Easy Cheddar Grits

Easy Cheddar Grits
 
Oh all right, here is the easy grits recipe. But it will not be my fault if you make these one cold December morning and need new pants in a bigger size come March. It will not. Save this for special occasions . . . like right before a long hibernation, maybe.
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Ingredients
  • 1 cup instant grits (Real southerners will tell you that instant grits are a sin. But since I am not a real southerner, I won’t and you will never be the wiser.)
  • Pint of heavy cream (You won’t need it all but you might want some in your coffee, too. Why not go all the way, while you’re at this?)
  • Bunch of scallions
  • Hunk of or ⅓–½ cup cheddar cheese, grated
  • A little good Parmesan Reggiano for sprinkling
Instructions
  1. Make a cup of grits according to the recipe on the instant box, only don’t use water. Nosiree. Stir in cream. Yep, cream. Just drizzle it in a little at a time. They will soak up the cream and need more. You can use half cream and half milk or half cream and finish with half-and-half. But what you want is thick and sinfully rich. With instant, this is the only way to achieve it.
  2. In another pan, sauté a bunch of finely chopped scallions in butter or oil.
  3. When the grits are almost cooked through, add the scallions and the cheddar cheese. You want an aged Vermont cheddar for this. Or you could use a Cheshire from West River Creamery in Vermont called Londonderry. It is a traditional clothbound Cheshire that will make this so good you will cry. They do a farmhouse cheddar, called Cambridge, that is also rich and tangy. I get them at the farmer’s market, but I bet you can get them on the web, too.
  4. When the grits are cooked all the way through, add salt and freshly ground pepper to taste and pour everything into a pie pan. Sprinkle the Parm on top and bake in a 350ºF oven for about 30 minutes, or until golden and bubbly, whichever comes sooner.
  5. Remove it from the oven and let it settle. In a few minutes, you will be able to slice it like pie. People will think you slaved for hours. They will praise you over and over and then they will need a little nap.

 

Summer Watermelon Salad

Summer Watermelon Salad
 
Here’s another cheese-laden summer salad that will let you eat cheese and not feel too guilty about it either. Not like cheese grits, which maybe I won’t even include, ’cause just writing about them adds on pounds.
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Ingredients
  • One small watermelon
  • Arugula—a big bunch of it
  • Oil-cured black olives, pitted, about 4 ounces
  • Feta cheese, about 4–6 ounces
  • Chopped nuts, ½ cup-ish (optional)
  • Good balsamic for drizzling
  • Sea salt
  • Freshly ground pepper
Instructions
  1. First you buy those watermelons you saw by the side of the road. There were only four. Probably all they had. So go back and get ’em all. This recipe will help you use them up.
  2. Cube one small to medium melon and add a big bunch of Arugula gently torn, black oily olives, and some of that amazing creamy farmstand goat feta (it is soft and silky sweet, with just a hint of earth and maybe spice—God, it’s good), also broken up. Maybe add a few chopped pecans or walnuts.
  3. Drizzle with a little good balsamic and some sea salt and freshly ground pepper.
  4. Oh my. That’s all. Just oh my.

 

Panzanella

Panzanella
 
Here’s one to use with your blue cheese. It is marginally healthier than the last one.
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Ingredients
  • Baguette . . . crusty and fresh
  • 1–2 tablespoons olive oil, depending on how big your baguette is
  • Garlic cloves, crushed for rubbing
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Arugula (you know, enough for a salad for two plus a little more)
  • Mixed greens (about half of one of those bags you can get in most supermarkets)
  • Tomatoes . . . medium-sized and heirloom, preferably. Brandywines are delicious here . . . 2 or 3 depending on size
  • Oil-cured olives—lots of these
  • ½ jar of capers, drained—about 3 or 4 ounces, I imagine
  • Good blue cheese
  • Good thick balsamic
Instructions
  1. Tear your lovely peasant-style crusty baguette into rough cubes and coat with a little olive oil, then rub with garlic cloves and salt and pepper.
  2. Put bread cubes on an oil-coated cookie sheet and bake for about half an hour at 350ºF.
  3. Toss your greens, arugula and mixed, and those black oily olives, and the drained capers (you might want a whole jar), and some interesting cow’s-milk blue. We have a dairy here with one called Bailey Blue that would be just perfect. It is soft and creamy but not so wet that you can’t crumble it.
  4. Add your croutons (those hunks of baguette you have been baking) and tomatoes, then drizzle with that good thick balsamic you have been saving, and your summer supper on the porch is ready to eat. If you are married to a someone or you are someone who wants a little grilled meat on a balmy summer night . . . grill a tenderloin with a hard sear and plenty of salt and lots of fresh pepper to about medium . . . pink and hot in the middle . . . and slice it thinly over the salad. If you add beef you may want to add some very thinly sliced red onions too. Just about half an onion’s worth should do it.
  5. You could substitute a Chilean sea bass for another version of goodness . . . or tuna, either one . . . cook skin-side down on the grill for 30 minutes only. Again, lots of salt and more pepper . . .
  6. You might need to get a cheap bottle of Garnacha—I love Evodia. You may wind up necking under the stars out there but so long as you have waited until mid-June the mayflies will be gone and you will have a fine time.

 

Vermont Mac & Cheese

Vermont Mac & Cheese
 
This one will not make you skinny, but it will make you happy.
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Ingredients
  • About a pound of macaroni
  • A couple of tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 ounces thick cured bacon, preferably from local happy pigs
  • 5 cups whole milk, preferably raw
  • ¼ cup sweet butter
  • About ½ cup flour
  • About 1 cup grated hard cheese (I like a local Parmesan when I can get it. Aged two years, if available)
  • 1½ cups grated Gruyère (sheep or goat is especially lovely here in the mountains. Older cheeses have that wonderful nutty flavor)
  • 1½ cups grated Vermont sharp cheddar (How sharp? Really SHARP . . . and from cow’s milk)
  • 1½ teaspoons good salt (less or more to taste)
  • ½ teaspoon fresh ground pepper
  • ½ teaspoon nutmeg
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F.
  2. Cook the macaroni al dente in salty water. Drain, toss with the olive oil, and set aside in a large mixing bowl.
  3. Add the bacon to a small skillet and sauté over medium heat until brown, but not crisp, about 10 minutes. Drain, then add to the cooked macaroni.
  4. In a medium saucepan, bring the milk just to a foamy boil, then reduce the heat to very low.
  5. In another saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. When the foam subsides, remove from the heat. Whisk in the flour and continue stirring until a smooth, pale roux has formed. Return the saucepan to medium heat and, while whisking steadily, begin ladling the hot milk into the roux, 1 cup at a time, completely incorporating each cup before adding the next. After all the milk has been added, continue to whisk until the sauce thickens and bubbles gently, about 2 minutes. Add the hard cheese, half the Gruyère, and all of the cheddar, along with the salt and pepper and nutmeg. Stir until the cheese has completely melted.
  6. Pour the sauce over the macaroni, mix thoroughly, and pour into a buttered 10-by-14-inch gratin dish. Back in the oven for 12 minutes. Remove, sprinkle the remaining cup of Gruyère over the top, and continue baking for an additional 10 minutes until the top is golden and crunchy.