5 Easy Tips for Stellar Homemade Shrimp & Grits

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I discovered the glorious flavors of Shrimp & Grits as a teenage foodie who often visited Charleston, S.C. Many places in the city (and throughout the South) serve the dish, and several make it very well, but every version is different. Some restaurants serve the shrimp aboard cheese grits. Others top the bowl with a seafood gravy. Chefs even add bacon, sausage and other flavors to their renditions.

 

As I began cooking more as a bachelor in my 20s, I started experimenting with Shrimp & Grits in my own kitchen. It’s a dish that really lends itself well to creativity, which is a must when I’m cooking. As I’ve shared before on this blog, a hard-and-fast recipe is not my friend, and that’s why I’m not a baker by nature.

There are so many ways to do Shrimp & Grits well, so you really must figure out what you like best. Here are five quick tips to help you concoct your own Shrimp & Grits. You just might decide your way is your favorite.

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1 – Pick the right shrimp and the right grits for you.

Some folks will want to get fresh-from-the-sea shrimp, where available, and some kind of locally ground grits. Me? I actually prefer quick-cook grits (you can dress them up, big time) and frozen shrimp (for the flexibility of making them whenever you like). The way I see it from experience, you can poorly execute fancy and expensive ingredients, or you can hit a home run with simple ingredients.

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2 – Season the shrimp first.

You should cook your shrimp in a separate sauce pan from your grits and any other toppings (you’ll add the shrimp simply to the top of each bowl of grits before serving), and seasoning is a must. The most tongue-popping flavor in the whole dish should come from your seasoned shrimp. I like to use a half a lemon, a ½ teaspoon of paprika and a ¼ teaspoon of salt for each two servings. Add them to the pan and stir around your shrimp for while-cooking marination, over medium heat. As a rule of thumb for me, I like to prepare about 10 shrimp for each serving of Shrimp & Grits, cooking them just until they get light pink all over.

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3 – Use milk or cream in the grits.

But start with water. I’ve found that for each serving, I like to start with a ½ cup of grits and 2 cups of water, and cook on medium heat. The grits cook more quickly and without scalding in water. Then add the creamy ingredient later. I like about ¼ cup of cream or milk for each serving. You will really taste the difference when you add this step. So much more flavor than water alone. The other value in adding the milk or cream later is that as the grits cook and thicken, the creamy ingredient will help thin them back out a bit before serving. You don’t want to serve watery grits, but you also don’t want them to get sticky. The cream, especially, helps keep that from happening.

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4 – Whisk, don’t stir, your grits.

Like the milk or cream, using a whisk has a major impact on the texture and creamy nature of your bowl of grits. If you stir with a spoon, the mixing process just isn’t the same.

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5 – Add flavoring ingredient(s).

We like cooked beef sausage, chopped into smaller pieces and sautéed in a separate sauce pan, and then a topping of a little grated cheese. Bacon is also a great topping (because who doesn’t love bacon?). These types of ingredients add a little extra flavor without overpowering the shrimp, and they add a little something nice to the presentation as well.

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Foodie Travels: Scratch Bakery, Durham, N.C.

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Molly and I are always excited to find a fresh local bakery. When that bakery serves up several kinds of homemade pie, it’s even better.
During a quick stop in Durham, N.C., we visited Scratch, one of those local places that feels almost like it’s set in a different location than it actually is. Scratch offers outdoor seating that has the cafe-style feeling of a European city plaza. But it also provides the desserts and brunch items recognizable in American dining venues.
We went to Scratch for pie, and on the day we visited, the offerings included chocolate, lemon chess, buttermilk sugar, sweet potato, rhubarb and more.
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While all of the options we sampled were delicious, and we sampled about everything but my least favorite flavor of rhubarb, the buttermilk sugar was the most unique. It had a creamy yet light, sweet, buttermilk-flavored filling, with a crunchy layer of sugar right on the crust.
The crust. It was the most flaky, pastry-like crust I’ve had in recent memory on any pie. And pie is our typical dessert of choice anywhere we can eat it, at home or on the road.
Scratch also serves up brunch items like the popular avocado toast and traditional breakfast sandwiches, as well as other pastries, coffees and drinks, and lunch menu choices.
If you visit, don’t expect to park right outside. The section of Orange Street is set up to be a pedestrian walkway. But you can find a variety of half-hour, hour and two-hour parking throughout downtown.
Scratch Bakery
111 W. Orange St., Durham, N.C.
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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

Five-Minute Summer Cherry Limeade That Rivals Sonic’s

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Both sides of our family have a history of traditions in the kitchen. In 2013, Matthew’s mom, Chris, created a cookbook of recipes from her branch of the family. The book includes a heaping of sweet and savory dishes, and amongst all the food is an almost-hidden entry for Cherry Limeade. The drink took about five minutes to make, resembles punch and it rivals the limeades that Sonic Drive-ins sell. Here’s how you make it in about five minutes.

Ingredients

2-liter bottle of lemon-lime soda

1 10 oz. jar of maraschino cherries, with juice

1 cup fresh squeezed lime juice

1 cup sugar

Step one: Mix soda, cherries, lime juice and sugar in a large bowl or pitcher and stir. (The recipe suggests to chill all the ingredients before mixing.)

Step two: Cut wedges from a lime and cut a slit in each one to fix on the rim of your glasses.

Step three: Chill limeade for 30 minutes in the refrigerator.

Step four: Pour your limeade and cherries into each glass (with ice, as desired), and serve.

Molly’s Take: I’ve always loved lemonades and punch – and what’s better in the warm summers of the South than a delicious, cold, fruity, refreshing beverage? This is perfect for a party or just a simple get-together. The maraschino cherries give it a delightful punch of flavor. We happened to have lime soda in the fridge, cherries from a dessert we’d made and limes from a dinner we’d made. So it was super easy to put together. But it’s just as easy to pick up those few ingredients. Definitely worth a try!

Matthew’s Take: I’m a sucker for a good limeade when I visit Sonic. I’d rather get a limeade than any other drink on the menu. This limeade is as good as Sonic’s, and it reminds me of a punch you’d find at a wedding, birthday or other celebration reception. If you have the ingredients on hand, it really takes about five minutes to prepare, and it’s the kind of fancy-looking drink that would make someone ask what it is as they pass you on your deck or patio. I give this creation an A+ for taste, an A+ for presentation and an A for ease. While the preparation time is amazing, it’s not likely you always have cherries and fresh lime in the kitchen like we did when we decided to make this limeade.

Credit: This recipe is credited to Matthew’s cousin, Sherri Blanton.