First Person TM_DIY_SOUTHERN_FI_001

“Do y’all have good food up there?” That is the question I most often get asked when I go back to my hometown of Memphis, Tennessee. They don’t know how I survive in the North without barbeque, fried veggies, or a million different kinds of cornbread. And because it’s often the case that Southerners stay right where they are — in the South — surviving without these and many other foods just seems impossible.
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The Whole Chicken Project TM_WC_SOUP_FI_001

Chicken soup is more than just another meal. It’s the thing that parents feed their children when they’re sick. It is one of the best things ever to take to families with brand new babies. And on a cold day, there is nothing more warming than a bowl of steaming chicken soup.

It’s a cultural touchstone and I firmly believe that every home cook should know how to make a batch from scratch. And so, for this final installment of the Whole Chicken Project, that’s what we’re going to explore. All you need is a chicken, a few veggies, and a handful of herbs and seasonings.
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Ingredient TM_FP_SCRAPPLE_FI_001

When I was a child, no breakfast was better than a scrapple breakfast. I preferred a plateful of the crispy, savory mystery meat to any bowl of Lucky Charms or stack of chocolate chip pancakes. But then, when I was 10 years old, I learned what scrapple really was.

Honestly, I could have lived happily without ever figuring out what constituted one of my favorite breakfast foods. Surely, most of us could. In case you’ve lived into adulthood in blissful ignorance, this is how scrapple is made: Pork scraps — everything from skins and hearts to livers and tongues — are combined with flour, cornmeal, and spices, then molded into a one-pound brick. It’s not the best food for people who insist on knowing exactly what is in what they’re eating, and certainly isn’t for those that are particularly health-conscious.

I always wondered if there were many scrapple lovers who appreciated it as much as I did. MORE

The Whole Chicken Project TM_WC_CURRY_FI_002

The curry of my childhood was chicken legs, onions, carrots, potatoes, and a few raisins in a highly spiced, tomato-based sauce. We ate it over steamed brown rice to sop up the juices and with plenty of garnishes like yogurt, diced apple, and fresh cilantro leaves.

It wasn’t until I was well into my second decade of life that I discovered that our curry wasn’t the only version. Throughout my teens and twenties, I took great pleasure in exploring the curries of the world and tried every one I could.

These days, though I appreciate and enjoy the many disparate versions of curries out there in the world, I find that this time of year, when there’s a chill in the air and it’s dark out by 6 PM, I want nothing more than a bowl of the curry my mom always made.
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Forgotten Foods TM_FF_INVALID_FI_003

I can’t figure out where to get a lump of coal in September. In Los Angeles. In 2013. Not activated charcoal, which is sometimes used by present-day hospitals to help suck up ingested poison. But a plain ol’ lump of dirty coal, like you would use in the 1800s to fuel your stove and give your home that lovely soot smell. This is a problem, because according to a woman with too many names — Lady Mary Anne Boode Cust – in her 1853 title The Invalid’s Own Book, boiling a walnut-sized lump of coal in an pint of milk until it gets thick is “a very nutrative* food, and easily obtained.”

Well, at least for me, that second part is a lie. And sweet jeebus – coal milk? As if it didn’t already suck to get sick in the 1800s and early 1900s. MORE

Kitchen Hacks TM_KH_FRYNG_FI_001

One of the rules I’ve come to adopt as a life tenet is that sometimes, you just gotta say f— it.

Since my boyfriend and I began dating about five years ago, we’ve been compiling a list of wise saws to live by. (My secret hope is that one day, if/when we live together, I will crochet this list into an heirloom wall hanging.)

So far, we have a whopping total of three. 1. The above. 2. Listen to some good music every day. And 3. Don’t be an asshole.

For a former overachiever, the first has been the hardest to accept. But I know, deep, down, that truer words have rarely been spoken (or yet crocheted).

It goes for food, too. Sometimes, a nice salad or a lovingly braised chicken is just not going to happen. So sometimes my friends, you just gotta say, fry it.
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Bookshelf

Mac Attack

Creative twists on a crowd-pleasing classic

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I was 12 years old when I learned that macaroni and cheese didn’t have to come from a box. Until that point, mac and cheese was something that my mom bought occasionally and tucked away for those evenings when my sister and I were home with a babysitter. It was cheaper than a pizza and even a 15 year old with basic cooking skills could make it. We never had mac and cheese made from scratch because my mom could not bear to sit down to a meal that starred a dish made solely of noodles and cheese.

Then one night, an old friend of my parents’ came to visit, with four of her six children in tow. After a quick glance at our pantry, Lusana began to make a colossal batch of homemade macaroni and cheese to feed the kids. I watched in fascination as she made a creamy sauce, poured it over broken spaghetti noodles (it was what we had) and baked it until it bubbled and browned. A single bite and I was forever sold. MORE

Madame Fromage TM_MF_TRIPLE_FI_001

If there’s a cheese pairing associated with Valentine’s, it’s a glass of bubbly and a wedge of triple crème. Lovers who fall for this luxe combo tend to think of it as a supremely naughty indulgence – the apex of dairy gluttony. After all, “triple crème” suggests three times the fat of regular cheese.

Like Cupid, that’s a myth. Let me spread some beautiful truth: a hunk of hard cheese, like Pecorino or Parm, actually contains more fat by the pound than a wedge of runny Brie. That’s because there’s more moisture in soft cheese, meaning: more water. Hard cheese, on the other hand, is low in moisture and high in fat, making it far more decadent. MORE

Thanksgiving, Viva La Vegan TM_VV_THKSG_AP_001

At an early age, I learned that the best way to get out of the endless cleaning and dish-washing activities that accompany the Thanksgiving holiday is to help my mom in the kitchen. Each year, from Wednesday until Thursday evening, I am her prep cook, her errand runner, and her preserver of sanity. Over potato peeling, apple chopping, turkey basting, and some perfunctory wine sipping, my mom and I simply click. The conversation flows, punctuated only by her showing me, for perhaps the tenth time, how to properly roll out a pie crust, and by me reminding her, for the hundredth time, that she needs to relax. Beyond the company and holiday cheer, cooking with my mom is what makes Thanksgiving special. MORE

The Larder TM_TL_BECHA_FI_001

So many of my foundational food lessons came from family members. My grandma Bunny taught me about meringues, while my other grandmother showed me how to shove slivers of garlic into roast beef to enhance the flavor. My mom is responsible for my everyday food knowledge (along with my basic canning skills) and my dad shared everything he knew about fried eggs, pancakes, waffles and the art of the chocolate chip cookie.

I wish I could tell you that I learned to make béchamel and cheese sauces from an aunt or a kindly neighbor, but sadly, the truth is that all the credit for that particular skillset goes to Rachael Ray, circa 2002. MORE

Dispatches

One Nation Under Dog

The best reason to visit New Jersey

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No one escapes high school without internalizing the idea that America is a melting pot. But recently, as I ate my way through New Jersey, I realized there’s a more accurate analogy that describes our national character. America is actually more like a hot dog cart. Look closely at this humble foodstuff and you can see how generations of hungry immigrants and food traditions from the whole world converge on the bun. And there’s no better vantage point from which to examine the hot dog than the annual New Jersey State Hotdog Tour.

The Garden State, so near the hub of Ellis Island, is the hotdog capital of America. Sure, New York’s venders are more visible in movies and the Chicago dog, piled with veggies, gets more attention in the pages of foodie magazines, but a trip up and down the Garden State Parkway reveals the hotdog’s real identity. MORE

First Person TM_FP_OLIVIER_FI_001

I once heard an old wives’ tale about the origins of salat olivier, a Russian-style potato salad that was one of my favorite homemade dishes growing up. Supposedly, it was inadvertently invented when a chef decided to combine all of his leftovers together in one bowl. Considering the array of ingredients used in olivier—a combination of proteins, potatoes, and vegetables—this explanation seemed plausible.

It wasn’t until recently that I discovered the true roots of my childhood favorite meal. According to the School of Russian and Asian Studies, Olivier was the culinary brainchild of a French chef named Lucien Olivier, who ran Hermitage, a famous Parisian-style restaurant in Moscow in the 1860s. The original recipe included expensive game and seafood ingredients—veal tongue, grouse, crayfish, and caviar, to name a few—and was dressed in homemade Provencal-style French mayonnaise.

Legend has it that this salad was one of Chef Olivier’s most beloved dishes. He was fiercely protective of his precious recipe—so much so that he took it to his grave. But it was loosely reconstructed from the combined memories (and kitchen espionage) of Olivier’s sous chef, as well as some loyal Hermitage customers. It has since become a fundamental feature of any contemporary Russian party spread—the vodka of Russian salads, if you will – especially at New Year’s celebrations. MORE