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Goat Cheese Grits

shrimpgritsplate200“These grits taste funny. They’re really good, and I am on my third helping, but they taste funny. How do you make them taste like that?”

The answer at What’s for Supper is goat cheese. Lots and lots of goat cheese.

I can’t remember when I first started adding chèvre to grits, but it has become our standard whenever the taste of the grits needs to be a major part of the dining experience. Which is to point out that grits are almost always a tasty side dish, if made correctly. Instant grits in hot water with margarine is not what I mean by correct.

I use non-instant, non-quick grits, first of all. Those that require 20 minutes or so to cook. Then, I cook them in milk and cream to a fairly dry, not soupy, consistency. This means they will stay where you put them on a plate, and not spread out. A spoon inserted in the center of the pot will remain bolt upright, supported by grits.

After they are cooked and seasoned, we add butter and one or more logs of good chèvre. We let these meld a bit and finish with more heavy cream. You won’t get any thinner eating a batch of these, but you will be very satisfied.

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Cauliflower – My Comfort Food

Warm, comforting cauliflower with cheese and tomato sauce.
As the weather begins to cool, the leaves to fall and night to come earlier, the body and the belly crave warming food. And when you think about comfort food, the food your mama used to make when you came in from playing outside, your thoughts and cravings naturally turn to cauliflower, right? No? Well, in our family it did. All of us were treated, or subjected (depending on your age and rank in the family) to the cook’s (that would be me) love for cauliflower, tomatoes and cheese.

I first found the dish in a vegetarian cookbook, though not one that advocated low-fat, no-animal-product cooking. The cauliflower is broken into florets and dumped on top of some sautéing onions then stirred over high heat with lots of pepper and lots of dried basil. When just starting to soften, crushed tomatoes and a little red wine are added. The cauliflower softens a bit more. Then, you make a simple béchamel with butter and flour and milk, stir in lots of grated cheddar and add to the mix. A sharper cheese, like an Italian Pecorino, makes it nicer.

I was surprised at how good this turned out the first time I made it. After the fiftieth on sixtieth time, I know what to expect. This is food that beckons you back to the pot on the stove after you’ve finished the portion on your plate. And, it’s really a healthy thing to eat. You should try it sometime. It’s delicious and you’ll be all warm inside.

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Alone at the Bar

If you’re by yourself in a city where you’ve never been, where no one knows you, and you’re tired, hungry, and in need of a glass of wine, where do you go? Do you get in your car and drive to the nearest chain? Do you wander downstairs to your hotel’s restaurant – often convenient to its karaoke bar? Do you, heaven forbid, eat fast food? By no means.

Here’s what you do: you find out the name of the finest restaurant in town, and you go in. Unannounced. No reservation. You don’t need no reservation! You’re sitting at the bar.

The experience is more often than not delightful. You get served a drink immediately – no trivial matter if you are in need. There is a good chance that you’ll be seated next to interesting and garrulous people, and you can dine.

Think about it. You can’t be a bartender in one of these places without being one of those wonderful people who have a highly refined sense of the needs of others – in this case you. They are fast, attentive, careful to keep your glass full and right there when you need them to be.

When I was traveling often, I had wonderful bar meals at wonderful restaurants like Spiaggia in Chicago, Gary Danko in San Francisco and Spago in Los Angeles. Two weeks ago in Atlanta, I did it again. This time at the Woodfire Grill. This restaurant gets local food in season and prepares it like southerners. Southerners who happen to be incredible cooks. They have an outrageously good wine list, weighted towards French and other old world wines, and they know what goes well with what. I tried their tasting menu with wines paired for each dish and found the interesting and garrulous people I had hoped to meet. In this case, we became friendly enough to share a taste of each of our separate dishes.

So the next time, you see a solitary soul staring at his drink at the bar. Don’t feel sorry for him. He’s having the time of his life!

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Shrimp Head Stock

Though not all the world’s fine cuisines began as peasant food, many owe some of their most unique creations to the ingenuity of some poor man or woman trying desperately not to starve. Some very hungry man ate the first raw oyster. Another, lacking an oven or a knife, coated a dead chicken in mud and built a fire on top of it. In Louisiana, they boiled shrimp heads and skins so that they’d have something left after the good part was gone.

These Cajuns, bless their poor peasant hearts, created one of the finest stocks in the world. I had the honor of making one the other day, courtesy of Huntsville’s newest, and possibly its only, seafood market that sells shrimp with the heads still on. An aside in case you didn’t know – shrimp heads fall off after three days or so. You can sell shrimp with no heads a lot longer. Think about that when you’re shopping for shrimp.

Back to the stock. Drop the shrimp heads and skins in a pot of hot olive oil and toss with paprika and black pepper. Cook until everything is pink. Add a bottle of white wine and cook till it’s reduced. Add vegetables, spices, water and boil slowly for an hour or so. The result is this rich, red powerful stock. So strong it’s what you’d use to revive a dying man.

And here’s how to put the stock to good use. Make a butter roux – butter and flour stirred until caramel colored – toss in the Cajun trinity – onions, celery, bell peppers – stir in crushed tomatoes and corn and then a generous portion of the shrimp head stock. Let it bubble for a long time and then, just before you serve, dump in the shrimp whose heads you recently removed.

Serve it only to people you really like, or to people who have paid you to make it. Both will be very, very happy.