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Cooking With Myra: Rain can't dampen fun times with friends

By By Myra Starkey
July 3, 2012 at 2:03 a.m.

Eggplant Pirogue (Boat)

Eggplant Pirogue(Boat)

• Spice for eggplant stuffing

• 1 tsp. salt

•  3/4 tsp cayenne pepper

•  3/4 tsp. black pepper

•  3/4 tsp. thyme (dried)

• 3 eggplants (at least 5 inches in diameter)

• 2 sticks butter

• 1 cup chopped sweet onions

•  1/2 cup diced celery

•  3/4 cup chopped red bell pepper

• 16-20 large shrimp (determine how many per person are desired) cleaned, peeled and deveined

Sauce:

•  1/2 cup chopped sweet onions

• 1 tsp. salt

•  1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper

•  1/4-1/2 cup chopped fresh basil

• 1 tsp. lemon juice

• 3 cloves garlic (minced)

• 1 1/3 cup seafood stock (available in soup section)

•  1/3 cup flour

•  1/2 cup heavy cream

• 3 Tbsp shrimp paste (Asian section of the grocery store)

•  1/2 cup green onion tops (chopped finely)

•  1/2 bunch parsley (finely chopped)

• Tabasco

Wet batter:

• 1-2 cups buttermilk

• 2 large eggs

• Seasoning for flour:

• 1 cup flour

• 2 tsp. salt

• 1 tsp. cayenne

• 1 tsp. sweet paprika

• 1 tsp. onion powder

•  1/2 tsp. garlic powder

• Canola oil (healthy part of dish)

Wash and dry eggplants thoroughly. Cut from top to bottom, leaving stem on ends. You can slice right through the stem. With a spoon or paring knife carve out center meat of eggplant leaving 1/2 to 1/4

Place the pulp of the eggplant in a saucepan with one stick of butter, one cup of onions, celery and bell pepper. Cook on high for about five minutes. Stir and add the spice you used to sprinkle on the eggplant. Continue to cook until the onions are soft and translucent. Be careful not to burn the butter. At this point if you don't want to fry the shrimp you can add them but I prefer frying them. (Crawfish can also be substituted). Remove the stuffing from heat and set aside. The mixture is shiny. Season with more salt if preferred.

To Make Sauce: In another saucepan, place one stick butter and heat until melted. Add 1/21/3

Set aside.

Frying:

Place flour and seasonings on a cookie sheet and mix well. Place buttermilk and eggs in bowl and whisk until blended. The bowl needs to be deep enough to accommodate the eggplant boat. Place the shrimp and eggplant in the milk mixture and make sure it is all coated. Dredge each shrimp separately in flour making sure it is well coated. If necessary, place again in milk and repeat in flour mixture. Set shrimp aside on another cookie sheet. Dredge eggplant in flour, the flour will stick better to the inside than outside so place again in milk and then in flour. Set aside on cookie sheet with shrimp.

This is a big mess so wash your hands frequently and dry them when handling the shrimp and eggplant. Heat oil in deep fryer or Dutch oven until about 350 degrees. You need enough oil so that the eggplant will float. You can tell it is ready when you place a shrimp in oil and it immediately bubbles and fries. If it sinks to bottom then oil is not hot enough. If oil gets too hot then lower heat. When shrimp are placed in hot oil the oil cools down so alter oil temperature after shrimp are in oil.

Fry all shrimp until golden, place on newspapers or paper towels to remove excess oil. Place in heated oven at 250 degrees while frying eggplant. Quickly fry all eggplant, turning once. The bowl side will puff up during frying process. Remove eggplant when golden and place on paper towels to absorb excess oil.

To Serve:

Place eggplant bowl on plate, fill with eggplant stuffing. Reheat cream sauce and stir until hot. Place fried shrimp on top of stuffing and pour sauce on top of shrimp. Serve fast! Everyone will want more sauce.

I sometimes feel like I need a vacation from work.

The problem is that there never seems to be a perfect time to leave.

Or maybe I'm just getting older and more set in my routines and so don't have the desire to plan a trip.

Taylor and I had not scheduled a summer family vacation. This fact was a disappointing revelation to our children. They seem to think vacations should continue to occur on a regular basis, despite the fact that all of them are adults.

Spencer, the youngest child of our brood, is now 21 years old and is working in Houston this summer as an intern for a commercial real estate appraisal firm.

I was not sure how he thought he could take time out of his eight weeks of work. Miles, the oldest, just started a new job in Austin. Hannah is married and she and her husband had already planned a trip to San Francisco to visit her college roommate.

Our old friends, Doug and Laura, called to tell us they wanted to take us on a trip to Florida. I said yes without even asking for details because Florida beaches happen to be one of my favorite destinations.

They were renting a condo near Naples and would let us stay with them free of charge.

I began to plan our four-day getaway. Our work schedule at the clinic is hectic and my Mom's cancer treatments and doctor visits seem to fill my calendar. I am trying to be there when she needs me but both Taylor and I felt we needed some time away and this was a good opportunity.

Our destination was sunny Marco Island in southwest Florida.

When the time came to leave we checked the weather so we could pack appropriately. The forecast was rain, rain and more rain. All this precipitation was eventually named Tropical Storm Debby. I would not let anything like that put a damper on my time at the beach.

Taylor and I landed around noon in Fort Lauderdale under a steady rain. We drove west to Naples and found a great little Greek restaurant that had good recommendations on the web site Urban Spoon. That is a good source for dining info when you go to a new town. Anyway, the dolmades and gyro sandwich were well seasoned so the online kudos were on target.

We had a few hours to burn so we drove 30 miles north to my most favorite of all shelling beaches on Sanibel Island near Fort Myers. We did not have to worry about getting sunburned or hot because it was overcast with light rain.

Let me just say here that for the next four days the weather forecast was totally accurate. It was either raining, about to rain or just finished raining.

The good news for me was that I found lots of great seashells. A little rain never hurt anybody.

That evening we drove back south to meet our fellow travelers, Doug, Laura, Janet and Bill, in Naples. We dined at Sea Salt, a restaurant which lined one of the busy shopping streets in Naples.

Most of our table ordered seafood but I ordered the eggplant tower, which was a vegetarian selection.

It was delicious. The eggplant was lightly fried and then stacked alternating with other vegetables to form a tower. I passed on dessert suddenly remembering the fact that in the morning I would be in a bathing suit.

We rose early the next morning, eager to get on the beach. We drove and parked in a lot then had to wade waist deep across a lagoon to get to the actual beach. We carried our bags on our heads.

This truly felt like an adventure as we crossed and took the footpath across the marsh to the Gulf of Mexico. The surf had churned up the water and the usually blue water was murky making it hard to see the shells.

I walked about a mile asking fellow beachcombers if they knew where the good shelling was and I received few responses. I picked up a whelk or two and a small conch while Taylor found several olive shells. I felt so relaxed.

It seemed that work was a 1,000 miles away. Actually, we were in Florida so work was a 1,000 miles away. And darn if I hadn't forgotten to charge my cellphone.

That afternoon the girls (my middle-aged friends and I) went shopping in Naples. I bought a caftan, which is also known as muumuu. It looks like something my grandmother would have worn in the '50s, but I really like it because it doesn't require the wearer to hold in their stomach.

I was on vacation and did not want to have to hold in my stomach. I polled anyone on the street who looked like they knew good food and took suggestions for restaurants.

Campiello, an Italian restaurant, was our choice for the evening - wow. I took my usual stroll through the tables eyeing other peoples' food and had a hard time making a decision.

Our waiter, Michael, was delightful, engaging and gave great advice. He had a wealth of information concerning the food preparations and we all made excellent choices.

I ordered a lamb sausage tagliatelle. Taylor ordered Balsamic glazed short ribs. The lamb sausage was spicy and rich with an earthy sauce reminding me of food in Italy. Janet ordered Burrata Ravioli with buttered lobster, corn and crispy pancetta.

I could have licked her plate clean it was so good. The butter sauce was light with the lobster in the sauce rather than in the ravioli. The pasta was stuffed with cheese, which melted in your mouth.

As we landed at Houston Hobby Airport the next afternoon, I finally saw the sun again.

Despite the Florida rain, I still had a great time and had bags of new shells for my efforts.

There is also no substitute for the great memories that you make when you have the chance to share adventures and good food with old friends.

When I arrived back in Texas I was ready for some spicy Cajun food. I purchased eggplant from the farmers market and prepared what I call eggplant pirogue. Pirogue is Cajun French for a type of swamp boat. The eggplant bowl is seasoned and deep fried, as are the shrimp.

The eggplant is removed and made into a stuffing, which fills the fried eggplant. The fried shrimp are placed on top of the stuffing and then sauce similar to a Hollandaise is poured over everything.

It is about 2 million worth of the best calories you will ever consume. I have done my best to calculate the spice but add more of the hot stuff if you like it spicy.

Myra Starkey lives in Victoria. Write her in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901, or email myra@vicad.com.

Make sure to never miss a recipe by adding her recipe board on Pinterest.

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