The Lesser-Known Crop—Louisiana Blueberries

Let’s get shakin!!!!! 

When you think of Louisiana you think of cotton, sugarcane, rice, even corn, but how about blueberries?

Absolutely, especially if you are over 40 years old and from DeSoto Parish Louisiana. 

It conjures memories of the Blueberry Festival, half the town covered in Blueberry signs, teens picking blueberries in the summer for extra money, and even the Blueberry Cafe. 

Those days are all but memories now, or at least for most, but all is not lost. Louisiana still produces amazing blueberries and has blueberry farms, several right here in DeSoto Parish like Hillcrest Blueberry Farms in Gloster, Louisiana. Hillcrest was even featured in Southern Living Magazine.

Blueberries have a short season, and we are sadly coming to an end for this season but if you hurry fresh ones are still available for another week or so and even after that you can get them frozen. 

In honor of the Louisiana Blueberry and the farmers that work hard to make a living and supply all of us with these delicious little treats. I’m going to share one of my favorite things to do with them. 

Louisiana Blueberry Cobbler 

  • 3/4 cup sugar 
  • 4 tablespoons butter, softened 
  • 1 egg 
  • 2 cups flour 
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder 
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt 
  • 1/2 cup milk 
  • 2 cups blueberries (fresh or frozen)

Glaze:

  • 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar 
  • 2 tablespoons butter  
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated orange or lemon peel 
  • 1-1/2 tablespoons milk

Preheat oven to 350˚F. Grease a 9×9-inch baking pan. Combine sugar and butter in a mixing bowl, cream together. Add egg and beat well. Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt. Add dry ingredients to creamed mixture alternately with milk, beating well after each addition. Fold in blueberries. Spread batter in prepared pan. Bake at 350˚F for 40 to 45 minutes or until top springs back when touched. Remove from oven and cool for 10 minutes, then remove from pan and place on wire rack.

To prepare Glaze:
In a bowl, cream together confectioner’s sugar, butter, and orange peel. Gradually stir in milk until mixture reaches desired consistency. Drizzle glaze over warm cake and serve. Even better served with homemade vanilla ice cream.

Remember, “treat your kitchen, treat yourself”

Chef Hunter Lee 

Uniquely southern, surely the best!!

The SKILL-et

Let’s get shakin!

The cast iron skillet is an essential tool in the southern kitchen! The problem is so many of y’all are killin the skillet before it’s in its prime!

If you wanted to threaten a cajun-cook, just tell them you’ll put their cast iron in the dishwasher! In case you didn’t know that is a big NO NO! When you want to clean your cast iron, its ok to use a VERY small amount of dish soap, but don’t ever, and I mean ever let that thing soak overnight!

Pre-heating is your friend! Iron is not a naturally non-stick metal…now this applies to all cooking; you never want to put your pan on the stove, add the food you’re cooking and then flip the heat on! If you do that and it sticks and breaks apart…that’s why!

To create a non-stick layer in your skillet, heat oil to a high temperature. If you’re cooking and you start to see some flaking, don’t panic, that’s your trusty non-stick layer!

When I was growing up, nobody was allowed to use my daddy’s cast iron! He seasoned it and took care of it like it was his other child. When my daddy was teaching me how to cook and sharing his own tips and tales with me, he gifted me my first SEASONED cast iron skillet! It is a common gift in the south to gift new couples a seasoned skillet.

A seasoned cast iron skillet gift shows that you invested time to give someone the perfect gift!

Uniquely Southern, Surely the Best!

“Remember treat your kitchen, treat yourself.”

Chef Hunter Lee

Well Kiss My Grits!

Shrimp and bacon on a grits in a cast iron pot, sprinkled with parsley.

Let’s get shakin!!

Grits are about as southern as it gets. Originating from native Indians and slowly making its way into the antebellum kitchens of the south. 

Grits are made in many different fashions, some as unique as the people that make them and the cultures, they are made in. They can be breakfast, a side dish or even an upscale dish topped with shrimp, Grillades (pronounced GREE-ahds) and less known but no less delicious version topped with fish in places like New Orleans and coastal towns. 

One of my favorite recipes I found years ago while living in Lafayette, Louisiana. We were having a 4th of July cook-out at my house and one of my close friends Mitch, a true character, he was south Louisiana through and through, came ready to rumble and hold his own in the kitchen with his well-known specialty. Cheesy sweet corn grits.  Something I found a bit strange at first. Let me just tell you after trying them not only did everyone scrape the pot, but I also had a new favorite.

My dear friend Mitch passed on a few years ago from cancer but I will always remember him, his personality, his love of his friends and family, and his delicious cooking. I have always cherished this recipe and the time I had with my dear friend, and I’m thrilled to share it with you. It will also be in our 3rd book in the Benwood’s cookbook series.

Mitch’s Cheesy Sweet Corn Grits

4 cups of whole milk
4 cups of chicken broth 
1 teaspoon of salt 
1/2 teaspoon of black pepper 
1/4 teaspoon of sugar
1 cup of fresh sweet corn or (canned sweet corn drained)
2 cups stoned ground grits 
1 cut shredded cheddar cheese 

In a medium saucepan, bring milk, chicken stock, salt, pepper, sugar, and corn to a simmer on medium-high heat for 10 minutes.

Add the stone ground grits to the saucepan, continue to stir for 2 minutes. Then reduce heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes until liquid as mostly absorbed. Stir in the cheddar cheese, mix WELL, and serve. 

Remember, “treat your kitchen, treat yourself” 

Chef Hunter Lee 

The Simplicity of Cheese!

Let’s get shakin!!

Growing up in true southern societal fashion unplanned entertaining was almost as important as planned and reflected heavily on the host.  I always say I was born in the wrong era, but I do still see this dying entertaining art in some circles in the south. It’s less prevalent now-a-days especially in middle or lower classes and has a lot to do with social norms, two income households, after school activities for children, etc. 

What am I talking about? Always having something you can set out if company shows up; after church, Saturday evening, or especially around cocktail/teatime in the afternoons. Simple things that can be set out or readily available if someone drops by.

Never dispel the classy host powers of setting out a block of cream cheese topped with pepper jelly or Pika-Peppa sauce with some chips or crackers. A simple block of sharp cheese on a classy cheese board. If you wanna go all out you can set out the cheese with a spicy mustard and some sliced summer sausage, maybe even some homemade pickles. All the above are inexpensive, saves well in the fridge, and can set up in 5 minutes or less. 

For most of my life I have kept the ingredients to welcome guest at a moment’s notice, it’s how I grew up with my grandparents and still to this day my Martha (my godmother) still does this very thing. It’s southern, it shows class and as simple as it is it makes guests (even the uninvited and unexpected ones) feel welcome. You can take your entertaining to the next level without breaking the bank by stepping back to a generations old southern act of prepared simplicity. 

Making those that drop by for an afternoon cocktail or sweet tea feel welcome; it’s just part of the south, it’s our culture, it’s part of our past, and in Louisiana it’s just our “Joie de vivre.” (enjoyment of life)


Uniquely Southern, Surely the Best!

Remember, “Treat your kitchen, treat yourself!”

Chef Hunter Lee 

Pass it on…Generation to Generation

Let’s get shakin!!!

“Pass it on,” children and young adults in the kitchen!

How many of you still cook with the kiddos?

Cookies?
Cupcakes?
Grillin?
Let them help with dinner?

Sadly, this has become a dying trend over the last few decades.

Kids in the kitchen: not only does it teach a skill they will carry throughout life, it is also time well spent! A fun and beautiful way to connect, make memories and pass on the recipes you were taught as a child. 

Growing up I was always by my daddy’s side grilling steaks, BBQing chicken, smoking a brisket, or frying deer meat or fish. If it was winter, you would find us cooking gumbo or sauce picanté. Some afternoons and Friday nights you would find me in the kitchen with my maw-maw making chicken salad (yes that’s where my recipe came from.) On holidays she and I would make gingerbread cookies.

In the south food is family. Food is community. Food is the fabric of our lives and those we share it with. It doesn’t matter what you are making, the most important thing you are making is memories and I’m living proof those memories as well as the skills learned stay with you for a lifetime.

Get those kids back in the kitchen and like I always say. 

“Treat your kitchen, treat yourself”

Chef Hunter Lee

Peel and Suck: Eat Crawfish like ya’ from the Bayou State

Let’s get shakin.

How do you eat a crawfish? What works best? How do you get all the tail meat out? Do I suck the head?

When it comes to eating crawfish with your friends and family, there is always competition…SOMEBODY at your table is going to turn ya crawfish boil into an amateur crawfish eating contest! Who can eat ‘em the fastest!

HOW TO PEEL AND EAT CRAWFISH LIKE A CAJUN AND A NOT SO CAJUN

GRIP: Hold the crawfish on both sides of the tail joint with your thumbs on one side of the shell and your index fingers on the other. 

SNAP: Twist just above the abdomen and snap the head away from the tail. Discard the head OR if you’re feeling especially brave, suck the juice from the head. *

PEEL: Use your thumbs to peel the shell from the widest part of the tail for a clearer passage for your crawfish meat.  

TUG: Hold the tip of the tail with your thumb firmly pressing up on the underside and tug the tail meat upward using your teeth.

Or what some call the north Louisiana version: basically, the same BUT the once the tail ribs are removed, you pinch the tail meat out with your thumb and index fingers. 

REPEAT: Repeat steps 1 through 4 ‘till you are full. A good rule of thumb in Louisiana is to serve 5 lbs. of boiled crawfish per person.

*Sucking the head is optional. Be careful, if you do opt to suck the head, inhaling that seasoning can cause you to break out in a coughing fit and show the table you’re a beginner.

Cut loose and remember to wash those hands with a lemon before you rub your eyes or go to the bathroom. Ignoring this one will be a mistake you will only make once. 

Note that Louisiana is almost broke up into two different states. Silly as that sounds I like the word BROKE instead of saying separated. People will argue where this imaginary line is.

Most true Cajuns will say anything north of I-10 isn’t REAL Louisiana. Having grown up in north Louisiana and having retired here but living and working in food for close to 15 years south of I-10 in New Orleans, Lafayette and Lake Charles, I have to differ.

The landscape is different, the people are different, the culture is different, and the food is different in northern Louisiana and that’s something few Louisianians will argue but over the decades and with hurricanes pushing some folks north and the oil and gas industry pushing some folks south we are more blended in people, food and culture than the Louisiana of the past.

Nobody ever just boils crawfish and depending on where you are and who you’re with will determine what is getting boiled. Surely, you know there is always corn and some type of potato but there are MANY other things people throw in the mix.

I have seen Brussel sprouts, asparagus, onions, cans of green beans or can corn, sausage, cabbage, mushroom, jalapeños, even eggs. It’s all about taste and what you like and trust me what goes in the pot is just about as diverse as the people cooking it. 

Growing up one of my first jobs was a liquor store clerk. You knew it was crawfish season when everyone would come by and ask the liquor stores to save their beer flats (the cardboard box that the beer sits in.) These are the perfect serving trays for a crawfish boil. This might sound crazy to some outside Louisiana but keep in mind a crawfish boil isn’t a classy affair. You’re cooking and eating outside. It makes a messy occasion, nothing fancy about throwing a crawfish boil. It’s about great food, family, and friends, and obviously nothing goes better with boiled crawfish than ice cold beer.

Let ya hair down and enjoy the fun, fellowship and food, if you are worried about making a mess of your hands, your clothes, and the sides of your cold beer, a good down home crawfish boil might not be for you.

Here’s a little treat right out of my not yet released cookbook, ‘Livin’ Large in Louisiana,’ the 2nd cookbook in the 3 book Benwood’s Surely Southern series due to be released in the end of 2022. My own crawfish dipping sauce. (It also goes great with shrimp and scallops)

1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup ketchup
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1 TBSP Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon Benwood’s Surely Southern seasoning (or Cajun seasoning of your choice)

Benwood’s hot sauce to taste 

Mix all together.

Remember, “treat your kitchen, treat yourself” 

Chef Hunter Lee 

You’ll “Roux” the Day

A saucepan of melted butter or oil and a person holding a cup of flour, ready to pour in.

Let’s get shakin!!!! 

So last week we talked about “The Trinity” now let’s get to talking about dat Roux. 

Roux!!! What is a Roux? Roux is one of the first tasks taught in culinary school. Quite simply it’s the base.

Roux is a shortening of beurre roux, which in French translates as “brown butter.”

It’s the thickening agent for a lot of Cajun, Creole and some country recipes. The most famous and notable of these is of course gumbo. BUT it’s used in meatball stew, chicken stew, smothered pork and étouffée’s even though a lighter roux is usually used for dishes like étouffée.

The thought of making roux can and has intimidated the masses for decades. It can be a daunting task if you don’t take the time to follow a few simple steps. I still see a lot of great cooks (even a couple restaurant chefs that will remain nameless) using jar roux, roux mixes, and store-bought shortcuts.

Growing up in Louisiana I learned from my daddy at an early age how to make roux. I remember those days fondly but at the same time honestly it might have been the most boring thing I had ever seen. If you had asked me back then what and how long it took to make roux as a kid I would have said forever! Usually, time wise it took him about 3 Budweiser’s or two Old Charter and cokes to make it. Part of that is the fact you cannot do anything else, you can’t walk away, you can’t really socialize, you can’t prep anything else at the same time.

You stir, you stir, then you stir some more. You stand there and stir until it’s done. Too slow and low never gets it done, too high and fast and you risk burning it. If you even slightly burn it, you throw it away, wash the pot and start over. As a kid this was annoying and boring…I could do nothing but watch and wait. Even as an adult it’s one of my least favorite things to make but being the base of sooooo many great recipes and dishes ya’ just have to do it.

A few notable differences in roux. Typical Creole roux is made from butter and flour, while a Cajun roux is usually made with lard or oil and flour. This is partly due to the scarcity of butter in some Acadian areas of Louisiana when Cajun cuisine was being developed.

The 3 Types of Roux

Depending on how long you cook your roux, the color can range from pale white to dark brown. Each roux has its own unique use and they are not interchangeable, so it’s important to know the differences.

1. White roux: A white roux is the most common type of roux used to thicken sauces. The flavor is mild, it has the strongest thickening power of all three roux types. It’s most often used to thicken white sauces such as a béchamel, country gravy or cheese sauce. It does not have a noticeable color or flavor. It’s also somewhat thicker and more textured than darker rouxs. The longer you cook it, the smoother it becomes.

2. Blonde roux: Like a white roux, a blonde roux can be used to thicken any white sauce. It’s cooked for a few minutes longer than a white roux and develops a mild, nutty flavor. A blonde roux is traditionally used to thicken things like étouffée and chicken dishes.

3. Brown roux: A brown roux is the one used most often in the south.  The flavor is strong and imparts a nutty, toasted flavor to whatever it is added to. Traditionally brown roux is used as the base to thicken gumbos, stews and other Louisiana dishes.  Brown roux has the least thickening power out of the three rouxs but the richest flavor. 

Roux has 2 ingredients: Fat and Flour. You can use animal fat, butter, lard or oil in your roux.

Now let’s make a roux 

In a small saucepan melt the butter (or heat the oil) over medium heat. Add the flour and stir constantly for 2-5 minutes until the mixture is bubbly and foamy. Keep stirring over medium heat for up to an additional 5 minutes (10 minutes total). You’ll know it’s a blonde roux when it turns a light caramel or peanut butter color. Keep stirring over medium heat for up to an additional 5 minutes (10 minutes total). You’ll know it’s done when it turns a light caramel or peanut butter color. At this point for a darker roux turn down the heat to medium-low and keep stirring. You’ll need to keep cooking for an additional 5-15 minutes. The roux will take on a nutty aroma and turn a milk chocolate brown. Now to get that dark roux, make sure your heat is still set to medium-low and keep stirring till your roux is a dark complex maple color. This is a true labor of love and you should be tired from stirring at this point. The total cook time is 35+ minutes but so worth it. Dark Roux adds a complex and lovely flavor and is what’s commonly used in gumbos and amazing Louisiana, Cajun, Creole and country cookin’. 

Every roux will turn out a little bit different and that’s part of the magic. Embrace the challenge and don’t worry, even the best chefs have burnt a roux or two. Just start over. 

I have made gumbo for most of my life throughout every part of Louisiana. Seafood, chicken and sausage, andouille, duck, squirrel and some I can’t even remember. My gumbo has won awards, cook-offs, and is my favorite thing to cook and serve guests here in the bayou state and that same little boy who watched his daddy so many years ago bored out of my mind while he made the roux is still in here. I hate making roux but I do it because I it’s the start of some of the best food you can put in ya mouth. Well and now I’m the one who gets to drink when I make it 😉

I will tell y’all the same thing I told a tv host years ago when asked what’s the secret to my gumbo (or any great gumbo,) “there’s no secret, it’s all about the roux, you get that right and everything else will fall into place.” 

Guys it’s all about the Roux!!!! Have yourself a drink, get to cookin’ and remember, “Treat Your Kitchen, Treat Yourself”

Chef Hunter Lee

The Trinity

Let’s Get Shakin!!

People think of different things when they hear the word, ‘trinity’. If you’re from the south, especially Louisiana, odds are the first things you think of is……. Good food.

The expression “holy trinity” as it applies to Cajun cooking is thought to have originated with famed New Orleans chef, Paul Prudhomme, who specialized in Cajun and Creole cuisines. 

Growing up, Louisiana weekends (especially in the fall and winter months) were for family, friends or get together’s of some kind. As you can imagine these get togethers always involved some of the best food to be had.

In my opinion there’s never a wrong time for gumbos, stews, sauce picante’s, étouffées or jambalaya. BUT in the south these are typically made during the colder months; mostly due to the heat down! The last thing you wanted was a stove top heating up an already hot house. Also, these hearty meals aren’t always the best after a long days work in the heat. 
Daddy used to say, “long as it isn’t a dessert, trinity just makes it better”.

What is the trinity? Quite simply onions (white or yellow,) bell pepper and celery
The Trinity is the flavor base of not just a majority of Cajun and Creole dishes but literally the base of the culture. It is the foundation of flavor. Different dishes use the trinity in different ways but most start with it chopped or minced and sautéed, this is almost always followed with chopped or minced garlic which just melds it all together to perfection. 

Dishes like meatball stew, chicken stew, gumbo’s, etc. this would be added to a Roux (I will cover that in another story) and some things like soups, stews, and jambalaya it’s just the base before broth and other ingredients are added. 

Traditionally in the south you also have a couple other trinities: 
The Trinity of Spices – cayenne, black pepper, and when available, white pepper 
The Trinity of Herbs – oregano, bay leaf, and parsley 

Throughout my career and now as a retired Chef I still carry on a tradition of using those lessons, tricks and tips taught to me so many decades ago by my dad and other great southerners. I tend to lean into tradition to keep things “the way they were”. In carrying on that legacy I have altered a few things like incorporating Benwood’s, my line of Certified Louisiana seasonings including the original recipe of my daddy’s, which was my first seasoning released. Benwood (the nickname my daddy carried most of his adult life) lives on in Benwood’s Surely Southern seasoning’s and sauces. 

A lot has changed through the years, it’s now professionally blended and packaged and available to the public, but I’ll never forget the days of me sitting on the kitchen counter in the country watching my daddy hand mix and blend his seasoning into a zip lock bag to use for whatever amazing meal he was making. 

Although, I long for those days and cherish them in my memories, having it readily available in a can for my own use and being able to share it will all of you is a long sought after dream come true and I know he would be proud. 

Remember, “treat your kitchen, treat yourself”

Benwood’s Surely Southern, uniquely southern, surely the best. 
Chef Hunter Lee 

Benwood’s Surely Southern “Louisiana–Recipes of a People”

This is the highly anticipated 1st cookbook in a series published by Fulton Books.

Now, ONLY 4-6 weeks away from releasing the first book! It may feel a long way off, but I have been so excited to bring you my taste of Louisiana…

Louisiana – Recipes of a People will be available online at Books A Million, Barnes & Noble, Amazon and in e-books for Apple, Kindle, Android, Google and bookshelves.

There will be purchase links on my website when it becomes available.

Make sure you’re following on Facebook, Instagram, Tik-Tok and on the website for updates on release dates, book signings, appearances and more!

All Benwood’s Surely Southern products: seasonings, sauces, merchandise and cookbooks will be available on the website as soon as we go live!

I am thrilled at how the first cookbook turned out! I, Chef Hunter, chose the recipes and stories from my life to share with y’all, and am honored to take you on this first culinary journey of Louisiana and the amazing people and culture we share.

Remember, “Treat Your Kitchen, Treat Yourself”

Chef Hunter Lee

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.