Vivian Howard’s Grits Changed My Life

By now, the festivities of the holiday season are behind us, and the new year is ahead.  The kids are out of school, I’m off work and we’re all enjoying our Christmas presents.

This year, my husband took my advice and went to Southern Season to find a gift for me.  I knew as soon as I saw the logo on the side of the rustic wooden crate – “Vivian Howard for Southern Season” – that I was going to love whatever was inside.  I’ve been a fan of Chef Howard’s since becoming addicted to her PBS show, “A Chef’s Life” earlier this year.  In the crate were a jar of Boat Street Pickled Figs and a bag of Old School Brand grits, along with a recipe card explaining how to “Pimp My Grits.”

Now let me just take a minute to explain that I am a Richmond, Virginia born and raised, Southern, grits-loving girl.  I’ve been eating grits my whole life, so I know a thing or two about good grits.  I remember my mom making pots of grits on the stove when I was little – delicious, thick and savory with a couple of pats of butter or some sausage and cheese thrown in.  I’ve been known to routinely eat instant grits for breakfast at work, and I’ve extolled the virtues of good ‘ol Southern grits to my Northerner friends and acquaintances.  I’ve eaten grits in some amazing restaurants, and I love my favorite Richmond grits:  Croaker’s Spot’s cheddar ranch grits (absolutely divine served with their fried fish).

With all that being said, Vivian Howard’s “pimped” grits quite literally changed my life.

It starts with the quality of the grits themselves, and there’s a huge difference between even my favorite store brand, House Autry, and the stone-ground Old School grits.  Then I discovered that Chef Howard uses milk (though she mentioned that you can use other liquids – water, or stock for savory grits).  I don’t know why, but I’ve never thought to use milk in my grits.  Lesson learned.

FullSizeRender (1)

Next, forget the old adage about a watched pot never boiling.  If you’re making grits, you’re watching your pot, though Chef Howard does offer the advice of using a double boiler if you don’t want to constantly stand and whisk – with the downside being that that method could take up to two hours (ain’t nobody got time for that!).  In went the grits and milk, on went the heat.

FullSizeRender (2)

Next is the labor-intensive part.  You want the grits to heat up almost to a boil, then stay on a simmer while they thicken.  This means near-constant whisking to keep the milk from scalding and the grits from burning to the bottom of the pot.  You want a nice, thick texture before you pull them off the heat, then Chef Howard instructs to add cream.

At this point, you can pour them into a bowl and “pimp” them.  I took Vivian’s suggestion and topped mine with a couple of pats of butter, crumbled oven-baked bacon, pickled figs and freshly-grated Parmesan.

FullSizeRender (4)  FullSizeRender (5)

And there you have it – Vivian Howard’s pimped grits!  The combination of the salty, crispy bacon and Parmesan with the sweet and sour taste of the figs was the perfect match for the creamy grits.  I don’t know that I will ever make grits the same old way again.

FullSizeRender (6)

Happy holidays, and best wishes to all for a happy, healthy and prosperous 2015!

Advertisements

Charleston Fried Chicken for Sunday Supper

A good deal on a whole chicken at my local Food Lion + reading famed Charleston, SC gardener Emily Whaley’s “Mrs. Whaley Entertains” = delicious fried chicken for Sunday supper.

Seriously, the hardest part about making fresh fried chicken from scratch was figuring out how to cut up the fryer (and I found a YouTube video to help).

Once the chicken is cut up, you rub it with salt, pepper, garlic powder and onion powder, then mix up two eggs and a cup of milk.  Dredge the chicken in the milk/egg mixture, then add to a paper bag containing one cup of flour and whatever spices you want (I used my homemade Cajun spice blend).  Shake up the chicken and you’re ready to fry!

The most important part of frying chicken is to make sure your oil is at the right temperature.  If your oil is at the point where it’s snapping and popping, you’re good to go.  Drop the chicken pieces into a cast-iron skillet or deep pot filled with a quart of cooking oil.  Cook about 8 minutes per side, turning once halfway through.  Remove with tongs and let the cooked pieces drain on paper towels while you cook the other chicken pieces.

There’s nothing like a juicy piece of fresh fried chicken on a hot Southern summer day!

ETA:  Totally didn’t even realize it was officially “Fried Chicken Day!”