for the love of grits

Soul-satisfying, approachable and inexpensive, cheesy grits are the ultimate accompaniment. Over the past few weeks, I’ve served them with spicy shrimp, with BBQ chicken and egg-topped with tomato sauce. In every iteration they were delicious. Just make them, and throw whatever you were already planning to eat tonight on top of them. You won’t regret it.

Cheesy Grits, adapted from Alton Brown
2 cups milk
2 cups water
1 1/2 t kosher salt
1 cup grits (coarse ground cornmeal)
1/2 t freshly ground black pepper
4 T butter, cut into 1 T pieces
4 oz sharp cheddar, grated

In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, bring milk, water and salt to a boil. Once the milk mixture has come to a boil, add the grits slowly while whisking. You want to whisk pretty vigorously so your grits come out smooth. Reduce the heat to low and cover the grits. Every 5 minutes or so, uncover and whisk vigorously. After about 25 minutes your grits should be soft and thick.

Remove from the heat and add the butter and pepper. Whisk together. Once combined, whisk in the cheese. Serve immediately with the topping of your choice.

Also, my preference for green beans as a vegetable side has been made quite obvious.



braised short ribs, aka how to win hearts and minds

This dish is everything that is magical about cooking. You take a cheap cut of meat and a cheap starch and turn them into a meal that would make someone fall in love with you. Braised short ribs over mashed potatoes drizzled with jus is everything you want out of a good meal—simple, satisfying, and supremely comforting.

Braised Short Ribs with Mashed Potatoes
2 lbs flanken style short ribs (plan for 2 pieces/ribs per person)
1 T canola oil
1 onion, cut into eighths
2 carrots, cut into 1 – 2 inch chunks
2 celery stalks, cut into 1 – 2 inch chunks
3 garlic cloves
2 cups red wine
3 sprigs thyme
2 cups chicken, vegetable or beef stock
salt and pepper

Sprinkle all sides of the ribs with salt and pepper. Heat the oil over medium heat in a cast iron dutch oven (or other stove and oven safe dish). Sear each side of the meat until it is a deep brown color. Your house will smell amazing at this point. Remove the beef from the dish and put it on a plate.

Reduce the heat to low. Add the vegetables and saute until light brown, about 20 minutes. Add the red wine and thyme. Bring to a boil. Return the meat to the dish. At this point, you can continue to braise the meat or you can put the whole dish in the fridge and finish it the next day. Trust me, only good things happen when you let meat marinade in red wine overnight.

Heat your oven to 350 degrees. Add the broth to the meat. The broth will not cover the meat entirely, which is just fine. Cook covered for an hour and a half. After 1 1/2 hours, remove the lid to allow some of the liquid to evaporate and the meat to brown. Cook for 45 more minutes, turning the meat once or twice. Meanwhile, make the potatoes.

After 45 minutes of additional cooking, remove the dish from the oven. Take the meat and vegetables from the dish and cover with tin foil to keep warm. Skim the excess fat of the braising liquid. The liquid should have thickened considerably into an amazing beefy sauce. Season the sauce with salt and pepper. Return the meat and vegetables to the dish and cover to keep warm.

Mashed Potatoes
2 lbs yukon gold potatoes (Yukon golds make the best mashed potatoes. Russets can be grainy.)
4 T butter, cut into 1 T pieces
1/4 cup milk

Put a pot of salted water to boil. Peel and quarter the potatoes. Boil the potatoes for 30 minutes, until fork tender. Strain the potatoes and put them in a large bowl. I used my stand mixer to make mashed potatoes for the first time. It was awesome and I recommend it highly. Add the butter to the potatoes and start to whisk. Add the milk and beat until smooth and fluffy.

To serve, make a mound mashed potatoes, top with the ribs and cover with sauce. Pour the remaining sauce in a gravy boat and bring that to the table as well. Add a side of green beans for good measure.



albondigas y arroz

When I lived in Argentina, I had dinner with my host family almost every night. It was at these dinners that I really learned how to speak Spanish, really fell in love with my host family and really learned to love meat (after 5 years of vegetarianism!). Like most moms, my host mom Josefina had a repertoire of dishes that we enjoyed on a regular basis. All of her food was good, but one of my favorites was her albondigas y arroz—meatballs and rice.

While I do enjoy spaghetti and meatballs (and may have claimed that they saved my life in the past), meatballs and rice have a really special place in my heart because of those many dinners with Josefina and my host brother Juan. Josefina—in true busy-working-mom form—would prepare the meal in advance and then heat it back up right before serving. She would reheat/saute the rice in plenty of delicious Argentine butter, ladle on tomato sauce and top that with beef meatballs. The dish was so satisfying, so comforting, so simple … perfection that transcended language barriers. This is my adaptation of her recipe.

Albondigas y Arroz
For the tomato sauce

1 onion, diced
3 to 5 cloves of garlic, sliced
1 T olive oil
2-16 oz cans of whole tomatoes
1/4 cup sugar
2 t red wine vinegar
salt, pepper, chili flake (a sizable pinch of each)

I think that tomato sauce pairs best with the meatiness of the meatballs if it is sweet and just slightly spicy. The kick from the chilis is not very Argentine, but sure is delicious.

In a heavy bottomed saucepan, saute the onion in olive oil over low heat, until translucent. Add the garlic. Saute for another minute or two. Add the tomatoes, sugar, vinegar, salt, pepper and chili flake. Simmer uncovered for 20 – 30 minutes, until most of the liquid has evaporated. Taste for seasoning and adjust. Puree until smooth with a blender or food processor taking care to not splash yourself with the molten liquid.

You can make this sauce in advance. It can also be frozen. This recipe makes a lot of sauce and a lot of meatballs, the idea being you can freeze half and whip that out for a quick meal when you’re feel nostalgic for albondigas y arroz. 

For the meatballs
3/4 pound ground beef
3/4 pound ground pork
1 large egg
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
salt, pepper, dried herbs of your choice

Preheat an oven to 400 degrees. In a medium bowl, combine beef, pork, egg, breadcrumbs, salt, pepper and herbs. Mix with your hands to combine. Shape into 1 inch diameter balls and place them about 1 inch apart on a baking sheet. Bake for 20 minutes, until firm to the touch.  Don’t worry too much about the doneness of the meatballs; they will cook for another 10 – 15 minutes in the sauce as you reheat it.

Put on a pot of rice. I used long grain white rice—1 1/2 cups of water to 1 cup of rice. Bring the water and a little butter to a boil, add the rice, simmer for 20 minutes and then turn of the heat until ready to serve. If you make the rice in advance, fluff it with a fork and then saute in some butter over low heat until warm. Meanwhile, reheat the tomato sauce and meatballs over low heat until warmed through. To serve, pile on the rice and top with the meatballs and sauce.



the holy grail of comfort food … chicken and waffles

Just when you think that you can’t take anymore and it’s only Monday, comfort food steps in to save the day. It wraps you in a blanket of sweet, salty, fatty goodness and magically you feel like yourself again. Despite my love for many other dishes from the comfort food category that have saved my life in the past like spaghetti and meatballs or macaroni and cheese, chicken and waffles may just be the pinnacle of comfort food.

Before Monday, I’d never eaten chicken and waffles. To be honest, I was a bit worried about the co-mingleing of syrup and gravy – worried that maybe syrup plus gravy might just push the symbiosis between sweet and salty over the edge. Well, I was dead wrong. Sticky, sweet syrup, and salty, meaty gravy both poured over crunchy chicken and waffles is beyond amazing. I was floored by how well each piece of this dish worked with the other components. A-MAZ-ING. So wonderful you probably should make this for dinner tonight. Your happy mind and belly will thank you for it.

Chicken and Waffles

For the chicken
I used the buttermilk baked chicken recipe that I describe a week or so ago. It worked perfectly and since it is oven baked you don’t have to worry about dealing with frying and waffle-making at once. The chicken will take about 20 minutes to bake, so put it in the oven after you’ve made the gravy.

For the gravy
2 T butter
2 T flour
1 1/4 cup – 1 1/2 cup chicken stock
salt, pepper, rosemary, thyme, lemon peel

In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, melt the butter. Add the flour and continue whisking until it is a blonde color. Slowly add the broth, whisking furiously to make sure that there aren’t any lumps. Reduce the heat to low. Season with salt and pepper. Add a sprig of rosemary, thyme and a sliver of lemon peel to the mixture. Turn off the heat. Get to waffle making.

For the waffles
I used a buttermilk pancake recipe for these waffles. The taste was wonderful, but they did not rise as much as I had hoped in the waffle iron. If you have a no-fail waffle recipe, use that instead (and email it to me).

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
3 tablespoons sugar
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
3 cups buttermilk
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Mix the dry ingredients to combine. Add the buttermik, eggs and melted butter. Mix just to combine. There will be lumps in the batter. This is good and makes for a fluffy pancake or waffle. Make your waffles. As they come off the waffle iron, put them on a baking sheet and store in the oven to keep warm.

For the syrup
We buy Whole Foods 365 brand pure maple syrup. It is delicious, affordable and free of high-fructose corn syrup.

To serve

As you are finishing with the waffles, turn the heat below the gravy on to low. Warm the gravy and remove the herbs and lemon.

Place a waffle on a plate. Top with a piece of buttermilk chicken. Drizzle everything with gravy and syrup.

To fully maximize your chicken and waffle experience, I recommend you eat as many bites as possible with all four components. Admittedly, this method is more work, but it is worth it.



the spaghetti and meatballs that saved my life

There is a lot to be said about good comfort food, but today I’m just going to say one thing. A plate of spaghetti and meatballs saved our livelihood.

To elaborate: I had a bad day at work. I had to run errands for work after I left the office. It was raining. I had a headache. I was supremely grumpy. But, I got home and sat down to a plate of spaghetti that was so comforting, so delicious, so soothing that upon eating it my plans to not return to work the next day (or ever) magically disappeared. Thank you spaghetti and meatballs (and Jordan) for preserving my sanity and my paycheck!

And just one culinary note: A mixture of ground beef and ground pork is essential for a heart-healing meatball. And don’t skimp and buy the 5% super-lean stuff – 20% fat is where it’s at.