Southern Culinary Traditions At the King and Prince: Shrimp and Grits

A week or so ago, I packed a bag, grabbed my camera and laptop, and climbed in a car with my good friend, Rachel.  We drove five hours south of Atlanta to St. Simons Island, Georgia for three nights and two days at the King and Prince Beach and Golf Resort.  Rachel and I have traveled together many times over the years, and I can honestly say this was one of the best trips we’ve ever taken.

The historic building at The King and Prince Beach and Golf Resort

It was a bit of a working vacation, as we had both been invited to attend a FAM trip focusing on the resort and their efforts to incorporate local and regional cuisine into their dining experiences.  If you’re unfamiliar (ha!) with the term, FAM is short for “familiarization,” and these trips are often offered to travel writers and agents as a way for them to educate themselves about an area.  Obviously I am neither a travel writer nor a travel agent, but since this trip focused on Southern Culinary Traditions, they were also looking for writers who focused more on food.   This is the first sponsored trip that I’ve been invited on, and I am admittedly a little ambiguous about them.  Since I don’t have a reference point, it’s hard to say whether this trip was typical; however I was very impressed by the fact that, even though the trip was sponsored by the King and Prince, we were exposed to a myriad of local vendors, growers, producers and attractions.  It really felt like an educational opportunity, and in that sense it was an extremely enriching experience.  This is the first in a series of posts focusing on what I learned over the course of three days.

The view from my room at The King and Prince Beach and Golf Resort

The King and Prince is a historic hotel, opened in 1935 as a seaside dance club.  It has seen many iterations over the years, including serving as a naval coast-watching and training facility during World War II.  In its current state, it is an elegant resort with multiple dining options, five swimming pools and it boasts the distinction of being the only beach-front hotel in St. Simons Island.

The interior of my room at the King and Prince Beach and Golf Resort

The rooms are spacious and  comfortably appointed.  Each room has a Keurig coffee maker, mini-refrigerator, free wi-fi, flat screen television and either one king or two queen beds.  My room had a small balcony overlooking the pool and the beach and ocean beyond.  There are a number of premium rooms available, as well as villas and resort residences.

The lobby of the King and Prince Beach and Golf Resort

When we arrived at the King and Prince on Sunday, we were greeted by a light-filled lobby, a friendly reception agent and the hotel’s publicist, Leigh Cort.  We had time that afternoon to get settled in our rooms and then it was off on the Lighthouse Trolley for an excursion to the old Coast Guard Station and Maritime Museum.  St. Simons Island has a storied past spanning the prehistoric and historic eras and rife with interesting tidbits related to Native Americans, Spanish explorers, Revolutionary war battles, rice and cotton plantations, Gullah Geechee culture, and German U-boats.  The Coastal Georgia Historical Society offers a number of different programs related to the history and culture of St. Simons.

Cheeses from Flat Creek Lodge, Georgia pecans, Savannah Bee Company Honey

Upon our return to the hotel, we were treated to cocktails courtesy of 13th Colony Distillery, and an assortment of cheeses from Flat Creek Lodge Dairy.  The hotel’s Director of Food and Beverage, Vinny D’Agostino, is making a concerted effort to incorporate local and regional products into his various menus, and these are just a couple of the vendors with whom he’s been working.  Although he’s only been with The King and Prince for a short while, he’s making significant changes to their Food and Beverage Program, using wild-caught seafood, most of it from local and regional waters; incorporating prohibition-era cocktails utilizing spirits from 13th Colony; Featuring Georgia vineyards on the Wine Menu; working with the Georgia Olive Growers Association to get the word out about their product; and partnering with a variety of other growers and producers to round out his offerings.

Southern Gin, Plantation Vodka, Southern Corn Whiskey from 13th Colony Distillery

For dinner, we dined on shrimp and grits.  The hotel’s chefs did a cooking demonstration in the Solarium, and they were kind enough to share the recipe with everyone so that we could try it at home.

Table set for dinner in the hotel's Solarium

Dinner itself was lovely, both the food and the company.  Although it was our first night together as a group, the conversation flowed as easily as the food.  I’m sure some of that could be attributed to the abundant cocktails and wine, but I also think it has a lot to do with the setting and the simple act of breaking bread together.  Food is the great equalizer (we all have to eat), and when you enjoy a meal together, you’re sharing more than just the food – you’re sharing stories and experiences that might not otherwise be revealed in a different setting.  The fact that this trip centered on food gave us all an opportunity to get to know each other in a comfortable setting over delicious cuisine.  Again, the wine and spirits didn’t hurt matters at all.

Shrimp and Grits in a Tasso Cream Sauce

My first experience with Shrimp and Grits was at Crook’s Corner in Chapel Hill, North Carolina back in the mid-nineties.  Since then I’ve tried a number of different variations on the same theme, but have not, until now,  encountered Shrimp and Grits to rival those at Crook’s.  The version that Vinny and his team presented to us on Sunday night might just have surpassed them.  The combination of cajun spices, tasso ham, whole kernel corn, stone ground grits, sweet white Georgia shrimp, and a rich cream sauce came together to create a well balanced combination of flavors and textures.

Homemade version of the King and Prince's Shrimp and Grits

It was so good that I recreated it for my family when I got home.  We will make it back down to St. Simons Island and The King and Prince sometime in the near future, I feel certain of that. In the meantime, I can share the culinary souvenirs that I brought back and spread the word about this quaint little island and all that it has to offer.

Ingredients for Shrimp and Grits

Shrimp & Grits (adapted from King and Prince Shrimp & Grits in a Tasso Cream Sauce)
prep time: 10 minutes
cook time: 20 minutes
serves: 4-6


  • 1 pound wild Georgia white shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 1/2 cup tasso ham (I couldn’t find tasso, so I used 4 sliced of uncured peppered bacon instead)
  • 1/2 cup chopped green onions
  • 1 cup whole-kernel white corn
  • 1 cup diced tomatoes
  • 1 clove garlic, grated
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 cup half-and-half
  • 1 cup asiago cheese, divided
  • 4-6 servings of stone-ground grits, prepared according to package directions

  1. Prepare grits according to package instructions.  For more flavor, replace the cooking water with chicken stock.
  2. Chop meat (either tasso ham or bacon) into small pieces and saute in a large skillet over medium heat until crispy and all of the fat has rendered out.
  3. Drain all but 1 tablespoon of the fat from the pan and add the green onions.  Saute until wilted
  4. Add the corn, tomatoes, garlic, cayenne and thyme.  Stir to heat through.
  5. Add the shrimp and saute until just cooked through
  6. Add 3/4 cup of the half-and-half and 3/4 cup of the cheese.  Stir to combine and remove from the heat.
  7. Add the remaining half-and-half and cheese to the grits and stir to combine.  Taste both the shrimp mixture and the grits for seasoning.  Add salt and pepper to taste.
  8. Serve shrimp mixture spooned over grits.  Garnish with additional green onions and cheese.
  9. Enjoy!

Disclaimer: While our accommodations and food were provided by the King and Prince Beach and Golf Resort, I was not compensated for the trip and the opinions in this post are mine.  I was under no obligation to write about my experience, but I felt compelled given how much I enjoyed my stay.  Thank you to our hosts and to the residents of St. Simons Island for a truly memorable time.

$5 Slow Food Challenge: Jambalaya and Community

The concept of community is relatively new for me, but I’m learning to embrace the idea.  I’m lucky, because my neighbors are warm and welcoming – something that I’ve not always been completely familiar or comfortable with.  I’m getting there, though – more and more every day.

I signed on with Slow Food USA about a month ago to take their $5 challenge. I had these grandiose ideas that I’d throw an elaborate dinner party and invite friends and family to be a part of it.  Then I realized that the scheduled date for the challenge coincided with a writing workshop that I’d already paid to attend.  So, I decided that instead of doing it on the 17th, I’d do it on the 18th, mostly so I could do it justice.  And it wouldn’t be a dinner party, per se. It would just be dinner for the family.  The immediate family – the ones that live in this house.  At least, that’s how it started.

Anthony Bourdain says, on his Travel Channel blog, that “the greatest , most beloved and iconic dishes in the pantheon of gastronomy—in any of the world’s mother cuisines—French, Italian or Chinese–originated with poor, hard-pressed, hard working farmers and laborers with no time, little money and no refrigeration.”

For this $5 challenge, I decided to look to one of those beloved and iconic dishes – one that originated in a culture that thrived mainly because the people who cultivated it knew how to stretch just about everything to make it last longer and go further.  Jambalaya (both the Creole and the Cajun version) derives from Spanish paella, and uses inexpensive but flavorful ingredients to create an abundant, filling meal.

There is a sense of community in the Cajun/Creole culture.  An ingrained reliance on neighbors and extended family for support and sustenance.  A cooperative spirit.  As a whole, we’ve moved away from this sense of community – everyone is so isolated, so insulated from each other.  We’ve forgotten where we come from in our hurry to get where we’re going, and we ignore the importance of tradition and camaraderie in our quest for self reliance.  And I’m as guilty of it as the next person.

Yesterday, as I gathered the ingredients for this simple dinner, intending for it to feed only myself, my husband and our two boys (and perhaps my mother, if she didn’t already have dinner plans), I got a text message from our neighbor across the street.  She was inviting us to come over for an afternoon swim.  I had just started cooking, and I wasn’t sure whether my husband would be done with yard work in time, or that I’d have dinner ready anytime soon, so I started to text her back with a “thanks, but no thanks – maybe next time” kind of message.

But then I reconsidered.  I looked at the pound of sausage that I was browning, and the 8 chicken legs I had waiting in the wings, and the two cups of rice, and I thought: this is enough to feed all of us, and still have food left over.  So instead of “thanks, but no thanks” I told her I’d just started cooking jambalaya, but that we’d love to share with her and her husband.  So, an hour later, we trekked across the street in our bathing suits, carrying a large pot of jambalaya and some of the last tomatoes from our garden, and we shared a meal with our neighbors.  And it was that much better because of the sharing.

I managed to make this meal for about $16 total, but that’s mainly because the majority of the ingredients came from my garden and my canning pantry.  I used chicken stock that I’d put up a while back, a jar of tomatoes that I’d canned during the peak of tomato season, and the bell peppers, thyme and parsley also came from the garden.  The andouille came from a regional supplier to Harry’s Farmer’s Market and was probably the most expensive part of the dish at $6.99 a pound.  The chicken came from two pounds of organic drumsticks that I’d bought for $2.99 a pound a while back and froze for use at a later date.  I don’t think they were local, but they were just about the only part of the dish that wasn’t – well, except for the rice.   If you break that down, we fed seven people for about $2.25 per person, and we had leftovers.

prep time: 10 minutes
cook time: 1 hour
serves: 8-10


  • 1 lb. fresh or smoked andouille sausage
  • 2 lbs. chicken parts
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 green bell pepper, diced
  • 2 celery stalks, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon dried parsley
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 1/2 cups brown rice
  • 3 cups canned diced tomatoes, with juice
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  1. Begin by browning the sausage in a heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat, allowing some of the fat to render out.
  2. Remove the sausage to a plate and brown the chicken parts in the fat from the sausage.  I removed the skin from the chicken legs, but you can leave it on if you want (more flavor that way, but also more fat).
  3. Remove the chicken to a plate
  4. Saute the onion, celery, pepper and garlic in the same pan you browned the meat in
  5. Add the uncooked rice, parsley, thyme, salt and pepper and stir to combine.
  6. Slice the sausage into 1/2-inch thick rounds and add it and the chicken back to the pot.
  7. Add the tomatoes and the chicken stock to the pan and stir to combine.
  8. Reduce heat to a simmer and cover.  Allow to simmer, covered until the rice is cooked through.  Cook uncovered to thicken sauce if necessary.
  9. Enjoy!

Tomato Jam

The tomatoes, they just keep coming!  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining – just trying to find some inventive ways to use them.  As much as I love a good BLT, or a fresh tomato and mozzarella salad, there are really only so many tomatoes you can eat in a day.  That’s where this tomato jam came into the picture.  I was perusing the fabulous Food in Jars, and I came across her version of this tasty treat.  I was intrigued by the idea of a sweet/savory ketchup alternative.  I knew as soon as I had the requisite five pounds of tomatoes, this would be my next canning endeavor.

With this morning’s garden haul, I topped the kitchen scale with five pounds of a mixture of grape tomatoes, black princes and brandywines.  The majority of the weight was made up of the tiny grape tomatoes, with the brandywines and black princes making up the difference.  I was slightly concerned that the tart, firm grape tomatoes wouldn’t give up enough juice to make the recipe successfully, but they didn’t let me down.

Tomato Jam (adapted from Food in Jars)
prep time: 20 minutes
cook time: 1 – 1 1/2 hours
processing time: 20 minutes
yields: 4 pints (I used 4 oz. jars and got 12 jars with about a 1/2 pint of overrun)


  • 5 lbs tomatoes
  • 1 1/4 cups honey granules
  • 2 1/2 cups sucanat
  • 1/2 cup lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup minced jalapeno pepper (about 7 small peppers)
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 Tablespoon salt
  1. Chop the tomatoes – I used a mixture of small yellow grape tomatoes, which I halved or quartered depending on their size, and black prince and brandywine tomatoes, which I cut into medium dice.  Be sure to remove the stem and core on the larger tomatoes, but do not peel or deseed them.
  2. Combine the tomatoes and all other ingredients in a stock pot and bring to a boil.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture has reduced and become thick and jam-like (about an hour, depending on whether you keep the mixture at a boil, or reduce it to a simmer).
  3. Sterilize your jars in simmering water.
  4. Ladle the tomato mixture into hot jars, leaving 1/4 inch of headroom.
  5. Wipe the rims of the jars with a damp cloth and place the lids on.  Screw the rings on.
  6. Place the jars in a boiling water bath and process for 20 minutes.
  7. Remove from the water at the end of the processing time and allow to cool on the counter.

I tried a little bit of the overrun with some cream cheese on a cracker.  The flavor is complex – a little tart, a little sweet, and a little savory.  The sucanat gives a depth to the sweetness that you don’t get when you use refined white sugar, and the jalapenos give just a hint of heat (removed most of the ribs and seeds when I chopped them – if you want more heat, leave them in).  I imagine this will be excellent as a topping for burgers, paired with goat or bleu cheese on crackers or flatbread, or as a sauce base for barbecue chicken.

Even if your garden is no longer producing tomatoes at a record rate, I suggest you head to the farmer’s market and pick up a few pounds.  This recipe is definitely worth the time and effort!

Capturing the Sun in a Jar

Our little family just returned from eight sun-filled, relaxing days on the garden island of Kauai.  Our transition back to reality has been slow and somewhat painful.  I could chalk it up to jet lag and be done with it, but I don’t think that would do it justice.The truth is, there are a handful of places in this world that, the minute I set foot within their borders, I feel like I’ve slipped on a favorite pair of comfy pajamas.  Kauai is one of them.  Nearly eight years ago, my husband and I chose this quiet little island as our honeymoon destination, and ever since we’ve dreamed of going back.

A couple of years ago, my parents-in-law purchased a time share on Kauai, and they invited all of us (our family, my husband’s two brothers and their wives and children) to join them there for a week this summer.  While it was a completely different experience from the one we had when we were newlyweds, it was just as remarkable in its own way.
We aren’t really big “doers” when we go on vacation.  There are a lot of really cool outdoor adventures to be had on Kauai, and one day I imagine we’ll participate in some of them.  We’ve just never felt a lot of pressure to do a million things while we’re there – probably because we know in our hearts that we’ll be back again one day.

On this last trip, we took in some sites, and marveled at the gorgeous scenery.  We visited a number of little towns, and enjoyed some delicious food from some well-known local joints along the way.  The pizza in Kilauea topped with garden fresh veggies was the perfect quick lunch on the way home from the lighthouse;  the shrimp in Waimea was tender, spicy, crispy and delicious; the Puka dogs in Poipu were just as weird and wonderful as I imagined they’d be after seeing them featured on No Reservations last year; and the burger at Bubba’s, made with Kauai grass fed beef, was juicy and flavorful.  The people are friendly, the food is good, and the scenery is magical.  Is it any wonder that I feel right at home there? The minute I set foot on the island eight years ago, I knew I belonged there.  And this most recent trip has just re-confirmed my suspicions.

So, returning to real life has been a little bit of a challenge.  In addition to adjusting to the time change, it almost feels like we left a little piece of ourselves on the garden isle.  I guess we’ll just have to head back one day soon to retrieve it.

In the meantime, I’m keeping myself busy in the garden, trying to keep up with the growing number of sun-ripened tomatoes that seem to be spilling forth from their tangled vines.  I returned home to find the table on the deck weighted down with a ridiculous number of giant pink brandywines, little black princes and tiny jellybean grape tomatoes.  Ever since I’ve been doing my best to eat them or process them before they turn to moldy mush.

We’ve eaten our weight in this delicious pasta salad – a pound of tri-colored rotini tossed with an equal measure of quartered grape tomatoes and/or diced brandywine tomatoes, four ounces of chevre, and a few sprigs of fresh thyme.

I’ve made salsa using these lovely little golden grape tomatoes, some of the black princes, and minced jalapenos.  I canned seven pints of a mixture of brandywines, romas and black princes the other day (and there are more on their way this week).

But my favorite application has to be these little nuggets of pure tomatoey goodness – dehydrated multi-colored jellybean grape tomatoes.

I found myself the other day with a giant mound of these little yellow, red and green wonders (they’re prolific suckers – I had six full trays of them in my dehydrator, all from a couple of days of picking).  I halved them and tossed them with about 1/2 a teaspoon of pickling salt.  Then I laid them out on the trays of my dehydrator (although you could sun-dry them, too) and let them dry at 125F for about 12 hours (the instructions said to leave them for 5-9 hours, but mine were still awfully wet at the 9-hour mark, so I let them go a few hours longer – now they’re nice and raisin-like).

I’ve eaten a few of them straight from the jar, and their flavor is reminiscent of what I imagine a ray of sunshine would taste like if you could gather it in a cup and drink it – infused with warmth and comfort, umami at its very core.  I can’t wait to use them in this pesto recipe from Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.

So, while we don’t have the sun and sand at our back door anymore, we can at least capture a little bit of sunshine and keep it close.  When it comes time for the leaves to fall from the trees, and the gray winter days seem neverending, we can open that little jar of flavor and infuse our meals with a little summer warmth.  And close our eyes and dream of Kauai.

Nice: Salade Niçoise

Yesterday, before the sun had risen too high in the sky and pushed the temperatures into the stratosphere, I wandered down to the garden, toddler in tow.  As the 18-month old chased the chickens (bock-bocks as he calls them) in and around the cypress trees, I examined the various plants to see if any were bearing fruit.

Two of our ten tomato plants are laden with green orbs, and the two jalapeno bushes are weighted down with inch-and-a-half long pods.  The butternut squash vines are in full bloom, and many of the blossom ends are beginning to swell with the promise of delicious golden flesh.  Our infant asparagus patch has successfully gone to seed, and our cucumbers are rife with fuzzy little fingerlings.  The lacy tops of the rainbow carrots are waving in the breeze, and the melons are creeping along the ground stealthily, their little yellow flowers smiling smugly in the sun.

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