Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Back to the Charleston Trip: Magnolia's

While researching potential spots for my trip, I initially added Magnolia’s to my list of must-visit restaurants due to the multiple grits dishes on the menu and because it is owned my the same folks who own Cypress, my favorite restaurant, not only in Charleston, but in all of South Carolina.

Located at the site of the city’s original customs house, Magnolia’s strives to serve traditional “down south” dishes with a contemporary “uptown” presentation – a commitment well kept. Everything from the décor of the restaurant to the service is impeccably upscale and within minutes of stepping foot into the restaurant, I knew I’d made a good decision.

We started with a round of mimosas and mint juleps. The mint julep was by far the best one I’ve had since my friend’s Derby party in Atlanta in 2002. Five years without a good mint julep seems like forever – so I made sure we stayed long enough for me to have two.

While I wanted to order almost everything on the menu, we did a fairly good job of sticking to the task at hand – testing out grits. We passed on the Spicy Shrimp and Sausage over Grits because they were served with Tasso gravy, which I’d already had three times that day. But we ordered the remaining grits dishes including the Fried Green Tomatoes appetizer and the Shellfish over Grits entrée.

(sidenote: when we were waiting for our food, a table of five tourists were discussing the menu next to us. One of them asked what grits were. Another responded, “Have you ever eaten Cream of Wheat – you know the stuff they eat up north? Well, grits are like that.” I almost fell out of my chair!)

Fried Green Tomatoes
Originally uploaded by weezienyc.

The Fried Green Tomatoes appetizer, served over white cheddar and caramelized onion grits, country ham, and tomato chutney was impressive. The combination of the tangy tomato with subtle sweetness of the grits was one of the best I’ve experienced in my year of food "research.” This would be a perfect brunch dish, served with mimosas and mint julep spritzers (I don’t think ladies drink real mint juleps before 3 PM).

Seafood Grits at Magnolia's
Originally uploaded by weezienyc.

The Shellfish over Grits - sautéed shrimp, sea scallops, and lobster over creamy white grits with a lobster butter sauce and fried spinach was also delicious. It was creamy without being too rich and contained a generous amount of lobster and scallops. This is a recipe that I doubt I could recreate on my own as there were some flavors I just couldn't identify.

Magnolia’s Executive chef Don Drake has earned his place on my list of top five best chefs. The meal was amazing and I’d be delighted if the owners let me share a recipe or two with you in my book.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Grits Brulee Recipe

Grits Brulee!
Originally uploaded by weezienyc.

Grits Brulee Recipe

Serves 6

1 ½ cup vanilla soymilk
1 ½ cup water
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla
1 cup quick grits
5 egg yolks
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup light brown sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Bring soymilk, water, vanilla, and ½ cup sugar to a boil in a 3-quart saucepan. Stir in grits and reduce heat. Simmer for 8-10 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove from heat.

Whisk egg yolks, cream, and remaining sugar together in a medium bowl. Pour into grits and mix thoroughly. Spoon ½ cup servings into shallow baking ramekins.

Place ramekins into a 11x8 baking pan. Pour hot (not boiling) water into pans until it reaches half-way. Place baking pan in oven and bake for 45 minutes. Remove pan from oven and cool for 20 minutes. Once cool, remove individual dishes from pan and refrigerate for at least 3 and up to 24 hours.

15 minutes before desired serving time, remove dishes and crumble brown sugar in a thin layer, completely covering the tops of the desserts. Using a cooking torch, heat sugar until hardened. Serve immediately.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Grits Brulee

Last week after making the Mediterranean Grits dinner, my friend and I decided to experiment. We threw a grits twist into a creme brulee recipe, making three dishes - regular creme brulee, grits brulee, and grits brulee with a mixed berry preserve. It turned out well - except for the fact that we were cooking at another friend's house and couldn't find any vanilla AND that I was terrified of the cooking torch I bought to caramelize the tops of the desserts. Thanks to my friend, Erin, for manning the torch and to both Chris Watt and Erin for being fun and honest tasters.

Testing Desserts with Grits! from Weezie McS on Vimeo

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Mediterranean Grits

Originally uploaded by weezienyc.

I took a break from restaurant dining the other night and made this dish for my friends in Atlanta. This is an original recipe that I have been conceptualizing for a few weeks. I loved it and so did my guests, but I think it needed another subtle flavor. Test it out and let me know what to add.

Mediterranean Grits
Serves 8
4 cups vegetable broth
2 cups water
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 cup white stone-ground grits
2 cups fresh spinach, chopped
8 oz. feta cheese
½ cup pine nuts
1 cup grape tomatoes, chopped

Bring broth, water, salt, and olive oil to a boil in a medium saucepan; gradually add grits, stirring constantly. Reduce heat and simmer until thick (for about 45 minutes), stirring occasionally.

Stir in spinach – cook for 10 more minutes. Stir in cheese and serve topped with pine nuts and garnish with tomatoes.

I served it with a balsamic pork loin and steamed summer veggies. It was a good combination. Oh and I almost forgot, we made Grits Brulee for dessert. More on that soon.

Loveless Cafe and Motel

Loveless Cafe
Originally uploaded by weezienyc.

I know I am really far behind on the posts from my trip to Charleston. But that is only because I’ve spent the past three weeks traveling around down south – eating and working on the cookbook. I’ve been in Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and now - I’m in Tennessee.

I’ve been in Nashville for the past two days doing a little work, a little touring around, and a lot of eating. Of all the places I’ve visited, the Loveless Café and Motel has been my best experience. The food was delicious, the people charming, and the atmosphere was truly authentic.

The Loveless Café and Motel opened in 1951, with the owners – Lon and Annie Loveless serving fried chicken and biscuits to passersby on Highway 100. Lon ran the motel, while Annie ran the kitchen. Today the kitchen takes up a greater part of the main house, where a variety of southern delicacies are freshly prepared for guests rotating through the 75 seat dining room from open to close.

I was told to order the “Famous” Loveless Breakfast, two eggs any style, country ham (which is cured, smoked and carved in the smoking house right next door), red-eye gravy, creamy grits, and fresh biscuits. I arrived at the café well after lunch-time, but for the purpose of “cookbook research” I ordered the breakfast. For the purpose of “wanting lunch food” (read: dying for homemade fried chicken), I also ordered the Fried Chicken platter with okra and squash casserole. The waitress thought I was crazy.

Loveless Breakfast
Originally uploaded by weezienyc.

The breakfast came out first. I cracked open one of the eggs, letting the yolk run. Then I cut a bite of ham, added a bite of egg, dipped it into the gravy, the egg yolk, then the grits for the perfect bite. It was delicious, yet I set the remaining plate aside and waited for the chicken.

Finally – the chicken arrived. The waitress looked to me and the full plate of breakfast on the table, shook her head, then set down what was the largest platter of food I’ve seen for one person. And I ate it all. Just kidding. I selected the leg from the four pieces in front of me and quickly bit into the best (and hottest) chicken I’ve had since my grandfather passed away (he made the world best fried chicken). While the chicken cooled, I tasted the squash casserole, which is the best I’ve ever had. EVER. And I've always thought I made the best squash casserole. The okra was okay, so I ate a few pieces and opted for another biscuit instead. I finished the chicken, asked for a box – not wanting to let even one bite go to waste, paid my bill (under $25, by the way) and left to explore the rest of the “motel”.

Loveless Cafe Store
Originally uploaded by weezienyc.

The motel rooms have been transformed into eclectic shops, including the Hams & Jam Country Market, Ruthie Cherry Fine Art Gallery, Trace Bikes, and more. I spent over an hour in the Hams & Jams store, flipping through old southern cookbooks and drooling over jars of homemade jams and fresh foods. If I'd had a bigger suitcase, I would've filled it up with jams and fried pies. Good thing they have a catalog AND you can buy some things online - http://www.hamsandjams.com/.

I spent so much time in the store that I'll have to save the tour of the other shops for next time.
I highly recommend a stop at the Loveless to anyone traveling through Tennessee. I will be back as soon as I can - dreaming about the chicken and squash casserole in the meantime.

Loveless Cafe
8400 Highway 100
Nashville, TN
Open 7AM - 9PM, Seven days a week

Monday, June 11, 2007

Shrimp and Grits with Tasso Gravy

I received a comment on my previous post about not posting a recipe for the shrimp and grits at Morgan Creek Grill. I am trying to get Morgan Creek Grill to share their recipe with me, but in the meantime, I'm posting my favorite recipe for:

Shrimp and Grits with Tasso Gravy
Serves 6

1 lb. Shrimp, peeled an deveined
3 Tablespoons butter
2 Tablespoons Creole seasoning

Tasso Gravy
1/2 cup butter
1 cup Tasso, sliced thin
1/2 cup flour
1 Tbsp. Creole seasoning
1 cup chicken stock
1/2 cup half & half
2 Tbsp. chopped parsley

Melt butter over medium heat in a large, heavy skillet. Add shrimp and cover with seasoning. Saute for 3-4 minutes. Remove shrimp from skillet and set aside.

In same skillet, add butter and Tasso ham. Saute for approximately 5 minutes over medium heat. Add flour and Creole seasoning, stirring to form a roux. Continue to cook until roux is lightly browned. Add chicken stock and cream, and stir until completely thickened. Adjust thickness as needed with a little more cream if necessary. When sauce is complete, add shrimp and parsley to sauce and hold warm until ready to serve.

Spoon gravy over creamy grits and top with shrimp.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Morgan Creek Grill

View of Isle of Palms Marina
Originally uploaded by weezienyc.

As I mentioned last week, I’m going to spend the next couple of days reviewing the highlights of my tasting trip to Charleston. Since we visited so many places, I’m going to limit my posts to the places we enjoyed most and hopefully, will be featured in the book.

One of the first places we visited was Morgan Creek Grill at the Isle of Palms marina, just outside Mt. Pleasant. This spot, located a stone’s throw away from Wild Dunes resort is frequented by both locals and tourists coming by car, boat, and foot to enjoy not only some of the best in Low-country cuisine, but a gorgeous view of the Intracoastal waterway.

We planned our visit well, arriving mid-afternoon on Sunday just in time to catch the Sunday brunch, which featured live music on the upper deck and my personal favorite, a Bloody Mary bar. While the bar offered a fantastic array of mixers, add-ins, and hot sauces and the music was the perfect addition to a breezy sunny day, both paled in comparison to the dining experience.

We started off with the Charleston she-crab soup and the House-made chilled crab dip, followed by, of course, Morgan Creek Grill’s take on Shrimp and Grits. My sister has never met a she-crab soup she didn’t like, so it goes without saying that she enjoyed it. I wasn’t up for eating warm soup in the warm sun, so I stuck to the crab dip which I must say was amazing. It was creamy and thick, yet spread-able on a delicate water cracker and had a spicy kick that was noticeable without being overwhelming. But these appetizers were simply a warm up to what proved to be a delicious bowl of shrimp and grits, described on the menu as “Shrimp Simmered In A Brown Tasso Ham Gravy And Served Over Stone Ground Grits.”

Shrimp and Grits
Originally uploaded by weezienyc.

While the grits needed salt and seemed a little stiff, it was a detail easily overlooked once they were totally immersed in the shrimp and gravy. Just like the crab dip, this dish had an unsuspecting, yet welcome spicy twist that I’d not yet experienced in what I’ve come to know as traditional shrimp and grits, or grits served with shrimp in a Tasso gravy.

Many people ask me “What is Tasso Gravy?” Tasso gravy is an essential element to the traditional Lowcountry shrimp and grits recipe. Honestly, it wasn’t until I started making Shrimp and Grits myself, and therefore began researching recipes years ago, that I realized that Tasso wasn’t a spice, but is actually a lean and highly-seasoned piece of cured pork or beef, native to Louisiana.

I enjoyed our visit to Morgan Creek Grill and would have loved to spend the afternoon listening to music in the sun and making my own spicy Bloody Mary’s to compliment the spicy and delightful food we so thoroughly enjoyed.