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Bill Leslie's Carolina Conversations

Bill Leslie: Three comfort food recipes to try

Posted May 22, 2020 8:45 a.m. EDT

Shrimp and Grits from Crook's Corner

Bill Leslie shares comfort food recipes sent to him by readers and his favorite shrimp and grits recipe from Crook's Corner in Chapel Hill.

Comfort Food Friday has arrived. As promised, I’m sharing some of the favorites our readers wrote me about. Plus, I will give you the coveted Shrimp and Grits recipe that launched a Chapel Hill restaurant into international culinary acclaim nearly 40 years ago.

Momma Overman’s Melt in Your Mouth Chicken Pot Pie
Carol O. Blanchard

Chicken always ranks high among comfort foods. The wildly successful Chicken Soup for the Soul series is proof of that! Carol Blanchard sent me a chicken pot pie recipe that sounds simply wonderful. Take a look:

Ingredients:

  • 2 ½-3 lb fryer (I use 3/4 chicken breast & now (2010) I use a good size roasted chicken and chop it up)
  • 1 can undiluted cream of chicken soup
  • ½ tsp pepper
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 2 cups reserved chicken broth from boiling the chicken
  • 1 stick melted butter or margarine
  • 1 cup self-rising flour (sometimes I use more flour and milk for crust)
  • 1 tsp salt

Directions:

  • Boil chicken till tender and cut up or tear up while still hot in a 13x9x2 baking dish.
  • Reserve broth and mix in a saucepan with can of soup.
  • In another bowl combine butter, pepper, salt, flour and buttermilk for top. Optional -- add a layer of sliced potatoes, sliced carrots and peas. Sometimes I cut up carrots and potatoes and boil for a bit instead of using canned.
  • Pour broth mixture over chicken and veggies or just chicken.
  • Spoon batter over top.
  • Bake at 425 for 25-30 minutes or until crust is brown.

Know a good chicken and dumplings recipe?

Jean Cook wrote that she is craving chicken and dumplings but her recipe has never turned out well. If you can help, email me at bleslie@wral.com and I will get the word to Jean, who added that “I cooked a roast last week and we took the leftovers and made beef gravy. It was delicious!”

Other comfort food cravings

Mica wrote that she and others at Mica’s Sweets and Treats have a strong appetite these days for Indian Street Food. Mica shared a colorful photograph of a recipe.

Indian Street Food

Eva Lorenz moved to North Carolina from Germany and here’s what she had to say:

“I was lucky that a shipment of German cured meats arrived just before the stay-at-home order hit. So I had the real German Black Forest ham at home. My go-to comfort food is bauernbrot (farmer’s bread) from Guglhupf in Durham, with butter and Black Forest ham. Add a sunny side egg on top with a runny yolk and as a side some home fries that are made from Yukon gold potatoes (boiled once, then peeled and sliced before frying). Mix the saltiness of the ham with fried potatoes and yolk = heaven!”

Richard Harris loves Mexican food after growing up in an Arizona mining town.

“Mexican food is my go to comfort food which luckily we can make here at home using the wonderful fresh tortillas from the local tortilla factory on Highway 98 in Durham.”

Seafood satisfies the taste buds of John Criner, who went to Cary High School with my wife Cindy. “Our local seafood shop was closed until recently, so I had my version of a seafood platter when they reopened. Steamed jumbo shrimp with spicy cocktail sauce, pan-seared sea scallops, and homemade hushpups with diced jalapenos. Ummm, hmmmm!”

Corny Cornbread

Emily McCraven craves “Corny Cornbread” during the pandemic:

  • Heat a tablespoon of bacon grease in a cast iron skillet.
  • While that is heating, mix one box of Jiffy corn bread mix per package directions, 1/3 cup of cream style corn and 1/4 cup of sour cream or plain Greek yogurt.
  • Optional -- add finely diced jalapeños or canned chilies and some shredded cheese
  • Let mixture sit for about 5 minutes, then put in hot cast iron skillet.
  • Cook per box time, and cut and serve with a generous pat of real butter

Warning -- the butter may run down your hands...all the better! Happy comfort eating with a cost under $2.

A full day of food

Allen Morris covered a full day’s worth of food ideas that appeal to him.

“I just read your latest 'Carolina Conversations' and, for the last several months, I have definitely been going down the comfort food route to help relax," said Morris. "For a comfort breakfast I enjoy Liver Pudding and Grits (my wife would rather eat grass). For lunch it is a bologna and tomato sandwich with Duke’s Mayonnaise on white bread. Dinner is chicken and dumplings with Pinto Beans and cornbread with just enough sugar added into it to give it a very slight sweetness."

"I grew up in Rockingham, NC, and enjoyed eating food made by a wonderful mother and fantastic grandmother. They both taught me how to cook along with my wife's grandmother. I so enjoy reading your articles and your comments. Please take care and you and your family stay safe.”

The best pancakes

Kay Struffolino of Cary grabs the griddle when she desires comfort food. “Supper tonight is going to be chocolate chip pancakes with real maple syrup from Vermont," she said.

Shrimp and Grits Recipe by Bill Neal & David Perry

Now, to one of my favorite comfort foods – shrimp and grits. I’ve tried recipes in more than a dozen restaurants all over the South. Clawson’s in Beaufort had a great shrimp and grits but I haven’t been there in years. Carolina’s Restaurant of Charleston, which closed in 2014, had a fantastic recipe. I really miss that place.

My all-time favorite place to get shrimp and grits is the restaurant that made the recipe internationally famous – Crook’s Corner in Chapel Hill, especially this time of year when Honeysuckle Sorbet is also on the menu.

Cindy and I recently tried the original Crook’s Corner S&G recipe and a variation using chicken broth to add flavor to the grits. We really liked both recipes but the original Bill Neal version is still, by far, our favorite. If you would like to try the chicken broth version please let me know. Email me at bleslie@wral.com and I will send the recipe to you.

This Bill Neal and David Perry recipe was published in the Good Old Grits Cookbook. I hope you enjoy it!

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb. of medium-sized fresh shrimp, peeled and de-veined
  • 6 slices of bacon
  • Peanut oil
  • 2 cups of sliced fresh white mushrooms
  • 1 cup of sliced green onions or scallions
  • 1 large clove of garlic crushed in a garlic press
  • 4 teaspoons of fresh lemon juice
  • Dash of Tabasco sauce
  • 2 tablespoons of chopped fresh parsley
  • Salt & freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • Cheese grits – hot (see recipe below)

Directions:

  • Rinse the shrimp and pat dry on paper towels. Set aside.
  • Dice the bacon and fry lightly in a large skillet until browned at the edges but not too crisp. Drain the bacon on paper towels and set aside.
  • Add enough oil to the fat in the skillet to make a thin layer. Heat over medium-high until the fat is quite hot.
  • Add the shrimp and cook until the shrimp begin to color.
  • Add the mushrooms and sauté, stirring frequently, for about 4 minutes.
  • Sprinkle in the scallions and bacon
  • Add garlic and season with the lemon juice, Tabasco, parsley, salt and pepper.
  • Divide the grits among four warm plates. Spoon the shrimp over the grits and serve immediately.

Cheese Grits

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup basic boiled grits
  • ¼ teaspoon ground white pepper
  • Pinch or more of cayenne pepper
  • Small grating of fresh nutmeg
  • 1 cup of shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter
  • Salt to taste

Directions:

  • Prepare the boiled grits.
  • When fully cooked, remove from the heat and add the rest of the above ingredients.
  • Stir until smooth.
  • Serve immediately or hold over simmering water in a double boiler for up to 30 minutes.
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