Thursday, December 30, 2010

Potluck - True Grits

Greetings from Asheville, North Carolina where this foodie and her husband have been enjoying a few days in the epicenter of the local food movement - at least as it exists east of the Mississippi.  Today we head for Durham, which is giving Asheville a run for its money.,%20north%20carolina&st=cse

When we checked into our hotel, the friendly young desk clerk (who had no idea that I was a famous food blogger from Minnesota) proudly told me that I was now in "Foodtopia", and that "all the restaurants here are farm to table."

And as far as I have been able to tell so far, she was right.  This is a serious restaurant town, where most of the establishments make a big deal about using local ingredients, in season.  I have been looking at a lot of menus - online and in windows and in person and I have seen more evidence of beets, rutabagas, brussels sprouts, carrots, daikon radish and parsnips than I have ever seen in the Midwest.  We need to work harder.  I mean really - are we going to concede primacy in rutabagas to the Tarheels?  For shame.

Night before last we had dinner at the Early Girl Eatery.  Their tag line is "a scratch kitchen- simplicity, quality and local flavor."  Chard was the vegetable of the day and kale and collards were on the menu too.  Winter greens are cool in Asheville.

Lunch on Tuesday was at the Laughing Seed Cafe.  Their menu announced that "The dishes prepared here celebrate fresh vegetables, most of which come from our own Laughing Seed Farm in Barnardsville."  Vertical integration for restaurants is also cool in Asheville.

I enjoyed an open face sandwich at the Laughing Seed - Grilled focaccia bread, spread with sunflower spinach pesto and piled with roasted root vegetables - beets, rutabagas, parsnips, carrots - topped with a cashew bearnaise sauce.  And a side salad.  Pretty darn tasty.  I wouldn't want my roasted root vegetables this dolled up most of the time.  But I'm on vacation - so cashew bearnaise it was. 
Roasted root vegetables make me happy.
This being the South,  corn bread and biscuits are ubiquitous here.  (Ubiquitous Biscuits.  Hmmm.  Maybe a good name for a rock band.)  Grits are everywhere too.  Last night we ate at a seafood restaurant and Frank had shrimp and grits - a Carolina comfort food that comes in many versions.

To make shrimp and grits, you cook white or yellow corn grits in some combination of milk, cream, broth, tomato juice or water, adding grated cheddar or perhaps some parmesan for extra richness.  Maybe a chunk of butter too.  Often shrimp grits include a bit of bacon,  cured ham or andouille sausage.  The shrimp is sauteed (often in a little bacon fat) with a little onion and garlic.  Sometimes bell pepper or scallions or chopped tomatoes are used as flavor accents.  The result is quite wonderful - definitely a comfort food.

Here is one recipe that looked pretty good to me.  Some recipes I checked out were way too heavy in fat. I encourage you to make a broth from the shrimp shells and use that to cook the grits.  More shrimp flavor.   Our waiter told us they use Clamato juice in the shrimp grits Frank ate last night.

Gotta go - today we are going to check out the year round farmers market in Asheville and then head east to visit the Meadows Mills in North Wilkesboro, North Carolina.  We want to figure out how to grind our own grits from northern flint corn.  Then it's Durham for New Year's.  Will probably eat some Hoppin John.  More on that later.

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