Grits are good for you.

Hominy Grill

When I was in Michigan last week, the company provided us with these buttons that they called flair. You know, flair. It was not ironic flair, but many of the freshly graduated teachers were probably too young to know why it should be ironic anyway. (I spent a whole week feeling pretty old. In the mom role, helping them navigate the airports and the hotel and the restaurants. They were so young.) I didn’t get all the flair, but I decided that it didn’t serve anyone if I refused to play along even a little bit. So I grabbed an “avid reader” button and a “North Carolina” button and I checked every morning to see what else was available. One morning, they had one that said “foodie” and though I am not sure I am cool enough to be a foodie, I happily pinned it on to my lanyard. What Mike and I realized on PEI was that we care a lot about food. I have always liked to eat, but now we care about good food, about the flavors we can taste in locally grown things, about restaurants and friends who take the time to consider their ingredients and come up with something special.

For our first anniversary, back when we still felt a lot of pressure to make our anniversaries big and special, we went to Charleston. Charleston is a lovely place, full of history and food and beautiful places, but I do not recommend visiting it in July. My Long Island-born husband practically melted. He’s been here in the south for over two decades, but I don’t think he will ever adjust to the humidity. Which is okay. My hair was born here, and it still hasn’t adjusted, either.

We were still learning what it meant to be married, to travel together. Our roles have congealed a little bit more now: Mike as the planner, Kari as the navigator. There are so many wonderful restaurants in Charleston that we both needed to use our gifts in order to make the right decisions about where to go. One evening we ended up at a restaurant around the corner from our bed and breakfast: Hominy Grill. This was in 2001, when it had only been written up in the New York Times once. Before it had been written up in Gourmet and featured on the Food Network. You could tell that pretty much everyone there was local. I chose shrimp and grits. Whatever Mike chose has been lost to history, because, well, his was fine, good even, but the shrimp and grits were basically fantastic.

I did not grow up eating shrimp and grits. It’s true. I had had it, and I knew I liked it, but it wasn’t a regular meal for me. I didn’t eat a ton of grits growing up, actually. We just didn’t really eat them at home. We ate a lot of oatmeal. Now that I have my own house, we eat grits more than we eat oatmeal. Because when you are on your own, you get to make that sort of decision. I kind of hope I never have to eat oatmeal again. I don’t know whether to admit this or not, but I had been married to Mike for a year at that point and he turned up his nose when I ordered shrimp and grits. He had never heard of it, never tried it, and wasn’t interested. Somehow, I had failed him. Since that day, though, he has never looked back. And I think of that day as a turning point for us in some ways: I gained confidence in my ability to spot something good on the menu, something I had to have. And Mike got a little bit more adventurous with his palate. It was the first step in a new relationship with food. If it wasn’t for that night, I might not have even considered the “foodie” button. (I still would have taken the “chocoholic” one, though. No question about that.)

We put ourselves on the Hominy Grill mailing list, and that fall they sent us a postcard. With their recipe for shrimp and grits on it. We literally danced in our kitchen when we saw it, and we’ve been making it this way ever since. I noticed that when you Google the recipe, Southern Living has a slightly different variation posted. But this is what they sent, and this is how we make it. Enjoy.

Hominy Grill’s Shrimp and Grits

Cheese grits
3 slices of bacon, chopped
1 lb. shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 T. flour
2 T. peanut oil
1 1/4 c. sliced mushrooms
1 large clove of garlic
Tabasco sauce
2 t. fresh lemon juice
1/2 c. thinly sliced green onions

Fry bacon until crisp, remove from pan and reserve. Pour off all but 1 T. of bacon fat. Gently toss shrimp with flour until lightly coated; remove excess flour. Add peanut oil to pan with bacon fat and heat over medium high heat. Add shrimp and sauté until half cooked. Add mushrooms and toss. When they begin to cook, stir in reserved bacon. Add garlic with a press but do not let brown. Quickly stir in lemon juice and Tabasco. Cook until shrimp are pink on both sides and mushrooms are golden brown. Season with salt and add green onions and remove from heat. Spoon over grits.

We usually make our cheese grits using some variation of Lucky 32‘s recipe. Here is a copy of their recipe. You should use grits from the Old Mill if you possibly can. Using milk or cream instead of just water is crucial to good grits.

1 ½ cups cream
3 cups chicken broth
6 tablespoons butter
1/3 teaspoon salt
1/3 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons grits
½ cup shredded cheddar cheese

Bring cream, chicken broth, butter, salt, and pepper to a boil in a medium saucepan. Reduce heat to a simmer and stir in grits. Cook for about 3 minutes stirring constantly to prevent lumps. Continue cooking for another 12 minutes on medium-low heat. Remove from heat and stir in cheddar cheese. Keep grits warm for serving.

Notes: We usually add the green onions a little bit earlier and let them get soft. The grits are also good with some parmesan added. Makes 2 generous portions. (Last week we doubled the recipe and served five people with no leftovers. But be sure you have a big pan to cook the shrimp.)

(The picture at the top is from when we went back to Hominy Grill in 2007. I had the shrimp and grits. Why mess with a good thing?)

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