2014 is over? Really?

BLINK- it is 2015! Before we dive in to the new year and new projects, here are some highlights of my year, complete with the most popular recipes from my new website. Thanks to all of you who made this year my best yet! I may not say it enough but I'm grateful for each and every one of you. I look forward to your posts, your comments, and especially love to hear the results when you've made one of my recipes. Thank you.

I'd also like to say a special thank you to my dad, Jared, Corey, Debbie, Jason, LynnBo, Kathy, Justin, Sam, Caroline, Raymie, Nicole, Chanda, my friends at The Hangout, and everyone else who helps me do what I do day in and day out. I love and appreciate you, too.

My Favorite Photos 2014

A look back at where I've been, what I ate, and who I saw in photos.

 We did a lot of good this year.

We hosted a charity dinner party in Chicago with my friends, the Yandell's, to benefit the Latin School scholarship fund. They wanted a classic Southern menu so I brought a lot of ingredients with me: Gulf shrimp, McEwen & Sons stone ground grits, blueberries from the garden, and of course, Red Diamond tea to make authentic Alabama style sweet tea. The party was a huge success and over $1 million was raised through the event for scholarships. Yeeeaaahhhh!

In June, our "Country Carnival for a Cause" in Argo, Alabama was put together with the tireless and amazing Holly Hart Shirley and Toomer's for Tuscaloosa (a disaster relief group) to raise money for Linda Tucker, Miss Wheelchair Alabama. Linda has no use of her legs and lost everything she had when tornadoes tore through Bessemer, Alabama in the spring of 2014. She had to replace all of her possessions and didn't have the means to travel to her national pageant. Many of you came out or made contributions to help make her dream come true. I so appreciate that you always show up when we need you. Special thanks to Sean Brown of Tutt Land Company, my good friends Bunnie and Bob, Stacy, Toni, Jared and Corey from The Sonnet House, Jill, Jason, Bryan, Beth, Laurel, Debbie, Rita, Joy, Kristin and John Coon from House of Q and BBQ Pitmasters on Destination America, Tommy Trimm from Trimm Landscape, Cam Video Production, Darlings Sweets, and so many others who showed up with their work boots on to make this event happen. 

My friend and Food Network Star cast mate, Michele Ragussis, invited me to Rockland, Maine to help cook and be part of her event for Maine's Make-a-Wish Foundation. It was great fun to work with Linkie Marais, Nikki Martin, and Michele again. We raised enough for the organization to grant wishes for two families. Our sous chef for the evening was Zach- a young foodie who has survived two major brain operations---one of them just days before our event. He is an inspiration and I'm proud to have gotten a chance to meet him and his family. Thank you, Michele, for making it possible.

Another big do-good project for 2014 was the Birmingham Best Bites cookbook. I helped produce the book featuring recipes from local restaurants with Chanda Temple and photographers Arden Ward Upton and Mo Davis of Arden Photography to benefit the Birmingham Public Library's special events division. Many in our community don't have the means to purchase books and these special events give people who need it most an introduction to the library and all of the services they offer. Almost 1,000 copies were sold thanks to funding by EBSCO Media and Alagasco. The secondary benefit is increased visibility for Birmingham's food scene and the wonderful restaurants we have in my hometown. If the recipes don't inspire you to cook, I hope they will at the very least inspire you to make a reservation. Thank you to friends and fans from around the country who purchased the book! The book is currently sold out but plans are being made for another printing.

AND... because of all the good you helped me do and because I try to promote the state of Alabama, our restaurants, our beautiful resorts and destinations, and most of all, our people and culture, someone (Deidra Perry) got the big idea to include me in Birmingham Magazine's elite group of "20 Women Making a Difference" in my hometown. I am very honored; there are some incredible women doing unreal things to make Birmingham better. I am not remotely deserving, mind you, but very honored to be included. Thank you to all involved.

I traveled a lot.

Everyone knows my work keeps me on the road. This year the road went all the way to Juneau, Alaska where I helped host the Haa Aani Oyster Festival and a charity event to help fund local business opportunities. My favorite photo this year is from that trip to Alaska- if you have not been, go. Read the story... and you'll know why Alaska should be on your bucket list. Thanks, Juneau. It was magnificent. Can't wait to go back.

Also new this year, after many requests for travel info on where to go, where to eat, and where to stay, I'm now writing a monthly travel article I'm calling "Two Days Away". Read all about New Orleans..

Food Network. Again.

In January. I headed to Los Angeles to compete for my own show (again) on Food Network Star after being named "fan favorite" for Season 10. While I didn't win the big prize, I was very grateful for the opportunity and especially the title of fan favorite. That is a win as far as I'm concerned. And yes, I'm still plugging away at my own show.

Speaking of Food Network, Alton Brown, my mentor from Season 8 of Food Network Star, came to my hometown of Birmingham in October for his Edible Inevitable Tour. Alton invited me to the show and then had me come up on stage with him to make a pizza in his Mega-Bake, a giant Easy-Bake oven on steroids. It turned out pretty well, considering. Alton cheated, using delicious BBQ from Saw's BBQ on his pizza and leaving me with crappy pepperoni for mine. I guess one would not expect less from the sinister and devious host of Cutthroat Kitchen, right? Very cool of him to include me in the show. Thanks, Alton.

Food Shows 2014

I do a lot of food festivals and live food events. Number one on the list has to be the Fabulous Food Show in Cleveland, Ohio. This show at the I-X Center is legendary and I finally know why. I had a great time with the fans and made some new friends along the way including Michael Symon, Carla Hall, and Tyler Florence. My good friend Jason Roberts hosts the entire weekend and my new friend Sammy Jo manages all of the culinary. It was a blast. Put it on your calendar... it is a can't miss food event.

My other favorite event for 2014 has to be the Hangout Oyster Cookoff in Gulf Shores, Alabama. We bring in over 60 teams from the region who cook over 70,000 Gulf oysters in 3 different categories. I host the party each year and bring in some other celebrity chefs to help me. This year we had Jason Roberts, Michele Ragussis, Linkie Marais, Ippy Aiona, Nikki Martin, Panini Pete, and others from Food Network. We also had James Beard Award winner Ryan Prewitt from Peche on our celebrity chef stage. Staying at Turquoise Place is one of the best parts of this event... a grill and a hot tub on the balcony makes it hard to leave. This year, we also had incredible hospitality from the Hangout and from Salty Dog Charters.... Captain Marty took us out for some fishing and we all caught the limit them brought them home and cooked them. Yes, I'd call that paradise. Plan on spending part of November in Lower Alabama at the 8th Annual Oyster Cookoff at the Hangout. You'll fall in love.

A New Website, Branding, and MSN Food & Drink

2014 brought a lot of changes and I launched the new website in August. Right now, the old site still exists but as soon as I get all of the recipes moved over, we'll merge them.

Also in 2014, I joined forces with Microsoft to help launch the new MSN Food & Drink app and the Food & Drink channel on I'm proud to have my recipes featured with some of the top chefs in the world. More to come in 2015.

Top 10 Recipes for 2014

Here's the list of top rated/liked/shared recipes from my new website for this year. Read more...

What's up for 2015?

I'm working on my own first cookbook and a new video web series that you are going to absolutely love. Stay tuned!

I guess that is about it. I wish all of you good health, much happiness, and the very best for the new year.