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Award-Worthy Southern Cuisine, on a Budget

John Currence won the prestigious James Beard Foundation Award this year as Best Chef in the South.

He owns four of the most popular restaurants in Oxford, Miss.: City Grocery, Big Bad Breakfast, Bouré and Snackbar.

Still, was he up to making a three-course meal on a slim, $35 budget, as "The Early Show Saturday Edition"'s "Chef on a Shoestring"?

Currence accepted our challenge and, in doing so, automatically was entered into our "How Low Can You Go?" competition. The "Shoestring" chefs whose ingredients' costs are lowest will be invited back to prepare our year-end holiday extravaganzas.

Southern cuisine is synonymous with comfort food. But that doesn't mean it can't be refined, as Currence showed Saturday, making some of that refined comfort food.

MENU

• Wild Mushroom & Goat Cheese "Pop Tart" with Balsamic Drizzle
• Garlic Studded Pork Roast with Sweet Potatoes, Pearl Onions & Roasted Mushrooms
• Chocolate Espresso Cake

"Early Show" Recipes Galore

FOOD FACTS:

Shitake Mushrooms: Through originally from Japan and Korea, the delicious shiitake mushroom is now being cultivated in the United States. The meaty flesh has a full-bodied (some say steak-like), bosky flavor. Shiitake stems are extremely tough and therefore usually removed. Spring and autumn are the seasons when fresh shiitakes are most plentiful. Choose plump mushrooms with edges that curl under. Avoid any with broken or shriveled caps. The versatile shiitake is suitable for almost any cooking method including sauteing, broiling and baking.

Pork Shoulder: The pork shoulder is taken from the upper part of the foreleg and includes a portion of the shoulder. It is smoked, which gives it a very ham-like flavor. It often has the bone removed. Though it's slightly tougher (requiring longer cooking) and has more waste because of the bone structure, pork shoulder is a good, inexpensive substitute for regular ham. (Source: Food Lover's Companion)

Chutney: This spicy condiment contains fruit, vinegar, sugar and spices. It can range in texture from chunky to smooth and in degrees of spiciness from mild to hot. Chutney's a delicious accompaniment to curried dishes. The sweeter chutneys also makes interesting bread spreads and are delicious served with cheese. (Source: Food Lover's Companion)

RECIPES

Wild Mushroom & Goat Cheese "Pop Tart" with Balsamic Drizzle

INGREDIENTS: Tart Dough
1-1/4 cup All-Purpose Flour
1/4 teaspoon Salt
1-1/2 teaspoons Dry Thyme
1/4 teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
1/2 cups Chilled, Unsalted Butter, cut into small pieces
2-1/2 tablespoons Ice Water

METHOD:

In the bowl of a food processor, combine the flour, thyme, cayenne and salt; pulse to combine. Add butter to the flour mixture and pulse again until mixture resembles coarse cornmeal.

Remove to a separate bowl and, using a fork, stir in the ice water just until dough comes together nicely. Knead briefly, form pastry into a ball and chill for 1 hour.

Roll pastry out on a lightly-floured work surface into a circle approximately 1/4-inch thick. Cut into rectangles just smaller than a typical Pop-Tart. Re-roll scrap and cut again.

Place the 8 rectangles on a cookie sheet in the refrigerator, covered in plastic.

INGREDIENTS: Wild Mushroom Pop Tart Filling
3 cups Seasonal Mushrooms (Shiitakes are perfectly acceptable), sliced
5 tablespoons Shallot, diced
6 tablespoons Garlic Clove, thinly sliced
4 tablespoons Peanut Oil
2 teaspoons Dry Thyme
2 teaspoons Salt
2 teaspoons Black Pepper

METHOD:

Combine 4 tablespoons oil, shallot and garlic in a sauté pan and bring to a simmer stirring constantly. Remove garlic and shallot when browned and add rest of the oil to the pan. Stir in sliced mushrooms and season immediately with salt and black pepper. As mushrooms begin to wilt, add thyme and remove from heat.

Once cooled, add crispy shallot and garlic to mix. Reserve to make "Pop Tarts"

ASSEMBLY INGREDIENTS:
1/2 cup Goat Cheese
1 Egg
Tart Dough
Recipe Filling

METHOD:

Lay four of the tart dough rectangles on a lightly floured work surface. Cover each with a thin layer of the wild mushroom mixture, making sure to leave ½-inch of the edge exposed all the way around.

Crumble 2 Tbsp of goat cheese onto each of the four tart bases. Brush the edge of each tart with egg and lay a second piece of tart dough over the top. Crimp the edges with the tines of a fork. Brush the tops of each with a bit more egg, cut small vent holes and sprinkle with a pinch of salt.

Bake these in a 350º oven for 20 minutes or until golden brown.

INGREDIENTS: Balsamic Drizzle
1-1/2 cups Balsamic Vinegar
1 orange, zest and juice
2 tablespoons Brown Sugar
1 tablespoon Soy Sauce

METHOD:

Combine the above ingredients in a non-reactive saucepan and bring to a boil. Simmer over medium heat until reduce by half. Drizzle over warm Pop Tarts.

For more recipes, go to Page 2.