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.