I figured wrong.
Most of the recipes were pretty straight-forward and complete with a list of ingredients, measurements and directions. I'd even made one or two dishes before such as the Cornish pasties we always serve on Christmas Eve. Others, however, proved more challenging to decipher.
Grandma Pete's Peach Cobbler, for instance, was a handwritten list of five ingredients with precious few instructions. I'd never made cobbler before, so I had no idea how to write a recipe that a novice home chef could successfully execute. I ended up spending a Saturday afternoon making a test cobbler with blackberries. It turned out great, and now it's one of my favorite desserts - warm and comforting and super easy.
But Grandma Pete's Shrimp Salad - one of Jacque's favorites - mystified me. Not only were the measurements absent, but I couldn't quite envision how to put the salad together. Did the lettuce merely serve as a bed for the dressed shrimp, or was I supposed to toss it along with the shrimp, mayo, lemon juice and salt? And was that really all there was to the dressing? Unlike the cobbler, I didn't do a test-run. I typed up the ingredients sans measurements and just made up the instructions.
I had a chance to redeem myself when I was asked to bring a salad to my mother-in-law's birthday party.
Since the recipe wasn't clear, I made an executive decision to make a green salad with shrimp rather than a true shrimp salad. I included more veggies - tomatoes, cucumbers and avocado - to boost the nutrition and turned up the flavor by roasting the shrimp. I also couldn't resist adding some fresh dill to the dressing.
I tested my concoction on Brandon even though he claimed to have no memory of his grandmother's salad. "Huh," he said, after biting into a drenched lettuce leaf. "You know, it kind of tastes familiar."
My reconstructed salad (which I forgot to photograph during the festivities) turned out surprisingly well, and I even munched on the leftovers later that night.
Grandma Pete's Shrimp Salad
I found out later that Grandma Pete's recipe was indeed for a true shrimp salad. Apparently, she shredded the lettuce and used bay shrimp, although I prefer the larger crustaceans. You could also add diced avocado for a little richness and nutrition.
1-2 lbs. medium-sized raw shrimp
2 tbs. olive oil
freshly ground pepper
lettuce, shredded (I like butter lettuce, but Pete used iceberg.)
1/2 purple onion, diced
2 celery stalks, halved length-wise and diced
1 avocado, diced (optional)
1 cup mayonnaise
juice of half a lemon
2 tbs. fresh dill, finely chopped
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Peel and devein shrimp, removing the tails. Spread on a cookie sheet with olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast for 6 to 8 minutes, until the shrimp are pink and firm. Be sure not to overcook, or shrimp will become rubbery. Let cool for several minutes.
Combine mayonnaise, lemon juice and dill, and whisk until smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
In a large bowl, combine shrimp, lettuce, onion, celery and avocado. Add dressing one spoonful at a time, and toss gently.