Monday, September 17, 2007

Sun-dried Tomato and Goat Cheese Grits

Sun-dried Tomato and Goat Cheese Grits
Originally uploaded by weezienyc.

I had the pleasure of serving dinner for some of my favorite people on Saturday night. My friend, Dennis, has a fantastic apartment and a table that seats 12, which gave me a chance to host my first sit down dinner party since I moved to NYC. Here's what was on the menu:

- Mushroom Shallot Phyllo Baskets (I had no idea how hard it is to work with phyllo)
- Cannolinni and Fennel Salad
- Portabella Mushrooms with Roasted Vegetables
- Sun-dried Tomato and Goat Cheese Grits
- Double Chocolate Mint Cookies with Bailey's Ice Cream

As usual, the dessert was my favorite part of the meal, with the grits coming in at a very close second. The dish, originally from the Charleston Grille, is extremely easy to make and a treat for both sweet and savory palettes.

I'd made this recipe before, but made some changes for Saturday's meal that truly turned it from a tasty side item to a hearty main course. Here's the newly revised recipe:

Sun-dried Tomato and Goat Cheese Grits
Serves 12

6 cups veggie broth
6 tablespoons butter
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cup quick-cooking hominy grits
1 pint heavy cream
1 cup diced drained oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes
1 cup crumbled soft fresh goat cheese

Preheat oven to 350°F. Generously butter 13 1/2 x 8 1/2 3 2-inch glass baking dish. Bring broth, butter, salt, and garlic to boil in heavy medium saucepan. Gradually whisk in grits and return mixture to boil, whisking occasionally.

Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until grits are thick and almost all broth is absorbed, whisking frequently, about 5 minutes. Whisk in 1 cup cream and simmer 5 minutes, whisking occasionally. Whisk in remaining cream and simmer until very thick, stirring often, about 5 minutes longer. Stir in tomatoes and 1 cup goat cheese. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Pour into prepared dish. Sprinkle remaining goat cheese over top and bake until cheese softens, about 15 minutes. Let stand for 5 minutes before serving.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

American Roadhouse Breakfast

American Roadhouse Breakfast
Originally uploaded by weezienyc.

When I lived in Atlanta I ate here almost every weekend. However, I never ordered their grits because by the time we woke up, got dressed, walked up to the Roadhouse, and waited in the long line of folks ahead of us, I was usually ready for lunch.

When I was down in Atlanta for a visit in June, I ate there for breakfast and, of course, I ordered the grits. I am not even exaggerating when I say that the jalapeno cheese grits were the best I've ever tried (which is saying a lot since I have my own recipe).

While I was there, I talked to the manager about grits, my project, and using their recipe in my book. He was interested in my concept and said to loop back around with him when I was ready to write the restaurant portion of the book. He also told me about a great spot in NYC with fantastic grits called Sarge's. It's about 5 blocks from my house, so I'll have to check it out and let you know. And hopefully you'll be able to get your hands on the American Roadhouse Jalapeno Cheese Grits recipe when my book comes out.

Since that won't be until at least fall of 2008, I'll post my own recipe for you to try!

Jalapeno Cheese Grits

2 cups water
1 1/4 cups milk
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon garlic, minced
1/2 cup butter
1 cup quick cooking grits
8 ounces Velvetta cheese, cubed (gotta love it)
2 cups Cheddar Cheese, shredded
1 (10 - ounce) can diced tomatoes
2 jalapenos, seeded and finely diced

Preheat Oven to 350 degrees.

In a medium saucepan, bring the water, milk, and two tablespoons of butter to a boil. Add the salt and garlic. Slowly whisk grits into the pan and return to a boil, whisking constantly.

Reduce heat to low and simmer for 5 minutes. Add remaining butter and stir until completely absorbed. Add Velvetta and Cheddar cheese to grits, stirring until melted.

Remove from heat. Add tomatoes and jalapenos to grits and mix well. Pour grits into a greased casserole dish and bake for 40 minutes.

Serve immediately.


American Roadhouse on Socialight!

Saturday, September 1, 2007

HELP! Recipe Testers Needed

I tried to make this recipe last week, but wasn't sure whether it needed something added to it or not. It may just be a personal issue as I'm not a fan of Gorgonzola and think this fact tainted my experience. So give it a try and let me know what you think.

Grits with Bacon and Gorgonzola
Serves: 4

3 cups chicken broth
1 cup quick-cooking grits
4 ounces Gorgonzola cheese, crumbled
1/3 cup sour cream
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Black pepper, freshly ground
6 slices of bacon, fried crisp and crumbled

Bring broth to a boil in a medium saucepan; gradually add grits, stirring constantly. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer until thick (for about 5 minutes), stirring occasionally.

Remove from heat; stir in the cheese, sour cream, and nutmeg. Divide grits into four servings on plates. Sprinkle with pepper and bacon.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Brown Butter Grits

Brown Butter Grits
Originally uploaded by weezienyc.

I made this the other night for dinner. Try out this easy recipe:

Brown Butter grits
Serves 4

2 cups water
2 cups vegetable broth
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter
1 cup white stone-ground grits
freshly ground pepper

Bring water, broth, 1 tablespoon butter, and salt to boil in heavy medium saucepan. Gradually stir in grits and bring to boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer grits for 30 minutes, stirring constantly.

Cut remaining butter into pieces and heat in a heavy saucepan over medium heat. Stir the butter or swirl the pan so that the butter doesn't burn. Remove from heat when butter turns light brown and gives off a nutty aroma.

Pour grits into four individual ramekins and spoon brown butter evenly over grits.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Horseradish Grits

Plate of food
Originally uploaded by weezienyc.

It has been way too long since I've posted anything. Honestly, I had to take a break because my business is about to launch and I've been too busy to cook. But, check out this recipe. I served it to some friends with a Rosemary Roasted Leg of Lamb and an Asparagus Salad with Shallot Vinaigrette.

(and this Raspberry Torte for dessert)

Horseradish Grits

¾ cup quick grits
1 cup boiling water
1 ½ teaspoons salt, divided
¼ teaspoon white pepper
4 tablespoons butter, divided
2 cups milk, scalded and divided
1 egg, beaten
1/3 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon horseradish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In top of double boiler, mix boiling water with 1 teaspoon salt, gradually stir in grits. Add two tablespoons butter; boil about 5 minutes, until water is absorbed. Add 1 cup scalded milk. Blend thoroughly, cook 15 minutes. Remove from heat. Add remaining 2 tablespoons butter. In a bowl, blend egg, sour cream, horseradish, ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon white pepper with second cup of cooled scaled milk.. Add grits. Beat 1 minute with electric mixer. Butter a 2 quart casserole dish and fold grits into dish.

Bake 30 minutes, until lightly browned.


Let me know what you think...

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Grits with Goat Cheese and Chives

Saturday Night Dinner
Originally uploaded by weezienyc.

I made this recipe for dinner in June for the girls during our beach trip. (I'm behind on my posts - I know). Give it a try and let me know what you think!

Grits with Goat Cheese and Chives
Serves 6

2 cups chicken broth
1 cup water
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup quick-cooking grits
1 cup milk
Fresh chives or green onions, cut into 1-inch pieces
4 ounces soft fresh Montrachet goat cheese
1/3 cup sliced fresh chives or green onions

Bring broth, water, and salt to boil in heavy medium saucepan. Gradually stir in grits. Reduce heat to low; cover and cook 5 minutes. Uncover; simmer until thickened, stirring often. Add milk and simmer until liquid is absorbed. Add sliced chives and cheese. Stir until cheese melts. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Top with chive pieces.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Grizzley Peak Grits

Writing about making the squash blossoms on my last trip to California reminded me that I'd forgotten to post a recipe I concocted when I was out visiting my business partner in May. He lives in Berkeley up the hill on Grizzley Peak Dr - hence the name. In order to quickly whip up something to serve along side flank steak tacos for an impromptu Cinco de Mayo dinner, I raided his fridge for whatever I could find that could work. And here is the result:

Grizzley Peak Grits
Serves 4

2 cups water
2 cups whole milk
2 teaspoon salt
¼ cup butter
1 cup white stone-ground grits
3 jalapeno peppers, seeded and chopped
6 ounces Manchego Cheese

Bring water, milk, 3 tablespoons butter, and salt to boil in heavy medium saucepan. Gradually stir in grits and bring to boil. Add remaining butter and jalapeno peppers. Reduce heat to low and simmer grits for 30-45 minutes, stirring constantly. Add cheese and continue to simmer until cheese has melted and grits are smooth. Serve immediately.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Stuffed Pattypan Squash

Pattypan Squash Blossoms
Originally uploaded by weezienyc.

I love summer. And one of the best things about summer is the fresh vegetables the season offers. Squash is my favorite and over the past few years I've found myself counting the days until Pattypan squash blossoms find their way in season. They are more firm and a little less sweet than yellow squash and are often served stuffed.

While I was in California a few weeks ago, I stumbled across the Berkeley Bowl, a local grocery store that puts Whole Foods and Trader Joe's to shame. The "Bowl" (as it is known to the locals) had the most amazing produce section I've ever seen. I discovered vegetables I'd of which I'd never even heard. But none of them mattered when I spotted the squash section. I found the largest squash blossoms I've ever seen - leaving plenty of room for stuffing with grits.

Since I was traveling and not staying in my own kitchen, I ended up making up this recipe on the fly based on what I knew I'd purchased earlier. And this is the result:

Pattypam Squash stuffed with Southwestern Grits
6-8 Pattypan squash
2 cups water
2 cups milk
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter
2 teaspoons salt
1 cup yellow stone-ground grits
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup salsa
1 3/4 cups Pepper Jack cheese, shredded and divided

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Slice tops of squash, setting them aside. Place squash in boiling water for 10 -12 minutes until outer shell is tender. Remove from water and cool.

Bring water, 1 cup milk, 2 tablespoons butter, and salt to boil in heavy medium saucepan. Gradually whisk in grits and return mixture to boil, whisking frequently. Reduce heat to low and simmer until grits are thick and all liquid is absorbed, whisking occasionally, about 20 minutes. Whisk in remaining cup of milk and continue to simmer for 10 minutes. Whisk in sour cream and simmer until very thick, stirring often, about 5 minutes longer. Stir in 1 ½ cup cheese and salsa. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Remove from heat.

Hollow out cooled squash. Fill to top with grits mixture and sprinkle with remaining cheese. Place in a large casserole dish and bake for 15-20 minutes.
Serve immediately.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Back to the Charleston Trip: Magnolia's

While researching potential spots for my trip, I initially added Magnolia’s to my list of must-visit restaurants due to the multiple grits dishes on the menu and because it is owned my the same folks who own Cypress, my favorite restaurant, not only in Charleston, but in all of South Carolina.

Located at the site of the city’s original customs house, Magnolia’s strives to serve traditional “down south” dishes with a contemporary “uptown” presentation – a commitment well kept. Everything from the décor of the restaurant to the service is impeccably upscale and within minutes of stepping foot into the restaurant, I knew I’d made a good decision.

We started with a round of mimosas and mint juleps. The mint julep was by far the best one I’ve had since my friend’s Derby party in Atlanta in 2002. Five years without a good mint julep seems like forever – so I made sure we stayed long enough for me to have two.

While I wanted to order almost everything on the menu, we did a fairly good job of sticking to the task at hand – testing out grits. We passed on the Spicy Shrimp and Sausage over Grits because they were served with Tasso gravy, which I’d already had three times that day. But we ordered the remaining grits dishes including the Fried Green Tomatoes appetizer and the Shellfish over Grits entrée.

(sidenote: when we were waiting for our food, a table of five tourists were discussing the menu next to us. One of them asked what grits were. Another responded, “Have you ever eaten Cream of Wheat – you know the stuff they eat up north? Well, grits are like that.” I almost fell out of my chair!)

Fried Green Tomatoes
Originally uploaded by weezienyc.

The Fried Green Tomatoes appetizer, served over white cheddar and caramelized onion grits, country ham, and tomato chutney was impressive. The combination of the tangy tomato with subtle sweetness of the grits was one of the best I’ve experienced in my year of food "research.” This would be a perfect brunch dish, served with mimosas and mint julep spritzers (I don’t think ladies drink real mint juleps before 3 PM).

Seafood Grits at Magnolia's
Originally uploaded by weezienyc.

The Shellfish over Grits - sautéed shrimp, sea scallops, and lobster over creamy white grits with a lobster butter sauce and fried spinach was also delicious. It was creamy without being too rich and contained a generous amount of lobster and scallops. This is a recipe that I doubt I could recreate on my own as there were some flavors I just couldn't identify.

Magnolia’s Executive chef Don Drake has earned his place on my list of top five best chefs. The meal was amazing and I’d be delighted if the owners let me share a recipe or two with you in my book.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Grits Brulee Recipe

Grits Brulee!
Originally uploaded by weezienyc.

Grits Brulee Recipe

Serves 6

1 ½ cup vanilla soymilk
1 ½ cup water
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla
1 cup quick grits
5 egg yolks
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup light brown sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Bring soymilk, water, vanilla, and ½ cup sugar to a boil in a 3-quart saucepan. Stir in grits and reduce heat. Simmer for 8-10 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove from heat.

Whisk egg yolks, cream, and remaining sugar together in a medium bowl. Pour into grits and mix thoroughly. Spoon ½ cup servings into shallow baking ramekins.

Place ramekins into a 11x8 baking pan. Pour hot (not boiling) water into pans until it reaches half-way. Place baking pan in oven and bake for 45 minutes. Remove pan from oven and cool for 20 minutes. Once cool, remove individual dishes from pan and refrigerate for at least 3 and up to 24 hours.

15 minutes before desired serving time, remove dishes and crumble brown sugar in a thin layer, completely covering the tops of the desserts. Using a cooking torch, heat sugar until hardened. Serve immediately.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Grits Brulee

Last week after making the Mediterranean Grits dinner, my friend and I decided to experiment. We threw a grits twist into a creme brulee recipe, making three dishes - regular creme brulee, grits brulee, and grits brulee with a mixed berry preserve. It turned out well - except for the fact that we were cooking at another friend's house and couldn't find any vanilla AND that I was terrified of the cooking torch I bought to caramelize the tops of the desserts. Thanks to my friend, Erin, for manning the torch and to both Chris Watt and Erin for being fun and honest tasters.

Testing Desserts with Grits! from Weezie McS on Vimeo

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Mediterranean Grits

Originally uploaded by weezienyc.

I took a break from restaurant dining the other night and made this dish for my friends in Atlanta. This is an original recipe that I have been conceptualizing for a few weeks. I loved it and so did my guests, but I think it needed another subtle flavor. Test it out and let me know what to add.

Mediterranean Grits
Serves 8
4 cups vegetable broth
2 cups water
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 cup white stone-ground grits
2 cups fresh spinach, chopped
8 oz. feta cheese
½ cup pine nuts
1 cup grape tomatoes, chopped

Bring broth, water, salt, and olive oil to a boil in a medium saucepan; gradually add grits, stirring constantly. Reduce heat and simmer until thick (for about 45 minutes), stirring occasionally.

Stir in spinach – cook for 10 more minutes. Stir in cheese and serve topped with pine nuts and garnish with tomatoes.

I served it with a balsamic pork loin and steamed summer veggies. It was a good combination. Oh and I almost forgot, we made Grits Brulee for dessert. More on that soon.

Loveless Cafe and Motel

Loveless Cafe
Originally uploaded by weezienyc.

I know I am really far behind on the posts from my trip to Charleston. But that is only because I’ve spent the past three weeks traveling around down south – eating and working on the cookbook. I’ve been in Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and now - I’m in Tennessee.

I’ve been in Nashville for the past two days doing a little work, a little touring around, and a lot of eating. Of all the places I’ve visited, the Loveless Café and Motel has been my best experience. The food was delicious, the people charming, and the atmosphere was truly authentic.

The Loveless Café and Motel opened in 1951, with the owners – Lon and Annie Loveless serving fried chicken and biscuits to passersby on Highway 100. Lon ran the motel, while Annie ran the kitchen. Today the kitchen takes up a greater part of the main house, where a variety of southern delicacies are freshly prepared for guests rotating through the 75 seat dining room from open to close.

I was told to order the “Famous” Loveless Breakfast, two eggs any style, country ham (which is cured, smoked and carved in the smoking house right next door), red-eye gravy, creamy grits, and fresh biscuits. I arrived at the café well after lunch-time, but for the purpose of “cookbook research” I ordered the breakfast. For the purpose of “wanting lunch food” (read: dying for homemade fried chicken), I also ordered the Fried Chicken platter with okra and squash casserole. The waitress thought I was crazy.

Loveless Breakfast
Originally uploaded by weezienyc.

The breakfast came out first. I cracked open one of the eggs, letting the yolk run. Then I cut a bite of ham, added a bite of egg, dipped it into the gravy, the egg yolk, then the grits for the perfect bite. It was delicious, yet I set the remaining plate aside and waited for the chicken.

Finally – the chicken arrived. The waitress looked to me and the full plate of breakfast on the table, shook her head, then set down what was the largest platter of food I’ve seen for one person. And I ate it all. Just kidding. I selected the leg from the four pieces in front of me and quickly bit into the best (and hottest) chicken I’ve had since my grandfather passed away (he made the world best fried chicken). While the chicken cooled, I tasted the squash casserole, which is the best I’ve ever had. EVER. And I've always thought I made the best squash casserole. The okra was okay, so I ate a few pieces and opted for another biscuit instead. I finished the chicken, asked for a box – not wanting to let even one bite go to waste, paid my bill (under $25, by the way) and left to explore the rest of the “motel”.

Loveless Cafe Store
Originally uploaded by weezienyc.

The motel rooms have been transformed into eclectic shops, including the Hams & Jam Country Market, Ruthie Cherry Fine Art Gallery, Trace Bikes, and more. I spent over an hour in the Hams & Jams store, flipping through old southern cookbooks and drooling over jars of homemade jams and fresh foods. If I'd had a bigger suitcase, I would've filled it up with jams and fried pies. Good thing they have a catalog AND you can buy some things online -

I spent so much time in the store that I'll have to save the tour of the other shops for next time.
I highly recommend a stop at the Loveless to anyone traveling through Tennessee. I will be back as soon as I can - dreaming about the chicken and squash casserole in the meantime.

Loveless Cafe
8400 Highway 100
Nashville, TN
Open 7AM - 9PM, Seven days a week

Monday, June 11, 2007

Shrimp and Grits with Tasso Gravy

I received a comment on my previous post about not posting a recipe for the shrimp and grits at Morgan Creek Grill. I am trying to get Morgan Creek Grill to share their recipe with me, but in the meantime, I'm posting my favorite recipe for:

Shrimp and Grits with Tasso Gravy
Serves 6

1 lb. Shrimp, peeled an deveined
3 Tablespoons butter
2 Tablespoons Creole seasoning

Tasso Gravy
1/2 cup butter
1 cup Tasso, sliced thin
1/2 cup flour
1 Tbsp. Creole seasoning
1 cup chicken stock
1/2 cup half & half
2 Tbsp. chopped parsley

Melt butter over medium heat in a large, heavy skillet. Add shrimp and cover with seasoning. Saute for 3-4 minutes. Remove shrimp from skillet and set aside.

In same skillet, add butter and Tasso ham. Saute for approximately 5 minutes over medium heat. Add flour and Creole seasoning, stirring to form a roux. Continue to cook until roux is lightly browned. Add chicken stock and cream, and stir until completely thickened. Adjust thickness as needed with a little more cream if necessary. When sauce is complete, add shrimp and parsley to sauce and hold warm until ready to serve.

Spoon gravy over creamy grits and top with shrimp.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Morgan Creek Grill

View of Isle of Palms Marina
Originally uploaded by weezienyc.

As I mentioned last week, I’m going to spend the next couple of days reviewing the highlights of my tasting trip to Charleston. Since we visited so many places, I’m going to limit my posts to the places we enjoyed most and hopefully, will be featured in the book.

One of the first places we visited was Morgan Creek Grill at the Isle of Palms marina, just outside Mt. Pleasant. This spot, located a stone’s throw away from Wild Dunes resort is frequented by both locals and tourists coming by car, boat, and foot to enjoy not only some of the best in Low-country cuisine, but a gorgeous view of the Intracoastal waterway.

We planned our visit well, arriving mid-afternoon on Sunday just in time to catch the Sunday brunch, which featured live music on the upper deck and my personal favorite, a Bloody Mary bar. While the bar offered a fantastic array of mixers, add-ins, and hot sauces and the music was the perfect addition to a breezy sunny day, both paled in comparison to the dining experience.

We started off with the Charleston she-crab soup and the House-made chilled crab dip, followed by, of course, Morgan Creek Grill’s take on Shrimp and Grits. My sister has never met a she-crab soup she didn’t like, so it goes without saying that she enjoyed it. I wasn’t up for eating warm soup in the warm sun, so I stuck to the crab dip which I must say was amazing. It was creamy and thick, yet spread-able on a delicate water cracker and had a spicy kick that was noticeable without being overwhelming. But these appetizers were simply a warm up to what proved to be a delicious bowl of shrimp and grits, described on the menu as “Shrimp Simmered In A Brown Tasso Ham Gravy And Served Over Stone Ground Grits.”

Shrimp and Grits
Originally uploaded by weezienyc.

While the grits needed salt and seemed a little stiff, it was a detail easily overlooked once they were totally immersed in the shrimp and gravy. Just like the crab dip, this dish had an unsuspecting, yet welcome spicy twist that I’d not yet experienced in what I’ve come to know as traditional shrimp and grits, or grits served with shrimp in a Tasso gravy.

Many people ask me “What is Tasso Gravy?” Tasso gravy is an essential element to the traditional Lowcountry shrimp and grits recipe. Honestly, it wasn’t until I started making Shrimp and Grits myself, and therefore began researching recipes years ago, that I realized that Tasso wasn’t a spice, but is actually a lean and highly-seasoned piece of cured pork or beef, native to Louisiana.

I enjoyed our visit to Morgan Creek Grill and would have loved to spend the afternoon listening to music in the sun and making my own spicy Bloody Mary’s to compliment the spicy and delightful food we so thoroughly enjoyed.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Shrimp and Grits

Grits tee in the Charleston Market
Originally uploaded by weezienyc.

As I’ve said before when I first moved to Manhattan, I was hard-pressed to find grits at all on the menus of the city’s restaurants. And finding a spot serving shrimp and grits was nearly impossible. Just as I would inquire to anyone that would listen as to where I could find grits in the city, I’d ask the self-proclaimed “foodies” that I encountered about finding a place serving shrimp and grits. Just as they would scoff at the thought of eating grits with dinner (or on purpose for that matter), the thought of eating grits with shrimp made my new non-southern (read: Yankee) friends act as if I’d suggested they eat dog food.

Shrimp and grits are as southern as Mint Juleps and Scarlett O’Hara. And turning one’s nose up at a southerner’s mention of them is almost as insulting as talking bad about their mama. So, it was only natural that my crusade for turning my new friends into grits evangelists involved serving them a variety of shrimp and grits entrees. Thus far, every naysayer to whom I’ve served them has loved them. And it goes without saying that I, in turn, have loved watching them eat shrimp and grits with a side of crow.

But shrimp and grits has come a long way over the past few years. What was once a quick and hearty breakfast staple for coastal fisherman, is now an en vogue entrée finding it’s way onto menus of restaurants across the country, including Manhattan. I know of least a half dozen restaurants in Manhattan featuring the dish on the menu, yet one has not truly lived until they’ve eaten shrimp and grits from the coastal Carolinas.

I’ve just returned from a week down South, which included a two-day tasting trip to Charleston. Shrimp and Grits is a classic Charleston entrée, so it’s hard to find a restaurant in the city that doesn’t include this dish on the menu. This made determining which places to visit a challenge and I spent weeks leading up to the trip researching locales and menus to put together an eating schedule. There were restaurants where I’d previously dined, and therefore knew they offered a treat for your taste buds, but didn’t make the list, simply because they are already widely publicized and I was looking for something unique. And there were spots that were added last minute or en route somewhere else based on a suggestion from a local. In the end, I sought out to dine at restaurants – some famous, some off the beaten path - that offered two things – shrimp and grits and an experience.

It was a delicious experience, from which I will share the highlights over the course of the next week. I ate in nine restaurants within a 36-hour period and ended up eating almost as many servings of fried green tomatoes as I did shrimp and grits. I tasted new flavors and found unique food combinations I’d never thought possible, all while spending two days in one of my most beloved southern towns.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Baked Cheese Grits

Low Country Boil
Originally uploaded by weezienyc.

I spent the weekend with friends off the gulf coast in florida. While shrimp and grits is my usual go-to meal for beach vacations, I decided to change it up. So I served low country boil with baked cheese grits instead. Delicious!

Baked Cheese Grits
Makes 8 servings
6 cups water
2 1/4 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons chopped garlic
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
2 cups yellow stone ground grits
2 cups whole milk
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 cups Cheddar cheese, coarsely grated
3 large eggs

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Bring water, 2 tablespoons butter, garlic, and 1 teaspoon salt to a boil in a 4-quart heavy pot. Slowly add grits, stirring constantly until they return to a boil. Reduce heat and gently simmer, stirring frequently for 20 minutes. Add 1 cup milk and continue to boil for 20 minutes.

Add butter, remaining 1 ¼ teaspoons salt, pepper, and cheese, stirring until butter and cheese are melted. Lightly beat eggs and milk, then stir into grits until combined.

Pour into an ungreased 8-inch square baking dish. Bake for 45 minutes until lightly browned.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Caprese Grits

Originally uploaded by weezienyc.

A few weeks ago, I had some girlfriends over for dinner. In an effort not to let some fresh foods from the fridge - basil, Fresh mozzarella, and vine-ripe tomatoes - go to waste, I used them to create a new recipe which I'm calling Caprese Grits.

I was extremely pleased with how they turned out on the first attempt and served them with a London Broil and a Baby Arugula Salad.

Give this recipe a try and let me know your thoughts:

Caprese Grits
Serves 4

1 cup low-salt chicken broth
2 cups water
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon garlic, minced
1 cup white stone ground grits
2/3 cups Mozzarella cheese, shredded
1/3 cup heavy cream
2 teaspoons chopped fresh basil
1 egg, beaten
½ pound Fresh Mozzarella, sliced to ¼ inch thickness
1 cup tomatoes, chopped
¼ teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350°F. Generously butter four 10 oz. ramekins.

Bring broth, butter, and garlic to boil in heavy medium saucepan. Gradually whisk in grits and return mixture to boil, whisking occasionally. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until grits are thick and almost all broth is absorbed, whisking frequently, about 30 minutes.

Whisk in cream and simmer 5 minutes, whisking occasionally. Whisk in remaining 1/4 cup cream and simmer until very thick, stirring often, about 5 minutes longer. Stir egg, shredded mozzarella, and basil until well-blended. Pour into prepared dishes.

Top each serving of grits with a slice of Fresh Mozzarella. Place individual dishes onto middle rack of oven and bake for 30 minutes. Place chopped tomatoes in a small bowl. Spinkle with salt and mix well, letting juices form while grits bake.

Remove dished from oven and top with tomatoes. Serve immediately.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Gorgonzola Grit Cakes

In a post a few weeks ago, I talked about the steps involved in getting recipes to a point where they pass the test and move onto the tasting round (which determines if they even make it into the book). With the more complicated ones, you sometimes have to try four or five times before reaching to a point where you are ready to show them off to the world…or in my case, my lovely friends who constantly volunteer as tasters.

In addition to being on the tasting team, some of my crew has taken on bigger tasks. Because she likes to help and wants me to finish this book before I’m old and grey, my dear friend, LF, took on the challenge of testing a recipe for Gorgonzola Grit Cakes last weekend.

This recipe was given to me by a co-worker who hadn’t tried it yet, but had it at this quaint little restaurant in Alabama and scoured the Internet to find it. I should’ve walked away at “haven’t tried it yet” because those are always the ones that take multiple tries before getting it right.

So here is a glimpse at the process. This is the recipe as I gave it to LF:

Gorgonzola Grit Cakes
Serves 6
3 cups water
1 cup stone-ground grits
1 teaspoon salt
3 oz. gorgonzola, crumbled
1 egg, beaten
Flour for dredging
2-3 tablespoons vegetable oil

Bring water to a boil. Add salt and grits and lower heat. Cook until thick, stirring constantly, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in egg and gorgonzola, stirring until cheese is melted and well combined.

Pour grits into 8" cake pan (round is better). Cool in pan and then refrigerate uncovered until completely set, at least an hour after cool.

With a 2-1/2" round cutter, carefully cut grits into 6 rounds and remove from pan. Dredge rounds in flour.

Heat oil in large skillet until hot. Pan-fry grit cakes until golden, about 2 minutes each side. Serve immediately.

NOTE: Make sure that the oil is hot enough before frying or the grits will begin to fall apart before browning.

And here is her feedback:

• Overall, I thought the flavor was great
• It would have been helpful to have a list of items needed (e.g. 8" cakepan, 2 1/2" round cutter) at the outset of the recipe. I had to read through to determine what I needed as I was making the recipe. I had neither, so I had to improvise which worked out fine.
• I would have liked to have known how long the recipe took from start to finish and if it was easy, medium or hard to make.
• It probably took me 1 1/2 hours total for the cook/chill/fry time. I would classify it as an easy recipe.
• It yielded 10 cakes, not the 6 the recipe states.
• My grits did not set after the hour in the fridge. They were hard to work with. Not sure if you can suggest longer fridge time or adding an ingredient to firm them up. They were hard to put in the frypan, flip and pull out.
• I left half of the batch in the fridge and fried them a few days later. They were a bit easier to work with, but still mushy.

So taking her feedback, I took this recipe into Round Two and made the following changes:

Gorgonzola Grit Cakes (Take Two)
• Cooked the grits for 25 minutes versus 15
• Added an extra egg and simmered the grits after adding the eggs and cheese an extra 5 minutes
• Poured the mixture into a square cake pan and sliced it into nine squares after letting it chill overnight
• Used 1/4 cup of olive oil to fry cakes, four minutes on each side

These changes were semi-successful, although I still didn't like the consistency of the final product. But they were tasty and would make a great addition to the Grits at Noon chapter of my book.

So, anyone up for taking a third stab or making some suggestions?

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Carolina Shrimp & Grits

Carolina Shrimp & Grits
Originally uploaded by weezienyc.

Here is the recipe for the Carolina Shrimp & Grits appetizer that I served with the menu a few weeks ago. I served this dish in "tasting servings" but the recipe serves four entrees. Also, the picture was taken before I crumbled the bacon on top, but the bacon makes it even better!

Enjoy! It is delicious!

4 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup yellow stone-ground grits
1/2 cup butter, plus 2 tablespoons divided
2 cups shredded Cheddar cheese
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
3 eggs
3/4 cup half-and-half
1/4 cup diced onion
1 lb. fresh shrimp, peeled and de-veined
1 1/2 teaspoons herbs de provence
1 1/2 teaspoons Cajun seasoning
½ pound bacon, crumbled

Preheat oven to 350° F. Combine water, ¼ cup butter, and salt in 2-quart saucepan and bring to a boil. Slowly whisk in grits. Reduce heat to low-medium and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring constantly.

Meanwhile, beat eggs and half-and-half together. Once grits have thickened, remove them from heat and stir in ¼ cup butter, cheese, and garlic powder. Add the egg mixture and stir well.

Pour mixture into greased 2-quart casserole dish and bake for 30 minutes.

15 minutes before grits are finished baking, sauté onion in 1 tablespoon butter in heavy saucepan until soft, approximately 5 minutes. Add shrimp, herbs de provence, cajun seasoning and remaining butter. Cook, stirring constantly, until a rue forms.

Divide grits on four plates. Spoon shrimp over grits and top with crumbled bacon.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Rod's Rub and Roasted Garlic Grits

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, I’ve been spending quite a lot of time in the tiny kitchen working on the cookbook. The process goes like this:

- begin with starting recipe
- cook recipe making adjustments
- edit recipe
- retest recipe
- edit recipe
- retest recipe, etc.

Once I’ve gotten a recipe to a place where it is ready for public debut, the tasting round begins, bringing with it another round of cooking. Not only am I working to publish a book of delightful and fully-tested grits recipes, I’m working to publish a book containing menus featuring Grits as the star. So along with every grits recipe in the book, one will find suggested recipes to round out the entire meal. And from where are those suggested recipes coming? My tiny kitchen, of course.

At least every two weeks, I invite over the members of the tasting team, consisting of 10-15 of my friends. There are five “super tasters” who play a larger role in getting this book published and then whomever can make it. These meals give me a chance to see my friends and my friends a chance to offer feedback on the grits recipes, as well as the meal with which they are paired.

A few weeks ago, I had a tasting. The same night I served the Grits and Cheese biscuits, I also served:

Carolina Shrimp and Grits appetizer
Sweet Mesquite Chicken Legs
Roasted Garlic Grits
Steamed Vegetables
Chocolate Cupcakes

This meal was so delicious that I almost forgot about how dry the biscuits were. I’m one of those cooks that doesn’t want to eat after cooking all day. But on that Sunday, there was a moment upon tasting the meal before serving it, that I actually considered shoving my guests out of the front door so I could sit down to a platter of chicken and a 2-quart saucepan of grits all to myself.

As you all know, grits are usually the stars of my meals. But this time, the Sweet Mesquite Chicken legs stole the show. They were delicious and, unfortunately, I can’t take the credit. All of the props go to Rod Brown, a friend of mine from Atlanta.

Rod loves to cook, especially southern cuisine and barbeque. When an Atlanta restaurateur learned of Rod’s passion for creating great barbeque, he asked him to design a custom dry rub for his new restaurant. The restaurant never opened, leaving Rod with three dry rub recipes without a home.

Luckily, Rod is married to my good friend Melanie, the most driven entrepreneur I know. Do you know what happens when a cook and an entrepreneur get married? A business is born – Rod’s Rub.

I’ve used all three varieties in various recipes over the past few weeks, and the Sweet Mesquite is hands down my favorite. It doesn’t hurt that it takes less than five minutes to prepare, compared to the hour is takes to make the grits.

Here are the recipes for the Sweet Mesquite Chicken Legs and the Roasted Garlic Grits. Make them together and let me know your thoughts:

Sweet Mesquite Chicken Legs
Serves 8

Two lbs Chicken Legs, approximately 15-16
Olive Oil (2 -3 tablespoons)
Rod’s Rub Sweet Mesquite variety

Place ½ of chicken in large Ziploc bag. Drizzle olive oil over chicken. Shake rub into bag and shake until well coated. Repeat with remaining chicken.

Place chicken in a baking dish and cook on 350 degrees for an hour, flipping the legs every 15 minutes.

Roasted Garlic Grits
Serves 8

4 large heads garlic
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 quart vegetable broth
1 tablespoon salt
¼ cup unsalted butter
1 cup coarse, white stone-ground grits
1/4 cup half-and-half
1/3 cup Parmesan- Reggiano, grated

Slice off the bottom of garlic head, and separate the cloves, leaving the outer covering in place. Put the cloves in a shallow 8-inch square baking dish, and drizzle with olive oil.

Bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes until the garlic is soft. Cool and remove the skins. In a food processor or blender, add garlic, salt, pepper and lemon juice. Process 30 seconds or until almost smooth, scraping sides occasionally. Set garlic mixture aside.

In a 3-quart saucepan, heat the vegetable stock over high heat until boiling. Add the salt and butter. Once butter has melted, slowly stir in the grits, and return to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer 45 minutes, whisking constantly until thickened.

Remove from heat. Stir in the garlic mixture, half-and-half and cheese until creamy. Return to heat and simmer on low for an additional 5 minutes. Serve immediately.

Mesquite Chicken and Roasted Garlic Grits
Originally uploaded by weezienyc.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Cooking in a closet

I’ve mentioned before that writing this cookbook has been a much larger undertaking than I anticipated. I had no clue how much time was required for the on-going research, business plan development, and the actual planning of the book. I spend at least 15 hours a week dedicated to the “business” and at least 30 hours a week writing/testing/editing/ recipes.

Lately, I feel like I’ve been living in my tiny Manhattan kitchen. I am either standing over the tiny stove, constantly whisking grits to ensure they don’t burn (sometimes I get distracted and this happens) or doing dishes in the tiny sink. I am a southerner and we have a tendency to exaggerate, but I’m not even kidding you when I tell you that everything about my kitchen is tiny.

The first house I can remember as a child had a small kitchen. My mama basically started her catering business in that kitchen. To this day my dad still can’t eat chicken salad because there was always chicken cooking on the stove and a Tupperware of chicken salad in the fridge. And, for a year, I seriously forgot that white bread was actually sold with crust.

As I think back on it, I am amazed that Mama was able to produce the entire menu for a wedding reception in such a small space. And now, I find myself amazed that I cook “tasting” meals for 15+, in what is basically a coat closet containing a stove and a sink.

This is where the magic happens!

Tiny Kitchen
Originally uploaded by weezienyc.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Cookbook Progress

I'm slowly, but surely making some headway on the cookbook. I've been testing a lot of recipes, trying to get at least one chapter in order before I finalize my book proposal. Trying to figure out how to organize the book hasn't been a simple task. I've gone back and forth for weeks on how to categorize the recipes in order to put them into chapters. I've finally made a decision on the chapters and titles and here they are:

  • Morning Grits: Warm and quick dishes served in the early hours
  • Grits at noon: Heartier dishes served at brunch, preferably with Bloody Mary's or Mimosas
  • Evening Grits: Meals starring grits: Some fast, some fancy
  • Shrimp and Grits: Low-country favorites, perfect for all hours of the day
  • Grits on the Side: A collection of side dishes with suggestions for accompaniments
  • Grits and More: All of the other grits recipes that didn’t fit into one of the other chapters

Now that I’ve got the chapters selected, all I need to do is figure out a name for the book.

Any suggestions?

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Grits and Cheese Biscuits

Grits Biscuits with Ham and Strawberry Jam
Originally uploaded by weezienyc.

A few weeks ago I had some friends over for another recipe tasting. As an appetizer, I served mini grits and cheese biscuits filled with ham or strawberry jam. The biscuits had a great flavor, especially when served with the jam, but were too dry.

The addition of the grits adds a crunchy texture to the biscuit, but I want to find a way to keep the crunch without drying out the palettes of my guests. I’ve posted the recipe and welcome (translation = am begging for) any suggestions.

Recipe for Grits and Cheese Biscuits:
Makes 12 - 14 biscuits

1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
½ cup quick cooking grits, uncooked
4 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup butter
1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
½ cup milk

Heat oven to 425ºF. Combine the flour, grits, baking powder, and salt. Cut in margarine until mixture resembles course crumbs. Stir in cheese. add milk, mixing just until dry ingredients are moistened.

Shape dough to form a ball; knead gently on lightly floured surface 3 to 4 times. Roll out dough to form 8-inch square. Cut dough into four 2-inch wide strips; cut each strip crosswise into 4 pieces. Place biscuits about 1 inch apart on ungreased cookie sheet. Bake 12 to 14 minutes or until golden brown.

Monday, March 26, 2007

My search for grits in NYC

A very funny comment to Friday’s post prompted me to expand on how my move to NYC led to me writing a cookbook about grits!

Having spent my entire life living in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia, one day, three years ago this southern girl decided to become a Manhattanite in order to get herself on the career fast track. It wasn’t long before I was in love with the city - the nightlife, the activity, the food - but winter rolled around I found myself a tad homesick. Winter in NYC was nothing like I’d ever experienced down south. What I thought was cold had just been a slight chill, and what I thought was a “winter” coat was actually just layer I was wearing under my “real” winter coat.

To get myself through what I call “my first real winter” where the days slipped away too quickly and the months dragged on too long, I set out for southern comfort food in this northern city. NYC is an eating town, offering a plethora of ethnic cuisine, but lacking in what I was looking for - gourmet southern. There are many southern restaurants in the city, but I was looking for something more than fried chicken and collards. Don’t get me wrong, Aunt Sylvia’s is delightful, as I’ve never had such delicious fried chicken (sorry Papa) and scrumptious collards in all of my life (sorry Nana), but I was looking for one thing in particular - grits!

And so I went on the hunt, making this search my own personal project. I was still relatively new to the city, so in an effort to help my cause, I began asking people - coworkers, clients, new friends, strangers on the subway - if they knew of a restaurant that served grits, only to receive responses ranging from confusion to disgust. My friend Dianne once said to me, “Ahh grits, I’ve heard of those things, never had them though, but I’ll try anything.” This was the more pleasant of the responses I received as most folks looked at me like I was totally crazy and they were completely grossed out at the thought. When I worked grits into a conversation, as I always did somehow, it was amazing to see facial expressions become twisted and disgusted, like someone had just handed them a stinky diaper.

At first I became offended at the reaction, but then learned to simply respond with a smile and say in my sweetest southern drawl, “Well, by the look on your face I can tell you’ve never really had grits.” This most often draws the response that they had tried them - at Waffle House (which I call “dirty grits”) or from an instant package in college (which, I agree, is pretty gross) - and didn’t like them. This reaction always led me to bet them that they’ll like mine...and they always do.

My search for tasty grits in the city eventually turned into my personal crusade to convert the non-grits fans (down south we call them Yankees) into grits evangelists, a movement resulting into me hosting many brunches - perfecting the preparation of creamy, butter grits (basic morning grits) and cheddar cheese grits. In general I love watching people eat food that I have prepared, but there was even more pleasure in watching folks eat “real grits” or “my grits” for the first time. After mastering the basics I began developing my own recipes, throwing dinner parties in my tiny Manhattan apartment, the menu always centered around my latest discovery. In was through these dinner parties and by search for my favorite comfort food that the idea for this cookbook was born. Hopefully, by tasting my recipes and hearing the stories behind them, these crazy New Yorkers will learn to speak my language.

Friday, March 23, 2007

What is a Grit?

pl.n. (used with a sing. or pl. verb)

1. A ground, usually white meal of dried and hulled corn kernels that is boiled and served as a breakfast food or side dish.
2. Coarsely ground grain, especially corn.

Technically speaking, the term "grits" actually refers to any coarsely ground grain such as corn, oats or rice. When corn has been soaked in lye and the casing has been removed it becomes hominy. The lye is rinsed out very well and the corn is left to harden. Then the swollen hominy is ground up to the texture of tiny pellets in a choice of grinds-coarse, medium and fine.

Historically speaking, Americans have been eating them since as far back as 1607. When the colonists came ashore at Jamestown, Virginia, they were met by Native Americans offering steaming hot bowls of "rockahominie," which was softened maize seasoned with salt and animal fat. For this reason, Turner Catledge, former editor of the New York Times, called grits “the first truly American Food.” This comment alone makes old Turner a genius in my eyes.

Personally speaking, grits are my favorite comfort food and it is my search for this favorite comfort food during my first winter in NYC that led me to begin writing this cookbook.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Maya Angelou’s “Hallelujah! The Welcome Table”

In the ongoing research and planning phase of my cookbook, I’ve been reviewing other books targeting the same audience I’m seeking to reach. I’ve just finished reading Maya Angelou’s Hallelujah! The Welcome Table. I haven't tried any of the recipes, but if they are as warm and comforting as the stories found within the pages of this book, then Maya Angelou has succeeded in serving up a double dose of southern comfort.

One of the many stories really hit home with me. Maya tells how Momma kick started a career for herself, having suddenly become a single parent with two small children. She didn’t want to work as a maid because that would mean leaving her kids. Instead she made a living out of taking her fabulous meat pies to the workers of the two largest mills in town everyday at lunch. Eventually she opened a hut equidistant between the two companies and let the customers come to her. This hut later became a store selling much more than meat pies.

When telling this story, Maya shares a piece of wisdom from Momma. She says, “Momma told me, ‘Sister, the world might try to put you on a road that you don’t like. First stop and look behind you. If nothing back there makes you want to return, then look ahead. If nothing ahead beckons you enough to keep you going, then you have to step off that road and cut yourself a brand-new path.’”

I found this story heartwarming and a little ironic, seeming as the production of my cookbook is my first step in cutting myself a brand-new path.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

New Recipe Taste Test

New Recipe Taste Test
Originally uploaded by weezienyc.

Last Friday I had some girlfriends over for a grits taste test. We talked about the concept of my cookbook and had a brainstorm session about marketing to my target audience. The conversation was fascinating and the new recipes I tested were very tasty for a first try.

I served a spicy shrimp and grits appetizer, trying out a recipe for creamy grits that can be used as base for any shrimp and grits recipe that doesn’t suggest a specific type of grits. These grits were perfect and I can’t wait to re-test them with another shrimp combo.

For the main entrée, I adapted a recipe for polenta into a recipe for rosemary grits cakes, topping the cakes with broccoli rabe and serving them with a pan-seared garlic chicken breast (see above). The grits cakes were delicious, but I’m going to have to work on my pan-searing technique before the recipe is ready for the cookbook.

I was extremely pleased with both of these recipes and will be certainly including them in the book!

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Grits and More

I’m writing a cookbook on...take a guess? Give up? Grits...and More!

The inspiration for this book came from combined a love of grits and a feeling of total shock when I realized how many people claim to “hate grits” simply because they’ve never tasted good ones.

Taking on this project has been fun, but I wasn’t prepared for how difficult it would be. Cooking takes on a whole new level of complication when you are creating and testing recipes in order for someone else to prepare them. But I’m still having a good time and to add to the fun, I’ll be documenting my progress here on Grits and More!

Check back for updates, stories, and recipes!