Tag Archives: Slow Food

Simple Real Food Recipe: Shrimp and Cheese Grits/Polenta with Bacon Tabasco Sauce

I’ve lived in the south all my life, and grits were always a breakfast dish made with white corn grits, mixed with butter and salt; yum. I have an Italian grandmother, and now an Italian husband, and yellow corn grits has always been polenta; also yum.

As contemporary American chefs get back to basic food traditions, I’m finding grits on the menu more often, and it’s not just for breakfast anymore. I was inspired to make this after a visit to Hattie’s (an American bistro with a southern low-country influence) in Dallas. Whether you call it grits or polenta, I have an easy, yummy recipe for you.

Ingredients

Cook the grits according to package directions; I use chicken stock or broth, instead of water, for flavor. The War Eagle grits have microwave instructions, Bob’s Red Mill has stove top instructions. Leave the grits mushy, there’s no need to let it set up in a bowl to cut into cakes.

Toss the shrimp with good olive oil and sea salt and pepper. Spread them in one layer on a sheet pan, and cook for 8 to 10 minutes in a 400 degree oven. (This great method for cooking shrimp is from Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics cookbook – a great resource.)

Cook the bacon until crispy, remove from pan and reserve the fat. Mix bacon fat with Tabasco Chipotle to taste.

To assemble:

  • mix the grits with cheese and butter, place on plate
  • top with shrimp
  • break bits of crispy bacon over dish
  • spoon bacon Tabasco sauce over the top

Serve hot with a big salad, a nice glass of chilled white wine and enjoy! Be well.

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Organic Restaurant Nora in DC is Not All That: Food Needs Fat

When traveling, as at home, I make an effort to eat fresh, local real food. Last week in Washington, DC I visited tony Restaurant Nora near Dupont Circle for what I expected to be a spectacular meal. Having read that in 1999, Restaurant Nora became America’s first certified organic restaurant, and that chef Nora was a pioneer in the sustainable food movement, I had high hopes. The $75 (plus tax and tip, not including wine) tasting menu left me flat; the food wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t all that great. Here’s what I had:

  1. First Course: Apple and Butternut Squash Soup
  2. Second Course: Goat Cheese Tart
  3. Third Course: Grass-fed Beef Filet with Carrots and Mashed Potatoes
  4. Dessert: Banana Bread Pudding with Coconut Ice Cream

The best thing I had was the filet which was absolutely tender and flavorful; there is nothing like a good steak from a cow allowed to forage, breathe fresh air and … well, be a cow. As for the rest of the food, I think Nora may not have gotten the message that traditional fats are actually good for you (e.g., butter and lard). I think that’s the missing piece in her menus.

Other observations: the wait staff that served my table were aloof and slow; the restaurant is decorated with museum-quality antique Mennonite and Amish crib quilts that are spectacular and perfectly lit.

The bottom line is that I wish I had read the following Zagat review about Restaurant Nora before my trip: “Never trust a skinny chef: the food here is as dull as it is overpriced. If you care more about seeing the organic label than you do about food quality, then …”

P.S. The perfect place to stay in that neighborhood is Embassy Circle Guest House.

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My First Farm-to-Fork Dinner

Boston Marrow Squash Mousse with cranberry compote, candied squash, coffee braised hazelnuts and shortbread cookie crumble, by Chef Matt Maue of Tastings Wine Bar and Bistro in Foxborough, Massachusetts

I once saw a bumper sticker that read, “Life’s short; eat dessert first,” so I start this post with a picture of the scrumtious dessert from a recent RAFT Heirloom Harvest Dinner sponsored by Slow Food Boston. If you’ve never heard of RAFT, it’s my pleasure to share it with you. Here’s the official description:

Managed by Slow Food USA, RAFT (Renewing America’s Food Traditions) is an alliance of food, farming, environmental and culinary advocates who have joined together to identify, restore and celebrate America’s biologically and culturally diverse food traditions through conservation, education, promotion and regional networking.

What that means, is that some of our traditional heirloom foods are in danger of going extinct, and the RAFT initiative’s objective is to save these foods. This amazing three-hour, four course dinner (not counting appetizers) was a tremendous experience for me. As a recent escapee from the prison of junk and fast food, I was delighted with every morsel from Tastings’ Chef Matt Maue’s kitchen. I had eaten at Tastings for the first time the night before, and was so taken with the fresh, local, uniquely-prepared food that I had to eat there again … and pronto. Here’s what I had the first night:

Native Rhode Island Popcorn with duck fat and lemon thyme;

Spinach Salad with a free-range fried egg and house-cured bacon;

Black Truffle Macaroni and Cheese;

Bombster Scallops on a bed of creamed corn, garnished with arugula 

The next night was the Farm-to-Fork RAFT Harvest Dinner for nine guests, mostly from around Boston and Providence. The evening started with passed hors d’oeuvres, which included a large piece of slate covered with salami, cheeses, olives, pickles and caperberries. There were also some pork meatballs in a tomato/pepper sauce and the popcorn with duck fat and lemon thyme. I was so taken with that popcorn that I made it at home a few days later – yum! I’m so glad that Nina Planck taught me to appreciate good traditional fats as a healthy part of my diet. Here are the courses, with links to the farms and links to the descriptions of the veggies whose existence is in the hands of a small few (order some seeds to grow in your garden!).

Course One
Whitebarn Farm Speckled Trout Lettuce Salad
with green beans, roasted garlic ranch dressing and Benton’s Country Ham
Note: a fellow diner said that Whitebarn has the best garlic. And I loved Benton’s Country Ham; I will definitely be ordering some.

Course Two
Brambly Farms Pork Croquette
with Jimmy Nardello Pepper Romesco Sauce
Note: Chef Matt said that Brambly Farms raises “amazing pigs.”

Course Three
Braised Blackbird Farm Short Ribs
with maple yogurt, gilfeather turnips, glazed wethersfield red onions and arugula
Note: Ann Marie (left, with Chef Matt) from Blackbird Farm attended the dinner. I enjoyed hearing about her Angus cattle: the way they’re bred, raised, harvested, aged and brought to market. The calves nurse until they’re about eight months old; news to me. These braised short ribs were some of the best food I’ve ever eaten!

Course Four
Boston Marrow Squash Mousse
with cranberrry compote, candied squash, shortbread cookie crumble and coffee braised whole hazelnuts

This dinner was very special, and I’m so thankful that my trip to the Boston area coincided with this Slow Food Boston event. The conversation over dinner was lively and uplifting, and mostly about real food. I was inspired by it, and reminded of a time that I visited a church in which a baby was baptised during the service. The priest held up the child and said, “Ladies and Gentlemen, the Church has a future.” With young chefs like Matt Maue, and family farms like Blackbird, real food has a future. And that is worth rejoicing!

If you’re interested in joining the Slow Food movement, they have a memberhip drive special right now for $25/year. Slow Food started in Italy in the late ’80s to “counter the rise of fast food and fast life, the disappearance of local food traditions and people’s dwindling interest in the food they eat, where it comes from, how it tastes and how our food choices affect the rest of the world.” Be well.



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