[Hey, this is Adam The Amateur Gourmet. I’m on vacation in Barcelona, Spain and while I’m gone I’ve asked some awesome people to fill in for me. The first awesome person on the docket is the co-proprietor of one of the best bakeries in all of New York, Mr. Matt Lewis of Baked. I love Baked (see here) and I love their cookbook and I’m honored that Matt wrote this guest post. So thank you Matt–take it away!]
I have lived in New York for over 14 years now, but I still romanticize my time spent in the South. More specifically: Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Even more specifically, my alma mater The University of Alabama. By and large, I have many positive memories from this time. I specifically remember the inexpensive rent (I had an entire floor of a huge Southern home to myself for 300 bucks a month), the wide-open spaces, the Southern gentility, the sweet tea, and the food. I also remember waking up in a ditch 20 miles from campus after a night of acid (do people still drop acid?), vodka, and a bad Metallica cover band. But I digress.
About that food: I experienced ribs and rib sauce sent from Heaven a la Dreamland BBQ – before Tuscaloosa, my only rib experience was at some Applebee’s type restaurant in a mall. I ate my way through some serious fried chicken made by some serious fried chicken people and not the Colonel (and gained a few pounds in the process), and I fell in love with grits. Glorious cheese grits. It was not an instant love affair – more like a slow romance.
At first, I was “grit ignorant.” I would order them as a side item if Mac and Cheese wasn’t on the menu. I considered them a decent, if not exactly great, substitute. Then slowly, I opened my eyes to grit interpretation. There were baked grits, buttery grits, instant grits (no, thanks), stone ground grits (yes, please), bacon grits, cheese grits, shrimp and grits, and really creamy grits. Creamy grits are the bomb, but you need a spoon and a really healthy heart. I remember a friend ordering a big bowl of creamy cheesy grits and then topping them off with a slab (and I mean a SLAB) of butter. Great stuff, but not something you can eat all the time.
My affair grew so passionate that I could scarcely eat a meal out without a side of grits. It was intense, and a little codependent and like all things that are too good to last, it ended abruptly. It was tragic, really. I graduated and moved to New York (not exactly a grits city), and the grits stayed behind in the South. Perhaps distance does make the heart grow fonder, but over time, I started to forget about them, and I was on to my next conquest. Funny how the U.S. gets a bad rap for being so homogeneous, but a decent fried chicken, a good glass of sweet tea, and cheese grits are hard to find in New York. Likewise, I would advise those seeking great Italian food in Tuscaloosa to call Lupa for a recipe.
I am happy to report that we are back together again, grits and I. As luck would have it, my family moved to Charleston, SC (grits central for those in the know), and we (Renato and myself) opened a second Baked location in Charleston’s historic downtown. Now, when I go down to work on store two, I spend a lot of time deciding where to eat my grits.
I adapted this recipe from Charleston’s own Lee Brothers from their Southern Cookbook. Note: Most every Southern chef will tell you to use Anson Mills grits, but alas I don’t drive so I had to use whatever I could find at the local grocery store. Enjoy.
SIMPLE CHEESE GRITS – makes about 4 decent sized servings
2 cups whole milk
2 cups water
1 cup stone-ground grits
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 cup (packed) grated extra sharp cheddar cheese
1 cup (packed) grated Monterey Jack cheese
Lightly butter the bottom and sides of a cast iron skillet (or small baking dish).
Pour milk and water into a small saucepan, cover, and heat on medium high until milk mixture boils (about 5 minutes). Uncover pot, add grits and salt and reduce heat to medium. Stir constantly until grits are the consistency of thick soup – about 8 minutes. Reduce to simmer, stirring every 2 minutes for about 20 minutes until grits thicken. Cook for 15 minutes more – stirring constantly – to prevent grits from sticking to bottom of the pan.
Remove from heat and stir in 3/4 cups of the cheddar cheese, 3/4 cups of the Monterey Jack cheese, and the butter. Pour into the skillet and top with remaining cheese.
Turn oven to broil. Place skillet directly under broiler for 2-3 minutes or until cheese is melted and starts to brown. Remove from oven and serve immediately.
And thanks to Adam for this guest blogging gig. Adam-I hope you will forgive some of the photos, I am not exactly a skilled photographer. And I hope you are thinking of us while you are eating your way through Spain.