Thursday, September 30, 2010


I love shrimp and grits.  Really.  Never heard of it till we moved to New Bern.  Okay, so I've led a sheltered life.   But I've been redeemed, and now I can't get enough of this Southern specialty.  When we went to Boston at the Bend recently, it was what I ordered, and what disappointed me.  So I dug up a recipe from Southern Living's May 2009 magazine and tweaked it to make it my own.  Southern Living printed three recipes for shrimp and grits from three different restaurants.  I chose the one from Hominy Grill and added scallops, tomatoes and white wine.  The article included a recipe  for Creamy Cheddar Cheese Grits, inspired by Emeril Lagasse.  Instead of milk, I used chicken broth.  I used Monterey Jack cheese with jalapenos for some of the cheddar.  Finally, I got my shrimp and grits, and loved every delicious morsel.  This recipe has wonderful complex flavors.  The grits are super creamy and the shrimp and scallops are in a flavorful sauce.  I had grits left over, so I spooned them into a small baking dish and let them set up in the fridge.  Once they gelled, I cut them into portion-size servings and froze them for future use.  When I want grits, I just take out a package, thaw slightly, and fry it up in a pan.  Southern shrimp and doesn't get much better than this.

Shrimp and Scallops with Cheesy Grits
Adapted from Southern Living Magazine, May 2009
Rating:  9.5 out of 10

Cheesy Creamy Grits 
4 tsp. Smart Balance buttery spread or butter, divided use
3 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1/4 tsp. Louisiana hot sauce
1 small garlic clove, grated
1/2 cup stone-ground polenta (grits)
3-1/2 - 4 oz. cheese (I used 2.5 oz. Monterey Jack with jalapenos + 1 oz. aged white cheddar)
2 Tbsp. heavy cream (optional -- I decided not to add it, because it was creamy without it) 

In a small heavy saucepan, heat 2 tsp. Smart Balance, broth, hot sauce and garlic to a boil over medium-high heat.  Gradually whisk in grits and bring back to boil.  Reduce heat to medium-low; simmer 1-1/2 hours, stirring as needed, or till thickened and creamy.  (Mine took almost 2 hours.)  Stir in remaining 2 tsp. Smart Balance, cheese and cream (if using).  Cover and keep hot till serving time.

Shrimp and Scallops in Tomato-Mushroom Wine Sauce
1 lb. shrimp, peeled, deveined (Of course, I used Carolina shrimp, fresh, but frozen will do)
1/2 lb. bay scallops
1-1/2 Tbsp. flour
2-1/2 thick bacon slices, chopped (I used Applewood smoked uncured)
4 oz. mushrooms, sliced
1 tomato, diced (or about 3/4 cup canned diced tomatoes)
1 garlic clove, minced
3 Tbsp. drinking-quality white wine
Big pinch of sea salt
2-1/2 Tbsp. lemon juice
1/4 cup sliced green onions
1 tsp. Louisiana hot sauce (or your favorite hot sauce)

Toss shrimp and scallops in flour; set aside.  In medium saute pan over medium heat, cook bacon till crisp; drain on paper towels, reserving bacon grease for pan.  Saute mushrooms in same pan in bacon drippings.  When mushrooms are starting to brown, add tomatoes.  Bring to boil, add shrimp & scallops; saute 3 minutes, or till shrimp turn pink.  Add garlic, saute 1 minute.  Stir in wine, salt, lemon juice, green onions and hot sauce.  Serve immediately over grits.  Sprinkle the reserved bacon over the shrimp and grits.  Yield:  4 servings

Saturday, September 18, 2010


Ever since I tasted some of Chef Andy Hopper's winning food at the Taste of Coastal Carolina, I wanted to visit his Morehead City restaurant and get some more.  We finally had the opportunity this week to have lunch  in Morehead City on a day the restaurant was open (Monday).  The outside of the restaurant is landscaped Caribbean style with lush tropical plants.  The inside is spacious  with high ceilings and nice ambiance.
 A good-sized bar is in the dining area.
There are plenty of  tables in the downstairs area, with more upstairs.
You can get to the open-air dining through the main dining area, or from the outside.  The ocean breeze, umbrella-topped tables, water views and Island music brought us both back to St. Lucia, where Guy worked for more than a decade.  We were feeling very nostalgic.
Our server was young, vibrant, enthusiastic and friendly.  Guy ordered the crab cake sandwich ($12.00) and selected onion rings as his side.  The crab cake came on an onion roll with lettuce, tomato and a remoulade sauce on the side.  Guy is somewhat of a crab cake snob and not so easy to please.  He loved the crab cake and said it had no filler.  The sauce had a bit of a zing and went well with the crab.  Amazingly, he was very happy, but I think the Caribbean-type setting had something to do with it.
I ordered the special of the day:  a grouper wrap ($11.00) -- fried grouper with mixed greens, tomato, onion, Swiss and pesto.  I asked them to hold the onion and selected veggies for my side.  The sandwich was wicked good.  This was not a cold wrap.  The tortilla was filled with the hot fish, Swiss cheese, greens and pesto then grilled.  The greens wilted, the cheese melted and the tortilla wrap got just slightly crispy.  The fried fish gave the sandwich a nice crunchy component.  The veggies were served in a ramekin with the broccolini standing up.
So it was a $27.00 lunch plus tip.  We spent almost $24 at Olive Garden the previous week and had a very forgettable meal, so in my book it was worth every penny, and we'll definitely go back.  I visited the ladies room after lunch, then headed out to the open-air dining area, but Guy had gone.  He was across the street, chatting with one of the guys by the boats.  Yes, this restaurant is on my list for a redo.  I want more of Chef Hopper's fabulous food.

Thursday, September 16, 2010


Though I'm not much a fan of chain restaurants, the Olive Garden in Greenville is not bad.  We've been there a few times and had decent meals each time, and good service.  So when we found ourselves in Morehead City recently, we decided to give the new Olive Garden a try.

We are not fans of the Morehead City restaurant.  First off, our table was beset with pesky flies.  When I mentioned it to the server, her comment was, "I don't know why that booth always has flies."  We finally asked if we could have another table.  She made no effort to help us move there.  The new table had no flies and I am wondering why she would let patrons sit in a booth with flies and not offer them another table right from the start.

Our meal started with a salad, served family style.  It was supposedly dressed, but the amount of dressing must have been minimal, because I couldn't taste it.
The warm bread was also nothing special.  No noteworthy flavor or texture.  I passed, because it just wasn't worth the calories.
Guy ordered the chicken parmesan.  A good choice, because it's pretty hard to ruin.  It was run-of-the-mill chicken parm.  The sauce was very forgettable and pretty much tasted like tomatoes out of a can with not much else added.
I ordered the Venetian Apricot Chicken (chicken with an apricot sauce, served with tomatoes, asparagus and broccoli).  I asked for all asparagus, no broccoli.  The chicken was a very small portion and was overcooked, dry and almost hard.  The apricot sauce was just okay.  The asparagus was cooked nicely, then placed on the plate with chopped tomatoes, but there was no seasoning that I could taste, not even salt.  This was the most tasteless, unappetizing lunch I've had in a long time.
I'd like to say that the prices were reasonable at least, but in fact the lunch cost us $23.76 plus tip.  My chicken was $9.95 and Guy's was $9.75.  1 Iced tea was $2.35.  You can bet we won't be going back.  This is one "family" we don't want to be a part of.

Sunday, September 12, 2010


Pia's of New Bern was my favorite restaurant until it closed in August.  How excited were we when Chef Pia invited my hubby and me to dine at her Washington restaurant as her guests.  After multiple disappointments with New Bern restaurants, we couldn't wait to have some more of Pia's quality New American cuisine with a Mediterranean flair.  The easy 40-minute drive from New Bern is a no-brainer.  Just follow Route 17 North.  A bypass is almost completed around Washington, so you have to make a left onto Business 17 to get onto Main Street, where the restaurant is.  A bright green sign on the left side of the street alerts you to the exact location.  

Chef Pia and her hubby, Van, greeted us warmly when we arrived.  Van manages the restaurant and does a superb job of ensuring that customers are well taken care of.  
The Washington restaurant is quite a bit larger than the New Bern location was.  The upstairs can be reserved for parties and the downstairs is split into a dining area and the bar.  The bar is quite large.
Chef Pia introduced us to Chef Brandon, who is in charge of the kitchen operations and is responsible for all the wonderful food that comes out.  He brought us the most wonderful appetizer:  Seared Ahi Tuna and Edamame Hummus served with spicy cucumber wasabi vinaigrette, pickled ginger and Nori seaweed salad.
(The dish was beautifully presented, but I'll take two of the presenter please.  Would you like to have him cook for you?)   Though my sister has raved about edamame for years, I must confess I had yet to taste it, but I was an immediate convert.  This is another of Pia's recipes I will be trying to duplicate at home.  And my adventure-averse hubby who hates trying new things, gobbled up the edamame and loved it.  Forgive me, Pia, but I must publish another photo of that gorgeous chef.  Just look at that cute smile.
Our salads came with the wonderful  champagne vinaigrette that we have both fallen in love with.
Pia ordered a tray of Mediterranean appetizers consisting of marinated Greek olives, Tzatziki, Baba Ghanouz, Feta, tomatoes and onions.  Warm pita slices were the serving vehicle for these tasty tidbits and again, we enjoyed it all.  It was the first time either of us had tasted Baba Ghanouz, a roasted smashed eggplant mixed with Tahini.  Ditto for the tzatziki (a cucumber-Greek yogurt dip).  Two more recipes to duplicate in my home kitchen.  I guess I'm going to be busy.
We were all filled up on appetizers when our main courses arrived, but we made a valiant effort to eat some more delicious food.  Guy ordered Veal Romano (Van's favorite).  It quickly became Guy's favorite, too.  A breaded veal cutlet is fried till crispy, then topped with chianti tomato sauce, aged provolone and grated Romano, baked in the oven and served with pasta, then finished with fresh herbs.  The veal portion was quite large, and more than half of  it came home with us for another dinner.
I couldn't resist the Maine Lobster and Butternut Squash Ravioli.  Poached Maine Lobster claw meat is sauteed in sage butter, then served over butternut squash ravioli and wilted arugula.  I'm drooling as I type this, because the dish was so divine, I felt that I had gone to heaven.  I can't wait to finish eating it today.
Although I had every intention of ordering some of Pia's wonderful baklava, I was just too full for dessert.
And speaking of being full, as we left the restaurant, I couldn't help but notice how many people had gradually filled the dining room.  Amazingly, the noise levels were quite comfortable.  Pia explained that she purposely decorated the walls with shaggy rug pieces to absorb sound.  Quite clever.
After spending a delightful evening with Pia, we said our goodbyes.  My hubby and I drove back to New Bern and started planning for our next dinner there.

You can spend less at other restaurants and get a sub-par meal that won't leave you satisfied.  Or you can pay the very reasonable prices at Chef Pia's for quality, exquisitely prepared meals that you won't soon forget. The choice is yours.  Pia's of Washington is located at 156 West Main Street, Washington, NC.  Phone 252-940-0600 for reservations or information.  Menus, prices and hours are available at Chef Pia's website.