- Crysta Allen is the executive chef at Itawamba Community College.

From the cookbook of Crysta Allen

SALTED CARAMEL SAUCE

1 cup granulated sugar

1/4 cup water

1 teaspoon light corn syrup

1/2 cup heavy cream

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt

In a medium saucepan, add sugar, water, corn syrup and bring to a boil over high heat. Stir until the sugar is dissolved.

Once the mixture comes to a boil, stop stirring to prevent the sauce from becoming grainy. Allow the mixture to boil until it turns a caramel color. Watch it closely because it quickly goes from caramel to burnt.

As soon as the mixture reaches the desired color, reduce the heat to low and carefully add the cream and salt. Stir the sauce until smooth and let it boil for 1 minute. Turn off heat and add the vanilla extract.

DARK CHOCOLATE SALTED CARAMEL THUMBPRINT COOKIES

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup dark cocoa powder

3/4 teaspoon salt

1 stick unsalted butter, softened

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 large egg

1 tablespoon heavy cream

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

salted caramel sauce

chopped pecans

melted dark chocolate

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, combine flour, cocoa powder, salt and set aside.

In the mixer bowl, cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy (approximately 3 minutes). Add the egg, cream, and vanilla until combined. Scrape down the bowl and stir in the flour mixture until just combined.

Roll dough into 1 tablespoon balls and using your thumb or the bake of a measuring spoon, gently press into the center of each cookie to make an indentation.

Bake until the cookies are just set (approximately 10 minutes).

Press the center of the cookies again once they are removed from the oven to maintain the indentation.

Let cool on the baking sheet for 2 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack. Once the cookies are completely cooled, fill the indentation with the salted caramel sauce, sprinkle with chopped pecans, and drizzle with the melted chocolate.

SHRIMP AND GRITS

Grits:

1 cup stone-ground grits

2 cups water

2 chicken broth

salt, to taste

3/4 cup sharp white cheddar cheese

1/4 cup parmesan cheese

2 tablespoons butter

Shrimp:

1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined

8 slices bacon, diced

2 shallots, minced

1/3 cup sun-dried tomatoes, sliced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 cup chicken broth

lemon juice

green onion, sliced

To make the grits, bring the water, chicken broth, and salt to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add grits and reduce heat to medium. Cover and simmer for approximately 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Once grits are cooked, remove from heat and stir in cheeses and butter.

For shrimp: place diced bacon in a cold sauté pan and cook until crispy. Remove from pan and set aside. Add shallots and sun-dried tomatoes to pan with the bacon grease and sauté until golden brown. Add garlic and sauté until fragrant, careful not to burn the garlic. Add shrimp and sauté until the shrimp turn pink and opaque. Deglaze the pan with the chicken stock and simmer for 1 minute. Remove from heat and finish with lemon juice. Place grits in a bowl and top with shrimp and its sauce and garnish with bacon and green onions.

- Crysta Allen is the executive chef at Itawamba Community College.

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