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Jalapeño Grits

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I stand firm on my belief that grits are totally misunderstood.  Before Dan let me cook them for him, his only grits experience had been on a trip to North Carolina to visit his grandmother.  Let’s just say… it was a bad experience.  It’s because a lot of people don’t do grits right.

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Now, I will swear by places like Cracker Barrel and Waffle House when you’re in a bind.  Say it’s 2am on New Year’s Eve and you need hashbrowns.  Well, then Waffle House is the place to be.  But when it comes to their grits… something is missing.  They tend to be gummy, flavorless, and mushy.  Which is such a waste, because grits have so much potential!  They can be sweet, salty, cheesy, spicy… anything you dream of.

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Traditionally grits are made from corn ground in a stone mill.  The corn is sifted, the finer product becomes corn meal, and the thicker product is the grit.  Grits, depending on how you’re preparing them, can be cooked in water, milk, or a mixture.  Usually I make about six servings, so that we have a meal plus some leftovers.  Grits cook in a 1:6 ratio, so one cup of grits mixed with six cups of liquid produces approximately six servings.  I use six cups of water, plus some butter and milk or heavy cream to add some flavor.

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One of the variables with this recipe is the time of year.  The strength of the jalapeño’s flavor depends a lot on the season that you’re cooking with it.  In the summer, when jalapeños are in season, the flavor can be overwhelming and can even be too much.  If you’re cooking with/for someone whose palate is sensitive to spice, you might want use half of a jalapeño.  Also, beware of the pulp and seeds of a jalapeño- they’re the hottest part!  If you find that your flavor is too strong, adding a little extra lemon juice or lemon zest can balance it out.  And always wash your hands after working with jalapeños!

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Jalapeño Grits

1 cup grits

6 cups water

1 jalapeño

2 cups mushrooms

1 white onion

1/2 cup cheddar cheese

1/4 cup parmesan cheese

1 lemon, juiced

1/4 cup heavy cream

1/2 cup milk

Salt & pepper

1 garlic clove

2 tbsp olive oil

Begin by dicing your onion, mushrooms, jalapeño, and garlic.  Saute them with the olive oil.

While your vegetables are cooking, bring your grits and water to a boil.  Grits take between 10-15 minutes to thicken, but it is important to stir them every few minutes to make sure they aren’t sticking to the bottom.

When your vegetables are tender, reduce heat to a simmer.  When your grits are thick, stir in milk, cream, cheese, seasoning, and lemon juice.  Stir until the cheese has melted and it is all fully incorporated.  Finally, pour the vegetables into the grits, and stir together.

Serves 4.

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Country Style Steak with Jasmine Rice

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Early in high school, I decided to become a vegetarian.  My decision was heavily influenced by my new friends at Durham’s art magnet school.  Abandoning pork may have won me some points at school, but breaking the news to my family was a whole different ballgame.  I’m pretty sure my father was annoyed at me everytime we ate together the four years that I was a vegetarian.  Not to mention the pathetic sad eyes he gave me everytime I turned down a bowl of brunswick stew or a pulled pork barbeque sandwich.

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I’ll never forget my grandmother’s reaction.  We went over to her house for dinner, and she had made country style steak, a tender beef dish that is served traditionally with rice and gravy.  When I turned down the steak, she just looked at me, smiled, and in her sweet southern drawl said “we’ll that’s alright, you can just eat some rice and gravy.”  I didn’t have the heart to turn down the beef gravy, so my first vegetarian meal with my grandmother was, well, not vegetarian at all.

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Country style steak is an important dish to North Carolina cuisine.  Not to be mistaken with chicken fried steak, country style steak is lightly breaded, fried in oil, and then cooked until tender in gravy made from its drippings.  Traditionally, it is made from less expensive cuts of meat, that have been tenderized.  This is why the slow cooking method is ideal, it makes tougher meat as succulent and easy to tear apart as a more expensive cut.

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I adapted this recipe from my memory, and it turned out pretty well.  It needs some tweaking- I don’t think that I got the gravy just right, but it satisfied my craving for country style steak.  I used cube steak to avoid having to tenderize the meat.  The only difference between using a cube steak versus something else is that if you are tenderizing, you need to coat with flour, tenderize, and then coat again.  The jasmine rice was also a nice touch, it gave a good contrast to the salty steak.  Next time I may toss it in a little butter first.

Country Style Steak

2 cuts of cube steak (or round steak)

1/2 cup flour (for dredging)

2 tbsp flour (for gravy)

1 tbsp butter

1/2 cup vegetable oil

2 cups chicken stock (or less, watch for gravy consistency)

Salt & pepper to taste

Red pepper flakes

Heat 1/4 cup vegetable oil in pan.  Dredge steak in flour, and brown.  Once browned on both sides, remove from heat.  Whisk in flour, quickly.  Add extra oil, if necessary.  When flour is incorporated fully, begin to add chicken stock.  Add gradually, until your gravy thickens.  Gravy should be a smooth consistency, not too liquid.  Add salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes.  Stir in butter.  Return steak to gravy, and cover.  Let simmer on medium heat until meat is tender.  Serve with jasmine rice.  Rice can be substituted with mashed potatoes.

Serves 2.

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