Archives for posts with tag: Southern cooking
Original watercolor painting depicts bag of grits, pile of grits and bowl of grits.

Grits. 12″ x 12: watercolor pencil on paper. Sharyn Dimmick.

My pal Lisa, who has taught you (or tried to teach you) how to make cornbread, caramel cake and shrimp and grits, kindly sent me a care package of Southern specialties to enhance Work With What You Got month here at The Kale Chronicles: now I’ve got two pounds of stone-ground grits from Charleston, South Carolina, a bag of whole pecans, and a bag of pecan pieces, straight from Georgia.

I have my eye on a pecan pie and a batch of pecan rolls as soon as we remember to replenish our supply of yeast, but I thought I would start out by making grits for breakfast so that I could really taste the stone-ground goodness of these particular grits. The lovely cloth bag they came in said I would need to cook the grits for twenty-five or thirty minutes. No problem. What it didn’t say was to allow ten minutes to get the plastic gizmo off the top of the bag so that I could get to the grits inside: ten minutes with two knives is what it took — I’ll have to ask Lisa how she pries hers off.

Anyway, there were two recipes printed right there on the bag. One said I could cook my grits in water. The other said I could cook them in a mixture of milk, water and cream. Since I knew it was obligatory to eat them with butter I took the middle way, rinsed them with water, as instructed, and then cooked 1/3 cup grits in one cup of milk with a little salt. It probably did take twenty-five minutes to cook them: they got nice and thick and creamy, smelling faintly of corn.

Now, I ate grits when I lived in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. The Kroger there had at least half an aisle devoted to grits: instant grits, quick grits, big boxes of grits, little boxes of grits. I had never seen so many grits in my life and I had never eaten them before. While I lived there we made a field trip to Columbia, South Carolina, and saw a film about grits. The filmmakers asked people what they ate on their grits. Most people said they ate them with butter, salt, salt and pepper. A few ate them with Tabasco sauce, but one memorable woman said she ate hers with peanut butter and chow-chow. I’ll leave it to Lisa to explain what chow-chow is — that I have never eaten — it’s some kind of Southern pickle.

My stay in Chapel Hill branded me as a Yankee, even though I am a Westerner. I did not know that the Civil War or The War Between the States was called “The War of Northern Aggression” until my roommate informed me otherwise. People used to ask test questions at gatherings. One of the questions was, “Do you want biscuits with your eggs, or grits?” Yankees choose biscuits, toast, anything but the mild, creamy pile of grits on the breakfast plate.

Anyway, all I added to my hot, creamy bowl of stone-ground grits was the traditional pat of butter. With butter, salt and the milk they were cooked in the grits were faintly sweet, tasting slightly of corn. I found them to be a thoroughly unobjectionable breakfast cereal. They have more character than Cream of Wheat and not the heft of oatmeal. I’ll fix them again soon for Johnny because he likes them and then I will branch out into cheese grits or start throwing contraband ingredients in, such as dried apples. I have a mind to make Lisa’s Shrimp and Grits, too, as soon as I can find Gulf shrimp or something wild-caught here: we don’t like to think about farmed shrimp coming from Thailand when we live right here on the coast.

Stay tuned for pecan pastries and desserts.

Sharyn’s Stone-ground Carolina Grits

Measure 1/3 cup stone-ground grits.

Film a saucepan with water.

Put the grits in the saucepan until just covered with water* and then carefully pour the water off without pouring the grits down the sink.

Add to the grits pan 1 cup of milk (I used 1%) and salt to taste.

Bring the grits and milk to a full boil and then reduce the heat enough to keep them at a simmer. Stir periodically with a wooden spoon until the grits are thick and creamy.

Transfer the grits to a cereal bowl, add a pat of butter, stir and dig in. This recipe serves one, for the grits fan in your house. If you make it for two, each person gets his or her own pat of butter.

Food Notes: the better quality grits you start with the better this breakfast is going to be. Lisa sent me the good stuff. I don’t vouch for what you will get if you use instant grits or quick grits, but I am not a fan of instant oatmeal or quick oats as a breakfast cereal either: usually the texture is better in the old-fashioned, less-processed forms of grains and cereals.

A few days ago my Mom came home with a package of bacon from Safeway at fifty percent off and we proceeded to make our second round of BLTs for the summer. I fried the bacon and sliced up tomatoes. Before I was done I asked, “Do you want me to pour the grease into the grease can, or save it?”

She said, “Oh. I want the grease.”

I got out a clean glass jar and decanted as much of the bacon fat as I could into it.

Bacon grease is a dividing line in our household. Mom likes it in waffles. She likes to fry potatoes in it, too. But her favorite thing is to put it in cornbread. And I say, “Blecch.” I do not want to eat bacon grease at all. Bacon, yes. Bacon grease, no.

Just the thought makes me launch into opinions about cornbread. A few months ago Lisa Knighton, my pal from Georgia, who brought you shrimp and grits and caramel cake, mentioned that she had made cornbread for our mutual friend Ann, who follows a gluten-free diet. She mentioned using fresh corn and chipotle peppers in the cornbread.

I wrote back to say, “I don’t like things in my cornbread.”

Original painting shows cornbread variations and ingredients.

Cornbread. 8″ x 10″ Gouache and watercolor pencil on canvas board. Sharyn Dimmick.

What I mean is, I don’t want cornbread to contain fresh corn, or onions, or peppers. I don’t want it to contain cheese. I want it to be a plain, cornmeal-flavored food with a smooth texture. I like it kind of cakey and a little sweet — even a lot sweet: I’ve made it with maple syrup. I’ve made it with butternut squash puree to give it a deep golden color and a different kind of sweetness. But, just like I don’t want cookie crumbs in my ice cream I don’t want foreign textures in my cornbread.

Mom calls what I like “corn cake.” She likes sour cornbread. It can’t get too sour for her: she’ll load it up with buttermilk and bacon grease, lots of cornmeal, little flour. She puts in 1/4 teaspoon of sugar — I don’t know why she bothers. Her cornbread is flatter than mine, more dense. She taught me to heat the grease (or butter or butter and oil) in the pan in the oven before pouring in the cornmeal batter: this step gets you crisp crust on the bottom and Mom is a crisp crust person: she wants the pie crust to shatter against your teeth, the croissants to fall into shards of pastry, the cookies to be thin and crisp. I like all of that crispness. I will eat her sour cornbread, but I have to eat it with jam or honey on it and I prefer the lighter, sweeter version that I make, made with all butter or with butter and corn oil, with or without buttermilk, with sugar. I also like spoon bread, a cornmeal pudding made with eggs and milk, egg whites folded in at the end, almost a corn souffle. With sugar in it.

If you want to make cornbread my way, start with a ten-inch cast iron skillet. Preheat the oven to 450.

Melt 3 Tbsp butter or  a mixture of butter and corn oil in the skillet on the stove. Turn off the heat.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl measure 1/2 cup flour, 1 Tbsp baking powder , 1 tsp soda, 2 Tbsp sugar and 1 tsp salt into a bowl and whisk them together. Add 1 cup cornmeal and whisk again.

Measure 1 cup buttermilk, plus 2 Tbsp, into a small bowl. Beat 1 egg into the buttermilk.

Put the butter/oil in the skillet in the oven to heat up.

Pour the liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients and fold until just combined (no flour pockets).  Then remove the hot skillet from the oven and carefully scrape the batter into the hot buttered skillet. This step produces a brown, crisp crust on the cornbread. Return skillet to hot oven and bake for about 20 minutes until the top has a few brown spots.

Cornbread is best eaten hot, but it can be nuked the next day for a few seconds in the microwave if there is any left — there probably won’t be.

Food notes: my cornbread recipe responds will to adaptations. You can use sour milk for the buttermilk. You can try using yogurt instead. You can eliminate the soda and make it with (regular) sweet milk. To make it cakier, try reducing the cornmeal by 1/4 cup and using unbleached flour instead: if you remove much more cornmeal than that it won’t be cornbread anymore. You could also add another egg to make it lighter, or an extra egg white if you have one hanging around. For a browner flavor, use brown sugar instead of white. You can use any kind of shortening or fat: I like the flavor of butter and corn oil amps the corn flavor slightly. In short, work with what you got.

And from Lisa:

My grandmother Eunice once told me about baking cornbread atop the car engine. As newlyweds she and my grandfather Oscar traveled often to Clearwater, Florida where she worked for the Studebakers as a cook and he set up cabanas and prepared beach-side barbecues.
“Now, Lisa,” she said settling into a seat at her kitchen table, “when your Big Daddy and I got hungry, he would pull the car off the road and I’d take out the picnic basket. I’d mix up some water with cornmeal, make little pones in the palm of my hand, then set them in a small pan. Daddy would raise the hood of the car and put the pan on top of the hot engine. Shortly, we’d have cornbread.”
Water and cornmeal, that’s all she used for making her roadway fast-food.
Now, unlike my grandmother and Sharyn, I like to put little bits of extra goodies in my cornbread. There’s whole kernel corn and chopped chipotle chili pepper. Or sauteed onions and garlic. Or leftover pimentos from making pimento cheese. And even sugar or honey, although this is not traditionally acceptable in some Southern households.
In making cornbread, which my yankee-born husband Mark loves, I usually begin with a recipe of Margaret Lupo’s and taken from her famous restaurant: Mary Mac’s Tea Room.
Mary Mac’s, located for all these many years on Ponce de Leon Ave in Mid-town Atlanta, brings a basket of cornbread muffins and biscuits to the table as soon as you are given a menu. The restaurant is known to attract celebrities and dignitaries from the world-over. Even the Dalai Lama has eaten there. I can’t know for sure, but I bet he loved the cornbread.
I’ve taken Mary Mac’s basic recipe and tweaked it to make it gluten-free, too. Good cornbread to me is a bit rustic and crunchy, so I use at least one cup of medium grind cornmeal. If you prefer a smoother or softer bread, use fine ground cornmeal only.
The Spicy Mexican Cornbread recipe here is great with just about anything.
First thing, pre-heat your oven to 500 degrees.
Beat 3 eggs well, then place them in an extra-large mixing bowl and add 3 cups buttermilk.
To the milk and eggs, add 1 or 2 tablespoons sugar, 2 1/2 teaspoons salt, 4 tablespoons grapeseed oil or olive oil. Mix well.
Next, add 2 cups fine cornmeal, 1 cup medium grind cornmeal, 1/2 cup almond meal, 1/2 cup brown rice flour, 2 tablespoons baking powder, and 1 teaspoon baking soda.
For the goodies, what I call the real reason for making this cornbread, I like to add 1 1/2 cups whole kernel white corn and one medium-sized chipotle pepper cut into small bits.
If you are using canned corn, drain it first. My preference is to keep a large bag of corn in the freezer, using what I need. If you don’t have a whole pepper, use 1 heaping tablespoon of dried chipotle pepper.
Just mix all the ingredients with a light touch. You want to form a thick, soupy batter. Let the batter rest for ten minutes or so. Pour into two well-greased pans. Yes, this is enough batter to make 12 cornbread muffins and a 10 inch cast-iron skillet full, or 24 muffins, or two ten-inch skillets of bread.
Bake the muffins for 16- 18 minutes; bake the skillets for 20 -23 minutes.
When you pull the bread from the oven go ahead and eat it right then. What we don’t eat I freeze and Mark and I eat later on.
If you are interested in making other Southern dishes, buy your own copy of Margaret Lupo’s Southern Cooking from Mary Mac’s Tea Room: www.amazon.com/Southern-Cooking-Mary-Macs-Room/dp/0877972575
 
I recommend Bob’s Red Mill meals and flours, most likely found at your local grocery. If you want to dip into the Southern regions and get some meal from a few of our local mills, try a bag:
From Athens, Georgia there is Red Mule: www.redmulegrits.us/index.html
From Columbia, Alabama there is Hall’s Milling Company. Their telephone number is: (334) 696-2286
Lisa Knighton
painting shows dish of shrimp and grits and a shrimp boat.

Shrimp and Grits. 8″ x 8″ watercolor pencil, gouache and ink. Sharyn Dimmick.

All of my friends like to write and eat. Well, some of them like to sing and eat and some of them like to talk and eat, but all of them like to eat. Lisa Knighton, whom I met at a retreat with Natalie Goldberg, is a fitness trainer who likes to eat healthy, fresh, local food, to bake cakes and to tell stories. Just see how many stories she starts to tell you in this post. Lisa hales from Athens, Georgia, and has come to “The Kale Chronicles” to teach you how use wild-caught shrimp and that Southern staple grits in the entree shrimp and grits. By the time you read this, you’ll be wanting to make them for supper (Let me just apologize in advance for the funky spacing in Lisa’s post — even re-typing it won’t fix it — I tried).

Who knows the first time I was fed grits. Probably would have to count all the times my mother ate corn grits when she was pregnant with me.
Daddy makes his grits with water, on the stove top in a small, metal pan. The corn grits bubble for 20 minutes, at least. He tells me: “Take a quarter cup of grits. Sometimes I measure the water and other times I don’t.”
Grits ain’t groceries.
Mama says that when she was a little girl her father was responsible for making her breakfast. “Each morning, before school,” she says, “My daddy would serve grits and sunny-side-up eggs. And as he put the grits on my plate, he said ‘Grits ain’t groceries.'”
Grits may not be groceries — meaning grits were staples — always in the southern house and made fresh at the nearest grist mill, often ground from the family’s very own corn. Grits are always eaten, at least in my family, with salt and black pepper and a spoonful of softened butter.
Another food I grew up eating was shrimp. Big Daddy, my daddy’s father, used to own an oyster bar, just off the main square in downtown Blakely, Georgia. At Christmas time, instead of turkey and such, Daddy, Uncle Charles, and boy cousins old enough to operate oyster knives shucked croaker sacks full of fresh oysters pulled from Apalachicola Bay on the Gulf of Mexico. Also, we ate tender Gulf shrimp, most often boiled and served hot with a small side bowl of cocktail sauce. I don’t ever remember sitting down for a Christmas meal: my cousins and I stood about eating the seafood as quick as it was prepared.
April begins shrimp season in Georgia. These days we bring shrimp home to Athens from the salty Atlantic waters near Darien, Georgia in McIntosh County. When we travel back from visiting this lowland county, situated along the Altamaha River, a place made infamous by Melissa Fay Greene’s 1991 work of nonfiction, Praying for Sheetrock, we always have the blue cooler iced down and full of these sweet, wild-caught Georgia shrimp.
When I set out to make grits, gourmet grits, I turn to Nathalie Dupree, author of cookbooks of the American South. When Natalie lived in Georgia I once had the good fortune to attend an afternoon party at her home in the pretty town of Social Circle. Her large dining room table was decorated with food she’d prepared, but all I remember was the big helping of warm cheese grits I ate, scooped from a large, hollowed-out round of Parmesan cheese. I’ve adapted the shrimp and grits recipe I offer from Nathalie Dupree’s Shrimp & Grits Cookbook. I’ve also provided links to two places located here in the South where you can order yellow grits, or white grits. I encourage you to select  wild caught shrimp for this recipe.
Shrimp and Grits (serves four)
First, bring all of your ingredients to room temperature before cooking.
2 cups water
1 cup milk (1%, 2%, or whole — just know that the fattier the milk, the creamier the final taste)
1 cup half and half (have another 1/2 cup water or half and half on hand to use when the mixture begins to thicken).
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 cup grits (white or yellow will do  — just know that white grits are more refined and smooth, and yellow grits are rustic, coarser.)
1 pound of shrimp, peeled, heads removed.
1/4 to 1/2 stick unsalted butter
1/2 cup fresh shredded mild to medium cheddar cheese
1/2 to one cup fresh-grated Parmesan cheese
salt and fresh-ground black pepper
Get out your biggest, sturdiest cooking pot. I use a 4-quart with a heavy bottom. Once the grits begin to bubble, you are going to want to have plenty of room in the pot for the mixture to gurgle and bubble without it going over the sides. To the pot, add the water, milk and half and half, then bring all to a simmer over medium heat, stirring frequently. Add the grits and garlic, and stir well and often since you do not want this mix to clump or stick.
Bring the grits mixture to a slight boil, then reduce the heat.  Add salt and pepper.  Again, stir often, cooking about 15 minutes. Then add in extra water or half and half here (the mix should not be runny though) and the desired amount of butter and cheeses, letting this mixture cook for another 5 to 10 minutes: keep it creamy and loose and stir well so that the cheeses do not stick. Taste the grits then. You will want a soft texture, nothing gritty or hard.
When you have the grits like you want, add the shrimp and stir, coating the shrimp well. The hot grits and cheese will cook the shrimp and they’ll be ready in about two to three minutes, as soon as the shrimp turn a pretty pink.
Serve in large bowls alongside glasses of sweet tea.
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