Chowchow Down

Chow chow: A Chinese dog descended from the Spitz.  In China, they’re called “puffy-lion dog”, or Songshi Quan.  Weighing in at about 60 pounds, they’re very furry, with squishy puppy-like faces and purple tongues.Achingly adorable, but not the chowchow we’re looking for.

Chow chow: A dish made by the Pennsylvania Dutch in which vegetables like carrots, cauliflower, beans, and peppers are cut into bite-size pieces and pickled.  Similar to the Italian’s giardiniera, it was a useful way to have bright crunchy vegetables well into the winter. Way closer, but still not the chow chow we’re looking for.

Chow chow: A southern relish made with finely chopped cabbage, green tomatoes, peppers, onions, then pickled.  Used to add a punch of acid and crunch to meals and dishes.  Can be sweet, hot, or a combination.

We have a winner!

Last week I waxed rhapsodic about a meal The Kid and I enjoyed at Chef Ashley Christensen’s Beasley’s Chicken and Honey, in downtown Raleigh.  I spoke about the grit fries and how the addition of acid cut what could have been greasy and heavy, and in the process elevated the dish to one of the tastiest, most balanced items I’ve ever eaten.

That acid took the form of chow chow, which I’d never eaten before. This stuff is delicious on its own.  It’s a puckeringly sour, crunchy, twisted kind of Cole slaw.

But it adds so much dimension to other foods—foods that by themselves, like the fries, taste great for the first few bites, but after a while it’s just too much; your mouth feels coated in grease, and you need a shower and a nap.Slow-cooked meats, like brisket and pork shoulder with lots of fat and connective tissue.  Mayonnaise-based potato salad and macaroni salad can be served with a small dollop of chow chow that is a perfect foil to heaviness.  Stir it into deviled eggs for a briny kick.

This recipe is a mashup of a few different recipes.  I was looking for availability of ingredients, ease of preparation, and unlike many chow chow recipes, one that makes less than a gillion gallons of the stuff.

Chow chow

Makes 6 cupschowchowIngredients

4 large green tomatoes, quartered

1 large sweet onion, quartered

1 medium head cabbage, core removed, chopped into large pieces

¼ cup salt

½ tsp turmeric

2 tbsp pickling spices…enclosed in cheese cloth and tied off

2 small jalapenos (optional)

3 cup sugar

2 ½ cups apple cider vinegar

3 bell peppers, 1 red, 1 yellow, 1 green

pinch of allspice

InstructionsWorking in batches, pulse veggies in food processor until finely chopped. Transfer to large bowl and stir in salt. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

The next day, line a colander with cheese cloth. Pour in chopped veg and rinse in cool water until the salt is mostly gone. Remove as much water as possible by squeezing vegetables in cheese cloth.  Let sit in colander in the sink for an hour.Transfer vegetables to a large nonreactive pot and stir in vinegar and all remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat; reduce to a low simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool completely. Cover and refrigerate for up to 1 month. Or parcel into zip-top freezer bags and freeze for up to three months.To country folk and farmers, wasting food is a huge sin.  And with no freezers, or produce regularly coming in from warmer climes, one needed to be creative to enjoy bright flavors and crunchy textures in the dead of winter.

Chow chow fits the bill—and luckily, it’s a hugely versatile condiment, and astonishingly delicious.Thanks for your time.

The See-Saw

Have you ever seen a cartoon where a big guy hops on a see-saw with a little guy, and the little guy flies up into space?

Or, maybe you’ve been on one, and the guy at the other end gets off abruptly and you slam down to Mother Earth in a manner that rattles your fillings and makes you walk funny for a few days.

Both of those hilarious calamities occurred because there was a lack of one crucial ingredient.

Balance.

The Kid and I were in Raleigh the other day to visit the NC Museum of Art; truly, one of our state’s greatest cultural gifts.  I bought tickets for an exhibit, and The Kid picked up the lunch tab.My child surprised me with Beasley’s Chicken + Honey (237 S Wilmington St, Downtown Raleigh).  Beasley’s is one of Ashley Christensen’s eateries.  Chef Christensen is Raleigh’s #1 culinary rock star.  Her standards are as high as the quality of her dishes.  Her menus are thoughtful, and the food is invariably fresh and delicious.First, we ordered a couple of their house cocktails.  The Kid got a Benton’s Old Fashioned, and I got the American Trilogy.  They were both tasty, but oh so strong.  Their bartender does not skimp.  After one, the world’s cheapest drunk (that would be me) was about four sips away from looking for a lamp shade with which to dance.

We stopped at one.We decided to order a few sides to share alongside our entrees.  We got the mac & pimento cheese custard, a terrific example of the egg-forward version of the Southern classic.

We also ordered the creamed collards and as an appetizer, the crispy cheese grit fries.

These two items were straight up perfect.

What made them perfect, you ask, Gentle Reader?One word—balance (now, hopefully, the see-saw palaver makes some sense).

The greens were creamy and rich, but with a hint of heat, and a bracing vinegar bite.  There was no cloying greasiness on the tongue because when the creamy hit, it was quickly followed by the acid.It was the grit fries though, which should be required eating for every human who strives to become a skilled cook.  It was a graduate degree on a plate.

The fries were planks of crispiness that hid a creamy, cheesy rich bite of perfectly cooked grits.  They were stacked up and served with a malt vinegar aioli, and chowchow; a puckery relish made from cabbage, green tomatoes, and peppers. This dish was a symphony of balance; crispy fries, creamy aioli, and crunchy chowchow.  It was sweet, salty, sour, and a little bitter.  Each element was delicious but eaten together it was one of the most delicious, complete bites I’ve ever been lucky enough to eat.

We will be thinking about and discussing that meal for a long time.I strongly urge you to go to Raleigh and visit Beasley’s for a plate of those fries, but in the meantime, I have an example of culinary balance that’s a bit easier to get your hands on.

Reubens are balance in sandwich form.  It’s an odd combo of items that only a mad man could have invented, but which works so very well. It’s crunchy and a touch bitter (toasted rye), crispy and sour (sauerkraut), creamy and rich (mayo and 1000 island), melty and nutty (Swiss cheese), salty and fatty (corned beef).  An associate’s degree between two pieces of bread.

Although I’d never had chowchow before, Chef Ashley’s was so good I’ve seen the error of my ways.  Next week I’ll share a recipe and a few ideas of what to do with it.Thanks for your time.

Cooking with Nathalie

Nathalie Dupree has an issue with how the traditional, historic Southern diet is remembered.

This was a very typical dinner.

Sure, folks ate fat back, or streak o’ lean.  But it wasn’t a slab on a plate, it was in a big pot of greens.  And likely the only other food on the menu was a piece of cornbread.  The pork was the sole protein.  A meal didn’t contain  3 or 4 proteins, like fried chicken, ham, and fish.  Those were special occasion foods that most were lucky to eat once a week.

This is not how your average Southern family ate every day.

Life was not a fancy Southern buffet with 20 or 30 different foods.  Families made do.

When it comes to Southern food, cooking, and history, doyenne Nathalie Dupree knows her stuff.

Friday night I attended a cooking class at the Southern Season in Chapel Hill, taught by Nathalie.  There was quite a bit of laughter—she’s really funny.  But there was an equal amount of gasps and “Oh wow!’s”.  Because what Nathalie has forgotten, most of us would be lucky to know.

Here is just a small sampling of what I learned.

A little iodized salt will not kill you–and will prevent this.

1.)Did you know goiters, those thyroid-related neck growths from the mists of time are making a comeback?  The small amounts of iodine in table salt essentially eradicated them.  But since everyone has switched over to fancy sea salt sans iodine, doctors are seeing a resurgence.

2.)When you chop herbs, the smaller pieces fall to the bottom of the pile, so keep moving the pile around to get a uniform cut.

Change the season or the venue–try indoor cultivation.

3.)Speaking of herbs, ever wonder why the tender herbs like cilantro and parsley are a bear to grow, yield little, and play out quickly?    It’s because we don’t live in Maine.  All of those plants do great above the Mason Dixon in the summer.  But down here, not so much.  In actuality, soft, leafy herbs are a fall or spring plant.  Just make sure they don’t stay out overnight in a freeze.

4.)Okra has more protein than any other vegetable.  To eliminate the much feared and loathed slime, cook with acid, like vinegar, lemon, or even tomato.  Okra and bacon taste great together, as shown in the delicious cakes Nathalie made for us.

Here’s her recipe:

Okra Griddle Cakes

okra griddle cakes4 slices cooked bacon, drippings reserved

1 cup cooked okra, finely chopped

1 ½ cup self-rising cornmeal

½ cup all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon granulated sugar

2 cups buttermilk (Nathalie likes old-fashioned, full fat buttermilk)

3 tablespoons butter, melted

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

Shortening or vegetable oil for frying

Sour cream (optional)

Finely chop the cooked bacon and okra.

Up to 2 hours before serving, whisk together cornmeal, flour, and sugar in a bowl.  Stir in buttermilk, butter and eggs until just mixed.  Add bacon and okra to batter.

Heat a griddle or large iron skillet until hot.  Add enough oil to coat the bottom.  Sprinkle on a bit of batter to test that the griddle is hot enough to sizzle (Nathalie says that you cook with your ears and your nose) and the batter is of pouring consistency.  Add more water if necessary, 2 tablespoons at a time.

Ladle ¼ cup batter for each griddle cake onto hot griddle and cook until the top of the cake is dotted with large bubbles and the bottom is light brown.  Flip with a large spatula, and cook until the other side is lightly browned.  Keep warm in a 200 degree oven on a rack over a baking sheet or serve immediately.  Continue with the rest of the batter until it’s all gone.  Serve hot with optional sour cream.  Variations:

Top with sour cream and a little extra chopped bacon and okra.  Or, substitute a little chopped turnip greens and hot pepper, a few chopped shrimp or crab in the batter for the okra and bacon.

5.)To check if potatoes are cooked and ready to be mashed, rub one between your fingers, they should be smooth.  If not return to the boil.

6.)Thanksgiving was never meant to be healthy.  Go for broke.  As Nathalie said, “When you’re dead and gone, you want them to lie in bed and say, ‘I wish she were here to make that’.”

7.)And season with love.

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Thanks for your time

Things I learned in class

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“What did we know from scallions?”

She may not have known a whole lot about scallions, but Nathalie Dupree is a walking encyclopedia of culinary knowledge and history.

Friday night I went over to the Southern Season in Chapel Hill, and attended a cooking class given by the Grande Dame of Southern Cuisine; Nathalie Dupree.  And boy, was I taken to school.  Below is just a few of the many, many things I learned.

1.)Nathalie is kind, and very funny.  And she absolutely does not believe in giving yourself a migraine by stressing in the kitchen.  The history of Southern cooking is not fancy and fussy, it’s making do with what you have on hand.

2.)When you’re cooking a large meal, write a list of everything you need to do, so you’re not sitting down to dinner and realize you forgot the rolls.  Order the list by cooking time.

3.)Okra.  Cut it lengthwise, and toss in olive oil, salt and pepper.  Roast at 400 degrees for 15-20 minutes or until colored and crispy.

To dice okra, treat it just like an onion.  Leave on stem, cut width and length-wise.  Then slice it into a dice.

4.)Thomas Jefferson, who was an accomplished and curious farmer, is the reason why there are so many varieties of peas and beans available to us.  Using a couple types, our first course was this delicious salad.

Corn and butter bean salad

corn and bean salad

1 pound shelled butter beans, butter peas, speckled peas or any combination, fresh or frozen

6 ears corn on the cob, preferably Silver Queen, kernels and juice scraped from cob

1 green onion or scallion, sliced, white and green parts

8 slices bacon, cooked crispy and crumbled

¾ cup mayonnaise (Good Southern girl Nathalie has a strong preference for Dukes)

4 tablespoons white wine vinegar

3-4 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme

Salt & freshly ground black pepper

Add the beans to boiling salted water, reduce heat and cook about 3 minutes.  Add the corn and cook 1 minute more.  Drain the beans and corn and run under cold water to stop the cooking and refresh them.  Drain again.

Gently toss together the beans, corn, onion, bacon, mayo, vinegar, and thyme.  Taste, then season.

Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least one hour before serving for the best marriage of flavors.

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*Variation: Substitute one pound package frozen white shoe peg corn or other whole kernel corn (see, I told you she doesn’t believe in getting all crazy in the kitchen about ingredients or technique).

5.)This is absolutely genius: Because it’s a summer crop in the north, and a winter crop in the south, flour grown in Northern climes are harder, ie; contain more gluten, which makes for stretchier bread dough (a good thing).  Southern flour is softer, which is much better for flaky pie crusts and biscuits with crispy crusts, and tender insides.

WhieLilly, Martha White, and Southern Biscuit are all from the south and therefore better for cake, pastry, and biscuits.

King Arthur flour is from Vermont, and thus is a much harder wheat, and really good for bread making.

Gluten is protein.  So, if you’re not sure how much gluten is in a particular brand of flour, check the nutritional label.  Flour with higher protein content per serving has more gluten.

Nathalie Dupree is my kitchen hero.  To illustrate her laid back cooking philosophy, I will leave you with one of her best lines from class.

“If it turns out great, serve it.  If it doesn’t; make a trifle.”

It doesn’t matter what the original plan was…anything can be a trifle.

Thanks for your time.

 

Food Chat: Grande Dame Edition

I, and anyone that eats my cooking owe her a debt.

Chefs James Clark, Amy Tornquist, and Jason Cunningham and many other chefs also owe her a debt.

The ‘her’ in question is Nathalie Dupree.

In 1986 a food revolution took place when Nathalie Dupree published her first cookbook; New Southern Cooking.

Traditional Southern cooking is the stew of European and African cultures with the crops and meats available in the South.  It’s the mélange that occurs when lack of funds is combined with surfeit of time.  Her book restored pride in the kitchen heritage of the South and introduced it to a wider world.

Nathalie took traditional Southern dishes and filtered them through the classical culinary training she received in London at Le Cordon Bleu.  She elevated it and transformed it from cooking to cuisine.  And along the way, became a legend.

So much so that in 2011 the premiere women’s culinary society, Les Dames d’Escoffier International bestowed upon her the title of Grande Dame.

As for me, her shows on PBS were my first exposure to true Southern cooking.  I watched her cook with love, pride, and skill.

The weekend of August 5th, Nathalie Dupree will be in Chapel Hill, at Southern Season for a Southern cooking class, and book signing.  Last week, I completely lucked out and had a phone chat with her.

If you’ve never been tele-taught by Nathalie, I highly recommend it.  She’s made hundreds of hours of television on PBS, Food Network, and the Learning Channel.  Many of her episodes are available on You Tube.

I asked her how she feels about the explosion of celebrity TV chefs.

She feels that when Food Network moved from cooking lessons to game shows, something was lost.  One of the few shows she watches is Ina Garten.  Which makes sense, because although one’s from the north, and one’s from the south, they both love entertaining, and respect food.

Besides, believe it or not, Nathalie was actually born in New Jersey, but so very raised in Dixie.

Always the teacher, she gave me some life changing lessons during our chat.

When you come in after a long day and are too tired to think or do what she calls the “pantry waltz” (great term, no?), she suggests keeping a list of easy meals which can be made quickly from on-hand ingredients.

On her list is shrimp and grits (her fave type is Anson Mill’s Bohicket, just like me) and scrambled eggs with cheese and a salad.  Another meal is something I’ve never had, but you can darn well be sure I’m going to very soon—Italian sausage sautéed with either apples or peaches, depending on the season.

She keeps a box of refrigerated pie crust handy.  Then when she has produce looking a little worse for the wear, or drips and drabs of this and that, she makes either a savory tart or even simpler, a free-form galette, a pie with the edges folded over the sides and baked on a cookie sheet.

And instead of a lattice top made of pie crust, shave a zucchini into ribbons and weave them into a lattice.

One of my favorite recipes is from her first book, New Southern Cooking.  Every Southern cook worth their salt and freshly cracked pepper should know how to make it.

Luckily, Nathalie generously gave me permission to share.

Old-Style Pimento Cheese Spread

pimento cheese

12 ounces grated rat or Cheddar cheese (rat cheese is an inexpensive local Cheddar-like cheese.  Hoop cheese fits this bill.)

2-4 ounce jars of  pimentos, drained

1 cup mayonnaise (Nathalie makes her own–but if you’re not up to that, a good quality store-bought like Duke’s, works)

Put all the ingredients in a food processor or blender and process until smooth.

I’ll let you in a shocking secret about Nathalie.

You know those Anson Mills grits she likes so much?

She cooks them in the microwave.  They cook no faster than stove-top, but it completely eliminates the danger of scorching.  Just mix up your favorites according to the directions, only mix them in a Pyrex bowl and nuke them on high.  Every 10-15 minutes give them a good stir, and keep cooking until they’re done.

And the next time you’re in one of the area’s many fine restaurants, enjoying fried green tomatoes, collards, or corn pudding, you now know you have Nathalie Dupree to thank.

Thanks for your time.

Food Chat: the Art of Southern Cooking Edition

Years ago, Southern cooking was denigrated as the food you cooked if you didn’t know any better.  It was commonly held to be the food of people who had no money and no imagination.  The only thing everyone agreed it had was heart; and lots of it.

It was gathering around Grandma’s kitchen table for Sunday dinner.  It was ‘putting up’ summer vegetables in a kitchen that felt like the inside of a steam iron.  It was desserts that were full of love, fat, and sugar.

But then folks got busy.  In many households, both mom & dad worked all day away from home.  There just wasn’t time, energy or desire to spend all day in the kitchen turning out big, heavy meals.

And as time passed, there were fewer of those old-school grandmas left.  Those recipes and techniques were forgotten.  And we were all the poorer for it.

Then along came Nathalie Dupree, and everything changed.

In 1986 her book, New Southern Cooking was published.  And all that humble Southern fare was reintroduced to a new generation.  And this generation realized that home cooking, Southern cooking, country cooking; whatever you called it, was an important gift from our ancestors.  It was something to treasure and something in which to take deep pride.

It was better than the convenient meals we had traded it for.  Cleaner, tastier, and healthier—to mind, body and spirit.

On the weekend of August 5th, Nathalie Dupree will be in Chapel Hill at Southern Season to conduct a cooking class and a book signing (check their website for particulars).

Last Friday, I had the opportunity to have a telephone food chat with Nathalie (I tried calling her ‘chef’, but she quickly corrected me, “Everybody calls me Nathalie”.)

When I first became interested in cooking, I never missed her PBS show and have quite a few of her cookbooks.  She is one of my very first culinary mentors.

She’s a Cordon Bleu-trained chef, a renowned hostess, a savvy business woman, and a moving author (Get your hands on her essay, “Lover’s Menu”; it’ll break your heart).

She insists that her hundreds of shows; on PBS, The Learning Channel, and Food Network, were education, not entertainment.  And she’s still a teacher, who makes learning completely painless (and plenty entertaining).

She gave me a tip which I will use for the rest of my life when writing recipes.

Unless it’s a baking recipe (which is chemistry that relies on proper proportions for success); she doesn’t list an amount for salt and pepper.  You cannot season unless you taste.  And as the cook, you must taste and determine for yourself.

Nathalie generously gave me permission to share her recipes with you.  I chose one of her specialties; simple Southern vegetables viewed through the lens of a classically trained chef.

Green Black-eyed Peas, New Style

black eyes

2 cups fresh black-eyed peas, and snaps

4 cups boiling water

3 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons chopped fresh savory and/or thyme

Salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Place peas in a pot with the water and bring to the boil.  Add butter, and let boil for 20 minutes.  Add the herbs, salt and pepper.  Serve the peas hot and slightly crunchy in their “pot likker”.

Nathalie Dupree started the new Southern cooking movement.  She’s sold over half a million cookbooks.  Her cooking school in Atlanta has educated over 10,000 students.  She’s won two James Beard awards.

She rescued Southern cuisine and in doing so changed the way we all eat and cook.

Thanks for your time.