Glorious Grits by Susan McEwen McIntosh

Book Reviews 2009

If you think grits are, indeed, glorious, then this is a book for you. But even if you're not sold, hear us out. This book veers way off the breakfast path, with recipes for savory polenta main dishes (very popular right now), desserts (grits pecan pie, anyone?) and a bunch of things to do with plain old cornmeal. We're loving one super easy cornmeal-jam cookie right now. Get the recipe, below...

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Title & Publisher: Glorious Grits: America's Favorite Comfort Food, by Susan McEwen McIntosh (presented by Southern Living). Published by Oxmoor House.

First impressions: Not an exhaustive, huge book — which is appropriate, given the limited subject. Still, more than we ever thought of to do with grits. We were especially enchanted by the dessert chapter and were happy to see a lot of basic cornmeal recipes, which makes this book useful for those who can't always get their hands on good, organic stone-ground grits (ahem, New Yorkers).

How it's organized: By type of meal, from breakfast to appetizers to main dishes to sweets. There's an entire section devoted to shrimp and grits recipes and a chapter on breads (cornbread, griddle cakes, etc.). More than 100 recipes in all. There are plenty of tips and recipe alterations in the margins, which makes the book really versatile.

What we've tried so far: Easy Pork Grillades over Panko-Crusted Grits Patties, although instead of the grits patties, we made the Two-Corn Grits from another recipe and served our grillades over those. Easy for a weeknight and very flavorful. The Raspberry-Cornmeal Thumbprint Cookies are almond-scented and divine and were the fastest cookies we've made in some time.

What we're bookmarking: Grits Frittata with Herbs and Shallots (above), Short Ribs Braised in Red Wine with Creamy Corn Grits, Cracklin' Grits Spoonbread, and Blackberry Cobbler with Blue Cornmeal Biscuit Crust.

Strengths and weaknesses: McEwen knows her grits; her family owns a gristmill and its own brand of grits, "McEwen & Sons." She talks about grits, polenta, and cornmeal being used interchangeably (no snobby distinctions). And there are some recipes from really wonderful Southern chefs like John Besh and Frank Stitt.

The majority of the recipes are meant to be easy and relatively quick, so there aren't a lot of unexpected ingredients. That can be good, but things can start to look repetitive, and several recipes rely on canned tomatoes, canned beans, etc. Also, you need to seek out good, stone-ground grits (there's a listing of where to find them). We bought some grits from the bulk bins and ended up with quick-cooking ones, which made our Two-Corn Grits less than perfect. These recipes are meant to be made with the good stuff.

Buy the book: Glorious Grits, $16 at Amazon.

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Raspberry-Cornmeal Thumbprint Cookies

1 cup butter, softened
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup finely ground or sifted stone-ground white cornmeal
1/3 cup seedless raspberry or blackberry jam*
1 cup powdered sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons almond extract
2 to 3 teaspoons water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Beat butter at medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy; gradually add granulated sugar, beating well. Add 1/2 teaspoon almond extract. Combine flour and cornmeal; gradually add to the butter mixture, beating at low speed until mixture is blended and forms a ball.

Shape dough into 1 1/4-inch balls, and place 2 inches apart on baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Press thumb into each cookie to make an indentation. Fill center of each cookie with a rounded 1/4 teaspoon jam. Bake at 350 for 12 to 13 minutes or until edges just begin to brown. Cool 1 to 2 minutes on baking sheets; remove to wire racks to cool completely.

Combine powdered sugar, 1 1/2 teaspoons almond extract, and water, stirring to make a thin glaze. Place glaze in a small zip-top plastic freezer bag, and snip off 1 tiny corner of bag; squeeze bag to drizzle glaze over cookies. Yield: 3 dozen.

*We used blackberry, which we'd highly recommend.

More recent book reviews:
Confections of a Closet Master Baker
Veganomicon by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero
The New Portuguese Table by David Leite
Guide to Better Bacon by Ari Weinzweig
Cookie Swap by Julia M. Usher
Southern Cocktails by Denise Gee

(Images and Recipe courtesy of Oxmoor House)