I currently live in Charlotte, NC and after spending 7 years as a personal chef and caterer, I am now happy to share my love of cooking with friends and family. My heart is in the kitchen, but my soul is in the stars!

Two of my favorite things

Goat cheese and sweet cherries.

Combine them both in a leafy green salad dressed with a simple homemade vinaigrette and it's heaven on a plate!

With temperatures in the high 90's and even reaching 100 a few times, it's been too blazing hot here in the Carolinas to cook, let alone eat, so my meals have consisted mainly of salads or light snacks. Many thanks to a back issue of Bon Appetit magazine for giving me the idea to pair two of my most favorite things!

Enjoy and stay cool...oh, and even though the recipe says you can prepare the goat cheese ahead of time, don't. It only takes a few minutes and it's best when baked just before topping the salad. I do think the dressing tasted better prepared the day before.

Mesclun and Cherry Salad with Goat Cheese
June 2008 Bon Appetit
Serves 6

•2 tablespoons roasted almond oil or olive oil (I used toasted hazelnut oil)
•2 tablespoons finely chopped shallot
•2 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon
•1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
•3/4 teaspoon finely grated lemon peel
•3/4 cup sliced almonds (about 3 ounces)
•1 large egg
•1 tablespoon water
•1 11-ounce log soft fresh goat cheese, cut crosswise into 6 rounds
•6 cups (packed) mixed baby greens or baby spinach
•1 cup halved pitted fresh Bing cherries or other dark sweet cherries (about 7 ounces whole unpitted cherries)
•1/2 cup 2x1/4-inch strips fresh fennel bulb

•Preheat oven to 400°F. Whisk first 5 in small bowl. Season dressing generously with salt and pepper.
•Spread almonds on plate. Whisk egg and 1 tablespoon water in small bowl; sprinkle with freshly ground black pepper. Turn goat cheese rounds in egg mixture, then coat with sliced almonds, covering all sides. Place on rimmed baking sheet. DO AHEAD Dressing and goat cheese rounds can be made 4 hours ahead. Cover separately and chill. Bring dressing to room temperature and whisk before using.
•Bake goat cheese rounds until cheese is warm but not melted, about 10 minutes.
•Combine greens, cherries, and fennel in large bowl. Add dressing and toss to coat. Divide salad among 6 plates. Place 1 cheese round on each plate and serve.

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Look Mom! I ate an oyster!

When I was a kid, if there was ever a time that my mother put something new and unfamiliar on the dinner table that looked even remotely unappealing (beets instantly come to mind), I would try my best to ignore the fact that it was there and the conversation would eventually go like this...

Mom: "Alison, eat a beet."

Me: "Ewwww. No."

Mom: "Try it. Have you ever eaten one before? How do you know you don't like it if you don't try it?"

Me: "I ate one at Mamaw's house."

Even though I'm well past the age of being sent to my room for outright lying to my mother, I still try to get by with that excuse. Not so much anymore because I'm a bit more adventurous than I was at age 12, but my mother still goads me into trying different things. Oysters, for instance.

I tried Oysters Rockefeller once and I won't tell you what I thought of it and I don't care that you can deep fry it in some grease and make it crunchy. Oysters just ain't for me.

Then I ran across this Shrimp and Smoked Oyster Chowder recipe from Food and Wine and normally I wouldn't have a problem substituting one ingredient for another in soup/stew or totally leaving one out, but the recipe verbage talked about how much flavor the smoked oysters added to the stew. So I bought the can of smoked oysters, popped the top, and based on the looks of what I saw, realized my feelings for oysters had not changed one bit since the Rockefeller days. Flavor I can deal with, an actual oyster I cannot. I figured I would add the little buggers for flavor then sift through and leave them at the bottom of my soup bowl. And then a thought struck me...if I chop them up really small, I won't know they're in there!

It doesn't matter that it was minced into the size of a grain of sand, what matters is I can now proudly say I've eaten an oyster!

Shrimp and Smoked Oyster Chowder
Food and Wine, March 2010
Serves 6

3 cups water
1 cup bottled clam broth
1/2 pound medium shrimp—shelled, deveined and quartered, shells reserved
6 garlic cloves—4 smashed, 2 minced
1/4 cup dry sherry
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
2 bay leaves
1 onion, chopped (about 1 1/2 cups)
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 small fennel bulb, cored and finely diced (1/2 cup)
1 celery rib, finely diced
1 small green bell pepper, finely diced
One 14-ounce can peeled Italian tomatoes, finely chopped and juices reserved
1 medium baking potato, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 ounces skinless grouper or cod fillet, cut into 1-inch pieces
One 3-ounce can smoked oysters, drained and chopped
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley

1.In a large saucepan, combine the water and clam broth with the shrimp shells, smashed garlic, sherry, crushed red pepper, bay leaves and one third of the onion. Bring to a boil and simmer, covered, over low heat for 20 minutes. Strain the shrimp stock into a heatproof bowl and discard the solids.

2.In a soup pot, heat the oil. Add the fennel, celery, bell pepper, minced garlic and the remaining onion. Cover and cook over moderate heat, stirring once or twice, until the vegetables are barely softened, 3 minutes. Uncover and cook until tender, 3minutes longer. Add the tomatoes with their juices and the shrimp stock; bring to a simmer. Add the potato, season with salt and pepper and simmer until just tender, 15 minutes. Add the shrimp, grouper, oysters and Worcestershire sauce; simmer until cooked through, 3 minutes. Off the heat, stir in the buttermilk and parsley. Serve in deep bowls.

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