Sunday, November 18, 2018

Not Your Mama's Chili

My husband and I just came back from a week long vacation to California (stay tuned for our adventures!). It was AMAZING.  So much good food and we ate our little hearts out.  Today I didn't want anything too heavy but really felt like cooking something.  It's almost Thanksgiving, and sweet potatoes were $0.39/lb at the store yesterday, so I bought a bunch.  No plans for them, but couldn't not pass up that price.  I know chili is not the first or second or 15th thing anyone thinks about when pondering "what the heck do I do with all of these sweet potatoes???" but for me it's at the top of the list.  I've made this chili several times and love it.  It's not your mama's chili for sure but worth a try!  It may become one of your favorites too. 

This is the first time I made it without meat, and used cooked quinoa for some protein instead.  Turned out great!  Feel free to top it with whatever you like, I'm a big cheddar-cheese-on-my-chili kind of gal, but you can skip the cheese, add some cilantro, fresh jalapeno, sour cream (a condiment I think is actually pretty gross but understand many people enjoy it, especially on chili), or whatever you feel like!

Not Your Mama's Chili

  • 1 lb ground beef, browned and drained of grease, or any meat of your choosing OR 1.5 cups cooked quinoa (I make my quinoa with stock to give it more flavor, use a 1:2 ratio of quinoa to liquid. Rinse quinoa first, combine with liquid, bring to boil, reduce to simmer and cook covered for 15 minutes until liquid is absorbed)
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 1 jalapeno, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 can fire roasted tomatoes, undrained
  • 2 cups dices tomatoes, drained
  • 1 tomato, chopped
  • 1 and 1/2 cups chicken stock (or vegetable stock if making vegetarian)
  • 1 can dark red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • 2 small sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped
  • 1.5 Tbsp cumin
  • 1.5 Tbsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp chipotle chili powder
  • 1 tsp mustard powder or whole grain mustard
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp freshly ground pepper
  • 2 tsp salt (or to your taste)
  • Shredded sharp cheddar for topping
  1. Place a large pot on medium low, and drizzle with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil.  When hot, saute the onion, garlic, and jalapeno for 3 minutes. 
  2. Add all other ingredients to the pot, and bring to a boil.  
  3. Reduce heat to simmer, and cook covered for 30 minutes, or until the sweet potatoes are tender and too your liking.  
  4. Top with shredded cheddar, serve with crackers. 
  5. Enjoy! 
FYI It's ok to use more cheese than I show here. I actually added more after I took this picture, because, well, I love cheese. 

Recipe is inspired by Sweet Fire Chili from Pretty Little Apron.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Browned Butter Shrimp and Grits featuring Sumter County Shrimp

Doesn't this look delicious? Well, it was.  I give the credit to the fresh shrimp from Sumter County Shrimp! These puppies were alive this past Thursday morning going about their shrimp-y business.  Harvested Thursday, into my possession via cooler Friday, cleaned and cooked Saturday.   Hard to get any fresher than that folks.  I've blogged about these shrimp before (last year). This is their 2nd year of harvest and I'm a huge fan!  I made this same recipe last year, with super fresh Sumter County Shrimp, and used the photo for my blog header, check it out! ⬆⬆

Here is a link to their page - Sumter County Shrimp, if you are in Alabama reading this you should totally make the trek to their farm in Bellamy, to Tuscaloosa, or Birmingham to get them! More details on their site, on sale through the first weekend in November.  Pics from my first batch are below. 

On to the recipe.  There are a MILLION shrimp and grits recipes.   Researching the "traditional" low country method, the consensus is a simple approach.  Shrimp simply cooked in fat over morning "grits" that were common back in the day for breakfast.  That's right, this started out as a breakfast dish (Breakfast is the best, am I right?).  It's evolved over the years and now seems to be on every gourmet chef's menu across the Southeast and beyond.  I've made a more cajun version with andouille sausage, peppers, and onions, and it's great, but keep going back to this version.  The simplicity really lets the shrimp shine when using good quality shrimp like I am doing here.  

For the Grits, I used smoked gouda, freshly shredded (the food processor attachment I have is my most used kitchen tool hands down), and stone ground grits.  You can use instant or quick-cooking grits, but should seriously give the stone ground ones a try.   If you aren't using stone ground, check the type and use the appropriate grit to liquid ratio.  If you start cooking these before you do anything else, they will be done when the shrimp are done if you are going to be peeling and maybe de-heading a bunch of shrimp.   For some extra shrimpiness, use shrimp stock vs water or chicken stock to cook your grits.  I made a huge batch of shrimp stock with the heads and shells of last years harvest, froze it in 2 cup increments.  You can make a quick stock with heads and shells in 15 mins, or go all out and throw in veggies and seasonings and let it simmer a couple of hours.  

Stone Ground Grits

4 cups water or stock of your choice
1 cup stone ground grits
8 ounces gouda cheese, freshly grated
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated black pepper

1 cup whole milk or half and half


  1. Bring the stock to a boil, then turn down the heat to low (to prevent scorching your grits).
  2. Add the grits and stir for a minute or two, don't want to burn the grits on the bottom.
  3. Cover, let simmer for 15-20 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes or so. 
  4. Add butter and milk.  Bring back up to a simmer stirring constantly.  Let simmer again for 20-25 minutes.  
  5. Add salt and pepper, stir. 
  6. Remove from heat and add in cheese, stir, and cover to keep warm and help melt the cheese.  Set aside. 


1.5 lbs pound raw peeled shrimp
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated black pepper
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/4 teaspoon chipotle chili powder
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
2 tablespoons freshly snipped chives

2 ears grilled sweet corn, cut from the cob


  1. Pat the shrimp completely dry with paper towels and place in a large bowl.  
  2. Mix together your seasonings starting with salt through cumin. 
  3. Pour the seasonings over the shrimp and mix until evenly coated.  
  4. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat and add the butter. 
  5. Once it’s melted and begins to sizzle, add the shrimp in batches (don’t overcrowd it!) and cook on both sides until pink.  This will only take a minutes or so per side.  I've found once I get them all in the pan, it's time to turn the first ones. The butter will brown as the shrimp cooks and you can whisk it occasionally to prevent it from burning. 
  6. When the shrimp is finished, remove them all to a plate. 
  7. Stir in the garlic into the melted butter and cook for 10-15 seconds, don't burn the garlic. Remove pan from the heat.   You will drizzle this over the shrimp. 
  8. To serve: Ladle the grits on a plate or bowl.  Put the shrimp on top.  Drizzle the garlic browned butter over the shrimp.  Sprinkle grilled corn and chives over the top. Eat! 

I had a helper this time cooking the shrimp and she did great.  You want to cook them in an even layer, not crowding them, in multiple batches. Don't overcook them!   

TIP: So how do you know if you've overcooked them?  I found this helpful - If they look like a "C" they are cooked.  If they curl up into a concentric "O" with top and bottom overlapping, they are Overcooked.  C = cooked.  O = overcooked.  They will keep cooking slightly too when taken off the heat, so keep that in mind.  

Side item suggestion - Balsamic mushrooms.  My husband suggested to add some acidity to balance out the rich grits.  Great idea by him.  Saute some sliced mushrooms, drizzle with a couple tablespoons balsamic vinegar and white wine.  Continue to saute' for a couple of minutes, then remove with a slotted spoon from the liquid.   

Crusty bread is great too! We slice ours, drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper, and brown in the oven at 450 for 3 mins or so, until just starting to brown.  

Happy cooking!  

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Greek Chicken Sheet Pan Dinner

I love Greek food.  It just generally tastes awesome.  There is no such thing as too much feta either.  NO SUCH THING.  I do NOT like olives, which can be a problem in Greek recipes and dishes, but they are usually pretty easy to find and pick out or just omit.   I am home-made tzatziki sauce challenged, so love the stuff from pretty much every Greek restaurant I've ever been too.   Oh and pita bread, can't beat the fresh stuff from a restaurant.  I have tried and have been pretty successful at making pita bread at home, but it's a lot of work. So let's be honest that doesn't happen all that often.  So other than pita and tzatziki, I'm a fan of making Greek food at home and generally eating Greek food all the time.

This recipe is super easy, which is why I want to share it, because it is insanely easy.  There is a little bit of rough chopping, some stirring, but mostly just waiting for it to cook.  Everything cooks on one pan = easy clean up.  And it is really tasty. 

If you are an olive fan, sprinkle  chopped or sliced olives on at the end when you sprinkle the feta.  I've made this with both chicken breasts and thighs, and either works great! I'm usually a fan of thighs because they are less likely to dry out, and have a little more inherent flavor.  But it's totally up to you! Photo above is a previous time I've made this using thighs, photo below is with chicken breasts.  Also I've thrown on small tomatoes, like grape tomatoes, and they roast up nicely and add a little extra something to the dish.  Not required though.

The marinade 

Ready for the marinade, coat everything well and mix.  Aren't all the colors pretty! 
 Tip: The best way to make sure everything is coated with the marinade is to use your hands.  Really. just drizzle the marinade over everything, then toss around with your hands to get a good coating on everything.  You can wash your hands as long as you want afterwards since EEK you touched raw chicken.  That is what soap is for people!

Time to eat! 

Side salad and some bread = done! 

Greek Chicken Sheet Pan Dinner


      • 3 tablespoons olive oil
      • 2 tablespoons lemon juice, fresh
      • 4 garlic cloves, minced
      • 1/2 teaspoon salt
      • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
      • 2 teaspoons paprika
      • 2 teaspoons oregano, dried or 1 tablespoon fresh

    For Veggies and Chicken
      • 4 whole chicken breasts, skinless and boneless, or 8 chicken thighs, skinless and boneless
      • 2 red peppers, sliced thick
      • 1 red onion, cut into 8 wedges
      • 8 whole garlic cloves, peeled but not smashed, kept whole
      • 1 pound baby mixed color potatoes, skin on, quartered
      • 1/4 cup crumbled Feta
      • whole lemon cut into thick slices or wedges (I use the one squeezed for the marinade)

    1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees
    2. Combine all marinade ingredients in small bowl.
    3. Place sliced veggies on large sheet pan.
    4. Place Chicken in and around the vegetables. Everything should generally be in one layer on the pan. 
    5. Pour marinade all over veggies and rub onto the chicken.
    6. Arrange mixture evenly, and nestle sliced lemons around sheet pan.
    7. Place in oven and roast for 30-35  minute or until veggies are slightly brown and chicken is done all the way through.   
    8. Sprinkle with crumbled feta. 
    9. Eat! 

    Adapted from Laughing Spatula - awesome source for healthy quick and easy recipes! 

    Saturday, September 29, 2018

    A San Francisco Treat!

    My husband and I went to the San Francisco Bay area the last week of July of this year.  Read about our adventures and eats during the first half of our trip here - Silicon Valley Eats and Treats.  Now I'll pick up when we get to the City by the Bay.....

    Skyline on our drive up from Silicon Valley
    We have been to San Fran once before together back in 2010, and I also have been with my family when I was around 20.  So we tried to do things and see parts of the city we hadn't before, and then also go by the spots worth seeing again (the sea lions! Golden Gate Bridge!).   Our hotel was near Union Square, so we set out to walk to North Beach and end down at the Embarcadero near the Pier 39 sea lions.  The main street we walked on was Columbus Avenue, veering on and off in North Beach to check out some cool Italian eateries, stopped for coffee, visited a park, and caught some great views of Coit Tower.

    Cool building in Financial District

    TransAmerica Building

    City Lights Bookstore - Beatniks, Dylan, and all that. 
    Video Time - Made it down to Pier 39 - can't get enough of these guys! Nice views of the Bay and City too, so was a good place to hang out!  

    Cue Otis Redding singing "Sittin' on the dock of the Bay, watching the tide roll away....."

    The Rock. (said in my terrible Sean Connery voice).

    Time for dinner.  We head over to the Mission District for some tacos at La Taqueria.  This place has won tons of accolades, is cash only, was crowded, and the food was spot on!  Excellent choice! 

    You order at the counter and get to watch them make the food while you wait!

    This guy had some mad steak chopping skills

    Our Dinner!  Messy = yes.  Did we care = no. 
    After dinner we walked to another area still considered the "Mission District" but a few streets over and what seemed like a world away (Mission Street itself is not the greatest area in the world to be walking around, FYI).   If you are keeping score at home, we walked from La Taqueria on Mission Street West to Valencia Street, then headed North to what seemed like a pretty hip area.  

    Valencia Street, I liked the purple row house. 
    Nothing like walking to work up an appetite for ice cream!  Not just any ice cream, but Smitten Ice Cream, made to order using liquid nitrogen.  The nerd inside me freaked out, so yes we had to stop.  Plus it's ice cream. Who can resist.

    "Dough My Goodness" Sundae

    "Hot Stuff" Sundae with the record for most whipped cream on a sundae!
    My only critique of Smitten Ice Cream shop are the spoons.  I mean seriously could they have been any smaller?  Zac's opinion was the smaller the spoon, the more expensive the ice cream.....

    And that my friends was the end of our first day in San Fran.  We walked around some more and then Uber'd to the hotel so we can rest for a full day of adventures on Saturday!  Stay tuned for the best Baseball Stadium food in the US (seriously, the choices are insane),  me eating figs on the street, and signs of hobbits living near the Golden Gate Bridge.....

    Sunday, August 26, 2018

    Silicon Valley Eats and Treats

    The last week of July we took a trip to the San Francisco Bay Area.  Zac was speaking at a conference, and it was perfect timing for me at work, so we made a vacation out of it.  His conference was in Redwood City, in the Silicon Valley area south of San Francisco.  So we camped out south of SF for the first few days, an area we had both never been to before.  This post is part 1 of 2 about our trip, focused on the good eats and treats we had south of the Golden Gate City. 

    For this trip we kept the planning to a minimum, took the "lets just play it by ear and see how we feel" approach.  We often make reservations for hard to get into places months in advance, but not this time.  The do what we feel like approach worked out great, lots of good fun and fun!  

    Drive to Half Moon Bay from Silicon Valley area
    We landed mid afternoon Pacific Time, and headed over to Half Moon Bay, a small town on the Pacific Ocean, just across the hills that separate Silicon Valley and the Pacific Ocean.  I was so excited to see the ocean.  Something about water is very relaxing, right?  We explored the area a bit, saw the ocean (yay!), and by 5pm local time were starving since our stomachs thought it was 7pm (by our I mean me, I was starving).  We ate dinner at Pasta Moon, a local favorite specializing in homemade pasta and fresh local seafood.   Even at the early hour we ate we had to eat at the Chef's table/bar it was so crowded/booked up for the night.   It did not disappoint.  

    Fritto Miso with Monterey Bay calamari, rock shrimp

    This guy was tasty!  

    Classic Margherita Pizza

    Eggplant Parmesan (Zac's dish)

    Special of the day with Seared Sea Scallops (my dish).  I can't resist scallops! 
    Full as clams, we ventured back to the hotel, about a 30 minute drive. It was still very much daylight, and on our way back over the mountains/hills between the Ocean and Valley, we caught the Marine Layer making it's daily journey from the sea inland.  This was absolutely stunning to see, the picture below doesn't do it justice.  It was very foggy down by the ocean, then as we drove up up up it was like driving into the clouds, and then just like that we emerged into the sunlight, but could see the clouds, or "marine layer" rushing up over the crest of the mountains.  It was awesome.  At this point I did not yet know the term "marine layer", but after we got back to the hotel, because I'm a total geek and wanted to learn more about what I just witnessed, I googled "San Francisco fog" and quickly got up to speed.  We all know the area is famous for the fog, but if you are really interested in this phenomenon, (I'll talk more about it again I'm sure), here's the Wikipedia link.

    Thursday was our first full day.  We were up early, still adjusting to Pacific Time, plus Zac had a couple work related things to take care of (Pacific time is the worst when your client/work world is on Central and Eastern time by the way).  So I ventured out on my own for a bit.  My main goal was to visit this very cool redwood tree we saw on the way to Half Moon Bay the afternoon before, that didn't seem too far away, and it wasn't.   It's in the parking lot of a local girls private high school.  After a few takes using the timer function on my phone (balanced on the hood of our rental), I was able to get this shot of me and "the tree".  I'll admit the first couple didn't work out, and by this take I was a bit winded from running back and forth =).   

    Tree hugging

    Donuts sounded good after all that running around, so stopped at a local donut joint in Belmont, CA.  Chuck's Donuts will be getting an excellent Yelp review from me let me tell you.  

    Bavarian custard filled.  LOTS of custard. 

    Now to really start our day.  Our wish list was long, not sure we'd get to all of it, but this is what we wanted to do:  walk around Stanford University, visit Google HQ, take-in the hip areas of Palo Alto, see Facebook, and check out Mountain View.  Sorry Apple, while I depend on you ALOT, your HQ is rumored to be not very inviting, so we left Apple off the list.  Plus it was quite the trek down to Cupertino from everywhere else on our list.     

    First stop was Stanford, and on the way we picked up In-N-Out to have a picnic lunch on campus.   

    Couldn't visit California without eating an In-N-Out burger

    Memorial Church in the center of campus.  Nice stained glass and ornate mosaics.  Very old. 

    Center and older part of campus

    Small redwoods on Stanford's campus. I was a bit obsessed with the redwoods. 
    My great-grandfather went to Stanford over a hundred years ago, studied Physics.  He came over from Japan for grad school in the US.   After finishing his studies, going back to Japan and getting married, he came to the US permanently.  It was very surreal for me to be on the campus, looking at the Chemistry building built in 1900 and thinking, wow he was here when that was brand new, and probably took classes there.  Of all the things we did on our trip, going to Stanford and walking in his footsteps was one of my favorite things we did.  

    Next stop was Google, which does not exactly encourage visitors but does not discourage them either (I'm sure we parked in an employee only parking space).  There were tours going on, but the interesting things were to see all the "fun" stuff the employees could do outside.  There was a lap pool, that kind that has a pump to simulate moving water but you are still.  Beach volleyball.  Lots of lounge chairs.  Outdoor dining and coffee bar areas.  A replica Tyrannosaur for some reason.   Lots of plants. 

    One of many buildings

    Beach Volleyball

    I love dinosaurs.  Guess other nerds do too. 
    Zac's presentation was that evening during dinner time, so we had a late afternoon meal, then planned to venture out again after he's done for some dessert or 2nd dinner, whatever strikes us. We head over to Mountain View, which has lots of restaurants, shops, bars, etc to walk around and take it all in.  We didn't stop at this ice cream/bakery, but i enjoyed this sign in the window.  

    We landed on eating at Crepevine, a family owned restaurant with a dozen or so locations around the entire Bay area.  Have I ever mentioned I LOVE crepes?  I do indeed.  An entire restaurant devoted to crepes?  Yes please. I opted for sweet crepes (surprise surprise), Zac got savory. 

    Santorini - Coconut, mascarpone, cinnamon, brown sugar, walnuts and pistachios

    "The San Francisco", of course. Salmon, capers, red onions, spinach, Dijon and dill havarti.

    Zac is awesome at his job.  Really, I'm not just saying that because I'm his wife.  The plan was he would give his presentation, should last about an hour he thought including Q&A, then he'd come back up to the room and we'd go adventuring again.  Well, 2.5 hours later, he texts he can't get away from all his fans and people wanting to talk to him, I'm tired, so I decide i'll hit the sack.  Not 30 seconds after I turn out the lights, he arrives.  I bolt up, he's like, so what's the plan, where are we going, and why are you in bed???  The evening is just beginning.  So, out we go.   

    We didn't have time earlier to go to the happening area of Palo Alto, or to Facebook HQ.   It was getting a bit late, but Palo Alto is a college town after all so surely things would be open (the area we went is right next to Stanford).  We went to Cream, dessert place that specializes in ice cream sandwiches of the gourmet variety - you can use brownies, "cronuts" or cookies for your "base", then choose from a large variety of ice cream flavors to put in the middle.  And milk shakes and other ice cream related confections are offered too.   Zac got a milkshake, and I got a chocolate salted caramel themed sandwich.  They hit the spot! 

    No idea why these guys have all this luggage, but I liked the sign. 
    Last but not least, Facebook.  It's after 10pm local time when we get there, but it's lit up enough so we get a feel for the place. The main compound was very large, and could see construction around with expansions in the future it seems. The road that circles Facebook is called "Hacker Way".....interesting.  This is a picture of the only sign on the premises, greats you at the main entrance.  

    Friday morning I had some more time on my own to explore while Zac wrapped up his work business.  I wanted to drive up Highway 1 for a while -  it literally is right along the Pacific Coast = MORE OCEAN VIEWS.  I went back over to Half Moon Bay (there are very few places to cross the hills/mountains), and picked up Hwy 1 there, and headed north.  

    I stopped at a few spots, all beautiful, but Montara State Beach was breathtaking.  

    Entire field of these flowers, ocean in the background

    I'm WAY up on a cliff.

    Now my back is to the cliff.  Smart. 
    Watch for some relaxing wave sounds!

    I did not want to leave the coast!  It was almost hypnotizing to listen to the waves crashing against the rocks.  Beautiful place!! But, my other half awaits, and I planned to bring lunch back with me.  One food "celebrity" that I follow is J. Kenji L√≥pez-Alt, who recently won a James Beard Award for best cookbook The Food Lab.  He writes for Serious Eats website.  He's very much into learning about where science meets food.  Good stuff.  He opened his first restaurant recently in San Mateo, CA, and guess what, I was about to drive right through there!  The restaurant is Wursthall, a German food and beer hall.   I got everything to-go and got to the hotel just in time for checkout.  

    Deviled pastured egg, Aleppo pepper, dill, mustard

    Their signature Chicken Schnitzel Sandwich, potato salad

    Wild Boar Wurst

    We ate our very tasty German food leisurely by the pool at the hotel, then said goodbye to Silicon Valley.  Off to the Golden Gate City!  

    Tune in for my next post on more eats and adventures in San Francisco!