The Gleeful Gourmand: January 2015

Monday, January 26, 2015

Mom's Super-Simple Chili

Unless you've been living under a rock the past few days, there is apparently a blizzard of "epic proportions" bearing down on the Northeast. Here in good old RVA, we've been blessed with no pretty, fluffy, white stuff (or not yet, at least), but instead have a crummy, cold, wet day. We live in a place where snow frequently happens to everyone around us, but not actually to us. You can watch the weather report and see the lines of snow curving around Richmond as if there were a "no snow" force field around the city.

And that's quite a shame (and sometimes infuriating) because I absolutely love snow. What is winter for, after all, if you can't have a little of the white stuff thrown your way every now and then? Last winter was perfect for that. The Polar Vortex (which is always said with a slightly sinister British accent, by the way) brought us some really great snow fun, which we traded in for feeling like our faces might freeze and fall off. It was a happy trade-off in my estimation.

If there's no snow, my southern blood calls out for spring, stat. Enough of the bleak days, the bare tree limbs scratching the dull gray skies while cold seeps into your bones. Give me snow, or give me flowering Dogwoods. I've had enough of the in-between.

If you are one of many getting buried by huge drifts of snow; or you're trying to get warm from a raw, wet day; or you're in a sunnier clime trying to escape the takeover of "Deflate-Gate" on your every media device, there is a solution to make you feel better, and it's this incredibly easy Chili (very un-inspiringly, but lovingly referred to as just "Mom's Chili.")

Mom's Super-Simple Chili

This is the chili I grew up loving, and I've never served it to anyone who didn't absolutely fall head-over-heels in love with it too. I know my mom got the recipe from her sister's then mother-in-law, but where she got it is a complete mystery. All I know is that it's super simple to make, and incredibly unique. It's everything a good chili should be: warm, spicy, inviting, and hearty. Plus, there's a special ingredient that takes it over the edge of being just good chili to downright sumptuous. Are you ready for the secret?

It's a 1/2 teaspoon of ground cloves. Yes. You read that right. I know, you're wondering how it works with that spice, but I'm telling you, the ground cloves send it into orbit. Not only does it smell heavenly, but it gives the chili an unusual, yet comforting taste. You may tempted to change the recipe below, but I'm telling you, rather forcibly, to leave it alone. I have tried to switch the recipe up countless times. Fresh minced garlic instead of powder; a jalapeño or poblano instead of the green pepper. Different beans. No change beats the original, except this: I do switch out ground beef for ground turkey, and it's still just as good! But that's it. No changing anything else, okay?

Your guest will be scratching their heads wondering where that wonderful flavor comes from.

When I was growing up I remember dressing it up at the table with good, sharp cheddar cheese, big dollops of sour cream, and either shredding sandwich bread into the chili, or crackers. These days, I'm satisfied with just the cheddar cheese, but no chili could ever be complete without cornbread. And the best recipe for cornbread that I've ever made is chef Tyler Brown's Buttermilk Cornbread, which can be found by clicking here.

Buttermilk Cornbread, so delicious with chili!
So enjoy that snow, stay safe out there, don't get too worked up about "Deflate-Gate," and hey - if you're wondering what to serve for Super Bowl Sunday, you're now one step ahead of the game!

Mom's Chili

• 1 large can of diced tomatoes
• 2 regular cans dark kidney beans
• 1 1/2 lbs. of ground beef (or ground turkey)
• 1 onion, diced
• 1 large green peppers, diced
• 1/2 tsp. ground cloves
• 1 tsp. chili powder (or more to your taste)
• 1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper
• Garlic powder, to taste

Brown the meat in a dutch oven or other good pot over medium-high heat. While browning, season with garlic powder and ground pepper. Drain fat if needed.

Add can of tomatoes, and using a potato masher, crush the tomatoes so that most are broken down, but some bits of tomato are still left. Add all the other ingredients, stir, and bring to a gentle boil. Reduce heat, cover with a lid, and let simmer for an hour. Serves 6.


Friday, January 16, 2015

Edna Lewis's Warm Gingerbread

It's no secret that I love to read about food just as much as I enjoy preparing it. Food has a unique way of connecting our fondest memories to the present as we try to re-create those long-forgotten pleasures of the tastebuds. There have been more than a few times that tears have sprung to my eyes after tasting a dish from my childhood. With the first bite, the memories come flooding back, and we can clearly see the scenes laid out before us; most of them good, some of them memories we wish we could forget.

This powerful notion is why I was excited to dive into Edna Lewis's "The Taste of Country Cooking." I had first learned about Miss Lewis after reading Judith Jones's "The Tenth Muse: My Life In Food." Judith Jones was responsible for finally getting "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" published, and countless other now-famous chefs on the page. Jones has an exceptional way of drawing out authenticity and raw emotion from cookbook authors and chefs. It was her story of working with Edna Lewis in this capacity that I found particularly inspiring, so much so, I knew I had to read Miss Lewis's book for myself.

Edna Lewis, the doyenne of Southern Cooking

Edna Lewis was born in 1916 in Freetown, Virginia; a farming community established by her grandfather and other freed slaves around 1865. She left her seemingly idyllic home around the age of 30 to find her life in New York City, starting out first ironing at a laundry (she only lasted 3 days) before moving on to various jobs including typesetting for The Daily Worker; dress making for celebrities such as Marilyn Monroe, and finally landing the job that would change her career forever: becoming a chef at a restaurant called Café Nicholson in Manhattan. From there she went on to become chef of Gage & Tollner in Brooklyn. Her passion for reconnecting to her roots in Freetown and teaching people what the South and Southern cooking is truly all about (at the time the perception was that it was nothing but cornpone) led her to found the Society for the Revival and Preservation of Southern Food.

Miss Lewis is often referred to as the doyenne of Southern cooking, and when you read "The Taste of Country Cooking," it's not hard to understand why. This cookbook is exceptional in the way her story tumbles out according to season. Her memories unfold on the page as she describes her life and family in Freetown, and the pleasure derived from creating food gleaned solely from the ground and the natural world all around them. Each season begins with a story about what was happening on the farm at that time, and the recipes that follow are studded with micro stories about how the dish was made, and the memories Miss Lewis recalls in conjecture with those foods.

The gift the reader is bestowed with is something that few cookbooks have managed to do: picking the reader up and putting them right down in the middle of a scene they may be unfamiliar with, but one that they don't wish to leave. Thanks to her beautiful prose, I could easily imagine myself at that table with her, waiting eagerly for that Christmas or Revival Sunday dinner, or out picking strawberries, fresh watercress, or walnuts to make a simple, delicious meal. As a native Virginian, it was also particularly fascinating to me to learn all about the land she so lovingly describes.

Edna Lewis's Warm Gingerbread with Sweetened Whipped Cream

I set out to make one of her recipes, and settled on one from the Winter section of "The Taste of Country Cooking," Warm Gingerbread with Sweetened Whipped Cream. She describes the process of extracting the juice from the sorghum cane plant to make sorghum molasses, and how much she and her siblings looked forward to the first gingerbread of the season her mother would make. Knowing how much my husband loves gingerbread, I knew I had to try my hand at her recipe.

One of the interesting methods her mother would employ was combining butter and lard together, and then melting it in a cup of boiling water. I had never heard of this method, and wondered what the purpose was, and if it would really work. Lacking lard (Miss Lewis was a huge champion of lard, and worked to see that it made its way back into kitchens across America, unsuccessfully), I substituted with vegetable shortening (Crisco). I came to understand that along with sifting all the dry ingredients, this method made the gingerbread super moist, fluffy, and melt-in-your mouth delectable. The aroma as the cake baked was overwhelmingly tantalizing. Once it had baked and I began shooting pictures of it for the blog, I realized that this was probably the best gingerbread I had ever had in my entire life. After the pictures were done I could scarcely stop myself from trying a big bite. The spiciness of the ginger wasn't overwhelming, and while the cake isn't overly sweet, it is sinfully delicious. That night I made Chicken and Dumplings to honor her, and served the gingerbread for dessert.

I know gingerbread is usually associated with Christmas, but as Miss Lewis describes, they would have it starting in the fall, and would eat it until the molasses they had on hand ran out, usually in mid-winter. I can't think of a better treat to serve up on a bleak, cold winter's night. Be sure to serve it warm.

Edna Lewis's Warm Gingerbread with Sweetened Whipped Cream
"The Taste of Country Cooking"

• 2 cups flour
• 1/2 tsp. baking soda
• 2 tsp. baking powder
• 1/2 tsp. ground cloves
• 1 Tbsp. powdered ginger
• 1 tsp. cinnamon
• 1/2 tsp. salt
• 1/2 cup butter (1 stick) and 1/4 cup lard, mixed together (I used 1/4 cup of shortening instead)
• 1 cup hot water (I brought it to a boil in my tea kettle)
• 2 eggs, beaten
• 1 1/2 cups sorghum molasses (or dark molasses)

1 8x8x2 baking pan

Whipped Cream
• 1 cup heavy chilled cream
• 2 tsp. vanilla
• 2 Tbsp. sugar (I like to use powdered sugar)

In a large mixing bowl, sift flour, soda, baking powder, cloves, ginger, cinnamon, and salt. Mix the lard (or shortening) and butter in the hot water and when melted pour into the flour mixture. Stir well, then add beaten eggs. Continue stirring, add molasses, and stir well again. Spoon the batter into a buttered and floured baking pan. Set to bake in a preheated 350˚ oven for 35 to 40 minutes. Whip the chilled cream until it forms soft peaks but is not too stiff, then add sugar and vanilla. Serve with warm gingerbread.


Friday, January 9, 2015

Mastering the Art of Cheese Soufflé

Last year around this time I decided to make only two resolutions, and both were culinary. The first was making a traditional French Boeuf Bourguignon, which I wrote about here. The second was to try my hand at a classic soufflé. Both were dishes that seemed complicated, but worth the effort. I wanted to learn something new, and prove to myself (and you!) that those recipes (especially French recipes) that seem daunting are not as hard as they seem, and worth the extra time.

Well, I didn't get my soufflé under the wire of the New Year, but I figured I could start 2015 off with a bang and set the tone for the rest of the year, at least in the culinary department. I've always loved a good soufflé, both savory and sweet. And I don't know about you, but I had it in my head that it really was a daunting thing to do. When written about in magazines, it's always with a reverence that revolves around the soufflé's ability to rise to lofty heights.

Any dessert that requires you to order it 25 minutes in advance must be pretty serious, right? It was time to find out for myself, and there was only one way I was going to do it: traditionally, or not at all. I once again went straight to the source: Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

Mise En Place for a Cheese Soufflé

(Excuse me for a second as I go on a rant here) Let me say, I am absolutely making a point in not calling this "Julia Child's Cheese Soufflé." Call me a stickler for facts, but this book was not just written by Julia Child. True, Louisette Bertholle was a minor player in the first volume (there are two, by the way), and not at all in the second, but Julia Child couldn't have done what she did in this book without Simone Beck. Simca had an impeccable palate, and was famous for tasting something a chef had prepared and knowing exactly what went into it, how it had been prepared, and how to re-create it in the home kitchen. My point is this: The recipes that come out of this book are not just Child's alone. That's what makes a collaboration a collaboration. Without Beck and Bertholle's expert knowledge on French cuisine, there wouldn't have been a book.

(Okay rant over) What makes the book so perfect is Julia Child's sensibility woven throughout. She wanted to make all these recipes really work for the "servantless American cook" and to teach them in a such a way so that the knowledge would stick. Not only does it start the whole chapter off by teaching you step-by-step how to whip eggs correctly, but also the techniques of folding, and the correct measurements for any circumstance where your soufflé mold might hold more or less than the recipe requires. They literally thought of everything.

And that's exactly what I love about their recipe for Soufflé Au Fromage, or your basic Cheese Soufflé. There's not much guess work. If you follow it exactly, your soufflé will come out perfectly - it will rise. Luckily I already had some good knowledge about what the egg whites should look like going into it, but I appreciated the devotion to making sure the reader knows exactly what it should look like before you stop (and possibly over-whip it): beaten to stiff shining peaks.

Folding egg whites into the cheese sauce, smoothing the top, and sprinkling more glorious cheese on the top.

I loved slathering butter liberally in the inside of the soufflé mold, and sprinkling it with freshly grated Parmesan cheese. This is an important step because as the soufflé rises, the butter and cheese will help it slide up the sides of the mold, and when it's done baking you have these lovely specks of salty Parm studding the outside of each slice.

The initial sauce can be made ahead, but it's a bit tricky here to follow their directions word-for-word. French cooking is a delicate dance between balance and time. Making sure your roux doesn't brown before pouring in boiling milk takes timing and adjustment. Even so, mine browned just a bit. My advice is to have every single component you need for each step of the recipe out and ready to go before even starting.

Here's another challenge when making a Cheese Soufflé for dinner: Two out of three of my children not only hate eggs, but hate melted cheese (Hello, are you sure you're my children?), and they wouldn't stop coming into the kitchen, slipping through the hands of my husband who had been tasked with keeping them out to ask me for the millionth time, "What are we having for dinner?"


"What kind of food?"

"Good food." And on and on as their suspicions deepened, and I finally blurted out, "Soufflé! We're having Soufflé!"

"I hate Soufflé!"

"You've never even had it."

It was at this point that they all remembered that one of their favorite episodes of Jake and the Neverland Pirates included a Soufflé monster (just go with it), and they were completely fascinated.

Soufflé Au Fromage

I sprinkled the top of the mixture in the mold with a liberal amount of good Swiss cheese (much more than the recommended 1 Tbsp.), and into the oven it went. We waited with baited breath over the next 25 minutes hoping it would rise...and it did! It was lovely, and glorious, and yes, I felt triumphant. Of course, it started deflating the moment I took it out of the oven, but it didn't fall too terribly far.

I served it with a mixed green salad with slivers of oranges and a pomegranate dressing and also star fruit. A nice Chardonnay to toast its lofty, light, fluffy existence. And all of the kids tried it! The one who loves eggs and cheese devoured her whole serving and asked for more. The other two took a couple of bites and then refused it. Luckily I had chicken nuggets on hand, and they also, um, had some deer heart (which is another story for another time).

Cheese soufflé paired with a mixed greens and orange salad.

The soufflé was delicious. Crispy on top; and like eating an eggy, cheesy cloud on the inside.

Next challenge for me? Coq Au Vin. Mastering the Art of French Cooking's recipe, of course.

Note: I would like to reprint the recipe here, but not only would I be infringing on copyright laws, but I would also be missing the point. The genius of this recipe is that you learn a lot from it. In order to do that correctly, you really need your own copy of Mastering the Art of French cooking. In lieu of that, you can easily Google it, and find blogs who have taken the time to type out the recipe. Or you can use Ina Garten's recipe which you can find here. Her recipe, though it uses spinach and cheddar (instead of Swiss), is almost word-for-word identical to the one I used, and you won't go wrong.