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”
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.
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
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? Continue reading “An Easter Feast of Roasted Leg of Lamb and Mint Chutney”
New Flavors with Nashville Friends: A Food Adventure at The 404 Kitchen
The 404 Kitchen
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.
As 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!”
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.
Starter 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.
Next 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.
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.
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.
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! Continue reading “St. Patrick’s Day Episode of “Statesboro Cooks” including Featured Recipes On Air Now”
Sophisticated Flavor in a Laid Back Kind of Style
Coco’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.
Immediately, 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.
Our 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.
We 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.
Served 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.
For 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.”
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!
Take Two: My Blooper Reel in Preparation for The Dr. Oz Show
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!
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!”
Here’s the actual segment. I was first up!
…And here’s what really happened. Hope you get a laugh or two!
My Taste of Hollywood
Six days. Five airports. 4,830 miles round trip. 35 people nationwide.
Over the summer of 2013, I auditioned for Season 2 of ABC’s The Taste, a cooking competition reality show. After a two-month process of interviews, loads of paperwork and intense anticipation and waiting, I was selected out of thousands to be among the Top 35 contestants in the nation to compete on the Audition episode which premiered on Jan. 2, 2014 at 8 p.m. They flew me to Los Angeles, California and put me up in a 24-story hotel in the Hollywood Hills where I had a view of the pool, the palm trees and seven lanes of interstate.
This is my story.
Filled with big dreams, confidence and high hopes, I left rural Georgia with my California-titled iPod playlist including Kelly Clarkson’s Breakaway, Eminem’s Lose Yourself and Jay-Z and Alisha Key’s Empire State of Mind. From the airport, I posted LeAnn Rimes’ One Way Ticket music video on Facebook and sang the “West bound train” lyrics in my head.
Fast forward through Day 1: I traveled through four time zones, experienced plane delays, checked in at the hotel and got somewhat acquainted. Day 2: I shopped for ingredients. Day 3: On scene at Universal Studios, I felt like a movie star in a hair & make-up trailer and had my outfit approved by two British people in the wardrobe trailer. On-camera interviews were completed. Day 4: Showtime.
The first 15 minutes of the season on set were mine. I was the first contestant to face the mentors. I’ll never forget the moment I entered the set through the “pantry,” and rounded the corner to step on stage. There were big lights, lots of extras and over 15 cameras–from every angle–ALL pointed at me. That made some contestants nervous, but I reveled in it. “This is it,” I thought. It was my moment to shine. Everything I’d waited for. I gave it to them. I smiled. I played my Southern character with pride, relishing in the fact that I was the only contestant there from Georgia. I lived every moment. As I walked on set, I heard one producer shout to a camera man, “We got a good one!”
Aside from the challenges I faced, like my first time cooking on a gas stove, using pots and pans I’d never used before, along with shopping in a region where ingredients are titled “Southern Style Grits,” I kept a level head and remained cognizant of the time. I was given an hour to cook and plate my signature dish: Shrimp and Grits with a Creamy White Wine Sauce. While chopping vegetables and talking with producers, I burned my first pan of bacon. I also almost mistook lemon grass for my garnish because I couldn’t find green onions in the refrigerator. Nevertheless, I kept going.
I finished the challenge with five minutes remaining, having successfully plated my dish and all six tasting portions–two for beauty shots, four for tasting. I put forth the best creamy white wine sauce I’d ever made. Some memories fade and some feelings are fleeting–but one that will remain with me forever is stepping off the set and feeling that rush of fulfillment wash over me. I had done what I came to do, and I had done it well.
Then I exited the stage and was escorted to the friends and family room where I would see my boyfriend, Kurt, and two of my very best friends, Chad and Charity. They were flown out for a three-day period during my stay. Following a brief touch-up with the make-up artist, I opened the door to the family room and saw the people I love sitting on the edge of their seats with expressions of expectation so vivid. We had been separated since the previous day, and the emotion and excitement I expressed was nothing short of real.
After that high, I faced my fate. I would wait for the producer’s cue, then walk forward and stand on the spoon-shaped “x marks the spot.” There, right in front of my face, just steps away, sat Anthony Bourdain, Nigella Lawson, Marcus Samuelsson and Ludo Lefebvre–in the flesh. It was one of those moments where you’re present, but beside yourself. I saw their lips moving and heard them speaking, but had it not been recorded, I would question if it ever really happened. There I was, a food blogger from small town Blythe, Georgia and Twiggs County farm country, in Hollywood on a set at Universal Studios, in front of these well accomplished, renowned culinary experts. They had just tasted my food.
British home cook, food writer and bestselling cookbook author Nigella Lawson was the first to tell me what she thought. Nigella’s team is the one I had hoped to join. Nigella and I were wearing the same color–both royal blue dresses, so right off the bat, it was meant to be.
She asked me to introduce myself and tell her a little bit about my dish. She was interested in “the powdered seasoning” I’d used and the spice in the dish. Unfortunately, she’d decided that my shrimp were “slightly overcooked,” and the Old Bay seasoning I’d used was too much. “As you know we made our decisions before we met you,” she said and with what seemed regretful, she pushed her red “No” button.
I was crushed, and I knew my chances of joining the others’ teams were dim. Sure enough, with every comment followed the dreaded red button.
After everything I’d heard about Anthony Bourdain, I must say, I thought he’d be the toughest judge. As it turns out, he was one of the kindest to me. We agreed that food was such a personal thing. “Unfortunately for you, I didn’t have an emotional connection to your shrimp and grits,” he said. He had been surprised that I wasn’t professionally trained though, noting that the Old Bay gave my dish a restaurant quality. That was HUGE coming from a man who’s traveled the world. I’ll take it.
Marcus Samuelsson said my passion was evident, and that he liked how my dish represented the region of the country from which I came. With a quick and succinct comment, Ludo Lefebvre said “It wasn’t my thing. I didn’t like it. It’s a no.”
Everyone has their taste buds, and America would be a boring place if we all liked the same things.
So, as show business would have it, all four of the judges rejected me. It was time to pack it up and head on back to the Peach State, but not before I drank a Shirley Temple on Hollywood Blvd., got my picture taken in front of the notorious HOLLYWOOD sign and took pictures of the stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. I exited the hotel with my 50-pound suitcase in tow, containing clothes with the tags still on them, as Adele’s Chasing Pavement played over the elevator like the well-timed beat of a drum.
I won’t forget the talented people I got to compete with and the connections I made. I will carry this experience to the grave.
My appreciation for the South has never been greater than when I travel outside the South. I came home with new eyes. At the grocery store in my hometown, as I pushed my buggy through the produce department where I’m known by name, where hardly anything is gluten-free, organic or vegan, and where Johnny Cash plays on the radio, I was home. Home in my Southern, two-lane, suburban, football-loving town. If ever I needed a reminder of exactly who I am, traveling serves it purpose.
One word of advice: No matter the outcome, go after it. Always go after the things that make your heart beat.
“Find something your passionate about and keep tremendously interested in it.” –Julia Child
Gnat’s Landing of Statesboro: A Hometown Front-Runner
Gnat’s Landing Bar & Grill
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.
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.
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.”