So. Grits have just revolutionized my dinner repertoire. How have I lived until now?? Honestly, I had no intention of making this recipe. I have never made grits, eaten grits, or purchased grits, and it’s possible that I’ve never even seen prepared grits. My cooking preferences run along the lines of healthy, fresh dishes with lots of vegetables and a heavy Mediterranean influence. Southern grits don’t exactly jive with this theme, and it’s not a food that I grew up with at all. Therefore, I was slightly leery of this recipe in Baked Explorations; definitely not on my short-list of recipes to try. But then I thought about it… I am a huge advocate of “breakfast-for-dinner”; in fact, most of my midweek dinner choices are traditionally served more for breakfast. With my busy schedule, it’s rare that I have lots of time to prepare an elaborate dinner after work. I love me some cheese and corn, and the more I considered it, I wondered how this combination could possibly be bad?! Grits just always sounded so greasy/unhealthy/creepy– blech. I do rather enjoy polenta though, which is apparently very similar… Perhaps it just sounds more refined because it’s Italian! And then I also remembered that the point of participating in Baked Sunday Mornings (besides paying homage to my favorite bakery) is to try new and different things. The idea has grown on me over the past week, and by the time I was ready to tackle this week’s recipe, I was actually really excited to make grits for dinner!
The first order of business was locating the proper type of grits. The book contains a note about the difference between stone-ground grits and instant grits, likening the latter to boxed mashed potatoes. I would never fathom the idea of eating potatoes that came from a box! *gasp* Perhaps my long-held prejudice against grits was due to an ill-conceived notion of what grits are; I think I had always pictured instant grits, which seemed wholly unappealing –even repulsive– in their gloppy, frumpy, bland-looking existence. This recipe, however, specifically calls for stone-ground grits, which are coarsely ground grains of corn with the germ (the healthy part of the corn kernels) intact. The package even says “also known as polenta”, which was even more validation that this was going to be a good life choice. I settled on Bob’s Red Mill Southern-Style White Corn Grits.
As I perused the cheese section at the grocery store, all sorts of delicious cheesy deviations sprang to mind: gruyère, goat cheese, asiago, parmesan, muenster, gouda… mmmm… I wanted to stick fairly close to the original recipe when making it for the first time, but I couldn’t resist a little twist– I settled for the prescribed sharp cheddar and chose pepper jack instead of regular Monterey jack. This couldn’t possibly go wrong. Oh, cheesy goodness, come hither… 🙂
And then, my eyes widened when it dawned on me that I could add garlic, sun-dried tomato powder (one of my favorite secret ingredients), or other herbs and spices! I could make grits Mexican-style, Italian-style, Irish-style… endless options! I’m going to table these experiments for next time, but I definitely realize that this dish holds all sorts of scrumptious potential…
Making the grits was pretty easy, though they do take close to an hour from start to finish, and much of that time is active cooking. The raw grits are poured into a boiling brew of whole milk and water, then stirred constantly until the consistency of thick soup is achieved. I found that there was very little between ‘simmer’ and ‘sputtering boil’, so I cooked my mixture on medium-low to avoid multiple grit-inflicted burns. 😉 There are then two more stirring stages of about 15 minutes each, during which the grits get thicker and thicker. I wasn’t really sure what to expect, or exactly what the texture and consistency should be like, but I took it as a good sign that they continued to thicken.
After a total of approximately 30 minutes on the stove, the mixture was about the consistency of thick oatmeal. After another 10 minutes, it resembled the thickness of oatmeal that has been sitting out for a while. (Mmm, doesn’t that sound tasty?) After yet another 5 minutes (total of 45 minutes or so), the mixture started to pull away from the pot when I stirred– this seemed like a very positive indication that my grits were about ready to be infused with the patiently-waiting cheddar and pepper jack cheeses.
I incorporated the cheeses, which melted seamlessly into the grits and turned them from speckled white to speckled light yellow. The corn and cheese fused inextricably into a gooey, stringy mess; it’s like they were made to be together!
After the cheeses had completely blended in, I transferred the mixture to a baking dish for the final, essential step: topping with more cheese and roasting under the broiler. I sprinkled my remaining cheddar and pepper jack on top, wondering if this was too much cheese. (I know– pfffff.) I have broiled meals only a few times in my life, and I’m always a little concerned that my food will get incinerated. I need not have worried– after 3 minutes under the broiler, my cheese was perfectly melted, browned, and gorgeous! 😀
The brief broiler interlude also firmed up the grits to a lovely, semi-solid consistency that is able to be cut with a knife, but is still soft and tender. I decided to serve my mouth-watering, cheesy masterpiece with over-easy eggs– it was breakfast-for-dinner, after all! I quickly made my eggs and slid them onto the mound of grits, chuckling at the fact that I was “styling” my dinner of eggs and grits for their photo shoot! I am very proud of the patience that I exercised while photographing my plate from all angles– after a long day and an hour of anticipation, I was ready to dive into that dish!
I must say that my grits were more heavenly than I could have imagined. I can’t believe I knew nothing of this delightful nourishment prior to this week! Every once in a while, I discover a new food that rocks my culinary world– last year it was farro and the year before that, Brussels sprouts. And now, thanks to BAKED, I have gifted my palate with yet another delicious treat. I shall set forth on a quest to create new and interesting meals inspired by my newfound love of grits!
The recipe for Baked Cheese Grits can be found at Baked Sunday Mornings, as well as the weekly talents of my fellow bakers! Check. It. Out. 🙂