Sunday, December 7, 2008

Not so "home" cooking

I'm not from the South. I can't even fake a Southern accent to save my life. But it turns out I can fake it in the kitchen, at least for Mr.Mr.'s taste buds. Taking the lead from the fine folks at Kingfish Cafe in Seattle, I set about preparing some "home cooking" from someone else's home. On the menu: cornmeal grits with chicken gravy and swiss chard collard greens. A few days back I checked out the ingredients of Trader Joe's instant grits, and much to my surprise it's a whole ton of white corn, some water, and salt. Easy! So I decided to go the simple route, put a slightly healthier twist on it, and make the recipe my own.

I started with the "Low Country Cream-Style Grits" recipe in The Joy of Cooking and made adjustments for using coarse cornmeal as opposed to standard slow-cooking (an hour plus!) grits. Somehow I've managed to accumulate at least three different textures of cornmeal (I can't resist the bulk foods section) so I used all of what was left of my coarse meal and a dash of the semi-fine meal to fill in any gaps. Grits are super easy and this version takes little more than twenty minutes on the stove. I started by bringing the water, butter, and salt to a boil. After adding the cornmeal, I reduced the heat to a simmer and stirred occasionally until it became thick and soft. I added some half and half toward the end to cream it up a bit and then a little extra salt. Super easy.

I remembered the chicken gravy from Kingfish having soft, stringy bits of meat swimming atop the grits in a thin but robust brown sauce. Starting with Mr.Mr.'s homemade chicken stock and the left-over chicken bits, I added fresh ground pepper, the , dried onion, garlic powder, and two spice mixes from Penzey's. I let that simmer at a a low boil while everything else cooked. Right before serving I whisked in some Wondra as a thickener and used a fork to gently pull apart the chicken bits into thin strips.

Mr.Mr. threw together a chopped up a bunch of collard greens, the butt end of some white onion, a clove of garlic, a dash of worcestershire sauce, some butter, and chicken stock into a pot with a cover and let it steam to soften. We didn't have any leftover ham hocks so we skipped that which lightened the dish considerably.

All told, the dish was a success all around. Delicious to the last bite and not too filling despite the volume... a sure fire winner. Next time you roast a chicken, consider using the leftovers to make this simple dish.

Creamy Cornmeal Grits
3 cups water
3/4 cup coarse cornmeal
3 tablespoons butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup half and half
additional salt to taste

Chicken and Gravy
1/2 cup pre-cooked chicken
1 cup chicken stock
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon dry onion flakes
a dash of garlic powder
a dash of Penzey's "four s" seasoning
a dash of Penzey's poultry seasoning
1/2 teaspoon Wondra or all-purpose flour

Collard Greens using Swiss Chard
1 bunch swiss chard
1/4 cup chopped white onion
1 clove garlic, chopped
a hearty splash of worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons butter
3/4 cup chicken stock
salt and pepper to taste
hot sauce optional


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