Within the first week of arriving in South Carolina, I made it a priority to track down a hot serving of Southern shrimp and grits. Fortunately, it wasn’t too hard to find a place producing this local classic.
I was amazed by the flavor such simple ingredients can pack; it’s safe to say I’ve never tasted anything like it, having rarely encountered southern cuisine in my daily life until recently.
When I saw locally-sourced blue corn grits, I felt inspired to give this dish the old college try. I purchased my first ever container of Cajun seasoning (made in Louisiana!) and prepped my ingredients as I let my thoughts wander backwards to what it was that made that first forkful taste so…significant. Perhaps a splash of cream over the top added to the sweetness of the moment?
Southern Shrimp and Grits
There’s no shortage of dairy and salt in this take on the classic. Go easy on the Cajun seasoning if you are sensitive to spice. Don’t skip the bay leaves. Cut your peppers and onion uniformly. And remember: relax! Southern cooking and stress do not go well together (don’t ask me how I know !)
Best served immediately. A spicy red wine would be a divine compliment to this dish.
South Carolina Shrimp and Grits
I added quite a bit of Cajun seasoning because I like my food spicy–however, it's important to taste as you go.
Place water, milk, grits, bay leaves, and salt in a large, heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven and bring to a boil. Turn heat to low and cook, whisking attentively, 30-40 minutes, adding small amounts of water and lowering heat as needed if grits begin to stick to the bottom of the pot. Remove bay leaves, and add butter and parmesan and stir into the grits, tasting for salt. Stir in heavy cream and simmer about 1 more minute, or until the cream is incorporated. Cover until ready to serve.
Meanwhile, finely slice red bell pepper, jalapeño, and onion into uniform slices. In a large cast iron pan, sauté bacon over medium high heat until crispy, then drain on paper towels. Add the two sausages to the pan with reserved bacon fat and sear on both sides of the sausage until crisped and browned, about 4 minutes each side. Add sliced vegetables and sear, about 3 minutes. Add beer and Cajun seasoning and stir until vegetables and sausages are coated. Cover and turn heat to medium, leaving undisturbed for 5 minutes.
Remove lid, remove sausages using tongs and place on the same draining plate as the bacon. Add butter and heavy cream to the pan and simmer until sauce has thickened, about 5 minutes. While sauce is reducing, snip drained bacon into 1” pieces and add to the pan. As soon as sausages are cool enough to handle, cut each lengthwise, then into half-inch-thick half-moons. Add to the pan and stir.
Partition grits into bowls and ladle meat and sauce over the top. Garnish with a pinch of watercress and serve immediately.
Keyword blue corn, Cajun, crumbs, crumbs on crumbs, crumbsoncrumbs, from scratch, grits, homemade, intuitive eater, intuitive eating, shrimp and grits, South Carolina, southern cooking
Another week passed at the bakery, full of trials, tribulations, and “firsts,” including my first time successfully completing macarons. This has been a bucket list item for me since I first saw an array of colorful macarons about a decade ago, and I bought one of those teeny tiny prosecco bottles from the grocery store to celebrate. Now, to make the perfect olive or walnut levain…but one day at a time! For now, champagne out of a mason jar and this celebratory spicy vegan chai pudding!
Assuredly you are aware, delightful reader, that it is pumpkin spice season. I mean, we are even working pumpkin spice into the patisserie. And I may or may not have started ordering pumpkin spice lattes as soon as they were available in my area. It’s a comforting taste, and we can all use a little comfort right now.
But, with great flavor comes great curiosity (or something like that) and I began to get a little more curious about chai spice.
I cobbled together a few recipes from various sources and created my own tip of the hat to this season: chai spice, vegan pudding (pumpkin not included).
I mean, if one can make spicy chocolate pudding, why not? What were rules made for, if not to break them??
Though I initially set out on this quest with sweet, sweet dairy in mind (I was envisioning an egg-yolky custard, rich and sweet, and so, so fattening–) I opened my fridge to behold two large containers of oat milk and a perilously full jar of coconut cream that I opened this week by mistake, thinking it was coconut milk. (This has proven to be a happy accident, however, as I have been adding a scoop of cream into my earl grey tea in the mornings.)
“So,” I thought, “can I apply myself here to use what I have and make a truly delicious vegan pudding?”
Spicy Vegan Chai Pudding from Scratch
Reader, if you want a healthy fat, low-sugar, guilt-free seasonal dessert, you’ve come to the right place.
First, I gathered my ingredients.
I toasted the spices and orange peel in a medium saucepan before adding oat milk, coconut cream, vanilla bean paste, and slices of peeled ginger, simmering this gently for about six minutes. The beauty of this recipe is, you can take the spice as far as you like. The longer you simmer, the spicier your pudding is going to be. I like ginger, like, a lot, so I stretched that flavor out as far as was palatable to me. It’s so important to taste as you go!
When the flavor tastes right to you, or just barely to the point of “omg, maybe this is too spicy,” drain the liquid into a medium sized bowl using a fine mesh sieve or cheese cloth draped inside a colander. (You are going to dilute the flavor a little bit with the second addition of liquid, so be bold with your flavor concentration!) Return liquid back into the pot, add cornstarch/oat milk solution, and whisk over medium heat, until mixture thickens.
Pour into ramekins or a medium bowl, cover in plastic wrap, and chill. And voila! Vegan, spicy, not-too-bad-for-you, on-theme dessert. Win.
Obviously, you can use whatever milk you like. And, the original recipe I riffed off of called for whole milk or half and half–so if you’d rather make your pudding with good, old-fashioned dairy: please, be my guest! Whether you prefer your dessert to be righteous or indulgent: chai spice is the great connector.
Spicy Chai Pudding (V, GF)
Note: This recipe could very easily be adapted to contain dairy by substituting whole milk or half and half for the oat milk and coconut cream. I also used honey to sweeten, but an equal trade of brown sugar would make this recipe fully vegan. Follow your gut!
1 cinnamon stick
1 star anise
6 cardamom pods
7 whole black peppercorns
6 whole cloves
1/8th tsp nutmeg, preferably freshly ground
1 1/2” strip of orange zest, with little to no white pith
1 ¾ c oat milk
4 Tbs coconut cream
1 whole vanilla bean, split lengthwise with seeds scraped, or 1 tsp vanilla paste
1” peeled ginger (roughly 0.5 oz), cut into matchsticks
½ c oat milk
3 Tbs cornstarch
½ c honey or brown sugar
¼ tsp salt
In a large liquid measuring cup or in a small bowl, combine first measurement of oat milk, coconut cream, vanilla, and sliced ginger.
In a medium sauce pot over medium heat, toast cinnamon, star anise, cardamom, peppercorns, and cloves, stirring or shaking the pan occasionally until spices have started releasing their odor and “dancing” around in the bottom of the pot, about 5 minutes. (Take care to turn your spices with a wooden spoon, smelling for anything burning, until cardamom pods appear toasted and cinnamon stick has darkened considerably.) After spices are sufficiently toasted, turn off the heat and add nutmeg followed by orange peel, stirring for 1 minute more. When orange peel has begun to sweat and shrivel, remove from the hot burner and let the pot cool for a few minutes.
While the pot is cooling, whisk together cornstarch and second measurement of oat milk in a small bowl until no lumps remain.
When you can put your fingers on the pot without burning yourself, add oat milk, coconut cream, vanilla, and ginger mixture into the toasted spices, followed by honey and salt. Place back over the hot burner and cook over medium heat until mixture is just below a simmer. (It should be steaming but no significant bubbles emanating from the bottom of the pot.) Stir consistently so the liquid does not form a skin or burn on the bottom of the pot.
When spiced oat milk mixture is at a bare simmer, cook, stirring constantly, for 5-8 minutes. Taste as you go: the longer the mixture simmers, the spicier the pudding will be. When pudding has reached desired spiciness, drain the contents of the pot into a medium bowl using a fine mesh sieve or cheesecloth placed over a colander, discarding spices. Return the mixture back to the sauce pot over medium heat. When steaming, add the cornstarch and oat milk mixture, whisking constantly until pudding thickens and barely begins to boil, about 5 minutes.
Reduce heat to the lowest setting and stir 3 minutes more, or until pudding is of a desirable consistency.
Divide into ramekins or pour into a bowl, covering in plastic wrap to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate until chilled. When ready to serve, garnish with 1 tsp coconut cream and a modest shake of ground allspice or cinnamon. Best eaten within 24 hours.
Edit: If it pains you to throw away whole spices and several dollars worth of ginger, after steeping your spice blend in the milk of your choosing, consider candying the ginger matchsticks for a garnish and drying your spices on a piece of parchment paper for another use, such as adding to a mug of tea or making a hot toddy.