When winter winds nip at the nose, when the clouds spit snow and puddles freeze – that is the time for comforting meals of stew in steaming bowls accompanied by chunks of crusty bread.
Stews are an elemental food, harkening back to dim times when a single earthen pot simmered over a fire, the repository for whatever was hunted and gathered that day. Most cultures that eventually coalesced from our first ancestors kept this primordial food memory, and at the heart of most cuisines are many and varied stews, whether they are called pot au feu, goulash or râgout, boeuf bourguignon, bigos or burgoo, cassoulet, cholent or cioppino, feijoada, hasenpfeffer or hot pot.
The practical value of the stew concept is neatly summarized by The Oxford Companion To Food, with a description that cuts to the heart of the ubiquity of stew in so many cultures: “The mixture of ingredients in a thick and opaque sauce casts a veil of uncertainty over the proportions of expensive ingredients to cheap ones.” Stews stretch what is available to sate many stomachs; the flexibility of the concept allows for the satisfying of varying tastes; and the use of available native ingredients permits endless variations on a theme.
Continue reading Cooking with Ron—Stews to Chase the Winter Blues
Although the focus of this issue is Bourbon, it is important to know that corn has other uses besides forming the backbone of a Bourbon’s mash bill. In fact, of all the agricultural benefits ensuing from the European conquest of the Americas – the so-called Columbian Exchange – the most universally successful has been corn. While it is hard to imagine the cuisine of southern Italy, say, without the tomato, or that of India or Thailand without the chile pepper, or half the economy of Switzerland or Belgium without chocolate (all New World foods unknown elsewhere before 1500), corn – or more properly maize – was the most quickly accepted and adapted worldwide. Before the end of the 16th century, corn was a staple crop of central Africa (brought by the Portuguese from Brazil), increasingly grown in India and China and making headway into European cuisines, most eagerly in Italy, where corn meal replaced millet in the cooked mush that gourmets now relish as polenta. Continue reading Cooking with Ron— Corn
Suddenly, Nashville-style hot chicken is popping up all over in the form of new restaurants or as menu items at others such as KFC and O’Charley’s. In Louisville, Joella’s Hot Chicken and Royals Hot Chicken both opened in the last year, and those restaurants are regularly packed. Those in the know who have long had their favorite Nashville chicken spot — Prince’s (supposedly the first), Hattie B’s, Bolton’s or others — or newbies working their way up the heat ladder to the tantalizing (or terrifying) top, may have wondered if it is possible to make hot chicken themselves, at home. I’m here to tell you that it is possible, though a bit of a challenge, and it may take some experimenting to reach the right heat level. Continue reading Cooking with Ron—Nashville Hot Chicken
Up here, north of Bayou Country, Cajun food is party food, the mark of a celebration that includes spicy sausage and seafood, rice and okra, catfish, gumbo, maque choux…
And the epitome of Cajun party food is the crawfish boil.
Interestingly, crawfish boils resemble the traditional New England lobster dinner. French settlers of the Canadian Maritime Provinces (known as Acadians), assimilated many culinary elements of the Northeast into their own cuisine before moving south to flee British hegemony over Canada in the 1700s. Continue reading Cajun Crawfish Boil…Made Easy
A whole ham is a challenge, but here are some ways to appreciate Kentucky ham’s rich flavors without investing a lot of time and money.
Everyone should go to a real Derby party blow-out at least once. The kind of party where the women wear cute sundresses and big hats and the men sport bow ties; where the julep cups are sterling silver; where the buffet table has crustless Benedictine sandwiches, piles of cold asparagus and a huge country ham in a place of honor. It is a hoot to tell people you were at such a party, often less of a hoot to go to one, and definitely a pain in the butt to put on such an affair … especially when it comes to that country ham. Continue reading Cooking with Ron: Un-fussy Country Ham
On the first Saturday in May, Derby season is celebrated in Kentucky and throughout the region. As we hope for another Triple Crown winner, people begin the festivities weeks before the Derby, party hard during the Derby and continue the party well after the Derby. Continue reading Easy Entertaining: Downtown Triple Crown
Originally published in the Winter 2015 issue of Food & Dining Magazine.
The holidays call for celebratory dishes, special occasion favorite foods which evoke wonderful sights and aromas when getting together with family and friends. Everyone has a special occasion or “favorite foods” that bring back the memories of past gatherings and happy times. Food & Dining invited some well-known local chefs from a variety of backgrounds to come to our house to share some of their favorite celebratory dishes. Continue reading Easy Entertaining — Celebration Dishes
If I had known when I was in college that “food historian” was a possible profession, my career path might have been different. Alas, I am constrained merely to be an eager audience for the findings of food historians such as Richard Wrangham, whose interesting and persuasive book “Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human” not only presents a strong case for the role of cooked food in human evolution, but also puts the kibosh on contemporary raw-food faddists’ goofy assertion that cooking destroys enzymes in food, and that therefore eating raw food is much more nutritious than eating food that is cooked.
Wrangham considers a lot of fascinating issues, such as the amount of time great apes spend masticating their raw food, and the comparative sizes of the intestinal tracts and brains in apes and humans, to make the case that raw food simply cannot supply sufficient nutrition to satisfy the energy requirements of the human brain. The discovery of cooking by early hominids created more easily digested nutrition, which allowed shorter, less-energy-consuming guts and larger, energy-intensive brains to evolve. Continue reading Cooking with Tomatoes
Many Derby visitors hope to dine on regional delights like country ham on beaten biscuits, Benedictine sandwiches, beef tenderloin served with Henry Bain’s sauce (if someone offers you a jar as a gift, take it with thanks and be sure to get the story behind it), and, of course, Derby Pie. If they are fortunate enough to attend an informal brunch out in the countryside, they might even be treated to burgoo. Continue reading Burgoo — A Kentucky Original
Summer squash–zucchini and its relatives in the cucurbita family–strike me as the Rodney Dangerfield of vegetables: they “don’t get no respect.” Backyard garden standards nearly as common as tomatoes, ubiquitous at farmers markets, summer squash are often the last items chosen, the go-to vegetable choice only when other options are used up, or unfamiliar.
Too often zucchini are ignored in the garden too. They’re such cute little things, as big as your finger, when they first form out of the blossom’s ovule, their showy flower still attached. Let them get a bit bigger before picking, we tell ourselves, and then a few days later, those little green fingers are the size of Fungo bats. Suddenly, the garden is awash in oversized squash, neighbors hide when you approach with more giveaways and the prospect of a dozen loaves of zucchini bread looms. Continue reading Garden of Gourds