Saturday, April 18, 2009

Grits Epiphany: Grits Cakes Perfected

I have been working on making grits cakes that I tasted first at the A1A Ale Works in downtown St. Augustine. They arrived at the table browned, warm, and crispy/crunchy, a perfect foil for a shrimp salad, salsa, or served with freshly broiled fish. Their consistency first reminded me of the mashed potato cakes my mother made on the day after Thanksgiving (provided there were any mashed potatoes left). I have also seen and tasted these cakes (or toast as Paula Deen calls them) also made with polenta. I prefer the texture of the more coarsely-ground grits to polenta.

My versions, cooked in skillets, required too much tender lovin' care to make sure they did not stick, were browned properly, and cooked through enough. Here is my solution inspired by a recipe on Paula Deen's program.

Basically, I cook a double batch of grits the night before. Sometimes I add cheese, sometimes I don't or I augment the liquid with any kind of stock. I add a few tablespoons of butter or Healthy Start margarine. No trans fats allowed!

A standard grits recipe calls for 4 parts liquid to one part grits with some salt added to the liquid. I prefer stone ground grits first, quick grits second, and NEVER instant grits. Bring the liquid to a boil and slowly stir in the grits. Turn fire to low and put lid on the pot. Stir occasionally. When grits begin to firm up, I pour them off into a cookie sheet or rectangular casserole and place them in the refrigerator over night.

When I am ready to cook the cakes the next day, I use a large biscuit cutter to cut out rounds. I place them on a greased cookie sheet sprinkling on seasonings such as paprika, creole seasoning, salt/pepper, or smoked salt. Don't over do it.

At this point, I had tried every-which-way to cook them in a skillet with only mixed results. My best version was in a non-stick skillet. Nothing was easy and nothing finished as consistently as I wanted. I was seeking fool proof, fall-off-a-log simplicity that would knock people out every time with little cost or effort. Plus, most of the work (if you can call it that) is done the night before.

Paula Deen cooked some that caused me to see the light and solved my problems! Thank you Paula.

Instead of cooking them in a skillet, she baked them at 400 degrees for approximately 40 minutes until they became golden brown, flipped the cakes, and did the same on the other side. Using this method your grits cakes will come out perfectly every time provided you check on them to make sure they don't burn up in the oven.

This is an ace-in-the-hole recipe that will make you look like a genius chef. I guar-an- tee it!

Friday, April 03, 2009

Lighter Ono Burgers

When visiting the island of Kauai in the Hawaiian Islands, we kept the Hawaii for Dummies guide at hand for the whole trip because the tastes of the writer were very much like our own. Getting off the beaten path to find local cuisines, art, and gardens was our mission and the book led us to a few gems that the average tourist would never find.

An outdoor burger shack, Duane's Ono Char Burgers, located on the Kuhio Highway en route to the north shore of Kauai, was highly recommended and we found it to be a slice of road-side heaven. Their hamburgers, named Ono Burgers ("ono" means "good" in Hawaiian), were simply marvelous. The red open-air stand located next door to the Anahola Post Office and General Store has picnic tables under trees and all the food is cooked on a wood fired grill.

The recipe below was inspired by one of their offerings but is "lightened" up to lower fat calories somewhat.



Ground turkey, one pound
Ground turkey breast, one pound
One sweet onion (Maui, Vidalia, or St. Augustine Sweet), chopped
Salt and pepper
Creole seasoning mix or seasoning mix of choice, one tablespoon or to taste
Hamburger buns (choose good ones that have body to them)

Take fresh pineapple and slice into half inch thick slices. Marinade in teryaki sauce for several hours.

Fire up your charcoal grill, letting the coals turn to a solid gray. Add some oak or hickory to the fire after the coals have been ignited and the flame has died down. Basically, you want to produce smoke, but not a blaze, so time the addition of the wood to allow it to burn down but not burn away. You want enough smoke to flavor the meat without overwhelming it. I do not recommend mesquite in this instance.

Place your pineapple slices just off the heat so that you will not burn them. You want to grill them so that you create a darkened, caramelized finish. Flip once.

Mix a pound of ground turkey with a pound of ground turkey breast adding one onion, chopped, a tablespoon of creole seasoning or spice blend of choice, and salt/pepper. Be careful not to overwork the meat when forming into patties. Make an indentation with your thumb into the top of each patty. This will keep it from ballooning as it cooks. Spray lightly with Pam and put them on the gill over the coals. Pour some teryaki sauce over each burger.

Cook until a crust begins to form and you see the meat changing color about a fourth of the way up the side of the burger. Flip and cook for a few minutes and then move the burgers to the edge of the grill away from the direct heat. Pour more teryaki sauce over the burger and top each burger with blue cheese or a slice of Swiss cheese. Cover the grill and let all continue to cook for less than five minutes.

Place opened buns on the grill to toast them slightly, then assemble your burgers and enjoy!