About the Author
James Villas was the food and wine editor of Town & Country magazine for twenty-seven years. He is the author of nine books on food and the good life, and his work has appeared in such national and international publications as Gourmet, Bon Appétit, the New York Times, and Esquire. He was born and bred in Charlotte, North Carolina, where he learned cooking at his mama's knee. He splits his time between New York City and East Hampton, Long Island, where he uses Yankee flour, much to his mother's dismay.
Martha Pearl Villas has always been actively involved in church work, various bridge and book clubs, and charity leagues. She is a needlepoint expert, but her true lifelong passion has been cooking for family, friends, and neighbors, numerous local organizations, and even a few professional chefs of world renown. Martha Pearl has cooked her Southern specialties on Good Morning America, the Food Network, and other national TV programs. She is one of the few cooks to be invited to conduct courses at the prestigious Cipriani Hotel Cooking School in Venice. Martha Pearl has two grandchildren and four greatgrandchildren and travels extensively with her son, Jimmy. She lives in Charlotte.
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Shrimp and Grits
Mother first tasted shrimp and grits (or, as they're often called in the Carolina Low Country, "breakfast grits") when we were staying at the old Francis Marion hotel in Charleston, South Carolina, many years ago, and she was so taken with the luscious dish that it soon became the highlight of our Resurrection breakfast. Although she's since been impressed with versions at both the Pinckney Cafe in Charleston and Atherton Mill in Charlotte that have tomatoes in the sauce, she still thinks there's nothing like this age-old classic made with the smallest shrimp possible and a little bacon grease. As far as I'm concerned, shrimp and grits is one of the most distinctive hallmarks of authentic Southern cookery--and not just for breakfast.
For the Grits
5 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup regular hominy grits
2 tablespoons butter
For the Shrimp
2 pounds small shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons bacon grease
2 small onions, finely chopped
1/2 small green bell pepper, seeded and finely chopped
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
Salt and black pepper to taste
To cook the grits, combine the water and salt in a large, heavy saucepan, bring to a brisk boil, and slowly sift the grits through the fingers of one hand into the water while stirring with the other. Reduce the heat to a gentle simmer and continue cooking till the grits are thick, about 30 minutes, stirring frequently to prevent sticking. Add the butter, stir till well blended, cover, and keep warm in a bowl till ready to serve.
To prepare the shrimp, place them in a large saucepan with enough water to just cover. Bring to a boil, remove the pan from the heat, let stand for 1 minute, and drain, reserving the cooking liquid in a bowl.
In a large, heavy skillet, heat the butter and bacon grease together over moderate heat, then add the onions and green pepper and stir for 8 minutes. Sprinkle the flour on top and continue to stir till the mixture begins to brown, about 2 minutes. Gradually add about 2 cups of the reserved shrimp cooking liquid and whisk briskly till the gravy is smooth. Add the shrimp, season with salt and pepper, and stir for 2 minutes, adding a little more cooking liquid if the gravy seems too thick.
Serve the shrimp and gravy over large spoonfuls of grits.
Kentucky Beer Cheese
About 5 cups
Supposedly created around the turn of the century in a Louisville, Kentucky, saloon and served with crackers at bars to any customer ordering a 5-cent lager, beer cheese is one of the South's greatest appetizer spreads. Over the years, Mother has added and subtracted all sorts of ingredients (onion, hot peppers, celery, chives, different mustards, a little Parmesan), so feel free to experiment--sensibly. And to transform the spread into a simple dip, just add a little more beer. Either way, the concoction is delectable and also ideal as a snack.
2 pounds extra-sharp aged cheddar cheese, at room temperature
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons minced fresh chives
1 teaspoon dry mustard
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
Tabasco Sauce to taste
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups lager beer
Shred the cheese finely into a large mixing bowl. Add the garlic, chives, mustard, Worcestershire, Tabasco, and salt and beat with an electric mixer till well blended. Gradually add the beer, beating till the spread is smooth. (To transform the spread into a dip, beat in about 1/4 cup more beer.) Scrape into a crock, cover tightly, and chill overnight.
Serve the spread with toast points, crackers, or rye bread rounds (or, as a dip, with raw vegetables).