The greatest canvas of them all... grits
Grits, you know em', probably love them, and depending on where you're from, have experienced your region's iteration of them. I've heard through the rumor mill that people above the Mason Dixon line put sugar on their grits and I'm here to tell you that no self-respecting southerner does that; if you do, let me help!
Let's first start with answering the question of " what are grits?"... well, grits are made from dried corn that has been finely ground into a "gritty" texture. According to wikipedia, the Muskogee tribe shared their recipe with colonists in the 16th century and ever since, grits has grown to become the southern staple we all know and love today, especially in the lowlands of South Carolina and Georgia; if you've been lucky enough to find yourself in these coastal regions, you've likely tried a southern favorite, shrimp and grits.
Southern cooks will claim to have the best grits recipe, but like biscuits, this southern dish is highly subjective and really just boils down (pun intended) to taste and texture preference. There are some things that I deem important when purchasing and making grits though, and the first thing to consider is using stone ground grits. Stone ground grits are comprised of the entire corn kernel and therefore, more nutrient dense, and besides, I like the larger grit texture that is found with this process. Since stone ground grits are less processed, you'll definitely want to keep away from pantry storage and preserve in your fridge or freezer. Another thing to consider is using an heirloom variety. Heirloom grains are carefully preserved from generation to generation which not only ensures a more nutrient-dense grain, but also guarantees that the grits you're eating are non-GMO, which is super important to me.
Grits, like the title of this blog post suggests, are in fact, the greatest canvas of all-time and proof of this is evidenced by my good buddy and amazing foodie chef, Harriss Cottingham's book, 101 Things To Do With Grits . I mean, he covers it all...Basic Grits; Flavored Grits; Breakfast Grits; Grit Appetizers; Grit Entrees; Side Dishes; Desserts (Like Hazelnut Grits Napoleon (p.111) and Fried Chocolate Grits p. 106...mind blown) and even Hominy Grits. Go check it out! You won't be sad you did and I will endeavor to try all of your recipes, Harriss!
So, I tend to like a yellow variety grit, and these right here are my favorite all-time brand: Colonial Milling Co. off of Hwy. 56 in Pauline, South Carolina (toward Spartanburg-way where my grandparents live). I was first introduced to this amazing brand through downtown Greenville's Farmer's Market when I visited home and once I tried a sample, there was no going back. Once I got a grip on reality after going into grit bliss land, I learned that not only were these grits the tastiest, but that they were stone-ground, heirloom, non-GMO grits. Done and done... Colonial Milling Co. gained a lifelong customer that day. The cheese grit recipe that they include on the back of their bag is the same one used for their samples and the same one I use when making grits, so, go get you some.
So, let's talk ingredients and instructions:
Colonial Milling Co. Cheese Grits
1/2 cup of heavy cream (I always use half & half)
2 tbsp of butter (I always use unsalted)
1 tsp of kosher salt
1 cup of stone ground heirloom grits (note: if you're not down with yellow grits, good news, they also sell white grits, too)
2 oz. of cream cheese (4 tbsp)
1/4 cup grated sharp white cheddar (Note: I always use extra sharp Kerry Gold brand because to me, it gives it that extra "bite" and I used a half cup in this recipe)
*I also like to spice it up a bit, so I ALWAYS add about a 1/2 tsp of Lawry's Seasoned Pepper to it, but you can totally choose not to, up to you.
1) Bring first three ingredients, plus 3 cups of water to a boil over medium heat.
2) Stir in grits
Reduce heat to *med-low and cover. Cook 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
*I tend to err on the lower side of "med-low", and at about 7 minutes in, I adjusted these grits fully to low.
Note: I stir quite a bit because grits are notorious for sticking themselves to the bottom of the pan, so I'd say about every 4-5 minutes you're going to want to be stirring and recover.
3) Fold in cheese
Sorry... but I had to. And if you've never watched Schitz Creek, do yourself a favor and get that queued up in your watch list now.
After cooking, your grits should be thick and creamy.
Note: So, what does it mean?? It just means stir in that cheese; I did so with a whisk until the cheese was totally incorporated into the grits and melted. Also, I have been known to experiment with different kinds of cheese in my grits and let me tell you that goat cheese is also a favorite "fold in".
Then, and only if you want, add in your pepper. I use Lawry's Seasoned Pepper. I usually end up adding about a teaspoon because I love a lot of pepper, but you don't have to add any.
4) Eat up!