My name is Jennifer, and I am a cookbook junkie. Recently our library underwent a complete cleaning, reorganization, and shelf-ification, and a few discoveries were made: Paul and I have duplicate copies of many things. We don’t have much in the science genre. And I have approximately 250 cookbooks. Cookbook collecting is definitely a habit for me, and reflects my evolution as a cook. Consider the first cookbook I ever bought, The Enchanted Broccoli Forest,in 1991. I had my first apartment at O.U., and though I wasn’t a vegetarian, I was deathly afraid of poisoning myself by preparing meat improperly; thus began a long period of collecting vegetarian books. Or my long-lived low-fat obsession, punctuated every Christmas with the latest Cooking Light yearbook. Thankfully, Cooking Light has lessened its low-fat strictures somewhat and is more about well-balanced eating, so I still follow it. And in recent years, my focus has been Louisiana and Southern cooking, resulting in enough volumes to fill an entire shelf. The latest purchase, Basic to Brilliant, Y’all, by Virginia Willis, is a great collection of Southern-based recipes with solid cooking techniques built in to each recipe (Willis is classically trained). It joins the ranks of my favorite cookbooks that actually teach you how to change the recipes into something else, which is equivalent, in my mind, to a private cooking lesson (How To Cook Without a Book, The Art of Simple Food, and In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite are similar books).
For instance, the following Sweet Potato Grits recipe, which handily cooks grits and sweet potatoes at the same time in the same pot, is tagged with a sidebar that instructs you how to turn the sweet potato grits into a spoonbread casserole–valuable information that could translate into many varieties of grits being turned into many spoonbreads, lucky for us. The morphing of the recipe is the “brilliant” part of Basic to Brilliant. Sometimes the sidebars suggest presentations (as in the Okra and Cornbread Cakes being turned into a Napoleon-style stack), or garnishes (as in the Roasted Tomato Soup’s recipe for Gruyere Flans–yep, Gruyere Flans). The book is chock-full of great ideas.
When I flipped to the page with the photo of Sweet Potato Grits, I knew I’d be making them, and soon. I love this recipe for its ingenuity and its combining of two of my favorite Southern side dishes. But most valuable, I think, is the amount of flavor that shines through with very little fat or salt. I think that alone makes it a keeper. They’re great alongside Deviled Chicken Thighs (also from the book) and some lemony sauteed spinach.
- 2 cups water
- 2 cups low-fat or whole milk
- 1 cup stone-ground grits (I didn't have these, so I used old-fashioned and they worked fine--Jen)
- 2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and grated (a food processor is great for this)
- coarse salt and freshly ground white pepper
- ¼ teaspoon ground ginger
- pinch of ground cinnamon
- 1 Tablespoon unsalted butter
- In a large, heavy saucepan, combine the water and milk and bring to a gentle boil over medium-high heat. Slowly add the grits, whisking constantly. Add the sweet potato. Season with salt and white pepper. Decrease the heat to low and simmer, stirring often, until the grits are creamy and thick, 45 to 60 minutes.
- Taste the grits and sweet potato to make sure both are cooked and tender. Add the ground ginger, cinnamon, and butter. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and white pepper. Serve immediately.