Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Vacation Restaurant Recap - Lowcountry Classics

We recently returned from a quick family jaunt to Hilton Head Island. We all had a really great time and, as usual, I made it a priority to sample everything this very pretty locale has to offer (read: eat all the food possible). 

Southern cooking fascinates me, and it is one cuisine that I don't attempt nearly enough or know as much as I would like about. With deeply rooted and diverse influences and an incredibly rich history, the possibilities are endless. One dish I make consistently is arguably one of the most well-loved Lowcountry staples - Collard Greens. In fact, it was our last trip to South Carolina that inspired me to try perfecting them. 

Collards! Photo: NK 
Read about our first South Carolina visit, and check out our favorite recipe for Collard Greens HERE.

In today's roundup, I'd like to tell you about two standout restaurants that you should visit if you are ever in the Hilton Head Island neck of the woods. They'll be on our list for a return trip for sure.   

Lucky Rooster Kitchen & Bar
What a find! This wonderful spot features lovely, slightly higher-end yet still down to earth ambiance (the island is otherwise pleasantly casual on the whole), and a really fantastic and warm staff. 

The cuisine can be described as modern Southern Food, often with subtly creative twists, or perhaps New American Cuisine with a a Southern flair.   

Now I am surely no Shrimp and Grits expert but their modernized version was DELICIOUS and PERFECT.

Shrimp & Grits get an overhaul at the fantastic Lucky Rooster in Hilton Head, so good! Photo: NK

My mom-in-law enjoyed their outrageously good Fried Chicken, and really the other dishes we had at this charming restaurant were standouts, including the Octopus appetizer and Fried Green Tomatoes served atop Pimiento Cheese (check out our favorite recipe for the latter HERE). 

Fried Green Tomatoes & Pimiento Cheese, Photo: NK
I've been known to enjoy a good cocktail here or there, so I especially savored the Martinez Cocktail that was expertly mixed just for me (a great combo of Gin, Maraschino Cherry Liqueur and Vermouth. All in all it was a great restaurant experience we're glad that we could share. 

Next up,

a more casual and cost-effective yet still delicious option, the charming:

A Lowcountry Backyard 
This super cute restaurant with, you guessed it, a very nice backyard where you'll find the bulk of their seating is a great spot to dine al fresco on traditional Southern food with a few twists. I ordered the special Fried Flounder over Cheesy Grit Cakes and it was to die! 

Special Fried Flounder at A Lowcountry Backyard in Hilton Head, Photo: NK

Combine that with a creative Margarita made with Moonshine and I was a happy gal. 

With a similarly warm waitstaff and some laid back and festive live music in the background, A Lowcountry Backyard turned out to be a great place to enjoy our last night of vacation. Thanks for sharing our our latest restaurant finds. We're making a concerted effort to get out of state more so we hope they'll be lots more restaurant tips to share with you. 

Stay tuned for my attempt at Fried Green Tomatoes coming to the blog soon. Our Southern Cooking inspiration is still going strong!

Monday, September 14, 2015

Meatless Monday - Nut Free Sunflower Seed Pesto

It's that time again - Meatless Monday. This week we challenged ourselves to not only prepare a meat-free dinner, but to make a popular vegetarian pasta preparation nut-free too. Pesto is a great way to use leftover Herbs and Lettuces, and part of what makes Pesto amazing is the addition of Nuts in most, if not all, traditional recipes. That's why it's a risky proposition for the allergic, unless, of course, you make it yourself. 

Campanelle with Nut-Free Sunflower Seed Pesto, Photo: NK 
While you'll normally find Pignoli (aka Pine Nuts) in Pesto, other Nuts like Almonds, Walnuts, and even Pistachios are popular choices these days. This is all well and good, unless you have a nut allergy, as many do, sadly, in rapidly increasing numbers. While the reason behind the statistical spike in food allergies noted over the past few decades is the subject of much scientific debate, we can all agree that everyone should be able to safely enjoy such a popular dish. 

Today's clever nut-free Pesto achieves much of the nutty and herbacious deliciousness you find in the original version, without making it inaccessible to those with nut allergies. The secret ingredient is Sunflower Seeds (just be sure you don't have an allergy to seeds before you try it). 

After some experimentation, I came up with an easy version drawing from a recipe for Nut-Free Arugula Pesto I adapted out of Bon Appetit Magazine,  Although the original recipe recommends soaking the Sunflower Seeds overnight, we prepared ours without doing so and the result was still great. If you have the time and forethought, absolutely soak them. The Seeds have a slightly toothier texture when not soaked, but the food processor you use will ensure that the bits of crunch are very small. I happen to like the texture that we achieved. Soaking the Seeds may also help release some additional flavor, but again, we were very happy with the result of our 10 minute version.

Finally, because I simply can't fathom Pesto without a healthy dose of grated Parmigiana Cheese blended in, our version incorporates it to round out the brightness of the Lemon Juice and Zest, while blending with the aromatic Basil and peppery Arugula. 

Campanelle (pictured above) is an awesome pasta shape for Pesto. The name refers to the pasta's "bell" shape, and the wavy edges capture the Pesto perfectly and evenly. Whatever pasta you choose, I am sure you'll enjoy this nut-free favorite whether or not you're on a special diet. Now let's Mangia! 

Nut-Free Sunflower Seed Arugula Pesto
Serves 4, enough for 1 Pound of Pasta
Adapted from Bon Appetit

Ingredients:  1/4 Cup Raw Shelled Sunflower Seen
1 Cup of Basil, packed (a few sprigs set aside for garnish)
1 Cup of Arugula or Baby Arugula, packed
1 teaspoon freshly grated Lemon Zest
2 teaspoons Lemon Juice
1 small Garlic Clove
1 teaspoon of Honey or Light Agave
1/2 Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/2 Cup Freshly Grated Parmigiana Cheese
2 large pinches of Kosher Salt

Method:  1. Blend all the ingredients together in a a food processor until smooth. 
2. Toss right away with cooked Pasta that is has been boiled in well-salted water. Taste for seasoning and add a little Salt if needed.
3. Serve with extra Parmigiana and a Basil garnish and enjoy! 

Thursday, September 10, 2015

A Simple Seafood Starter - Cilantro Scallops On Tortilla Chips

File today's tasty morsel under appetizers that practically make themselves. 
Marcela Vallodolid's genius Cilantro Scallops recipe begins with a boldly flavored, Latin-inspired marinade that imparts just enough punch to sweet Sea Scallops.

Cilantro Marinated Scallops, Photo: NK 
Our twist: I opted to let the scallops sit, marinating in the fridge, longer than specified (to great results, I might add) and then, following the recipe exactly, seared them on a blazing hot grill for just minutes, before being serving them on a sturdy tortilla chip that lends a homey twist to what is normally an elegant seafood splurge. 

The easy marinade, Photo: NK

Adaptable to a grill or indoor grill pan, why not live it up while those sultry summer nights are still with us? Add an easy main (we went with our favorite Fish Tacos), and you have yourself a fabulous fish feast.

Marinate these Scallops for a few hours to really maximize their flavor. 3 hours was just perfect, and while more is probably not needed, less would be fine too. Make yourself a nice cocktail like our Paloma-rita while you wait.


The easiest of the not-too-sweet margs - the Grapefruit-based Paloma-rita!
Photo: NK