Southern Cheese Grits Casserole

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Sorry I haven’t posted in a while, but work has been zapping my creativity. Last week, I made a cheese grits casserole at work and people have been begging for an “at home recipe”, so here it is. This is great as a starch with any meal, but even better when paired with a Southern meal. If you don’t think you like grits, give this a try. This IS NOT your normal breakfast style grits.

  • 2 cups chicken stock or broth
  • 2 cups half & half
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 cup quick-cook grits
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup melted butter
  • 1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • 4 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled
  • 1 medium tomato, diced
  • 1 small can yellow kernel corn, drained
  • parsley for garnish

In a large stock pot, bring the chicken stock and half & half to a rolling bowl. Whisk in the grits and cook, stirring constantly, for 5-7 minutes until the grits begin to thicken and bubble (be careful not to let them bubble on your hand/arms as they are like LAVA). Once thickened, remove from stove and pour grits into a mixing bowl.

To the grits, add the heavy cream, melted butter, cheese, bacon crumbles, diced tomato and the corn. Stir well to combine.

Pour grits into a lightly greased casserole dish and bake at 350F for 10 minutes.

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Country Gravy Potatoes

One of the biggest drawbacks to running a daily cafe in corporate dining is that you have the same customer base each and every day of the week. That’s great, when it comes to cooking food you know your customers like, but not so great when it comes to keeping ideas fresh and changing regularly. No one wants to eat the same sides more than once or maybe twice a week, so I’m constantly trying to come up with new ways to cook familiar dishes.

In the cafe, I normally offer 2 entrees, 1 or 2 starches, 4 vegetables and a hot dessert on the line each day at lunch. Mashed or creamed potatoes are a customer favorite. They would probably love to eat my mashed potatoes the same way EVERY day, but my creative mind won’t let me put out the same food like that. Because my grocery company missed our scheduled delivery last Thursday, Friday’s menu had to be changed last minute to include food I had in stock. We normally offer fish on Fridays but seeing as I had no fish in stock, we ended up serving country-fried pork chops. Well, pork chops didn’t go with the rice pilaf I was planning to offer with the fish; they called for some good ole country mashed potatoes. Since I’d already served mashed potatoes twice last week (on different days), I had to fire up the creative juices and come up with something a little different. That’s how this recipe came about and this recipe was incredible. My customers bought all the potatoes and I caught my dishwasher scraping the empty pan with his fingers before washing it, so I figured I’d share this “hit” with you. It’s really quite simple so I’m omitting the steps where you boil your potatoes and starting the recipe where I started it. Give this a try sometime and I think you’ll be as impressed as my customers were.

First, I boiled unpeeled russet potatoes (I wanted a smashed effect rather than I mashed effect, so I cleaned them well but left the skins in tact).

Once the potatoes are cooked (until tender) and drained, put them in a large bowl. With the back of a serving spoon, mash the potatoes so that they have some larger “chunks” in them for this country-style recipe. Set the potatoes aside and work on the gravy (which can be made while the potatoes are cooking if you’re multi-talented in the kitchen).

For the gravy:

  • 4 tbsp fat (bacon grease, butter or oil, your choice)
  • 1/4 cup chopped onion
  • 4 tbsp all purpose flour
  • 2 cups milk, scalded
  • 2 tsp black pepper
  • 2 tsp salt

In a large skillet or a saucepan, heat the fat over medium high heat. Saute the onion until tender, then add the flour and cook into a roux, stirring constantly, until the mixture is a light tan color. Whisk in the scalded milk and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the mixture has thickened to the consistency of basic biscuit gravy (which is really all this is). Add the salt and pepper and remove from the heat.

Pour as much of the gravy into your smashed potatoes to get a soupy wet, loose mashed potato (it will thicken as it sits). At this point, taste the potatoes and adjust seasonings to your taste. You can add some snipped chives or some Parmesan cheese, or even some roasted garlic if you prefer. If for any reason you over-pour the gravy and get your potatoes too loose, you can thicken them back up by sprinkling some flour over them and stirring well (old kitchen trick that works in the recipe because you have a flour based gravy).

If you’ve got any gravy you didn’t use, it can be refrigerated for another use. It will thicken in the frig, but you can thin it out with a little milk.

Macaroni & Cheese

At work, I make the homemade macaroni and cheese us Southerners have been eating all our lives. Rich, bubbly, creamy, cheesy.. the way your grandmother made it. Sometimes I use elbow macaroni for the authentic look but sometimes I use whatever pasta is on hand and really, any pasta will do.

A couple of weeks back I was in a better, non-hurried mood at work and I made some “mac & cheese” a little different than usual. It turned out to be a hit with AT&T employees. I had tons of positive feedback that week about that mac & cheese, so when I asked my customers recently if there were any recipes they would like to see on the blog, I wasn’t surprised when 7 people emailed back asking for my recipe for THAT mac & cheese. For that batch, I used penne instead of macaroni, but like I said, you can use whatever you have on hand.

  • 1 pound cooked pasta (elbow mac or penne)
  • 3 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 3 tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups evaporated milk
  • 1 1/2 cups half & half
  • 2 large bay leaves
  • 6 cups (about 1 pound) shredded extra-sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 2 tsp sea salt
  • 1 pound Swiss cheese, sliced
Cook pasta in boiling, salted water until al dente. Drain and put in a large mixing bowl.
In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over low heat until frothy. Add flour and cook, stirring continuously and cook for 3 minutes. Add milk, half & half, bay leaves and salt. Increase the heat to medium high and bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally to ensure you’re not scorching on the bottom of the pan. Cook until the sauce has thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon (if you want to speak the lingo, that’s called nappe in cooking terms), about 10 minutes. Add half the cheddar cheese and stir until completely melted. Remove from the heat and season with the pepper (and a little more salt if you’re a salt lover like me). **This is the same way to make cheese sauce for cauliflower au gratin, or homemade au gratin potatoes**. Pour the cheese sauce over the pasta and stir thoroughly to mix.
In a greased 3 quart casserole dish, spread half the pasta (about 4 cups). Top with half the remaining cheddar cheese, then top with half the Swiss cheese slices. Repeat with another layer of pasta but this time top with the Swiss cheese and finish with the remaining cheddar cheese. Bake in the middle rack of the oven for about 30 minutes, until bubbly and slightly browned on top.
Serves up to 12 people depending on how hungry they are.