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How NOT to Impress Your Future In-Laws

with a Recipe for Garlic Shrimp and Goat Cheese Gratin

To say the first time I met my in-laws was an underwhelming event would be a rather large understatement.  In fact, “traumatic” is the word that comes to mind.


It was in the Spring of 2006 that the girl-I-was-dating’s parents turned up in San Francisco from Des Moines, Iowa to visit their middle daughter and unbeknownst to me, meet some chef character she had begun dating.

Now, let me explain a little about myself and how my fairly “unconventional” parents operate. You see, in the matter of who their children are dating, married to or raising children with, the idea of “bringing someone home” was never an actual “thing” in my family because, well, they just didn’t give a good goddamn.  In their opinion, as long as you were officially out of the house and no longer a financial burden, you could be shacked up with Jeffrey Dahmer for all they cared.


And so with this little factoid in mind, one could imagine my cluelessness around the gravity of this initial meeting for the girl-I-was-dating and her parents.


Of course I wanted to impress them, not only because I knew it was important for the girl-I-was-dating, but also because I’m the sort who just needs to be liked by everyone.


Our scheme was all too easy:

1.  Ply them with alcohol.

2.  Get them swooning over some specially prepared meal of my making.

3.  Be as respectful, attentive and as charming as possible.

4.  Ply them with more alcohol the next day by driving them around wine country.


Aaand, of course our plan was all for nil because it fell apart all too quickly.  As it turns out, it wasn’t the alcohol plying that failed, but that the swoon-worthy dinner ended up being by far the most humiliating cooking experience for me ever.


You see, in my haste to leave work early and get to the girl-I-was-dating’s apartment in time to have dinner on the table before anyone got too sloshed, I borrowed a few gratin dishes from the restaurant I was working at which, unfortunately for me, turned out to be not ovenproof.

Aaand, at least one of those pathetically inferior dishes (the one holding the English pea with bacon dish actually) succumbed to the proper temperature needed to toast and broil the rest of our dinner while I happily sipped and mingled away.

Now bear in mind, at this point, the evening/occasion was still manageable/face-saving.  But that would just be down-right boring now wouldn’t it?  Oh NO.  It turns out the exhaust duct system in my girl-I-was-dating’s lower Haight apartment was jerry-rigged in a way that all of that exquisitely burnt and billowing smoke from said busted pea gratin dish was now blowing fast and furiously into the next door apartment.

Aaaand, of course I didn’t catch on to that fact until the fire alarm for the entire building was set off, her doorbell rang, and we were greeted by this.



Yep. It was none other than San Francisco’s finest just doing their job.

OK.  So, by this point everyone’s a little tipsy, the dinner has deteriorated from swoon-worthy, to still manageable, to Oh Lordy.

It was about then that we all helped ourselves to more wine, the lovely girl pleaded with the firemen to please leave and the ever dutiful firemen insisted that they come inside to inspect, in full gear, axes in tow, the entire perimeter to make sure that the “fire” was under control.  Again, just doing their jobs.

Then, as if life couldn’t get any worse for me, the future-father-in-law, in all of his uber-gregarious, Mid-Westerness took it upon himself to get to know said firemen, whip out his camera and begin photo-documenting the entire event.

If there was ever a time in my life that I could’ve benefited from Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak this would have been it.

Potter’s cloak would have been particularly helpful when future-father-in-law in all of his inquisitive thoroughness took a stroll outside with his new buddies to snap a few photos of the rest of the scene.  Future-mom-in-law willingly joined them outside given her (as I discovered later) fireman fetish 😉  


This One's For You Cathy!
This one’s for you Cathy!


Needless to say, by the time the girl-I-wasn’t-so-sure-I was-still-dating and I politely joined our dinner guests outside and was greeted by several fully employed firetrucks, firemen and a decent group of befuddled and irate neighbors, my nervous system simply shut down and I became a walking shell of a woman.

From that point on, I’m not sure if it was the wine that I had begun chugging down, sheer loss of nerves or a combination of the two that caused me to erase the rest of the evening from my memory.  It wasn’t until I pulled out a variation of this Shrimp Gratin dish and added it my dinner menu that my Mom-in-law reminded us that it was one of the salvaged dishes that she really enjoyed most that fateful evening.  Turns out those firemen weren’t the only thing mom-in-law was into that night.


Shrimp and Goat Cheese Gratin

Makes 4 appetizer portions.

24 Large Shrimp, peeled and deveined tail-on

2 C Pepper Rouille (recipe follows)

8 Ounces Goat Cheese

Minced Parsley (optional for garnish)

Into one large, or four individual shallow casserole dishes (we use these cute little escargot dishes, but they aren’t necessary) spoon enough rouille to cover the bottom of the dish(es).

Place shrimp into dish(es) tail side up and spoon remaining rouille over shrimp.  Place a nice size pat over each shrimp and cook in a 450* oven for about 15 minutes or until shrimp are cooked through, cheese has melted a bit and rouille is bubbly.  Serve with toasted baguette to sop up all of the yummy rouille and goat cheese goo.

Shrimp Gratin Prep


Red Pepper Rouille

2 Red Bell Peppers, Roasted, Peeled and De-seeded

3 Garlic Cloves

1/2 C Walnuts

3/4 C Parmesan

1 TB Sambal Oelek

1/2 C Olive Oil

1 TSP Lemon Juice

Salt and Pepper to Taste

Simply place all ingredients into a food processor and pulse into a puree.

 Shrimp Gratin