Jacqui Cheramie is beginning to take advantage of the area's fresh shrimp catch and recently spent the afternoon depleting a 5-pound box of the crustaceans. Her in-laws' offshore towing business regularly places shrimp orders for its crews, so Cheramie always slips her order in for large Gulf shrimp ' peeled, deveined and ready to throw in the pot. In Squash Soup, the shrimp get pureed for a richer taste, but in Creole Shrimp Salad, the seafood is the star, soaked in Creole dressing and full of flavor.

"They come together pretty simply once you pull in all the ingredients," says Junior League of Lafayette member Cheramie. "I prepared those two basically at the same time." Both dishes can be prepared ahead, with the salad ingredients combined at the last minute and the soup pulled out of the freezer and reheated while adding a cup of milk.

"The shrimp salad is a cold salad," she says. "It's got avocados and boiled shrimp and a delicious dressing. You can prepare everything up until that last step when you combine it with the avocados and hearts of palm." She adds, "Actually, it's better if you do that a day ahead of time because of the flavors. When the shrimp sits in that Creole sauce, it soaks it up."

Boiling the shrimp for four minutes is the key to this recipe ' they'll be fully cooked but sweet and tender. Whole shrimp can be used as garnish for Squash Soup; the recipe calls for adding them to the soup after cooking the vegetables ' squash, onions, potatoes and carrots ' and pureeing the mixture in batches.

"You can make it all in the same pot," advises Cheramie. "The only change I made was I took the whole soup pot off the stove, and I used my hand mixer and just pureed the whole thing right in the pot."

Cheramie is no stranger to cooking and was formerly marketing director for Tony Chachere's Creole Foods. "That's when I really got into cooking and cookbooks," she says. "I worked directly with Mr. Tony and learned everything after the basics that you learn from mom." In addition to Cajun cooking, she picked up tricks like chopping an onion into small pieces to release the starch and get a sweeter flavor.

Her current job as creative director at Stuller Inc. doesn't leave much free time for cooking, and Cheramie often finds herself stealing a few hours on Sundays to play in the kitchen. Her family of three girls also had to adjust its meal schedule when her husband, Rene, was deployed to Baghdad with the 256th for two years. Since his return in October, meals at the Cheramie house are more about family.

"I started doing a lot of shortcut type cooking over those two years. It was kind of just survival," she says. "We're getting back into the swing of normal family life. That's been the thing about cooking, it gives us a chance to sit down and reconnect as a family."

Squash Soup
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1 large onion, chopped
4 cups sliced yellow squash, or 2 (10-ounce) packages frozen sliced yellow squash, thawed
2 potatoes, sliced
2 carrots, sliced
16 ounces chicken stock
16 ounces beef stock
1 tablespoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
8 ounces peeled, cooked shrimp or 8 ounces cooked lobster meat, chopped
1 cup milk
Paprika to taste

Melt the butter in a soup pot. Sauté the onion in the butter until tender. Stir in the squash, potatoes, carrots, chicken stock, beef stock, salt and cayenne pepper. Cook, covered, until the vegetables are tender. Add the shrimp. Puree the soup in batches in a blender. Return to the pot. Add the milk. Taste and adjust the seasonings. Ladle into soup bowls and sprinkle with paprika. Serves 12.

Creole Shrimp Salad
Creole Dressing:
2 cups mayonnaise
1/2 cup chili sauce
3 tablespoons Creole mustard
2 garlic cloves, pressed
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon paprika
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
Salt to taste

Shrimp Salad
3 pounds fresh deveined peeled shrimp
3 tablespoons liquid crab boil
1 (14-ounce) jar hearts of palm, sliced
3 avocados, sliced
1/2 cup chopped red onion
1/2 cup chopped green onions
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

For the Creole Dressing, combine the mayonnaise, chili sauce, Creole mustard, garlic, Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice, paprika, dry mustard, Tabasco sauce and salt in a bowl and mix well. Chill for several hours before using for the flavors to blend. For the Shrimp Salad, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the shrimp and liquid crab boil. Cook for three to four minutes or until the shrimp turn pink; drain. Chill the shrimp until ready to serve. Combine the shrimp and Creole Dressing in a large salad bowl and mix well. Stir the hearts of palm, avocados, red onion, green onions and parsley gentle into the shrimp. Serves eight.

For more information on Junior League of Lafayette cookbooks, 988-2739.

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