Orchid Hangs Tough in The Next Food Network Star Round 2!

The next installment of The Next Food Network Star took a decidedly dramatic turn for our girl Orchid. After dominating the first show, Orchid basically grew a target on her back –with one fellow contestant, Penny, ready to take her out as the front-runner. This episode was a surprise double-elimination (actually not that surprising since they have so many contestants this season) starting with a pizza challenge. And oh yes, this challenge included an on-the–fly presentation with each contestant explaining on camera how their pizza creation showcases their “culinary point of view.” Needless to say, several contestants had their tongues twisted or were so walloped with stage fright they froze on camera. Orchid was not one of them however, and she did well, but poor Juba was sent packing. Orchid’s pizza – a deep dish pie with chicken, spinach, mozzarella and BBQ sauce passed muster with the fussy judges.

After the pizza pallooza, which Penny won with an interesting Middle Eastern pie, the setup was complete for the “Star Challenge” pitting the would-be culinary luminaries against each other to recreate accessible renditions of three fancy fine-dining dishes for the home cook. The three recipes included a braised short rib, an abalone & caviar concoction and a pork belly dish.

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A Lowcountry Star is Born …well, maybe!

Last evening the 7th season of the Next Food Network Star television series introduced the world to local Hilton Head Island restaurateur and chef Orchid Paulmeier. Orchid is the owner of One Hot Mamas barbeque restaurant on the Island (part of the SERG Group along with WiseGuys, Skull Creek Boathouse and Black Marlin Bayside Grill). Orchid wowed the judges with her cooking acumen in just one night.

And Orchid, it seems, is not only an excellent chef but also has natural charisma appearing totally at home in front of the camera. Even Judge Bob Tuschman (Food Network General Manager) told her, “You have a real radiance toward the camera.” So between last night’s performance and the fact that right now Orchid is dominating the Fan Favorite voting (with a whopping 43% at the time of this post) I would say that Orchid is the early favorite!

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Seafood Shoppers, Start your Engines!

Wipe the dust from the hammock, the sprinkler and the Mixmaster blender. Pack away those turtlenecks and break out the flip-flops…’cause it’s summer in Hilton Head Island! With the last ring of the school bell and the ghastly cold of winter only a lingering memory, families in the know head for relaxation and adventure in the Lowcountry. Mixed in with bike rides, beachcombing and maybe some golf or tennis, these same folks know they will be in for some delectable dining while they visit the Island. Just read any of my previous blog posts for examples!

And for those who love to cook for themselves, it can be a superb opportunity to prepare some of the best seafood in the world. And I am not exaggerating when I state: IN THE WORLD. With the summer shrimp season just starting and local game fish like Cobia, Grouper, Mahi Mahi and Swordfish running strong you will not find better quality local fish anywhere. For an authentic experience I can recommend a couple of seafood markets that specialize in purveying local, in-season seafood. Today I am featuring Island landmark Benny Hudson Seafood that is located on the north-end of the Island just off the docks of Skull Creek. With the Hudson family being involved in the seafood business since the 1890’s and now with four generations working together under the same roof, you cannot get much more “authentic”! And after speaking recently with Tonya Hudson, owner, you cannot get much more genuine, enthusiastic or knowledgeable about the local seafood scene.

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Shake the Hand that Feeds You: Bear Island Farm

While my recent ruminations on Hilton Head Island farmers, farmers markets and eating local and in-season have been playing out here in my blog, I now find summer knocking on the door. This started me thinking of summer’s past when, in between beach weekends spent along the coast, my days consisted of doing chores around the house and garden and hanging out with my childhood best friend Nancy. Nancy and I shared a lot of similarities: we lived within about 1 mile of each other, we attended the same church and the same school, and we both had 3 older sisters and 1 younger brother – both of whom drove us crazy as we entered our preteen years – as younger brothers tend to do. However, as close as we were (and our families too), the big difference between us was that Nancy’s family were farmers. Sure we had a vegetable garden, my Mother ‘put up’ all manner of vegetables, fruits and the like every year and we even raised quail once, but Nancy’s family were honest to goodness farmers – growing soy beans, corn and hay. This was their sole livelihood.

At the time I did not truly understand what this meant. I just knew that Nancy’s Dad went to work really early in morning, they ate their big meal at dinner (rural southerner’s call lunch ‘dinner’) and once I was old enough I’d get to ride in the huge green tractor with wheels as tall as a house that they called a combine. Looking back I now realize how hard farming must have been, both physically challenging and mentally stressful as Mother Nature is not one to be second-guessed, even for the most well-prepared and seasoned farmer. So I find myself a little perplexed but at the same time in awe of those hearty souls with the fortitude to venture into farming.

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Table to Farm Recycling Catches on in Hilton Head Island!

After spending several days in the Lowcountry with my mother (who is 81 years young by the way) last week, many memories resurfaced from earlier days. My siblings and I all consider my Mom the “original recycler” and now that being green is in vogue (and I write about sustainability) the irony of this does not escape me. The basis for most of mother’s “recycling” efforts grew from growing up just after the Great Depression and subsequent World War II years. Now that I am an adult (and a middle age adult at that) I understand the reasons and even feel proud she is so adamant in her conserving ways. However, I still remember grabbing and quickly stashing all the used and drying Ziploc bags hanging over the kitchen sink whenever I had my teenage friends over after school. And being embarrassed about the 50-gallon trashcan filled with used soda cans outside the kitchen door. And although we never had a bona fide composter, all our produce scraps went outside into the backyard garden where they were plowed into the soiled in the spring and fall.

As I related this story to my husband on our drive back from Hilton Head Island, he said, “Your Mom was ahead of her time, who knew that that being frugal would become so trendy?” I chuckled and thought of a favorite quote, “Trendy is emulating your children while they emulate your parents” (Bill Greenwell). So I suppose my daughter will be a third generation “recycler,” she already helps me wash out bottles and cans before they go into the recycling bin. Time to get that compost bin started too.

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Lowcountry Flavor is Fresh on the Menu at Skull Creek Boathouse

Just back from a wonderful visit to the South Carolina Lowcountry! We cruised on down to Hilton Head Island and Bluffton stopping in at several farm stands and farmers markets during our stay. We ate like kings via the bounty of the sea and the land: softshell crabs sautéed in butter and lemon after being soaked in sweet milk; fresh local, organic blackberries served with a swirl of local honey; homemade coq au vin (chicken cooked in wine) prepared by my sister using local poultry and herbs from her garden; and calabash-style shrimp hand-breaded by my Mom. This last dish is a tradition in my family and no beach vacation would ever be complete without hot fried shrimp piled high, served family style with hushpuppies, crispy coleslaw and sweet iced tea, out on the screened porch.

Oh and we also caught a pot full of magnificent blue crabs – steamed them up, threw them out onto the newspaper-covered table, melted some butter and voilà crab-fest was on! It took about 5 seconds for my 3-year-old to realize that the Cerulean blue crabs we caught on the dock a couple of hours earlier were now fire-engine red and our dinner. It took her about 2 more seconds to get her Dad picking out her crab and then 1 additional second to plead for more – a Lowcountry girl through and through.

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Relaxed, Island-Inspired Cuisine is Fresh on the Menu at Marley’s Island Grille

Oh, to live the Island life! I was lucky enough to do this for many years and while there are countless islands in the world to choose from – Long Island, Greek Islands, Hawaiian Islands, The Island of Dr. Moreau (just checking to see if you’re paying attention!) there is no place I’d rather be than Hilton Head Island. Seasoned Hilton Head Island visitors and locals alike share a secret – that you can actually get a taste of many island destinations right here in Hilton Head Island. There are over 200 restaurants located in the area serving almost every type of cuisine – even one specializing in Caribbean/tropical cuisine, Marley’s Island Grille. I confess it is one of my very favorites in Hilton Head Island not only because of the exceptionally flavorful food but also for the wonderful drinks and relaxed atmosphere. I’ve never eaten at the famed Trader Vic’s but I could only hope that if I did, an evening there would be half as much fun as one spent with friends at Marley’s (locals shorten the restaurant name to simply ‘Marley’s”).

Yes, locals and visitors flock to Marley’s to enjoy the fun, light-hearted ambiance and award-winning cuisine. Best known for eclectic and innovative menu items with a tropical twist, Marley’s is open for lunch and dinner, with an ice cream ‘trading post’, serving homemade scoop ice cream, located just off the outside deck. (Note to self: perfect stop for an icy afternoon snack after a day at the beach!)

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Make Your Next Celebration Fresh on the Menu in Hilton Head!

One of the fabulous things about being Southern is that it is perfectly acceptable to use any old excuse to have a party. It’s your niece’s graduation (6th grade graduation)? Have a party! It’s Derby Day (and you don’t live in Kentucky)? Have a party! Uncle Clay just caught a mess of bream and bass? Have a party (in this case a fish fry)! The latter was the “party” of choice in my family when I was growing up once spring hit South Carolina. My Dad would set up a makeshift kitchen outside complete with sawhorse-legged table, homemade gas-powered deep fryer and a brigade of coolers. A couple of phone calls would be made and soon neighbors and family would converge at our house – toting lawn chairs, a side dish and their kids. Sometimes I would scale the fish or help mix up the homemade coleslaw before relinquishing cooking duties to play with my best friend. We knew it was time to eat when the sweet–onion tinged aroma of frying hushpuppies wafted past us – we raced to my Dad’s side to get a taste before dinner. Hushpuppies are like that – sort of like barbeque or baking bread – the smell is like a lure – casting a scent so intoxicating that resisting is pointless. Better to go for it quickly and get a taste before my bother and his friends show up and gobble them all up!

While the adults ate at the tables on the screened porch and patio, us kids sat crossed-legged in the grass eating our fill of delicate fried fish, popping those delicious fried cornmeal puffs in our mouths and washing it all down with icy cold sweet tea. Afterwards we lay in the grass as the sun set on the day, keeping an eye out for the first fireflies of the season and hoping to spy a shooting star. Even though it was simple, it was fun made special by the people and the fresh, local food. I think that this is the essence of southern hospitality and what makes an ordinary event or gathering into a real celebration.

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SC Squash is Simply Perfect, Simply Fresh on the Menu at Roastfish & Cornbread on Hilton Head Island

Could there be a more versatile or easily grown-at-home vegetable than the squash? Specifically I am referring to the summer squash and zucchini squash which I grew up tending in my parent’s backyard garden. We started ours from seed, sowed in “hills” along the far end of the garden in mid to late April (depending on what my Dad said was the best plating date, which he determined after consulting the holy grail of gardening – the Farmers Almanac). We all got into the farming spirit on planting day – starting early in morning, the earth still cool and damp underfoot with my Dad decked out in his work pants, old straw hat and worn work gloves – quite the opposite of the business suit he donned during the work week. With Mom “supervising” (there was never a lack of instruction, believe me) and my Dad humming or whistling a tune (usually gospel or Elvis) we made short work of it and before the sun could reach it’s highest point we were done for the day, lunch waiting on the screened porch.

Within a few days the seeds sprouted, followed by green clumps perched on each “hill”. A few days later, the plants would spread out runners, their broad leaves covering the ground so thickly it would be difficult to tell where one plant ended and another began. Soon the burgeoning blooms offered up little yellow and green prizes – the first squash of the season. For a young’in it was a thrill to trot out to the garden first thing in the morning, searching for the treasure that lay underneath the massive growth that seemed to envelope the garden overnight. Maybe there would even be a gargantuan squash – one that was previously overlooked and morphed into a giant – fun for us kids but disconcerting for my mother. There’s no way to adequately prepare a monster squash and make it deliciously edible, at least not amongst the dozen or so methods my Mom had mastered. Even today I don’t have a clue what to do with them other than use as a table centerpiece or maybe a doorstop.

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Local and Fresh Meet Their Match at WiseGuys!

I am sure I am not the only one who has made up recipes based on what was bought that day at the farmers market. If you are lucky enough to have one nearby (Hilton Head Island Farmers Market opens April 1 and Bluffton’s Farmers Market opened on March 17) and you are a foodie like me, it is difficult to stay away. Just last weekend, I came away with a bagful of crispy radishes, a bunch of neon-red beets and my creative juices reinvigorated after a stop at a large Atlanta area market, the Dekalb farmers market, while away for the weekend. Whilst I am not exaggerating when I state I could have blissfully spent the entire day between the stalls, I will acknowledge my self-sacrifice in leaving after only about an hour – husband and 3 year old in tow. Better for us all to leave now I thought – before the slightly beleaguered pre-schooler gets fussy (i.e. loud & weepy) and the hubby gives me that, “are you done yet” look, again.

But I was content and good-to-go with everything I needed to make a yummy dinner plus a chance to play around with some über-fresh ingredients in my sister’s large kitchen. For those who are lucky to live in Hilton Head Island or are visiting the Island and environs for any stretch of time, the availability of local, seasonal ingredients from the farmers market is a summer bonus – a boon for foodies and local chefs alike. So if your Island weekend away will not include an encounter with pot nor pan, know this – local, seasonal “farmers market” freshness is as close as a fabulous dining experience at one of the Island’s Fresh on the Menu member restaurants or businesses.

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