Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Bring It

OK, I finally feel like I've got my head above water again after the holidays. Hope y'all are ahead of me.... But I did have a really fabulous holiday in South Carolina with my family. While always special to spend Christmas with them, one of the highlights this year was a dinner with some high school friends. And since we're all still 22, that was just a few years ago. [Note: I did a terrible job photographing this event, so trust me the food is better than the photojournalism!] 

Cheers to old friends

Anyway, I extended the invitation to two friends, Caldwell and Debbie, who both live in Charleston, to come and join my family for supper. I was thrilled they accepted, but was pleasantly surprised when Caldwell (a.k.a. Pablo—but that's a whole other story) asked if he could bring something. He followed that with, "You know I can cook." Then he went on to suggest an Iron Chef-like challenge. Never one to shy away from a challenge, I was like, "Bring it!" I suggested shrimp and grits, which is a quintessential Low Country dish with the potential for a thousand different rifts. He was game and we agreed the loser had to do dishes. 

I decided to do a version of the beloved shrimp and grits that I first made here. What drew me to this particular recipe is that it's made with my favorite beverage. While I'm sure your first guess is bourbon, it's actually "Co-Cola." I mean, I'm probably splitting hairs here because I would hate to have to choose, but there is a southern tradition of cooking meats (i.e. hams, ribs, etc.) in Coke that does glorious things. Why not shrimp and grits? 

The secret ingredient

Caldwell took a very unconventional approach which scored him points in creativity—not to mention taste, playing off his interpretation of grits in the form of hominy and adding some roasted poblanos and chorizo. I think we all enjoyed the cooking and of course the eating. 

Poor Sous Chef Mark had to peel all the shrimp

I did learn a few things from the evening/competition:
1) It's always helpful when one of your friends marries a man who "spent some time working in London kitchens" and you can steal him as your sous chef.  
2) Ply your guests/judges with lots of alcohol before they eat.
3) Serve dinner at 10:30 pm when everyone is starving and is grateful to eat anything.

I think both dishes were winners because everyone ate until they moaned with a mixture of delight and discomfort. It was truly impossible to pick a winner because the dishes were so, so different (or at least the judges were so, so kind). 

Challenge Shrimp and Grits

But mine took the longest to cook and I made everyone wait to eat (in my defense, I needed a bigger pan!), so I figured I should get stuck with the dishes.

The Loser

Caldwell was nice enough to crack open the bottle of Blanton's he gave me (Indian Giver) and serve us up a few drinks while he watched me clean. Apparently there were a lot of dishes because we managed to start and finish the entire bottle between say 11 pm and 3 am. Thankfully Santa brought me a new liver for Christmas so that was immensely helpful. 

"Wow, that was a great idea to drink a whole bottle of bourbon in 4 hrs," said no one ever. 

I hope everyone's holiday was filled with as much good food and good times. May we greet the New Year with great expectations! Let's make 2013 a good one! 

Holley's Madeira-Glazed Shrimp over Parmesan Grits and Red-Eye Gravy
by Nathalie Dupree

Note: Madeira is famous in the South as the wine of choice for George Washington, who reportedly drank a pint of this fortified wine a day. The combination of the sweetness of the Coke and the richness of the Madeira bring a completely different touch to the dish. Red-eye gravy is traditionally made with country ham that had the round bone in the center, hence the name "red eye." Coke or coffee would be added at the end to soften the ham and make the gravy. 

3 Tbsp butter, divided
2 cups cooked grits, made with milk not water
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 oz country ham, diced
1 1/2 cups stemmed and sliced shitake mushrooms
1 cup finely chopped red or yellow bell pepper
1/2 cup chopped onions
2 tsp chopped fresh thyme
1 cup chicken stock
1/2 cup Coke or coffee
1/2 cup seeded tomatoes
1/4 cup Madeira 
2 tsp cornstarch
1 tsp hot pepper sauce
1 lb peeled shrimp, uncooked
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1. Add 1 Tbsp of the butter to the grits and season to taste with salt and pepper. 
2. Melt the remaining butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the ham and sauté until brown, about 2 minutes. Add the mushrooms, peppers, onion and thyme and sauté for 3 minutes. Add the stock, Coke and tomatoes. Bring to a boil and boil until the liquid is reduced by half. 
3. Mix the Madeira and cornstarch in a small bowl. Add to the sauce and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Reduce the heat and simmer until thickened, about 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. (Can be made in advance, refrigerated and reheated before using—which apparently I forgot on this particular evening.)
4. Add the shrimp and cook until the shrimp turn pink, about 3 minutes. It may not seem like they're totally cooked through but remember they will continue to cook when you remove them from the heat. 
5. Divide grits between four plates. Spoon the shrimp and gravy over them, sprinkle with Parmesan cheese, and serve. 

Caldwell's South of the Border Shrimp and Grits

Stuffing Ingredients
2 poblano peppers
1 package Jiffy cornbread mix
6 Tbsp butter
1 large sweet onion, diced
3 jalapeños, seeded, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 Tbsp dried oregano
3/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 1/2 cups corn kernels (roasted if possible but canned is fine)
3 large eggs, beaten
1 12 cups chicken broth

Stuffing Directions
1. Roast poblano peppers over the stove eye until blistered. Place in a ziploc bag or tupperware container. After 10 minutes, peel the skin, remove the seeds and cut into 1 x 2 inch pieces. 
2. Bake cornbread according to package instructions and crumble in a large mixing bowl. 
3. In a skillet over medium-high heat, melt 2 Tbsp of butter and sauté the onion for about 5-7 minutes until tender, and then add the jalapeños and garlic and cook for another 2 minutes. Transfer to the large mixing bowl with the cornbread. 
4. In the bowl, start adding the hominy, corn, oregano, chicken broth and beaten eggs. This will become a fairly thick, lumpy mixture. Add the cilantro last and mix well. Pour into a baking dish. You'd want the mixture to fill the dish up about 1-inch deep. Add the remaining butter, cut into pads, on top and cook covered in a pre-heated oven at 325 degrees for 40 minutes. Remove foil and cook uncovered until the top starts to brown.

Shrimp Ingredients
1 lb large peeled shrimp, uncooked
2 Tbsp fresh Mexican chorizo (or spicy bulk sausage, like Jimmy Dean's)
1/2 cup finely chopped sweet onion
1/4 cup finely chopped scallions (green parts only)
2 Tbsp mustard-based BBQ sauce (such as Carolina Treet's)

Shrimp Directions
1. In a skillet over medium-high heat, sauté the onion and chorizo until thoroughly cooked, approximately 7 minutes. 
2. Add the shrimp and cook until the shrimp turn pink, about 3 minutes. It may not seem like they're totally cooked through but remember they will continue to cook when you remove them from the heat. 3. Remove from the heat and stir in the BBQ sauce and let warm. 
4. Scoop a heaping amount of the cornbread stuffing on 4 plates. Lay a few strips of poblanos over the stuffing on each plate. Spoon the shrimp on top and sprinkle each plate with the scallions. 


  1. I was fortunate to be a participant in this esteemed HRA Alumni Cook-Off and I had to vote for a tie because the two dishes were absolutely delicious. The best part of the evening, however, was the ambience and the company! It was truly a night to remember!

  2. I loved this post. So fun to read and can't wait to try both recipes.