Cook, Eat, Cha Cha Chais a Latin cookbook featuring bold Puerto Rican and Cuban flavors from the San Francisco restaurant Cha Cha Chain the Haight Ashbury. The book came to us as a gift from my mother, who knew in general that Cha Cha Cha was a favorite restaurant of mine while living in San Francisco. I suspect she did not know it is also where my friends and I would go to get loaded on sangria before blowing our meager work-study paychecks at Amoeba records. I stand by it. There are worse things to blow your money on in the Haight. Plated Shrimp

For this installment of the June Cookbook Challenge, Mike and I opted for an unadulterated spicy meal that ended with our faces red, our blood thinned, and our palates begging simultaneously for water and a second course: skillet Cajun shrimp and cheese jalapeno cornbread.  

Deciding on the Cajun shrimp was the easy part. Not only do I remember enjoying this dish in the  restaurant, but one look at the recipe contents had us hooked: homemade Cajun spice mixed with a dark beer broth. It’s a boozy roux! And don’t let the Cajun spice mix intimidate you. On a scale of difficulty for making a dish – 1 being a Hot Pocket and 10 being Minibar – this dish is about a 3. Really, the toughest part is peeling the shrimp. After that it is simply a matter of measuring and stirring. 

Many spicy dishes wind up only hitting one note – heat. A kazoo of flavors, if you will. Not here. The combination of spices, dark beer and heavy cream make a robust, vibrant flavor. The cream and beer deepen the dish’s character, letting the spices unfold slowly with the shrimp. 

Jalepeno cornbread and recipes after the jump!

Cornbread 008I realize that cornbread isn’t a homerun for everyone. As our friend Eric once cooed sarcastically, “It’s like a symphony in my mouth.” But Cha Cha Cha’s jalapeno cheese cornbread just might able to silence the jackass chorus.  Made with brown sugar and multiple peppers the bread is equally sweet and spicy before warm honey even shows up on the scene. Plus, the use of cornmeal and corn kernels keep the texture interesting.  My only complaint is that the recipe is clearly adapted from a mass quantity-focused kitchen. As a result, there are some slightly wonky ingredient measurements but nothing you can’t eyeball to solid effect.

Cornbread is most often served as a sweet, soft contrast to spicy dishes like chili. In this case, it didn’t really work as a temperature tamer but we didn’t mind. Unlike instant packs, this cornbread was moist, spongy and completely satisfying. It is absolutely worth the extra effort to make from scratch.

As a whole we were really pleased with how this meal turned out. It felt like a restaurant quality meal for a fraction of the cost and remained low on the effort scale. Note to any single readers: This is a fantastically delicious meal to impress a date. It has all the appearances of not trying too hard with big flavor payoff.

Cajun Shrimp 
11/2 cup cajun spice mix (recipe below)
12 oz dark beer
2 cups heavy cream (we split it with one cup of cream and another cup of skim milk)
1 lb peeled shrimp, medium
1/2 ts red pepper flakes

In a heavy saucepan, mix cajun spice mix and beer. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly with a whisk to make a thick paste. Don’t let it burn.

Gradually stir in cream to make a smooth sauce. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally for 8 to 10 minutes or until sauce becomes thick and turns a rich rusty color. 

Add shrimp and red pepper flakes. Reduce heat and cook shrimp over low heat for 2-3 minutes or until shrimp are opaque.

Cajun Spice Mix
1/2 cup sweet paprika
2 1/2 Tb cayenne pepper
2 1/2 Tb garlic powder
1 1/2 Tb ground black pepper
1 1/2 TB ground white pepper
1 Tb dried thyme
1 Tb dried oregano
1 Tb salt 

Combine all ingredients and mix well. Store in an airtight container.

Jalapeno Cheese Cornbread 
2 cups of cornmeal
1 1/2 cups unbleached flour
2 1/2 Tb baking powder
1/3 Ts of salt
1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
3 eggs, beaten
3/4 cup unpacked brown sugar
1 1/3 sticks butter, room temperature
2 cups sour cream
2 Tb olive oil
2 cups fresh or frozen corn kernels
2 jalapeno chilies, seeded and minced
1/2 large red bell pepper, seeded, deveined and diced 
honey for serving

Preheat oven to 350. In a medium bowl, combine the cornmeal, flour, baking powder, salt, and cheese.

In a large bowl, combine the eggs then add sugar and butter. Mix. Add sour cream, olive oil, corn kernels, jalapenos, and bell pepper.

Add the dry mixture to the wet mixture and stir until just blended. Pour into a greased 9 x 13″ baking dish. Bake for 45 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

Serve drizzled with honey to taste.