Mother’s Day Means Honoring The Women In Your Life.

My grandmother moved to Chattanooga by way of Charleston upon meeting my grandfather, who was a minor league baseball player of some considerable talent.  Even though she found herself in the beautiful hills of the Volunteer State, she continued to embrace a classic low country style of cooking she knew when she was young. She believed the kitchen was the family gathering place. I remember my grandparents always had a large table in the kitchen that everyone would gather around talking, playing cards or chess while my grandmother cooked. She loved having as many of us in the kitchen as possible and she never wanted to be left out of a conversation or some juicy gossip. My grandfather actually did all the shopping because my grandmother never really learned how to drive. I remember going with him to five or six different markets or roadside vegetable stands to find what he called “just right” tomatoes. Marketing in their day would be farm-to-table in the 21st Century.

The idea of farm-to-table is not a new trend or concept. It had just gotten lost a little along the way as our lives became busier and busier. Folks like my grandparents didn’t know any other way. The farmers grew it or raised it, the butchers butchered it and we cooked and ate it. It was really that simple back then. It was just how things were done. At Reunion farm-to-table is not only a spirit, but an authentic style of cooking. To quote one of my favorite chefs, Fernand Point, “you can’t have great food without great ingredients.” To me it demands we seek out local farms and food producers in order to build a relationship with them, which is key. Learning how their farms work, their growing cycles and how they prepare what they produce are all part of the job. To me, farm-to-table is about going local, being present within your community and giving back to the ones that are really doing the work that make chefs like myself look good.

Remember great ingredients equals great food. Building these relationships are key to any chef’s success. All this takes time and effort. All too often I’ve heard chefs say that they just do not have the time to search out these great local farmers and food producers. But if a chef’s job is to create the best possible menu items for their discerning guests, it becomes an essential part of the job and key to our success. I believe that all menu items start with the gathering of available seasonal ingredients.  Releasing the flavors and textures found within these ingredients will allow you to shape the recipe that will appear on your menu. Some will argue that farm-to-table is nothing more than a trend or marketing ploy. For myself and the culinary team at Reunion farm-to-table dominates our overall cooking philosophy.

With that, this month we salute local farmers, as well as the women who have been influential in my life as a chef.  I hope you will give these recipes a try and let me know how you liked them. We also want to hear from you with your culinary specialty.  If we decide to prepare your dish we will invite you to come cook with me in our kitchen. Send your thoughts and recipes to:

Alma’s Fried Shrimp and Grits

1/4 cup vegetable oil (can use bacon fat if you have some laying around)

1 cup yellow onion, diced

1/2 cup red bell pepper, diced

1/2 cup green bell pepper, diced

1/2 lb. Tasso ham, diced (my grandma used slab bacon, but I like the spiciness of Tasso)

1 cup fresh okra, sliced

1 cup stone ground hominy grits

4 cups chicken stock (can use shrimp stock or water if you would like)

2 Tbs. butter, unsalted

2 lb. fresh large head on shrimp

1 cup all-purpose Flour

1/4 cup white cornmeal

1/4 tsp. Cayenne pepper

1 Tbs. kosher salt

2 large eggs

1 cup whole milk

1/4 cup green onion, sliced thin

In a medium sauce pot add oil and heat, add onion, peppers, okra and Tasso ham and sauté about five minutes or until the onions and peppers are soft. Add grits and stir to coat, add stock and stir. Cook, stirring often for about 15 minutes or until they are thick and creamy. Stir in the butter. While the grits are cooking add flour and cornmeal together with the salt and cayenne pepper to large Ziplock bag, set aside. In a small mixing bowl add eggs and water. Dip shrimp in the egg mixture then put in the bag of seasoned flour, close bag and shake gently. Fry shrimp in a fry daddy or in a cast iron skillet with and an inch of oil about three minutes or until they are golden and crisp. On a nice serving platter spoon grits into the serving dish and top with fried shrimp and garnish with the green onion. Always serve with a bottle of hot sauce.

Chicken Country Captain

3/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 tsp. paprika

1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper

1 Tbs. kosher salt

2 lbs. chicken thighs, skin on (you can use a skin on chicken breast if preferred)

1 lb. smoked bacon, diced

1/2 cup flat leaf Italian parsley

1 1/2 cup yellow onion, diced

2 cups green bell pepper, diced

1 cup red bell pepper, diced

1/2 cup celery, diced

1 1/2 tsp.  yellow curry powder

1 tsp. dry basil

2 ea. dried chilies, such as a Guajillo, split and seeds removed

3 cups fresh tomatoes, diced

1/4 cup chicken stock

1/2 cup raisins

1/2 cup almonds, sliced and toasted

Mix flour, paprika, cayenne pepper and salt together in bowl. Heat a cast iron skillet (make sure it has a lid). Render bacon until crispy, remove bacon and reserve two tablespoons of the fat. Dredge chicken in the flour mixture and brown in the bacon grease. Removed chicken to a paper towel lined plate. Add vegetables and sauté until tender, add curry and basil and cook for about 1 minute. Add tomatoes and chicken stock to skillet and then the chicken pieces, parsley, raisins and bacon. Bring to a quick simmer, cover tightly and place in oven at 350 for 25- 30 minutes or until the chicken has reach an internal temperature of 165. Serve over white rice and garnish with the almonds. Serve with some chowchow on the side.

Mimaw’s Frozen Key Lime Pie

My mother, being a Floridian, always made a unique Key Lime Pie that would satisfy all ages around her dining room table.  Her pie grew out of my sister and I always bugging her to make ice cream. Her version originally started as Key Lime Ice Cream and eventually evolved into a frozen Key Lime Pie.  She still makes this delicious version whenever she knows we’re coming for a visit, much to the delight of my daughters who, like me, expect Mimaw’s Frozen Key Lime Pie.

2 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs

1/2 cups butter, melted

2 Tbs. sugar

1 1/4 cup cream cheese, softened

1 cup sweetened condensed milk

1/2 cup key lime juice

1 Tbs. key lime zest

1 cup whipped cream, or Cool whip

In a mixing bowl mix butter with graham cracker crumbs and the sugar until well coated and press into a nine-inch pie pan. In the bowl of an electric mixer add the softened cream cheese and beat with the paddle until smooth. Add sweetened condensed milk and lime juice. Mix until well combined and smooth. Fold in the whipped cream until just incorporated. Place mixture into prepared pie shell, place in freezer for at least four hours before serving. Remove from about 10 minutes before serving. Garnish with whipped cream and a fresh strawberry.

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