Simple Citrus Shrimp Burgers

img_8247When I lived near the Crystal Coast region of North Carolina in the early 2000s, I had my first experience with a shrimp burger in Morehead City, the site of the annual N.C. Seafood Festival. (This year’s festival starts today and runs through October 2.)

I had never seen or heard of anything like it. These incredibly crispy, fried shrimp stacked on a hamburger bun, sometimes with nothing else and sometimes with a variety of accompanying toppings.

As a pure cheeseburger lover – meaning I enjoy beef, cheese and bun most of all – I had a hard time calling it a burger. But regardless of its name, it was good, and I ended up trying a variety of shrimp burgers during my time “Down East” in the Tar Heel State.

I decided recently that I wanted to venture creating my own shrimp burger at home. I didn’t expect the first trial to be all that great, but I wanted to share the shrimp burger with others, and I wanted to do it from my own kitchen.

So, here’s what I came up with on a recent Friday night, and what my wife Molly and I thought about it. I don’t know that it’s worthy of something as prestigious as the N.C. Seafood Festival, but it was good enough to earn praise in our home (more on that way below). One thing to know before reading further: Many shrimp burger recipes mix the shrimp in a food processor to create a patty with the shrimp. I took a different route based on the shrimp burgers I ate in Eastern North Carolina.

The Burger Ingredients

20 medium-size shrimp, deveined and without tails

all-purpose flour

dash of salt

dash of pepper

dash of paprika

1 egg

dash of worcestershire sauce

dash of lime juice

dash of lemon juice

1/8 stick of butter

Cooking oil

2 large hamburger sandwich buns

The sauce

1 teaspoon of mayonnaise

1/2 teaspoon of ketchup

1/2 teaspoon of red wine vinegar

The process

1. Your shrimp need to have no external coverings, including tails. Saute the shrimp on medium heat on your stovetop in a pan with butter with a dash each of salt, pepper, and lime and lemon juices.

2. Cool the shrimp. (You can flash freeze in the freezer, but don’t let them get too cold or icy. You want them where they just aren’t hot or too warm to dredge.)

3. Mix the egg and a dash of worcestershire sauce in a bowl and toss in your shrimp.

img_82444. Once the shrimp are coated enough with egg mixture, toss them into a separate bowl with a mixture of all-purpose flour and a dash each of salt, pepper and paprika.

5. When your shrimp are well-coated with flour, add them to your frying pan in a thin coating of cooking oil of your choice (can use the same one you sauteed in if you clean it out beforehand). You don’t need too much oil for something as small as shrimp.

6. Once one side is well-fried, turn them over and fry the other side. You can add a hearty dash of both lemon and lime juices over the shrimp as they fry but before the coating solidifies.

img_82457. Remove your shrimp and drain the grease off as desired.

8. For your sauce, mix 1 teaspoon of mayonnaise with 1/2 teaspoon of ketchup and 1/2 teaspoon of red wine vinegar in a small mixing bowl. Mix throughly until all blended into one solution. You can add a dash of paprika to this sauce and mix it in well, too, if you like.

9. Spread the sauce on the inside of each half of your sandwich buns.

10. Add the shrimp on top by placing a layer one-shrimp-deep on the bun. Add the extras on top. You can always add lettuce, tomato, onion or any other topping you desire before serving. We went with the basic shrimp burger.

This recipe yields two shrimp burgers.

Be brave and try it! Let me know what you think!

Molly’s Take: I’ve never actually had a shrimp burger, so when some friends came over and we were discussing Matthew’s new dinner idea, everyone was curious. Is it formed into a patty? Is it just shrimp on a bun? Is it shrimp on a burger? To be honest, I didn’t know myself! But I found out soon enough that Matthew’s style of shrimp burger is tasty, crispy fried shrimp on a hearty bun, with a happy helping of tangy sauce to boot. I loved the simple three-ingredient sauce, as it complemented the shrimp’s subtle lemon and lime flavors. Overall, the shrimp burger was quite delicious and I can’t wait for Matthew to make it again. I’m sure next time, he’ll have even more new additions!

Matthew’s Take: Having had a variety of shrimp burgers in coastal North Carolina, where the seafood is fresh and the cooking traditions with it run deep, my recipe isn’t quite ready for primetime. But it was pretty good! And the sauce was a pleasing addition to the citrusy, breaded shrimp. This is definitely one I’d try again. Perhaps the best part of this recipe is that you can adapt it any way you like. You don’t even have to fry the shrimp, which was a new experience for me. I ended up with a thin, crispy coating. As unhealthy as it may be, I’d love to have a thicker coating next time. And I might try some fresh veggies to top the sandwich was well. You can make this one your own!

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Fresh, Simple Homemade Salsa

salsa

Mexican restaurants used to confuse me with the phrase pico de gallo. Is it salsa? Is it something else? Now I have a simple answer: It’s salsa so fresh and unprocessed that you can still see the different vegetables and spices it includes.

I’ve recently been tinkering with options for an incredibly simple and fresh-tasting salsa that I can make to enjoy when we eat Mexican-style food at home (which is often because we love it). We aren’t big fans of incredibly spicy food, and I like such recipes to include as few ingredients and measurements as possible. It’s nice to know you’ve got what you need in the kitchen without having to make a special grocery trip to make something as simple as salsa. Here’s what I came up with, and we’ve enjoyed it a few times with tortilla chips (and I once successfully used it as a southwestern-style cheeseburger topping).

Ingredients 

1/3 cup chopped tomato

1/3 cup chopped onion

1/3 cup chopped pepper (your choice, mine was green bell)

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

splash of lime juice

Directions

Finely chop your vegetables and mix them in a bowl alongside your salt and pepper. Splash with a couple of circles of lime juice. Mix again and serve in a bowl of an appropriate size.

This recipe yields a cup of salsa. You’ll want to multiply that by how many people you’re serving and how much salsa you expect each diner to eat.

Chocolate Syrup Pound Cake

This delicious chocolate cake recipe came from a news story I did as a reporter for The Star. A couple in Shelby turned their grandmother Nell’s old home into Nell’s Farm House, a place for quiet, country lodging near Shelby and Gardner-Webb University. Included in your stay is access to some of Nell’s amazingly unique recipes, like this Chocolate Syrup Pound Cake.

I was very excited to make it, mainly because of the unique ingredient of chocolate syrup, as opposed to using the more traditional ingredient: cocoa. I wanted to see how it changed the flavor and texture. So how was it? The flavor is delicious, and the texture, dense. It is a pound cake after all. But let me tell you this – its chocolate-y taste does not need icing.

Ingredients

2 sticks butter

1/2 cup Crisco

3 cups sugar

3 large eggs

3 cups all purpose flour

1/2 tsp. baking powder

Dash of salt

1 cup milk

1 tsp. vanilla

1 lb. can chocolate syrup

Directions

1. Cream the butter, Crisco and sugar. Beat well.

2. Add eggs, one at a time.

3. Add chocolate syrup and vanilla.

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4. Combine flour, baking powder and salt in a separate bowl.

5. Mix the dry mixture into the chocolate mixture, alternating with adding the milk.

6. Pour into a buttered and floured Bundt cake pan.

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7. Start in a cold oven. Bake at 325 for 1 1/2 hours. Do not open the door for one hour.

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Molly’s take: I love the different taste you get using chocolate syrup in this cake. It makes it a little richer and more chocolate-y than if you had used cocoa. I also love that, unlike most pound cake recipes, this one truly is delicious enough not to need icing or frosting. Definitely one I’ll try again! Maybe with a tall glass of milk…

Matthew’s take: A thick slice of this cake and a glass of milk is the perfect pairing for a delicious dessert or snack. I believe the chocolate syrup makes the cake more moist than cocoa does, and I think that moisture helped keep the cake from getting dry after a few days. But we also didn’t have to worry about the cake getting dry because it was so good that it didn’t sit around for long. If you want a solid cake that stands alone, try this recipe.

Foodie Travels: Eating Through a Weekend in Atlanta, Ga.

Atlanta may not be the first city that comes to mind if I ask you to name Southern metropolitan areas that serve up legendary food. But on our tour of the major cities in the South in the past two years, the Georgia capital just might have produced the most memorable lineup from top to bottom.

When we visited town for a weekend last year, we arrived with three restaurant destinations in mind. And those were the three we visited. We still have a handful we’d like to try when we’re back in town, but there were no disappointments among the stops we made.

Per our usual foodie travel plan, we visited one featured restaurant each day during the three-day trip, supplementing those meals with free hotel breakfasts and a cheap third meal. Here’s our experience and what we suggest if you find yourself in Atlanta.

 

Cheesecake

Gladys Knight’s Chicken and Waffles

How can you not be attracted to a restaurant that bears the name of the “empress of soul,” Gladys Knight? How can the words “chicken and waffles” not further propel you to seek out a place that promises a menu of delicious soul food?

Well, unfortunately one answer is all of the news about a corruption investigation among Knight’s family, which has prompted some periods of closing in the restaurant’s Atlanta-area locations. Knight has even filed a suit to have her name removed from the restaurants altogether.

But before all of that was in the news, the downtown location was our first Atlanta foodie stop on a Friday night, and we left full of Southern favorites and surprises. Molly enjoyed the shrimp and grits, which she’s now sampled among the most Southern cities on the map— Charleston, S.C., New Orleans, La., and Atlanta, Ga. I had the signature chicken and waffles plate, which offered a simplicity that felt very true to the dish’s roots. It was almost a Waffle House-style waffle, alongside several bone-in chicken wings that were juicy inside and crispy outside.

The jewel in this eatery’s crown was our dessert: quite possibly the best cheesecake of any variety that we’ve ever eaten. Our slice of sweet potato cheesecake was a heavenly combination of light yet rich, flavorful yet not over the top.

If you visit Gladys Knight, as the Travel Channel and other food TV media have done, expect a crowd at peak times; it’s a pretty popular joint. And consider parking elsewhere in town and walking here. The parking situation wasn’t ideal, and we unfortunately ended up paying to park in a lot right next door.

On my dollar sign price scale ($ is cheap, $$ is moderate and $$$ is expensive), this one gets $$.

Online: 529 Peachtree St. NE, Atlanta, Ga.

 

Varsity burger

The Varsity

What’ll ya have? That’s been the catchphrase at The Varsity for nearly 90 years. Known as the world’s largest drive-in restaurant, this place offers you plenty to think about before you answer that question.

We visited on a Saturday night alongside five other family members in two cars. This place draws a major crowd at most hours on the weekend, but there was plenty of parking to be had.

Expect to stand in line at the counter for a bit if the joint’s hopping, but that’s OK because you’ll have more time to decide on your order if you’re a newbie. We ended up sampling a variety of items, including cheeseburgers, hot dogs, fries, onion rings and the Varsity Orange, the shop’s signature drink (along with the Frosted Orange shake).

The food is good and exactly what you’d expect of a drive-in style diner in the South. I’d venture to say the food’s also less greasy than some spots you’ll visit, and that significantly improves the experience.

You can’t miss The Varsity if you’re driving on Interstate 85 right through downtown Atlanta. When you spot it, remember there are plenty of reasons to stop in for a meal.

The Varsity gets $ on the price scale.

Online: 61 North Avenue, Atlanta, Ga.

 

Ribs

Daddy D’z: The Bar-B-Que Joint

We Ain’t Pretty But We’re Good.

Remember what your mama told ya. ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover.’

Those are among the statements on Daddy D’z website. And once you see this iconic Atlanta barbecue joint, you’ll understand why.

On a Sunday afternoon, we decided to make this restaurant our lunch stop. We planned to visit the Martin Luther King Jr. historical sites nearby, so we took advantage of free parking at the MLK center, about a mile away, and walked to the eatery.

That would be a fine choice if it’s not a 95-degree June day in Atlanta, Ga. I don’t suggest our route unless it’s a cooler time of year.

As we neared the restaurant, sweating profusely and tired from the heat-bathed trek, it looked almost like a scene from an apocalyptic movie. Seemingly abandoned buildings were all we saw. It appeared plants were growing out of the structure that seemed on the map like it should be the location of this “famed” barbecue restaurant.

As we rounded the corner from the back, we saw the “Daddy D’z” sign and a full parking lot of cars. The inside was full of people, too, and that meant we had to sit on the outside porch, with fans and no central air-conditioning to cool us.

But we persevered through the heat and my insistence that I needed more drink and my lunch as soon as possible. And we’re glad we did. I had a plate of the best ribs I’ve had in my travels through the South.

I’m not the only proponent of the ribs either. They’ve been praised via the Food Network, among some of the best ribs celebrity chef Aarón Sánchez has ever eaten.

All of the Deep South barbecue favorites are here, and they come with sides of macaroni and cheese and some of the best soul food Atlanta or anywhere can dish up.

If you judge by appearances, you may not want to stop your car and walk inside. That would be a major mistake in foodie judgement on your part. If Daddy D’z fits into your travel plans, you should give it a try and let me know your verdict.

Daddy D’z gets $$ on the price scale.

Online: 264 Memorial Drive SE, Atlanta, Ga.

Crispy Down-Home Fried Chicken

When Matthew said he wanted to make fried chicken inspired by Winston-Salem restaurant Sweet Potatoes‘ original recipe, my head starting filling with my own visions of what fried chicken means for a southern kitchen. My mom never made fried chicken, at least not the kind that actually comes with a bone inside it. So my frame of reference for fried chicken was limited to fast-food experiences (Bojangles, KFC, Popeye’s) and what I read in books. Yes, books. In my imagination, fried chicken is the kind Minny Jackson teaches Celia Foote how to make in “The Help” – the kind soaked overnight in buttermilk, seasoned with simple ingredients, then fried in a huge vat full of Crisco, which, as Minny points out, is just as vital for a southern cook as our mayonnaise.

Sweet Potatoes’ recipe follows much the same pattern. We used chicken legs and soaked them for at least 6 hours in the buttermilk mixture. Then, we “dredged” the chicken in a flour mixture and popped it in the pan, which was full of hot oil. When our chicken was finally done frying (we used a meat thermometer to be sure), we sure did enjoy it with our homemade biscuits, seasoned green beans, and a sweet potato hash Matthew came up with on the spur of the moment. It was a feast worthy of any southern kitchen, and it certainly lived up to the best of my imagination.

Here’s the recipe we used, which we tweaked for our own tastes. Feel free to change as needed, add your own sides, and enjoy!

Ingredients:

1 1/2 lbs. chicken

Oil for frying

(Buttermilk mixture)

1/2 quart buttermilk

1 tbsp. salt

1/2 tsp. garlic salt

1/2 tsp. thyme

1/2 tbsp. pepper

 

(Flour mixture)

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 1/2 tbsp. cornstarch

Directions:

1. Combine buttermilk, salt, garlic, thyme and pepper. Add the chicken. Cover and refrigerate for at least 6 hours.

IMG_8120 (1)

2. Heat the oil (about 1 inch deep) on medium-high in a large cast-iron pan.

3. Combine flour and cornstarch in a bowl. (The original recipe called for adding a tablespoon of chicken or seafood seasoning to the flour mixture. We didn’t, so it’s optional.)

4. Dredge the chicken in the flour+cornstarch mixture and coat it thoroughly.

5. Add the chicken to the pan and brown on one side for 10 minutes.

6. Turn the chicken over and keep frying until it is done, turning when necessary. Chicken is done when a thermometer (in the thickest part) reads 165 degrees.

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7. Remove from the pan and place the chicken on a plate covered with paper towels or another material for removing some of the grease. Serve and enjoy!

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Matthew’s take: Just watch chef Stephanie Tyson fry chicken and talk about her method. I believe your mouth will be watering afterward, just like mine was (unless you don’t like chicken altogether). This fried chicken was crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside when we enjoyed it fresh from the pan. When I took a couple of pieces to work for lunch a couple of days later, I was amazed that it was even more flavorful and even better. The buttermilk soak makes all the difference in the flavor. The time you fry and the rotation of the chicken as it cooks inside and fries outside is the key to getting a combination of a nice, golden brown colorful appearance and the delicious taste of meaty chicken on the inside. I would recommend this recipe against any fried chicken prescription out there. Knowing the story of the chef who passed down the recipe certainly makes a difference as well. (And so does the memory of eating in her delightfully Southern, North Carolina restaurant.)

Molly’s take: This chicken, as I said, lived up to my expectations. Soaking it in the buttermilk really makes the meat tender and flavorful. It is perfect when prepared and cooked this way. The frying took longer than I imagined, but I didn’t have enough oil in the pan and my burner was on too low. So that’s why I suggest turning it up to medium-high heat and frying in at least an inch of oil. Once it was done, it was delicious! Crispy outer covering with a tender, juicy inside. We can’t wait to try it again!

 

Foodie Travels: Dutch Broad Cafe, Forest City, N.C.

EDITORS NOTE: Dutch Broad Market & Cafe moved from Spindale to Forest City following this original posting.

Farm-fresh, local food is one of America’s hottest, sustaining culinary movements. Sourcing menus with ingredients grown nearby and incorporated into dishes is quite the chic practice, and it’s a common trend across North Carolina, a state historically known for its wide variety of farms and products.

Our slice of the world, however, still seems to have a meager plate of options from which to choose a fresh-prepared meal with ingredients that are a combination of locally grown, organic and healthy. Luckily, that’s exactly what a new restaurant in Rutherford County provides, along with many other delightful features.

The Dutch Broad Cafe in Forest City bases its menu on a farm-to-table concept that accents the local, health-conscious options that more and more people are asking for. The restaurant and coffee shop along the main business district of the small town offers a perfectly simple list of food choices through its cafe, and it serves those items in what I would call a nice-casual environment. In other words, you’ll find nice tablecloths and cloth napkins, but you can be comfortable wearing your shorts and T-shirts.

The menu itself offers an easy-to-navigate variety of sandwiches, wraps and salads, along with a few appetizer and dessert options.

Molly ordered the chicken caesar salad, which delivered a large portion of fresh lettuce and tomatoes, crispy bacon pieces, tasty croutons and a heaping helping of flavorful grilled chicken, along with a delicious house-made caesar dressing. Most people could make three portions out of the salad, which also comes with a warm, soft croissant topped with honey butter.

True to my ordering form, I chose the burger option on the menu. But this was no ordinary American restaurant burger. No, this was a grass-fed patty with beef from Hickory Nut Gap Farm in Asheville, N.C., topped with lettuce, tomato, condiments and my choice of cheese. I selected the Dutch cheese, which the chef with Holland roots brings from the country herself. All of that comes on a fresh bun, with a side of crispy-outside, soft-inside Dutch-style fries. The burger was top notch, in taste, in toppings, in size and in price.

After our entrees, we sampled the vanilla bean creme brûlée, which the chef delivered to the table herself and torched in front of us. It was a scrumptious vanilla custard, with a crispy coating top, and accompanied by two wafers on the plate beside it. We enjoy creme brûlée because it’s a nice light, not super-sweet dessert to immediately follow a meal. And this one was as good as any we’ve had in the region.

We also had a chance to sample the warm, fresh donut holes you’ll find on the menu. The soft dough pieces came with an organic dark chocolate and a smooth-sweet caramel pair of dipping sauces.

“We don’t use anything that’s day old,” one of our servers told us near the end of our meal. Based on our first visit to the Dutch Broad Cafe, I’d agree. This is not a place where you’ll find a never-ending menu or all of the heavy and calorie-packed American food items you can get at all the other restaurants.

This is a place where you will be greeted by multiple smiles and hellos when you enter. Based on our experience, it’s a place where you’ll get an ample portion of quality food that is commensurate with the price you’ll pay. And it’s a place where fresh ingredients are the basis of every item on the menu.

Dutch Broad Cafe is old-school hospitality, mixed with the contemporary fresh-food concept and a Holland-influence twist. It’s a formula that works, and it’s one we’re ecstatic to support.

Dutch Broad Cafe

654 W. Main St., Forest City, N.C.

$ (on scale of $ very affordable, $$ middle of the road, $$$ expensive)

On Facebook: Dutch Broad Cafe

Foodie Travels: Copper Penny Grill, Forest City, N.C.

Flavor: That’s how I would describe the Copper Penny Grill in Forest City if you only allowed me one word. Everything we ate on our recent first visit to the new restaurant in Forest City’s downtown was full of flavor.

We received a few recommendations from friends to check this place out and decided to spend a weeknight along the city’s Main Street. In addition to dinner, we took a walk through town, around old mill buildings and a mix of new and longtime local businesses.

My first impression when we sat down in the Penny was aided by the space in the booths. At 6 foot 4, I struggle to relax and find comfort in the booths of places like Waffle House, where I really have to fold myself up to fit and don’t have full range of motion to lift my fork from table to mouth.

We settled in and checked out the menu and had plenty to discuss. Molly and I rarely get the same thing or even a plate from the same category on the menu. At the Copper Penny, our ordering discussion included talk of fish tacos, steak, sandwiches and burgers.

In the end, we followed one of my restaurant rules (I like to try a place’s burger first to determine how they handle the basics and my favorite savory meal) while also breaking our collective rule (we BOTH ordered a burger).

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Molly went with a favorite of hers—the mushroom swiss variety—while I selected the quesadilla burger. She had regular fries and I upgraded to the sweet potato fries, which I highly recommend if you like them. More on that in a moment.

The burgers were both cooked well and still juicy. The meat was well-seasoned, and the flavor that topped both sandwiches was distinct and memorable. Molly’s mushrooms were a tastebud-pleasing topping, something that’s not often the case in many dining experiences. I’ve found that mushrooms are often squishy and flavorless after-thoughts that really don’t add to the burger. The bun on Molly’s sandwich was soft but hearty, the perfect housing for a burger.

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The quesadilla burger, not really a common find in an American grill restaurant in western North Carolina, was topped with a pico de gallo that was the star of my dinner show. It was neither spicy nor bland, but had a fresh veggie feel to it that really set off the experience. Oh, and my sweet potato fries! They came with a brown sugar dipping sauce unlike anything I’ve had as a fries condiment. The sauce turned the fries into a major component of my dinner, whereas an average fry accompaniment usually takes a backseat to the burgers I order.

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It’s rare we do dessert when we eat out on a normal occasion, but we had already planned to see what our options were on this night. (The menu tells you specifically to save room for dessert but does not tell you what those desserts are.) When presented with the choices—a variety of cake options—we selected the lemon berry mascarpone. A waitress walking by as we ordered said, “that’s the best cake I’ve ever put in my mouth.”

When our cake plate was finished, the same waitress walked by and said, “Did I lie to you?” No, she didn’t. This mascarpone had a cool and light summery quality to it. The lemon and berry played off each other perfectly, and the cake was just the right mix of moist and crumbly.

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Keep in mind that we order water most of the time for our drinks, and we did here, too, but we were still able to eat dinner, with a couple of additions to our meals and dessert (and also a tip) for under $30. That might sound like a lot for two burgers and fries, water and piece of cake, but consider this: The burgers were satisfying, the fries were plentiful and delicious and the cake was a huge piece, plenty for two people to share. Also consider that you can spend $7-$8 a meal if you go to a fast food joint and order a specialty combo.

Going out to eat is all about the experience. The Copper Penny provided a great one, from atmosphere (they also offer a bar and high-top tables if you’re so inclined) to service to food. We will go back, and we recommend that you check this place out, too.

Copper Penny Grill

146 E. Main Street, Forest City, N.C.

copperpennygrill.com