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Delicious Southern Fare

If you think Southern food has to be fattening to be delicious, chef Marvin Woods wants to change your mind.

On his show "Home Plate," which airs on the cable network Turner South, Woods teaches home cooks that Southern food can be flavorful and healthy. You can also check out his food at his new restaurant, MWoods, which is located in Miami.

For the latest Saturday Early Show's Chef on a Shoestring challenge, we asked Woods to create a delicious meal for four on our budget of $30.

Woods' menu as our Chef on a Shoestring: an appetizer of Fried Tomatoes with Baby Greens; an entrée of Shrimp Dumplings; and for dessert, Pear Skillet Cake.

In 2000, Woods introduced Americans to modern low-country cooking with his first cookbook, "The New Low-Country Cooking." Since then, he has been featured in "O" magazine and on The B. Smith show.

Woods moved to Florida from Charleston, S.C., where he was executive chef of Anson Restaurant. He graduated from the Academy of Culinary Arts in 1984. He has held chef positions at fine hotels and restaurants such as The National Hotel, in Miami, Fla.; Savannah Restaurant, in Miami Beach, Fla.; Milestone Hotel, in London, England; and Café Beulah, Orbit Café, Arizona 206, The SeaGrill at Rockefeller Center and Windows on the World, all located in New York City.

Woods' first course for his Chef on a Shoestring challenge is a very Southern dish -- fried tomatoes. Yes, Southerners really do eat fried green tomatoes; and they eat fried red tomatoes, too. The recipe Woods has created uses both red and green tomatoes. There are plenty of ways to coat and fry your tomatoes: You can use bread crumbs, cracker crumbs, cornmeal, or flour. Some people dip them in beaten eggs before dredging, while some just dredge and then fry. Wood says to salt and pepper them first, and use a little bacon grease for flavor if you have it.

Woods suggests buying shrimp with the shells on. You'll use the shells to make the cooking liquid for the dumplings. On medium and small shrimp, deveining is really a matter of preference, but large ones should always be deveined. The black, brown, or green so-called vein that runs through a shrimp isn't a vein at all. It's the digestive tract, which is often full of sand and impurities the shrimp picked up. Some farm-raised shrimp have next to none, while large shrimp pick up more -- simply because of their size.

According to "The Ultimate Shrimp Book" by Bruce Weinstein, here's how you devein a shrimp:

"The dark vein will often be sticking out from the neck (or fleshy end) of the shrimp. To remove it, hold the shrimp in one hand and gently pull the vein out with the thumb and forefinger of your other hand. If the vein does not come out easily or completely - or if it's not visible - use scissors or a sharp paring knife to cut down the back curve of the shell (opposite the little legs), cutting into the shrimp to a depth of only about 1/8-inch. Start cutting at the fleshy end and stop just before you reach the lest segment of shell near the tail. Gently open the slit with your fingers and run the shrimp under cold water to remove the exposed vein. Then peel off the shell, removing it completely or leaving only the last tail segment intact, as indicated by the recipe."


Fried Tomatoes

4 green tomatoes, washed, sliced into ¼-inch to ½-inch slices
2 beefsteak tomatoes, washed, sliced into ¼-inch to ½-inch slices
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1 to 1 1/2 cups egg whites (whites from about about 8-12 eggs)
1 cup cornmeal
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
blended oil for frying
3 cups baby greens, washed and patted dry

Season tomato slices with a little salt and pepper. Also season the corn meal with salt and pepper.

Place the flour in a shallow dish. Place the corn meal in another shallow dish as well. Place the egg whites in a bowl. Then take a slice of tomato, dredge it first in flour and shake off the excess. Next dip it into the egg whites, letting the excess drip off. Finally, coat well with the corn meal. Repeat these steps with each of the remaining tomato slices.

In a deep fryer or heavy, deep skillet, heat 2 to 3 inches of blended oil (see Chef's Note below) over medium heat. Bring the oil to 350 degrees F. Then add your tomato slices to the hot pan. Fry slices until golden brown. This will probably take about two to three minutes.

Use a slotted spoon to remove the tomato slices from the pan; drain on paper towels. You can keep them warm in an oven at 200 degrees F to 250 degrees F oven, if you're frying in batches.

Season the tomato slices again with salt and pepper if you wish. Divide the baby greens among four salad plates. Then divide the tomato slices evenly among the four plates, placing the tomatoes on top of the salad greens in the center of the plate.

Chef's Note: The chef likes to blend his oils for this recipe instead of using just olive oil or vegetable oil. So you can combine vegetable oil with olive oil or combine vegetable oil with corn oil, if you wish.

Shrimp Dumplings
Serves 4

1 to 1 1/2 pound large raw shrimp with shells on
1 onion, chopped
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
juice of one lemon
salt and pepper to taste
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup melted unsalted butter
2 tablespoon fresh cilantro, chopped
extra all-purpose flour for kneading
4 cups water
olive oil
2 tablespoons vegetable oil

Shell shrimp and devein. Reserve the shells for making the making the cooking liquid for the dumplings.

Wash the shrimp under running cold water and drain well on paper towels. Set aside.

In a heavy-bottomed pot, combine shrimp shells, chopped onion and chopped carrots. Cover the ingredients with four cups of water. Add the juice of one lemon and season with salt and pepper. Bring this to a boil. Then reduce the heat to a simmer for 25 minutes and strain.

Return the strained stock to the pot. Bring back to a boil. Use this stock for cooking the dumplings.

To make the dumpling dough, combine the flour and baking powder in bowl. Add the buttermilk, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, melted butter, and one tablespoon of chopped cilantro. Using your hands, mix together until all of the ingredients are well combined.

Dust a clean, hard surface with a handful of all-purpose dough.

Remove the dough from the bowl and place onto the dusted surface; work the dough into a ball.

To make the dumplings, simply pull pieces of the dough off into the particular size or shape you want. Place dumplings in the boiling stock and cook for 10 to 12 minutes, depending on the size of the dumplings.

Using a slotted spoon, remove the dumplings from the cooking liquid and toss with a little olive oil to prevent them from sticking together. Lay the dumplings on a baking sheet.

Keep the cooking liquid warm on low heat.

In a medium saute pan, heat 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil using medium heat. Season shrimp with salt and pepper.

Add the shrimp and cook for one and half to two minutes on each side. Add the dumplings and the remaining tablespoon of chopped cilantro. Toss until the dumplings are warmed.

Divide the shrimp and dumplings among four soup bowls. Ladle a little bit of broth into each bowl. Serve warm.

Pear Skillet Cake

Chef's Notes: Bosc Pears have firmer, denser flesh than many other pear varieties, makng them perfect for baking, broiling and poaching. They retain their shape and texture better than other varieties and their flavor is less likely to be overwhelmed by the use of warm spices such as cinnamon, cloves or nutmeg.

If you have trouble inverting the cake, try heating the bottom over the burner of the stove to melt and loosen the sugar. If you still have no success, your cast iron skillet may not be seasoned well enough. But no worries -- scoop the cake out and top it with vanilla ice cream.

3 firm pears, such as Bosc
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/4 cups light brown sugar, packed
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsulphured molasses
1 cup boiling water
1 large egg, lightly beaten
vanilla ice cream, for serving (optional)

Peel and core pears and cut into 8 wedges. Melt 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) of butter in a cast iron skillet over medium heat. Reduce heat to low.

Sprinkle 1/4 cup brown sugar evenly over bottom of skillet and cook, without stirring, 3 minutes (not all sugar will be melted).

Arrange pears in a circular pattern over sugar and cook, without stirring, 2 minutes over the low heat. Then remove the cast iron pan from the heat. Heat oven to 350 degrees F.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, nutmeg and salt. Set aside. In a small bowl, combine molasses and boiling water. Set aside.

In the bowl of a heavy duty mixer fitted with a paddle attachment on medium speed, combine the remaining butter, brown sugar and egg and beat until creamy, about 2 minutes.

Reduce mixer speed to low and add flour mixture, alternating with molasses in 3 batches until smooth. Pour batter over pears in skillet, gently spreading batter evenly over pears. Bake until a cake tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Remove to a wire rack to cool 5 minutes.

Run a thin paring knife around the edge of the skillet. Place a large serving plate over skillet. Carefully invert cake onto plate. Gently lift off skillet and replace any pears that remain in skillet. Optional: Serve warm with vanilla ice cream.

For more information about Chef Marvin Woods, go to

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