Cheddar Cheese Grits Casserole

It just dawned on me that Thanksgiving Day is 5 weeks and 1 day away.

Say WHAT?

Whoa. Dare I say I’m ready for it? I truly am, because this holiday season is going to be epic. J and I have a few options this year, as the posse will be away from home again. Oh, it’s ok, don’t feel sad for me, because Thanksgiving, to me, is akin to a Sunday Dinner. Which means, quite frankly, you can do it any day of the year. Everyone comes together, there’s lots of chatter, reminiscing, sharing, love, family, and of course, copious amounts of food and wine.

Wait, that sounded like my birthday week in Vegas…..

Anyway, as I said, it’s not a holiday that has monumental sentiment for me (that would be Christmas, and you can bet your last dollar they will be home with us for that!), but don’t think for one minute that I don’t get sucked into every glossy magazine showing off their finest and most delectable dishes for the season.

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With 98% of my cookbooks/baking magazines still  in storage, I’m having to exercise tremendous self control not to buy each and every one of them. Actually, I told Sabrina this morning that next week, we will break into the storage unit and start pulling out holiday lights and a few boxes of books.

Yes, I’m one of those people that starts decorating in November. Like November 1. 

Cheddar Cheese Grits Casserole – adapted form Southern Living

  • 4 cups milk
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1 cup uncooked quick-cooking grits
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 2 1/2 cups shredded sharp Cheddar cheese
  • 1/2 tsp fresh ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 350°. Bring milk just to a boil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat; gradually whisk in butter and grits. Reduce heat, and simmer, whisking constantly, 5 to 7 minutes or until grits are done. Remove from heat.Stir in egg, cheese, and pepper. ingredients. Pour into a lightly greased 11- x 7-inch baking dish. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until mixture is set. Serve immediately.

Roasted Cauliflower and Ricotta Pizza

I have a very complex and complicated relationship with homemade pizza. I have multiple kitchen gadgets (dough docker, iron pizza stone, and mini pizza oven, to name just a few) to assist me in the creation/baking process, yet I am invariably disappointed with the results. Either the crust is flavorless, underdone, overdone, lacking that wonderful crispy/chewy bite you get from restaurant style pizza, or is just plain blahhhh.

Until now. 

This recipe, from the current issue of Bon Appetit, was foolproof and delicious. The crust had the perfect ratio of crunchy edges to chewy middle, the topping was outstanding, and although there were a few steps to creating this masterpiece (i.e don’t attempt it for a weeknight dinner unless you have all the components prepped ahead of time), it was well worth every bit of time and effort to make it.

In fact, I think I’m going to try one of the other variations for tonight’s dinner.

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Roasted Cauliflower and Ricotta Pizza – adapted from Bon Appetit

  • 1 head cauliflower, cut into small florets
  • 1 lemon, cut into quarters, seeded
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Breadcrumbs

  • 1 cup finely ground breadcrumbs
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 2 ounces Parmesan, finely grated (about ½ cup)

Assembly

  • Cauliflower:

Preheat oven to 400°. Toss cauliflower, lemon, and garlic with oil on a large rimmed baking sheet; season with salt and pepper.
Roast, tossing occasionally, until cauliflower is tender but not browned, about 20 minutes. Squeeze lemon juice over cauliflower and toss to coat. Discard lemon and garlic, if desired.
  • Breadcrumbs

Meanwhile, toss breadcrumbs and oil on a large rimmed baking sheet; toast, tossing occasionally, until golden brown, 6–8 minutes. Let cool; toss with Parmesan.

  • Assembly

Place a rack in lower third of oven and preheat to 525° or as high as oven will go.
Once dough has risen in baking sheet, top with mozzarella, dot with ricotta, and top with cauliflower mixture. Bake until golden brown and crisp on bottom and sides, 20–30 minutes. Top pie with toasted breadcrumbs and bake 1 minute longer.

Serve topped with parsley.

 

Collard Green Gratin

Prior to our big move to Texas, I never would have thought to try collard greens. I could blame ignorance, apathy, or my personal favorite, my unyielding force of habit to always reach for either spinach or arugula.

Silly girl.

I really wish I had been enlightened to their deliciousness sooner in life. Not as bitter as rapini or swiss chard, and with a texture similar to escarole, these greens are good and good for you.

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That was my sales pitch to the posse, in case you were wondering why I sounded like I was selling something.

Really though, anytime you take crisp greens, sauté them with onions and garlic, and smother them in a homemade white cheddar cheese bechamel sauce, you can’t lose.

Well, at the end of the day, I guess I did, because Sabrina ate the last of gratin yesterday when she came home from school ….. and now there’s none left.

Collard Green Gratin – adapted from epicurious

  • 1 cup coarse fresh breadcrumbs
  • 2 tbs. butter
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup sharp white cheddar cheese
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 1 lb. bag chopped collard greens
  • 1 large onion, thinly sliced
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tbs. unsalted butter
  • 2 tbs. all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups whole milk

Combine breadcrumbs and 2 tablespoons butter in a medium skillet; toast over medium heat, tossing occasionally, until golden brown and crisp, 10–15 minutes. Remove from heat and season with pepper.

Heat 4 tablespoons oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and cook, stirring often, until softened and golden, about 10 minutes. Add greens and cook until wilted, about 5-6 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add flour and cook, whisking constantly, until mixture is smooth and very pale brown, about 4 minutes. Whisk in milk, and bring to a boil. Whisk in cheese, and pour the sauce over the collard greens mixture and mix to combine; season with pepper.

Pour the mixture into a large gratin dish and top with the toasted breadcrumbs. Bake until the gratin is bubbling – about 15-20 minutes.

 

Samosas

These little devils…… innocent as they may seem, they almost caused me to have a breakdown of sorts.

Interestingly enough, it was neither the filling nor the preparation of the dough that caused my inner turmoil.

It was forming them. 

I couldn’t get the hang of shaping them the way the recipe instructs… so rather than throw everything out the window, I took a piece of advice from Sabrina and made them into a mezzaluna shape.

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Which made me wonder…. is it possible to commit a cross-cultural offense by using an Italian shape for an Indian snack food?

Samosas – adapted from Saveur

Note: I baked these at 375 degrees instead of frying them.

3 cups flour
8 tbsp. unsalted butter, cubed and chilled
¾ cup ice-cold water
½ lb. russet potatoes, peeled and roughly chopped
2 carrots, roughly chopped
2 tbsp. canola oil, plus more
1 tsp. cumin seeds
1 small yellow onion, minced
1 (1″) piece ginger, peeled and minced
¾ cup frozen peas, defrosted
¼ cup minced cilantro
¼ cup minced mint
½ tsp. garam masala
2 small green Thai chiles or 1 serrano, minced
Tamarind and mango chutneys, for serving (optional)

1. Make the dough: Pulse flour and butter in a food processor into pea-size crumbles. Add water; pulse until dough forms. Divide into 12 balls; chill 1 hour.

2. Make the filling: Boil potatoes and carrots in a 4-qt. saucepan of salted water until tender, 8–10 minutes. Drain; coarsely mash. Add 2 tbsp. oil to pan; heat over medium-high. Cook cumin seeds until they pop, 1–2 minutes. Add onion and ginger; cook until golden, 4–6 minutes. Let cool; stir into potato mixture with peas, cilantro, mint, garam masala, and chile.

3. Form and fry samosas: Working with 1 ball at a time, roll dough into a 6″ round; cut in half. Gather straight edges of 1 half-round together, overlapping by ¼” to form a cone. Moisten seam with water; press to seal. Spoon 1 tbsp. filling into cone. Moisten edges of cone with water; pinch to seal. Heat 2″ oil in a 6-qt. saucepan until a deep-fry thermometer reads 350°. Fry samosas until crisp, 8–10 minutes. Drain on paper towels; serve with chutneys if you like.

 

Zucchini Fritters

About a month ago, Sabrina and I took a fun little road trip to Central Market in downtown Austin. Once inside, we spent a good 20 minutes perusing the fresh pepper/chile section, which included a lengthy dialogue with another shopper on the virtues of mild versus spicy peppers.

In our home, it’s #spicyforthewin!

* ahem *

Anyway, we purchased what we thought were Shishito Peppers (more on that later), and several zucchini that were so large they were almost considered obscene.

Which brings upon an important goal for me… (no, not the obscene part!)…. I can’t wait to have a garden at the ranch. I know it probably sounds corny coming from a city girl such as myself, but having the ability to walk outside, and pick fresh herbs/vegetables simply sounds so….. resplendent.

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Of course, I’ll probably be cursing the prolific zucchini by the seasons’ end, but that’s a chance I’m willing to take.

Zucchini Fritters – adapted from Saveur

1 lb. zucchini, grated
½ cup minced flat-leaf parsley
½ cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
½ cup dried bread crumbs
1 medium yellow onion, grated
1 egg, beaten
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Pinch of cayenne, to taste
Olive oil or canola oil, for frying

Place grated zucchini to a tea towel; squeeze out liquid. Mix zucchini, parsley, cheese, bread crumbs, onions, and egg in a bowl. Season with pepper and cayenne; divide mixture into 12 balls. Press balls into ¾”-thick patties.2. Pour oil into a 4-qt. pot to a depth of 2″; heat over medium-high heat until a deep-fry thermometer reads 315°. Working in 2 batches, fry patties until browned and crisp, 5–6 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer fritters to paper towels.

Tater Tots

Another food item my beloved J has a thing for, are tater tots.

Like Oreo’s, but in potato form.

Somehow, that just doesn’t sound right.

Anyhoo, I saw this recipe in Bon Appetit – and since it doesn’t take much to convince me to break out the deep fryer, I collected the few ingredients needed and had these ready in a flash.
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Make no mistake – these are miles away from the frozen variety you’ll find in the store, far superior in flavor and texture. Honestly, they aren’t time consuming or difficult to make, plus you can make them ahead of time and chill the prepared tots until you are ready to fry.

Because just about everything is better deep fried.

Including Oreo’s. 

Oh yes…..yes I did…. that post is coming up soon…….

Homemade Tater Tots – adapted from Bon Appetit

  • 3 medium russet potatoes (about 2 pounds), scrubbed
  • 2 scallions, chopped
  • 1/2 cup seasoned Italian breadcrumbs
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1 tbs sour cream or plain yogurt
  • 1 tbs unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 tsp granulated garlic
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tbs. grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 large eggs, beaten to blend
  • Vegetable oil (for frying; about 3 cups)

Preheat oven to 400°. Prick potatoes all over with a fork and bake directly on oven rack until very soft when squeezed, 60–75 minutes. Let cool slightly.

Cut potatoes in half and scoop flesh into a medium bowl; discard skins. Mash, then mix in scallions, breadcrumbs, cream, sour cream, butter, granulated garlic, pepper, and 2 tablespoons Parmesan. Mix in eggs just until combined. Roll 1-tablespoon portions of potato mixture into balls.

Pour oil into a medium skillet to a depth of 1/2″ and heat over medium heat until bubbles form immediately when a little potato mixture is added. Working in batches, fry tots until deep golden brown, about 3 minutes per side. Drain on paper towels; season with salt.

Hush Puppies

Having spent my formative years in Southern California, there are a few specialty food items I’ve come across recently that I am not familiar with.

Right off the top of my head, grits, chicken fried steak and kolaches are at the beginning of the list. And while I’m pretty sure they’re not native to Texas (that would be barbecue, I think), it’s been an interesting culinary adventure since we moved to Austin. And since I’m always open to new ideas and trying new foods, let the record show that I did try rattlesnake this year.

It was….. different… very, very different.

Anyway, slithering foods aside, when this recipe for Hush Puppies popped into my inbox, I was intrigued not only by the name, but the lore behind them. According to my research, they were thrown by Southern cooks to the dogs underfoot, to keep them quiet while food was being prepared.

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My question is, though, why would you throw a delicious chunk of deep-fried-crunchy-yummy-goodness to the dogs? Why should they get all the good stuff? Especially our dogs. One bite of people food and Daisy is sick for days.

That, however, is not a conversation for today. 

Or any day.

These however, were fun, addictive, and definitely not one for the dogs.

Hush Puppies – adapted from Saveur

2 cups yellow cornmeal
1 cup flour
2 tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. kosher salt
4 tsp. baking powder
1 cup buttermilk
¼ cup melted butter
¼ tsp. hot sauce
1 medium yellow onion, minced
Canola oil, for frying

1. In a large bowl, whisk together cornmeal, flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder. In a medium bowl, whisk together buttermilk, butter, hot sauce, onion, and ¼ cup water. Add buttermilk mixture to dry ingredients and stir together with a spoon; let sit for 10 minutes.

2. Pour oil to a depth of 2″ in a 6-qt. Dutch oven and heat over medium-high heat until a deep-fry thermometer reads 375°. Transfer batter to a piping bag fitted with a ¾″-diameter round tip. Working in batches, pipe and cut 3″-long logs of batter into oil; fry until golden brown, 1–2 minutes. Transfer to paper towels to drain. Season with salt and serve hot.