Friday, March 17, 2017

"Soul Food - Classic Cuisine From the Deep South" by Sheila Ferguson - Cheese and Sausage Grits Casserole for Black History Month

Date I made this recipe:  February 25, 2017 – Black History Month

Soul Food – Classic Cuisine From the Deep South by Sheila Ferguson
Published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson
ISBN: 1-55584-420-0; copyright 1989
Purchased at Bonnie Slotnick Cookbooks, NYC
Recipe:  Cheese and Sausage Grits Casserole – p. 61

So February was Black History Month and even though I had the entire month to make a recipe from a related cookbook, please note that I snuck this one in under the wire.  Of course, getting it posted in the month of February was another matter all together.

While I don't necessarily keep a list of cookbooks to purchase, I was on the lookout for this after reading about the book and its author a long time ago (in a galaxy far, far away) and finally found it two years ago at one of my favorite cookbook bookstores, Bonnie Slotnick Cookbooks in NYC.  As per usual, when I shop at Bonnie's, I find the coolest books and this was one of them.

This cookbook, written in 1989, is full of yummy recipes and great stories submitted by Sheila and her relatives. And sure, there were a fair amount of "no-go" recipes like "Pig's Feet," "Chit'lins," and lordy, lordy, "Braised Squirrel," but I was prepared to overlook that because of the breadth of her other offerings.

As a "for instance," "Roland's Home Fries" (p. 41) was in the running for a long time but when I realized that my recent breakfasts out with friends were heavy on the home fries, I passed.  Still, I would love to make it sometime because it sounded easy and fabulous.

On pages 60 and 61 you'll find four recipes for all kinds of grits including one for a "Sweet Grits Soufflé."  Today's recipe, Cheese and Sausage Grits Casserole, was found on page 61.  I like a book that has four grit offerings for every flavor palate out there.

Also in the running was "Aunt Odessa's Macaroni and Tuna Bake Casserole," (p. 122) and I also pondered that long and hard before going back to the grits.  I love mac and cheese, and I love tuna casserole so this likely would have been a hit even though it was missing my favorite tuna casserole ingredients – peas.

And then I considered two salads, one, a classic macaroni salad, the other, a potato salad, (both on p. 132) but these are more summer than winter dishes and Black History Month waited for no one!

See what I mean?  And those were just a few of the options from this cookbook a cookbook that covers soul food recipes from A-Z, as evidenced by the following categories:
  • The High and Mighty Breakfast
  • Down-Home Breads
  • Grits, Grits, Grits
  • Fine Feathered Fowl
  • Critters That Swim  ("Critters?"  that "Swim?"  Happily, she mostly means fish.  Mostly.)
  • The Almighty Pig
  • If You See It, Shoot It (I almost spit my coffee just now!)
  • Beans 'n' Rice
  • Kissin' Cousins (a variety of recipes from people who are not kin but should be)
  • Soulful Salads
  • God's Green Acres
  • That Glorious Sweet Potato
  • Sweet Thangs
  • Cakes and Cookies
  • Pickles and Drinks (Huh.  I don't know as I'd ever put these two together in one chapter, but I suppose she was getting to the end of things and had to wrap it all up. )

Also included in this book is a chapter called "So What Is Soul Food," "It Don't Mean a Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing! The Black Way of Talking," and a "Future Reading" page.  Books in the "Future Reading" section aren't necessarily African-American but most have to do with southern cooking or southern specialties.

Now although it's not necessarily a requirement that a cookbook author have some cooking cred, I was surprised to see that author Sheila Ferguson is a singer first, cook, second.  Her dust jacket bio says she was lead singer of the legendary pop group The Three Degrees ("When Will I See You Again?"); these days, it looks like she is enjoying a solo career.  So the fact that she pulled together a really good cookbook is amazing – kudos!

Before I head on to the easy and tasty recipe, I have to tell you that my friend, Ann, will likely not touch a drop of this recipe and that's a damned shame.  Years ago, she spent some time at Florida State University and our northern gal of Scandinavian descent did not cotton to grits at all.  Can't say as I blame her as the few times I had grits while down south during childhood family vacations were not fond food memories for me, either. I n fact, I thought they were awful.  But over the years, I've really taken to them which is a good thing as I am able to leave my horrible grit-eating past behind me and embrace the suckers.  That said, it should be noted that there are "grit" grits which I like, and that are a lot like polenta, and then there are hominy grits which I loathe.  I make it a point never, ever to order the latter.

Although this is an easy dish, there is one adjustment that I made and that is to the sausage.  The recipe directs you to use a ready-made (read:  already-seasoned) product like Jimmy Dean sausage but I just could not, not only because of the preservatives and other additives, but because a roll of that stuff was way more than I needed.  So I Googled to see what sausage seasonings closely approximated Jimmy Dean's and added them to the ground sausage I purchased (in the quantity I needed, no more, no less). I'm including the sausage spices below.

This was a very good dish and a great way to close out Black History Month.  As an FYI, about a year ago, I purchased a fabulous and fascinating book called The Jemima Code by Toni Tipton-Martin.  This book (not a cookbook per se) explores two centuries of African-American cookbooks and Soul Food – Classic Cuisine From the Deep South is one of the included books.  I am currently going through my collection list to see which cookbooks from The Jemima Code I already own and which ones I need to acquire.  It's a process to be sure but meanwhile, enjoy this casserole!

Cheese and Sausage Grits Casserole – p. 61
1 lb ready-made sausage meat (Ann's Note:  I suggest you skip that and add the spice mix below to make your own sausage.)
1 cup uncooked grits
4 cups lightly salted water
1 cup grated cheddar cheese
1 cup butter
2 large eggs, slightly beaten
1 cup milk
1 small clove garlic, minced

Ann's home-made sausage spice (*These are for a half pound of sausage; double the ingredients for a full pound).  Add the following mixture to your ground sausage:
¼ teaspoon parsley
1/8 teaspoon rubbed sage
1/8 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon sage
1/8 teaspoon coriander
½ teaspoon salt
*If you want it hot, add some red pepper

Form the sausage meat into patties and fry it up crisp and golden brown.  Be sure you pour off all the excess fat as you're frying. Drain your patties on paper towels, then crumble them up in a bowl.  Preheat your oven to 350.

While you're doing all this your grits can be cooking.  You've got to boil them up in the salted water for about 5 minutes, exactly as it states on the box.  When they thicken up to the consistency of porridge, remove them from the heat and stir in grated cheese. Cover and let them stand for a couple of minutes.  Now stir in your butter, eggs, milk, and garlic until well blended.  Stir in your sausage meat.  Taste and adjust your seasonings.

Pour into a well-buttered 1 ½ quart baking dish and bake in your oven for 1 hour or until lightly browned and bubbling.

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