creamy white polenta with mushrooms

Because I am a complete and total Yankee, I really didn’t know a thing about grits until Alex and I took a trip to Savannah and Charleston earlier this year. But when I tried them, I fell hard. I found them in a small puddle beneath the most saucy, delicious chicken dish in a large-rimmed shallow bowl, shredded Brussels tangled around them and then the next day loaded with cheese and chives adjacent to my eggs. They seemed to be open and ready for anything put before them–on so many levels, exactly what I needed.

 sauteed wild mushrooms  sauteed wild mushrooms

I swore I’d make my own when I got back, heck, I’d make them daily but somehow that “when” became “eight months later” and that pretty much brings us up to last night. I’d bookmarked Jonathan Waxman’s Creamy White Polenta with Mushrooms and Mascarpone a while ago, but forgot about it until last week’s chicken dish reminded me of how much I like chanterelles.

This dish, although seemingly fussy, was incredibly easy to make, but something happened (I mean, beyond that) and I just couldn’t get into eating it. It was too… rich for me. Creamy polenta. Buttery mushrooms. Grated cheese and then a double-cream dollop on top. Sure, we were just eating it with salad for a light dinner but still. It seemed too indulgent for a Sunday night. I prefer contrasts: light against heavy, acidic versus fatty. The lemon juice helped, but not enough for my palette.

Nonetheless, I have a big old tub of grits to use up, so my experimenting is just beginning. If you have a favorite recipe that involves them, especially if savory and not too heavy, I’d love to hear more about it.

 creamy white polenta with mushrooms and mascarpone creamy white polenta with mushrooms and mascarpone

Creamy White Polenta with Mushrooms and Mascarpone
Adapted from Jonathan Waxman, via Gourmet, October 2005

Just because I found this a little rich doesn’t mean it won’t work for you, but you might consider tweaking the ratios at bit. This makes a lot of grits to a relatively small amount of mushrooms. You could halve the grits or double the mushrooms, for example, or of course keep it like so if you want it to look more like the picture.

For polenta
4 1/2 cups water
1 cup coarse stone-ground white grits (preferably organic)
1/4 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

For mushrooms
1 pound assorted fresh exotic mushrooms such as porcini, oyster, chanterelle, lobster, and hedgehog
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove, smashed
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 cup water
3 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley (we used chives)

For serving
1/2 cup mascarpone (though we used crème fraîche, and just a tad)
2 tablespoons finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Make polenta: Bring water to a simmer in a 3- to 4-quart heavy saucepan. Add grits in a slow stream, whisking until incorporated. Simmer, stirring occasionally with a long-handled whisk or wooden spoon, until liquid is absorbed and polenta is thick and soft, about 30 minutes. (Grits will have a loose, risotto-like consistency.) Remove from heat and stir in cream, cheese, salt, and pepper. Keep warm, covered.

Saute mushrooms while polenta simmers: If using porcini, halve if large, then slice lengthwise into 1/4-inch thick slices. If using oysters, trim spongy base if necessary and slice caps into 1/2-inch-wide strips. If using chanterelles, leave small mushrooms whole, halve if medium, and quarter if large. If using lobsters, cut into 1/2-inch pieces. If using hedgehogs, trim base of stems and halve caps if large.

Heat oil in a 10-inch heavy skillet over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking, then saute mushrooms, garlic, salt, and pepper, stirring occasionally, until mushrooms are golden and any liquid they give off is evaporated, 6 to 8 minutes.

Add water, butter, lemon juice, and parsley and heat, swirling skillet, until butter melts and liquid forms a sauce.

To serve: Top each serving of polenta with mushrooms and mascarpone. Serve immediately (polenta stiffens as it cools), sprinkled with Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Note: Mushroom sauce can be made 1 hour ahead and kept, covered, at room temperature. Reheat before using.

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59 comments on creamy white polenta with mushrooms

  1. I don’t know that these are recipes as much as they are ideas. That’s a really fancy recipe for grits you have there … it looks yummy, but as an actual GRITS (Girl Raised In The South … rimshot!), I stick with simpler applications. Cooked grits with a pat of butter. Crumble in some bacon if you have it.

    My favorite “use up” for that last bit of chevre I seem to have left over is to stir it into some warm grits and top with green onions or chives. (I do that with pretty much any cheese, but the chevre gives it a little tang.)

    There’s the traditional Southern Grits and Grillades, which is essentially a beef stew over grits. A la Paula Deen:,1977,FOOD_9936_27979,00.html

    And Emeril serves a mean Shrimp and Grits at NOLA — I almost stole my dining partner’s plate. Good grits topped with yummy shrimp, bacon and a fab sauce.

    But my favorite, favorite are the Roasted Corn grits from Zea in New Orleans. Word on the internet is that the recipe is simple — grits, lots of cream and then stir in roasted corn. Top with green onions and, well, I’m done. Arguably the best grits I’ve had in my grit-filled life.

  2. Lindsey from TX

    Ever since I was a little little girl my dad made something that he called ‘Special Grits’ ! It’s really pretty simple, but my sisters and I loved the days that Dad made special grits.
    Dad’s Special Grits:
    cook breakfast sausage(we like spicy) and drain extra fat
    dice and saute 1 bell pepper and 1 small onion and cook until translucent
    cook grits as normal and mix in sausage and pepper and onion; top with cheddar cheese if desired! (We ALWAYS desired!!)

  3. that big girl

    the original recipe (from our 68 yo landlady who called my mom at home after the local phone tree alerted her that she had been seen out in public in shorts – in Mississippi – in the 80s) included a product that was similar to Cheez-Whiz, only garlic flavored. One Tube of *cheese product* was what the recipe called for. Oh no, said my mother, no no no.
    Garlic Cheese Grits
    Cook 1 cup yellow grits according to package. Add 8oz grated cheddar, garlic powder to taste (also works well with several roasted cloves, mashed well) and 1 stick of butter to hot grits. Beat 2 eggs into 1/4 cup of milk, 2 tablespoons of Worchestershire sauce and six shakes of Tabasco. Salt and pepper to taste. Add to grits, and pour into casserole dish. Bake until firm at 350 – the recipe says 40 minutes, but I’ve never seen it done in less than an hour.

    crusty brown on top, creamy yellow inside! garlicy! cheesy! whew! This is savory, but by no means light. It’s feast food for our family, and appears at every big family meal, usually late, because I think it’s going to only take 40 minutes to cook, and it take 65 min!


  4. Kat

    As a southerm girl, I, too, grew up with grits. When I make them, they’re nothing fancy. I just follow the instructions on the box and when they’re almost done (and I define almost done as them being less soupy and more thick and creamy) I toss in as much cheddar cheese as I can stand. My husband swears I have more cheese than grits when it’s all over, but I don’t care. Yuuummm.

    You can also take them off when they’ve gotten to your desired thickness and add bunches of butter.

    With all of that said (and sorry for what is turning out to be a ridiculously long comment), my Dad sent me these instructions for grits from one of his colleagues. My grandma never made her grits like this, but I hear some people do and that this method is also fairly traditional. Hope you enjoy all the grits tips!

    Start with any kind of grits you prefer. I usually use the
    > regular Aunt Jemima quick grits, but I’ve also used Nora Mills
    > coarse ground, etc. They’re all good!
    > One cup of grits requires four cups of water and two to
    > three teaspoons of salt. Bring the water to a boil in a sauce pan,
    > turn the heat to LOW, add the grits while stirring, and immediately
    > add two cups of whole milk or a can of evaporated milk (a little
    > richer). Stir for thirty seconds or so to make sure the grits
    > aren’t sticking together and then cover the pot.
    > You _have_ to stir the grits every 2-3 minutes for the
    > first 10 minutes or so. (If not, you’ll have clumpy grits which
    > aren’t so good.) Just keep the heat on low and keep stirring them
    > every 8-10 minutes. When they start thickening, add a stick of
    > butter — yes, the real stuff! — and stir. Add cheese if you want
    > — we usually use extra sharp cheddar of some sort. Cabot Vermont
    > Cheddar is awesome! Cook to the desired consistency, add salt and
    > pepper to taste, and enjoy!
    > If the grits are ready before you are — we almost always
    > have them as a side dish — add a little more milk and stir. I’ve
    > actually kept a pot going all day before; the longer they cook the
    > better they are! You can also put them in a crock pot once you get
    > them past the “clumping stage” and let them cook for hours that way
    > too. Just stir them occasionally.

  5. Usually you would cut the creaminess of cheese grits with a shot of hot sauce. For the mushroom cheese grits maybe you could use a shot of something else similarly vinegary — or maybe use wine instead of water in the mushroom sauce.

  6. ohiogirl

    Treat grits as you would polenta!

    I make them in the microwave, seasoning them with seasoned salt instead of plain salt and serve them with butter.

    They are also excellent made with plain salt, then, with a serving of buttery vegetable stew on top. The co-mingling is very nice!

    For breakfast it’s plain salt again, and I may mix in shredded cheddar or jalapeno jack cheese.

    But you can also let them cool, and then slice and fry them. Some folks then top them with syrup, I never have. (And actually, I haven’t had them like that since I was a kid. But I know it can be done!)

    Enjoy your new world!

  7. so here i am, the nyc jaw in nashville. it’d been interesting. to say the least… southern food’s not my fave but grind me up some corn any old time…

    grits are pretty much polenta, as ohiogirl stated. these days, i don’t much buy supermarket grits but stick to polenta’s that might be slightly tastier. of course it’s all in the quality – varying with technique and producer. if you go to and search polenta, they have one italian brand that has both white and yellow and fine and course and it’s really wonderful stuff – AND anson mills at THAT site offers all of it and more. grits, cornmeal, polenta, farro, oats… it’s a virtual education!

  8. I just made a huge batch of chili. After reading this post, it strikes me that some fluffy grits, maybe cheesy ones, would be a fabulous change from rice or cornbread as an accompaniment to a good saucy chili. I’m a big fan of Anson Mills grits, ever since my trip to Nashville and the Loveless Cafe down there. I have to re-order from them ASAP.

  9. I use chicken or veggie stock in place of water or cream to cook the grits in the beginning (with sauted garlic, shallots and red pepper and lots of black pepper) then add a little cheese, parm or mascapone or the creme fraiche, sometimes throwing in a cup of frozen corn kernels. It’s a little lighter with the stock and gives the grits a little more complex flavor, depending, of course, how good the stock is. Now, if you have LOTS of dried grits and want to play some more, one of the best ways to use them is to make Indian Pudding, that wonderfully comforting baked dessert of corn meal, molasses and apples (perfect season too!) You MUST have a great recipe for that, being the East Coast gal you say you are; Julia Child had one. Don’t have one here in Paris; corn is only to be fed to animals (sigh!). Thanks to EVERYONE for all the great recipes. Good luck Deb!

  10. Oh yum. I’m a “GRIT” too and will eat grits prepared almost any way EXCEPT with sugar, maple syrup or anything sweet.

    If any of y’all from the North come down to Nashville, please don’t ask for the sugar bowl if you’re served grits. Them’s fightin’ words.

    I had the most lovely meal at a neighborhood restaurant on Sunday. It was grits with seared scallops, a shredded spinach salad and a balsamic reduction. The salad was actually on top of the grits and somehow it all went together great.

  11. Amy

    I grew up on grits and eat them any number of ways, but my favorite is probably shrimp & grits made with whatever happens to be in my pantry at the time. I posted a couple of different recipes here and here.

    If you’re ever in New Orleans, Emeril does a heart-stopping version at his Nola restaurant.

    And if you take leftover grits, put them in a buttered pan to chill overnight, you can grill it just like polenta squares and top it with whatever for breakfast the next morning. I love caramelized onions and a poached egg, but it’s hard to go wrong.

  12. “Great time ‘a day!”… if you’re looking for grits recipes, look no further than Paula Deen! No, she’s not a gourmet chef, but she knows her grits, dangit. Here are a couple of ideas:

    Breakfast in a Cup:,,FOOD_9936_36986,00.html
    (Easy? Yes, but you could really vary this idea with more complex ingredients. Also, the presentation is so cute!)

    Cheesy Shrimp on Grits Toast:,,FOOD_9936_33221,00.html
    (I think the idea of grits toast is a great idea. I would suggest changing up the topping she suggest in this recipe as it sounds very heavy and kind of bland, but you could take this idea and run with it.)

    I look forward to seeing what you do with grits next!

  13. I am a total polenta dork; can’t make it well consistently enough to satisfy me and all the time I spend at the stove avoiding the scalding bursts of molten cornmeal. My preference when I do is to chill it, slice it and saute it golden brown. Then I can eat it.

    I did a grits version once with roasted garlic and sharp cheddar and it was OK. I often just have to wonder if maybe I really don’t care for polenta……

    (i always wanna duck when I say that in case the cognoscenti start tossing things)

  14. Mel

    This is the best Shrimp and Grits recipe if you ask me. Its from the Hominy Grill’s web site/cookbook. I’ve just recently moved back to the south from NYC, and man i’m loving me some grits with every brunch!

    Shrimp & Grits
    3 slices bacon, chopped
    1 lb shrimp, peeled & deveined
    2 tbsp flour
    2 tbsp peanut oil
    1 _ c. sliced mushrooms
    1 lge clove garlic
    2 tsp fresh lemon juice
    _ c. thinly sliced green onions
    Fry bacon until crisp, remove from pan & reserve; pour off all but 1 tbsp of fat. Gently toss shrimp w/ flour until lightly coated; remove excess flour. Add peanut oil to pan w/ bacon fat & heat over medium high heat. Add shrimp & sauté until half-cooked. Add mushrooms & toss. When they begin to cook, stir in reserved bacon, add garlic with a press but do not let brown. Then very quickly stir in tabasco and lemon. Cook until shrimp are pink on both sides and mushrooms are golden brown. Season w/ salt, add green onions and then remove from heat. Spoon shrimp mixture over grits. Serve immediately.

  15. I love grits! Whenever we drive to Florida from Ct I make sure to get some grits along the way. My favorite way to eat them is a big dollop or two of Sausage gravy on top….yum

  16. Finally found one of my favorite grits recipes; THE GRITS THAT STOLE CHRISTMAS (I just copy ’em, I don’t write ’em…) from Chef Bob Waggoner in SC. These are not as heavy as you might think. One can always use half-and-half or even whole milk to replace the cream. Feta cheese is nice as a change to the goat cheese:
    2 1/2 Tbs. unsalted butter
    2 1/4 cup chicken stock
    1/2 cup stone ground grits
    1 -2 cups heavy cream
    1 tsp. chopped garlic
    1/2 tsp thyme
    1/2 cup diced sun-dried tomatoes
    3/4 cup chevre
    1 -2 Tbs. chopped chives
    salt and fresh cracked white pepper to taste
    Bring chicken stock & butter to boil in thick bottomed saucepan. Stir in grits; return to the boil. Reduce heat, allowing grits to cook another 15 min. at low boil and until grits are thick, having absorbed most of the stock. Stir occasionaly to keep from sticking.
    Add 1/2 cup cream and reduce heat, cooking slowly for another 10 minutes. As liquid is absorbed add more cream until desired consistancy. Add salt and pepper to taste with a total cooking time of 1 hr. Grits should be thick and big bodied. Fold in garlic, thyme & tomatoes. Crumble goat cheese on top.

  17. My childhood favorite – and I mean FAVORITE – saute them in butter with onions (mmm, onions!) and mix with fried potatoes, cut scallions and some sour cream on top. Mix and serve. So. So. Good.

  18. jael

    Someone mentioned this earlier but it’s worth repeating: the night before, cook the grits til thick, then let cool in a loaf pan lined with plastic wrap. In the morning, take ’em out of the fridge, slice thinnish (1/8″?), and fry on a griddle til they’re browned and crisp. Top with butter, salt, and pepper. Consume.

    Fried mush. Immense breakfast favorite in my family. And we’re not even Southern.

  19. Kim

    My DH’s family has Italian roots, and their standard treatment is to serve homemade chicken soup over the polenta/grits. It’s really a great warming comfort food.

  20. I’m a California girl and couldn’t tell you anything about grits, but I recently took a vegetarian cooking class, and they topped regular polenta with caramelized shallots and gorgonzola and it was to-die-for. Maybe its the marscapone that made it too rich?

  21. bf

    a standby recipe for a delicious easy dinner, from the nytimes:

    but be sure that you also click on the link for “garlicky swiss chard”, the greens are an integral part of this dish. you can also use kale, or broccoli, or anything you like.

    i make this a lot – enjoy

  22. In trying to think of the meals at which grits were a staple, I immediately thought of a fish fry. We often pair grits with fried fish (usually catfish) and hushpuppies in the south. And coleslaw. Gotta have something green, you know.

    I will also often use them as a base on the plate with wilted spinach and sauteed fish on top. A squeeze of lemon over all of it helps cut the richness of the grits.

  23. Very odd that the recipe is called “white polenta” but calls for grits. My grandmother, by the way, always said white cornmeal was better than yellow, for both grits and cornbread. I heartily agree.

    If you have leftover grits, they will solidify, in which case, slice them, cut them into squares or triangles, and layer them in a baking dish with a bit of butter and cheese, bake until brown. In the South this is grits casserole, and very similar to the Italian Gnocchi ala Romana. It’s really delicious, and maybe you could work in some of the leftover pumpkin puree too ;-)

  24. Sarah

    I don’t know if you’d consider Florida southern (I think of it more as a tropical state,) but my grandmother used to make the best, simplest, grits ever. She’d make a huge vat of grits every Sunday I’d see her, or whenever I was sick, and it is truly the best comfort food when prepared just right!

    My mother said that when she first had grits with my dad’s family, she couldn’t imagine eating it. We’d fry the eggs, but leave the yolks a little runny, place them on top of the grits. Cut up the eggs, sprinkle on some salt, add Tabasco to your liking, and enjoy. We’ve been searching for my nanny’s recipe, it seems she has taken it to her grave!

  25. cw

    Garlic cheese grits is the one dish that brings my family to tears remembering the many times my late Mom made them. Luckily she passed the recipe on to me. It calls for the Kraft garlic cheese roll mentioned above but she would also add a bunch of grated cheddar, garlic powder, or fresh garlic too. Sometimes when she’d be missing her beloved Eastern Shore she’d sprinkle Old Bay over the top before baking. Over the years she converted a lot of “I don’t like grits” people into “please bring your cheese grits” people.

  26. akaellen

    I am also a true GRITS girl and it hurt my southern heart (just a teeny bit) to interchange the word grits with polenta (yes I know they are technically the same thing but…). I see you’ve gotten tons of good suggestions — I know you love poached eggs and a nice poached egg stirred into some grits that have been seasoned with butter salt and pepper is divine. Doesn’t look so good when you stir it around but tastes yummy! Also with scrambled eggs and bacon or sausage is a good combo. I do agree with angel Funk that grits are best enjoyed SAVORY not sweet.

  27. Alison

    About the blog: I admit that, technically challenged and unenthralled as I am, I have up until now not understood how people find time to blog and/or read blogs, but I had not thought of the application for FOODIES! Smitten Kitchen just might make me a believer. I love reading recipes and especially narrative around recipes. Thanks, Deb!
    About grits: I grew up in Alabama eating plain, salty, buttery grits, but when I make them now, I almost never use just water. The key to creamy grits is using some milk or, better yet, half-and-half or cream. Substituting a little of the water with chicken broth also adds a savory touch. My current favorite grits recipe is sauteed sausage (I like Trader Joe’s sweet Italian chicken sausage), multi-colored bell peppers, and onions with seasonings of your choice of grits as above but with the addition of a generous mound of fresh grated Parmesan cheese.

  28. AngAk

    I got this idea from an old Caprile Pense cooking show: she served a lovely autumn stew over a scoop of creamy polenta. It is such a nice surprise to dip into the stew and find the creamy polenta surprise. So good with burgundy beef!

  29. Danica

    I made polenta tonight, though sadly it did not involve an exotic pile of mushrooms. I tried, for the first time, making it in the oven. It was really easy and something I recommend others try. You basically put the polenta (3/4 cup), water (3 cups), and a bit of salt in a casserole dish with a lid and pop it in the oven for 30-45 minutes at 425. Stir mid-way through the cook time. Then when it looks and feels done, take it out of the oven and stir in a bit of butter and milk. Voila – so easy!

  30. Francesca – Italy

    Just want to remark that grits is definitely not Polenta. Also the real Polenta is made only adding water: absolutely no heavy cream nor butter. Please let’s call things with their proper names.

  31. danielle

    just made this last night and it was de-freaking-licious! used 2% milk, creme fraiche, and lots more parmesan; next time, i’ll salt the polenta, omit the creme fraiche, and sprinkle the mushrooms with crumbled feta. thanks for the inspiration!

  32. My favorite way to make grits actually started out as a recipe for shrimp and grits. Then I took out the shrimp and kept all the other good stuff! I always use the long-cooking kind

    Cook grits (or polenta, since the dry version is essentially the same) with half milk and half chicken stock. In the last minute of cooking, add a pat of butter, a handfull of cheddar cheese, a dash of hot sauce, and salt (I use Alton Brown’s method, from Good Eats, just with half the butter, salt, and cheese).

    Cut red peppers and onions into strips. Sautee the peppers and onions in butter or olive oil. Add a splash of chicken broth and bourbon, and ignite to let the alcohol burn off. Let the sauce reduce slightly. Sometimes I start this step with cooking chopped bacon, if I have it in the fridge.

    Scoop the grits into a shallow bowl. Top with onions and peppers, and plenty of the sauce. Add fresh ground pepper. If you add shrimp in with the peppers and onions its a good, simple shrimp and grits.

  33. Jade

    I realize this post is from *forever* ago…

    We always has polenta for breakfast with a drizzle of honey and some fresh fruit, figs, berries or plums are really good with it. Good warm like oatmeal with the honey mixed in or cold, sliced and drizzled on top. Yum.

  34. Misirlou

    This was divine. I skipped the mascarpone and added a little bit of cream to the mushrooms. Next time I’ll double the amount of mushrooms.

  35. Nancy

    I can recommend the Grits withroasted corn and tomatoes from the Fine Cooking Website. Basically Grits with Goat Cheese topped with roasted corn,& tomatoes , (I add eggplant) topped with chopped green onions.

  36. Jennifer

    LOVED this! I used presliced portabellos (oh the horror but I have a 2 year old & I’m sure you understand) & they were a bit strong but still tasty (I love portabellos). It was very simple to put together & tasty & just great in a November evening. Oh, and I didn’t add the mascarpone/creme fraiche since that was a bit fussy for me on a weeknight. I will make this ten million times.

  37. Shelly

    This is yummy. I’m a little confused, though. The title says polenta but the ingredients list says grits? I bought the only grits I could find at the grocery store: Quick cooking. So they were done in about 8 minutes, not 30 (fine by me!). Ended up being a quick and delicious dinner on a cold night. Perfect!

  38. Mel

    Nice! I was happy to find Jonathan Waxman’s recipe here. I’ve had his creamy polenta with mushrooms at Barbuto and it was fantastic. I’m not really a polenta fan, but I enjoyed this immensely. Now that Barbuto is closing due to its landlord, I’m glad that I will be able to recreate this dish at home. Thank you.

  39. Being Italian we are no strangers to polenta, usually with a tomato sauce and sausages, boiled eggs, and lots of parmigianno reggiano. I too found it to be a bit heavy and could never finish my plateful, but a few months ago we made white polenta with mushrooms and herbs and it was fantastic, and I always like to fry it up the next day or bake it in the oven adding a bit f sugar to it making it like a semi sweet corn bread. It will be interesting to see what you come up with using up all those grits, Your dish may have been to rich for you but was really lovely.

  40. Lacy Deeb

    DEB!!!!! Thank you!!! :) :) :) I was so excited to see the title of this post, and I can’t wait to make these!!!!!!!!!! :)

  41. Porfirio Hotze

    surprised @ the referral to “old news”. your site is still tops for variety, quality and creativity and all without the twenty paragraph prelude with TMI. keep it up, congratulations and can’t wait to try these muffins.

  42. God that was good. I have recently, at age 70, found a lovely woman who loves me and whom I love to cook for … now and then. Your stuff added to mine and others has been a treat. So I added your creamy polenta to some short ribs and she’s convinced I killed it. Maybe, but with some yummy help from your kitchen. Thanks

  43. Calisson

    What brand of grits did you use, in the end? Cook’s Illustrated says “don’t use quick cooking,” and also “use degerminated grits,” which I assume to be the opposite of “stone ground.” I have had no luck in finding that combination on line!