Grits n Greens

February 17, 2011 § 3 Comments

Greens are dirt cheap. Oh, is that $1 a pound? Don’t mind if I do! It’s as if I’m doing the produce section a favor by ridding them of such a scourge of a vegetable. Now, don’t go out and start buying them–lest you drive up the price. I’d like to keep them all to myself. Personally, I’m partial to collards and swiss chard, if for no other reason than habit.

Dad likes to douse them in a vinegar cruet that he’s kept going since I was a toddler (no lie, when we moved it came with us). Usually it’s simply red peppers and apple cider vinegar that have fermented together for years on end. I am not a fan. I prefer greens that are buttery smooth, slightly chewy, whose bitterness has been coaxed out, leaving the taste of collards unencumbered by tongue burning heat or acid-reflux inducing vinegar. We’ll call them naked greens.

The winter has been rough; a raw biting cold that has me running back to bed. It makes my soul claw for something comforting and filling–a reminder that there is still a warm, nourishing oasis in the midst of this terrible season.

Enter cheese grits. These are not your hotel buffet grits, the white goopy gruel that is as tasteless as it is unappetizing. Get yourself some Bob’s Red Mill grits. And let’s not even discuss instant grits. Only Yankees make those and they can’t even make ’em right anyway.

Grits n Greens are a call back to my roots. When I asked my grandmother what she ate as a child on her rural Arkansas farm in Okalona, she promptly answered, “Grits. Lots of grits. And collards.” Lucky for me, I didn’t have to ring the neck of a family chicken to make this meal either.

Grits n Greens

Ingredients

1 large country ham steak
 
1 large bunch of collars, stems removed and cut into 1/2″ ribbons
2 garlic cloves, chopped
2 Tbs vegetable oil
~1 Tbs red pepper (mine is a thai powder, you can used crushed or whatever is on hand)
2 Tbs apple cider vinegar
 
~2.5 tbs butter
1/3 c. cheddar cheese, shredded
 
Grits: Preferably Bob’s Red Mill, made according to package, using half milk, half water.
 
3 Eggs, poached
 
Salt, to taste
 
 
1. Get the grits going, they’ll cook while you prepare the collards.
2. Heat oil in covered pan. Add garlic and cook for about 30 seconds.
3. Add collard ribbons to pan and sprinkle with red pepper. Saute until tender–try to cook them so that they have a little bit to go. I like to take them off heat and cover them while I finish preparing everything else. This seemingly makes them less tough and takes away the bitterness of the green.
4. Cut the ham steak up into portion size pieces, saute in a pan until lightly browned on each side.
5. When the grits have finished cooking, add in the butter and cheese. Don’t get shy. Stir until combined. Add salt to taste.
 
Pile everything onto a plate. It’s go time!

Lazy Saturday Mornings and an Egg Sandwich

November 7, 2010 § 1 Comment

I’m not a breakfast person. In fact, on the whole, I hate eggs. I don’t like them scrambled, hard-boiled, or over easy–and I really, really don’t like omelets. This is usually the part where someone interrupts in disbelief with a, “But, but you don’t like eggs?! How do you not like them? It’s like the…” Yes, the greatest food ever, apparently. The perfect meal. A whole food. Or, in my mouth, straight up sulfur.

Over the years, I’ve honed down on the true culprit: a cooked yolk. It seems to make the sulfur come out. I’m shaking my head in disgust as I type–I’m a trooper. However, a just set white and barely cooked yolk that oozes wonderful artery clogging goodness all over my sourdough bread hits the spot on a slightly dehydrated morning.

After a night out with friends, my stomach usually wakes me up in demand of something hearty and filling–morning after munchies? This sandwich totally fits the bill! Don’t be put off by the seemingly random mix of ingredients. The chili garlic paste is really a more interesting hot sauce (and who doesn’t like hot sauce on everything?). The gruyere just happened to be chillin’ in the fridge. Crunchy, slightly spicy, tangy, and yes, velvety rich. I’ll be having this for lunch again today.

Bacon, Egg, and Spinach Sandwich with Gruyere

Serves 1

Ingredients

1 big or two small slices sourdough bread
1 handful baby spinach
Some shredded gruyere–more is….more!
~ 2 tsp. Thai Chili Garlic paste
3 Slices cooked bacon
1-2 poached eggs–check out the awesome video from Gordon Ramsay if you don’t know how to poach eggs at home sans poaching pan.

Procedure

1. Pre-heat broiler at high heat.

2. Poach egg until just set, you still want it to be a little undercooked because the residual heat from the egg and broiling will continue to set the yolk.

3. Spread chili garlic paste on slices of toast. It’s really not that spicy, go in for the kill!

4. Top bread slices with baby spinach and bacon. Place egg on bacon and sprinkle (or douse) with shredded gruyere.

5. Put the open-faced sandwich under the broiler and remove when the cheese is melting. The heat from the broiler will keep cooking the egg, so keep a close eye on it.

6. Keep away from lovable yellow labs, lest they steal your breakfast.

Coconut Red Lentil Soup

November 4, 2010 § 1 Comment

I like to think that I’m broadening my parents’ food horizons by forcing my culinary adventures on them. Dad doesn’t think so–if it were up to him we would have steak, starch, and vegetables every night. I think a little bit of him dies inside every time he has a meal without meat. I’m so, so cruel.

Today when I told Dad we were having lentil soup for dinner, he looked at me with disgust as he read the recipe, “With coconut?! That seems kind of….gross.” Boy is trippin’ because this soup/stew/curry is amazing! (Later, he admitted that this was pretty good. Sort of. The Commander has his own ways of expressing satisfaction.)

I’ve adapted Heidi Swanson’s recipe in 101 Cookbooks; there weren’t any yellow split peas to be found in my grocery store so I made do with green ones. Mom and I both agreed that it looked like baby poop while cooking. She also asked me not to tell you that. Try to detach yourself from that image as you eat steamy spoonfuls. Mind the raisins. I’ll stop now.

We also agreed that the soup could use a little bit more of a kick. Mom squeezed a lime quarter over hers while Dad and I added Sriracha sauce to ours. I’ve never seen someone consume so much Sriracha sauce at once. Dad hoovered it like a champ!

Coconut Red Lentil Soup

Adapted from 101 Cookbooks

Ingredients

1 cup green split peas
1 cup red lentils
1 liter water
2 carrots, diced
2 tbs. minced/grated ginger
2 tbs. curry powder
2 tbs. butter
1 bunch scallions, thinly sliced
1/3 c. golden raisins
~3 tbs. Double concentrated tomato paste (from a tube)
14 oz. coconut milk
2 tsp. salt
1 small handful cilantro, chopped (for garnish)
Short grain brown rice, cooked

Preparation

1. Wash lentils and split green peas. Bring to a boil with water, carrots and 1/2 tbs ginger. Lower soup to a simmer and cook until split peas are soft (about 30 minutes).

2. Lightly toast the curry powder in a small sauce pan. Remove from pan and set aside. Melt butter in the same pan, add half of the scallions and the rest of the ginger, and raisins. Cook for a couple of minutes and add the tomato paste when ready, cooking for another two minutes.When done, add the curry powder to the mixture until well blended.

3. Add curry powder mixture to the lentils and split peas. Mix the coconut milk and salt into the soup, cook for another 20 minutes, or until the soup has reached the desired consistency.

4. Serve over rice and garnish with remaining scallions and cilantro.

Berbere–Or What Happens When You Follow Your Nose

October 27, 2010 § 2 Comments

As we’ve already discussed, I grocery shop with great intentions. I make lists and mentally prepare myself to resist temptation. I remind myself of all the rational reasons that I should stick to a grocery list. I fail everytime. In fact, I wonder whether I would save more money to pay for someone to grocery shop for me so I didn’t impulse buy. Alas, I live in the country and such entities do not exist. So here I am at MOMs, my favorite locally owned organic grocery store in Maryland, and I can’t help but bee-line for the spices.

You see, I’m a smeller and a toucher. Perhaps in a creepy way if you’re an apple or jelly melon. Pick up, inspect for bruises, squeeze, and smell. I smell things when I don’t even know what I’m supposed to be smelling for. I fondle fruit like I’m a goddamn expert. (I am, don’t get me wrong. Is there any fruit that I can fondle for you today?) I can smell through plastic. It’s a gift. Dad calls Mom’s side of the family “The Noses.” I can sniff out anything.

But with great power come great responsibility–or so I was told in Spiderman–and I really need to get on the responsibility bandwagon, because this whole grabbing everything that makes my nose go, “Ahhhh” is not going to coexist with keeping my bank account in the black.

And here I am standing in front of the bulk spices. My nose led me there. It appeared to me, Berbere Seasoning, I hadn’t heard of it so I did the one thing I knew: I opened it up and smelled. The scent of chilis, cinnamon, and coriander whisked me back to the open air markets of Marrakesh (or so I thought). I imagined the possibilities that Berbere seasoning could bring to my tagine.

Well, that was until Google crushed my hopes and dreams for my new found spice. It’s Ethiopian. My mind raced, “Ethiopian?! How will I ever convince ol’ M&D to chomp down on it?” I barely convinced them that Indian food is delicious until I made butter chicken slathered in, well, butter and heavy cream. For people who tormented my brother and I into not being picky eaters, they really make ethnic cooking a challenge.

If you’ve got some Berbere Seasoning on hand, I heard around the blogosphere that this Misr Wot recipe is delectable! I’ll check it out soon and post my results!

Grilled Margherita Pizza

October 27, 2010 § 2 Comments

Back when the humidity showed no sign of retreat, we abandoned the kitchen. August was in full swing with ripe, delicious plum tomates. Our basil plant had become more of a hedge than an herb. I had leftover tomatoes from the 40 pounds that I’d purchased from a local farm and canned to my hearts content (and then some). I knew that I had one place to turn, the grill.

Margherita pizza is easy with its straight-forward ingredients. However, the difference between an alright and a mouthgastastic Margherhita lies in the freshness of the ingredients you use. Spring for fresh tomatoes, basil and mozzarella–lets not even mention jarred garlic!–and you’re in business!

Unless you have a brick oven in your backyard–which I often think about and wish that I could will my parents into building me the oven of my dreams–the grill might be your best bet as far as pizza cooking goes. Home ovens rarely heat about 450 or 500 degrees Farenheit and, if your oven’s like mine, it’s 20 degrees cooler than the display says it is. The fiery heat of a brick oven or grill is what gives us a light, crisp crust rather than a dense, chewy one.

This pizza cooks fast and WILL catch you off guard if you aren’t prepared. I highly recommend that you get your mise en place together before slapping the dough on the grill.

« Read the rest of this entry »

Southern Maryland Stuffed Ham Sandwich

August 27, 2010 § 1 Comment

I had promised myself to buy tea. Barry’s Tea, and only Barry’s Tea. I always fail to stick to my grocery lists, but I like to remind myself that I walked in with great intentions.  McKay’s is wonderful because it’s locally owned and has a much better selection than the Food Lion next door–that’s right, a family-run grocery store holding it’s own against a corporation!

So, while I was perusing the bread section, it happened. The distinct smell of a corned ham, stuffed with kale and cabbage wafted right down the deli counter and into the bakery where I was struggling to decide between a baguette and a boule. I perked up. Could it be?! You see, Stuffed Ham is a delicacy unique to Southern Maryland. Traditionally it is made at home, however most people order theirs from local grocery stores in order to save time. I could go on and onandonandonandon like I did in my senior thesis that was solely devoted  to it. (Yes, I wrote a paper on Stuffed Ham in order to graduate college.) I’ll stop.

I marched up to the deli and could barely ask if they had Stuffed Ham. I could smell it and they couldn’t hide it from me! A mixture of celery seed, ground mustard, crushed red pepper, and other spice help create a punchy green stuffing that compliments the saltiness of the corned ham. Tub in hand, I eagerly checked out. No more detours for this girl; the only thing between me and my ham was a short jaunt home.

« Read the rest of this entry »

Bedouin Tea

August 27, 2010 § Leave a comment

In Egypt, tea is a way of life. While studying abroad in Cairo, I remember seeing a police officer–likely the lowliest among those standing guard–crossing the street, zigzaging through heavy traffic with a dented aluminum tray loaded with glasses of scalding tea. For many Egyptians there are two constants in their lives, locally made Cleopatra cigarettes and Lipton Yellow Label Dust Tea. Ramadan becomes truly a test of patience and will when neither are allowed to pass through ones lips between sunrise and sunset. As an American traveling, I was often offered shay bi sucar wa liban–tea with sugar and milk–just as the British had taken theirs during colonial occupation. La, la, I’d answer, sucar bas, “just sugar,” as is customary throughout the Arab world.

Tea is perpared differently by the Bedouins, a nomadic ethnic group that has long occupied the vast deserts flanking the Nile. Their shay is made extra-strong with the help of additional spoonfuls of dust tea and is boiled in a metal kettle over an open fire. Traditionally, various indigenous herbs are added to the pot to steep before serving. Today, most simply add marmaraya–sage.

When I was in Sinai, I was served this tea along with a traditional bread that had been cooked on a large, overturned wok-like pan. The smokiness of the fire penetrates the tea and compliments the depth of the added sage. Sugar is added until the drink is sticky sweet, the amount needed to take the edge off the tannins of the dust tea. At the end of a long, humid summer day, Bedouin shay is a welcome reprieve.

The bread began as a sort of watery dough before being cooked into a crisp bread.

Bedouin Tea

Yellow Label tea can be found in Middle Eastern and Indian groceries. I used fresh sage because I happened to have some growing outside. However whole, dried sage would work as well.
2-3 tsp Lipton Yellow Label Dust Tea (Any black tea, bagged or loose, will do)
2-3 tsp Sugar, depending on how sweet you prefer
~6 Leaves fresh sage

 

Boil about two cups of water. I use my UtiliTea Kettle from Adagio Teas and I LOVE it. Add boiling water to your tea. Use 1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons tea for every cup that you intend to make. Bruise the sage by rolling it between your hands and add it to your teapot or cups. Add sugar to taste. Don’t be afraid to get heavy handed, the sugar is needed to take away the bitterness of the tea. Allow to steep for four minutes–remember, it should be fairly strong. Sit, listen to the howls of the desert, and enjoy.