Tuesday, April 28, 2009


Marinated Margarita Shrimp with Asparagus & Roasted Red Peppers over Cheese Grits Cakes aboard Lagniappe on the Chesapeake

Springtime beckons even the grouchiest of us to get outside and play.  Tent camping, backpacking, biking and picnics at the park are among my favorite activities.  And last weekend, sailing on the Chesapeake was an offer we couldn't refuse, since we don't have a sailboat ourselves.  But we're both willing and not entirely clueless crew.
And I enjoy the challenge of packing portable feasts.  So from my freezer I pulled frozen peaches from the NC State Farmers Market, Dan Finch's blueberries, and the homemade granola I've shared with you.  That was a terrific breakfast, along with coffee, overlooking a gunkhole in the West River below Annapolis.
For one dinner, I packed two pounds of NC green-tailed shrimp from my freezer.  Before leaving home, I made the cheese grits cakes and pre-cooked the asparagus and red pepper.  That makes on-board cooking - or at camp or picnic table grill - a lot easier and less messy.  About half an hour before grilling, I added the pre-made Margarita marinade to the zippered bag.  We heated up the grits, asparagus and peppers in foil packets on the grill, then wrapped them in some kitchen towels to keep them warm, and then grilled the shrimp.
All that was left was to open a bottle - or two - of a very nice pinot noir.  We weren't driving, or dragging anchor, for that matter!

2 pounds large shrimp, peeled
1/4 cup tequila
2 tablespoons lemon or lime juice
zest of one lemon or lime
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon salt
ground pepper to taste
2 tablespoons olive or canola oil
Mix all ingredients together in a small jar.  Shake.  Refrigerate if not using right away.

Place about 1 pound asparagus in a saute pan.  Cover with cold water.  Place over medium high heat.  As soon as the water comes to a boil, drain the asparagus, and plunge into a ice water bath to stop the cooking and seal the bright, green color.  When cool, drain and pat dry.

Place 1 or 2 red bell peppers on a baking sheet covered with foil.  Put under a pre-heated broiler, turning until all sides are blackened.  Remove from oven, and gather the foil up to cover the peppers.  Allow to cool.  Peel blackened skin away, and remove stem and seeds.  Slice into thin slivers.

ADDITIONAL ACCOMPANIMENT:  2 to 4 tablespoons grated Parmesan/Asiago cheese

2 cups water
1 cup milk (or you may skip milk and use a total of 3 cups water)
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup stone-ground grits (yellow or white)
3 eggs
1 cup grated cheese (Parmesan or Asiago or combo)
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line a shallow 10 x 15 in. baking pan with foil, then lightly spray with oil/nonstick spray.
Bring water and milk to a boil in a large saucepan.  Toss in the salt.  While stirring constantly, whisk in the grits, slowly, in a steady stream.  Lower heat to a simmer and stir occasionally.
Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, beat eggs, then add cheese and cayenne pepper.
When grits are thick and most of the water absorbed (about 10 to 15 minutes), add a spoonful or two of grits to egg mixture and stir.  Then add egg mixture to the grits in the pan, and stir until cheese is melted.
Pour mixture into prepared pan, and spread to about an inch thickness.  
Bake for about 20 to 30 minutes, or until semi-firm to the touch.
Cool, then refrigerate for at least one hour.  You may cut out rounds, or other shapes.

Place the marinated shrimp on skewers.  Heat all ingredients, and grill the shrimp for about five minutes, or until pink and firm.
Use the grits cake as the bottom layer.  Arrange asparagus over the grits cake, then red pepper slices.  Sprinkle with grated Parmesan cheese.  Place shrimp skewers over top.  Enjoy!

Recipes adapted from THE OUTER BANKS COOKBOOK:  Recipes & Traditions from NC's Barrier Islands by Elizabeth Wiegand, Globe Pequot Press, 2008.  Available at major bookstores and online.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009


Chef Bill Greene, of Artisanal in Boone, confers with his sous chef 

Iron Chef, watch out.  North Carolina has the best chef competition going, held the last few springs in Blowing Rock, but coming to the rest of the state next year.
FIRE ON THE ROCK is the culmination of 16 chefs from the High Country competing during the month of March for one of 8 coveted spots in the final heats. The RULES?  They could bring $100 worth of food in their bag of tricks.  Each heat provided a secret ingredient that must be used in each of the three dishes they would prepare in 50 minutes.  Baskets full of NC veggies - peppers, apples, onions, mushrooms, sweet potatoes, red and yellow potatoes and heirloom tomatoes grown in a hot house were also available for the chefs to use.
Honey, leafy greens, corn and corn products, and striped bass were the secret ingredients from NC in the four elimination rounds held on Sat.
The audience watched, smelled and cheered, while a lucky 5 purchased a spot at the Chef's Table to dine on each of the 3 dishes both chefs created during their heat.  Judges also tasted and ranked each dish.

So we in the audience salivated as each dish was presented.
Yucca-encrusted striped bass, then presented in the next dish in a tortilla with avocado, mango and chipotle salsa, then a ceviche with heart of palm, caper and grapefruit were presented by the only female chef, Marietta DeBriere, chef of the Blowing Rock Country Club and a native of Puerto Rico who definitely cooks with a Latin flare.
Chef Chuck Nelson of The Table at Crestwood used duck fat to saute the striped bass.  He also wrapped a filet around julienned red and yellow peppers sprinkled with balsamic vinegar, tying the bundle with a long green chive.  another dish stacked the fish with heirloom tomato, a sweet potato slice roasted with balsamic vinegar, with fried wantons on top.  
Bill Greene of Artisanal blanched, then gave native NC ramps a cold water bath, which he sprinkled over roasted corn chowder; another used sweet corn and habanero sauce with pork. HIs challenger, James Welch of Crippens, did a rosemary cheesy polenta, also a corn succotash with pork.
The next heat had Michael Barbato of Chetola's Manor House and Guy Branaman tossing leafy collards, kale and cabbage with apples, onions, bacon, peppers and shitakes to serve with NC pork or chicken.
The surprise ingredient for the last heat was honey.  Chayote squash, julienned leeks, carrots and parsnips, diced heirlom tomatoes, as well as the honey, were used with honey pecan glazed chicken, and a steak.  Both chose to do sweets - a honey blueberry cobbler with a honey creme anglaise, and a blackberry honey gastric served over chicken.  One judge, restaurant reviewer John Batchelor, exclaimed, "You need to count how many toes are curling!"
Each heat had a declared winner.  But competitors for the final heat, held on Sunday, were determined by the total number of points given each chef by the judges.  

Celebrity chef Carla Hall Lyons of Alchemy Caterers in Washington, DC, the People's Choice winner and self-proclaimed "'Al Gore' Iron Chef," joined the Judges Table for the final THROW DOWN between Bill Greene of Artisanal, and Dominic  Geraghty of The Hounds' Ear Club. 
The secret ingredient?  Carolina Blue Crab.  The first of the season, alive and fiesty.
Tossed into boiling water, it was a scramble to clean enough crabs and then cook, within 50 minutes.  
Chicken thighs were wrapped around crabmeat by Dominic.  He prepared a crab bisque with a basil chiffonade.  "Fireworks" coleslaw with a little "zip and a zap" formed a bed for more crabmeat.
Meanwhile, Bill Green served thinly sliced Kobe beef with crab and a homemade hollandaise sauce with asparagus.  A Kobe Oscar?  Then a Napoleon stack of veggies and crab,  and finally, a gazpacho  with mache and crab.

Unbelievably, it was a tie.  Both chefs received 255 points.  The other chefs were only separated by 7 points.
Close?  You bet. 
What was amazing to this Carolina Foodie was watching the chefs think on their feet, using ingredients they had on hand, to present such beautiful and amazing dishes in such a short time.
Next time, I'm buying a seat at the Chef's Table.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009


I love using fresh thyme for just about anything.....stuffed under the breast of a roasted chicken, used in a veggie stir fry, on scrambled eggs, atop grilled fish.  Last year, my great group of thymes - golden, lemon, silver, creeping - all died during August.  Heat or humidity?  That corner of my herb garden is also prone to flooding during real hard rains.
So, I added more soil to raise it up, shored it up with rocks we collect from hikes and sea shells, and a huge amount of black gold, or compost, before planting these pretty lemon and creeping thymes this past weekend. 
Growing herbs, whether in pots on your windowsill, or pots on your deck or drive, or in a garden, are so very easy.  Most are very forgiving, and will issue forth loads of flavor and inspiration for cooking.  I'll never forget my little girls bending over to rub the leaves, then bringing their fingers to their noses and just grinning.  Okay, they're now in their 20s!!!
I have huge rosemary bushes growing in various plots.  Some are upright, which can be used as skewers for kabobs, others are low-lying with a slightly different flavor.  We use the dead limbs, or those after we chop up the leaves, to place on top of the coals or hot grill.  That gives added, smokey flavor to whatever you're grilling.  Learned that from our French friends we visited near Marseilles.
I will also sow seeds for basil after the last frost, and add another sage plant.  I love Greek oregano for summer squash.  And chives and more chives, along with the garlic chives making a valiant comeback this spring.  I usually keep a pot of Italian flat-leaf parsley going too.  Give them all a try.  Fresh herbs are just dynamite. 

So this economy has a lot of us planting veggies - and herbs - in our backyards to cut back on grocery costs, and to provide safe and healthy food for our families.  Sort of a new take on the old Victory Gardens.  But what a win-win.  It's good for us in so many ways - gives us exercise, an excuse to be outside, provides us with great food. . . . . 
My problem is the not-very-dear deer.  We live near a creek, and we're on their pathway.  They love whatever we've got growing.  Short of 8-foot tall fencing, I don't know what to do.
So we planted some mesclun, radishes and sugar snap peas in some pots to place on the deck, thinking that would keep the deer away.  The squirrels, however, thought it was marvelous, and dug deep trenches among the carefully sowed tiny seeds, sprinkled just so with a scant 1/2 inch of topsoil.  I'm thinking squirrel stew, which we do here in the South.
Take a tour this Saturday of some "Urban Farms" with an old friend, Master Gardener Jan Leitschuh, down in the beautiful Sandhills area of NC.  http://sustainablesandhills.org or call 910 484-9098.  Jan has also developed a business of planting edible gardens for folks.

Since I have no fresh veggies or fruit to enthrall you with this week, I'd like to pass on a terrific recipe for granola.  I find granola to be very expensive in the stores.  And full of fats and calories, and lots of added stuff.  I searched online, and found a recipe by a favorite food writer, Mark Bittman of THE NEW YORK TIMES.  I used my own combination of nuts, as he suggested, and did a combo of sweeteners (honey and maple syrup).  And let me tell you, it's awesome.  What a terrific way to start your day.  I sprinkle it over peaches and blueberries I froze last summer.  I imagine it'd be good with yogurt, or strawberries, or ice cream. . . . . 
It takes about 10 minutes to chop the nuts and combine the ingredients, then another 30 or so minutes to bake.  I buy oatmeal and nuts in bulk, so the cost is significantly less, over the long haul, from the boxes or bags you buy in the store.  Not a bad investment for such a terrific outcome.
Start with these basics, then add, as Bittman suggests, other grains, dried fruit, spices, orange zest, peanut butter or even chocolate chips.  

- 6 cups rolled oats (NOT quick-cooking or instant)
- 2 (I did 3) cups mixed nuts and seeds (I used chopped walnuts, pecans and almonds, but wan to add cashews, sunflower seeds, flaxseeds or sesame seeds next time)
- 1 cup dried unsweetened shredded coconut, optional ( we don't like the stuff, so I left that out)
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, or to taste
- dash of salt
- 1/2 to 1 cup honey or maple syrup, or to taste (I used a combo)
- 1 cup raisins or chopped dried fruit, optional (I left these out since I knew I'd be using fresh or frozen fruit)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  In a large bowl, mix together the oats, nuts, salt, and cinnamon (use your hands, your best tools).  Drizzle the honey and/or maple syrup over.  Stir until all is moistened.  You might need to add a bit more honey or syrup. 
I divided the mixture between two baking sheets with sides.  Place in preheated oven for at least 30 minutes.  Stir occasionally.  You want the mixture to be browned but not burned so that it will be crunchy.  I left mine in for about 40 minutes.
Remove from oven, then add raisins or dried fruit, if desired.  Cool on a rack until it gets to room temp.  I store mine in a plastic zippered bag in the refrigerator.  Bittman says it will keep indefinitely, but mine won't last long.  I love the stuff!
Source:  THE NEW YORK TIMES.  Jan 9, 2009.