from the white stucco church building on Spencer Highway in South Houston to our house, an asbestos tiled two bedroom, one bath house frame house painted bright yellow with white trim. We knew we would find some good cooking smells coming from the kitchen.

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My three brothers and me in front of our house in 1963.

Here’s a picture of the house. It had a white pebble roof. My brothers and I would swing onto the roof from a nearby tree and use the rocks as ammunition in our never-ending battles with invading armies of terrifying gorillas. Of course we weren’t supposed to get on the roof. The rocks would fall off. My father kept a bucket of tar in the back yard to slather on if a leak developed and then he would plant more white pebbles in the tar. The bucket would warm up in the summer sun and we would grab handfuls of tar to make things – usually a mess.

Every Sunday there was waiting in the hot oven a ham, or a pork shoulder, or a roast. It would be our only real meat for the rest of the week. Not that we were lacking. We always had food, but that was down to my mother’s creativity. A lot can be done with leftovers. Then there was baloney, or Spam, or hot dogs.

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Sunday dinner. From left PawPaw, his sister visiting from South Africa (Auntie), baby brother Jeff, Mom. August 22, 1963

In this photo the grownups and the smallest children were dining in the soon to be completed living room of my grandparents’s new house. That is a cement mixer in the back. The blue and white willow china was Nannie’s everyday dishes. I have the coffee pot and espresso cups from the set.

Scan_20180206 (4)The other technicolor picture is the “kids” table. I’m at the far right in the blue and my cousin Karen is next to me on one side and my oldest brother is on the other side. Going the other way is cousin Paul, Kathy, brother Jon, and cousin Mark. This is a quick run down memory lane, but my cousins and brothers may appreciate the nod to the past.

As I grew and became more aware of others I came to realize that my mother liked to find recipes where she could save time using canned ingredients. Some of her favorite recipes in those days would not be very appealing these days when we have such lovely fresh things to cook with and so much choice! Today’s recipe I’m going to take one of my mother’s “canned” goods concoctions and substitute one fresh ingredient. I hope you like it.

Mary’s Snappy AsparagusSAM_1869

Ingrediants: 1 can asparagus

1 can Cambell’s Cheddar Cheese Soup

1 can French Fried Onions

As you can see I’ve substituted the canned asparagus with fresh asparagus. Canned asparagus is mushy. The soup along with the mushy canned vegetable would be not very appetizing.

In order for this recipe to come out as my mother would have planned, I will have to cook the asparagus. I choose to saute these stalks in olive oil using a pinch of salt and pepper to taste.

I’ve found young stalks. It is February when asparagus is ready to be cut here in the south. If the stalks do not make an audible “snap” when bent they have been sitting too long in the store or are too tough to eat. By September the stalks you find in the grocery are thick as my thumb.

cut in pieces

You must cut the ends off way up the stem to get to the tender more edible part. With this young asparagus all I’m going to have to cut is a few inches from the bottom and rinse in cold water to knock the dust off. Then I will cut into inch long pieces to saute.

Yum! I actually like asparagus raw. Tastes like sunshine!

 

before cooking
Before cooking.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

after cooking
After cooking the asparagus turns a bright green as the heat brings the chlorophyll to the surface

The recipe calls for layering the asparagus and the cheese soup. But my efforts layering the cheese soup were comical.mixed in cheese soup

 

 

 

 

The soup from the can is thick. I found that mixing the two together was better.

Put the onion on top and bake at 350 for 30 minutes. You can also put this in the microwave on high for five minutes. I sprinkled some cheddar cheese on top, too.

Here is the end result. It turned out very tasty. I served it alongside lemon pepper chicken tenders and bow-tie macaroni with mushroom seasoning from House of Seasons.2018-02-06 18.53.54

Cooking My Mother’s Recipes #2

My husband and I would go to my parent’s house at least once a month when our kids were little. My parents didn’t live far from us. Because my mother loved to cook for others she would invite us over for supper more often, like when she had cooked a big meal.  Beginning in the late 90’s I would see a crock jar full of fermenting fruit on her baker’s rack.

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When I asked what it was she said she’d gotten a new recipe from one of her GMC camper’s club friends. They loved traveling around Texas in their GMC camper. There was a group who would meetup regularly at the various state parks. Mom said the recipe was German and the fruit in the jar was fermenting for it.

When she first made it, I wasn’t a big fan. It tasted a little “off”. It was too doughy and didn’t have much flavor. As years went by the cake kept getting better and better. It’s as if she wouldn’t accept that she couldn’t get it perfect, so she kept tweaking, and making us taste the result. The last time she made it, it was heavenly. It tasted like a chewy, gooey butter cake with fruit. It was melt-in-your-mouth good.

The above picture of fruit I had left fermenting in a closed glass jar for six weeks. It’s a pretty glass jar, more like a candy jar. My concoction was a combination of canned peaches and canned pineapple. I put a cup of rum and a half cup of brandy along with the sugar and the syrup from the cans.

20171110_164743The recipe as you see it here has no flavoring in it. I made this as it is stated and when it came out, it was pretty awful.  I think this must be her original recipe that she wrote down so long ago.

Ingrediants:

1 cup flour, 1 cup sugar, 3 teas. baking powder, 3/4 cup milk, 1/2 teas salt, 1/2 stick butter.

So to tweak: the fruit was good. I think you should add a 1 teaspoon of vanilla, and add melted butter, lowering the milk amount.

You’re probably wondering what the staining is on the paper. This recipe book is over fifty years old. My mother has recipes cut out from newspapers and old magazines included. Some of those papers are not acid-free and bleed their chemicals a little into the other papers.

You want to start your Rumtopf six weeks or more ahead of making this recipe. You can google it, but take it from me, some fruits are not good at staying firm and identifiable in six weeks of soaking up rum. Or maybe it’s from taking random tastings of the rum that makes the fruit look fuzzy. Never mind. Remember to stir the mixture weekly. Don’t use apples, they get mealy. Pineapple and peaches work, either fresh or from a can. You can use them individually or by themselves. Apricots work. Pears get a little lost, so add some nice firm peaches to hold their hands. Try adding some dried cherries to the mix for a pretty contrast, because it may as well be pretty while it’s sitting on your counter for six weeks.

So this is a picture of the cake before I put the Rumtopf on top and baked it. I forgot to take a picture of the finished cake. Picture the same picture a bit browner with fruit dotting the top. Honestly, this wasnt’ as good as what my mother was making in the end. Imagine this with a brown crust and dotted with fruit.

 

 

Cooking My Mother’s Recipes #1

20171225_140135.jpgIt’s Christmas and my mother’s been gone four years now. I think of her most at this time because it was her and my father’s favorite season. They loved Christmas and New Years.

They were married on January 8. When my father died on January 7 at the age of 80 my mother remarked they were one day short of their 60th wedding anniversary. I said, what’s one day. You were married sixty years. No, she said, we were married 59 years. And that was the end of the discussion. So like her to be precise.

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My mother and father. The little flower girl is my cousin Jan.

One thing she wasn’t precise in was her recipes. Don’t get me wrong, she did know a thing or two about cooking. But I rarely saw her use a measuring cup. She would experiment until they were right enough to write, but she still hardly ever used exact measurements when she was doing the actual cooking. So at this time I am starting a new series. I’m going to attempt to cook every recipe she wrote down in her recipe book.

Cooking my mother’s recipe’s came about because I found this cookbook where she’d been storing her handwritten recipes. I thought of all the times she’d cooked them. I remember so many of these. In her later years she wasn’t able to cook these but she continued to cook small bites until she was forced to go into the nursing home. She didn’t want to go, but when she got there, she loved it….more people to tell her stories to! It was a beautiful place.

So going over the recipes I thought – how would my mother do this? Or, what would my mother say about this? Or, how would my mother feel about this? You see, my mother cooked with a passion. So for the love or her cooking and for my mother – I give you the first in a series.

Every Christmas that I can ever remember my parents would have a lavish open house. I say lavish, our first home was a little square frame house in South Houston, Texas, with a crack in the foundation an inch wide at which my brothers and I would set traps for lizards on the inside of the house! My mother’s open houses were magical filled with good food, and fun decorations, like the paper fireplace stuck to the wall with tape, the electric “burning” logs giving no heat, the paper streamers made from painted grocery sacks, and the popcorn and cranberry chains we spent hours stringing and placed delicately around the real tree. We always had a real tree and it would perfume the house with the scent of Christmas. It was still a lavish affair in my child eyes. Later down the road of life our houses grew as did the Christmas open houses.

My mother spent days on food preparation. We four kids helped decorate cookies, of course, but we had little to do with the actual food that made the banquet such an affair to remember. I’m thinking of the hot plum pudding, and the steaming wassail, the candies from around the world, the honeyed ham, or the finger sandwiches. I will try to recreate for you each of these things as time goes by.

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Ingredients. I left off the lemon. Don’t forget the lemon!

Each of my endeavors to cook these recipes will come with step by step photos to give you an idea about what it looks like.

The first recipe I will do is one I have made for years with my mother’s blessing. Mine never reached the level of deliciousness that my mother’s would though. You’ll have to try this and make your own adjustments to fit your tastes.

This is my Christmas gift to you, my dear readers: Mary’s Shrimp Dip

Ingredients:

1- 8oz Philadelphia Cream Cheese

1 cup Hellman’s Mayonaise

1 tablespoon sugar

1/2 lemon (the juice and lemon jest)

1 cup diced shrimp (my mother would say make large enough pieces to look like there’s shrimp in that dip!)

Cook the shrimp. I use the frozen E-Z Peel large shrimp. You can find them in a lot of stores. Bring the water to a roiling boil. Add 3 tablespoons of salt and 1 tablespoon of liquid Cajun Shrimp boil. Add the raw shrimp to the water all at once. (You don’t have to thaw first). Bring to another boil – about a minute or two, let boil for a minute. Turn off and let soak for five minutes. Drain, cool, peel and chop.

Mix it altogether.

It’s always better the next day so make it ahead of the party.

Even if the party is just you, this is so delicious it’s like a party in a bowl.

Remember, don’t increase the lemon if you increase the amount of the dip. (learned that the hard way! Plus, I didn’t read the little side note my mother made. “when doubling only use 1/2 lemon.)