Category Archives: seafood

Charbroiled Oysters, Avery Island

charbroiled oysters 2 One of my favorite things about being a teacher is that I often hear the phrase "I am so lucky because..." My students count themselves lucky because of special trips, new toys, exciting things they get to eat, upcoming playdates... you name it. If it's impressive to a preschooler I've probably heard about how lucky they are because it exists. I love that they are constantly tallying how grateful and fortunate they are, and it inspires me to count the ways in which I am fortunate. For instance, I am lucky because this blog has afforded me the opportunity to meet incredible people, travel to interesting places, and eat delicious and amazing meals. One of those such trips was my recent visit to Avery Island, Louisiana. charbroiled oysters 9 Avery Island is the historic home of the McIlhenny family, the creators of Tabasco. Invented by Edmund McIlhenny in the late 1860's, the McIlhenny family has built a hot sauce empire on three ingredients- tabasco peppers, Avery Island salt, and vinegar. The recipe today is identical to the recipe penned by Edmund himself, and the making of the sauce remains a truly family business. This October Tabasco flew a handful of food bloggers and recipe developers to Avery Island to learn, eat, drink, and share as a part of its annual Tabasco Tastemakers event. I was honored to be one of those bloggers that made the trip down south. Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset charbroiled oysters 17 Upon our arrival on Avery Island we were brought first to the archives, where Tabasco historian Shane Bernard gave us the abbreviated history of Tabasco and showed us a peek at some of the collection he's amassed in his nearly 15 years of service. Afterwards we were whisked up to the Marsh House, the historic Avery and McIlhenny family home. It was here where the Avery family fled during the Civil War and it was here where Edmund first concocted his hot sauce. While a fair amount of the extended McIlhenny family still lives on Avery Island, the Marsh House is now used for private family events and hosting guests such as ourselves. After unpacking, getting ourselves together, and exploring the grounds, we congregated in the main living room to meet Tony Simmons, his wife Jeanie, and a half dozen or so family members. I was taken aback when, upon entering, Tony greeted many of the food bloggers by name. This seemed to be a theme that was consistent throughout the week-- everyone we met was sincere, personable, and so incredibly kind. Traits that, in my book, are as good as gold. charbroiled oysters 11 charbroiled oysters 13 charbroiled oysters 16 This year's Tabasco Tastemakers were, from left: Ericka, Amber, myself, Tami, Tracy, Taylor, (that's Tony Simmons of Tabasco in the tie), Ana Sofia, Natalie, and Bren. This whole party was put together by the incredible ladies at Hunter PR, and they deserve a big kudos.  Our first night on the island was drinks and a seafood boil, a time honored tradition throughout the South (and although my Maryland friends would be appalled at the boiling of crabs, it was delicious). The next day it was time to don our hairnets and learn about the making of the famous hot sauce, from seed to bottle. We visited the greenhouse where the pepper plants are started, all from the same seed family that Edmund procured years and years ago (origins unknown). We watched as Tony checked 100 barrels of mash (tabasco peppers + Avery Island salt), something that is done each morning. We saw where the mash is fermented in oak bourbon barrels for 3-8 years. We watched as the mash was combined with vinegar to make the final hot sauce. And we watched the sauce being dispensed into thousands of bottles each minute in the bottling factory. Processed with VSCOcam with g3 preset charbroiled oysters 7After the big tour we were treated to a gumbo demonstration by Chef Sue Zemenick of Gautreau's Restaurant. It was our second gumbo of the week, our first being the many times award winning gumbo of Avery Island's Chef Nelson. Chef Sue and Nelson sparred as she demonstrated the perfect roux and whipped up a batch of her gumbo de herbes. Later that evening she served the gumbo topped with a deviled quail egg, followed by five more courses of mind blowingly delicious foods, all featuring Tabasco (including the dessert, which I was thoroughly impressed by).  In between Chef Sue's demonstration and dinner, however, we had a bit of time to explore the bayous around Avery Island in my now preferred means of transportation- airboat. It may be loud, but it is fun as all get out. charbroiled oysters 15 charbroiled oysters 19 charbroiled oysters 22 charbroiled oysters 20 charbroiled oysters 21 Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset Our third day on Avery Island was probably my favorite. This day began with the grand tour of Avery Island, as given by Dave, who should probably be their mascot. Dave worked for McIlhenny Company for decades, was raised on Avery Island, and even though he retired years ago continues to help the McIlhenny family sell the Tabasco charm. He reminded me of my grandpa, if a little less Irish and a little more Cajun. Dave showed us around the island, driving us past everything from the salt mines to Tony Simmon's house (shhhhhhhh), and ending in Bird City, an egret reserve founded by E.A. McIlhenny as a way to help save the snowy egret population. Afterwards we headed back to Marsh House for a hot sauce tasting with Tony and Charlie Cheng, the scientist and flavor developer behind many of Tabasco's sauces. It was fascinating to hear the CEO and lead recipe developer talk candidly about what had worked, what had failed, what needs tweaking, and what is on the docket. For lunch we were treated to Bon Creole in New Iberia for boudain and bowfin caviar, a Louisiana specialty. Afterwards we headed into back to the Marsh House kitchen for a cocktail and mixology demonstration by Kirk Espinotal, a man who mixes drinks with more flair than anyone I've ever seen. Kirk made three cocktails with us (it was a very interactive workshop, which was highly appreciated), my favorite of which was The Awakening, a twist on the Pimm's Cup and a Tequila Sunrise. That night for dinner we headed in to town to Cafe Des Amis, which was a treat particularly because it was the first opportunity that week for a big fat salad. charbroiled oysters 6 charbroiled oysters 25 Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset The next morning, much to my dismay, it was time to head back to reality. After packing our bags (and a final breakfast with Stanley) we headed into town for one last trip- a visit to Legnon's Boucherie to watch them make their famous boudin. Boudin, which my brother in law Bradley is kind enough to bring to every holiday gathering, is a mixture of cooked sausage, rice, vegetables, and spices that is stuffed in sausage casings and served hot. After watching in awe as they worked through dozens of links of sausage we headed into a back room to watch them make cracklin, something I have long loved but never seen made. Having acquired that experience, I'm pretty sure I'm okay leaving this one to the experts. charbroiled oysters 4After sweet goodbyes to new friends we split into small groups based on travel arrangements and headed to the airport. Even now, weeks later, a smile comes to my face when I think about this trip. It's rare to have an experience that so perfectly blends business and pleasure, and I continue to be impressed that Tabasco, Hunter PR, and the McIlhenny Company were able to put together such a memorable week. I came away from this not only a lifelong Tabasco customer (I already was one, so this is just a bonus), but thoroughly blown away by how the McIlhenny Company operates. I was afforded much more than a glimpse of the company, and I am so grateful that the family opened themselves up to us in such a unique way. It was absolutely a trip of a lifetime. charbroiled oysters 5 charbroiled oysters 3 This past week we were invited to no less than five oyster related events, which to me signals the beginning of the holiday season. And while I firmly believe that in these parts oysters are best in the coldest months, I couldn't resist the opportunity to try my hand at one of the recipes I enjoyed on Avery Island. Nelson's charbroiled oysters were spicy, buttery, and fantastic, something I've been dreaming about since I returned. My best imitation of his masterpiece involved butter (of course), parmesan, white cheddar, garlic, French bread, chipotle, and Tabasco Garlic Pepper Sauce. They were exactly what I was hoping for, a recipe that I'll be rolling out frequently from now until the waters are warm again. charbroiled oysters 1 This post is sponsored by Tabasco. The words, thoughts, and opinions are my own. Don't miss our first post featuring Tabasco sauce- Honey Chipotle Wings. Charbroiled Oysters 2 dozen oysters, fresh & raw 1 stick butter 2 cloves garlic 1 tbsp Tabasco Garlic Pepper Sauce 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce 1 cup cubed stale French bread 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese 1/4 cup Cheddar cheese 1 tsp chipotle powder 1 tsp salt 1 lemon Tabasco Garlic Pepper Sauce to serve In a skillet melt butter. Roughly chop garlic and add to pan, along with hot sauce. Simmer over low heat. In a food processor combine bread, cheese, and spices. Pulse until you have created bread crumbs. Using a shucking knife, halve oysters. Heat grill to 400F and lay oysters on a baking sheet or plate. Spoon a tbsp of the butter mixture into each oyster shell. Top with a tbsp of the breadcrumb mixture. Transfer shells to the grill and charbroil with the lid closed for 5-7 minutes or until the oysters are bubbling. Drizzle with lemon juice and garlic pepper sauce. Serve hot on the half shell. charbroiled oysters 10

Tangy Grouper Salad

grouper salad 6 Last weekend I headed up to Morehead City for a photoshoot. I've been doing a lot of photoshoots lately, totally booked solid, which is amazing. Amazing and also a little disorienting because I can't for the life of me tell you what month it is, let alone what day. For the first time in my life I'm excited for the slow melancholy of January. A trip to Carteret County also means the opportunity to visit with the parents who are the bests hosts because they're always willing to have us, they always have wine, and they usually send us home with fish. This trip it was a cooler full of freshly caught grouper. grouper salad 5 In addition to raw grouper steaks for grilling (yum), the Capt'n packed us a container of cooked pulled grouper, ready to be tossed into grouper salad. So when I got home and was putting together food for the week I mixed the grouper with a bit of mayonnaise, a cubed red pepper, spices, and a few spoonfuls of chow chow. The finished salad was light and tangy, full of flavor and a quick and easy lunch. grouper salad 3 This salad could work with pretty much any combination of shredded fish, fresh vegetables, fermented vegetables, mayonnaise, sour cream, or yogurt, and spices. I loved the way the chow chow lent a sweet and spicy flavor with a punch of apple cider vinegar, but I'm also thinking of doing a salmon, kimchi, and snow peas twist. grouper salad 2 This weekend we headed to Bald Head Island to celebrate our anniversary. Today I leave for Louisiana, and then when I get back we head to Maryland for a wedding. Later this month I'll be in Durham, New York, and Lake Waccamaw. Tomorrow this blog will mark 5 years in existence. As I look back on the past five years, I can't help but to be amazed at how far we've come. How far I've come as a writer and photographer, how far I've come in the kitchen and as a recipe developer, how far Dan and I have come together, how many recipes have been posted (more than 350!). It's been an incredible run, and I feel so excited for what is to come as I look out over the next few months and the next few years. Thanks for being here for the ride! grouper salad   Tangy Grouper Salad 4 cups shredded grouper 1/2-3/4 cup mayonnaise or Greek yogurt (to taste) 1 red bell pepper 1 red onion 1 tsp red pepper flakes 1 tsp salt 1 tsp black pepper Dash of garlic powder 3 generous spoonfuls of chow chow Chop vegetables. Mix with fish, spices, chow chow, and mayo. Adjust spices and mayo to taste. For a creamier salad, pulse in food processor until blended. Serve chilled with crackers.

Clams on the Grill

grilled clams 1 Last week I was chatting with my grandma on the phone and I made a comment about it being mid-August. No, Elena, she said (laughing) it's late August. Oops. I lost a few weeks. grilled clams 4 That's common this time of year, watching the days and nights and weeks and weekends blur past, particularly because our house has been filled to the brim with guests. Dan and Kaylee are getting a little bit exhausted by the revolving door of friends and loved ones, but I'm soaking it up. This is a perk of living at the beach, right? grilled clams 10 Last weekend I drove to Richmond to meet my sister in law Megan and pick up our niece, Meredith, who just turned 7. A few years ago we started taking Meredith for visits with us all on her own, and this past week we had the pleasure of hosting her for the first time in North Carolina. We spent the beginning of the week soaking in the sun and sand (Meredith's two requests were to find shells everyday and take a bubble bath every night. We were happy to try and help her realize that dream), and the Turcottes (Megan, John, and almost three year old Amelie) joined us on Thursday.grilled clams 3 grilled clams 8 Meredith is a bright, sweet, fun, and funny girl, and I absolutely cherished getting to spend the week with her. She came to school with me during our in-service week and it was a delight having the opportunity to watch her in the classroom, talk to her about what she was reading and doing, and explore Wilmington through her eyes. I haven't been so engrossed in shell hunting since I was 7 myself, and I loved it. grilled clams 6 grilled clams 7 On Saturday we drove down to Kure Beach to hunt shells and fossils and relax in the sand. It wasn't a great day for swimming (it was pretty rough and the coquina rocks make it difficult to navigate the water), but it was beautiful and I had a lot of fun sitting in the surf with Amelie. We stopped by Seaview on the way home and picked up a red drum and two dozen Stump Sound clams, as well as a bounty of vegetables from their food stand. That night we feasted on seafood and end-of-summer peppers and beans, rounding it all out with a salted caramel peach pie. grilled clams 5 grilled clams 9 It was hard saying goodbye to our sweet nieces and their parents this morning, and our house is all the quieter without them. All the reason to start planning for next year's Auntie Elena & Uncle Dan camp! grilled clams 2 grilled clams 11 Grilled Clams with Rosemary Butter Sauce 2 dozen top neck clams 2 sticks butter 3 sprigs fresh rosemary 1 shallot 3 garlic cloves Salt In a saucepan melt butter over low heat. Mince garlic and slice shallots and add to the pan, along with rosemary. Simmer for 25-30 minutes. Scrub clams thoroughly, discarding any that are open. Grill over medium heat for 10-12 minutes or until they've opened wide. Top with butter sauce and serve immediately.

Blackened Red Drum

blackened fish 4 For the past five weeks I've been working on a big freelance project that  has utterly consumed me and everything around me. I've been eating (literally) sleeping and breathing this project, and while I'm so excited about it and enthusiastic about it I'm also overwhelmingly exhausted. Tired in that way I wasn't sure tired existed. Tired in that way where I almost forgot my own birthday. That kind of tired. blackened fish 3 Last week was my birthday; 27. That makes 27 years on this earth, which feels like many, many years from where I'm standing.  I can't complain, 26 was a good year, maybe the best one yet. We accomplished an amazing amount, I feel so much more settled and happy and centered than I did last year. We had a great birthday weekend- fireworks, a trip to Topsail with friends, a whole lot of cooking, drinks and bluegrass and cannolis with my mom. It was a good way to celebrate, and I'm excited for what's to come. blackened fish 2 Most of what I've been cooking has been for the project, but I've managed to squeeze in a few recipes here and there that are just for us. On the way home from Carolina Beach on the 4th we picked up some local red drum and blackened it along with a medley of root vegetables I picked up from the farmer's market. It was the perfect meal, light and fresh. All the reasons to love summer blackened with spices and served up on one plate. blackened fish 1Blackened Red Drum 4 red drum filets, skinned and deboned 1/2 stick butter, melted blackening spices: 1 tsp chipotle 1 tsp oregano 1 tsp black pepper 1 tsp salt 1/2 tsp cayenne 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes Mix together spices. Heat a dry cast iron pan over a medium-high stove. Dredge filets first in butter, then in spices, making sure to coat well on both sides. Cook in hot skillet 2-3 minutes per side, until blackened and cooked through. Serve hot. Tip: This was super incredibly smoky, so my advice would be to try it on the grill if you can. Roasted Root Vegetables 1 bunch baby carrots (young carrots, not the cut adult carrots) 10-12 small red potatoes 1 tbsp fresh rosemary 2 tbsp olive oil Salt & pepper Halve potatoes. Clean carrots and cut off stems. Toss potatoes and carrots in olive oil with rosemary (minced), salt, and pepper. Bake at 350 for 35-40 minutes or until potatoes are tender.  

Salt Crusted Snapper

salt packed fish 2 When Julia was here a few weeks ago we finally got the chance to try something we've been wanting to do for a while- salt pack a fish. Cooking fish with a salt crust seals all of the juices and moisture together, the end result being a rich and flavorful dish that comes with the benefit of a pretty stunning presentation. salt packed fish 7 salt packed fish 5 We picked up a whole pink snapper on the way home from Carolina Beach (we asked for the fish dressed- cleaned, gutted, and scaled) and stuffed it with lemon, butter, rosemary, and pepper. One pound of sea or kosher salt per pound of fish, 1 egg white per pound, and a drizzle of olive oil on top to add a little flavor, and the fish was in the oven. salt packed fish 6 salt packed fish 4  We served it with braised greens and lemon quinoa and white wine, feasting on steamed crabs as an appetizer and ending the night with Caiphirnhas, full stomachs, and happy hearts. salt packed fish 3 salt packed fish 8 The fish was perfect- not too salty, wonderfully moist, full of flavor. And while this is definitely a technique I'd try again, it won't be something that we do regularly. The amount of salt needed for the recipe makes this a dinner party dish, something we pull out when we want to impress. salt packed fish 1Salt Crusted Snapper 1 red or pink snapper, 3-4 pounds 4 pounds kosher or sea salt 4 egg whites 1 lemon Fresh rosemary 1/2 stick butter Olive oil Pepper At the fish market, ask for your fish dressed- gutted, scaled, and cleaned. Mix together egg whites and salt and preheat your oven to 400. On a large baking sheet make a bed of salt with half the mixture. Stuff your fish with sliced lemons, rosemary, pepper, and butter and place on top of salt bed. Drizzle with olive oil and use the remaining salt mixture to completely cover the fish, pressing the salt around the fish. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until the fish is golden brown.  

3/100: Polk County Lemon & Chardonnay Seafood Sauce

chardonnay sauce 1One of the many things that makes North Carolina an amazing state is it's ever-changing terrain. From the Blue Ridge and Smokey Mountains in the Western corners of the state to the rolling piedmont to the barrier islands that hold the tales of pirates and colonists, this state has so much to offer. One of the reasons that a project like Tasting North Carolina appealed to me was because of the opportunity to explore (whether physically or virtually) the state that I call mine. What I know about North Carolina is so incredibly limited when compared to what there is available to learn, and I'm loving every part of diving in head first. chardonnay sauce 5 chardonnay sauce 4 The first person that contacted me when I started putting feelers out for this project was Alvin Pack, the owner of Green Creek Winery. Green Creek is located in Columbus, the seat of Polk County, nestled in the Blue Ridge mountains just southeast of Asheville. Green Creek has been in business since 2005, but wine making has roots in this state deeper than whole hog barbeque. Starting with Sir Walter Raleigh's discovery of the muscadine grape in Washington County, North Carolina boasts a 400 year wine making tradition, over 100 wineries, and a temperate enough climate that nearly all varieties of wine grape can grow somewhere within its borders. polk   Now I know, admittedly, very little about wine. I like spicy reds like Malbec, dislike heavily oaked Chardonnays, and can drink a sweet moscato like it's water on a hot summer's night. I know from wine tastings that my palate is not sophisticated enough to tell the difference between a $10 bottle and a $100 bottle. Like many consumers my decision to buy a particular wine is 75% price point and 25% label design. And even though I've been enjoying wine for years now I'm still familiarizing myself with what North Carolina has to offer. The state's 100 wineries are scattered through many different regions, meaning you're as likely to find a winery at the beach as you are driving through the mountains. Varieties range from scuppernog to the Red Chardonnay that Alvin has developed at Green Creek, and practically everywhere you visit you'll have the opportunity to tour and taste (my favorite way to travel). chardonnay sauce 3 chardonnay sauce 2 One of the recipes that Alvin suggested was a Lemon Chardonnay sauce for fish. I loved the idea, so while my mom was down last weekend visiting we picked up a whole shad, stuffed it, and threw it on the grill. Stuffed with lemon, ginger, and garlic the fish was flaky and full of flavor. I chose a shad caught in the Tar River just north of here because shad, like many ocean dwelling fish, migrate upstream to spawn this time of year. And while they probably don't ever get as far as Polk County, I wanted to honor the flavor of the mountains with a locally caught fish. Alvin's sauce called for Chardonnay, soy sauce, lemon juice, and ginger, which was the perfect compliment of flavors. We stuffed and grilled the fish whole and paired it with a lemon basmati rice, sprouted beans (for crunch and color), and a simple arugula salad. It was a wonderful way to spend a Saturday, visiting the beach, picking up a local fish on the way home, grilling it and having an easy and delicious meal with family. Everything that is wonderful about cooking and eating, all at once. chardonnay sauce 7 This post is part of the ongoing series, Tasting North Carolina. Read more about the project here. Lemon Chardonnay Sauce for Fish Adapted from Alvin Pack's Green Creek Winery recipe Sauce: 1/2 cup Chardonnay 3 tbsp soy sauce Juice of 3 lemons 1 tbsp chopped lemon rind 3 cloves minced garlic 1 inch fresh ginger, minced Dish: 1 4-5 pound white fish, such as shad (in the herring family), scaled & cleaned 1 lemon 5 cloves garlic 2 inches fresh ginger Salt, pepper Olive oil Rinse your fish off and place it on a piece of tin foil larger than the fish. Stuff the cavity with half of your sliced lemon, sliced and peeled ginger, crushed garlic, salt, pepper, and olive oil. Top the fish with the remaining ingredients and fold the foil up over the edges. Place on the top rack of the grill and heat to 350. In a bowl mix together chardonnay, soy sauce, lemon juice, rind, garlic, and ginger. Pour over fish occasionally, reserving enough to sauce the finished fish. Cook fish for 45-60 minutes or until the skin flakes off easily. Remove from the oven and serve it whole.  Use a fork or a knife to open the fish up, peeling the skin back.  Allow your guests to pick the meat out, and offer the sauce on the side to top the pulled meat.  

1/100 Onslow Oysters

onslow oysters 2 It was incredibly hard for me to decide what county, what recipe, what food group I was going to choose to launch Tasting North Carolina. I grew up in Durham County, have spent countless summers and made incredible memories (including my wedding) in Carteret County, and now find myself living in New Hanover County. But the task of picking a food that defined Durham was more than I could tackle at the beginning of the project, so I decided to focus on something coastal. I figured that if I put my ear to the ground, it would come to me. Thankfully, this weekend, it did. oysters2 One of my favorite family traditions is eating grilled oysters over the holidays. Best practices has, in the past, said that the best time to eat oysters was any month ending in "-er" so as soon as November rolled around we'd load up and fill ourselves. We always stopped on the way home from the Ballenger family Christmas party in Richmond to get a bushel of oysters and then devoured them straight from the grill. It is heaven and easily my favorite way to spend the afternoon with my father, brothers, uncles, and cousins. grouper skewers 3 Our family home in Morehead, the Swamp House, has massive oyster beds behind it in the low saltwater marsh, like much of the creeks and sounds of North Carolina. I've spent countless days in pockmarked rain boots mucking through the oysters and swimming in Calico Creek but it never once occurred to me that we could eat those oysters. In fact, I don't think I'd ever had a Crystal Coast oyster. Recently, however, my dad and I had a conversation about how he'd discovered two things. 1) That he prefers oysters that come from the colder season months when the water is much colder and their taste gets salty and 2) that he's discovered he's not only a fan of Crystal Coast oysters but that he prefers them to oysters from other areas. I took this as a sign that I should find myself some local oysters. onslow oysters 7 onslow oysters 6This past weekend our two dear friends Brit and Aaron visited us in Wilmington. We love being with them because above all else we have so much in common. We share a passion for food and drink, Dan and Aaron obsess over the same music, and being with them is easy and comfortable. We made our goal for their visit to show them the very best that Wilmington (as far as we've discovered) has to offer. On Sunday morning we headed down to Kure Beach to hunt for fossils with our friend Dave, a PhD candidate in Marine Biology. On the way back to the car I asked him if he knew where we could get some fresh local oysters. His response? That his favorite place to buy invertebrate was Seaview Crab Shack. Spoken like a true marine biologist. onslow oysters 8 On the way home from Kure we stopped into Seaview and sure enough there were big, beautiful, local oysters. We picked up a 1/2 bushel of oysters from Topsail Island, along with firewood and two oyster shuckers, and headed on our way. Topsail Island is located in two counties- Onslow in the north and Pender in the south. These oysters came from Stump Sound in the northern part of the island. Onslow County  is situated between Jones County to the north, Pender and Duplin to the south, and Carteret to the east. The seat of Onslow county is Jacksonville, and much of the county sits on water- either the Atlantic or one of the number of bays. Jacksonville is the home of Camp Lejune, a large U.S. Marine base. It is also a good portion of the drive from Morehead City to Wilmington, a drive we've done frequently in recent months and a drive that I genuinely enjoy because of the scenery. onslow oysters 9 onslow oysters 1 Oysters are an important part of any marine ecosystem as they filter the water and their shells help define marsh areas and prevent erosion. North Carolina has worked hard to encourage a depleting oyster population through initatives such as the NC Oyster Shell Recycling program (something I'll be doing with our shells once we're done eating them!). It's no surprise that, like all the seafood you can find here in North Carolina, the oysters are delicious. onslow oysters 4 onslow oysters 10The oysters we picked up were fat, juicy, and salty. When I first started eating oysters the texture weirded me out so I'd cover them in horesradish and tobasco, plop them on a saltine, and swallow the the thing as fast as I could. These days I've grown to appreciate foods of different textures, and yesterday when I popped a raw oyster, undressed, in my mouth I was in heaven. Sure there's a visual barrier but the flavor is so worth it. Sometimes you just need a little mental disconnect. We ate a dozen or so oysters raw and the started to roast them over hot coals. Dressed with tobasco, horseradish, and a sauce Aaron made (white wine, white wine vinegar, minced shallots, and cracked black pepper) they were smokey and delicious. Some came off the fire hot and cooked through, others came off perfectly warmed. It was an awesome afternoon with friends and I'm so glad that we could enjoy this meal together. Thanks Onslow County!   onslowonslow oysters 5 onslow oysters 3Oysters are a mussel so strong and so well designed that no human can open a live oyster with their bare hands. This is why the shucking knife is genius. Simply insert a shucking knife (or a screwdriver, we've learned) into a crack or opening or into the lip, and pry open. If the shell opens easily (when raw) the oyster is dead and should not be consumed. After roasting (which essentially steams them in their juices and saltwater) for a few minutes the shells will open as the mussel dies, and then they can be eaten. This post is part of the ongoing series, Tasting North Carolina. See more about the project here.

Roasted Tomato Shrimp & Grits

We've met some really wonderful people in Baltimore, people who have become our friends and made this city feel like home. We met Bill and Jen, and their daughter Finley, through Dan's work, and we've loved getting to know them. Jen also has southern roots, which means we can gush over grits and biscuits and collards and all the things our Yankee husbands never understood about vegetables before meeting us. I love having friends that I can gush with about collards. Last night they came over for dinner and I made shrimp and grits, but deviated a bit from my usual recipe. I wanted to make a dish that highlighted the beauty of the last of the summer tomato, I thought it fitting to serve something featuring the giant, beautiful, bursting with flavor tomatoes that will soon disappear from the market on the first day of fall. So the tomatoes were slow roasted in a brown butter brown sugar base for about an hour. And then they were mixed into onions that had been caramelized in bacon drippings, just a hint of hot sauce, and plump shrimp. All of that got scooped over creamy cheesy grits, the perfectly salty pair to the slightly sweet slightly spicy tomato sauce. They were pretty delicious.  We ended the meal with pumpkin bread pudding, vanilla ice cream, and a serving of Pumking. It was the perfect combination of late summer and early fall, a meal I feel very  lucky to have shared with such wonderful friends. Roasted Tomato Shrimp & Grits grits: 2 cups coarse grits 3 cups water 2 cups heavy cream 2 cups milk 1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese 1/2 tbsp white pepper 1/2 tbsp kosher salt Juice of 1 lemon tomato sauce: 2-3 large heirloom tomatoes 3 tbsp salted butter 1/4 cup brown sugar 1 white onion 4-6 strips bacon 1 tbsp hot sauce (I used a habanero sauce) Dash of salt Dash of red pepper flakes Dash of smoked paprika Dash of pepper 1 pound of fresh, raw, shrimp In a heavy pan melt butter and brown sugar over VERY low heat. When the butter has browned add in tomatoes, and stir well. Simmer on countertop for 15-20 minutes, and then roast in a 300 degree oven for an additional 20. In another, larger, pan (this is where having a cast iron collection comes in handy) cook bacon. Set aside. Dice onions and cook in bacon drippings over low heat. When the onions are caramelized add in the crumbled bacon, hot sauce, and tomato mixture. Add in seasoning. Continue to simmer. Clean and peel shrimp. Boil until just barely pink, and then strain and add to the tomato sauce. Simmer all together for an additional 20-30 minutes. While the sauce is simmering, bring heavy cream and water to a slow boil. Stir in grits and continue stirring as the grits thicken. Once the grits are thick remove from heat and stir in milk, cheese, spices, and lemon juice. Mix together well, cover, and let sit. Serve a healthy amount of grits topped with a few big scoops of the sauce to your patiently waiting, hungry and excited, dinner guests.

Steamed Crabs

Last year my friend Jamie taught Dan and I how to pick crabs the Maryland way. Jamie is a very particular person who feels as strongly as crabs as I do about barbeque. He believes passionately that there is a correct way to steam, pick, and eat fresh blue crabs. And because he's the expert (and I came to the table with no opinions about crabs), we do as he says. Since he converted us to whole-crab lovers Dan and I have eaten them a few more times, but hadn't made the jump to preparing them ourselves. Thankfully Jamie, along with many of our friends and family, see Biscuits and Such as the perfect excuse to experiment in the kitchen, be adventurous, try new things. And while he had grown up watching his parents and grandparents steam crabs he hadn't actually replicated the process by himself. He suggested it, Dan and I enthusiastically agreed, and this past labor day we tried our hand at steamed crabs. The Keffer family method goes something like this- combine water, a few seconds' pour of vinegar, and most of a can of Natty Boh in a large pot. In the steamer basket layer live crabs and a combination of spices. As you can see, this is often more difficult than it sounds. Most people in the mid-Atlantic will agree that a steamed crab is not a steamed crab without a generous dose of Old Bay, the magical spice blend invented by Jewish immigrant Gustav Brunn (who will soon be immortalized in paper doll form by the ever-amazing Lisa Perrin & the JMM). Old Bay is a mixture of salt, pepper, red pepper, black pepper, and about a thousand other things making its recipe impossible to copy (the genius of Gustav Brunn). Jamie's recipe combined a thick coating of Old Bay with mustard powder, mustard seed, salt, red pepper, and celery seed. Once the water has been brought to a boil the crabs start the steaming process (lid on), and 15-20 minutes later, once the crabs are bright red, you're ready to pick and enjoy!

Grilled Grouper

One of the things I most love about vacationing at the Swamp House with family is the diversity in food. Sure, some nights we go out to our favorite (or hopeful new favorite) restaurants, but most nights the guests cook in, taking turns to come up with and serve meals for the group. It's a tradition that is both cherished and practical- each guest bears the creative and financial burden of hosting once, which gives the opportunity to show off in the kitchen and then, after your turn is over, play the happy customer. I love being on both sides of the table- as the person cooking and serving, and as the hungry vacationer scooching my chair closer to that long wooden table. Over the years we've had some incredible meals at that table, seafood boils and banana pudding and more pickled okra than you can imagine. For some reason food just tastes better sitting there surrounded by the glory of a simple fisherman's cottage. photo by dan This year Dan and I had the pleasure of cooking for the Capt'n, my brother Ryan, and his girlfriend Erin. After a fair amount of stress on my part we decided on an old favorite, grilled grouper and vegetables with creamy grits. There's something so simple and perfectly delicious about grilled fish, marinated in olive oil and spices, and charred vegetables, especially paired with a smoky, creamy, spicy plate of cheese grits. It was swamp house dining at its best. Our week at the beach was wonderful, grouper and grits included. We dove, we swam in the creek, we went kayaking in the marsh, we ate, we listened to music, we explored Beaufort, we saw great friends and family. We took a day trip down to Wilmington, a place we could easily see ourselves hanging our hats. We took in the Beaufort Pirate Invasion, drank and read and played guitar on the porch, laid in the hammock for hours. It was everything we needed, and more. That magical place always delivers. Sitting there on the porch with my dad and brother joking about grandbabies (the Capt'n's favorite subject), I couldn't help but imagine all the dinners we'll cook for our family in that kitchen, all the meals we'll serve at that table. As siblings get married, families grow, it's nice knowing that the Swamp House will always be there for us, ready for another round. photo by dan Grilled Grouper feeds four 2 lbs grouper, cubed 3 bell peppers, red & green 1 red onion 2 jalapeños 1 eggplant 1/4 cup olive oil 1 tsp chipotle 1 tsp cayenne 1 tsp salt 1/2 tsp cinnamon 1 lemon In one bowl toss the grouper in half of the oil and spices. Set aside. Chop and seed vegetables (split jalapeños in half and seed them) and toss in remaining oil and spices. Arrange on skewers. Grill 3-4 minutes on each side, until grouper is cooked through. Drizzle with lemon juice and serve.