Tag Archives: Cooking

CHICKEN STEW

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As a Southerner and a cook, I often find myself included in lively debates about regional cuisine, long-winded discussions of the dozens of types of barbecue preparations, cornbread recipe swaps, or conversations on the perfect biscuit dough. Those of us who love food treasure the dishes we were raised eating and love to swap recipes and tips.

In my travels, I have done my fair share of boasting about my hometown’s specialties. One dish that I speak of frequently, that is such a big component of The Shoals’ local food culture, is chicken stew. And almost every time I mention it (outside of my home region), no one else in the room seems to know quite what I’m describing.

“Is it like a vegetable soup?” Not exactly. “A Brunswick stew?” Hmm. Not really.

So, I gradually came to understand that this dish—that was as ubiquitous to every neighborhood kitchen as cornbread or tea—wasn’t a staple meal for the rest of the world. In fact, it really doesn’t exist much outside of our small region of the Tennessee Valley.

Truthfully, the origins of chicken stew cannot be traced. And, no one can explain exactly why it is so specific to this region. I remember being told by an aunt that, once upon a time, chickens were kept for the eggs they produced. By the time a family killed a chicken for its meat, it was a “tough old bird,” only suitable for stews and other slow-cooked dishes. As with many rural households, you made the most of what you had and, logically, a stew fed more mouths than one fried chicken. Most likely, as with most regional foods, the recipe was created when poverty crossed paths with farmers, native people, and West African-style dishes. The result, in this case, is a dish that’s similar to existing recipes but that remains explicitly exclusive to one place.
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HOMEMADE MINI MOON PIES

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Our café kitchen has been testing, developing, and tasting new items for our dessert menu. We are intent on staying true to foods that reflect our roots, incorporating traditional Southern elements into decadent dishes.

Moon pies are treats that fit the criteria of being both definitively Southern and decadent. For those who have not yet had the pleasure of experiencing one, a moon pie is a sandwich cookie consisting of two layers of a soft graham cookie, a marshmallow filling, and a flavored coating, typically chocolate.

The first Moon Pies were made by the Chattanooga Bakery in 1917 and were based upon requests from hungry coal miners. When a Chattanooga Bakery salesman visited a company store that catered to coal miners, the miners told him they wanted something solid and filling, because they often didn’t get time for a full lunch. When the salesman asked them how big the snack should be, a miner framed his hands around the moon hanging in the sky and said, “About that big.”

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A CAKE FOR GEORGIA GILMORE

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Today, in celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr. week, we turn the spotlight to one of the unsung heroes (or heroines, rather) of the Civil Rights Movement: Georgia Gilmore.

Georgia (whom we have written about before) lived and worked in Montgomery, Alabama, and was a true servant to the cause of the movement. Georgia was a big lady with a big personality—frankly put, she didn’t take any bull from anybody. She worked as a midwife, as well as a cook at the National Lunch Company. After Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to leave her seat on a bus in December of 1955, a group of black ministers and community leaders formed the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA)—and initiated the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Led by Martin Luther King, Jr., the Association often held secret meetings around the city. As soon as Georgia heard of Rosa Parks’ arrest on the radio, she joined the MIA, determined to aid the effort in any way she could.

Outspoken and feisty, Georgia let her disapproval of the discriminatory bus drivers be known—an action that got her fired from her job at the cafeteria. When that happened, Dr. King and other leaders helped her set up a restaurant in her home kitchen. Georgia was well-known around town for her fried chicken, pork chops, and stuffed bell peppers and often served these and other dishes to Dr. King and fellow supporters of the boycott. She even hosted secret MIA meetings there in her kitchen.

Georgia’s love (and talent) for cooking and her passion for equality and change led her to start a club with a few of her friends, named “The Club from Nowhere.” The ladies in the club, most of them maids and cooks, sold homemade pies and cakes (and even Georgia’s chicken dinners) to supporters of the movement in order to raise money for the boycott. The Club from Nowhere often set up shop in beauty parlors, Laundromats, and on street corners in downtown Montgomery. Both black and white supporters of the boycott were able to contribute anonymously. The Club from Nowhere used the money they collected to buy gas and station wagons, which were used to transport people to and from work during the boycott. Georgia always said that the money came “from nowhere.”

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MOMOFUKU MILK BAR

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The Momofuku restaurant group started up in 2004 as a postage stamp-sized ramen noodle bar in New York City’s East Village. It garnered a following rather quickly for the innovative ramen dishes and simple, but incredibly addictive, pork buns. At the helms of chef-owner David Chang, Momofuku steadily grew over the years to include numerous branches and locations in New York and Toronto, such as Ssäm Bar, Noodle Bar, Momofuku Ko, Ma Pêche, and Milk Bar.

Momofuku Milk Bar, which opened in 2008, was the group’s long awaited ode to classic, sugary concoctions. Headed by Christina Tosi, Milk Bar offered a menu that consisted of familiar sounding sweet treats cleverly graced with the creative edge the brand had come to be known for. Cornflakes were steeped in milk and sweetened to make cereal milk soft serve, and were mixed into cookie dough with marshmallows and chocolate chips to create a rewarding cookie with an extra crunchy, sweet and salty flavor.

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POTATO CANDY

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The winter holidays seem to evoke the strongest food memories from many of us. Certainly there are family Thanksgiving dinner traditions, and the plethora of other delights that come with the rest of the season – pumpkin pie, homemade eggnog, savory soups, and gingerbread cookies. When I was a child, potato candy was one of the treats that only made an appearance in the days and weeks before Christmas. It is hands-down the strangest of holiday treats, but perhaps the delicacy was more delicious as the wait from year-to-year seemed immense.

To those who have never eaten potato candy, the concept may seem a bit odd. But those who have eaten it know that it is incredibly sweet, much like fudge or caramel. In retrospect, perhaps this dessert is reserved for the holidays because it contains so much sugar. It is possible that the adults chose to ration the candy in order to contain rambunctious children. (I know that I am guilty of that.)

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MARKET HIGHLIGHT: SHOTWELL CANDY CO.

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The Memphis, Tennessee-based Shotwell Candy Co. produces delicious, hand-crafted caramels, soon to be some of your favorite things. I learned about the company from John T. Edge of the Southern Foodways Alliance. The company was launched last year in the home kitchen of Jerrod Smith – a corporate lawyer and, now also, confectioner. Jerrod was inspired to create his business by his great-grandfather, L. Shotwell George, also known as “Grandpa Shot”. Grandpa Shot owned a general store in Kentucky, which was always stocked with candy bins full of chewy caramels and other sweets. Jerrod (who admittedly has a sweet tooth, especially for caramels) has recreated timeless flavors through experimentation with complimentary ingredients, such as beer and pretzels, espresso, whiskey, and salt.

We love the Original Salted Caramels, featuring buttery, soft caramel infused with house-made Tennessee whiskey, vanilla extract, and finished with flaky Celtic grey salt. Purchase them in our café or through our online store here.

ALABAMA BISCUIT MIX + NATALIE’S APPLE CRISP

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The Alabama Biscuit Company is changing the way people perceive (and eat) biscuits. Jonathan Burch of Birmingham, Alabama, has developed a delicious and healthy recipe for biscuits using organic sprouted spelt flour, aluminum-free baking powder, and organic Celtic sea salt.

The biscuit mix is now a favorite of the Alabama Chanin team. We made biscuits with it at the Heath event this past August and are now using and selling it in our café.

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THE HISTORY OF AMBROSIA

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For many Southerners, ambrosia salad is a dish often associated with holiday potlucks or aunts and grandmothers. It occasionally gets a bad rap, along with the often-maligned fruitcake, but when prepared correctly it can be light and delicious. The dividing line between love and hate seems to be one ingredient: coconut. But, this much is clear – ambrosia salad absolutely must include coconut.

Ambrosia salad also has a bit of an identity crisis. Depending on your family’s prerogative, it might be considered a salad, but it may also be considered a dessert. It is a fruit dish so, depending on preparation, it can be light, like a salad. Other recipes are sweeter and include layers of whipped cream or even marshmallows, placing it clearly in the “sweets” category. My family always placed it in a different spot in the buffet line, depending on which aunt had prepared the dish.

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WINTER VEGETABLES + A RECIPE

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This year, I’ve been supplementing my garden’s harvest with fruits and vegetables from local farmers’ markets and the occasional Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) box. Typically, participating in a CSA program involves purchasing a share of a farmer’s crop before it is produced, but some farmers (like ours) will accept weekly payments for pre-ordered boxes. While quantities vary, the amount of food in a CSA box, usually a 1/2 bushel, typically feeds a family of four for a week. That is a bit too much food for just me and Maggie, so I seldom order a box unless I’m preparing a large meal for family and friends or needing quality, local ingredients for The Factory’s new café. Our friends at nearby Jack-O-Lantern Farm wrapped up this year’s CSA box program last month and I was able to pre-order and pick up a box for the café from their last batch of the season.

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ROASTED PUMPKIN + A RECIPE FOR SOUP

ROASTED PUMPKIN + A RECIPE FOR SOUP

Autumn is most certainly the season of the pumpkin. I admit that, though they are beautiful decorations, I haven’t always been a big fan of the fruit. But, as we get older, our tastes continue to change. These days, I find that I crave them more than ever. The flavor can be sweet, even complex, and I am looking for more ways to incorporate them into our meal rotation. Here, I share some of my favorite, easy preparations for adding pumpkin to your table.

Pumpkin soup is, outside of pumpkin pie, perhaps the most common recipe available. While you can find cans of organic pumpkin at many grocery stores (and I’ve successfully used them on occasion), there is a distinct difference between canned pumpkin puree and a fresh, roasted pumpkin. Don’t be intimidated by the idea of roasting a pumpkin, it is easier than you think. I don’t recommend using carving pumpkins for roasting because they can often be stringy and less flavorful. Sugar pumpkins (also known as pie pumpkins) or any of the smaller varieties are tastier but, depending upon size, you may need to prepare more than one.

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