The Entire Grit-Eating World
There was a car parked outside our house this weekend. In big letters across the back window, it said:
Now, in this town, it is safe for me to assume that if I don’t understand something on a guy’s car, it probably relates to SEC football. But that didn’t seem right. Also, there were two Playboy bunny decals on the window. They were evenly-spaced in relation to EAT GRITS, making me wonder if the Playboy bunnies and the grits were related somehow. Or maybe EAT GRITS was not his first-choice message: Maybe he went to the, um, car decal store and wound up with EAT GRITS because he got upsold from what he really wanted, which was EAT SCRAPPLE.
I snuck out of the house to take a picture to send to Scott with a caption along the lines of “YOU MOVED TO THIS STATE FIRST,” but the guy was in the car and he was eating a sandwich. (Nobody stands for anything these days.) I didn’t want to freak him out, so I pretended I was there to take artsy photos of our recycling bin. But that got really weird, really fast, because when you’re unemployed and standing barefoot next to a trashcan in the street, you can’t help but wonder who’s the trashier person here.
EAT GRITS eventually left, and Scott and I went to an outdoor concert. When we entered the park, we saw this corn dog display:
I did not then, nor do I now, have words for what is going on here. All I can say is that something deep inside of me wanted to put my head in a deep fryer to make it go away. I just stood there with my mouth open, which Scott willfully misconstrued as a request for a corn dog. While he was buying the corn dog, I stupidly pointed at an enormous tin can of fake cheese they were using for nachos. Scott purposefully misunderstood this, too, and requested a side of that industrial cheese for the lady’s corn dog. But the sixteen year-old in charge of the corn dog tent thought Scott had asked if they could fill the hot dog with cheese before they turned it into a corn dog. And that’s when there was a ten-minute conversation between Scott, the sixteen year-old and several unaffiliated dudes about whether it would be possible just to dip the corn dog in cheese before frying it, or whether they’d need to freeze the cheese onto the corn dog first.
What I am trying to say is that cornmeal, in all its forms, is big down here. It is bigger than me and it is bigger than you. There is an Entire Grit-Eating World out there, and they know what they’re doing. (And if you don’t know what I am referring to, you should really click here.)
I am not going to pretend I know how to make grits yet. But I was raised by an Italian mother and I know me some polenta, y’all. And it’s the same damn thing, as far as I am concerned.
One of my favorite meals is creamy polenta with mushroom ragu, but that is temporarily off-limits for reasons previously discussed here. But it is hard to beat a good caesar salad with polenta croutons.
Cheddary Polenta Croutons (baked or fried)
3 c. water
1 c. yellow cornmeal
1/2 c. cheddar cheese (grated)
1 tbsp. butter
1 tsp. olive oil
2 cloves garlic
1/4 tsp. onion powder
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 c. vegetable oil for frying (optional)
Bring the 3 cups of water to a boil in a pot with a dash of salt.
While you wait for the water to boil, mince the 2 cloves garlic and set them to sautee over low heat in the teaspoon of olive oil for a few minutes, removing from heat before garlic turns brown and hard.
When the water boils, reduce heat to low and stir in cornmeal. Simmer the polenta for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the 1 tbsp. butter, the 1/2 c. cheddar cheese, the garlic, and the 1/4 teaspoons of onion powder and cayenne pepper. Simmer another 5-10 minutes or until polenta has really thickened.
Transfer polenta into an oiled 8×8 inch pan, using an oiled spatula to smooth polenta out evenly.
When the pan has cooled, refrigerate polenta until it stiffens, at least an hour and a half.
Cut chilled polenta into small squares (mine were about 3/4″ x 3/4″).
For baked croutons: Place croutons on a cookie sheet so they are not touching each other. Bake in a 400 degree oven for about 30 minutes, or until croutons are golden brown.
For fried croutons: Heat the 1 c. vegetable oil in a skillet (or more, depending on the size of your skillet. You want enough oil to be able to practically cover the croutons.) Be extremely careful heating the oil– do not put it on high because it can catch fire or jump up at you, and do not ever walk away from it to go do something else. (Seriously, a friend of mine met his future wife in the emergency room after a cooking incident with hot oil, but you may already be married or the emergency room could be totally dead that night.) Pan fry the croutons until golden brown (less than five minutes). Remove croutons and place on several layers of paper towel to cool.