Saturday, October 27, 2012

"The Flavor of the South" & "Deep South Staples - Grits and Grillades

Date I made these recipes:  October 21, 2012

The Flavor of the South – Delicacies and Staples of Southern Cuisine by Jeanne A. Voltz
Published by:  Greenwich House
© 1978; 1983 reprint
Recipe:  Grillades – p. 32

Deep South Stapes – how to survive in a southern kitchen without a can of cream of mushroom soup by Robert St. John
Published by Different Drummer Press
ISBN: 0-9721972-2-2
Recipe:  Garlic Cheese Grits p. 34 (Creole Seasoning Recipe p. 252)

“I’m in a southern kind of mood,” I told my husband, “so we’re having Grits and Grillades for dinner.”

“Grits and what?” said the man I married. 

“Grits and Grillades.  Grillades.  You know – grilled meats.  It’s French.  You speak French, remember?  We’re having grits and grilled meats for dinner. Sheesh.”

Actually, a quick look at Wikipedia confirms that this is a staple dish in New Orleans.  When it comes to the south, I’ve always had the impression that there’s New Orleans, a region unto itself, and then there’s everyone else.  And having been to the region and to New Orleans several times, I can tell you that there is indeed a difference in attitude, in culture and in food. (And drink but I won’t bore you with my cocktail stories from my last sojourn to that city!)

Any who…while I can appreciate and have eaten most southern and New Orleans’ specialties, I am still on the fence about grits.  My first, close encounter with them was on a family trip to Florida way back in the 60’s.  We stopped off in Mississippi and Georgia and naturally, grits were on the menu.

Shall I just tell you that I was not impressed?  Grits looked like Cream of Wheat (yum!), complete with the requisite pat of butter, but when I tasted them….ew?  And I mean ew.  So I never ate them again on the rest of the trip.

Fast forward to 1992 when my husband and I took a driving tour of the south, ending in New Orleans, when once again, we encountered grits on the menu.  This time around we ordered them at the Waffle House, a place I have to say usually gets pretty decent reviews for their food and their grits.  But again, the people spoke (“people” meaning me and Andy) and we’re back to “ew.” 

A friend of mine, Tex, who as you might imagine, is from Texas, told me that the secret is a lot of butter and a lot of salt.  I wasn’t buying it.  But once before, I made a grit recipe that called for cheese to be added and I tell you what, that just opened up a whole new grit world for me!  Because cheese is good with just about anything, grits included.

So in my search for grits to go with my grillades, I found this recipe for garlic cheese grits that was loaded with cheddar and cream cheese (a 2’fer) and thought I should try them.  And they were good.

But when I emailed Tex and another friend, Ann, who goes by the nickname, TEA, she came back with an emphatic “’No’ as in “No, no, no, no, no!”  TEA lived in the south for 5 years and never did experience grit love.  I tried to tell her that the cheese made all the difference and she responded with the statement that this was a perfectly good waste of perfectly good cheese.

Being a Libra, I always see both sides and so will let you decide for yourself whether or not these grits pass muster but I liked them and so did Andy. We’re trying to get out of our comfort zone of Great Northern Food, but this grit experience wasn’t too bad and certainly not painful like the other couple go-rounds.

Before leaving this fascinating discussion about grits, let me tell you that any time I think of grits, two things come to mind:  1) the song Grits Ain’t Groceries written by Titus Turner, covered by Little Milton and Van Morrison and 2) the movie My Cousin Vinny.  So let’s discuss.

For years, I thought the song Grits Ain’t Groceries was really “Grits and Groceries” but I was wrong.  Blame it on my ear wax.  The lyrics are “Grits ain’t groceries, eggs ain’t poultry and Mona Lisa was a man.”  Hahahaha.  Well, that’s the south for you!

As to My Cousin Vinny, was there ever a funnier moment than when Vinny said “Grits?  What’s a grit?  I think not.  An even funnier exchange took place when Vinny had Mr. Tipton on the witness stand talking about grits as part of his defense of his cousin, Bill Gambini, and Bill’s friend, Stan Rothenstein.  Vinny asks Mr. Tipton how he likes his grits and Mr. Tipton says “Regular, I guess.”  Vinny then says “Regular.  Instant grits?” and Tipton gives the best line that I believe summarizes the entire Southern “grit-eating world” (as Vinny called it):  “No self-respectin’ Southerner uses instant grits.”  You shouldn’t, either.

As to grillades, well, class, these are simply grilled cuts of meat all gussied up with a sauce of tomatoes, onions and green peppers.  “Grillades” just sounds better though, doesn’t it?  And if you have any aggressions you want to get out (and you do, don’t you?), then this is your dish.  According to the recipe, you’re supposed to pound your round steak into ¼-inch thick pieces.  So okay, I did that because I follow directions but despite really taking a whack or two or twenty at the meat, I still didn’t get it as thin as I liked.  The solution, you ask?  Cook it longer!  (Might I also say that this pounding thing is kind of a messy endeavor—have a dish rag handy.)  I put the lid on my large fry pan, turned the flame down really low and went back to watching the Amazing Race for an additional half an hour until I was satisfied they were done. (Let me digress for just a moment:   Why, CBS, did you move The Good Wife to Sundays?  You know damned well that the football games you broadcast are always late, making 60 Minutes late, making the Amazing Race late therefore making The Good Wife late.  This is rude.  Stop it!)

Now most grits and grillades recipes call for putting the grillades and sauce on top of the grits but I kept mine separate so I could better appreciate the flavors.  I cannot say that I liked the pairing of these cheesy grits with this grillades recipe but that is perhaps just me and my Yankee palate.  You should also know that this dish is typically served for brunch and I would not be my mother’s daughter if I didn’t raise an eyebrow over that concept; this dish is heavy and so I decided it was best suited for an evening repast.

And that folks is all y’all need to know about that.  So give grits a chance and make this recipe and if you are so inclined, get your French Creole on and serve it up with some meat that you pounded the hell out of and y’all feel better about life as you know it.

Grillades – makes 4-5 servings
1 ½ pound sound steak, ½ inch thick (pounded to 1/4 inch thick)
1 tablespoon oil
2 onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon flour
1 green pepper, chopped
2 tomatoes, sliced, or 1 cup canned
2 tablespoons vinegar
1 cup hot water
1 bay leaf, crumbled
¼ teaspoon thyme

Pound steak with meat mallet or edge of heavy saucer to break up fibers and flatten to ¼ inch thick.  Cut in 4-inch squares.  Season well with salt and cayenne.  Brown in oil in heavy skillet.  Remove and keep warm.  Add onion and garlic to pan drippings and cook until tender but now browned.  Add flour and cook and stir until browned.  Add green pepper, tomatoes, vinegar, water, bay leaf, and thyme.  Stir until well mixed.  Arrange grillades in sauce.  Cover and simmer until tender.

Garlic Cheese Grits – yield:  8 servings
1 T Bacon grease or oil
1 T Garlic, minced
1 tsp salt
2 cups milk
2 cups chicken broth
1 cup Grits
1 tsp Creole Seasoning (recipe page 252 – see below)
1 tsp hot sauce
8 oz sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
4 oz cream cheese

For Creole Seasoning (Makes 1 cup – 1 used scant amount of each ingredient for my recipe)
½ cup Lawry’s Seasoned Salt
2 T onion powder
2 T Paprika
1 T Cayenne pepper
1 T white pepper
1 T plus 1 tsp garlic powder
1 T black pepper
1 tsp dry mustard
1 tsp oregano, dry
1 tsp thyme, dry
Combine all ingredients and mix well.  Store in an airtight container.

Melt bacon grease or oil over low heat in a 1-1/2 quart saucepot.  Add garlic and salt and cook for 1-2 minutes being careful not to brown the garlic.  Add milk and broth and increase heat.  Bring to a simmer and slowly pour in the grits.  Lower heat and cook grits for 15 minutes, stirring often.

Add the remaining ingredients and stir until cheeses are melted.  Serve immediately.

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