Entertain with Ease this Holiday Season

It’s officially holiday season, and if you’re like me, visions of green bean casserole, sweet potato soufflé and pumpkin pie have been dancing in your head. This time of year, I’m always itching to entertain–I spend my spare time planning what to bake and take to Thanksgiving dinner, and conjuring up a few seasonal parties of my own. Continue reading “Entertain with Ease this Holiday Season”

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A Fourth of July Friendship

You can never really know the moment when a forever friend may walk into your life. That fateful day for my best friend of more than 20 years and I, happened in our sixth period physical education class at Hephzibah Middle School, circa 1994. Charity was born on the Fourth of July and ironically, it was Martina McBride’s song “Independence Day” that began our lifelong friendship. Continue reading “A Fourth of July Friendship”

Nibble & Nosh and Everything Posh: A Food and Style Event You Don’t Want to Miss!

With the dog days of summer comes trips to the beach, picnics, grilling out with friends and family, baby showers, weddings, you name it! Summertime is entertaining time and I couldn’t be more excited to announce “Nibble & Nosh and Everything Posh!” a food and style event I’m hosting with my longtime friend Chad Steed, in his sweet home of Alabama.

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Tailored for entertaining, the event boasts Southern recipes and innovative style ideas for hosting the perfect summer soirée . I’ll share dishes you can prepare with minimal effort that are big on flavor and presentation! Guests will sample bites of my bacon, lettuce and fried green tomato sliders with spicy pimento cheese among other refreshing grilled desserts, appetizers and warm-weather-friendly beverages. In addition to my live cooking demonstrations, Chad of “The Stylish Steed” lifestyle blog, focused on living well for less, will bring his creative taste to the table teaching guests how to personalize parties with custom cloth table linens, unique lighting elements, painting techniques and easy floral arranging.

You may remember Chad from our brief appearance on The Dr. Oz Show. We met on the mission field in the summer of 2002 during college and have been the best of pals ever since. We always have a good time together and this event will be no exception. I’d like to personally invite you to join us as we sing, laugh and demonstrate how to entertain with ease on Thursday, May 15 at 6 p.m. at the Gadsden State Cherokee Arena. Admission is $5 in advance or $8 at the door. Tickets may be purchased at the Gadsden State Cherokee Campus.

This special event is sponsored by the Continuing Education Department at Gadsden State Community College.
 

An Easter Feast of Roasted Leg of Lamb and Mint Chutney

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An Easter Feast featuring Roasted Leg of Lamb with Mint Chutney, Roasted Root Vegetables, Rosemary Mashed Potatoes and Blanched Snap Peas.

At my house, it wouldn’t be a dinner party without the smoke alarm sounding at least once or my Shih Tzu, Ewok howling to the top of his lungs and doing the happy dance each time a new guest arrives at the door. That was the scene on a rainy Tuesday night recently when I invited my boyfriend and two close friends over for an early Easter feast. It was an occasion special enough for fine china and the antique, linen seashell napkins my mother gave me. On the menu?

  • Roasted Leg of Lamb with Mint Chutney
  • Locally Roasted Root Vegetables: Turnips and Carrots
  • Rosemary Mashed Potatoes
  • Blanched Snap Peas
  • Open-Faced Apple Pie
  • Malbec Red Wine

I had visited the Statesboro Main Street Farmers’ Market earlier that day for some help with side dishes, and came across these beauties from Poor Robin’s Produce grown in Screven County. Though they took more work to prepare, roasted with a good quality olive oil and some freshly ground black pepper and kosher salt, the vegetables were tender to the taste and colorful on the platter. These vegetables keep giving and giving…with the leftover roasted vegetables from dinner, the next day I made the most hearty and comforting Roasted Turnip and Carrot Soup with homemade croutons. I’ve begun to think like a real chef, using up every ounce of the produce possible. I even garnished my soup with the green carrot tops. Turnip greens are up next.

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Roasted Leg of Lamb with Mint Chutney surrounded by Locally Roasted Carrots and Turnips

For the Leg of Lamb:

  • One 4 -Pound Leg of Lamb
  • 3-4 Garlic Cloves, slivered
  • Good Quality Extra Virgin Olive Oil, such as Bella D ‘Olivia
  • Kosher Salt
  • Freshly Ground Black Pepper

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Directions:
Leave the fat on the lamb. Don’t trim it. It adds flavor and keeps the meat moist throughout roasting. Pre-heat the over to 450 degrees. With a sharp knife, make small slits throughout the meat. Insert the slivered garlic cloves into the slits. Season the lamb with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Drizzle the meat with about 2 tablespoons of olive oil, then massage the seasonings and oil all over the meat. Place the meat in roasting pan, fitted with a rack. If you don’t have one, a 9 x 13 casserole dish will work just as well. Fill the roasting pan with an inch of water.  Roast the meat at 450 degrees for the first 20 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and check to see if the water has evaporated, if so, add more. Reduce the heat to 400 degrees. Cook the meat for 20 minutes per pound for medium well, or 15 minutes per pound for medium rare.

Reason #429 to visit your local farmers’ market: TO GET RECIPES!! When I purchased a large Zip-Lock bag of fresh mint, this little jewel was attached to it with a paper clip.

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The mint chutney (pictured at right in the jar) was bright and refreshing with the bold flavor of lamb.

For the Mint Chutney:

  • 2 1/2 Cups Chopped Fresh Mint Leaves
  • 1/3 Cup Minced Onion
  • 1/4 Cup Distilled White Vinegar
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Ground Cayenne Pepper
  • 1/3 Cup White Sugar
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Salt

Directions:
In a medium bowl, mix the mint, onion, sugar, vinegar, cayenne pepper and salt. Cover the mixture and refrigerate 2 hours, or until chilled.

wpid-0415142003.jpgI took  great pleasure in carving the meat at the table to the sound of my guests’ ooos and ahhhs.

These side dishes and our dessert rounded out the meal perfectly.

wpid-0415142012.jpgLeg of Lamb is definitely a cause for fine china.

wpid-0415142108a.jpgEmpty plates all around = full bellies and full hearts.

wpid-0417142228.jpgThe sign that hangs above two french doors in my kitchen sums up the evening perfectly.

Have you eaten lamb before? If so, how did you prepare it and what did you think?

New Flavors with Nashville Friends: A Food Adventure at The 404 Kitchen

wpid-0329142036.jpgThe 404 Kitchen
Nashville, Tennessee 

The older I become, the more I realize that so much of life is about our experiences. When I auditioned for ABC’s cooking competition reality show “The Taste” last year, I couldn’t have predicted the friendships that would result and never would have imagined I’d be hanging out in the Music City with the co-owner of an award-winning food truck eating chicken liver pate and drinking cocktails with smoked bacon. I’m talking about my friend, Carlos Davis of Riffs Fine Street Food. You may have seen him on the Cooking Channel’s Eat Street or featured in the Nashville Scene. He’s the coolest Caribbean I know, with a local, inside perspective on good eats. On a chilly Saturday night in early spring, Carlos and I reunited for the first time since we’d both hopped on a plane Southbound from Burbank, California in September 2013. Carlos showed me around a Nashville neighborhood known as the Gulch, and introduced me to The 404 Kitchen, led by Chef Matt Bolus.

wpid-0329142033.jpgAs noted on The 404 Kitchen’s website, the restaurant is “Housed in a former shipping container…and offers a modern take on classic European cuisine with an emphasis on local, seasonal fare, including herbs grown on the rooftop garden.”

A semi-finalist in the Best New Restaurant category of the 2014 James Beard Awards, The 404 Kitchen features indoor and outdoor seating to accommodate 56 guests for dinner, Tuesday through Saturday.

We decided to forgo the entrees all together and jump right in with Starters and Cocktails. We took our seats at the bar where Carlos quickly pointed out The Nearest Green, a libation featuring Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel, Laird’s Rare Apple Brandy, Benton’s Smoky Mountain bacon and citrus infused Tennessee honey. It had every flavor going for it–fruity, smoky and sweet. Who wouldn’t love a cocktail including bacon? I was all in, and it didn’t disappoint. When I had finished sipping the cocktail, I shamelessly ate the bits of bacon in the bottom of my glass with a spoon to which Carlos commented, “You would be weird if you didn’t!”

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The next order of business came in the form of Crudo, an appetizer of Cobia, blood orange, fennel, bee pollen (that’s right, bee pollen), pistachio and vidal ice vinegar. Now, I grew up in Blythe, Georgia and Twiggs County farm country. My folks and I didn’t eat quite like this. I had no idea what the majority of these ingredients were, but I tasted them with gladness and what a refreshing combination! I learned that Cobia is a type of fish. I loved the crunch of the pistachios and fennel. The vinegar and citrus flavors gave every bite a noteworthy kick. As for the bee pollen, I was at a total loss.

wpid-0329141912.jpgStarter number 2 was delivered on a butcher block: Kennedy Farms Chicken Liver Pate, served with whole grain mustard, pickled radish and the Lowcountry’s popular benne wafers. A pate is a mixture of cooked ground meat and fat minced into a spreadable paste. Nothing about that sounds appealing to me, and by the looks of it, you’d think it came directly from a Spam can. Tasting chicken liver pate was another first for me, and the truth is, I really liked it. Reminiscent of humus in texture, its flavor was rich and herbaceous. When the dish came out, I looked directly at Carlos and said, “Alright chef. Teach me how to eat this.” He took a healthy portion of the pate and spread it on the wafer, then topped it with a bit of the spicy ground mustard. I asked, “What about the radish?” to which he informed me it was a palate cleanser. Makes sense! This home cook surely enjoys having chef friends.

wpid-0329141932a.jpgNext up came my pick for the evening, and my favorite of all: 14 Month Aged Benton’s Country Ham served with buttermilk biscuits, Tennessee whiskey jelly and red-eye gravy. In the moment the plate came, Carlos tweeted, “#CountryHamAndBiscuits @The404Kitchen. @SKGFoodBlog just squealed.” It was true. I had church with this appetizer. The biscuits were perfection, the country ham was salty and sliced to the perfect thinness, and the jam? I can’t. I could have turned the red-eye gravy ramekin up and drank it, but civility got the best of me.

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With each new dish, the bartender switched out our silverware and brought new small plates. Lastly, we tried the Burrata featuring celeriac, grapefruit, black truffle, pine nuts, leeks and calabrian peppers. Burrata is a fresh Italian cheese made from mozzarella and cream. Smooth like butter, I’d never known a cheese could be elevated to such heights. Other Starters on the menu that night featured Lamb Sugo, Winter Squash Soup and a 3 Cheese Plate. Entrees included Rabbit, Cioppino, Swordfish, Pork Ragu and other mind-boggling dishes. Dining in a place like The 404 Kitchen reminds me of just how much I have to learn about the world of gastronomy.

We wound the evening down with dessert. The grand finale was brioche bread with bittersweet chocolate, and a banana nut loaf alongside cold ice cream. With a daily changing menu, this is a place I could return again and again.

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With clean plates and full hearts, we left The 404 Kitchen satisfied, anticipating the next great food adventure. From the service to the atmosphere, topped only by the food, The 404 Kitchen was Some Kinda Good, and the perfect spot to catch up with my culinary pal. After all, good food and good company is what it’s all about.

The 404 Kitchen on Urbanspoon

St. Patrick’s Day Episode of “Statesboro Cooks” including Featured Recipes On Air Now

A brand new episode of “Statesboro Cooks” is on air now! You can watch the 30-minute program featuring my St. Patrick’s Day menu on local cable Channel 99 at 7:30 p.m., 1 a.m. and 1 p.m. daily, or right now by clicking on the video below. Featuring the musical talent of lead vocalist and guitarist Justin Dukes of The Tiger Creek Band, this show was the most fun episode to film yet! Special thanks to Hunter Cattle Company, Sugar Magnolia Bakery & Cafe, and Simply Sweet Cakery for all your help in making the meal Some Kinda Good! Without further ado, enjoy the show and the recipes below. Cheers to St. Patrick’s Day!

“Statesboro Cooks” is a Georgia Southern University Department of Communication Arts multimedia communications team production.  

Mixed Green Salad with Seasonal Strawberries and Candied Georgia Pecans
Mixed Green Salad with Seasonal Strawberries and Candied Georgia Pecans

Mixed Green Salad with Fresh Strawberries

  • Organic Mixed Greens
  • Seasonal, Fresh Strawberries, hulled and halved
  • Candied Georgia Pecans, toasted
  • Dried Cranberries
  • Feta Cheese
  • Homemade Balsamic Vinaigrette

Directions:
Toss all ingredients (except dressing) together in a trifle bowl. Serve alongside Shepherd’s Pie and Irish Soda Bread. To candy pecans, dry roast the nuts in a saucepan until fragrant. Add about 1/4 cup of brown sugar, stirring until melted and coated evenly. Remove from the heat. For the dressing, combine equal parts balsamic vinegar and olive oil by whisking briskly. Add 1 tablespoon of Dijon mustard and season with salt and pepper. Dress salad lightly.

Shepherd's Pie Featuring Hunter Cattle Company's Grass-Fed Beef
Shepherd’s Pie Featuring Hunter Cattle Company’s Grass-Fed Beef

Shepherd’s Pie

  • 2 pounds Hunter Cattle Company Ground Beef
  • 4 Large Potatoes, peeled and quartered
  • 1 stick of Unsalted Butter
  • 8 oz. Sour Cream
  • 1/2 Cup of Heavy Cream
  • 1 Bundle of Walker Farms Rainbow Carrots
  • 1/2 Cup Frozen Peas
  • 1/2 Cup Frozen Corn
  • 1 Large Onion, Diced
  • 2 Cloves Garlic, Minced
  • 1 1/2 Cups of Sharp Cheddar, Grated
  • Bella D’ Olivia Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Flat Leaf Parsley, for Garnish
  • Salt, Pepper, Dried Thyme

Directions:
Fill a large stock pot with water and bring it to a boil. Liberally salt the water. Add potatoes and cover. Let boil for 20-25 minutes until fork tender. Meanwhile, melt 3 tablespoons of butter in a cast iron skillet or 10-inch frying pan. Add in diced onion and carrots stirring until soft. Season with salt and pepper. After about 5 minutes, add in ground beef and brown. Stir in garlic. Season again with salt and pepper, adding in thyme. Incorporate peas and corn. Let cook for about five minutes. Drain potatoes and put them back in the same stock pot. Add in butter, heavy cream, sour cream, salt and pepper. Mash with a potato masher. Grease a 9 x 13 inch casserole dish. Pour ground beef mixture into the dish. Spread mashed potatoes evenly over the top. Sprinkle with grated cheese. Finish with a drizzle of olive oil. Bake in a 375 degree oven for 30 minutes, until cheese is melted and slightly browned. Garnish with fresh parsley. Enjoy!

The spread!
The spread!

Irish Coffee
Serves 1

  • 1 Cup Brewed Strong Coffee
  • 3 Tablespoons of Irish Whiskey such as Jameson
  • Fresh Whipped Cream
  • CinnamonDirections:Stir three tablespoons of whiskey into one cup of brewed coffee. Top with a dollop of fresh whipped cream, sprinkle with cinnamon.

Sophisticated Flavor in a Laid Back Kind of Style

wpid-IMG_20140125_193457.jpgCoco’s Sunset Grille
Tybee Island, Georgia

During Tybee Island Restaurant Week, I had the privilege of meeting a fellow blogger–one of my longtime blog followers, and discovering a new place I had seen in the distance many times while crossing over the Lazaretto Creek Bridge, but had never taken the time to stop and explore. After a little menu research on participating restaurants, the Fried Strawberries at Coco’s Sunset Grille caught my eye and the marina filled with shrimp boats and sunset views lured me in.

wpid-PhotoGrid_1390937193152.jpgImmediately, Coco’s has the feel of a fun and festive Florida vibe with its bright, cheerful paint colors and lively bar. While my boyfriend, Kurt and I were waiting to meet our friends, Jon and Lydia, we took a walk around the docks and saw the Bait & Tackle Shop and Kayak Rentals on the marina.

wpid-PhotoGrid_1390760034387.jpgThis view never gets old.

wpid-20140125_174415.jpgOur waitress, Megan, a laid back girl in holey jeans and a Hawaiian shirt, had a great sense of humor and made sure we were always taken care of.

wpid-20140125_173057.jpgWe kicked things off with a couple of Landshark Lagers and dove right in to making our selections. For just $25, the special menu offered choices in appetizer, dinner and dessert categories. In the appetizer round, we had our choice of French Onion Soup, a Shrimp Cake, Fried Green Tomatoes or Bacon-Wrapped Scallops.

wpid-20140125_175720.jpgServed with a Thai-chili sauce, the scallops were presented atop a bed of greens alongside an inviting wedge of lemon. From the plating to the service, Coco’s had me happy at every turn.

wpid-20140125_181118.jpgFor my main course, I ordered the Shrimp Cakes with sautéed vegetables and mashed potatoes. This was something new for me. I had eaten crab cakes before, but never a shrimp cake. Cooked to perfection, the plump, wild Georgia shrimp were sweet within the seasoned breading and left me wanting more. Rustic including the red skins, the mashed potatoes sang on the plate. The house-made remoulade was mayonnaise based and one waitress commented, “I put it on everything. I even dip my fries in it.”

Other dinner selections included Sirloin Steak Marsala with scalloped potatoes and grilled asparagus, and Thai Tuna with wasabi mashed potatoes and sautéed veggies. Coco’s is the place to go for sophisticated flavors minus the fuss of fine dining.

The Fried Strawberries totally surpassed my expectations! After the delicious meal we’d eaten, this came as no surprise. Served with fresh, sweetened whipped cream and a pretty pink strawberry sauce, the fresh fruit was fried in pancake batter and rolled in cinnamon sugar. I can’t wait to recreate this experience at home. They were Some Kinda Good! 

So much of a customer’s dining experience is affected by a restaurant’s environment. From the attitude of the staff to the sound of live entertainment and the tastefully decorated, clean bathrooms, Coco’s Sunset Grille is a place I will definitely return, especially in the summertime. Their website took the words right out of my mouth–“Just add an ice-cold beer…great music, and a few of your best friends, and you’ve got a recipe for Tybee living the way it’s meant to be.”

My friend Jon (right), editor of The SOG City Oracle blog.
My friend Jon (right), editor of “The SOG City Oracle” food blog.

Special thanks to my fellow blogger and new-found friend, Jon, of “The SOG City Oracle” (SOG is abbreviated for South of Gandy). Though we’d interacted before in the blogsphere, our visit to Coco’s was the first time we’d met in person. He’d suggested a “blogger convergence” during Tybee Island Restaurant Week, and we had such a great time meeting (and eating!) together. On his Tampa, Florida blog, Jon shares his passion for food and more, with “only an occasional opinionated detour.” While reading “The SOG City Oracle,” you’ll appreciate his witty sense of humor, be enlightened by his Quote of the Day and you’ll come across several restaurants worth paying a visit.

Good food and good company, that’s what it’s all about!

Coco's Sunset Grille on Urbanspoon

Take Two: My Blooper Reel in Preparation for The Dr. Oz Show

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The thrill of being on national TV, if only for a moment, never gets old! It was so exciting to be a part of Dr. Oz’s Healthy Recipe Challenge today on The Dr. Oz Show. Thanks to everyone who tuned in!

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Now, to have a little fun. I’d like to show you the actual clip that aired on the show, and then a short blooper reel of what really happened behind the scenes. To quote Ninny Threadgoode from the famous Southern movie Fried Green Tomatoes, “I’ve found what the secret to life is: friends.” One of my dearest friends, Chad, helped film the footage The Dr. Oz Show requested. We spent hours upon hours climbing in chairs to get the perfect camera angle, staging the kitchen, laughing and trying to get just the right take before the ice cream melted. I am so happy he made the cut, and what fun we had! Check out his blog, The Stylish Steed, for all things fashionable and tips on living well for less. Love you Boo, and in the words of The Golden Girls, “Thank you for being a friend!”

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Here’s the actual segment. I was first up!

…And here’s what really happened. Hope you get a laugh or two!

Gnat’s Landing of Statesboro: A Hometown Front-Runner

wpid-20121117_135626.jpgGnat’s Landing Bar & Grill
Statesboro, Georgia

When a single place comes to mind for lunch, going out on a Friday night and entertaining company, it’s a winner. That’s Gnat’s Landing of Statesboro. The versatile bar & grill is family friendly and college town worthy. It’s a natural choice for lunch before a Saturday afternoon football game in the Eagle Nation, or place to catch a good band and go out dancing on a Friday night. It’s that hometown joint you can hardly visit without running into someone you know. Christmas lights year ’round. Live music every weekend. Beer can and chicken wire decorum. What’s not to love? The local favorite boasts a wide selection of American food with a Southern, coastal vibe in a casual and bright atmosphere.

THE FOOD:

Gnat’s is my all-time favorite spot for lunch in the ‘Boro. My friends and I call it “Ol’ faithful.” Nowhere else in town offers lunch for $7.47. Spending $15 going out to lunch can get expensive, and unfortunately, that’s easy to do in a lot of places when you consider tax and tip. I have two lunchtime standbys at Gnat’s and they never fail me: 1) Shrimp & Grits and 2) the Crab Cake Sandwich with Sweet Potato Fries. The food is always on point. The Shrimp & Grits is served with andouille sausage and bacon surrounded by toasted bread. Seasoned just right, it’s warm, comforting and takes me to the coast. Served with cocktail sauce, the Crab Cake Sandwich features a large crab cake that’s seared to perfection and served on toasted bread with tomato and lettuce. On occasion, I branch out and try something new like the BBQ Sandwich or the Blackened Chicken Caesar Salad pictured above. The menu also offers wraps, a great grilled chicken sandwich and unexpected side options like grits. I enjoy the cook’s attention to detail and presentation…they always sprinkle the rim of each dish with Parmesan cheese and fresh herbs.

THE ATMOSPHERE:

Open more than seven years, Gnat’s Landing of Statesboro is one of only two locations in Georgia. I’ve also visited the St. Simons Island restaurant in Red Fern Village. Though the weather is rarely cold enough to use it, Gnat’s dining room in Statesboro even has a fireplace which creates a wonderful ambiance in the winter. Located on South Main Street in the heart of town, the restaurant also offers ample parking. Depending on when you go, the environment at Gnat’s is bustling. Visit for Trivia on Tuesday nights, Karaoke on Wednesdays and Happy Hour all day on Sunday and Monday. No matter the time of day, they’ll always have affordable drinks, daily lunch specials and a football game on the big screen.

THE GOOD TIMES:

With a name like Gnat’s Landing, this Statesboro front-runner is right at home in the “Gnat Capitol of America.”

Gnats Landing on Urbanspoon