August – 2013 Cookbook Challenge
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Image borrowed from huffingtonpost.com

In Atlanta for business in August of 2013, I attended an informal dinner party thrown by some friends. The house where it was held was unbelievable; a vast, yet homey, multilevel wooden mansion next to a creek, on the edge of a gorgeous wooded area.  The place, which we more or less had the run of, had at least three kitchens, and at one point in the evening, I happily found myself wandering through the largest of them, running my fingers along the marbled counter tops, coveting the richly contrasting dark and light wood cabinets and the shiny, state-of-the-art appliances. I must have spent half an hour alone examining the walk-in, high ceilinged closet where all the cookware was kept. Pots and pans of every size and description hung from the walls. Stacked on the me-high series of shelves were sheet trays, chafing dishes, colanders, Dutch ovens, pie tins, cake pans, dessert molds, and anything and everything I have ever put on my list of “Dream Kitchen Supplies”. In triplicate (or so it seemed, anyhow).

Opposite this closet of wonders, far on the other side of the immense kitchen, stood a tall, thin bookshelf, filled with recipe books. Browsing the titles, I was inspired to use one of them as my August entry in the Cookbook Challenge, and being that I was in the South, it seemed only appropriate that I should cook a dish that is about as Southern as they come. “True Grits: Tall Tales and Recipes from the New South”, perched on high shelf, caught my eye, so I climbed the provided step stool and snatched it. (It has since become one of my my life’s goals to own a bookshelf stuffed with cookbooks, so tall that it requires its own stool.)  Sadly, I didn’t have time to read any of the promised “Tall Tales,” as my ride picked that moment to announce our imminent departure, but I was able to select and snap pics of a recipe for grits, an ingredient that people either dig or despise, and which I’d long been curious to try.

Someone Else's Copy of True Grits

 Rosemary and Mushroom Grits

Published by the Junior League of Atlanta, Inc.

 I should quickly note that in the interest of conserving resources, I cut all of the amounts below in half.  

    •  Ingredients:
  •  
    • 3 ½ cups beef broth (I used Better than Bouillon)
    • ¾ cup grits
    • 1 clove of garlic, minced
    • ¾ cup grated Parmigiano-Regiano cheese
    • 2 ½ tablespoons butter or margarine
    • 1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
    • 1 clove of garlic, minced
    • 1 tablespoon olive oil
    • 1 sprig of rosemary, chopped
    • 2 cups fresh shiitake mushrooms (I couldn’t get shiitakes, so I used a dehydrated mushroom blend I had on hand)
    • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley (No parsley. Honestly, I simply forgot to pick this up at the store. Derp!)
    • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

  •   Bring the broth to a boil in a saucepan. Stir in the grits and 1 clove of garlic; reduce heat.

      • Cook, covered, for 20 minutes or until thickened, stirring occasionally.

Remove from heat. Stir in the cheese, butter and pepper.

      • Cook over low heat until the cheese and butter melt, stirring frequently.
      • Sauté 1 clove of garlic in the olive oil in a skillet until tender but not brown. Stir in the rosemary and mushrooms.

At this point in the process, it smelled amazing. I mean, how can you go wrong with beefy broth, mushrooms, garlic, and cheese?

 Cook over medium heat for 8 to 10 minutes or until brown, stirring frequently. Remove from heat. Stir in the parsley, salt and pepper. Let stand until cool.

      • Spoon ½ of the grits mixture into a large baking dish.
      • Spread with the mushroom mixture; top with the remaining grits mixture.

As you can see, because I cut the recipe in half, I didn’t have enough grits to fill the entire dish. Ah well.

The grits mixture was so thick, it was tough to spread, especially the last layer, on top of the mushrooms. It just kept pushing the mushrooms around. It’s possible I reduced it too much.

    • Chill, covered, for several hours to overnight. Cut into squares or desired shapes.
    • Variation: If you prefer to serve the grits squares hot, arrange on a baking sheet. Broil until light brown.

In spite of having chilled it for four hours, and given how thick the grits were, I had trouble cutting them into squares. :/

Full disclosure: For the first time since I began blogging about food, I prepared a dish that I actually *hated*. Just utterly loathed. It’s not easy for me to admit that, and for a while I struggled with what to write here. I didn’t set out to be a critic; I just wanted to take on a fun challenge, to give myself a theme, a framework within which to work, so that I could document my adventures along the way. As such, I try to skew my assessments in a positive direction, but I’m finding it difficult to do so here. Biting into the grits was like chomping on a coagulated hunk of rubbery, overpoweringly umami-fied, day-old mushroom gravy with sand in it. I couldn’t even bear to swallow it. =shudder=

That being said, “True Grits” won a couple of awards when it was published, and was nominated for others. What’s more, I was able to find this very recipe shared and recommended elsewhere on the Internet, so clearly it has an appeal. Perhaps this dish just really, really isn’t to my taste.  It’s also entirely possible that I made a mistake in the cooking of it. Perhaps my measurements were off when mixing the broth, causing the flavor to reach ridiculous depths. Perhaps shiitakes were vital, and my mushroom mixture brought all manner of wrong notes along with it. Or, as suggested earlier, I may well have cooked the grits down too far. Whatever the reason, though, I’m glad I didn’t make a full batch!

This story does have a happy ending. I was able to repurpose much of the dish so that it didn’t go to waste. I watered it down, added some white wine, strained out and binned the mushrooms (they really were overwhelming), and added some spices. I was left with a sort of strange, but infinitely more palatable, sauce, which I then used to top a bowl of macaroni. And you know what? I kind of liked the grits.

 


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