Tuesday, February 24, 2015

True Grit: The Perfect White Corn Grits Recipe

Homemade Sausage 'n' Grits with Fried Eggs
I first learned what grits were years ago watching The Food Network, as Bobby Flay managed to put his ego aside on his show for an episode to allow his lovely wife to take over the screen to make her infamous cheesy grits. At the time I didn't have a clue what grits were, but what I did know is they were creamy, cheesy, comforting, and powerful enough to move Bobby Flay to declare them better than his own. I knew I would love them!

It wasn't until around two years ago that I finally got to taste grits for the very first time. Out for a special birthday meal for my boyfriend Chris' birthday, I took him to the now closed Southern-fusion restaurant Acadia to experience their highly praised Shrimp 'n' Grits. To simply list the flavours and textures going on in that bowl of southern heaven would do the dish no justice. The dish sounds far too simple when explained in the written word to live up to the complex dish that I was presented with. It was one of those perfect dishes that I will surely find myself alluding to for years to come, like some mythical tale, "the Legend of the Perfect Grits." Of course the perfection of the dish had much to do with the details; the little bits of shrimp speckling the creamy mixture, as well as oyster mushrooms, pimento cheese, and (as if it can't get any better) ham hock consommé; but those delicious details would be nothing if it didn't have the perfect base of silky, creamy, perfectly seasoned grits.

Being often thought of as a "poor-man's food," grits aren't always given the respect and attention they deserve. When carelessly prepared, grits can become dry, gluey, and bland, reminiscent of Oliver Twist's gruel, which in turn have given grits a bit of a bad rep. With such a basic preparation and so few ingredients, it's easy to get grits wrong. I can tell you first hand, that most of the grits recipes out there on the Internet will lead you astray, resulting in the mushy grits that one dreads.

Despite the sea of faulty grits recipes out in the world, there is one that I have come across that I have found to be far superior to any other grits recipe on the web. Although the recipe didn't seem to make much sense to me at first, Saveur's recipe for Old Fashioned Creamy Grits is perfection. Though it isn't much different from other grits recipes I have read, its the ratio of milk, to water, to grits that makes this recipe oh so creamy and delectable. More than just the initial milk/water/grits, this recipe ensures the creamiest results by finishing with not only a knob of butter (essential to all successful grits) but also an extra quarter-cup of cream, which gives this dish its silky, heavenly finish.

Whether prepared for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, grits are the perfect base for shrimp, sausage, eggs, and, let's face it, just about any protein or veg that needs a home! Forget about all those other grits recipes you've come across, and don't even bother reading the directions on the package of grits, because Saveur's Old Fashioned Creamy Grits is where it's at!

Find this recipe and more on my Pinterest board Recipes I Love!

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Thursday, February 5, 2015

Jamie Oliver's Chicken in Milk & A Lesson In Adapting

Homemade Jamie Oliver's Chicken in Milk
Did you know that reading and interpreting recipes is actually a skill? In culinary school last year, one of the very first things our class was taught was how to analyze a recipe. We were told to never start cooking from a recipe without reading through each and every line and asking ourselves "does this make sense?" Since that class I have learned that about 50% of the time, at least one part of a recipe will not make sense...sometimes not even a little. This is precisely why reading a recipe before you begin cooking, is so very important, allowing you to adapt the recipe using your own knowledge on the theory of food and cooking to ensure a successful final product. Despite having this knowledge ingrained in my head, I can't help but want to trust certain recipes, no matter how much my brain is screaming at me "THIS DOESN'T MAKE ANY DAMN SENSE!" 

Last week my cooking instincts and knowledge of food theory was put to the test as I embarked on recreating three recipes from the lovely Jamie Oliver. I have to start by saying that I absolutely adore Jamie, I own several of his gorgeous cookbooks, and had previously felt that the man could do no wrong...that was until I tried making Jamie's Aubergine Daal with Handmade Chapatis
Aubergine Daal with Homemade Chapatis - Photo provided by jamieoliver.com
After catching a Sunday morning episode of Save With Jamie last week, come Monday all my boyfriend Chris and I could think of was recreating the savoury and seemingly simple and cheap vegetarian Indian daal dish. We collectively gathered all of the required ingredients (including the difficult to find curry leaves, which we picked up at House of Spice in Kensington Market) and began making our dinner. Everything was all hunky dory and as easy as can be...that is until it came to cooking the split yellow peas for the daal. 

When I read the recipe my brain kicked in and told me "you know better than to cook peas in that much water, not to mention with the lid on!!" and yes, I should have known better, but I trusted Jamie! Sure enough, the peas that Jamie told us would take an hour and 20 minutes absolutely did not. After the suggested time, our peas were still hard and the liquid was still at the same level in the pot. With our stomachs growling, and the eggplant getting cold, we had to adapt! 

Although we were worried about losing flavour, we removed about 2 cups of the liquid from the pot, removed the lid, and jacked the heat so the remaining liquid would begin to evaporate. After about 20-30 minutes we finally had a thick and delicious mixture of split peas, Rogan Josh curry, and roasted eggplant and onions. Despite our struggles with the recipe, the final dish turned out incredibly delicious and provided lunch for the next few days, not to mention was fantastic added to a chicken pot pie filling! With our revisions in mind, we will absolutely be making this recipe again! 
Jamie Oliver's Sunday Roast - Photo provided by leitesculinaria.com
The very next day I decided to give my dear Jamie another shot. With family coming over for dinner, I felt the need to impress, and chose to recreate Jamie's Sunday Roast. I read the recipe, and the alarm bells started going off...and just as I had done the previous night, I ignored them. The recipe called for searing the prime rib all over on the stove, and then placing it directly in a 475ºF oven to cook for 50-minutes, rest for another 30-minutes, and then carve and serve. Already this recipe didn't make any damn sense, but Chris told me to trust a Brit with making a roast, so I did. 

Of course, after the recommended 50-minutes of cooking at 475º, our roast was only at 60ºF, when it should have been 120ºF (for a medium-rare roast). I lowered the heat to 325º and continued roasting (while checking every 20-minutes or so) until the internal temperature reached the desired 120º. After an additional 50 minutes or so, the roast was finally at 120º, making it a perfect medium-rare 130º after a 30-minutes rest. 

On top of the wonky cooking method for the roast, the recipe also instructed cooks to boil cubed Russet potatoes (THAT DOESN'T MAKE ANY SENSE! Russet's want DRY heat!) for 10-minutes (that's too long!), and then roasting in the oven with the remaining roast juices. Sure enough the potatoes became far too tender after being boiled for 10-minutes, and could easily be crushed with my fingertips. Though the potatoes still tasted good in the end, the texture was off, making me regret not following my instincts and selecting Yukon Gold potatoes instead of the Russets. Although the recipe had me pulling out my hair like the previous night, the roast turned out fantastic in the end, and definitely impressed my family! 
Jamie Oliver's Chicken in Milk - Photo provided by jamieoliver.com
Believe it or not, two near-recipe fails did not deter me from giving Jamie one more shot! I adore the man, and refused to believe that all of his recipes would leave me in such despair. After reading rave reviews of Jamie's Chicken in Milk, with many declaring it to be "the best roast chicken recipe ever," I was sure that I had found a perfect Jamie recipe that wouldn't require any revisions. I embarked on what just may be the simplest roast chicken recipe ever, and despite my brain wondering how this recipe would work (seriously, chicken with milk!? Really?!) it went off without a hitch! With only one minor revision thanks to a bloggers suggestion (leaving the lid on for half the cooking time) the roast chicken turned out absolutely incredible! The chicken was wonderfully moist, so flavourful, and pulled away from the bones in the most gloriously beautiful way. It was, dare I say, near perfect! 

Although I had a couple of minor breakdowns last week due to my hangry temper, I was glad to have learned from these recipes. This lesson once again proved that I know more than I think I do, and I should always (always!) trust my instincts in the kitchen. Jamie, I still love you and think you're the bomb. I don't know how those method errors escaped your recipe testers, but I forgive you for giving me such delicious final products in the end. Let's chat more over dinner, this time, you're cooking! 

What recipe kept you on your toes and had you revising on the fly? Tweet me @thisgingerrose.

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