Have you ever been reading a restaurant menu, jonesing over the delicious-sounding ingredients of a dish that you’ve never tried and wondered “how did they think of that flavor combination?”  Well, I got the chance to ask that question recently during a special “in the kitchen” segment over Skype with Chef Josh Evans of LongHorn Steakhouse.

Chef Josh, along with Chef Michael Senich, have what I think of as a dream job. He leads development of the Peak Season menu which showcases classic seasonal flavors and adds a LongHorn twist. The Peak Season menu is rotated four times a year, along with the Chef’s Showcase menus, in all of LongHorn Steakhouse’s 445 restaurants across 38 states.

LongHorn Steakhouse Blackened Salmon with Cheddar Grits

Blackened Salmon & Cheddar Grits: Hand-cut Atlantic salmon, blackened with a 12-spice blend, served on top of creamy Cheddar grits.

WPS Butternut Squash Risotto

Roasted Butternut Squash Risotto: Creamy Parmesan risotto with roasted butternut squash and fresh sage butter.

Chef Josh explained how they select fresh ingredients that can be sourced locally for all the LongHorn Steakhouse restaurants. I enjoyed learning how they pair seasonal vegetables with fresh proteins to create familiar comfort foods that have an innovative twist in their execution. And I was supremely impressed when he showed me how easy it is to prep a butternut squash for their rich, Roasted Butternut Squash Risotto. Here’s a video with Chef Josh in action:

The Winter Peak Season Menu, available through March 24, also includes:

  • Garlic Mussels – Steamed in Sam Adams Beer with garlic, onion and butter
  • Winter Brie Salad – Winter field greens tossed in a blackberry vinaigrette with warm brie bites, dried cherries, red onion and mandarin oranges
  • Praline Pecan Butterscotch Pudding – Creamy butterscotch pudding, Maker’s Mark bourbon-caramel sauce, candied pecans with a dab of whipped cream

The Chef’s Showcase Menu gives chefs Josh and Michael a chance to share their inspirations and creativity. The current Chef’s Showcase Menu features Blue Crab & Meyer Lemon Filet and Blackened Salmon & Cheddar Grits.

I am not from the South (though I have distant relatives from Alabama), so I have never totally understood grits. I’ve had grits while traveling throughout the South and when I lived in Houston – but I wasn’t sure what made for great Southern-style grits. Well the light bulb went on after Chef Josh gave me a crash course in Grits 101.  I felt so inspired with my new-found knowledge that I decided to use the stone-ground grits used in LongHorn’s Cheddar Grits to create my own Cheesy Grits (using mascarpone cheese) in the slow cooker. Topped with bacon, of course! 

Have you ever made grits? What’s your secret technique or ingredient?

And don’t forget to enter the LongHorn Steakhouse giveaway below for a chance to win a $50 or $25 restaurant gift card. Enjoy!

Baked Chicago's cheesy slow cooker grits with bacon

Cheesy Slow Cooker Grits with bacon

Rating: 51

Cook Time: 3 hours

Yield: 8 servings

Cheesy Slow Cooker Grits with bacon

Ingredients

2 cups stone-ground grits
32 ounces vegetable stock
pinch of sea salt
2 cups whole milk
3 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup mascarpone cheese
6 slices thick-cut bacon, cooked crispy and crumbled

Instructions

In a 4-quart slow cooker, stir together grits and a pinch of salt. Add vegetable stock and let stand 2 minutes, allowing grits to settle to the bottom.

Tilt the slow cooker carefully and skim off the solids using a fine mesh strainer. Add milk and stir to combine.

Cover and cook on HIGH for 2 1/2 to 3 hours, or until grits are creamy and tender. Stir about every 45 minutes. The consistency will be similar to oatmeal.

About 5 minutes before you’re ready to serve, stir in butter and mascarpone cheese. Serve garnished with crispy, crumbled bacon.

Notes

Cooked grits won’t absorb salt, so be sure to salt your dry grits or water before you start cooking.

Whisking frequently makes for the creamiest grits, because whisking releases starch. Traditional stone-ground grits take about 45 minutes to cook, which can make whisking tiresome. That’s why a slow cooker option is a better choice, when time is on your side. The slow cooker’s steady moist heat will release the starch in stone-ground grits with minimal stirring. That creates a naturally rich, creamy texture.

Sometimes mascarpone cheese can be difficult to find in a local grocery store. You may substitute ricotta cheese for the mascarpone.

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Disclosure: I was given samples of select ingredients featured in LongHorn Steakhouse’s winter Peak Season menu to review and to use for creating an original recipe. LongHorn Steakhouse also provided the prizes in this contest. I get no additional benefits for talking about this product or company. All opinions about this product are 100% my own.