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Roasted Tomato Shrimp & Grits

We’ve met some really wonderful people in Baltimore, people who have become our friends and made this city feel like home. We met Bill and Jen, and their daughter Finley, through Dan’s work, and we’ve loved getting to know them. Jen also has southern roots, which means we can gush over grits and biscuits and collards and all the things our Yankee husbands never understood about vegetables before meeting us. I love having friends that I can gush with about collards.

Last night they came over for dinner and I made shrimp and grits, but deviated a bit from my usual recipe. I wanted to make a dish that highlighted the beauty of the last of the summer tomato, I thought it fitting to serve something featuring the giant, beautiful, bursting with flavor tomatoes that will soon disappear from the market on the first day of fall. So the tomatoes were slow roasted in a brown butter brown sugar base for about an hour. And then they were mixed into onions that had been caramelized in bacon drippings, just a hint of hot sauce, and plump shrimp. All of that got scooped over creamy cheesy grits, the perfectly salty pair to the slightly sweet slightly spicy tomato sauce. They were pretty delicious.

 We ended the meal with pumpkin bread pudding, vanilla ice cream, and a serving of Pumking. It was the perfect combination of late summer and early fall, a meal I feel very  lucky to have shared with such wonderful friends.

Roasted Tomato Shrimp & Grits

grits:

2 cups coarse grits

3 cups water

2 cups heavy cream

2 cups milk

1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese

1/2 tbsp white pepper

1/2 tbsp kosher salt

Juice of 1 lemon

tomato sauce:

2-3 large heirloom tomatoes

3 tbsp salted butter

1/4 cup brown sugar

1 white onion

4-6 strips bacon

1 tbsp hot sauce (I used a habanero sauce)

Dash of salt

Dash of red pepper flakes

Dash of smoked paprika

Dash of pepper

1 pound of fresh, raw, shrimp

In a heavy pan melt butter and brown sugar over VERY low heat. When the butter has browned add in tomatoes, and stir well. Simmer on countertop for 15-20 minutes, and then roast in a 300 degree oven for an additional 20. In another, larger, pan (this is where having a cast iron collection comes in handy) cook bacon. Set aside. Dice onions and cook in bacon drippings over low heat. When the onions are caramelized add in the crumbled bacon, hot sauce, and tomato mixture. Add in seasoning. Continue to simmer.

Clean and peel shrimp. Boil until just barely pink, and then strain and add to the tomato sauce. Simmer all together for an additional 20-30 minutes.

While the sauce is simmering, bring heavy cream and water to a slow boil. Stir in grits and continue stirring as the grits thicken. Once the grits are thick remove from heat and stir in milk, cheese, spices, and lemon juice. Mix together well, cover, and let sit.

Serve a healthy amount of grits topped with a few big scoops of the sauce to your patiently waiting, hungry and excited, dinner guests.

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Carolina Red Rice

This past weekend Dan and I loaded into the car and headed the hour west to Sharpsburg, Maryland, for the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Antietam. Antietam, the bloodiest day of the Civil War, saw 23,000 casualties (defined as dead, wounded, or missing). It remains the bloodiest single day of war in American History. And we were there to see it reenacted.

The reenactment was a first for both of us, and while it was fascinating and impressive to see, the reason we made the trek was because my cousin, Sean, was fighting. Sean is a Charlotte, NC resident who fights in the 88th New York Irish. He got into reenacting recently and, from what we could tell, loved it. The atmosphere was amazing, a mix between a group camping trip and a Renn Fest. Beyond the battle there were food vendors, people selling gear for the reenactors, souvenirs for the tourists, and actual Civil War era artifacts. It was impressive. I’m pretty sure after getting to hold Sean’s bayonet and seeing the camp site Dan is ready to sign up.

As a white Southerner I have very mixed feelings about the Civil War. I am fiercely proud of my heritage, but with that comes the understanding that we have to take responsibility for the events that occurred, and how those events have impacted today’s America. I disagree with the notion that we should just forget what happened, and why it happened, which is why I find reenacting so intriguing. It’s a wonderful way to teach and learn history. And while some argue that it glorifies war and the ideals around which the war was fought, I believe that it helps promote a deeper understanding of the people that fought in those bloody battles and their reasons for fighting.

Coincidentally, a week earlier at my cousin Michael’s wedding, my cousin Mary (Sean’s wife) gave me a collection of Civil War era cookbooks. They ranged from Confederate Home Cooking to Soul on Rice: African Influences on American Cooking and I have loved going through them. Some are recipes I’m familiar with, others are so clearly made for war time or depression (like mock apple pie) it’s incredible.

Last night I made a recipe from Confederate Home Cooking called “Carolina Red Rice.” The flavors were intensely familiar, reminding me of the tomato and rice dishes that Bobbie and my dad would make. Even Dan said that it tasted like childhood, an assortment of flavors so very American that it rang true for both Dan, the Pennsylvanian, and me, the Carolinian.

P.S. Lovers of Confederates in the Attic like myself will appreciate that while we were hanging out with Sean’s unit they TOTALLY described something as “farby.” And I died of excitement.

Carolina Red Rice
Confederate Home Cooking by Patricia B. Mitchell 

1/2 lb bacon

2 cups cooked brown rice

1 large can whole peeled tomatoes

1 tbsp olive oil/butter

1 white onion

Tabasco

Salt & pepper

Cook your rice, set aside. Cook bacon in a skillet. Remove the bacon and crumble. Dice onions and cook in bacon fat. When they are tender, add tomatoes, rice, bacon, and spices. Break apart the tomatoes with a spoon and cook 30-35 minutes.

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Steamed Crabs

Last year my friend Jamie taught Dan and I how to pick crabs the Maryland way. Jamie is a very particular person who feels as strongly as crabs as I do about barbeque. He believes passionately that there is a correct way to steam, pick, and eat fresh blue crabs. And because he’s the expert (and I came to the table with no opinions about crabs), we do as he says. Since he converted us to whole-crab lovers Dan and I have eaten them a few more times, but hadn’t made the jump to preparing them ourselves.

Thankfully Jamie, along with many of our friends and family, see Biscuits and Such as the perfect excuse to experiment in the kitchen, be adventurous, try new things. And while he had grown up watching his parents and grandparents steam crabs he hadn’t actually replicated the process by himself. He suggested it, Dan and I enthusiastically agreed, and this past labor day we tried our hand at steamed crabs.

The Keffer family method goes something like this- combine water, a few seconds’ pour of vinegar, and most of a can of Natty Boh in a large pot. In the steamer basket layer live crabs and a combination of spices. As you can see, this is often more difficult than it sounds.

Most people in the mid-Atlantic will agree that a steamed crab is not a steamed crab without a generous dose of Old Bay, the magical spice blend invented by Jewish immigrant Gustav Brunn (who will soon be immortalized in paper doll form by the ever-amazing Lisa Perrin & the JMM). Old Bay is a mixture of salt, pepper, red pepper, black pepper, and about a thousand other things making its recipe impossible to copy (the genius of Gustav Brunn). Jamie’s recipe combined a thick coating of Old Bay with mustard powder, mustard seed, salt, red pepper, and celery seed.

Once the water has been brought to a boil the crabs start the steaming process (lid on), and 15-20 minutes later, once the crabs are bright red, you’re ready to pick and enjoy!

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