Dinner doesn't have to be difficult : Cheddar Grits in twenty minutes

There are evenings when I am tired, so tired, but want something delicious for dinner, homey and warm. This is where cheddar grits come in - specifically white cheddar grits with butter and scallions, a simple, easy dish I can make in twenty minutes. This recipe originates with Real Simple, and it calls for white grits, but yellow grits (aka polenta) work just as well. I know that because tonight I couldn't find white grits, and I went with the yellow grits I had in my cabinet. This will make between two and four servings, depending on who you're feeding. I can eat this twice or three times before it's gone, and if you know me, you know what a thing that is. I'm not much for leftovers, but these are the kind of leftovers I want the next day. I might have these leftovers tomorrow morning for breakfast, with an egg on top ... heaven. Oh, the other great thing about this recipe, it's pretty darn cheap. Three ingredients you may not have in your arsenal already, and three you very likely do, costing less than $10 total. Yes.

On your way home from work grab some sharp white cheddar, scallions, and corn grits (white or yellow).  If you don't have salt, pepper, and butter at home (but  if you read this blog surely you do), get those items too.

Cheddar Grits for a speedy, filling, warm from the cold (and possibly snow!) dinner. 

Get out a one cup measuring cup. A whisk. A cheese grater. A knife and cutting board. And, a pan that holds at least eight cups. Put that on the stove, with four and 1/4 cups of water in it. Bring it to a boil, then add a teaspoon and a half of salt. I just pour it into my palm until I have a little mound, then I throw it in. While that water is coming to a boil, measure yourself out one cup of grits. When you've got salty boiling water, pour in the grits slowly, whisking all the while. Reduce the heat to low, or one or two on the electric stove, and whisk occasionally while you grate one cup of the white cheddar, slice up two or three scallions, and cut a pat of butter into four squares.

Whisk occasionally for fifteen to twenty minutes, until the grits are cooked - if there's not too much water in the pan, they'll start to pull away and look thick when they're finished. This particular batch I made had a tad too much water, which was no serious issue, just made for less chewing, great if you're tired! 

Stir in the cheese, and ladle into bowls. On each bowl, sprinkle sliced scallions, as much as you like, add a couple tiny butter squares, pepper mill it up as much as you want, and enjoy. This meal is so simple, filling, and delicious. And again, breakfast leftovers! --T


Mozzarella: a cheese story

A few Saturdays ago, my friend Nicole and I set out to make cheese. About two hours into the process we realized we had chosen a recipe that would take very near to nine hours start to finish. We promptly abandoned the 180 degree milk, and agreed to try again the following week with a speedier recipe. And so, a couple Saturdays ago, I returned to Nicole's house with six quarts of whole non-homogenized milk from the Noris Dairy, to begin again. 

Did you know that to make cheese it is preferable to use a non-homogenized milk? Neither did I, but yes, it's true. Apparently, the homogenization process blows apart the fat molecules, which is undesirable - this is how you get your milk in the store usually, as it won't separate. Non-homogenized milk will allow the cream to rise to the top, ideal for cheese-making. There are many books on this, in the SF range at your local academic library, should you want to read more. We did our reading in a book called 200 Easy Homemade Cheese Recipes: From Cheddar and Brie to Butter and Yogurt.The recipe we worked with can be found on page 76. Our first process started with a cultured yeast starter, but our second process started with citric acid, a weak naturally occurring acid, which provides the bitterness in lemons and limes. It also makes milk curdle!

This is us pouring diluted citric acid powder into the milk. Once we did this, we brought the milk up to a balmy 88 degrees. Yes, cheese making is very precise and scientific. Then we removed it from the heat. We then added diluted calcium chloride and animal rennet to the milk and let it sit for quite a long time, almost an hour, to wait for the curd to form. Calcium chloride helps the curd to become more firm, and rennet (read everything you do or do not want to know about it here) helps the curds form as well as to separate more readily from the whey.

You might be wondering where a person gets things like animal rennet and calcium chloride. I found ours at Kookoolan Farms, in Yamhill, Oregon. That place is awesome. So anyway, after roughly an hour of biding our time, chit-chatting, and do other various things, we looked at our pot, and it appeared we had cheese curd.

We were to wait to cut the curds until we achieved a "clean break", or the ability to slice through the curd and have it stay separated. We cut it lengthwise, width wise, and then rather haphazardly, crosswise to the bottom of the pan. We waited five minutes, and the curds became very separated from the whey. They seemed soft, but not too soft. We brought the curds to 106 degrees over the course of twenty minutes, stirring constantly ... cheese making is rather exacting ... and after bringing them to temperature, we turned off the heat and let them sit for another twenty minutes, while once again stirring constantly. It got kind of ridiculous after a while. Then, finally, five minutes of just sitting. We rested our arms. Following the stirfest, we drained the curds from the whey.

We thought things were looking good! Don't those curds look good? So we let the curds drain, then pressed them into the cheesecloth to make a large mass, which we were supposed to cut then stretch in a hot salt water solution we made.

Sadly, that's the last picture I have. Because following this, we attempted to stretch the cheese in the (searingly hot) salt water solution, and it wouldn't stretch. Nope, it just felt apart. We learned, far too late, we should have tested the pH, that we needed it more acidic to stretch properly. The troubleshooting section noted that we might try again after a day of leaving the cheese in the fridge, but quite unfortunately, the next day we both had a mass of something that was hard as a rock, and probably dangerous if thrown. So, there was no trying the stretching again, as we are not bodybuilders. So alas, a failed cheese making attempt, it was. However, this was a great learning experience ... Nicole and I are both skilled cooks and bakers, but we just didn't have a large enough body of knowledge about the science of cheese to make it work the first time. So, lesson learned: you don't always get it right the first time around, but the idea of making our own cheese is too cool to abandon. So, we'll try again. Soon. And we'll get it right next time. Promise. We might even take a class. --T