Southern delights, a guest blog from my pal Maddie

8 Nov

So, Kathy and I grew up together in college when we were randomly paired as roommates our freshman year. Coming from southwest Virginia (the same distance from DC as Pittsburgh so, no, I didn’t grow up near your family friends in Fairfax—seemingly the only place people think of when they hear about the state). I suppose I was somewhat of a southern novelty to all of our other girl friends who were from in and around PA somewhere. Being deemed as such allowed me to enhance my southern accent and discuss my hometown as if no one was educated past the 5th grade, be damned if we wore shoes anywhere, and Budweisers were passed around to infants getting perms as well as used as a local currency. And that’s funny material, especially on a drinking night.

But truly and honestly, coming from the south afforded me a certain number of skills that many of my other lady peers (aside from Kathy) didn’t have at the ripe age of 17/18, and cooking was one of those. So I was happy to fill an Aunt Jemima type role, because I had trouble trusting that other folks wouldn’t just make some sort of casserole from a blend of ramen noodles, pop tart crusts and ketchup. The southern cooking I’d grown up with hadn’t been fancy, so it was simple to cook and pleased easily. Biscuits and gravy carried Kathy and I through many years, from weekends that started after rough nights in the Southside to homesick evenings when we lived in Italy.

Something I never appreciated growing up, but wouldn’t trade for the world now, is the comforting attributes of a well-cooked and well-loved southern meal. And one “dish” I’ve grown to love making, even though I loathed them as a kid, are grits.

What are grits? Ground up corn, that’s it. And because they’re such a simple substance, you have to think of grits more as a vehicle for other things you really want have. No one down south is serving up just plain ol’ grits. They’ll at least have some butter in them, because in reality all we southerners are trying to figure out more ways to eat butter. As simple as they are, you can screw grits up if you’re not paying attention. At their best they can be rich, creamy and soul soothing. At their worst they can turn into inedible glue, or what we call “Georgia Ice Cream,” a solid mass of gag inducing caca.

Making grits:

The hints to grits will differ from person to person, but essentially the recipe exists in one instruction, pay attention to and whisk your grits. So, follow the directions on your grits package with the exception that you should use milk in place of water (or half water and half cream). And you better watch that milk, too, or else you’ll end up with burners full of a steeping mess. Add the grits when you see the milk boiling, and turn down the heat. Then get your whisk on and keep your whisk on until the liquid is fully absorbed. Then you can mix in whatever cheeses or gravies you like. Cover the pot and turn off the heat. Normally 5-10 minutes does the trick, and your grits are good to go. While traditionally a breakfast feature, over the years I’ve made a whole ton of grits based dinners because grits are cheap and they’re a wonderful canvas for about any direction you want to take them. We’ve done buffalo mozzarella with sun-dried tomato and basil grits; chicken quesadilla grits; and cream cheese with spinach grits. But our all-time favorite version is shrimp and grits. The below recipe is pretty loose, because I’m not good at following rules or writing out directions, but the general idea is to add as much or as little of the ingredients listed as you’d like, to serve a crowd. And you be the judge of any added spices or herbs y’all will want. Get some grits and get weird.

Shrimp and Grits

Ingredients:
Grits! (surprise)
Sausage (some use andouille, some use chorizo or an Italian, but I err toward a spicy breakfast myself)
Shrimp
Onions, diced
Bell Peppers, diced
Garlic, minced
Chicken stock
Milk/half & half/cream
Flour
Cheese (we dig Habanero cheddar in this, but again, you do you)
Butter

Instructions:
1. Determine the portion of grits you would like to make and follow the package instruction. Instead of using water use either milk/cream or a mixture of cream and water. Add cheese to your liking.
2. Crumble sausage in to sauté pan over medium-high heat and brown.
3. Add butter, peppers, onions and garlic to the cooked sausage. Cook until onions are translucent and drain any excess grease.
4. Add a slurry (2 or 3 cups of milk plus a couple of tablespoons of flour) to the sausage mixture and cook on low heat until the sauce thickens.
5. Once the sauce turns into a gravy consistency, add shrimp to steep in the gravy until they just turn pink.
6. Dish out a heaping portion of grits and top with your shrimp gravy! It ain’t pretty, but it tastes mighty fine.

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