Heaven Has a New Angel

In the eight years of Wannabe TV Chef this is by far the hardest thing I’ve ever written.  Ever.

When I read the posts on the blogs of some of my favorite food writers, many of whom are good friends, I am struck by how much of their personal lives they put into writing.  I, by design, have never done a lot of that.  Perhaps it is a male thing, perhaps it is humility.  I don’t know.

But this must be written.

With few exceptions everyone loves their mother.  They think she is the greatest woman who ever lived.  I am no exception.  I am not alone in admiring my mother.  Everyone, and I mean everyone who has ever met her has admired and loved her.

Like most boys my father has always been my hero.  It just so happens that my father/hero is also a genuine hero, a professional hero if you will.  In four years with the Air Force and 36 years as a deputy sheriff he did things that saved lives and helped those in need.

In 1991 I made the decision to drop everything and move to Nashville to try my hand at the music business.  My mother told me once that she thought that was the bravest thing she’d ever seen anyone do.  Through the music years, the writing years, the chef years and even the wannabe TV chef thing my mother has rooted for me.  My mother has always been my biggest fan.

My last photo with my mother.As I write this my mother is lying in a hospital.  The end is inevitable it’s just a question of when.  It could be days; it could weeks; it could be hours.  Every time the Droid chirps my heart breaks a little more.  I’ve already lost track of how many times I’ve had to pause to cry just writing this post.

You want to know what uncomfortable looks like?  Picture a 300 pound Southern man sobbing like a baby.  That’s my life the last 48 hours.

In my 2010 cookbook Third Coast Cuisine I included my mother’s biscuit recipe.  Her biscuits were always so perfect for digging through gravy as they had a crunchy crust but a soft inside – I call them Soppin’ Biscuits.  I would feel morose asking you to buy the book to try them so I will include the recipe below for free.

So yes, my heart is shattered but I can’t complain.  This is as good as losing a loved one ever gets.  My mother turned 78 in November, celebrated her 57th wedding anniversary just last week.  She and my father loved and raised four children, two grand children and two great grand children.  She’s earned her rest.

Still it hurts so much.  As I left the hospital tonight it dawned on me that it was the same building that she had brought me into the world.  My life started in that building and her life ends there.  Man, that sucks.  Everything about this sucks.

Tonight we said our goodbyes.  Many people don’t get that chance.  We need look no further in the food writing world than everyone’s dear friend Jennifer Perillo who suddenly and tragically lost the love of her life this past fall.  Jennifer and Mikey’s story wasn’t done yet but life is like that sometimes.

So as I sit here, my heart breaking more with each new tick of the clock, I feel selfish for feeling this sad.  I’ve had it good.  Embarrassingly good.  I know that my mother is going to be with our Lord and Savior.  I was never raised to be a judgmental Christian, an in your face Christian.  I was raised to be Christ-like.  To love everyone and to care about them without judging.

My mother deserves a tribute but it’s not her nature to want one.  So I will do what I know she would want.  My mother never heard of Jennifer and Mikey but if she had she would want to help Jenny and her girls.  So please visit Bloggers Without Borders to contribute to A Fund for Jennie.

Tonight I got to tell my mother goodbye.  I got to tell her that I love her; that I’ve always loved her.  I was able to tell her how much she has meant to me.  I told her that I was happy for her.  She gets to go be with her father and with Jesus.  She told me that she is going to be an angel.

I told her that she has always been one.

Shirley’s Soppin’ Biscuits
Recipe Type: Side
Author: My mom
Prep time: 10 mins
Cook time: 20 mins
Total time: 30 mins
Serves: 8
  • 3 cups self-rising flour
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk
  • 1 cup lard or shortening
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted
  • 1 teaspoon salt (optional)
  1. Preheat an oven to 450° F.
  2. In a large bowl sift the flour with salt (if using) then make a well in the center.
  3. Add the lard and mix until you have pea sized crumbles in the dough.
  4. Then fold in the buttermilk and knead until a large dough ball forms, no more than 30 seconds*.
  5. The dough should be soft and pliable but not sticky. Discard any remaining flour in the bowl.
  6. Separate the dough ball into 1” to 1½” balls and then flatten to form patties.
  7. Place the patties in a backing pan or iron skillet, brush tops with melted butter and bake for 20 minutes or until browned.

* Over kneading biscuit dough releases excess gluten from the flour and will make the biscuits tough to chew.

Thanksgiving Dinner Southern Style – Oyster & Andouille Dressing

I love oysters.  Perhaps that is why I have always loved Oyster Dressing.  Oyster Dressing is easy to make too so that helps.  Take your standard cornbread dressing recipe and just stir in a dozen or so raw oysters.  Or you can really up the “Wow!” factor by making this amazing Oyster & Andouille Dressing

Oyster & Andouille Dressing
Recipe Type: Side
Author: Stuart Reb Donald
Prep time: 20 mins
Cook time: 45 mins
Total time: 1 hour 5 mins
Serves: 8
If you do not like oysters, just leave them out. I won’t judge ya. You’ll still have an amazing Andouille Dressing.
  • 1/2 pound andouille, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 5 TBL unsalted butter
  • 1 cup chopped yellow onions
  • 2 TBL minced garlic
  • 1/4 cup whole kernal corn (optional)
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh oregano
  • Basic cornbread, dried overnight, enough to fill a 9 X 13 dish
  • 3 slices stale white or whole wheat bread, torn into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1 to 2 dozen raw Gulf oysters
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 to 3 cups homemade chicken stock, as needed
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Rub 1 TBL butter in a 13 by 9-inch baking dish and set aside.
  2. In a large skillet, cook the sausage until brown and the fat is rendered, about 5 minutes. Add remaining butter, onions, garlic, fresh thyme, fresh oregano and corn then cook for 3-5 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Remove from the heat and transfer to a large bowl to cool.
  3. With your fingers, crumble the corn bread into the bowl, add bread, then sausage mixture, oysters and mix well with your hands. Add enough broth, 1/2 cup at a time, to moisten the dressing, being careful not to make it too mushy.
  4. Transfer to the buttered dish and cover with aluminum foil. Bake until heated through, about 25 minutes. Uncover and bake until golden brown, about 15 – 20 minutes.

If the dressing doesn’t have the right browned crust after 45 minutes place it under the broiler for a few minutes until you get the desired crunchification.

Oyster & Andouille Dressing

Saturdays in the South: Knoxville, Tennessee

Neyland Stadium UTKThe last place you would ever expect to find a navy is at the door step of the Smokey Mountains, but that is exactly where you will find the Vol Navy.  First begun in 1962, it is truly a unique tailgating experience.  200 sum odd bass boats, party barges, and yachts converge on Volunteer Landing in downtown Knoxville each game day.

In a phenomenon called rafting, they tie off to one another creating a floating walkway to the shore.  As folks travel to dry land they cross onto the vessels of perfect strangers and old friends alike, often swapping a libation or sampling a little food as they go.  They come from all over but they share the same destination, Neyland Stadium – the largest football facility in the conference.  Neyland has seating for over 107,000 people.

The Vol Navy is just one of the timeless traditions found on the campus originally founded as Blount College in 1794.  Other must see’s for those visiting Knoxville on game days include watching the Pride of the Southland band march down “the Hill,” past the library, and into the stadium, tailgating at Circle Park, cheering the team as they enter the field through the giant “T” formed by the UT band, and that legendary checkerboard end zone.

Many alumni like to walk the grounds of campus remembering days gone-by and sharing memories with the next generation.  They traverse streets with names like Phil Fulmer Way, Peyton Manning Pass, and Neyland Drive passing the oldest building on campus South College Hall (1872) to visit Thompson-Boling Arena and marvel at the many banners won by Pat Summit’s Lady Vol’s basketball team.  After hitting the campus bookstore, a few moments rest on the “T” bench in front of Ayers Hall is order.

For those so inclined there is popcorn and Coke available at the student center and the auditorium shows other games for folks keeping track of second favorite teams and bitter rivals.  Many enjoy a little pre-game breakfast of coffee and confections from the Chocolate Factory (10th St.) or a more traditional morning meal at Long’s Drug Store (Kingston Pike).  During the game 100,000+ orange clad fans shake the very foundation of the stadium as they sip on Tennessee whiskey and sing “Rocky Top” for the 17,413th time that day.

Another victory secured, many trek back to the floating tailgate in all probability stopping off at the Bridge View Grill (Neyland Drive) for the breathtaking view of the Tennessee River, downtown skyline, and Neyland Stadium while scarfing grub like blackened seafood fondue, NY Strip sandwich, or the Perfect Pass (espresso crusted beef tenderloin with Chambord demi-glace, Gorgonzola potatoes, and steamed broccoli).  Still others head for the Strip.

Located just a few blocks from the stadium the Strip is party central in Knoxville.  It boasts hotspots like the Cumberland Tap Room (Cumberland Ave.), Copper Cellar (Cumberland Ave.), Cool Beans (Lake Ave.), and Half Barrel (Cumberland Ave.).  The elder statesman of the Strip is the Old College Inn (Cumberland Ave.) which is open until 3AM on Saturdays.  The menu highlights include a meatball hoagie, burgers served on English muffins, and the Two Ticket catfish sandwich (acquiring this recipe cost the owner two tickets to the ‘96 UT/Bama game).

Other favorite post game haunts include Regas Steak House (North Gay St.) with a menu that features a shaved roast prime rib sandwich, spinach & strawberry salad, French fried mushrooms, and New Zealand lobster tail.  There is also Ye Olde Steak House (Chapman Highway) named the #1 restaurant in the SEC by the Montgomery Journal and voted best steak house in Knoxville ten different times by the Knoxville Metro Pulse.  The menu is mostly steaks with a few chicken and seafood dishes thrown in for good measure and notables like the Woodshed potatoes (peppery skillet fried potato rounds with smothered onions), a 20 oz. Porterhouse, a 20 oz. NY strip, and the King steak burger with cheese which is considered the best burger in town.  Litton’s Market (Essary Dr.) is famous for the Thunder Road, a burger with pimento cheese, grilled onion and bacon.

Some fancy Aubrey’s (Lamar Alexander Parkway) because of their thick cut potato chips with buttermilk garlic dipping sauce, pizza Rockefeller (grilled chicken and spinach queso on a tortilla crust), peanut crusted catfish fingers with lemon-caper dipping sauce, and sides like Cinnamon apples (an Appalachian staple).   Another post game ritual is Calhoun’s on the River (Neyland Drive) whose menu shines with morsels like white chili, Steak Calhoun (a sirloin grilled and glazed with Calhoun’s signature BBQ sauce), and an 18 inch tall funnel filled with your favorite draft or a hand-crafted micro-brewed beer called the Half-yard.

Tennessee is most noted for its barbecue, mainly pork and while Calhoun’s is great (their hickory smoked baby-back ribs have won the title of “Best Ribs in America” from the prestigious National Rib Cook-Off) it is not the only BBQ to be had in Knoxville.  More award winning que can be found at Scrugg’s Real Pit Barbecue (East Magnolia Avenue) and Buddy’s Bar-B-Q’s (Kingston Pike).  No wonder they call Tennessee the “Barbecue Belt”.

For Sunday brunch there is no better choice than Riverside Tavern (Volunteer Landing Lane). The brunch menu is striking with offerings such as the Crème Brulée French toast, Maryland blue crab frittata, and trout Amandine.  In the back ground plays a little live jazz which provides a serene soundtrack to the dispersal of the Vol Navy until the next game.

Few things can match the beauty of an East Tennessee autumn so make sure to take in your surroundings while in the stomping grounds of Davy Crocket and Admiral David Farragut.

Appalachian Cinnamon Apples
Recipe Type: Side
Author: Stuart Reb Donald
Prep time: 10 mins
Cook time: 40 mins
Total time: 50 mins
Serves: 4
  • 4 baking apples
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 4 teaspoons butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  1. Remove core from apples.
  2. Peel upper half of apple or 1-inch strip from middle to prevent splitting.
  3. Place upright in baking dish.
  4. Place 2 tablespoons brown sugar, 1 teaspoon butter and 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon in center of each apple. Pour water into baking dish to 1/4-inch depth.
  5. Bake at 375 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes or until tender when pierced with fork, basting several times.

Rome Beauty, Golden Delicious and Greening are good baking apples to use.
May substitute grenadine syrup for brown sugar or omit cinnamon and place 1 tablespoon granola, 2 teaspoons brown sugar and 1 teaspoon butter in each apple.
May omit water and microwave for 6 to 8 minutes.

Going Coastal Recipe: Blackened Lamb Chops

Blackened Lamb Chops with Black Bean SalsaAmigeauxs is the name I came up with to call Mexican/Creole Fusion Cuisine.  It is also the name of my first cookbook.  Below is one of my favorite recipes from that cookbook, Blackened Lamb Chops with Black Bean Salsa.  For the plating I took a French hoagie roll and sliced it in half then toasted it with Extra Virgin Olive Oil and garlic powder.  I put two chops on top of the bread and some salsa on top of the chops.

Going Coastal Recipe: Blackened Lamb Chops
Recipe Type: Entree
Author: Stuart Reb Donald
Serves: 4
  • 4 lamb rib chops, cut 3/4-inch thick
  • Blackening seasoning
  • Clarified butter or olive oil

Black Bean Salsa

  • 1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 15 ounce can tomatoes, diced
  • 1 bunch green onions, including tops, chopped
  • 1 small can or two ears sweet corn kernels
  • 2 Serrano peppers, diced finely
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • Hot pepper sauce, salt, and pepper to taste
    Black Bean Salsa.

  1. Mix everything together, let sit for at least one hour to overnight in refrigerator for flavors to develop.
    Lamb Chops

  1. Heavily coat each side of the chops with blackening seasoning.
  2. Heat a cast iron skillet to the point of smoking then ladle in 2 tablespoons clarified butter and place chops into the pan.
  3. Cook about one minute on each side.
  4. Place skillet in 350 degree oven for 10 minutes (for medium rare).
  5. Top with Black Bean Salsa

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Stuart in 80 Words or Less

Stuart is a celebrity chef, food activist and award-winning food writer. He penned the cookbooks Third Coast Cuisine: Recipes of the Gulf of Mexico, No Sides Needed: 34 Recipes To Simplify Life and Amigeauxs - Mexican/Creole Fusion Cuisine. He hosts two Internet cooking shows "Everyday Gourmet" and "Little Grill Big Flavor." His recipes have been featured in Current, Lagniappe, Southern Tailgater, The Kitchen Hotline and on the Cooking Channel.

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Stuart’s Honors & Awards

2015 1st Place Luck of the Irish Cook-off
2015 4th Place Downtown Cajun Cook-off
2015 2nd Place Fins' Wings & Chili Cook-off
2014 2015 4th Place LA Gumbo Cook-off
2012 Taste Award nominee for best chef (web)
2012 Finalist in the Safeway Next Chef Contest
2011 Taste Award Nominee for Little Grill Big Flavor
2011, 12 Member: Council of Media Tastemakers
2011 Judge: 29th Chef's of the Coast Cook-off
2011 Judge: Dauphin Island Wing Cook-off
2011 Cooking Channel Perfect 3 Recipe Finalist
2011 Judge: Dauphin Island Gumbo Cook-off
2011 Culinary Hall of Fame Member
2010 Tasty Awards Judge
2010 Judge: Bayou La Batre Gumbo Cook-off
2010 Gourmand World Cookbook Award Nominee
2010 Chef2Chef Top 10 Best Food Blogs
2010 Denay's Top 10 Best Food Blogs
2009 2nd Place Bay Area Food Bank Chef Challenge
2008 Tava: Discovery Contest Runner-up


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