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November 29, 2020
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Food & Dining

Holiday Meal Alternatives from Julian Brunt

Christmas is just a few days away, and if you have not completed your plans to feed the friends and family that are bound to stop by, you may be on the verge of punching the panic button. But hold on, there is a simple solution! Have you checked out the catering services of your local grocery store? Today is the deadline to order a turkey, ham and sides, or full dinners from Rouses, so if you don’t get to it right now it will be too late. But there is still another alternative.

I am not a huge fan of traditional family style dining, there is just too much food involved. I much prefer a few appetizers or small plates and have a particular fondness for Italian antipastos, or dishes inspired by the Italian traditions. Italian antipastos for Christmas? Yes, it is a good idea.

If you want to avoid the huge turkey and ham, and the expense they incur, check out the deli at Rouses, or your favorite grocery store. Rouses has a great selection of olives, roasted garlic, peppers, olive leaf wraps and olive oil cured veggies. Place them in small bowls, and pair with a good cheese. A good rule of thumb is to pair foods and wines from the same country: Italian prosciutto de Parma and a good Italian red table wine works just fine.

Here’s something I am going to serve to friends on Christmas day. Miniature grit cakes, made even more delicious with judicious seasoning of red pepper flakes, and using heavy cream, not milk and homemade chicken stock, topped with thin slices of mozzarella, and a slice of taleggio (Italy’s second most [popular cheese), run under the broiler until the cheese melts and you have a delightful mini bite. You might want to brown the mortadella in butter first, sometime a small touch like that makes all the different in the world.

A few notes on the above: whats the difference between grits and polenta? Very little in fact, polenta may be a bit of a finer grind, but they are both made from ground, dried corn. Mortadella? Do you know the story? The Italians brought mortadella to the USA, a famous sausage made in Bologna, Italy. The Americans had a hard time with mortadella, but they did remember it as the sausage made in Bologna, which morphed into baloney.

I am a big fan of grit cakes. Poured into molds when done and still hot, then popped out when cooled. Really makes for much better presentation than just a dollop of grits slapped on a plate. If you use good quality grits (I only use Original Grit Girl grits from the Ocean Springs farmers market), and, as I said before, make them with cream and chicken stock, add a little cheese and fried sausage if you like, and they are amazing.

Think about topping grit cakes with collard greens, an Italian red sauce, or a simple cream sauce. It is as versatile a recipe as can be found and is absolutely delicious. Make the cakes small and you have a great appetizer, use muffin molds and you have an entree.

One last note, I hope you have a great holiday, but remember to be thankful for the good things you have. Many of my thanks giving include culinary blessings. We have so many wonderful restaurants and chefs to be thankful for and such an abundance of food.

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