Thursday, October 29, 2009

Honey, Suga Puddin', Iced Tea

The Mother Board. Not the coined term for the central printed circuit board in personal computers, but the group of distinguished, gracefully mature women that sit at or near the front of the church, dolled in all white on communion Sundays. They always had a smile on their faces and pocketbooks filled with peppermints. Those are some of my most vivid memories growing up at First Baptist of Quindaro in Kansas City, Kansas. By today’s mega church standards, my home church is quite small; however, growing up it was a key part of my upbringing. The congregation is tight-knit and I am embraced every time I re-visit those who witnessed my child rearing.

Many African-Americans can relate as growing up in the black church holds fond memories, from the long winded sermons (smile) to the Easter speeches, and who can forget Vacation Bible School. For many, food was an essential part of the black church and was present prior at any given afternoon service, prayer breakfast or circle tea. First Baptist was no exception. As a child, I recall several meals where the women of the church would congregate in our old basement kitchen and the air filling with the sounds of conversation and smells of fried chicken, collard and turnip greens, macaroni and cheese, dressing and gravy and freshly baked rolls. And who could forget that “church” punch! At that age I could not appreciate the loving tender care that went into home cooked meals. Like many children, all I wanted was McDonald’s and my mother being who she was, made sure to it that our visits to Mickey D’s did not exceed 3 times per year.

As an adult, I reminisce on the women who helped to mold my character and love for cooking, Mrs. Hopkins, Mrs. Donnell, Mrs. Carter, Mrs. Poindexter, Mrs. Campbell just to name a few. In between times of playing with my friends during meal preparation, I was fortunate enough to get a glimpse in the kitchen; taking mental notes on how to add the right amount of love and magic into meals I may create in the future. No doubt these recipes were the result of years of experience, tried and true dishes that likely graced their own dinner tables.

I grew up during the 80s, a time when residuals of the “old school” were still around. You know what I mean, if you were caught talking in church, you got the “look”, or a firm scolding. No, this was not from your own mother or father, but from any adult that was within earshot. At the time, I despised the discipline, but as an adult I have come to appreciate the different forms of love and nurturing whether it was in the form of a firm rebuke or a plate of good old fashioned home cooking.

And the church said, AMEN!

Collard Greens with Cornbread Dumplings
taken from the cookbook “Donnell Family and Friends Club”
2 smoked turkey wings, cracked at the joins and skins split
2 leeks, trimmed and roughly chopped
1 ½ tsp. dried red pepper flakes
1 Tbsp. granulated garlic
1 Tbsp. seasoned salt
1 ½ tsp. black pepper
4 c. water
2 Tbsp. red pepper flakes
6 bunches fresh collard greens, stemmed and roughly chopped

1 ½ c. white or yellow cornmeal
¼ c. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. sugar
1 c. boiling water
Combine turkey wings, leeks, red pepper flakes, garlic, seasoned salt, pepper and water in a large stockpot and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer until the turkey meat is tender and begins to fall off the bones, about 45 minutes. Add the collard greens, stirring frequently at first to incorporate into the liquid. Reduce the heat to low, cover the pot and simmer until the greens are very tender and most of the liquid has evaporated, about 2-3 hours.

When the greens are just about done, begin making the dumplings. Stir together cornmeal, flour, salt and sugar in a medium bowl. Slowly pour in the boiling water, stirring constantly to form a stiff dough. To finish the dish, drop teaspoons of the dough into the simmering collard greens, cover the pan, and simmer until the dumplings are puffed and fully cooked, about 20-30 minutes. Serve the greens, residual cooking liquid, turkey and dumplings in a large serving bowl. Serves 6.

“Church Punch”
1 48 oz. can pineapple juice
1 quart tropical punch
2 liters ginger ale
Combine, pour over ice and serve.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Got Cookies?

I like cookies. No, I REALLY like cookies. To the point where I think they should be a separate food group. To promote moderation of my insatiable appetite, I’ve somehow convinced myself that I should “earn” the right to consume cookies, only if I’ve created them from scratch. If I don’t make them, I don’t eat them (usually). It works until I get the overwhelming urge to make a batch, whether they be chocolate chip, sugar, or oatmeal. Then I not only eat about 6 in one sitting, I also taste chunks of batter. I’m guilty, I admit it.

Cookies are a signature of childhood and can be created in a variety of shapes and flavors. While I enjoy making the traditional cookies, I wanted to venture into custom decorated cookies. I needed to practice piping, more particularly, detailed piping, but I was a little hesitant. After all, the only C I received in all of secondary school was from Sister Mary Katherine in art. Seriously? Anyways, I eventually got up the nerve after I reading a book by Peggy Porschen, titled “Pretty Party Cakes”. The pages contained photos of the most beautifully decorated cakes, cupcakes and cookies. I would start small, practicing piping on cupcakes and cookies, then eventually move up to mini and full-size cakes.

I originally intended to make the cookies for a baby shower, but ran out of time. In a Foodie's world, it's never too late to practice. My daughter, who enjoys crafts and has a knack for creativity begged me to assist in making my first batch of decorated cookies. I agreed reluctantly only because I’m a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to food, even though this was my first attempt. I allowed her to help to keep her occupied.

We mixed our tried and true recipe of cut-out cookie dough, baked and cooled. Then we mixed a large batch of royal icing using different colors and consistencies for outlining and filling. Granted, we created a big mess over the hour and a half session, but the time spent with my child was well worth it, and the cookies tasted pretty good as well!

Wilton's Roll-Out Cookies
1 c. unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 c. sugar
1 egg
1 1/2 t. vanilla
1/2 t. almond
2 3/4 c. all-purpose flour
2 t. baking powder
1 t. salt
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In mixer bowl, cream butter with sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in egg and extracts. Mix flour, baking powder and salt; add to butter mixture 1 cup at a time, mixing after each addition. Divide dough into 2 balls. On a floured surface, roll each ball into a circle approximately 12 inches in diameter and 1/8 inch thich. Dip cookie cutter in flour before each use. Bake cookies on ungreased cookie sheet 6-7 minutes or until cookies are lightly browned.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Mise En Place

My alarm goes off at 6:15am on a Monday morning, ugh, and once again, I have to drag myself out of bed to face another day at, THE OFFICE. I recall reading the interview between a notable talk show personality and hip-hop artist where they both commented on becoming successful by being themselves. If only I knew who Myself is. To echo the words heard in a now successful brewery founder commenting on his 9-5 job, “is this what I want to be doing in the next 5 years?”, heck “is this what I want to be doing tomorrow?”

I have no one to blame but myself, as the Bible says, out of the heart flow the issues of life. So here is my issue, how does a single mother continue to support the household while doing something she loves? The question should probably be how does a single working mother keep her sanity while working at a job she hates?

What do I love? God, family and FOOD. Not that I am obsessed with the consumption of food, but I do admit to day dreaming about food from the ground to the table. Literally, how is the food grown, is organic better? How can I find a quality co-op to deliver quality produce in the middle of a Chicago winter? Should I even be eating produce from Chile with the trend encouraging local? Why is European butter better for baking? I mean food is on my mind ALL DAY. In high school, I had dreams of being an executive chef; clothed in the chef’s garb with my tall hat, dolling out exotic and tasty preparations to pretentious guests. Then my dreams came to a screeching halt when I held a few jobs in food service realizing the fast pace, hot, stress-filled type A environment of a restaurant kitchen of did not fit my introverted, autonomous type B personality, duh! Off to college I went, getting degrees in business and now working in corporate America; only to realize what I inherently knew, that making a living does not equate to making a life.

So what’s a Foodie to do?

With an apartment kitchen apparently built for a non-discriminating bachelor, counter space all of 1 square foot and a limited budget, I did the only thing I knew how; I continued to cook. After all, when you have a passion for something, you can leave it, but it will not leave you. How else can one visit far away lands and experience culture other than through the very substance that sustains life? How can you reminisce over your childhood or times of long ago without the nostalgic tour of food? Nothing else brings to mind the times with family or that special someone than a certain dessert or gourmet meal.

I noticed that I was more focused on answering the questions of “How” and “Why” which would lead me to an exceptional “What”. I peruse through countless recipes on the Internet and am instantly gravitated to the cookbook section of the library all in search of the perfect sauce, bread or cookie. What delectable edibles will peak my curiosity this week? At any point in time I can go back to my culinary roots through a traditional southern cookbook, or perhaps blaze the way experimenting on Asian fusion. What a way to embark on an exhilarating journey of all things edible.

Instead of dreading the morning alarm, I will now beat it waking up with thoughts of making a perfectly tender beef bourguignon, or figuring out the best ratio of fat to flour for that flaky, buttery biscuit. The sky is the limit when it comes to food and that is exactly where I plan to go.