Traditions…Are They Dying?

Let’s get shakin!!!

This week I’ve seen a meme (little Facebook quote) going around and saw so many people sharing it, about how so many holiday traditions have slowly faded out and died as we have slowly buried the older family members that kept them alive. 

I love the holidays (or used to) I still enjoy the lights, the winter nights by a fire, friends, and all the things I used to, the season of love, reflection, family, and the spirit of the season. But for me, like so many of you it’s just not the same, it’s often a reminder of those that are no longer here, and the traditions and meaning they took with them. All of us have different traditions and things we do during the holidays but if you are above and beyond your 20’s one thing we all have in common is things are probably different.

This is something that’s been hard for me at times. At the end of the day, you must remember what you long for, what you feel is missing from the holidays, be it a grandparent, a parent, a sibling, even a child, they are with you in spirit. Those traditions, family and friends on Christmas Eve, midnight mass, mawmaw’s dressing, or grandmothers frozen cranberry desserts. You can do this!!!! Make those family recipes, invite everyone over for Christmas Eve, let the kids open one present on Christmas Eve.

Whatever you feel like you are missing you can keep it alive just like they did, you know they probably got that tradition from the generation before them just like you. You got this!!!! For some that maybe didn’t care for the traditions now’s your chance to start your own with your family. Reflect on days past but live for now and be it traditions of the past or new traditions you create for your family, do it your way, and enjoy your holiday. 

Until next week I’m Chef Hunter Lee and from my home to yours I wish you all a wonderful holiday season. 

Remember, “treat your kitchen, treat yourself” 

Benwood’s, uniquely Southern, surely the Best!!!

Cheese Straws Y’all

Let’s get shakin’

This must be one of my favorite snacks and when it starts getting cold you know it’s time to make a batch! 

No one (not even me) makes these little twigs of delight like my friend Stacy but unless you buy hers or are lucky enough to share with someone who has we just have to wing it. These are great to make in big batches and store. They are great for snacks, to set out at holiday parties, or to add to edible holiday gifts or baskets. This is one of my go-to recipes for holiday entertaining. Good rule of thumb with this one, always double the recipe and you can thank me after. 

Southern Cheese Straws  

12 oz of sharp cheddar graded and room temperature. 
1/2 cup of butter room temperature 
1 dash of ground cayenne pepper 
1 pinch of salt 
8 drops of Tabasco sauce (yes Tabasco, other hot sauces just don’t work in this recipe not even Benwood’s)

Preheat oven to 350°, mix all ingredients together using your hands or a mixer until well blended. When mixed place in cookie a press with the star pattern end. Make long strips on lightly sprayed cookie sheets. Bake at 350° 12-15 min then cook on wire racks. Once cool break into desired lengths 

Until next week I’m Chef Hunter Lee 

Remember, “treat your kitchen, treat yourself”

Benwood’s, uniquely Southern, surely the Best!!!

The Southern Conundrum

Let’s get shakin!!!!

So, is it dressing or stuffing? The argument I’ve had (and seen others have) for most of my years in the kitchen. I might ruffle some feathers in this one but I’m going to give you the rundown. If you don’t agree that’s okay, you call what you make whatever you want. I’m here to teach and entertain, but mostly entertain not to change ya way of thinking. 

In my family we made dressing, it was my mawmaw’s recipe and though she’s gone on I still make it the same way other than a little added seasoning. She made a huge pan and in the pan was a homemade tinfoil divider. Why? Well mom like giblets, literally no one else did. So mawmaw always made sure to do about 1/4 of the pan with and the rest without.

She never put chicken or Turkey in the dressing. In her words, “that’s for when you make dressing as a meal and that’s for other times of the year NOT Thanksgiving. So back to the difference in stuffing and dressing. For starters just as it’s called, stuffing is something stuffed on the inside of something or cooked under or around something, i.e., turkey, duck, foul. Dressing is something made in a pan all to itself or outside the main dish. 

Some people in the south think that it’s stuffing if it’s made with crackers or bread and dressing if it’s made with cornbread. This is false both can be made with either or a mixture of the two. In the Deep South you even get into rice dressing, oyster dressing, seafood dressing. Are those dressings? Well yes and no. Back to the beginning, the dressing, no matter if it’s cornbread, crackers, bread, oysters, seafood, rice, it’s not dressing if it’s cooked inside or under the meat. Then it would be stuffing. Similarly, if it’s cooked in a pan of its own its dressing not stuffing. It’s simple, what complicates it is tradition and what one family has always called it compared to another. You call it what you always have if it’s good no one’s going to care. 

Till next week I’m Chef Hunter Lee wishing you all a Happy Thanksgiving. 

Remember, “treat your kitchen, treat yourself”

Benwood’s, uniquely Southern, surely the Best!!!

Building a Better Bird

Thanksgiving is right around the corner, but don’t worry you will wow your family this year with the juicy and crispy skin of your turkey. In the south most families deep-fry their thanksgiving bird, but if you are one of the few that don’t here are some tips to get the skin crispy!

It might seem strange, but if you leave your turkey uncovered in the fridge overnight the cold air will absorb the moisture and help the skin dry out to make a crispy outer layer.

OR

You can also lather it in mayo! I know, I know, you’re all thinking, uh no Hunter, you rub it with butter and seasoning! I am here to tell you in the south your bird is either deep fried or covered in mayonnaise. You can spice up your mayo and mix in all your favorite seasonings and herbs too!

Till next week I’m Chef Hunter Lee.

Remember, “treat your kitchen, treat yourself”

Benwood’s, uniquely Southern, surely the Best!!!

Tupperware of the South

Let’s get shakin!!!

If you are from the south, you already know, if not, I’m ‘bout to tell you all about it.

Growing up you could open the fridge and there would be 4-5 plastic butter tubs. Did we like butter? Well yeah, who doesn’t BUT, you better open them all ‘cause you never know what you might find inside. That’s right with no shame at all, they were washed and repurposed.

It’s free Tupperware y’all. Now as a spoiled rotten kid this embarrassed me to no end. I thought it meant we were poor. Well, we weren’t but we were hardly affluent. Mom always say red (or tomato based) sauce like spaghetti, chili, sauce picante, etc. would stain her good Tupperware so leftovers went in the “southern” Tupperware. As an adult I’ve realized…she was right and NO she wasn’t just trying to embarrass me.

Those empty butter containers make perfect storage for leftovers and they are basically free! Most of them even hold up in the microwave to reheat whatever great leftover you put in them, and they come with their own lid.

As an adult, and retired chef I finally get it. I honestly own very few “store bought” storage containers. I love reusing the butter containers and even sometimes use the ones that pre chopped veggies come in, although they don’t hold up as well. Oh, and turns out red sauce does stain!

So how long are the prized leftovers good for? There is no exact science but here’s a few pointers. 

First off never put anything in the fridge still hot to the touch especially not anything that contains milk, cream, or seafood.

Rule of thumb for me is: 

3 days – chili, soups, gumbo (no seafood), stew, spaghetti, beans, peas, potato salad, chicken salad, and the like
2 days – beef, chicken, BBQ, pork, and the like
1 day – seafood, seafood gumbo, anything with cream or milk, 

You should also never reheat more than once. One and done!!!

Again, the above is what I do, is it safe to stretch it longer? On some things I’m sure it is, personally I wouldn’t eat it but that’s up to you, be the king (or queen) of your own kitchen. 

Till next week I’m Chef Hunter Lee 

Remember, “treat your kitchen, treat yourself” 

Benwood’s, uniquely Southern, surely the Best”

The Sweet 60s

Let’s get shakin!!!

I’m sure some of you have heard me say it, I’m no baker. It’s just never been my thing. I have a hand full of staple recipes that have gotten me through, and I’ve stuck to them. This recipe can be traced back to the 1960’s and is something I use to make with my maw-maw Bobbie. She passed on 7 years ago this week, and I thought I would honor her and share with you one of our cool weather Saturday treats.

Getting in the kitchen and spending time with her as a kid has been something I’ve cherished in life and it’s one of those recipes you just want to share with your kids or grandkids. Sharing them with a glass of milk is almost as much fun as making them. 

Hello Dolly 

  • 1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
  • 1/2 cup butter, melted
  • 1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk, divided
  • 1 1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1 cup shredded coconut
  • 1/2 cup white chocolate chips
  • Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease a 9×13-inch baking dish with baking spray or butter. Line it with parchment paper and leave an overhang on the sides.
  • In a large bowl, combine the graham cracker crumbs and melted butter until the crumbs are evenly moistened. Spread and press the crust into the bottom of the greased baking dish. 
  • Pour 1/2 can of sweetened condensed milk over the crust. Top with semi-sweet chocolate chips, walnuts, coconut, and white chocolate chips. Gently press the toppings into the crust. Pour the remaining condensed milk evenly over the toppings.
  • Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until lightly browned and the coconut flakes are golden. Let it cool to room temperature before slicing into squares. 
  • Using the overhangs, lift the baked dish onto a flat surface. Cut into bars with a sharp knife. Enjoy!

Until next week, I’m Chef Hunter Lee 

Remember, “treat your kitchen, treat yourself” 

Benwood’s, uniquely southern, surely the best!!!!

Island Time

Let’s get shakin!!!

It’s a well-known secret that I don’t like to fly. I know weird for someone who has attended helicopter pilot academy and held a rotorcraft pilots license up until 6 years ago when my health declined. Now I will take my love of travel from road-trips to the high seas. As you’re reading this I will be somewhere between the US and Belize City on a cruise ship. This will be my 16th cruise and my 4th time to Belize.

Years ago, early in my career I found myself in Belize at a place called The Wet Lizard. My order? Two fish tacos, chips & salsa, and of course a 48oz piña colada. It was amazing and totaled $13 US dollars. Needless to say, my day started and finished at The Wet Lizard. The salsa was so fresh and amazing, when I returned to the states, I contacted them for the recipe. It was a bit of a challenge, but I was given the recipe with the strict request of anytime I used it I would mention “The Wet Lizard.” It is nothing like mainland, American salsa but it’s well worth making. I can’t wait to arrive and head straight to The Wet Lizard.

While I relax on the beach here is a small, but amazing thing I can share with you…The Wet Lizard Salsa recipe.

  • 2 medium cucumbers, peeled, seeded, chopped 
  • 2 medium tomatoes chopped 
  • 1/2 cup green bell pepper chopped 
  • 1 jalapeño seeded and minced 
  • 1 small onion chopped 
  • 1 clove of garlic minced 
  • 2 tablespoons of fresh lime juice (not squeeze lime) 
  • 1 teaspoon of fresh minced parsley
  • 2 tablespoons fresh minced cilantro 
  • 1/2 tablespoon minced dill
  • 1/2 tablespoon sea salt 

Refrigerate 1 hour and enjoy 

Be sure to mention The Wet Lizard 😉

Until next week back on the mainland, I’m Chef Hunter Lee,

may you have fair winds and following seas

Remember, “treat your kitchen, treat yourself” 

Benwood’s, uniquely southern, surely the best”

To Cater or Not to Cater

Let’s get shakin!!

So as most of you know I closed my last full-service catering business over 6 years ago. I have since helped friends, past clients and local organizations but I officially stopped all catering with a final wedding I did for a friend this past September. It made 188 weddings in my career and with my OCD, my health, my sanity, and the release of the first book in the Benwood’s Surely Southern cookbook series it was time to close that chapter. 

What should you look for in a caterer, how do you find the right caterer for the right type of event? I get these and all kinds of questions almost daily. Here’s my overall take on it after over 15 years in the business. 

(1) What are your specialties? 

You want to know what they specialize in and does that type of food fit your event/theme. A lot of catering companies do not have an actual chef on the job. A lot of times it’s recipes and cooks, don’t take that the wrong way there’s nothing wrong with that and it could be the best food you’ve ever had. But you don’t want a company venturing away from their specialties if they don’t have a classically trained chef on staff. 

(2) Ask them what they recommend based on certain budget ideals and the type of event. 

This will give them (the professionals) a chance to explain what they envision for the event and see if they are creatively offering what you are looking for or have the ability to guide you in a direction you like. 

(3) What is the estimated cost? 

Some caterers do per person cost, some have different ways of figuring the cost. Have a budget and be ready to offer that to the caterer. I see so many people ask something like, how much would it cost me to cater a function for 100 people? Well, that’s a loaded question, I always tried to remain polite, but the honest answer based on what you just asked with no further info will probably get you an answer along the lines of well, “our minimum is $$$ per person or event, how much per person over that depends on YOU.” Caterers have to take into account, drop off, seated and served, buffet, location of event, foods served. Most caterers are very skilled at what they do but they aren’t mind readers. A lot of factors come into play and without those or your willingness to give details they will probably turn down the job or you will pay too much. 

(4) Do you provide a sampling of the menu?

Most high end and experienced caterers offer this, some charge for it some do not, most do. I would suggest if you haven’t spoken with past clients, don’t know the caterer personally, or it’s a larger scale event to ask for a sampling. Sometimes it’s worth the fee.

Finally, since I’m retired, I will tell you what most caterers won’t. Don’t expect to pay what you would in a restaurant and the days of $10-$15- sometimes even $20 per person are over with. Caterers work with you to plan the food side of your event, they shop or order the ingredients and often have to plan purchases or rentals of utensils, plating, napkins, serving pieces, and decor. They assign and schedule staff for not only the event but days of preparations before the event. They must plan how to get and serve warm or cold foods at a venue you selected that doesn’t offer a kitchen or doesn’t have refrigeration or stove or ovens, maybe not even a prep area, because you liked it. They then execute the event in a way that makes you look good, them look good, and put out quality great tasting food. All in all, this is a big undertaking even for experienced caterers but it’s what they do. 90% of the work that will go into your event you will never see. You see a finished product for 2-5 hours and it’s over. 

Till next week, I’m Chef Hunter Lee 

Remember, “treat your kitchen, treat yourself”

Benwood’s, uniquely southern, surely the best 

Is that a cold snap I feel?

Let’s get shakin!!!

Well, here we are y’all, summers dying down and the shorter cooler days and crisp cool nights are finally starting. Here in the south, I’m seeing trucks headed to the woods, the last hay being brought in from the fields, fall decor going up on front porches, and finally less mosquitos. This is one of my favorite times of year, I call it one pot season. This couldn’t be truer when it comes to southern cooking and the simplicity and goodness that can come from a meal in basically one pot (or crockpot). It’s about warming the body and soul and recipes like the one below does just that. It’s as easy as it is rich in flavor and its inexpensive to make which certainly doesn’t hurt nowadays. 

Mary Beth’s Potato Soup 

  • 2-3 lbs. of Russet or red potatoes cut into 1/4’s 
  • 1 Pint of half and half 
  • 2 cans of chicken broth 
  • 2 tablespoons of minced garlic 
  • 1 tablespoon Benwood’s Surely Southern Seasoning
  • Salt and pepper to taste 
  • 1 small to med yellow onion chopped 
  • 1/4th of a cup of real bacon bits (or cooked and chopped bacon)
  • 1 beef bouillon cube 

Combine all ingredients in crock pot and set on low and forget it for 6-8 hours or you can get this treat ready in about 3-4 hours on high. You can also use you’re insta-pot just adjust times accordingly. I like to lightly mash the potato chunks before serving for a little creamier soup. But you make it the way you like it. 

Until next week, I’m Chef Hunter Lee 

Remember, “treat your kitchen, treat yourself”

Benwood’s, Uniquely Southern, Surely the Best 

Squirrel Season, Y’all!

Let’s get shakin’ and head to the woods!!

My favorite time of year growing up, squirrel season! I got to spend quality time with my dad, he would even surprise me at school to check me out early for an afternoon hunt. As bad as I was, I highly doubt my teachers minded (a few might have looked forward to me leaving.) 

Opening weekend and usually the next included, my daddy’s friends around a fire talking about the hunt and how much work still needed to be done before their next outdoor adventure, deer season.

These fall weekends are when I first saw open-fire cooking first hand and I loved every minute of it. Today, looking back I smile realizing those guys were more interested in the hunt and eating than sanitation. Sometimes these camps didn’t have water much less soap. The squirrels were usually eaten with the same knife that skinned them only hours before. It was southern, it was country and it made memories.

Believe it or not it was usually great food, no side dishes (unless someone’s wife sent one.) If I was lucky, they remembered to bring paper plates!

I will save y’all the details on cleaning a squirrel and share with you one of my favorite recipes. For you hunters out there and for the wives that don’t go along on the hunt but get brought back the squirrels here’s a look into what they’re out there eating. 

Bacon Wrapped Squirrel on the Fire 

  • Squirrel legs (or the entire squirrel)
  • Beer
  • Benwood’s Surely Southern Seasoning 
  • Benwood’s Louisiana Hot Sauce or Garlic Picanté Hot Sauce 
  • Pepper
  • Salt
  • Minced onion (optional)
  • Hickory smoked bacon
  • Toothpick (optional)

Soak your squirrels in beer for 1-3 hours while you get the fire (with griddle) or grill going. To season the squirrel, sprinkle to your liking with all the dry seasonings. Feel free add more spices if you wish. That’s the great thing about cooking in the wild, work with what you got. Take the bacon and wrap each seasoned squirrel or leg. If you have trouble securing the bacon, use a toothpick to secure it. Place the squirrels over the fire but NOT over open flames. Cook till fully done. Once done sprinkle with hot sauce, dig in while you enjoy all that nature has to offer. 

Till next week, I’m Chef Hunter Lee

Benwood’s, uniquely southern, surely the best.

Who is  Benwoods?

Benwood’s spice was the original creation of Hunter Lee’s father Benny during the oil and gas boom in the 1980’s. Inspired by his love for cooking, catering and the unique flavors of Louisiana, the spice was a big hit with chefs and home cooks alike.

Meet  Chef Hunter Lee

For over 15 years, Chef Hunter Lee has sought to bring Louisiana cookin’ to the world as a chef/kitchen personality, food expert, restaurant consultant, and private chef!

Our  Locations

Find Benwood’s line of products at a retailer near you. We’re constantly adding additional stores to our local retailers list.