[Real] Grits Dummy!

As promised, I made grits and eggs for my people (ancestors) today minus the scrapple.  However, I could feel the steely glares over my right shoulder (to be exact) as they judged me for the sin I was about to commit.  I tried to hide the container, but decided to just face them head on with an “I’m sorry OK!”

The crime: Using quick grits.

My defense: A friend gave it to me.

I think I could claim that I was an accessory after the fact.  Here’s my testimony:

I ran out of old-fashioned grits and I was really in the mood for some.  After all I did promise my people. Yes you did.

A good friend drove me to the supermarket.  What supermarket?

“Uh Er Whole Foods” (in a small weak voice.)

Whole Foods’ idea of grits is…let’s just say I’m not interested in “Italian Grits” aka polenta.  That’s what you get for going there!

So after I buy the rest of my groceries, we get in the car and I’m moping like a child.

As I’m getting out, my friend says, “Here.  You can have the grits I bought from A&P today.”

“Really?? Oh wow thanks girl!!”

I grab those grits and run!

It wasn’t until I get in the house, that I realize they’re quick grits.  Womp. Womp. Woooomp.

That’s it your honor!  I rest my case…LOL

The first clue I should have had that my people wouldn’t be happy with these grits was when my daughter went to reach in the cabinets for her granola, out spilled the container of grits onto the floor; spilling most of the contents.

I went ahead and made the grits because hey, I should be grateful for the gift.  Dressed it up with butter and cheese.  I did my best and I think they appreciate that.

stone ground gritsNext time I’ll try, what I have been told are amazing grits from Riley/Land Pantry.

For those of you, who have questions about grits, here are two of my favorite grits snippets:

When we saw this scene for the first time as kids, we said “Grits Dummy!” at school for days upon days after.  Boy did we get a good laugh.  Laughter covers the pain.

THIS is why my people (again ancestors) were not pleased.

Hitting The Sauce

jar sauce with xI grew up eating jar sauce when my mom made pasta (spaghetti mainly).  Now in my mother’s defense (may she rest in power), she didn’t grow up on sauce at all. I’ll have to ask her remaining siblings to confirm, but I’m pretty sure they didn’t even eat pasta (with the exception of elbow macaroni) growing up.  Rice was and still is their main starch staple.

I served jar sauce to my kids up until 10-11 years ago.  It wasn’t until I began frequenting really great Italian restaurants, and not the local Brooklyn pizza spots, that I realized the difference between store-bought and homemade sauce.  Since then, I’ve never looked back.*  There are of course variations** but the most simplest version I attempt to offer here relies only a few key ingredients.  You will not find me stirring a pot of sauce for hours like those Italian home-cooks they parody in movies or on TV.  This is a meatless version.  Anything else you’d like to add is flourish (I can certainly appreciate flourish) and even then it should never take you all day to make a delicious sauce.

A Simple Sauce

Ingredients

Tomatoes – now this part needs some splainin’ Lucy…
I use only one type of tomato; plum/Italian.  Fresh is nice.  There are some minor preparations of course to peel them, and that’s fine if you want to go through that.  I usually save myself the trouble unless I’m making a fresh salsa or minimally cooked sauce.  If I’m low on funds, I buy canned plum tomatoes.  I try to avoid canned anything when possible (even though I adore canned beans) because of all the issues surrounding…wait, you know I really have no idea what the issues are…I want to say Alzheimer’s or botulism or typhoid Mary but I can’t recall…
I am ok with canned plum/Italian tomatoes and I buy them whole peeled or crushed depending on my mood but what I REALLY like are the Pomi brand crushed tomatoes that come in a milk carton type container.  You can check their website for all of the brand benefits.  They don’t pay me to endorse their product, so I won’t.  But that’s enough about tomatoes.  You get the point: plum and fresh.
Onions chopped – I use red for almost everything I make but white or spanish are fine as well.
Garlic – fresh and finely chopped.  Please, Please, Please do not use garlic in the jar.  UGH!  It tastes awful!
Stock – vegetable, chicken, or beef.  Just make sure it’s no sodium or low sodium
Red Wine – I won’t make sauce without it unless a gun is being held to my head.  Personally I use what I drink.  That runs the gambit.  You got your pinot noirs, Bordeaux, cabs, montepulciano d’abruzzo, malbec, and my new favorite, a good cote de rhone.  Red wine is good for you. This I know. Ask Dr. Oz.
Red pepper flakes
Kosher salt to taste.
Olive Oil – extra virgin

If I typed the ingredient in bold, that means it’s required so that’s 1..2..5! Five essential ingredients needed to making a simple yet delicious sauce.

In a saucepan; not a pot, heat olive oil. When hot, add onions and saute them until translucent.  Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and saute, but careful not to burn this.  Right before the garlic starts to burn on ya, add the wine (off the heat if you’re scared, then right back on once all the wine is in).  I LOVE the sound of the sizzle here!  You’re basically using the wine to deglaze the pan. Let that mixture simmer until the wine cooks down a bit.  You’re not trying to reduce it too much.  The goal here is to build the second level of flavor (the garlic, onions and red pepper flakes being the first level).

After the wine mixture has simmered, I add the stock and then the tomatoes.  A pinch of salt here is cool.  It helps to break down the tomatoes if you’re using fresh.

Here comes the million dollar question: How long do you let your sauce simmer?

Well if any Italians are reading this blog, I’m sure they’d be ready to tear my recipe to shreds for two, maybe three reasons; 1. using a pan instead of a pot, 2. the order in which I cooked the ingredients, and 3.how long I let the sauce simmer.

So in answer to the “How Long?” question, I can answer two ways: 1. Simmer until the sauce is no longer tart or 2. Simmer until it tastes amazing to you.  Simmering allows you the time to taste and make adjustments to your seasoning.

Now in answer to “Why the pan and not a pot?” – Well I guess it depends on what you’re working with huh?  When I make pasta, I use an awesome stainless steel pan that can handle an entire box of pasta.  Once my sauce is done, I dump the cooked al dente pasta (unrinsed!! please!!) right into the same pan and toss.  If it needs a little more liquid, add some of the pasta water.

Let me know how it turns out!

*Inserting disclaimer here: Even though I know quite a few Italians who make their own sauce, I have never, in real-life, seen an Italian person make sauce.  BUT I have eaten authentic sauce (too many times to count) and my tongue never lies.  My sauce is just as good as (and sometimes better than) any “authentic” sauce I’ve ever had…honest.

**Variations – Ground meat could be added after the onions become translucent.  Shrimp can be added at that time as well but taken out before the wine so as to not over-cook during the remainder of the process.  Kale, broccoli, zucchini, etc should be added after the garlic starts to turn golden and taken out before the wine. Once the sauce is finished you can add these ingredients back into the pan.
Seasonings – play around with this.  Sometimes I add a dash of smoked paprika to the onions when sauteing.  Sometimes I add a splash of Bragg’s liquid aminos as a final touch instead of salt.

Curry Lentil Soup with Spinach

If you haven’t guessed yet, you will find that most of my recipes are meatless.  Now my ancestors aren’t to happy about that, so every once in a while I will cook up a pork chop in their honor…but not today.

Today, it’s all about lentils; the most amazing legume out there because of its higher than most dietary fiber content.  What does fiber mean for us?  Nicer, gentler trips to the bathroom (for those that suffer from being backed up) and lower cholesterol.  Now…who doesn’t want these benefits?

I live with my teenaged daughter who has been a vegetarian for a few years now and we don’t keep any meat (except for the ancestors) in the house.  This helps me out health-wise and dollar-wise.  But here’s the problem; the child hates beans.  In fact she hates a ton of things most vegetarians love.  So when I’m making a bean dish (with the exception of the chickpea fritters), I just need to make enough for me.  Preparing lentils is easy when serving one person.  They cook in minutes without soaking!! So this makes them a perfect last-minute bean option.

Usually most of my recipes will not have measurements because I don’t measure most things I cook unless I’m baking.  Please don’t ask me, how much onions or salt or pepper, ’cause I won’t have a clue. However for this recipe, I’m going to have mercy on those who need it and offer measurement suggestions only for some of the ingredients.  Lentils soak up a lot of liquids (and thus flavor) so I like to be exact when measuring them out and adding the cooking stock.

Curry Lentil Soup with Spinach (for one)

Ingredients

1/2 cup Lentil Beans – red split, dry – I love these lentils in particular for no other reason than the fact that they start off pink and then turn yellow when cooked.  You don’t have to soak these but they need a good rinse and sort.
Onions chopped
Garlic finely chopped
Yukon gold potato – peeled and cut into bite sized pieces
Curry Powder – the Trinidadian  kind is so good in this recipe
1 cup vegetable stock – low/no sodium
1/4 cup red wine
1 cup Spinach – fresh
Sea Salt
Extra Virgin Olive Oil or expeller-pressed coconut oil for sauteing

In a quart size pot heat oil.  When hot, add onions and saute until tender.  Add garlic and quickly saute.

Sprinkle in the curry powder.  Listen up people!! There is nothing better than cooking spices with a bit of oil in ANY dish.  Spices have a rawness to them and sauteing them first before adding any kind of liquid is out of this world and frankly a requirement in any dish I make.

As soon as the spices start to smoke up the joint, add the lentils and saute some more.  I think cooking beans or even rice for that matter this way adds so much more flavor and almost a minute hint of nuttiness to the dish.  Once the beans are coated, throw in the potatoes.

NOW YOU CAN ADD THE LIQUID! BUT HOLD THE SALT!  I don’t add salt to beans until they’re done.  Salt makes the beans tough while they’re cooking.  I’ve heard this somewhere and it’s true as far as I’m concerned.

Simmer until almost all of the liquid is absorbed and lentils and potatoes are tender.  If these were your average bean, we’d be talking almost an hour (even after soaking), but we’re talking about lentils people!  They are usually done in like 15-20 minutes!

About 5 minutes before they’re done, throw in the spinach.  Spinach adds great texture and nutrients to this one-pot dish. But you don’t want to over cook them or you’ll lose all of these benefits.  Now you can add salt here as well if you like.

One last thing I like to do is to take out my good ‘ole immersion blender and get to blending…just a bit to thicken this dish up.  Make sure to keep the integrity of most of the beans and potatoes.  If you don’t have an immersion blender, use a potato masher.

Variations – if you like carrots, chop them and saute along with the onions and garlic. Want some meat in there?  Saute sliced turkey sausage along with the onions and garlic.  As a topping, I sometimes sprinkle a little crumbled feta cheese once served.

Hope you like it!  Lemme know!

ChickPea Fritters

Are chickpeas, like Beyonce, over-exposed?

I think they are but deservedly so.  Chickpeas are extremely versatile (again like Beyonce), but then again so are most legumes.  I use chickpeas in several ways:

  • As a dip…aka hummus.
  • As a snack…roasted with cumin and sea salt.
  • In salads.
  • In vegetable stews…kale or collards.
  • And last but not final or least, as a fritter.

I love fritters; corn, salmon, crab, saltfish (bacalao), potato, and of course bean.

Any bean can be made into a fritter.  But that doesn’t mean any bean should be made into one. I think black beans, black eye (my people never use the “d” here) peas, and chickpeas are my favorite legumes to use in a fritter.  One thing you should know about really good fritter making; they taste best when fried…OK OK I promise you that I don’t eat a ton of fried foods, so every once in a while, I will fry something.  So yeah, back to the fritter…

Chickpea Fritters

These are a close cousin to the falafel.  My recipe calls for a few ingredients you won’t find in  a traditional falafel; namely eggs and arugula (instead of parsley).  I also opt for a more Asian/Indian flavor profile.

Ingredients

Chickpeas – 1 can (if using dried, follow instructions on bag)
Arugula – large handful chopped finely
Egg – 1
Sea Salt
Garlic Powder
Onion Powder
Cumin
Curry Powder (any kind you like)
Flour and Corn Meal
Oil for frying (yes frying…if you want to bake these go right ahead) – try expressed coconut oil

Mash the hell out of the chickpeas in a bowl along with the arugula.  I love mashing them together because you get to see the magic of the oils coming out of the arugula and the mixture starts to turn a gorgeous green.
Once it’s the consistency of mashed potatoes, add the egg and spices; including the salt.  Be careful with coarse sea salt ya’ll.  If you add too much, you’ll be sorry.
Mix in the flour and corn meal last.  What you’re trying to achieve here is batter that is “dough-like” but not doughy.  There’s a happy medium between the disaster of your mixture falling apart in the hot oil and the unpalatable experience of a biting into a doughy fritter.  SEEK THE HAPPY MEDIUM!!! Hint – if you used more than 2 tablespoons of the flour and 2 tablespoons of the cornmeal, then you went too far.

Things you can add to the batter…
leftover rice
shredded cheese
finely chopped shallots or scallions (sauteed or not)
corn

So once everything is combined and you feel in your heart of hearts that the batter is good (no need for perfection here.  It’s just cooking), cover your bowl and let the batter sit in the fridge for about 30 minutes.  I like to fry batters when they’re cold.  I don’t know why.  Maybe one of grandmothers is telling me this…

When you’re ready, get out your cast iron pan…excuse me?  Did you just murmur that you don’t have a cast iron pan?  Well drop everything you’re doing and go get one.  They cost like nothing hunny.  I’ll wait…

Heat the pan and add enough oil to coat the bottom of the pan up to maybe a 1/4 of an inch (are you still complaining about me frying this dish? If you are, then feel free to pre-heat your oven to 350 and line a baking sheet with parchment paper).

Once the oil is heated (I test by sprinkling a pinch of flour into the oil first), using a soup spoon (where I’m from we call these tablespoons), start scooping out the batter into large quenelle shapes. No need for fanciness here.  I use this term (along with the link) just so you’d have an idea of the shape.  I drop these right from the spoon and into the hot oil then mash them down a bit; gently…gently.  Depending on the size of your pan, fit as much as you like without crowding.  Flip once one side is browned.  When they’re ready to take out, I place on paper towels or a rack to eliminate some of the oil.  While they’re still hot out of the pan, I sprinkle just the teenie tiniest bit of kosher salt on top.

That’s it!! Lemme know how they turn out.

OH!  I forgot!  Sometimes, I make a nice sauce to go on top but that’s another blog post.