Cheese Grits with Red Eye Gravy

As with most Northern people, almost everything I know about grits is derived from the classic film “My Cousin Vinny.” A bit of research reveals that there are 3 main levels: instant, quick, and old fashioned. Very similar to oatmeal. (For a detailed explanation of how grits relate to corn meal and polenta, look elsewhere because I’m still a bit fuzzy the whole thing, and defer to the label on the packaging to differentiate between the three.) There seems to be universal agreement that the instant version is trash, and not worth it, because the quick cook ones really do only take a few minutes. And unless one is a real connoisseur, there seems to be little benefit to the traditional method of tediously stirring a pot of gruel for an hour just to obtain a pot of porridge at the end that is virtually indistinguishable. The Modernist Cuisine cookbook has an elaborate “time saving” method of pressure cooking the grits to reduce the time by 2/3, but it still seems like way too much work. Maybe you Instant Pot aficionados would like to try, but for now I will stick to the time honoured method of using the microwave oven.

As you may have noticed if you’ve ever tried them, grits on their own are terribly bland and boring and it’s really hard to see the appeal. But doctored up a bit, they serve as a wonderful canvas for a delicious breakfast/brunch.

First, use chicken broth instead of water. Preferably homemade, with some character. Mexican style with epazote, oregano, garlic, culantro, achiote, and a bit of heat is ideal. But you could also start with broth in a box and add some black pepper, cayenne, onion and garlic powder, ground oregano, etc.

Second, to create a silky texture, melt in some American cheese. Velveeta is also popular, but tastes too artificial, and real cheese doesn’t dissolve as well. But feel free to experiment if you want it extra cheesy.

Third, the grits need some protein as a garnish. I like a sunny side up egg, but shrimp & grits is a wonderful combination as well.

Finally, a sauce is needed to elevate the whole thing from a bowl of bland mush into a complete dish. This one is adapted from the Modernist Cuisine cookbook. If done right, the end product is the perfect balance of sweet, salty, and depth of flavour.

Ingredients (for two servings)

  • 1/2 cup quick cooking (aka 5-minute) grits
  • 2 cups chicken broth, preferably homemade
  • 4 slices American cheese
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 1 star anise
  • 1/4 cup dark roasted coffee beans
  • 2-3 tsp maple syrup
  • 1/4 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1-2 tsp butter

Directions

  1. Grits: In a large microwave safe bowl, stir the grits with the chicken broth. Cook on high for 3 minutes.
  2. Remove bowl from microwave, stir well, then add the cheese and cook for another 2-3 minutes depending on how cold the broth was to start with and how strong the microwaves are. Stir halfway through to incorporate cheese and break up any clumps, and add time in 1 minute increments if too soupy. Adjust seasonings depending on how salty/spicy the broth was to start with.
  3. Gravy: Heat the remaining 1 cup of chicken broth in a saucepan with the star anise until it just starts to bubble.
  4. Add the coffee beans, maple syrup, a generous sprinkle of smoked paprika and a dash of cayenne.
  5. Stir to incorporate, and simmer gently for 5 minutes while the grits cook. Taste and adjust seasoning.
  6. Remove from heat and swirl in the butter. Strain the sauce and keep warm.
  7. Assembly: Fry the two eggs in butter or bacon grease sunny side up until just barely set. I like to use relatively high heat to get the edges of the whites a bit crispy, and spoon the butter over the top to cook evenly. Spreading the egg out in the pan also helps it to cook through quickly, leaving the yolk nice and runny while avoiding gross undercooked egg white (which is why I normally prefer my eggs over easy, but the presentation is worth the extra effort here).
  8. Divide the grits into two bowls, top each with an egg, and spoon the sauce around the egg.
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Bouillabaisse

One of the best things I’ve ever eaten was a perfect bowl of bouillabaisse in Marseilles. I’ve never even bothered to try making it, because it’s a complicated dish with a long list of exotic and expensive ingredients. Today I ate lunch at Aquavit, and although I didn’t order it, was intrigued by the “Scandinavian bouillabaisse” on the menu. On the way home I stopped to get a nice piece of fish for dinner, but wasn’t thrilled with the quality, so ended up with a combination of a small red snapper fillet, a bag of mussels, some wild shrimp, and a few large sea scallops. While trying to figure out what to do with it all, I looked up Emma Bengtsson’s 2 Michelin star recipe from Aquavit, and supplemented it with a simple Mark Bittman preparation, with some elements from Bobby Flay’s version. I rushed through the prep, so even though there are a lot of steps and elements, it went quickly and was ready to eat within the hour. I watched an episode of MasterChef for extra inspiration while I cooked.

Ingredients

  • 2 small red snapper fillets (1/2 lb)
  • 2 lbs mussels
  • 6 large scallops (1/2 lb)
  • 1/2 lb large shrimp, with shells
  • 1/4 cup white wine or vermouth
  • 1 TB Pastis, Pernod, or Absenthe
  • Olive oil
  • 1 TB butter
  • 1 anchovy fillet
  • 2 plum tomatoes, diced
  • 2 TB tomato paste
  • fresh thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 slice bacon
  • 1 large shallot, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 TB mayonnaise
  • 1 stalk lemon grass (optional)
  • 1 Serrano pepper, sliced (optional)

Directions

  1. Heat a pot with a cover, large enough to hold all of the mussels.
  2. Dice the bacon, and brown with the shallots in a splash of olive oil. Add the chili pepper and lemon grass if using, along with the thyme and bay leaf.
  3. Add the wine and bring to a simmer. Add the mussels, cover and cook for about 3 minutes, until they open. Discard any that didn’t open.
  4. Drain the mussels and strain the broth (to remove any sand) into a large pot.
  5. Remove the mussels from their shells once cool enough to handle, and set aside.
  6. If you have time, shell the shrimp and boil the shells in 2 cups of water with a bouquet garni to make a seafood stock. Strain and reduce to 1 cup. You can also use any fish/seafood stock, or even a cup of mild chicken broth. Add to the mussel cooking liquid and the tomatoes. Bring back to a simmer while you prepare the other components.
  7. Make the anchovy butter by mashing the anchovy fillet with 1 TB butter with a fork. Scrape into a small ramekin and chill in freezer for a few minutes.
  8. Boil the shrimp for a few minutes in the broth, then remove with slotted spoon. Peel and devein if needed.
  9. In a large skillet, pan sear the fish fillets and scallops in olive oil+butter until golden brown and just barely cooked through. Season with salt and pepper to taste, slather with the anchovy butter, and set aside.
  10. Deglaze the pan with the Pastis, and add to the
  11. aioli: In a small skillet, heat 1 tsp olive oil, and lightly brown the garlic. Mix well with the mayonnaise, season to taste with salt, pepper, cayenne (or other chili powder), and lemon juice.
  12. Assembly: Put 3 scallops and half the shrimp and mussels into the bottom of two soup bowls. Pour over the broth. Top with the fish, skin side up to keep it crispy. Dot with the aioli, serving the remainder on the side.

Brazilian Style Banana Pudding

Based on this recipe for Sombremesa de Banana com Queijo (Banana and Cheese Pudding)

Ingredients

  • 1 (14-oz.) can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 (12-oz.) can evaporated milk
  • 1 stick cinnamon
  • 4 green cardamom pods
  • 2 whole cloves
  • 4 ripe bananas, cut crosswise into 2″ pieces, then lengthwise into ¼”-thick slices
  • 12 oz. cream cheese, cubed
  • 14 tsp. ground cinnamon

Directions

  1. Heat oven to 350° F.
  2. Boil milks and whole spices in 12″ nonstick skillet over medium heat until reduced by half, about 30 minutes; discard spices.
  3. Spread ⅓ reduced milk over bottom of an 8″ x 8″ baking dish; top with half the bananas and half the cream cheese. Repeat layering, ending with reduced milk; sprinkle with ground cinnamon.
  4. Bake until bubbly, about 30 minutes.

Shrimp & Sausage Tapas

A variation on a classic Spanish tapas, which is traditionally made with Spanish chorizo or Portuguese Chouriço .

Ingredients

  • 1.5 lbs extra large unpeeled shrimp*
  • 1 lb hot Italian sausage
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3-4 cloves garlic,sliced thinly
  • 6-8 oil cured black olives
  • 1 TB tomato paste
  • 2 TB sherry or gin
  • 1/4 cup white wine
  • 1 lemon
  • Olive Oil
  • crushed red pepper
  • hot paprika
  • smoked paprika
  • 1 TB chopped parsley (optional)

Directions

  1. Start by marinating the shrimp. Wash and drain well, then drizzle generously with olive oil, season with crushed garlic, freshly ground pepper, salt (or Old Bay), red pepper, and paprika. Set aside for at least a few minutes, or refrigerate for a few hours.
  2. While the shrimp marinates, brown the sausage evenly on all sides in a bit of olive oil over medium hot. Remove from pan, slice into 1/2″ thick slices, and return to pan in a single layer, then flip and cook on other side.
  3. While the sausage cooks, pit and chop the olives, grate a teaspoon of lemon zest, and mix with the sliced garlic. Mix the tomato paste with the sherry or gin.
  4. Once the sausage is well browned on all sides, remove from the pan and set aside.
  5. Add a bit more olive to the pan if needed, and sauté the shrimp in a single layer for a couple of minutes until no longer pink. Turn and cook on second side for two more minutes.
  6. Add the browned sausage to the shrimp, along with the garlic mixture. Then drizzle with tomato-sherry sauce.
  7. Deglaze the pan with the white wine, and cook for a couple of minutes until the shrimp is fully cooked and the sauce is slightly reduced.
  8. Remove the shrimp and sausage to a decorative serving bowl, and finish with freshly squeezed lemon juice and a drizzle of the best EVOO, and a sprinkle of chopped fresh parsley.

*I prefer to keep the shrimp with the peel, but you can also peel them first if desired. Frozen shrimp work fine, wash well and defrost first in a bowl of cold water for a few minutes. Then drain well.

 

Dukkah Fried Cauliflower with Fish Sauce

One of the more interesting dishes we ate at Momofuko Ma Peche last week was a vegetable side of fried cauliflower with fish sauce. Nicely golden brown, not greasy, and not even too salty, but with a delightful crispness and perfect even cook. I’d never tried to fry a cauliflower before, so looked for some guidance and ran across this recipe, which uses a magical substance from Egypt called “dukkah” that I’d also never heard of. So I did what I do, and smooshed the two together. They predictable weren’t quite as polished as the restaurant version, but had great flavor and made the normally bland and boring cauliflower quite lively and palatable.

Ingredients

    • 1/4 cup raw peanuts
    • 1 TB raw sesame seeds
    • 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
    • 2 teaspoon caraway seeds
    • 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
    • 1 tsp fennel seeds
    • 1/4 tsp whole peppercorns
    • 1/4 tsp cayenne
    • 1/4 tsp salt
    • 1 tsp sumac
    • 1/2 cup cornstarch
    • 1/2 tsp baking powder
    • 1 head cauliflower
    • oil for frying
    • 2 TB fish sauce, mild Filipino
    • 2 TB native vinegar, mild Filipino

 

Directions

  1. First, make the dukkah. Toast the peanuts and spices in a small dry pan over medium heat until they just start to color and release their fragrance.
  2. Finely chop or grind the peanuts, and pulverize the whole spices in a spice grinder, then mix together with the remaining spices. Adjust seasoning to taste, but go easy on the salt.
  3. Add the cornstarch, baking powder, and
  4. In a large frying pan with steep sides, heat 1″ of oil (preferably olive oil, but not the Good Stuff).
  5. Trim the cauliflower, and cut into even size florets. Toss well in the batter to coat evenly.
  6. Fry the cauliflower for 3 minutes, turning a couple of times to get it golden brown. Don’t overcrowd the pan, fry in two batches if necessary.
  7. Drain on a wire rack lined with paper towels.
  8. Mix the fish sauce and vinegar, and drizzle half of over the cauliflower, then use the remainder for dipping.

As you can see in the photo, the batter largely didn’t stick to the cauliflower. I think the oil wasn’t hot enough at first, and the batter was too watery. But it tasted just fine.

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Anthony Bourdain & Msabcha

I can’t say I was a huge fan of Bourdain, but I did enjoy eating at Les Halles, his book was entertaining, and I even saw a few episodes of one or more of his TV shows, which did seem a bit smarter than the typical informercial style travelogue.

One of the shows I caught was the one where he went to Israel. Which was referenced in this article in Haaretz, lamenting all of the food that he didn’t eat there, and in true Israeli fashion giving him posthumous advice on where he should have gone instead. Top of the last was the msabcha at Abu Hassan, which I have to agree is one of the most wondrous creations anywhere, and not to be missed.
The ingredients are roughly the same as the classic “hummus with tehina” but the texture is different, it’s served warm, and is a nice change of pace from the norm.

The recipe below is adapted from this post. As noted, this will be better if you start with dried chickpeas, but the shortcut using canned chickpeas is almost as good.

Ingredients

  • 2 cans chickpeas
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 cup tehina
  • 1/4 cup flat leaf parsley
  • 1 Serrano pepper
  • 1 lemon
  • olive oil
  • sumac
  • salt
  • pepper
  • hot paprika

Directions

  1. Make the tehina: Put 1/4 cup tehina and 1 minced clove of garlic in a mixing bowl, and slowly mix in 1/4 cup of water to make a smooth paste. Season with salt and the juice of 1/4 lemon.
  2. Make the hummus: drain and rinse 1 can of the chickpeas. Process in food processor, then add 2 cloves of garlic, the chili pepper (remove seeds for less heat or keep whole), 1/4 cup tehina, and the juice of 1/2 lemon. Slowly add water as needed (about 1/2 cup) to make a smooth paste, scraping down the sides of the bowl if necessary. Add salt and adjust seasonings to taste. It should be a bit thinner than normal.
  3. Make the chickpeas: drain and rinse the second can of chickpeas, season with sumac and black pepper, and heat in the microwave. Add a bit of water to keep them from drying out. They should be soft, so depending on how firm they were in the can, may need more cooking time.
  4. To serve, mix the hot chickpeas with the tehina and hummus, then drizzle with olive oil, the juice of the remaining 1/4 lemon, and garnish with some chopped parsley, sumac, and hot paprika. Scoop up with fresh pita and/or crudites.

 

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Mushroom Tomato Risotto

Last week I had an amazing risotto at Tocqueville, with intense earthy mushrooms and fresh ramps (“Ramp and Forest Mushroom Risotto, beurre noisette and parmigiano-reggiano“). It was super creamy and very rich, with a slick of brown butter lusciously floating on top, but a bit too salty. Today the NY Times posted a recipe for a tomato and basil risotto. Inspired by both, and using ingredients on hand, I made my own version.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups beef broth
  • 1 cup rice, preferably arborio
  • 2 cups Pomi chopped tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup red wine
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan
  • 2 TB fresh basil, chiffonaded
  • 2 small shallots
  • 1 package crimini “baby bella” mushrooms, 8 oz
  • 1 TB olive oil

Directions

  1. In a saucepan over medium high heat, warm the broth and tomatoes. Reduce heat to low to keep warm, but it shouldn’t boil.
  2. Chop finely the mushrooms and shallot. This is easily done in the food processor, pulse until there are no large chunks remaining.
  3. In a large nonstick frying pan, heat the olive oil. Add the rice and stir to coat with the oil. Cook for a minute to warm through and remove any remaining moisture.
  4. Add the mushrooms and shallots to the rice, and stir well to incorporate. Cook for a minute or two until the mushrooms start to release their moisture.
  5. Add the wine and cook for a minute to deglaze the pan.
  6. Add a ladle (about 1/2 cup) of the hot broth to the rice mixture, and stir well to incorporate. Repeat the process as necessary to keep the rice moist but not swimming in liquid.
  7. Continue to cook for about 20-25 minutes until the rice is just barely tender. If you run out of tomato broth, add some hot lightly salted water to keep the rice from drying out.
  8. Add one last ladle of broth, remove rice from heat, and stir in the Parmesan and basil.
  9. Serve spread in a thin layer, garnished with more Parmesan, a basil leaf, and freshly ground black pepper.

 

Waffle Sabich

A traditional Iraqi-Israeli breakfast on Shabbat, these have proliferated in recent years like avocado toast. Similar to a falafel sandwich, but with hard boiled eggs and fried eggplant instead of fried chickpea balls. There are a bunch of components, but they can be made in advance. Here I switched things up by using yeasted waffles instead of pita.

Ingredients

  • yeasted waffles: 2 cups flour, 2 cups milk, 2 TB butter, 2 eggs, 2.5 tsp yeast, 1 TB sugar, 1/4 tsp salt
  • eggs
  • 1 eggplant
  • olive oil
  • hummus
  • tehina sauce
  • eggs
  • amba sauce (see below)
  • Israeli salad, dressed with lemon juice, olive oil, za’atar

Directions

  1. First, make the waffles. This is easiest done by mixing up the batter the night before and letting it rise slowly in the fridge overnight. Melt the butter and warm the milk in the microwave. Add the sugar, yeast, and salt, and combine with flour until smooth. Cover the bowl and allow to rise at room temperature until double in bulk, or put in fridge. Then in the morning add the eggs and cook in waffle iron. They also freeze well and can be made in advance, then reheated in the waffle iron or a toaster.
  2. The eggs can be regular hard boiled, or cooked slowly overnight, but they come out fantastic in a 170F water bath. Use the sous vide heater in a large pot of water, no need to bag or vacuum seal, just put the eggs in whole and cook for 1 hour.
  3. Make the hummus in the usual way (chickpeas, garlic, lemon juice, tehina paste olive oil in food processor) or use a high quality store-bought version. Traditionally the tehina sauce is made separately and drizzled on at the end, but I’m lazy so just added a bit more tehina paste to the hummus. You can also add a handful of parsley or cilantro if you want it green.
  4. Wash and trim the eggplant, but do not peel. Slice into 1/2″ thick even slices, and sprinkle with kosher salt on both sides.
  5. Heat 2 TB of olive oil in a large frying pan over medium heat, and fry the eggplant slices in a single layer, turning after a few minutes until golden brown on both sides and cooked through. Don’t crowd the pan, will probably take 2 batches. Replenish the oil between batches, and drain on paper towels.
  6. To assemble, put a layer of eggplant on top of a waffle. Add slices of egg. Drizzle with amba sauce. Top with a large spoonful of salad, and drizzle with tehina sauce. Spread a second waffle with hummus and place on top of the other one to make a sandwich.

Amba is traditionally made with dried green mangoes, a process that takes days. I used amchoor powder as a shortcut. Start with a glass jar with a tight fitting lid and add 2 TB amchoor, 1 tsp each ground fenugreek and turmeric,  and 1/2 tsp each ground coriander, ground cumin, and sumac. Add 1/4 cup of cider vinegar and shake well to dissolve. If too thick, add a tablespoon or two or water, or some lemon juice if not tart enough. Adjust the seasonings, add salt and pepper if needed.

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Bordelaise Sauce

A classic French sauce from the Bordeaux region, traditionally requiring a daunting multiple day commitment. But after having some at Tocqueville the other day, I was craving more, and decided to try a less elaborate version. The sauce is a reduction of shallot-infused red wine (Bordeaux of course), mixed with demi-glace, and fortified with melted bone marrow. Instead, I used the open bottle of Malbec from Cahors, and beef broth from a box. I relied on the rendered pan drippings from the steak to take the place of the marrow, and fortified the wine with a bit of Irish Whiskey. Results were surprisingly close to the real stuff, with a lot less work. Although intense, it’s relatively light and extremely silky, as it relies on reduction rather than thickening with a roux or with cream.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups beef broth
  • 3/4 cup red wine
  • 2 TB whiskey
  • 1 large or 2 small shallots
  • 1 tsp black peppercorns
  • 1 tsp capers (optional)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 TB butter
  • Rendered pan drippings from steak

Directions

  1. Slice the shallot thinly, and divide in half.
  2. Melt 1 tsp of the butter in a wide shallow pan over medium heat, and add half the shallots. Stir for a minute to coat with the butter, then pour in the beef broth, along with the bay leaf, peppercorns, and capers.
  3. Increase heat to high, and cook down until only ¼ cup of liquid remains.
  4. Meanwhile, in saucepan over medium heat, add the wine and the whiskey. Carefully ignite to burn off the alcohol more quickly. Once the flames have subsided, add the remaining shallots. Cook down until only about ¼ cup of liquid remain.
  5. Add the reduced broth mixture to the wine, and continue to reduce until the sauce is thick enough to coat the back of the spoon. Remove from heat, and whisk in remaining butter and pan drippings.
  6. Strain the sauce through a wire mesh strainer, pushing down on the solids to extract all of the juices. Stir in the pan drippings.
  7. Return the strained sauce to the saucepan and reduce further until only a few tablespoons of syrupy sauce remain.
  8. To serve, put a spoonful of the sauce on the plate, add the sliced steak on top, and drizzle the remaining half of the sauce over the top. Accompany with a nice Bordeaux.

Kushari Made Easy

Although not as exotic as Moroccan cuisine or as elegant as Turkish cuisine, Egyptian food is quite delicious, and comprised of elements from other cultures that have been absorbed through the millennia. No dish better represents this approach than kushari, which is widely considered the national dish of Egypt, yet is widely unknown here. Which is a shame, because it’s inexpensive, nourishing, and versatile.

So, what is it exactly? An unlikely concoction of lentils, rice, and macaroni, tied together with a tangy tomato sauce, laced with cumin and garlic, topped with fried onions. and garnished with whole chickpeas.

One of the downsides is that traditionally it involves cooking each element separately, then combining at time of service. If you are keeping track, that’s at least 5 separate pots and pans. As a result, people tend not to make it much at home, and there are specialty shops that serve nothing else (like the small ramen or pizza places here).

I made an extremely non-authentic variation today, partly out of laziness, and also because I didn’t have any lentils or small macaroni in the house, so made a few strategic substitutions. I also wanted to make it in one pan and one pot for the sauce. Not quite as good as the real thing, but tasty in it’s own right, and still in the spirit of the dish.

Ingredients

  • 1 TB olive oil
  • 1 onion
  • 1/2 cup rice
  • 1/2 cup Israeli couscous (or green lentils)
  • 1 package ramen instant noodles (or 1/2 cup vermicelli or small macaroni)
  • 1 can chickpeas
  • 1 cup Pomi chopped tomatoes (or canned tomato sauce, or 2 diced tomatoes)

    Sauce
  • 1 TB butter
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, minced.
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds (or ground cumin)
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 2 TB tomato paste
  • 1/4 cup cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne (optional, or other ground hot red chili pepper to taste)

Directions

  1. Cut the onion in half through the poles, and slice thinly equatorially into half rings.
  2. Heat the oil in a heavy pot large enough to hold everything. I used the 10″ cast iron pan that I use for most everything, but a wide 6 or 8 quart pot with cover would be better.
  3. Fry the onions in the oil for a couple of minutes until they start to brown.
  4. Add the rice and stir well to coat in the oil and onions.
  5. Add the couscous and do the same.
  6. Crumble the ramen noodles into the pan, and stir together for a minute or two to toast all of the grains lightly.
  7. Dump in the can of chickpeas, including the liquid. Add the tomatoes and another can of water, and season to taste with salt and pepper.
  8. Cover the pot and reduce heat to very low and simmer for about 20 minutes until rice is done.
  9. Meanwhile, make the sauce: melt the butter in a small saucepan, and add the garlic, cumin, and coriander.
  10. Cook for a couple of minutes until garlic is lightly brown, then add remaining ingredients. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  11. To serve, fluff up the kushari and scrape up any bits that stuck to the bottom of the pot. Drizzle the sauce over the top.

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