Better Than Yo’ Mama’s (Roasted Tomato and Cheddar) Grits

July 20, 2011 § 3 Comments

I know, fightin’ words right there. But really, these are Paula-Dean-ain’t-got-nothin’-on-me kinda grits. Or, lemme-sit-down-before-I-take-a bite kinda grits. Or even, lemme-break-out-the-fat-or-(excuse me)-winter-jeans-because-Imma-bout-to-go-Rambo-on-this-casserole-dish kinda grits. I may have a slight obsession. I may also have Old Bay and grits pumping through my veins. You decide whether these are related.

In addition to my affinity for Southern regional foodways, I have a much healthier obsession with summer tomatoes. Right now my backyard is an all you can eat buffet. I once had a friend who told me he hated tomatoes. Thank god he promptly qualified his assertion with, “I realized the error of my ways and now eat them like apples,” because I was about to pull that obnoxious,

“…but, but they’resogoodhowcanyounotlikethemtheyrelikethebestvegetableever?!”

Word vomit. There’s nothing like a good, homegrown tomato. Ours are planted up against a brick wall. I don’t know what kind of magic this is, but it produces the best, sweetest tomatoes I’ve ever eaten. And we’re inundated. We’ve even got these little cuties that look like hot air balloons when you hold them upside down. Or is that just me?

Even so, I need a tomato change up–these raw tomatoes are getting old. Enter: Broiled, Roasted Tomato Cheese Grits. The trick to great grits is to slowly cooking them over a barely there flame. Cooking them this way–rather than boiling them at nuclear until it’s a thick goop–ensures that the grits are cooked tender and yet bursting with flavor.

I may have bought a case of Anson Mills grits this spring. And I may have spent hours on their website trying to decide between Antebellum coarse yellow and coarse white grits. (This was a BIG decisions, folks. Gosh.) Personally, I’m partial to the coarse grits. However, they require an overnight soak and seeing as I rarely have the foresight to preempt my Sunday evening hunger, I cooked with their quick grits instead.

“Wait, did she just say what I think she said?! Quick Grits?!”

Oh yes. Yes, she did. And unlike Cousin Vinny’s grits, these still take about 40 minutes to cook. These ain’t no magic grits. The coarse grits take an hour and a half, so I guess quick is really a relative term at Anson Mills.

The dish comes together quite nicely. After halving the tomatoes and tossing them in olive oil and salt, they roast unattended for about an hour. The grits require minimum supervision, leaving you to watch another gripping episode of Law and Order: SVU. Dun dun.

Oh, and don’t roast those hot air balloon cuties.

The fresh corn adds a nice texture to the grits–which can, admittedly, be otherwise monotonous–and the roasted tomatoes give a wonderful sweetness. Oh, and try to keep it a G-rated and not go crazy with the oohs and ahhs. Do it for the children.

Roasted Tomato and Cheddar Grits

(Inspired by TheKitchn)
1 pint cherry or plum tomatoes, halved.
2 tbs olive oil
1 cup fresh corn kernels (about two cobs)
1 cup grits
3 cups whole milk
1 1/4 cup sharp cheddar cheese
1 1/2 tbs butter
salt and pepper
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Toss tomatoes in olive oil and salt (to taste). Place tomatoes, cut side up, on a foil lined baking sheet. Roast until shriveled and browned.
2. In a pot, combine grits and milk. Give a stir and bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring frequently. Once simmering, drop the heat to low and continue to cook (uncovered) stirring occasionally to make sure grits aren’t sticking to the bottom of the pot. Cook for 40 minutes, or until tender and hold their shape to a spoon. You may need to taste frequently. What a shame.
3. When the grits are done add in butter, giving quick stirs until it is melted. Add in all cheese but 1/4 cup, stirring until melted and incorporated. Add salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat, leaving the pot covered. 
4. When the tomatoes are roasted, remove from oven and turn on broiler. Place grits in an 8 inch casserole dish and arrange roasted tomatoes on top. Sprinkle with remaining cheese and place under broiler until cheese is bubbling and beginning to brown (about 1-2 minutes). Remove from oven, serve immediately.

Palak Paneer and a Sous Chef

July 16, 2011 § 2 Comments

People want to send me their children. Specifically, their girls. Relatives and friends with precocious little spawn coo at their daughters, promising to send them to Camp Erin. For many reasons (like the fact that I still live at home, can barely can keep track of my cat, and often forget to water plants, all come to mind) the idea that I should be entrusted with live humans boggles my mind. ‘Ronka deviously smiles at me and says, “Oh yeah?!” I’m freaking terrified. In fact, the only reason imagine a parent allowing their child to stay with me for an extended period of time is because they want to conveniently “lose” them. If that’s the case, Camp Erin is for them.

So, now that I’m charged with the house while the parentals are off enjoying their first extended vacation together in two decades (I know, right?) I, against better judgement, decided to hold the first ever Camp Erin slumber party. Enter: Margaux.

Margaux is not your average 10 year old. She’s smart, spunky, and leaves me in stitches. In fact, if she were 22, I’m sure we’d be biffles and maneaters together (don’t worry Margs, we can be biffles anyway). What makes Margaux even better? She loves to cook. So when she asked me to hang by the pool with her after work, I did her one better and asked her to make palak paneer with me and spend the night. Of course she was in.

Palak paneer is one of my favorite Indian dishes–though lamb vindaloo will always have my heart. The mild, creamy spinach gravy and sauteed paneer over basmati rice is a comforting weeknight meal. Even though I’ve always wanted to make it, I’d see “puree” and instantly shy away–who wants to clean a blender?! Well, I’m glad that I got over my laziness. Pureeing the steamed spinach and tomatoes was a breeze and the recipe, though it requires many ingredients, didn’t demand much brainwork. Margaux approves, too.

You know what the great part about cooking with a kid is? Instant sous chef.

I based the recipe off of ones on Indian Simmer and Paaka Shaale, and used ghee instead of oil. Make sure to soak the paneer for about 10 minutes while you are chopping and steaming before you brown it–I think it makes a dramatic difference in the texture of the final product. If you’re going to go the ghee route, make sure you actually make ghee and don’t get lazy (this seems to be a developing theme for me…) and leave milk solids in at the bottom. I did this, and while it didn’t affect taste, the milk solids burned as the onions were cooking and turned them an unappetizing brown. All was well, because, as Margaux reminded me, “It’s gonna be green anyway, right?” All’s well that ends well.

Palak Paneer

1.5 large bunches of fresh spinach
2 tomatoes
1 block paneer (mine was 400 grams), soaked for 10 minutes.
1 large onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, grated
1 1″ piece of ginger, grated
1/2 green chili, minced, with seeds
1/2 tsp coriander powder
1/2 tsp garam masala
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp turmeric
1/4 tsp cumin seeds
Ghee or Oil (about 4 tbsp)
1/8 cup half and half
Basmati Rice, cooked (for serving)


1. Puree both tomatoes in blender, set aside.

2. Steam spinach (I used a colander and the stove) and puree with a small amount of water.

3. While spinach is cooking, cut paneer into 1″ cubes. Combine coriander powder, garam masala, salt, and turmeric in a small bowl.

4. In a large saucepan, heat 2 tbsp ghee and brown paneer on all sides. (I get impatient and am usually satisfied if two sides are browned.) Drain on paper towel and set aside.

5. Heat 2 tbsp ghee over high heat and cook cumin seeds until they begin to pop. Add onion and green chili, cook until translucent (about 2 minutes).

6. Add garlic and ginger to the onions, fry over high heat for about 30 seconds.

7. Add pureed tomatoes to ginger, garlic, onions, and chili, cook for about 30 seconds.

8. Add in pureed spinach, cook for 2-3 minutes. Dump in spice mixture, stir to combine, and allow to cook for another 30 seconds. Add in paneer and half and half. Cook for 2-3 minutes or until everything is heated through.

Serve with basmati rice and naan or roti.


College Graduate Seeks Dinner for Hobos

July 10, 2011 § 3 Comments

A couple weekends ago I found myself in a drunken mass of college graduates cheering on professional cyclists as they made 10 laps around Philadelphia. Apparently, the Philadelphia Bike Race is the Preakness of Pennsylvania. Fortunately, my post-grad year has been good to me and and now I’ve been to both. I’d liken this bike race to something like NASCAR for hipsters: everyone drinks, everyone loses count of the laps, and the event devolves into an alcohol saturated riot that almost makes you forget that it’s a celebration of athleticism. (Okay, so that last part might not apply to NASCAR…) Well, luckily for me I have an amazing friend who biked across the United States last summer–that’s right, the whole thing–who showed me not only the finer points of Manayunk, but the complex world of bike racing.

When Diane told me that we’d be having a barbeque, I imagined some frozen hamburgers slapped onto a grill and some potato rolls. I should’ve known better. Waking up bleary eyed from a previous night of drinking, she hauled us to Reading Terminal to grab what we needed for “Hobo Dinners.” Uh, what? Well, I can promise you that these were way better than what any hobo would have. Provolone and broccoli rabe sausages? Organic fingerling potatoes? Shallots?! Oh, I had another think coming….

When we got back home, we immediately began chopping vegetables for what turned out to be hours. As we set a table full of bowls of potatoes, carrots, onions, shallots, garlic, squash, and eggplant, we looked at the clock and realized we’d spent over two hours choppin’ away without a care in the world. It immediately took me back to an oral history that I conducted with an old County man about stuffed ham–a dish that requires a considerable amount of fine chopping and makes kale and cabbage explode across the kitchen in a green and white confetti that is damn near impossible to clean up entirely. He looked at me and said, “The chopping took hours, but it was not drudgery; it was a party. It’s how we kept up with each other.” He nailed it.

Diane went the extra mile and added sports themed labels to every bowl.

I’d never had a hobo dinner in my life. I wouldn’t exactly say that I come from a family of mountain men. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the very reason all of my immediate family is still alive today can nearly entirely be attributed to the fact that we never, ever camped in the woods together. We would’ve killed each other.

But hobo dinners are good for groups; you take a sheet of aluminum foil, drizzle it with some oil, add in your meats, veggies, and any seasons that you’d like, seal it up, throw it on the grill (or hot coals, if you aren’t in the middle of a city…) and BAM, you’re eatin’ dinner in 15 minutes flat.

And everyone can have what they want. It’s a beautiful thing, really.

And you know what happens when you add andouille and broccoli rabe sausage to a hobo dinner? Well, it ain’t so hobo anymore.

Topanga’s Hobo Dinner

Vegetables (Choose whatever’s on hand or in season. You can add whatever you want, but potatoes, onions, and carrots are staples.)
Meat (Can be ground beef, sausage, chicken, beef cubes, I think you get where I’m going…)
Seasoning (Salt and pepper, we all added Old Bay, obviously)
1. Chop up all vegetables into even sized pieces to ensure uniform cooking. (This takes forever in a great way, find a buddy and get a-talkin’ and a-choppin’!)
2. Crank up the grill to medium-high heat.
3. Break up sausages (or whatever you’re using) into one inch pieces.
4. Rip off a sheet of aluminum foil about 14-18 inches long and drizzle with oil.
5. Pile on the vegetables and meat. Season as desired. Seal that sucker up by wrapping it up nice and tight.
6. If you got a crowd, write your name on your hobo. Throw it on the grill.
7. Cook for about 10-15 minutes, flipping halfway through. You can always check to see how everything’s looking (the potatoes always seem to take the longest to cook through) by opening up you hobo and resealing it if it’s undercooked.
8. Allow to cook before tearing into it. You don’t even need a plate!

Handful o’ Quiche

June 14, 2011 § Leave a comment

Maybe you’ve caught on to my general disdain for breakfast. Platefuls of scrambled eggs and omelets do nothing for me. I’ll take Pappy ‘ausage anytime, though–that’s what cousin ‘Ronica calls country style sausage. Isn’t she adorable?

That said, I’ve realized that many of my food conundrums are breakfast-centric. I just can’t figure out how to get into a delicious breakfast groove. Part of the problem is timing. I have to wake up at a time that seems completely unbearable when my alarm jolts me awake (in reality, it’s 7:30 and everyone else in the house has already left for the day). So, I decided to try and make my zombie like pilgrimage to the kitchen as brainless as possible. Enter the mini quiche.

These things are so easy, I could do it pre-caffeination. But it wouldn’t be pretty–that’s why I made these on a loverly Sunday afternoon. Quiches, as I discovered, are not the veggie packed healthy food that I thought they were. I have no clue how the French eat nothing but baguettes, quiche, and red wine all day and stay thin. It must be all the cigarettes. Le sigh. Anyway, quiches are more like a sprinkling of vegetables covered with heavy cream that, unfortunately for me, would just find a nice place on my ass to hunker down with absolutely no intention of leaving. Instead, I used some greek yogurt and half and half. You still need some sort of fat to set the quiche, so don’t go off using skim and think that all will be well. (As a side note, skim milk? Really? Gross.)

I headed to the fridge and grabbed the meats, cheese and vegetables that were available/on the verge of rotting/still vaguely edible. I ended up making three kinds of mini quiche that were all equally delicious in their own right.

Top: Onion, spinach, and gruyere (though shallots would’ve been great too!)

Middle: Tomato and swiss in a black forest ham cup (these were probably my favorite)

Bottom: Andouille, red pepper, and monterey jack.

The suckers will stick the pan like crazy if you forget to grease ’em down. And then you’ll be prying burned quiche from a pan at 7:30 in the morning and thinking, “Really, is this what my life has come to?” Talk about first world problems, folks. So, before you start getting your creative juices flowing over the endless mini quiche possibilities at your fingertips, go ahead and spray that a cupcake pan down with oil. Then, I went ahead and put all of my fillings in the cupcake pan so I knew what I was working with; I only filled up each cup about halfway. To make the egg filling, I cracked three eggs in a bowl and whisked them together. Then I added a cup of greek yogurt and 2/3 cup of half and half, seasoning with salt and pepper. After I poured the egg/yogurt concoction into each mini quiche, I gave each cup a swirl with a spoon to get everything mixed together because I’m paranoid and wanted to make sure everything would be set and not falling off the bottom. Bake at 375 until they are set, about 20 minutes–this it totally a guess and may not be accurate at all. I’m going to strongly suggest that you go ahead and peek in the oven every once and awhile.

There are no pictures of the finished product, these guys were GONE.

Southwestern Chicken and Corn Chowder

April 28, 2011 § Leave a comment

I don’t know what possessed me to cook a hot and fairly substantial soup on a balmy Southern Maryland day. The potatoes and cream seemingly contradict a humid, 85 degree day and its demands for a cool, light, and refreshing meal. Well, suck it summer-in-April! This soup is just what I needed. The creamy broth didn’t feel heavy, nor did the fingerling potatoes that I added in. No, not even the wonderful fatty sheen from sauteed chorizo could make me rethink my decision to have a piping bowl of chowder on a day more fitting for July than mid-Spring.

This is a meal made for all seasons. Or, that’s what I’ve decided. Bitchin’ Camero you did good! I mostly stuck with the recipe on this one, with the following substitutions/amendments:

Red potatoes → Bag o’ fingerling potatoes (and there were some blue potatoes in there, how exciting!)

Fire Roasted Red Tomatoes → 14 oz whole plum tomates (broken up in the pot with a wooden spoon) + 1 can chopped tomatoes with lime juice and green chilies (you’re gonna have to ask The Commander about that one, I have no idea how he finds this stuff, godspeed to you!)

Soak the guajillos in hot water while the onions and potatoes cook after you’ve dry sauteed them, it makes ’em easier to chop. Then, take the water you used to soak the peppers and use it to make the chicken stock (if you’re using bouillon) so that all that spicy goodness that’s leeched from the peppers isn’t lost forever!

I decided to add in some smoked paprika and cumin when I was sauteing the onions and potatoes. I did decide against liquid smoke–which I, personally, think was a good decision because it would’ve obscured the brightness of the lime zest.

Get creative! My substitutions were solely made based on what we had in our pantry–the frugal, starving college student in me lives on well past graduation, apparently. Some fresh, roasted poblano peppers would be an interesting addition, as would some chilis in adobo sauce!

Finding a Routine

April 27, 2011 § 1 Comment

I’m not the best at keeping up with blogging. I cook, snap photos, and dutifully bookmark the websites of my recipes with earnest enthusiasm. And then: nothing. Worse, there’s not even a good excuse. Oh, I could go on and on about how life and work march on with little regard to my pastimes or good intentions, but it certainly wouldn’t be a honest.

I  had that little post on soft-shell crabs sitting patiently in my “drafts” folder for months until I finally got around to inserting another photo, adding a few sentences, and publishing. What is it that’s holding me back? Well, it’s the recipe. I hate amending original recipes and racking my brain with questions like, “Well, how much cumin did I add in exactly? Did I decide on adding some adobo? And how do I describe the weird off-brand tomato-lime juice-green chili medley in a can that Dad bought?” I just sort of, well, move with it. If the curry seems dry I’ll add a little liquid of whatever seems to be closest to my hands at the time. I taste, decide whether my soup would benefit from a little liquid smoke (no, it would not) and move on.

So, in the spirit of keeping my little food blogging dream alive, I’m gonna hold off on the detailed recipes and stick with the meandering and pointless ruminations that no one probably reads anyway (or do you?). Maybe one day I’ll feel so inspired that I’ll go ahead and throw some exact measurements in there. Until that day comes, I’ll add in what I can about changes that I make. But hey! Recipes aren’t set in stone and changing them to reach your own mouthgasmic peak of satisfaction is all part of the fun. So, go ahead and ignore me! Add those fire-roasted tomatoes and dribble that liquid smoke into your chowder! Cast your cares to the wind and accept that it is but a meal, not a marriage–which is the real beauty of it. It doesn’t always have to work, and you certainly don’t have to forgive that pork butt for burning to a crisp while you were chopping away. Once dishes are cleaned, pots scrubbed, and knives laid to rest, a meal can be forgotten–purged from our culinary memories–or remembered, changed, and repeated. Over, and over, and over.

Southern Maryland Soft Shell Crabs

April 26, 2011 § Leave a comment

This summer my cousin came home from his brother’s house with a bag of cleaned soft shelled crabs pulled from the shores of the Potomac River. Beaming, he proudly told us that he would be taking these home with him. My cousin lives 12 hours away.

Needless to say, my aunt pulled a, “Oh hell-to-the-no! Those are not going to rot in the summer sun as we drive home.” Sitting (salivating) at the kitchen counter, I knew that these delicacies were ours. Soft shell blue crab sandwiches cost upwards of $10 a pop ’round these parts–and they’re right in our backyard!

Soft shell crabs can stand on their own. They don’t need extra flavors or spices–just a quick dredge through an egg and flour or cornmeal and off they go! I did, admittedly, add some Old Bay in there. I couldn’t help it.

I can’t remember what we ate with these. I think next time I’ll go ahead and dredge ’em in rice flour–this allegedly produces a crispier shell of fried goodness. And I’m all about that.