Archive for April, 2010

Southwestern Cheese Fondue

Monday, April 19th, 2010

My family members and I are currently stoveless. My sister-in-law Leigh recently ordered a high-end gas range, which arrived a week and a half ago.
Unfortunately, the price tag on the new toy from Viking isn’t merely financial. The stove is eating into Leigh’s time and patience as well her pocketbook. It is apparently designed ONLY to go into a spanking new kitchen, not to fit neatly into an existing kitchen.
Leigh has had to hire not only a plumber to put in a gas line (which she expected) but a handyman to design a pipe for the exhaust system, an electrician to put in new wires, and a carpenter to fit the stove into the wall.
Some of them have come, some of them are still expected, and some of them are going to have to come back. Meanwhile, the stove sits in the middle of the kitchen annoying everyone, particularly the cats.

Miss Modigliani is NOT amused.

Actually, my mother isn’t annoyed—but then she has memory issues. Whenever she spots the stove she just compliments Leigh on how beautifully clean it is.
With no working burners or oven we’re taking advantage every other cooking appliance in and out of the house—the grill, the microwave, the slow cooker.
Yesterday evening the fondue pot enjoyed its moment in the sun. Happily, our fondue pot is electric so all the heating (not just warming) could be done at the table.
My brother was lobbying for a traditional Swiss fondue with Gruyère and Emmantaler, particularly since my most recent fondue was also nontraditional.
Most people credit the Swiss with inventing fondue to get them through winter months full of stale bread and cheese, and I do love classic fondue.
I found cilantro and a jalapeño pepper in the house, however, so my brother had to eat yet another non-fondue fondue. He managed very nicely.
The flavorings here are really a guideline. If you want more pepper, as I say below, use more (or use the seeds!). If you don’t want to taste the cumin, omit it. If you have small children in the house you may want to skip the cilantro—or let adults put it on their own portions.
The Fondue
2 to 3 cloves garlic, slightly crushed
1 pound shredded cheese—mixed Monterey Jack and sharp cheddar
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup Mexican beer
2 plum tomatoes, diced
1 can (4 ounces) mild green chiles
1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and diced (more if you like spice)
1 tablespoon lime juice
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon paprika
3 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro
1 medium baguette, cut into bite-sized pieces
carrot and celery sticks
Rub the inside of a fondue pot with the garlic; then discard the cloves.
In a bowl toss together the cheese and the flour.
Bring the beer to a boil in the fondue pot. Add the tomatoes, the chiles, the pepper, the lime juice, and the spices—but not the cilantro.
Reduce the heat and stir in the cheese/flour mixture. Continue to stir until the cheese has melted. Stir in the cilantro.
Dip the bread and vegetable pieces into your fondue. Serves 4.


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Ain’t Dat Sumpthin’!

Thursday, April 15th, 2010

Spencer Williams Jr. as Andy Brown (Courtesy of Time/Life)


Thanks to Netflix I have recently been watching the television version of the classic radio program Amos ‘n’ Andy. This TV series lasted from 1951 to 1953 and stirred up considerable controversy.

It continues to raise questions about how African Americans (or indeed any ethnic group) should be portrayed on television.
Amos ‘n’ Andy had debuted on radio in 1928. The show was actually a remake of a program called Sam ‘n’ Henry, which went on the air in 1926.
Both radio shows were the brainchildren of Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll, white men who had met in 1920 while working for a traveling minstrel show.
Sam and Henry were working-class black men who, like many African Americans of the era, moved from the rural South to a northern city (in this case Chicago) to look for work.
When they were revamped as Amos and Andy for a rival station (the program quickly achieved network status), the protagonists had similar characters and backgrounds.
Amos Jones was hardworking and sincere. Andy Brown was good natured but lazy and easily led astray by a con artist or a beautiful woman. Neither was overly smart. The program regularly featured such mangled verbal expressions as “I’se regusted” and “Ain’t dat sumpthin’.”
In the late 1920s Amos ‘n’ Andy became hugely popular. It started out as a nightly ten-minute program performed Gosden and Correll alone. Other actors were added as the years went by. By the 1940s, the program ran once a week for half an hour and followed a typical situation-comedy format.
In addition to the title characters regulars included George Stevens, the Kingfish of Amos and Andy’s lodge, the Mystic Knights of the Sea; Kingfish’s shrewish wife Sapphire and Sapphire’s Mama; and a shady lawyer named Algonquin J. Calhoun.
Several characters were portrayed by black actors, although Correll continued to voice the part of Andy, and Gosden played both Amos and Kingfish.

When the program moved to CBS television in 1951 black actors were hired for all the major roles. Those roles continued to conform to a large extent to the characters created by Gosden and Correll.

This signed postcard of Gosden and Correll was recently for sale on ebay.

Andy had not changed greatly over the years, but Amos had become a wise, steady family man; he therefore narrated the television programs but didn’t participate much in the comedy. Center stage was enjoyed by the wily Kingfish.
Almost immediately the program attracted criticism. The NAACP in particular saw it as demeaning to African Americans and tried to organize a boycott.
The boycott didn’t succeed. Melvin Patrick Ely noted in his 1991 book The Adventures of Amos ‘n’ Andy: A Social History of an American Phenomenon (from which I gleaned much of the information in this essay) that many black Americans either enjoyed the program or deemed a comedy show the least of their worries in a still largely segregated society.
Nevertheless, the series remained a thorn in the side of CBS and was canceled at the end of its second season, although it lingered in syndication. The controversy made the networks reluctant to feature an all-black cast for years to come.
As I watched several episodes of the program recently I was pleasantly surprised.
Some of the storylines get a little tedious. One wonders how Andy can fall for Kingfish’s schemes week after week. Generally, however, the plots are clever and the acting first rate. 

Tim Moore as Kingfish (Courtesy of Time/Life)

The first thing that struck me about the series was how colorblind it appeared to my 21st-century eye. Amos, Andy, and their friends lived in an almost all-black community (supposedly Harlem) where race was never mentioned.
Andy and Kingfish drew criticism, perhaps justly, for perpetuating the image of the unemployed African American, and Lawyer Calhoun came in for particular scorn as just about the only black attorney visible on television.
Scores of bit players belied stereotypes, however, by speaking in standard English and giving Americans their first televised view of African Americans who weren’t servants or Pullman porters.
Amos, Andy, and Kingfish encountered professionals in all walks of life—realtors, police officers, storekeepers, and bankers—who just happened to be black.
I don’t know what I expected from the show. It was not this sense of being comfortable in one’s own ethnicity.
My favorite episode so far, “The Happy Stevens,” focuses on two of the strongest actors of the ensemble, rich-voiced Tim Moore as Kingfish and the graceful yet strong Ernestine Wade as his wife Sapphire.
The two are addicted to a radio program in which a white husband and wife engage in highfalutin “chit chat” about elegant doings in New York society. When Kingfish and Sapphire quarrel, they go to the radio studio to ask the couple’s advice—only to find that their idols are even more quarrelsome than they.
The Happy Harringtons get into such a knock-down-drag-out fight, in fact, that Kingfish and Sapphire are conscripted to do that morning’s radio program in their stead.
It’s a perfect domestic situation-comedy plot, cleverly written and acted. And it has very little to do with race.
I don’t want to dismiss the criticism of Amos ‘n’ Andy or to discount the NAACP’s position. It’s very possible that I didn’t see the racist stereotypes in the program because I wasn’t brought up on those stereotypes.
Other writers have traced the resemblance between characters in Amos ‘n’ Andy and standard figures in the minstrel tradition.
It’s hard not to note that Freeman Gosden’s first theatrical engagement was at a fundraiser for the United Daughters of the Confederacy.
And certainly Gosden’s reference in the clip below to Spencer Williams, who played Andy, as a “boy” sticks in one’s craw.
And yet ….
Henry Louis Gates Jr. may have best summed up the mixed message of Amos ‘n’ Andy in a 1989 New York Times essay.
“The performance of those great black actors … transformed racist stereotypes into authentic black humor,” Gates wrote. “The dilemma of ‘Amos ‘n’ Andy,’ however, was that these were the only images of blacks that Americans could see on TV.”

My dish today was inspired by a two-part episode of Amos ‘n’ Andy called “Getting Mama Married,” in which Sapphire’s Mama moves in with the her daughter and Kingfish. One of the ways in which the two women make Kingfish miserable is by criticizing his manners as he tries to pass peas at the dinner table.
The peas in question look much more substantial than standard green peas so I am inferring that Sapphire made a pot of black-eyed peas. Here is a recipe she might have used.
1 pound dried black-eyed peas
a small amount of extra virgin olive oil or bacon fat for sautéing
1 large onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 10-to-14 ounce can tomatoes with green chiles
2 ham hocks or 1 good-sized pig’s knuckle
extra smoked sausage, chopped and lightly sautéed (optional)
4 cups chicken stock
1 cup water
2 teaspoons chili powder
a few sprigs of fresh thyme
salt and pepper to taste
Wash and sort the peas, and soak them in cold water. Ideally, they should soak overnight, but if a couple of hours will do if you’re in a rush! Drain them when they have finished soaking.
In a 4-quart Dutch oven heat the oil or bacon fat, and use it to sauté the onion, garlic, and celery over medium heat for 5 minutes. Add the beans, tomatoes, pork, stock, water, and seasonings.
Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring to make sure it is well blended. Skim off as much of the bean scum as you can.
Reduce the heat, cover the pot, and simmer the mixture for at 1 to 1-1/2 to 2 hours, or until the peas are tender. (The best way to determine this is to taste them!)
Remove the ham hock or knuckle. Tear its meat into shreds and add the meat to the pot of peas, discarding the fat and bone.
Serve with rice. This is best served the day after it is made. Serves 8 to 10 generously.

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Cryin’ Pepper Fruit Salad

Monday, April 12th, 2010

I love fresh fruit. It’s sweet. It’s colorful. It’s refreshing. And you can do just about anything with it.
I have to admit I would never have thought of putting pepper on it until I met Mary Cantu.
Smart, energetic, and fun, Mary is the co-chair of the Mount Holyoke Club of San Antonio. The club imported me for a cooking session last June, and Mary couldn’t have been a better hostess.
Knowing the way to a food writer’s heart, she took me out to a memorable lunch followed by a whirlwind trip to Central Market.
When I wrote about the strawberry lemonade at Central Market I said that if the store had existed when I was in graduate school in Texas I probably would never have left the state—and I stand by my words.
It’s an exciting grocery store, one that takes pride in offering a variety of fresh foods and letting the shopper know where those foods were grown and raised.
Coming from New England, where fresh produce was only just starting to appear in farmstands, I was completely bowled over by the gorgeous ripe blueberries, corn, and peaches on the shelves there.
As we were touring San Antonio Mary described one of her favorite desserts. In both Texas and California, she told me, restaurants and farmers-market vendors are now increasingly serving fruit salad with a hint of spice instead of sugar.
Mary was kind enough to send me a pepper blend specially created for fruit salad. Unfortunately, I’m out of it and don’t know where to get more—so I am currently resorting to cayenne. She also sent me a recipe, which I have lost.
Luckily, the basic components of this salad are pretty simple–fresh fruit, lime, and a hint of pepper.
Be very careful! The first time I tried the cayenne I put in too much. My nephew Michael immediately dubbed the result “cryin’ pepper salad.” If you add pepper sparingly, however, the salad may well inspire you to dance around the kitchen.

The Salad
6 cups chopped fresh fruit (preferably not berries; I used pineapple, cantaloupe, watermelon, and mango)
the juice of 1 large lime
cayenne pepper to taste (begin with a tiny pinch)
a pinch of sea salt (optional)
In a large bowl stir together the fruit and lime juice. Add a pinch of cayenne and taste the mixture. Add a little more cayenne if you think the fruit can handle it.
At the last minute stir in the salt. (I think it makes the salad a little sweeter.)
Serves 6.

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Paying Tribute to the Green Goddess

Friday, April 9th, 2010

George Arliss in full rajah regalia (Courtesy of the Library of Congress)


I’ve been posting recipes for heavy dishes lately so I’m in the mood for a little salad! This dressing comes courtesy of a fellow blogger and film lover, Donna Hill.
Donna recently discussed the history of eating at the movies (with great photos and video clips!) on her blog, Strictly Vintage Hollywood. She concluded with a recipe for Green Goddess salad dressing, created at San Francisco’s Palace Hotel in 1923.
The herbally tinted salad dressing honored a hotel guest, the actor George Arliss. Arliss was then starring in a popular play titled The Green Goddess. He would go on to appear in both silent and sound film versions of the story.
The Green Goddess is a hoary chestnut full of imperialist ideas. Arliss played the Rajah of Rukh, a fictitious and stereotypical oriental potentate.
Shrewd but selfish and vindictive, the rajah threatens to execute a party of Englishmen who accidentally land in his kingdom—and tries to force the wife of one of the men to become his paramour.
When he is foiled by British aircraft flying to the rescue, the rajah proclaims sadly but proudly, “Barbarous Asia bows to civilized Europe.”
The play and film’s depiction of “Barbarous Asia” is appalling even by that day’s standards, but it is interesting as a period piece. A historian of colonialism could certainly make hay out of the stereotypes.
And Arliss came across as both elegant and funny in his wickedness—much more appealing and effective, in fact, than he was in the picture for which he won the Academy Award for best actor, Disraeli.
Neither film version of The Green Goddess is available on home video at present. Happily, the Alice Joyce Website offers stunning stills of the 1923 silent production. (Joyce played the object of the Rajah’s lust in both 1923 and 1930).
Turner Classic Movies occasionally shows the 1930 sound version and offers a couple of clips for viewing on its web site.
While you’re watching them, do try the dressing. If you’ve never had Green Goddess Dressing, imagine a cross between Caesar and ranch dressings. (I love both.) It’s smooth, flavorful, and tangy, and the herbs give it lovely green flecks. Thank you, Donna!

Green Goddess Dressing
1 clove garlic
4 anchovy fillets
1 scallion, chopped
1 generous tablespoon chopped parsley
1 generous tablespoon chopped chives
1 generous tablespoon tarragon or basil
the juice of 1 lemon
2 cups of mayonnaise (homemade is best, but commercial—even low fat—is fine; just avoid fat free)
salt and pepper to taste
Place the garlic and anchovy fillets in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until minced. Add the herbs and lemon juice, and process again; then add the mayonnaise, salt, and pepper, and process again until smooth.
Taste for seasoning and adjust seasonings accordingly.
Serve over a split romaine heart. (Actually, I just shredded some romaine, which worked beautifully.) Garnish with a sprig of fresh basil or tarragon if you wish.
Makes about 2 cups of dressing. 


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Saint Sara’s Chicken Enchilada Casserole

Wednesday, April 7th, 2010

Left to right: Sara, Tinky, and Alice (yes, I am really that much of a shrimp!)

This Tex-Mex dish is more Tex than Mex, but non-purists will enjoy its bubbly warmth.
The recipe comes from my dear friend Sara Stone in Waco, Texas, possible the nicest person in the whole world.
Here’s just one of Sara’s kind deeds: when I was trying to finish my doctoral dissertation, she invited me to stay in her house for the month or so we thought it would take to do the final rewrites.
It took me A YEAR to finish up the darn thing.
Sara never once complained about the messy cooking or the show tunes or the diet-coke cans or the vintage TV programs or the piles of paper or the general Tinkyness of her apparently permanent houseguest.
She even managed to laugh when an experimental cake exploded in her oven on the hottest day of the year. (I can almost still smell the fumes as I type this.)
That’s not just being a nice person. That’s being a saint.
This casserole is a little like her—colorful and comforting. I think it might have a sense of humor, too.
I was lucky enough to see Sara last spring when the Mount Holyoke Club of San Antonio flew me to Texas to cook with them.
Playing with the Mount Holyoke crowd was fun and enlightening. Texas has tons more fresh produce in early June than Massachusetts, and the alums and their husbands certainly knew what to do with it.
After I left San Antonio I enjoyed a wonderful reunion with Sara and another friend and former roommate, the brilliant and funny Alice from Dallas. Husbands and kids rounded out the crowd. (Both Sara and Alice were smart enough to marry people I like.)
Need I add that the food at our reunion was fabulous?
I made Sara’s casserole recently because I get a kick out of being reminded of her—and because my family loves it. Here is her recipe. It serves a crowd.
The Casserole
1 2-to-3 pound chicken
vegetables as needed for making broth
salt and pepper to taste
1 medium onion, chopped
2 to 3 tablespoons butter
1 can (about 10 ounces) cream of chicken soup
1 can (about 10 ounces) cream of mushroom soup
1 small (4 ounces) can green chiles, chopped
about 8 corn tortillas, ripped into pieces (about 3 to 4 per tortilla)
1 pound store (Cheddar or similar) cheese, grated
First, cook the chicken. Bring it to a boil in a pan of water with vegetables appropriate for making a rich broth (onion, garlic, celery, perhaps a carrot or two—and some parsley if you have it in the house), plus salt and pepper; then turn it down and simmer it until it is tender and the broth is flavorful. This will take about 2 hours. Stir occasionally during this process, and don’t forget to add more water if you need it.
Drain the chicken, saving the broth, and set it aside to cool briefly. Strain out 1 cup of the broth. The remainder of the broth may be used for cooking or sipping at your leisure. When the chicken is cool enough to handle, strip the meat from the bones and shred it.
When you are ready to proceed with the casserole, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Brown the onion in the butter. Combine the soups, broth, onion pieces, and green chiles in a saucepan. Add the pieces of chicken and heat well.
In a baking dish, place a layer of broken tortillas, a layer of chicken sauce, and a layer of cheese. Repeat until the casserole is filled. Repeat this layering process. Bake the casserole until it is bubbly around the edges, about 30 minutes.
Serves 10 to 12.

Messy but yummy!

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