20 January 2010

Glorious Grits

Susan McEwen McIntosh came to write Glorious Grits honestly. Several years ago her parents traveled to the Smokey Mountains where they visited an old-fashioned water-turned gristmill. There was a gift shop selling products from the mill and McIntosh’s father, who owns a hardware store, learned that the owner of the gristmill was also in the hardware business.

Dad brought back stone ground grits to his children and a bright idea to his son Frank who ran the hardware and feed store -- Buy a gristmill and grind grits. Frank said he would think about it. He thought it over and made the investment. He delivered several bags of his grits to restaurants in the Birmingham area and soon his phone began ringing. Word spread and before long, McEwen & Sons grits were turning up in restaurants all around the South.

Frank called his sister, Susan, a food writer and asked for help with some recipes. Chefs around the country were developing new recipes for grits. Southern Living wanted to know when McIntosh was going to write a book. She did. Glorious Grits features not only her recipes but also recipes from chefs far and wide. I always tell people I know 10,000 ways to make grits, but there are recipes in here even I didn't think of.

In Alabama, we love our cheese straws. Next time you are thinking of baking them give this recipe a try. These lovely crackers are a great way to slip grits into an everyday recipe. This recipe needs a fine cornmeal, so if you use a heavier stone-ground variety you might want to sift it.

Cheddar-Pecan Crackers

1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon water
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup finely ground or sifted stone-ground yellow or white cornmeal
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper
1/4 cup cold butter, cut into small pieces
1/2 cup (2 ounces) shredded extra sharp Cheddar cheese
1/2 cup finely chopped pecans
3 to 4 teaspoons cold water

Preheat oven to 375F. Combine egg and 1 tablespoon water, stirring until blended; set aside.

Combine flour and the next 4 ingredients in a bowl until well blended; add butter, and cut in with a pastry blender or fingertips until mixture is crumbly. Stir in cheese and pecans. Add 3 to 4 tablespoons cold water, and toss gently with a fork until mixture is moistened and forms a ball.

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface, and shape into a round disk. Roll out dough to about 1/4-inch thickness. Cut with a 2-inch biscuit or cookie cutter, and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Brush dough lightly with egg wash. Bake at 375F for 15 minutes or until lightly browned. Transfer crackers to a wire rack to cool completely. Store crackers in an airtight container.

Think of the ooh’s and ahh’s you will get at your next cocktail party when you serve these.

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