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!

A Test Of My True Southernness

What truly Southern person doesn't like the combination of shrimp and cheese grits? Add some bacon into the mix and I'd almost bet that anyone within a 1,000,000,000 mile radius of the Mason-Dixon line would come running for a hefty helping of the delicious goodness.

I make a pretty awesome spicy shrimp and cheese grits casserole myself, but I'm not opposed to trying something new and different like this recipe from Food & Wine for Shrimp and Cheese-Grit Cakes with Bacon Vinaigrette. This recipe tested my true Southernness ~ let it be known right now that I cannot fry a grit cake. Frying is an inherently must-know-how-to-do Southern trait and I failed miserably. If I make this recipe again, I'll probably use a skillet instead of a grill pan and fry them in a bit of vegetable oil just like I do when I make Chicken Parmesan. My grit cakes stuck to the pan and the crust peeled right off when I tried to flip them. They weren't attractive at all and thank goodness they were smothered in vinaigrette so no one noticed.

I liked the combined flavors of the tangy balsamic vinegar, the smoky bacon, and the sweetness of the shallot in this recipe. I had a bit of the vinaigrette left over and mixed it with ziti pasta, leftover steamed broccoli and a pinch of Parmesan cheese for an awesome lunch the next day.

Shrimp with Cheese-Grit Cakes and Bacon Vinaigrette
Food & Wine, August 2009
Serves: 6

3 1/2 cups milk
5 garlic cloves -- minced
1 cup quick grits
1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 Tbs vegetable oil -- plus more for brushing
4 oz lean bacon -- cut into 1/2-inch dice
2 small shallots -- minced
1 small celery rib -- minced
1 scallion -- finely chopped
1/2 red bell pepper -- minced
1 Tbs chopped parsley
1 tsp chopped thyme
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
2 Tbs Dijon mustard
1 Tbs Worcestershire sauce
Barbecue spice mix or Cajun seasoning -- for dusting (I used Tony Chachere's)
1 lb large shrimp -- shelled and deveined

Lightly oil a 9-inch-square glass baking dish. In a medium saucepan, bring the milk to a simmer with half of the garlic. Slowly whisk in the grits over moderate heat until very thick, 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and whisk in the cheddar. Season with salt, pepper and Tabasco. Pour into the dish and press plastic wrap directly onto the surface. Let stand until firm, 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a small skillet, heat the 2 tablespoons of oil. Add the bacon; cook over moderate heat until crisp. Add the shallots, celery, scallion, red pepper, parsley, thyme and the remaining garlic and cook, stirring, until the shallots are softened, about 2 minutes. Off the heat, stir in the vinegar, mustard, Worcestershire and a few dashes of Tabasco. Season with salt and keep warm.

Heat a grill pan and brush with oil. Cut the grits into 12 squares and dust on both sides with barbecue spice mix. Cook over moderate heat until crisp, about 2 minutes per side. Keep the grit cakes warm in a low oven; keep the grill pan hot.

Brush the shrimp with oil, season with salt and pepper and dust with barbecue spice mix. Grill the shrimp in the pan over moderately high heat until lightly charred and just cooked through, about 1 1/2 minutes per side. Arrange the shrimp and grit cakes on plates, drizzle the bacon vinaigrette on top and serve right away.

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Art Smith's Goat Cheese Biscuits Reinvented

Goat cheese excites me. 

It excites me to the point that if I see something on a restaurant menu that contains the creamy, silky, tart goodness, I look no further and order that item.  It doesn't matter if it's the first of 100 items to chose from ~ it's going on my plate.  Undoubtedly, some variety of the cheese ends up in my grocery cart each week regardless if it's priced at $50/lb.  A recipe containing goat cheese?  It's going to the top of my "To Do" list.

Crazy I know, to get so excited about cheese.

When I found a recipe for Art Smith's (who was Oprah's personal chef for awhile) Goat Cheese Drop Biscuits that are served in his Table Fifty-Two Chicago restaurant I was, well.....very excited. The combination of made-from-scratch buttermilk biscuits and goat cheese was enough to send me to the moon. But as with anything we put upon a pedestal and worship, it is bound to fail at some point.

I expected these biscuits to be oozing with warm goat cheese when I tore into them. I expected to teeter on the edge of goat cheese heaven but I was sorely disappointed when I made them per Art's recipe. It was a biscuit and nothing more.  Not the least bit exciting. 

Most times I don't give a recipe a second chance ~ I am of the opinion that there are too many recipes to try and too little time.  But I couldn't give up on my beloved goat cheese.  I revamped the recipe with some add-ins and while the goat cheese still was not very prominent, the biscuits had much more flavor and became something that I would certainly make again.  They were best right out of the oven, sliced open with a pat of softened butter smooshed right in the middle. 

Goat Cheese Drop Biscuits
Inspired by Chef Art Smith
Makes 12-14 biscuits

2 cups self-rising flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
2 ounces cold butter
4 ounces goat cheese
3 strips bacon, cooked and finally chopped (or prosciutto)
3 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley (or chives)
1 cup buttermilk
extra butter to grease pan and top biscuits
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 400. Place one 10" cast iron pan into the oven while it is preheating. Place flour, salt, baking soda and baking powder into a medium-sized bowl. Cut in the butter and goat cheese. Add bacon (or prosciutto) and parsley (or chives).  Make a well in the middle of the ingredients and pour in the milk. Stir until mix is moistened, adding an extra tablespoon of milk if needed.

Remove the hot skillet from the oven and place a tablespoon of butter into it. When the butter has melted, drop 1/4 cupsful of batter into the pan (use a muffin scoop to drop the batter if you have one).  Bake for 12-14 minutes until browned on the top and bottom. Remove from oven, brush the tops of the biscuits with melted butter and sprinkle with the grated cheese. Return to the oven for about a minute to give the cheese a chance to melt.  Enjoy warm!

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Stick To Your Ribs Beef Tips

Even though we were lucky enough to have unseasonably warm temperatures here in the Carolinas up until the end of December, it's now time for Old Man Winter to settle in. It is a time for staying home close to the fires and warm blankets and a time for hearty meals from the kitchen.

Beef tips served over noodles is a dish that, even though it is made with fairly inexpensive ingredients and is simple to prepare, tastes rich and hearty. There's no need to purchase an expensive cut of meat for this recipe ~ my grocery store regularly has stew meat on sale for "Buy One, Get One" and I keep my freezer stocked with it. Stew meat is generally trim from roasts and steak and is not cut in a precise order but if prepared correctly can be as tender as more expensive cuts. If you happen to have about a cup or so of red wine languishing away on your counter like I usually do, go ahead an add that while the beef is simmering for a little added richness. Serve a green salad alongside and you have an appetite filling, stick to your ribs dinner for a cold winter night.

Beef Tips and Mushrooms
Serves 4

1-1/2 pounds stew meat or sirloin steak, cut 1" thick
2 cloves garlic, minced
12 ounce fresh mushrooms, sliced
1 cup beef broth
1 cup red wine
4 teaspoons soy sauce
4 teaspoons Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 cup milk
chopped parsley, for garnish

Brown meat in a tablespoon or two of butter. As the pieces brown, remove from skillet. Add half the wine to the skillet. Saute the mushrooms and garlic and return the meat to the pan. Add broth and remaining wine and soy sauce. Simmer for about 1 hour or until meat is tender. Blend mustard, cornstarch and milk. Add to pan. Simmer until thickened.

Serve over whole wheat egg noodles and garnish with parsley.

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Get a load of this potato soup

Baked potatoes are probably one of the most common side dishes served in a restaurant. For me, it seems that even if you load up the foil clad vegetable with gobs and gobs of butter and sour cream, cheese, bacon and whatever else you can find to stuff in there, the potato is still sort of lacking. But take all of those same components and combine them in a simmering pot on the stove and you have one wicked good recipe for Loaded Baked Potato Soup. 

This soup is guaranteed to make you feel warm and fuzzy during these cold winter days and it's so delicious and filling that nothing else is really needed to make a full meal except for maybe a green salad.  Enjoy!

Loaded Baked Potato and Leek Soup

from Fine Cooking
Serves: 6

2 pounds russet potatoes
1/4 cup unsalted butter
2-1/2 cups leeks, sliced and rinsed well (or 1 large onion, diced)
2 medium garlic cloves, minced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 cups chicken broth (may need more for thinning soup)
2 cups water
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup sour cream
4 thick slices bacon, cooked and crumbled
1 cup sharp cheddar cheese, grated and divided
2 tablespoons scallions, thinly sliced

Heat oven to 375.  Scrub potatoes in water, pat dry, and pierce several times with a fork.  Set them directly on an oven rack and bake until very tender when pierced with a fork , about 1 hour.  Let cool completely on a wire rack.

Melt the butter in a soup pot over medium-low heat.  Add the leeks (or onion) and garlic, season with salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 10 minutes.  Add the broth and water.  Bring to a simmer over medium heat and cook until the leeks are tender, about 20 minutes. 

When the potatoes are cool, cut one of them in half lengthwise.  Use a large spoon to scoop the flesh out of each half.  Cut the flesh into 1/2" cubes and set aside.  Coarsely chop the potato skin and the rest of the remaining potatoes and add to the pot with the leeks.  Puree the contents of the pot in a blender until very smooth.  Return the pureed soup to a clean pot and reheat over medium low heat.  Whisk the milk and sour cream into the soup, along with 1/2 cup of the cheese.  Stir in the diced potato.  The soup should be fairly thick, but if it seems too thick, thin it with a little water or chicken broth.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Serve garnished with remaining cheese, bacon bits, and scallions.

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