Simple snacks for afternoon grazing

I love snacks. They're usually delicious and make for perfect grazing on a long, hot Sunday afternoon. One of my favorite snacks is chips and salsa. It's easy, can be wonderfully healthy, and is just the kind of refreshing snack to help stave off the crushing Florida heat. The other snack I decided try is fried shrimp (fried shrimp!). Not first on my list of snack foods, but surprisingly simple and definitely delicious.

Chips and Salsa
Something you should know going in: when I make chips and salsa I use store-bought corn chips and canned tomatoes. You can make your own corn chips if you want, but why bother? Next time you go to your local grocer's, check the corn chips. Chances are they'll have one of the shortest ingredient lists of any processed food: corn, salt, canola oil. Simple. And simple's always good, and even better when it's coupled with convenient.

As for the tomatoes, the only time to use fresh tomatoes is when they're in season. Canned tomatoes are perfectly good--and out of season are way better than what the stores pass off as fresh tomatoes. Do check the ingredients list, though. Some canners will add salt, and you'll need to be mindful of it for most recipes. Over salting a dish is one of those things that just can't be fixed.

  • 1 28oz. can of diced tomatoes, mostly drained
  • 1 jalapeño pepper seeded and finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup chopped green onions
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium lime
  • Approx. 1 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper

Salsa's maybe one of the easiest thing on earth to make. Just dump the tomatoes in a bowl, add the jalapeño and onions, oil and lime juice. Then start adding a little salt and a little pepper until you find the taste you enjoy.

But also consider this as a base. You could begin adding various ingredients to change the flavor profile, either subtly or radically. Think about using red onions instead of green. Or halving the amount of jalapeño pepper and adding green bell pepper. Or chipotles. You could a dash of white wine to coax more flavor from the tomatoes (they are flavor molecules in tomatoes that are only soluble in alcohol). Whatever you do, make sure you save some of the next day. Salsa is a dish that's definitely better after the flavors have had a chance to mingle and come together.

Fried shrimp
For some reason, I always considered shrimp one of those temperamental foods that's easy to destroy. I haven't really cooked with it at all except to make paella, and even then I usually just pick up some from the store already cooked and peeled, ready to eat (yes, sometimes I'm incredibly lazy when it comes to food). But a recent evening at Bonefish restaurant--and more notably their Bang Bang Shrimp appetizer--was enough to make a person reconsider. So reconsider I did.

  • 12 medium or jumbo shrimp, peeled and de-veined
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 1 1/2 cups panko breadcrumbs (you could use normal breadcrumbs, but I love cooking with panko--wonderfully light and always fries up very crispy)
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/2 tablespoon garlic powder (or to your taste)
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 - 3 vigorous grinds of the pepper mill
  • 1/2" vegetable oil in your favorite pan
Heat the oil over medium-high to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. While you're waiting, you can peel the shrimp and pat them dry with a paper towel or cloth. This step is crucial. They need to be dry for the buttermilk to coat them well, and the buttermilk needs to coat them well so the breadcrumbs will stick, and the breadcrumbs need to stick if you're going to achieve a wonderful, crispy, golden-brown...well, you get the idea.

Mix the panko and other dry ingredients: paprika, garlic powder, ginger, salt and pepper. Working in batches, dip the shrimp into the buttermilk and then dredge them through the panko mixture, getting a good coating on all sides (use the tail as a handle). Carefully lower the shrimp into the oil and cook for about 1 minute on each side. Remove and drain on paper towels or a cooling rack.

Buffalo shrimpYou're done! It really is that easy, and the fried shrimp will be crispy and delicious.

But if let's say you had your heart set on something spicier--something a little dangerous, and probably a little bad for you. These fried shrimp provide a perfect base for buffalo shrimp, a tangy, spicy bar stand-by that's the perfect thing to accompany a couple ice cold lagers. And it really is ridiculously easy.

Put about 1/2 cup buffalo wing sauce in a large plastic bag, toss in the shrimp, capture some air and seal the thing. Shake vigorously to coat the shrimp and plate. Ta da! Bar food without the smoke, bad beer or obnoxious guy who can't stop talking about his feet!

What to pair it with?
Beer. Don't be silly.

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