southern yankee.

I was born in Bridgeport, Connecticut and lived there ‘til I was nine.  But, I did most of my growing up in Jersey.  That’s right.  South Jersey, outside of Philadelphia- not to be confused with North Jersey.  They’re like two totally different states.  I have an incredible amount of Jersey pride, as only one from the often-abused state can possess.  I lived in Medford, which is right between the ocean and the city.  On the way to the ocean from the pine barrens, you pass through cranberry country, blueberry bogs, and tons of fields and roadside produce stands with the most beautiful corn and tomatoes you have ever seen or tasted.  When Adam and I were up at home last summer, we actually ate an ear of corn straight out of the husk offered to us by the produce stand owner.  If Adam hadn’t literally pulled the corn out of the man’s hands, we would have totally assumed that it had been cooked.  So juicy, sweet, tender, and perfect.  Ahh, the jewels of New Jersey.

Somehow, I had always fancied myself a southerner.  I envisioned friendly folks, kinder ways, a slower pace, and warmer temperatures.  It seemed only natural for me to go to college in Virginia. Though I saw more snow in the Shenandoah Valley than I ever had before or have since, Virginia was the gateway to my sweet, southern grown-up life.  Spoiled by the amazing mountains and countless opportunities to hike, camp, and swim in nature, I stayed in Harrisonburg for 6 whole years.  I have never lived above the Mason-Dixon line since that first scary day on James Madison’s beautiful campus.

I’ve been in Atlanta now for almost 12 years- down South for almost 18 years.  Although, my accent still has traces of the Northeast, I am a for real Southerner now.  I have come to LOVE southern cooking, especially the likes of fried chicken, collard greens, corn bread, barbeque, black eyed peas (all kinds of peas, really), country fried steak, red beans and rice, fried okra, and shrimp and grits.  Traditionally, it’s not the healthiest food on the planet, but southern cuisine can be tweaked to provide that soul-satisfying feeling without the guilt- or at least too much of it.

Part of the beauty of being me, is that I learned volumes about food in the Northeast from my mom and my grandmothers.  My education kicked into high gear once I came down South and experienced soul food.  I embrace and celebrate the culture and cuisine of both regions, for sure.

In our house, shrimp and grits is a staple, especially in the winter time.  While planning our menu this week, we discovered we had about 5 shrimp left in our freezer.  (Storing meats and seafood in your freezer can really help you midweek.  Just let your frozen foods defrost on their own in a bowl on the counter or in your fridge.)  So, we decided to cook a Cajun style shrimp and grits and feature salami as a second protein to round out the dish.  In true bacon fashion, Adam tore up some of that salty salami and got it into the pan.  I figured it would give off a bit of fat to cook the veggies and make a perfect crunchy garnish to top off the dish.

Then, we got our stone ground grits into the pot.  Milk, water, garlic, and butter = simple, creamy, and delicious.  Grits are not just for breakfast, my friends.

Next, we sauteed our veggies, added tomatoes and fresh herbs, and Cajun seasonings.

After letting the pot cook down a while, we added our shrimp, which cooks in a matter of minutes.

And then we scooped our grits into our bowls and ladeled on shrimp and cajun- style tomato sauce.

Lastly, we topped it all with some of those crispy pieces of salami.  Salami candy?  Uh oh, I’m sensing a theme here…

Warm and tasty, a meal like this translates incredibly well to a step-by-step recipe that I can share with my clients.  I love hearing feedback from those who have followed one of my recipes and amazed themselves with the flavor and presentation of the dish.  Knowing that my client has leftover grits in their pantry just gives me a place to start planning their menu for the following week or the week after.  My job is to incorporate their ingredients in a variety of ways, presenting new flair and new flavors each week.  Mmmhm.  Perks of my job?  Experimentation in my kitchen!  Yahoooo!

Tap into your inner southern self this week or tap into your own regional cooking style.  Share your meal with friends and family.  Enjoy every bite!

Y’all come back now, ya hear?

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