Sunday, April 26, 2015

Dining-In: A Culinary Tour of America-De Smet, South Dakota

The Location: De Smet, South Dakota

The picture isn't much to look at, I'll admit, but I picked this town for a reason. A very good one, to me, at least. This town is on my "bucket list" of places to see. If you don't know off the top of your head why, I'll explain...

As of the 2010 census, the population of De Smet was 1,089 people. 98.8% of them are white, and 0.6% are Native American. The unemployment rate is 1.1%, with an average income of $26,042.

Dakota was made a territory in 1868. It is the subject of a song featured in the 1960's Disney movie, The One and Only Original Family Band. If you haven't seen this movie before, you should. It's fun. Watch it around Election Day...

This song was actually in the running to be named the official state song for South Dakota. It's quite lovely, I think. 

De Smet was "platted", the step prior to incorporation, in 1880. It was named after Father Pierre De Smet, a Jesuit missionary who worked with Native Americans during his career. The first train came through the town in 1880.

You're probably saying to yourself, wow, there's really not much to this town, why ever did you choose it? we come to the reason I chose it. Those of you familiar with the works may already know the name, but in case you are not, I will tell you. De Smet was the home of Laura Ingalls Wilder. She came with her family in 1879 at the age of 12 and would end up living there for the rest of her life. Three of her books: The Long Winter, Little Town on the Prairie, and These Happy Golden Years, all take place in De Smet. And a fourth book, By the Shores of Silver Lake, takes place nearby. Laura met and married her husband Almanzo Wilder there, and her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, a famous writer and journalist in her own right, was born and raised there. The town has many tourist attractions you can visit, including the farms and houses they lived in. I have always wanted to visit this town because I am a life-long fan of the Little House books, and the tv show. Some day I will visit here.

The Food: Sour Cream Peach Kuchen

Kuchen is the official state food of South Dakota, and for good reason. It's quite fantastic. It's also because there are a lot of German immigrants to the state and this is a German dessert. One of the best gifts immigrants to our country bring to us, is their food. That is one thing I am learning more and more with each week of this project. Some people might feel threatened by immigrants, but I think we can all agree that we all eat better by having them here.

This dish is dedicated to my co-worker Tanya, who recommended I look into it. I'm glad I did because it is amazing! It turns out I have several recipes in my collection, but I've never made any of them before. They all had ingredients that were out of season, but one of them had an economical alternative, so I chose that one. Peaches are not in season yet, and frozen cost so much money for the amount I needed that I turned to canned peaches. Yes, I used peaches from a can, and I lived to tell the tale. I try to avoid corn syrup as much as possible, so the idea of using peaches that are soaking in it was gross to me, but I rinsed them off very carefully and I think it kept the corn syrup to a minimum. The recipe is from the Taste of Home magazine, February/March 2001 edition. I will write it out as it was originally written, but add my own changes to it in parenthesis.

Sour Cream Peach Kuchen


3 cups flour
1 1/4 cups sugar, divided (I used 1/4 cup sugar and 1 cup of unsweetened applesauce instead)
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup cold butter
2 cans (29 oz. each) sliced peaches, drained or 13 small fresh peaches, peeled and sliced
1 tsp. cinnamon
4 egg yolks
2 cups (16oz) sour cream
2-3 Tbsp. sugar (I used 1 Tbsp.)
1/4 tsp. cinnamon

In a bowl, combine the flour, 1/4 cup sugar, baking powder and salt; cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Press into the bottom and one inch up the sides of a greased 13"x9"x2" baking dish.

Arrange peaches over crust. Combine cinnamon and remaining sugar(This is where I used the applesauce); sprinkle over peaches. (I mixed them in a bowl with the applesauce and cinnamon to make sure it was all very well combined and then poured them over the crust.) Bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a bowl, combine egg yolks and sour cream. Spread evenly over the peaches. Combine sugar and cinnamon; sprinkle over the top.

Bake 30-35 minutes longer or until golden. Serve warm or cold. Store leftovers in the refrigerator. Yield: 12 servings

This was good warm last night but it was even better this morning cold. The crust is basically a shortbread. When you make it you will think you're doing something wrong because you're adding no liquid to it. But this isn't a pastry, so resist that instinct to add liquid and stick to the recipe. The peaches will add some moisture to it and the butter will melt into it to hold it all together. The sour cream/egg yolk topping is new to me but quite a revelation. It has a cheesecake quality to it but without using cream cheese. This is a wonderful surprise to somebody who is lactose intolerant. I can eat certain brands of sour cream without issue, but cream cheese I can only eat one particular brand that is very expensive, which means that cheesecake is no longer possible for me. This was a very fun treat.

This was the first time I have made something that turned out exactly as the picture looked. I was excited to see that it was just like it should be. I have at least two other kuchen recipes and I might have to try them out this summer when stone fruits are in season.

I would say this recipe was pretty easy to make. Somebody who doesn't have a lot of baking experience will be able to make it without much trouble. I would recommend everybody try this sometime. You won't regret it! The most dangerous part of it all, though, is that I am off work this week so I have nobody to eat all the leftovers except myself...And let's be honest, I'm probably going to eat it all!



City Pic

Economic Info

City Info

Kuchen Info

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Dining-In: A Culinary Tour of America-Hood River, Oregon

The Location: Hood River, Oregon

Hood River is located at the base of the Columbia River, near Mt. Hood. It is about sixty miles east of Portland. As of the 2010 census, there were 7,167 people living there. About 62.9% are white, and 24.4% are Hispanic or Latino. As of the 2000 census, the per capita income is $17,609 and 17.3% live below the poverty line.

The area is known for its fruit production, specifically cherries, apples, and pears. There are several orchards and wineries set up in a large circular pattern that one can visit on the famous "Fruit Loop". Agriculture, recreational sports, and tourism have always been the three largest industries in the area, but the 1990's brought to the region several high-tech companies that helped boost the economy even more. Interesting foodie factoid: The company that makes the Tofurky, is located here.

Hood River was incorporated in 1895, but the area was settled much earlier than that. In 1805, the Hood River, the actual river, not the town, was named Labeasche River by the famed explorers, Lewis and Clark. Over time, though, the river came to be known as Dog River, named after the meat that many settlers were forced to eat in order to survive. In the end, however, it was a pioneer named Mary Coe, whose family would be one of the first to plant apple trees in the region, who managed to get the named changed to the more pleasant-sounding Hood River, named after the mountain that is its ultimate source of water.

Up until 1920, the region was known for its apple orchards, but in 1919, many of the trees were killed due to a freeze. Pear trees were planted in their place and now the region is known for that. Specifically the D'Anjou/Anjou pear. In fact, it is one of the world's largest producers of this particular species of pear.

The Food: D'Anjou Pears

I actually did not know until I researched the area that it was specifically D'Anjou pears that Hood River is known for. I knew pears, but not which kind. So, when I went to the store yesterday with the intent of buying Bartlett pears, but came away with a bag full of D'Anjou pears, it was a happy coincidence for me! Really though, it boiled down to money. Bartletts were $1.99/lb but D'Anjous were on sale for $0.99/lb. D'Anjous tent to be harder than Bartletts but one of them was rather soft and none of them were rock hard, which was good. Since they were all being cooked first, it was less important for them to be very soft. The flavor is very similar to a Bartlett, and it also has that pear "grit" mouth feel when you eat one. I chose a savory and a sweet application for them and was quite pleased with how they turned out. I found recipes from my recipe card collection, so I will write them out here, and put in any changes I made, as well as any notes.

Chicken in Pear Sauce:(Yes, I really made a pear sauce on purpose. This is a note for any of my family members who might have been around for the now infamous "pear gravy" incident at Thanksgiving many years ago...) This recipe comes from the Taste of Home magazine, August/September 2000 edition.

4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
1/2 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. pepper
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
5 thick-cut bacon strips, diced (I find it much easier to dice bacon when it is almost completely frozen. It makes it less of a greasy mess to deal with. I highly recommend putting your bacon in the freezer until it's almost frozen before dicing it up.)
1 can(14.5oz) chicken broth
2-3 medium ripe pears, peeled, cored, and diced
2 Tbsp. cornstarch
2 Tbsp. cold water
1 Tbsp. dried chives(that's what I had on-hand, the recipe calls for 1/4 cup snipped fresh chives, if you have those on-hand)

Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper. In a skillet over medium heat, cook chicken in oil on both sides for about 10 minutes or until juices run clear. Meanwhile, in another small saute pan, cook bacon until crisp. Drain, reserving 1 Tbsp. drippings, set bacon aside.

When the chicken is mostly cooked, remove from the pan to a plate and cover with foil. Add the reserved bacon drippings to the pan and gradually stir the chicken broth in as well. Bring to a boil and stir well to loosen anything on the bottom of the pan.(This is called "deglazing", fyi...) After about 5 minutes, add the pears, and bring to a boil again. Boil, uncovered, about 5 minutes, or until the pears have softened. Combine the cornstarch and cold water, and add to the pan, whisking immediately into the liquid to keep it from gelling. Stir in the bacon bits and the chives until everything has heated through. Add the chicken back to the pan to coat on all sides.

Makes 4 servings.

This was something I was worried about. How would pear, bacon, and chicken taste together? It turns out that the answer is: Delicious. Pear isn't too far off from apple, flavor-wise, and apple and bacon is a natural combo. The chicken also had an almost smoky quality from the cooking process which blended well with the other flavors. I made steamed red potatoes and green beans for the sides. They taste good on their own but don't lend too much of a strong contrast to the other flavors. They allow the sauce and chicken to play the central flavor role in the meal. This was really good and I'd definitely make it again.

Harvest Pear Crisp with Candied Ginger (Source unknown)

1/2 cup flour
1 Tbsp. brown sugar(it calls for 1/4 cup but I cut it down to a quarter of that.)
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup chilled butter, but into 1/2" cubes(I actually used softened butter and it turned out fine)
1 cup old-fashioned oats
1/2 cup coarsely chopped whole raw hazelnuts(it calls for almonds, but I switched them out for hazelnuts because that is another Oregon specialty food)
1/4 cup crystallized ginger, minced
2 Tbsp. cornstarch
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. salt
4 lb.(6-7) ripe pears, peeled, cored, and cut into 1/2" cubes
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce

Topping: Whisk first four ingredients in a medium bowl. Add butter. Thoroughly incorporate butter into the flour mixture. It will resemble cookie dough. Stir in oats, nuts, and ginger. Mix until well combined. Chill while preparing the filling. Can be made one day ahead. (I actually did the filling first and then the topping and didn't chill it at all. It still turned out just fine.)

Filling: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Whisk first three ingredients in the bottom of a 13"x 9" oval baking dish(You can use whatever shape you have, I just happen to have the oval one it called for). Add pears; toss. Pour the applesauce over this and mix well until all the pears are coated.(I replaced the sugar in the recipe with the applesauce. Also, apples are an Oregon ingredient, so it makes it even more appropriate to use!) Sprinkle the topping over the pear mixture. Bake until topping is crisp and golden grown, and juice is bubbling, about 50 minutes. Serve warm.

Makes 8-10 servings

I was really impressed with how this turned out. Granted, my palate is adjusted to enjoy less sweet things, so to others, this might taste bland. To me, it was very peary and sweet. Because there isn't the sugar called for in the recipe, it might not have been as juicy as it was supposed to be. Sugar tends to draw moisture out of fruit, but I still think it was really good. The topping was crunchy and flavorful. The crystallized ginger adds more sugar to the recipe, so you don't need as much sugar as it calls for, I think. It was really amazing. This could easily be served with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream, but I ate it just like that. Some people don't enjoy cooked fruit, but I think it's worth trying.

The D'Anjou pears turned out to be the better choice, in the end. If I'd used Bartletts, I think those would have broken down too much during the cooking and baking process and been way too mushy. I made a half batch for both the recipes I tried and they worked just fine. I would definitely make both of these again some time.

This meal made me want to go down to visit Portland again, and make a special trip over to Hood River to see the orchards in person. I might just have to do that one of these days...


City map

City pic

Hood River History

More History

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Dining-In: A Culinary Tour of America-Chicago, Illinois

The City: Chicago, Illinois

Christos Anesti! And then you say, Alithos Anesti! For those of you who don't know what I am saying, it means, "Christ is risen!" and "Truly He is risen!". Why am I saying this? Because it's Eastern/Greek Orthodox Easter today, of course! Today we travel to Chicago to celebrate Orthodox Easter in the third-most populous city, with the third-highest Greek American population.

As of the 2010 census, the city's population was 2,695,598. Greek Americans make up 93,624 of that total. The city is made up of about 45% white and 32.9% African Americans. The median(not average) income is $47,408/household, and 22.1% of the city's population lives below the poverty line. This is by far the largest city I have focused on so far with this project.

Chicago is a French derivation of the Miami-Illinois Native American word "shikaakwa", which means "wild onion". The city was founded on August 12, 1833, with an original population of about 200 people. Prior to the European invasion, the region was home to the Potawatomi, Ottawa, and Ojibwe peoples.

Chicago has a very long and illustrious history, far too big to delve into here, so I will keep it focused on the connection to Greek Americans. Greeks began to immigrate to the United States in 1821, mostly by people who had survived the Greek Revolution. By the 1880's and '90's, they were coming in larger numbers. In Chicago, Greeks began moving there in the 1840's. Most of them were men coming to seek their fortunes, or trying to escape being recruited into the Turkish army, a country that was occupying theirs at the time. Greek women began to come over starting in 1885, as "picture brides". A lot of these people returned to Greece, eventually, however. After the Second World War, though, even more came to the United States, as "displaced persons".

Chicago is also the settings for one of my favorite movies, one I just rewatched today: My Big Fat Greek Wedding. In the movie is a scene set during Easter. Easter is a very big deal for Greek Orthodox Christians. I was definitely reminded of this scene when deciding whether or not to feature the holiday in this blog series. Here is the scene:

The Food: Lambropsomo-Greek Easter Bread
I searched long and hard for a food to make for Greek Easter. One of the main foods eaten is lamb, but I don't eat lamb. And I didn't want to just do a side dish with something that didn't really fit it as an entree. Then I found this bread recipe online and remembered that I had a recipe card for it from forever ago and had never tried it yet. This was my chance, finally! It's pretty complicated, for a bread, but it was also a lot of fun.

The first step is to make Easter eggs. Easter eggs?? In bread? Yes! You'll see...I had some drama with the Easter eggs. They were supposed to be blood red, to represent Christ, and I tried pomegranate juice first, trying to be natural. That didn't work at all. So I had to use food coloring, but that also didn't really work and they were very pale pink, even though they'd been in the red water since early Saturday morning. Lame. But they had some color at least...Anyway, I'll write out the recipe card with the alterations I made.

Lambropsomo-Greek Easter Bread
5 1/2 cups flour
1/2 tsp. salt
2 pkg. active dry yeast
1 cup milk
1/2 cup butter
2/3 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 Tbsp. lemon zest
1/2tsp. anise extract OR 2 tsp. ground anise seed(this is what I used because I was not spending almost $5 for a bottle of extract. To make ground anise, the best way it to use an electric coffee grinder. If you don't have one already, do yourself a favor and buy a cheap one solely for grinding spices. You will not regret it.)
4 eggs
5 hard-boiled eggs, dyed scarlet
1 egg white

Combine 2 cups flour, salt, and yeast in a mixing bowl. Heat milk, butter, and applesauce to about 125 degrees.(Don't let it get too much hotter than this or it'll kill the yeast. If it's too hot, stir it and let it sit until it cools down. Use a thermometer for this step.) Pour over the dry ingredients and beat until smooth. Add zest, anise extract or seed, and eggs, one at a time. Beat well. Gradually add enough remaining flour to make a soft dough. Turn out on a floured board and knead lightly. Place in a greased bowl. Cover and let rise until doubled in size. Punch down. Turn dough out on a floured board and knead lightly. Cut off 1/6th of the dough to use for decoration. Shape remaining dough into a large round loaf, about 10" in diameter. Place on a greased baking sheet.(I found that a pizza pan worked best.)

Place one dyed egg in the center of the dough. Lay the other four eggs around the edge, forming a cross. Roll remaining dough into pencil-thin strips. Place a cross on top of each egg with the strips, pressing the ends of the strips into the bread to secure the eggs. (I placed them with the round end in the bread and the pointy end sticking up. This seemed to be too heavy to maintain as you can see in the picture. Next time I think I'd place them on their sides. I think they'd stay in place better that way.) Cover and let rise until doubled in size. Brush with lightly beaten egg white.

Bake in a 325 degree oven for 50-55 minutes, or until the loaf sounds hollow when thumped. Serve hot or let cool on a wire rack. Makes 1 large loaf.

 They weren't kidding when they said it made one large loaf. You can see how it fills up the entire pizza pan. This shot was taken while standing on the top step of a step-stool in order to properly capture the enormity. The flavor is not unlike a traditional Pan de Muerto bread that is eaten during El Dia de Los Muertos, if you've ever had that before. The texture was perfect. I was highly impressed with this, not only the flavor and texture, but just the look of it is so cool. I wish the eggs had been redder, but the bread turned out and that's the important thing. I will taste test the eggs once they're cooled, but I suspect they will probably end up in the compost. The bread, however, will be taken to work to share with my coworkers!

Christos Anesti, Everybody!



City Pic

Chicago Greek American history

Greek American history

Greek Orthodox Easter

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Dining-In: A Culinary Tour of America-Lakewood Township, New Jersey

The City: Lakewood, New Jersey
According to the 2010 census, there are 92,843 people living here. 84.3% are white, 6.35% are African American. The per capita income is $16,430, and 26.1% live below the poverty line. Why did I choose this town, you may ask. Well, because it is home to one of the largest Orthodox Jewish communities in the entire country. Jewish people make up 59% of the town's population. And this weekend is Passover!

The first European settlers to the area arrived around 1750 and turned the region into several sawmills. The early 1800's brought with it a changeover to ironworks. The town was renamed Lakewood in 1850 and used as a vacation spot for locals. Several large hotels were built to encourage visitors.

Lakewood Township houses one of the largest yeshivas in the world. A yeshiva, is a Jewish school system and can be from elementary age all the way though post graduate age. The yeshiva in Lakewood, Beth Madrash Govoha, has about 6500 students, all male, and is a university-age school.Tuition to the school is negotiable, the idea behind it being that no student should be denied their chance to study the Torah because they cannot afford to.

The Food: Matzo Ball Soup

If I had to point to one food and say, "This is it. This is Jewish cuisine," I would probably point to Matzo Ball soup. This is of course a gross generalization of a culture that spans the globe. Matzo Ball soup is not a food eaten by all sects of Jewish population, but I would say that it is the best known dish in this country. I think most non-Jewish people would probably identify that dish as the one they think of first and foremost when they think about Jewish cuisine.

I have a deep respect and love for Jewish cuisine. As a food historian, I have never run across a culture whose cuisine is so steeped in their history, or vice versa. Everything they eat seems to tell the story of who they are as a people and where they have come from. It is transportable and edible history, easily passed from one generation to the next. It is genius.

Matzo Ball soup has its roots in Germany and Poland, and the tradition traveled with immigrants to the United States, who largely settled on the East Coast, in cities like New York, and Lakewood Township. Matzo, to anybody unfamiliar with it, is a flat, wheat-based cracker with little flavoring. It is eaten largely during Passover to commemorate the emergency flight out of Egypt by the slaves. With little time to prepare, the women were unable to make proper breads with yeast and created these flat crackers instead. Each year, for the duration of the Passover celebration, Jewish people generally don't eat foods with yeast. That a soup from these crackers would become a popular dish at this time of year, isn't terribly surprising. The soup is a chicken soup base, with the matzo balls added as the main starch. Though this dish started off as a Passover dish, it has since become a year-round delicacy.

There were many recipes I could follow but I chose to only use the matzo ball recipe and create my own chicken soup. I did use some of the spices but added my own as well. I will write out my soup recipe, and link to the matzo ball recipe I used.

Matzo Ball Soup:
1 qt. container chicken broth
1 qt. water(I used the container of broth after it was emptied to get as much flavor out of it as I could)
1 large chicken breast, with skin and bones
1 onion, unpeeled, quartered
3 carrots, chopped in large chunks
3 celery stalks, chopped in large chunks
1 pinch each dried dill, dried thyme, whole black peppercorns
2 bay leaves
2 whole cloves

Place the chicken in a large pot and cover with the water and broth. Bring to a boil and reduce down to a simmer, turning the chicken several times to cook all the way through. During this time, there will be stuff that floats to the top of the liquid. Carefully remove this with a spoon.

When the chicken is cooked, remove it from the pot and add the vegetables and herbs to the simmering liquid and continue to cook. Let the chicken rest until it's cool enough to handle and remove skin and bones before shredding the meat. Place in the fridge until ready to use.

When the vegetables are softened but not mushy, turn off the heat and strain into another pot, leaving the veggies and herbs behind. From the veggies, pick a few of the best and chop them up. This will be the vegetables for the soup. Discard the rest.

Now it's time to make the matzo balls. I read up about "floaters" and "sinkers" and decided on a floater recipe. I made my own matzo meal, instead of buying it pre-made from the store. I bought one box of crackers and crushed them up in my food processor. They break down into little bits but not powder. If you try this yourself, don't worry, it's supposed to look like that. I followed the recipe exactly except I added a pinch of thyme to it to reflect the flavors of the broth I had made.

Since the broth I had made didn't make enough to cook the mazto balls in, I used heavily salted water instead. This also helps keep any of them from breaking up and possibly clouding the broth. I cooked the matzo balls in a covered pot, and according to the comments I read from the recipe I had chosen, keeping it covered is vital. They half boil, half steam. I followed the recipe exactly as it said and when I lifted up the lid, they were definitely still floating, though the middles looked like they hadn't cooked all the way yet. I flipped them over to help finish cooking, and then they sunk. I don't know why, but they sunk. I thought they'd be like when you fry doughnuts and you flip those over, but no...they sank. I had to very carefully fish them out of the water.

At this time, I added the veggies and shredded chicken back to the broth and heated it through. I had never added any salt to this, so I flavored it at this point. It took quite a bit of salt to get it right. To serve, I put four matzo balls in the bottom of the bowl and poured the soup over it. Four ended up being too much. Three is a better amount for one serving, I think.

The broth was too carroty for my tastes, so next time I would probably use one less carrot. It was a bit too sweet for me, hence the need for so much salt to balance it out. The matzo balls taste and look probably exactly as they are supposed to. However, my palate and taste buds aren't used to them. I wasn't the hugest fan of them, I have to admit, sadly. Maybe if I had tried one made by a professional who knew what they were doing, it would be different. Or maybe if I had been raised with it as a part of my diet, it would be different. There isn't much flavor to a matzo, so it doesn't lend a lot to the finished product, but for me it was mostly the texture. I'm just not used to it. I should also mention the fact that I don't tend to have a lot of luck with chicken noodle soup, or chicken soups in general. I have no idea why, but it's one of the things that seems to elude me...And yet I keep trying!

Making the soup, regardless of the turnout, was fun. It was time consuming and very involved, but it was fun. It was nice to feel like I was participating in something that thousands of other people around the world are participating in right now. Preparing a dish that has traveled halfway around the world, and has been passed down from one generation to the next, and contains the story of who they are in it, is a joy and a privilege. And as with several other dishes I have made in this series, Matzo Ball soup has woven its way into American cuisine. It might not be my story or my history, but it is a beautiful one that is worth knowing by everybody.


Matzo Ball Recipe


Article about the Yeshiva system in Lakewood

City Pic

Matzo Ball History

More Matzo Ball History