Monday, March 26, 2012

Cheesy grits

In the RL weekly breakfast rotation, Monday belongs to Savory Cheddar Oatmeal. Until I ran out of oats a couple of weeks ago, that is. Since then, I’ve been trying to make some space in the pantry (via my insides) and simultaneously branch out in my exploration of some things that I have bought on a whim but have not since used to their full potential.

Those motivations were how, without really intending to, I made myself grits for breakfast last week. Or at least a reasonable facsimile of grits.

Grits, for those of you who don’t already know, is a breakfast porridge made from coarsely ground corn or hominy (which is corn that has been treated with alkali, via a process called nixtamalization, improving its nutritional value), cooked in boiling liquid, seasoned to taste, and served hot. Left to cool, it congeals and becomes firm enough to slice and fry. It is of Native American origin, and mainly available today in the regional cooking of the American South. It is similar in composition and texture to polenta.

Since my exposure to grits has been minimal (even though technically I’ve been living in the South for nearly two years), it wasn’t until I was well into consuming my breakfast that it dawned on me that it wasn’t original or even very unusual; merely another update of a dish so old that probably no one will ever know who first devised it.

Yankeefied cheesy grits
Most recipes for grits (and porridges generally) seem to call for cooking the grains in water, but I always use milk for at least half the liquid. It bumps up the nutritional value and the flavor.

1 part cornmeal*
3-4 parts milk or other liquid of your choice**
1-2 oz/30-60 g sharp cheddar cheese, thinly sliced or shredded
1-2 strips bacon, cooked and crumbled
salt & freshly ground black pepper

Combine the cornmeal and liquid in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-low heat. Lower the heat and simmer, stirring often, until nearly all the liquid has been absorbed and the cornmeal is cooked to a consistency that you like. (You may need to add more liquid than the amount specified here if you like your grits mushier than I do.)

When you are satisfied with the grits’ consistency, add the remaining ingredients and stir to distribute throughout the mixture. Taste for seasoning.

Serve hot. (I often eat mine straight out of the pan. Saves on washing up.)

Serves 1. Can be multiplied. Leftovers are great sliced, fried up in bacon fat, and served as part of a subsequent breakfast.

* I used about half a cup of coarsely ground cornmeal to make this batch. It would have fed 2 people easily.
** For this batch, about 2 cups/500 ml of liquid.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

International relations

I, a peripatetic Northeastern expat living in the American Midwest, came across this recipe for chocolate-chocolate-chip cookies on a Canadian food blog. She had picked them up from an NYC food blog (or should I say the NYC food blog), who had in turn found them in a cookbook by a Francophile American, who had gotten them from a well-known Parisian chef who, apparently, came up with the original recipe. First published as Korova cookies, they are now more commonly known, at least in the food blogosphere, as World Peace Cookies for their purported ability to spread peace and harmony wherever they are baked and shared.

I am not prepared to make any lofty claims about their ability to resolve interpersonal or international disputes of any kind, but I can say with confidence that, after many years of looking for a chocolate cookie recipe to call my own, I look forward to settling down with this one.

World peace cookies
As originated (and tweaked) by all of the above
My main contributions to this multinational recipe are: 1) to add metric weight conversions for those who don’t use the US cup-and-spoon volume system and 2) to replace the slice-and-bake method with the cookie-scoop-and-bake-or-freeze-unbaked method.

2½ cups/300 g all-purpose/plain flour
2/3 cup/80 g cocoa powder
1 tsp/5 g baking soda
1¼ cups/2½ sticks/283 g butter, softened
1 1/3 cups/265 g packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup/105 g granulated/caster sugar
1/2 tsp/3 g salt
2 tsp/10 ml vanilla
1½ cups/270 g chocolate chips or chunks

Line a baking sheet with parchment. If you are going to bake immediately, preheat the oven to 325F/160C.

Mix first three ingredients in a small bowl and set aside. Cream together butter and sugars until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes with a hand mixer. Add salt and vanilla, and beat for another 2 minutes.

Add the dry ingredients and mix gently, until it has mostly come together. Fold in the chocolate chips and make sure that they are distributed evenly through the dough.

Using a cookie scoop or similar sized utensil, scoop 1-inch (2.5 cm) balls of cookie dough onto the baking sheet, leaving about an inch (2.5 cm) between. You now have two options:

Option 1: Baking
Place the cookies in the oven and bake for 10-12 minutes, rotating the sheet(s) halfway through. At the 10-minute mark, whack the baking sheet on a hard surface to deflate the cookies, if you like them more chewy.

Option 2: Freezing
Place the filled baking sheet in the freezer for 20-30 minutes to flash-freeze the cookies, then place in a heavy-duty freezer storage bag. Can be baked from frozen; will take 12-14 minutes following instructions above.

Makes at least 4 dozen cookies.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Kale salad

We have returned to something like a semblance of normality around here, following last week’s invasion of the earth movers. This was the result of our main waste pipe packing it in, and resulted in a total shutdown of our water and gas, our removal a hotel for three days, a backyard that still looks like a natural disaster, and a bill that has not yet arrived but is anticipated with dread.

To celebrate my gratitude at returning to my beloved domestic routine, I offer a salad that I have made at least once a week for the past year. After years of valiantly trying to feel enthusiastic about having a big, healthy salad for lunch (and failing when the option of a toastie was always just so much more appealing), I have discovered the wonders of a salad made with raw kale. These are threefold:

1. You can make it ahead of time—in fact it’s better that way—and it retains its crunch and snap. For days, even.
2. It actually fills me up. Unlike every other salad I have tried to make into lunch, which, unless I load it with so much cheese that its health benefits are rendered negligible, leaves me ravenous by 3pm.
3. Kale is way cheaper than spinach or most fancy lettuces, and you don’t need as much of it to fill you up.

I know a lot of people are skeptical about the idea of eating raw kale, but I have made this for dozens of guests in the past year, and served it without divulging any details. People go out of their way to compliment this salad, including self-confessed salad haters.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Clementine cake

Having a chatty seven-year-old around the house means (at least around my house) a steady stream of challenging questions, random opinions, and non sequiturs. It’s fascinating to me to watch the ongoing development of someone else’s brain, even if my own is hard pressed to keep up at times.

Here is a random selection of recent exchanges:

While driving in the car, in silence, listening to music (The Doors, Miss B’s current favorite, though not germane to this story)
Miss B: Mum, you know that old lady in the movie (Madagascar 2, which we had watched a day or two earlier)? All those people she was with were grown-ups. Why was she treating them like kids?
Me: Uh … (lengthy pause, followed by an attempt to explain relative age difference, using both a 2-year-old friend and her 100-year-old great-aunt as illustrative examples)

While watching some other children’s movie on television that I already forget
Miss B: Mum, what’s a bargain?
Me: If I said to you, ‘I’ll give you something, and you give me something else.’
Miss B: Yeah…like four potatoes for a horse!

And the following, all raised during breakfast in the last week—clearly Miss B’s brain wakes up earlier than mine does

Miss B: (studying the Rice Krispies box while eating cereal) Mum, what is snow for Rice Krispies if they are so tiny?
Me: Zuh?

Miss B: Mum, what if I was a frog?
Me: Um…you would live in a pond and eat a lot of flies?
Miss B: Yes! And I would eat fly cereal and fly cupcakes!

Miss B: Mum, we have to make a robot for school! Out of cans and other things that go in recycling.
Mum: Okay, I’ll save some stuff and we’ll do that later in the week.
Miss B: Okay….What about the toes?

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