By Virginia Hornbuckle

Seafood has always been a favorite of mine. Attending college on the Gulf Coast and culinary school in Charleston, I had the opportunity to try all types, playing with their versatile flavor combinations and textures. You can dress up a recipe with lobster and crab, or make it casual with fried shrimp or a huge crawfish boil. Dishes range from intricate, labor-intensive French entrees to beautiful filets of fish in a rainbow of colors fresh from the Gulf, grilled simply with some olive oil and a squeeze of lemon.

Here in Vestavia the Gulf is never far away either with Snapper Grabber’s Land and Sea on Highway 31 or Sexton’s Seafood in Cahaba Heights. I’m reminded how unique of a treat it is to have these markets in our backyard when I visit my family back in Memphis—and pack a cooler of seafood to bring with me. Even in today’s world of overnight delivery, it is almost impossible or too costly to purchase really fresh seafood in most of the mainland areas of the U.S. Add to that that we can go by Murphree’s Market for freshly shelled peas and The New York Butcher shop for an array of specialty cuts of meat, and we have access to some of the best quality ingredients in the Birmingham area right here in our own backyard.

Here are some recipes I developed using what I find in these markets—and knowing as a busy mom, I want something that is quick, delicious, and worth the expense and calories. They all feature the simplicity of fresh ingredients with a little extra sparkle: fresh herbs, citrus and good olive oil. I hope they provide a way for you to get your family to slow down and catch up with each other just like they do for mine.

Virginia posts fresh and simple recipes on her blog at Follow her on Instagram and Facebook at @virginiahornbucklecooks.

Golden Tile in Papillote with Vegetables and Soy Butter

Makes 2 servings
Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes

  • 1 cup loosely packed sugar snap peas, blanched
  • 1 cup loosely packed baby carrots, cut in half lengthwise
  • ¼ cup fresh peas
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 2 tablespoons low sodium soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 (6-ounce) filets Golden Tile, or other firm white fish
  • 6 thin slices lime, seeded

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Tear off two 1 ½-foot rectangles of parchment paper. Fold paper in half, making a firm crease. Cut each square into a large heart. Place paper on rimmed baking sheet. Place half of sugar snap peas, carrots and peas on one side of crease in larger side (top) of heart. Repeat with remaining vegetable mixture and paper heart.

Whisk melted butter, soy sauce, lime juice and sugar in medium bowl. Spoon a fourth of it over vegetable mixture on each heart. Place fish filets on top of vegetable mixture. Spoon remaining soy butter mixture over fish. Layer lime slices over fish.

Fold opposite side of paper over fish and vegetables. Starting from the round side of the heart, make a series of small upward folds and tucks, pressing firmly to seal. Work from round side to pointed side of heart, making small tucks and sealing as you go.

Bake for 20 minutes. Paper packets should puff. Remove from baking sheet and place on plates. Carefully cut top of paper to release steam and serve immediately.

Tip: You can substitute any fish or seafood in this recipe, but it works best with a mild fish that has a very thing skin or even with a shellfish such as scallops.


Blanch Your Veggies

Blanching vegetables helps them to retain their color and is a great first step in the cooking process like for this papillote to help thicker vegetables cook evenly with thinner ones. To blanch vegetables:

  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat.
  2. Add vegetables to boiling water for 1 to 2 minutes.
  3. Remove vegetables from and place in an ice bath for 3 to 4 minutes or until chilled.
  4. Remove from ice bath and place in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet if using later, or chop and serve as needed. If you are working with multiple vegetables, you can blanch clean vegetables in batches in the same boiling water, removing vegetables from water with tongs or slotted spoon.

Seared Scallops over Spring Vegetable Risotto

Makes approximately 4 to 6 servings
Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 45 minutes

  • 5 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 2 tablespoons chopped green onion
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 cup Arborio rice
  • 3 cups low sodium chicken broth
  • 2/3 cup dry white wine, such as Pinot Gris (optional)
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup fresh peas, blanched
  • 1 cup asparagus, cut into 1-inch pieces and blanched
  • 1 cup sliced baby zucchini
  • 12 large sea scallops
  • Zest and juice of 1 lemon, divided

Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil over medium-low heat in a large Dutch oven or heavy bottomed saucepan. Cook green onion and garlic in olive oil for 1 to 2 minutes or until garlic begins to turn translucent. Add rice to garlic mixture, stirring well to coat with oil. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes, stirring often.

Add 1 cup of chicken broth to rice, stirring to combine. Increase heat to medium. Cook for 6 to 7 minutes or until broth is almost absorbed, stirring often. Repeat in 1 cup increments with remaining broth. Add wine to rice (if using wine), cooking until absorbed.

Remove Dutch oven from heat. Add blanched peas, asparagus and zucchini, stirring to combine. Add Parmesan, half of lemon juice and half of zest to rice mixture, stirring well. Cover to keep warm.

Heat remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium-high heat in a large nonstick skillet. Working in batches, cook scallops for 2 to 3 minutes per side or until golden brown, adding more olive oil if needed. Spoon risotto onto plate. Top risotto with scallops and desired amount of lemon juice and zest.

BBQ Shrimp and Bacon over Gouda Grits

Makes approximately 4 servings
Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes

  • 1 cup stone ground grits
  • 4 cups low sodium chicken broth
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 /2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 ½ cups grated Gouda cheese
  • 4 strips bacon
  • 16 jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • ¼ cup barbecue sauce
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons chopped green onion

Cook grits according to package directions, substituting chicken broth for water. Add butter, salt and pepper to cooked grits, stirring well.  Add Gouda to grits, stirring to combine. Cover and keep warm.

Cook bacon over medium-high heat in a large nonstick skillet for 3 to 4 minutes or until fully cooked. Remove from skillet and place on a paper towel lined plate. Drain grease from skillet, reserving 1 tablespoon. Chop bacon.

Cook shrimp in reserved bacon grease in large nonstick skillet over medium heat for 2 minutes per side or until shrimp turns pink and opaque and is fully cooked. Remove skillet from heat.

Pour barbecue sauce over shrimp, stirring to combine. Pour lemon juice over shrimp, stirring well.

Spoon grits onto plate. Top with shrimp mixture and chopped green onion. Top with desired amount of lemon juice and zest.

Tip: Stone-ground grits have the best texture, and I like McEwen and Sons that are milled just outside Birmingham. If you cannot find stoneground, you can use regular grits, but I would steer clear of instant or quick cooking for this application.

Melt-in-Your-Mouth Crab Cakes

Makes approximately 12 servings
Preparation time: 15 minutes
Chill time: 1 hour
Cook time: 15 minutes

  • 1 pound jumbo lump crabmeat, picked to remove shells
  • 1 cup Panko bread crumbs
  • 3 tablespoons chopped green onion
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided

Combine crabmeat, panko breadcrumbs, green onion, salt, and pepper in a large bowl.  Toss gently with hands to combine. Pour cooled butter over crab meat mixture, tossing gently with hands to mix well.

Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper or plastic wrap. Divide crab mixture evenly into 12 equal portions. Pat mixture firmly with hands to make a “cake.” Place cake on prepared baking sheet. Repeat with remaining crab mixture.

Cover baking sheet with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour and up to 12 hours. (It is important to chill them so that they stay together when cooking since there are few binding agents in the crab cake. There are no raw ingredients in crab cake. You are cooking crab cakes to brown and get a good crunch, not to cook through).

Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Place 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil in skillet. Working in batches, cook crab cakes for 2 to 3 minutes per side or until golden brown, adding more olive oil as needed so cakes do not stick.

Serve crab cakes over a bed of spring mix with Buttermilk Chive Caper Dressing or on their own with a squeeze of lemon.

Tip: Always use fresh crabmeat for crab cakes. Pasteurized is less expensive, but not nearly as sweet and flavorful.

Tip Panko is used here since the Japanese-style breadcrumb is crunchier and keeps its texture better in crab cakes than traditional breadcrumbs.

Buttermilk Chive Caper Dressing

Makes approximately 1 ¼ cups
Preparation time: 5 minutes

  • ¾ cup whole buttermilk
  • ½ cup mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons chopped chives
  • 2 tablespoons chopped dill
  • 2 tablespoons grated lemon zest
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons nonpareil capers

Combine buttermilk, mayonnaise, chives, dill, lemon zest, salt and pepper in a medium bowl. Whisk well to combine. Add capers, stirring well. Cover and refrigerate for up to 48 hours.