Cooking with Lady Smokey: Sundays Down South

“The Air Castle of The South,” WSM 650 am, has become my radio station of choice. There is much more than country music in Nashville but this station tells the history of us and that story is still being written. WSM is the radio voice of the Grand Ole Opry which is both a well respected country music showcase and the longest running live radio show in history.

On the air now for over 80 years, the Opry combines the charm of a 1930′s big-production radio show with the excitement of live country music. Every Friday and Saturday night hundreds of thousands of radio listeners across the country (still) and thousands more in the Opry House audience, from near and far, experience this unique blend of country music- the old and the new.

On Sunday mornings, WSM dj Danny Boyles hosts Sunday Down South from 9AM – 11AM which is all about great country gospel songs. We’ve found this to be an excellent accompaniment to our Sunday brunch.

One of my very favorite foods to eat, especially for weekend breakfast, is cheese grits!

Stoned-Ground Cheese Grits

For these, I use really good quality, old fashioned, stone-ground grits which you can usually find in nicer grocery stores, specialty shops, at an old mill out in the country, or online. For this recipe, I used white stone-ground grits made in Tennessee.. I have found that the cooking instructions on the bags vary quite a bit for these and it all kind of depends on the texture you want, similar to oatmeal. Some people like their oatmeal creamy and some like it thicker and slightly lumpy. I tend to go for a creamier texture for my grits but you can play around with how long you cook them, how much liquid you add, etc. until you find the right texture to suit you.

3 cups water
1 cup grits
½ cup buttermilk
½ cup sharp white cheddar cheese
sea salt & freshly ground black pepper to taste

Cooking instructions usually have you soak the grits in the water to allow the hulls to rise to the top so you can skim them off. I always omit this step, opting for a little more grit and texture. Place the water in a pan on the stove. Add the grits and bring to a boil. Stir and reduce heat to a simmer. Cook for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Pour buttermilk in a little at a time and stir, as the liquid starts to all be absorbed and get thicker. Once you get a nice creamy texture and the grits aren’t too tough to taste, add the cheese, salt, and pepper and stir. Total cooking time usually takes 30-45 minutes for me.

My all time favorite way to eat these cheese grits is with a little maple syrup and hot sauce. This is not for everyone, I know. But the nice combination of sweet and spicy really makes me happy. The most recent way we enjoyed cheese grits was with a prosciutto and veggie egg scramble and tomato gravy. Tomato gravy is a Southern delicacy, I guess. I grew up in South Carolina but only became familiar with tomato gravy upon our move to Nashville. There seem to be many variations- from a spicier Italian sort of concoction to this one that Grant has created which suites our tastes just right.

Tomato Gravy
2 Tbsp good quality butter (we used local Hatcher Family Dairy salted butter purchased at the Farmer’s Market)
2 Tbsp flour (we use White Lily, made from soft red winter wheat)
2 cups stock (we used homemade chicken)
2 tsp tomato paste (we used organic Italian Bionaturae)
5-6 dashes Tabasco
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Over medium heat, melt the butter and then add the flour. Use a whisk to mix vigorously until it turns into a smooth paste (this is called the rue). Continue to cook while whisking until the rue turns golden brown (approximately 10 minutes). Add tomato paste and Tabasco to the stock and heat in a sauce pan. Add liquid mixture to the rue and whisk. Cook until it becomes thicker and well blended. Season with salt and pepper.

I think tomato gravy would be delicious over cheese biscuits…


These cheese biscuits also have a little prosciutto in them!

or also for dinner with fried chicken…

Nashville lured quite a few folks from New Orleans in the wake of Katrina. This, I have come to realize, has had quite a positive effect on this city’s culinary offerings. It is all just beginning to come to light. I proclaim this upon enjoying the last few morsels of our first King Cake and with Mardi Gras just behind us. I’ve had King Cakes before but never purchased an entire one and devoured it so quickly. I don’t even eat many sweets. This one in particular that I am speaking of came from our local independent natural foods grocer, The Turnip Truck, and was made by pastry chef and New Orleans transplant, Nicole Wolfe.

So with this new found spirit of New Orleans, we suddenly craved spicy, meaty foods and decided to cook up a big batch of Red Beans and Rice.

We had some local Andouille Sausage that we had purchased at our Farmer’s Market so we opted to use that in place of ham hocks which somehow seemed a little healthier but now looking back on it may not have made much of a difference.

Red Beans & Rice

2 onions, diced
1 green bell pepper, seeded and diced
2 stalk celery, diced
2 tablespoons rendered bacon fat
1 pound dried red kidney beans
3 bay leaves
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
5-6 cups stock (we used homemade chicken)
Andouille Sausage
Sea Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
3 cups cooked white rice (we used Basamati)

Saute the onions, bell peppers, and celery in the rendered bacon fat in a heavy soup pot over medium-high heat. Once the onions become translucent, add the kidney beans, bay leaves, and cayenne, then add the stock to cover by 2 inches. Increase the heat and bring the water to a boil. Cover the pot, reduce the heat to low, simmer for 2 hours. Stir the beans occasionally to ensure that they don’t scorch on the bottom of the pot, adding more stock if necessary, always keeping the beans covered by an inch or more of water. Continue cooking the beans until they are creamy and beginning to fall apart when they’re stirred. Cut the Andouille into pieces and saute in a pan to brown and then add it to the pot of beans. Season with salt, black pepper and Tabasco. Serve over white rice.

And just as we finished our Red Beans ad Rice, there was a knock at the door. Our friend Krysta who hails from the great state of Wisconsin had spent the entire day making her Polish Grandmother’s recipe for Pączki which Krysta had once a year growing up, only on Mardi Gras. They look like jelly donuts but pączki are made from especially rich dough containing eggs, fats, sugar and sometimes milk. She used only the finest (and local!) ingredients she could find and they were filled with rosehip jam! What a treat!

I’ll close with my latest version of my favorite NY Times Flat & Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies which I first saw in one of our Saveur magazines. This recipe I created uses raw cacao powder and nibs. I use Navitas brand which I find in our natural foods grocery store. If you are unable to find them or unwilling to pay for them (kind of pricey), you can easily substitute a good quality dark chocolate bar. Shave half of it into the batter and chop the rest so you have some nice little chips.

Cherry Cacao Cookies

1 cup all purpose flour (I use White Lily)
1 cup whole wheat flour (I use Bob’s Red Mill)
2 tsp sea salt
1 1⁄4 tsp. baking soda
1 cup light brown sugar
1 cup cane sugar
16 tbsp. unsalted butter, softened
2 eggs1 big tsp. vanilla extract
¼ cup cacao powder
½ cup cacao nibs
½ cup chopped dried cherries

1. Whisk flours, salt, and baking soda in a bowl; set aside. In a bowl, beat sugars and butter with a mixer on medium speed until fluffy, 1–2 minutes. Beat in eggs one at a time; beat in vanilla. Add reserved flour mixture, cherries, cacao; mix until just combined; chill.

2. Heat oven to 350. Divide dough into 1-tbsp. portions; roll into balls, transfer to parchment paper–lined baking sheets spaced 3″ apart, and flatten. Bake until set, about 12-13 minutes.

Happy Eating!

Thanks to Lady Smokey for another scrumptious edition! Who agrees with me that some publisher out there needs to hop to and offer her a book deal???


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