Sheilah Kaufman Cooks

My dad was great at finding interesting people and bringing them into our lives. At least a few decades ago, he met Sheilah Kaufman while on a business trip. He was working for a food company and Sheilah’s career also revolved around food. She was a cooking instructor and cookbook author. While Sheilah lived on the East Coast and we lived in the Midwest, travel, especially hers, brought us into fairly regular contact. She is closer to my age than to my dad’s, and we became friends over the years, drawn together by a mutual love of food history and cooking.

I always loved Sheilah’s idea of what she called “fearless, fussless cooking”–that is, recipes that didn’t take over your whole life, with lots of options for making things ahead, so one could enjoy one’s own parties. Granted, there are days I want a recipe to fill the entire day, or several days, but one can’t live like that, at least if one needs to earn a living.

From Sephardic cooking to general cookbooks to an entire book of recipes that use bread (titled, appropriately, Upper Crusts), Sheilah’s cookbooks covered a fairly wide range of specialties. It was fun to see the books as they came out, and I found a number of recipes in her books that have become favorites.

This last weekend, I connected with Sheilah again, this time at the annual conference of the International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP). We’re both members, but Sheilah’s connection is a little stronger: she’s one of the organization’s founders. Aside from being there to network, she was also carrying her newest cookbook, a handsome and impressive tome titled The Turkish Cookbook: Regional Recipes and Stories, which Sheilah co-authored with the wife of the Turkish ambassador. (Sheilah lives near Washington, D.C., so ambassadors are not so hard to come by.) If you want to try out a few recipes before buying, you’re in luck. Sheilah has a website that offers samples from this and other works. Check out Cooking With Sheilah. It’s a great resource–as is Sheilah herself.
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Ancient Grains

It has been several years since I worked with Maria Kijac on her highly acclaimed cookbook, The South American Table, but for the last eight months, we have been working together again, this time on a cookbook that focuses on the ancient grains of Latin America: quinoa, kañiwa, amaranth, and chia seeds. These “super grains” (which are really seeds, rather than true grains) offer many benefits, including a full complement of essential amino acids, which no cereal grain offers. Because quinoa is the most easily obtained of these grains, there are more recipes using quinoa, but because chia is the greatest powerhouse of the group, Maria has found plenty of recipes to feature this astonishing grain (which has more antioxidants than blueberries and more Omega 3 fatty acids than salmon). Because of their remarkable health and energy benefits, these grains were considered sacred among the ancient people of Latin America, from the Inca of the Andes Mountains region to the Aztecs of central Mexico.

I can’t share with you any of Maria’s recipes (or the joy of testing them while we worked together), but I can share a quinoa recipe I developed for an outing with friends a couple of years ago. It has a lot of big flavors, plus the high fiber and other nutritional benefits of quinoa.

The dried mushrooms I used were the Gourmet Mushroom Blend from Manitou Trading Co. The blend included morels, porcini, Brazilian caps, ivory portabellas, shiitakes, and oyster mushrooms.

I think you’ll like it.

Mushroom Quiona
5 to 6 ounces dried mushrooms
1/2 lb. slab bacon
2 medium onions, roughly chopped
2 cups quinoa
enough chicken broth to make up four cups liquid with the mushroom soaking liquid
salt and pepper to taste

Soak the mushrooms overnight in water to cover. (I poured hot water over the mushrooms, let it cool, and then put it in the fridge till the next day.)

Drain the mushrooms, reserving the liquid. Chop the mushrooms roughly and set aside.

Cut the bacon into lardons (blocks about 1/2 inch x 1/2 inch x thickness of slab of bacon). Fry in large pot until they begin getting crisp. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.

Sauté the onions in the fat from the bacon. When onions are translucent, stir in the quinoa. (NOTE: Check the package of quinoa. Some is prewashed. If it isn’t prewashed, the instructions will instruct you to rinse the grain. You definitely want to rinse any unwashed quinoa. If you bought bulk and there are no instructions, taste a bit of the uncooked quinoa. If it tastes soapy, then rinse it thoroughly before cooking. Or, to be really safe, just go ahead and put it in a strainer and rinse it. Quinoa seeds produce a protective coating of saponins, which are bitter and will ruin the taste of the dish if the quinoa is not rinsed well.)

Stir the quinoa into the onion and fat, to coat the grains. Add the reserved mushroom soaking liquid and chicken broth, combined to make four cups liquid. Cook for twenty minutes, or until liquid is absorbed and quinoa is tender. Stir in the bacon and chopped mushrooms. Season to taste. Enjoy.

(Note: if slab bacon is not readily available, get the thickest cut bacon you can find, and cut it into 1/2 inch pieces).

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Papas Arequipeña

When Spanish conquistadors reached Peru, they found an incredible wealth of new foods. The potato, in particular, impressed them. Spanish soldier, poet, and, later, secular priest Juan de Castellanos, who traveled in South America in the mid-1500s, in comparing the potato to some of the rougher food he had encountered as he explored, declared that it was “a dainty dish even for Spaniards.” The potato’s potential as a means of feeding the masses was immediately recognized, and speculators were soon flooding into Peru, buying potatoes from the Andean natives, then reselling them (at a large profit) to mineworkers back home.

Since the potato is indigenous to Peru, it is not surprising that it still figures largely in the local cuisine. This recipe originates in the city of Arequipa, in southern Peru. It combines Inca traditions (potatoes, peanuts, chilies) with colonial introductions (milk, cheese, eggs and olives). It is delicious, filling, and easy to make. In more aristocratic Peruvian homes, this might be presented before the main course, but for most people, it’s a meal in itself.

Papas Arequipeña
1/2 cup roasted peanuts
1/2 cup evaporated milk
salt and pepper to taste
2 to 3 serrano or jalapeño chilies, seeded
1/2 cup grated Münster cheese
3 to 4 scallions (depending on thickness), including some green
2 lb. small boiling potatoes
4 to 6 hard-boiled eggs, chopped
1/2 cup ripe olives
parsley or cilantro, to garnish

In a blender or food processor, combine the peanuts, evaporated milk, salt and pepper, chilies, cheese, and onions. Purée until the mixture is about the consistency of heavy mayonnaise.

Scrub the potatoes, cut them into quarters and boil until tender. Drain them, then return to pot. Pour the sauce over the potatoes, add the chopped egg, and mix together. Mound it all onto a platter. Arrange olives around potatoes, decorate with sliced egg, if desired, and garnish with parsley or cilantro. Serves 6.

Notes: I think regular roasted peanuts are better in this recipe than dry-roasted peanuts. (They are also more authentic.) Dry-roasted peanuts have lots of additional seasonings that alter the taste of the dish. You may like the difference, but you might want to try it with regular roasted peanuts first.

When you make this the first time, wait to add salt. The peanuts and cheese are both salty, and you may not need any additional.

I prefer to use small, red, “new” potatoes; they are higher in protein, so they don’t crumble when you use them in a recipe like this. If you use really tiny potatoes, you can just cut them in half. The idea is to have each chunk be about one or two bites.

As for the eggs, use 4 if this is a side dish and 6 if it’s a main course. If you want to present the dish at the table, then slice one egg, rather than chopping it, and use it as a decoration on top of the potatoes.

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Charleston Chicken Perlo

The more one travels, the more one starts seeing familiar though slightly altered words and dishes in places far from where they were first encountered. This is not a recent phenomenon, however. Foods have been traveling the world for millennia. Two rice-based dishes are perfect examples of this tendency. A combination of rice and lentils known as khichari in India moved along trade roots that predate Moses and found a home in North Africa. In Egypt, koshry or koshery, is a bean and rice dish descended from khichari that is an almost ubiquitous breakfast dish. When the British came to India, they took home some of the ideas of khichari, transforming it into the classic English breakfast dish, kedgeree.

Even more widespread was a dish introduced from Persia into India when the Mughals invaded in: the rice and meat dish known as pilau. From Persia, it moved to Turkey, where it was called pilav. The Greeks adopted the Turkish dish and named in pilafi. In Spain, it morphed into paella. When South Carolina became a major rice-producing area, the rice with meat dish there adopted yet another form of this word: perlo.

There are myriad versions of chicken perlo. There is also some debate as to what is a perlo and what is a bog. Depending on the person with whom you’re speaking or the recipe you’re reading, chicken bog is either the same as perlo, just a wetter version of perlo, or uses sausage instead of bacon. But others will disagree with any or all of these descriptions or variations. That’s okay–because what is important is that they taste good. This is a warming and filling dish that, despite its exotic heritage, is comfortably familiar.

Charleston Chicken Perlo
2 Tbs. vegetable oil
1 chicken, 3-1/2–4 lb., cut up (or equivalent weight of your favorite parts)
1 tsp. salt
1 large onion, chopped
5 cups water
6 strips bacon cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 carrot, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 cups long-grain white rice
1 tsp. dried thyme
salt and pepper
Heat the oil in a large (4- or 5-qt.). Brown the chicken pieces in the oil. When nicely browned, cover the chicken with the water and add 1 tsp. salt. Boil the chicken, uncovered, for 30 minutes. Remove the chicken pieces from the broth, reserving the broth. When they are cool, remove the skin and take the meat off the bones, tearing the chicken into bite-sized pieces. Set aside.

In a Dutch oven or large frying pan with a lid, sauté the bacon until crisp. Add the onion, celery, and carrot to the bacon, and cook over medium heat until the onions just start to brown (about 10 minutes). Add the uncooked rice, stir until every grain is coated with bacon fat, and sauté until the rice begins to turn opaque. Add the thyme, a few grinds of pepper, and salt (about 1 tsp. should do it—you can always add more later). Add the chicken meat.

Measure the reserved broth. You should have about 4 cups. If you have more, remove some and enjoy it on its own. If you have less, top up with bouillon or packaged broth. Pour the broth over the chicken and rice. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat, cover, and allow to simmer for 30 minutes without lifting the lid. Serves 4–6.

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Latin Dining in Gurnee, IL

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I just finished working on a book about the history of corn. I’m also working again with Maria Baez Kijac, with whom I worked on the award-winning cookbook The South American Table. So a friend figured a restaurant that focused on Latin American corn dishes would be of interest. She was right.

Momcorn, at 5101 Washington St #2 in Gurnee, IL, is not hugely convenient for me, but it proved to be well worth the drive. Asked about the name, owner Sergio Rivera said he figured everyone knew popcorn, so momcorn needed to be introduced to the world.

The menu was a delight. For drinks, the corn-based choices were atole and chicha morada (they have several non-corn drinks, including soft drinks, tea, and coffee, but I was there for the corn). I’ve had atole a number of times in Mexico, so I went for the chicha. It was tasty, sweet-tart, tinged with cinnamon, and (as the name suggests) deep purple. Sergio brought over an ear of the dark purple corn used in making the drink, to show that the color was natural.

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I ordered a cup of pozole, which was spicy (but not brutally spicy) and flavorful.

Sergio recommended the quesadilla, which was outstanding — made with cheese, epazote, and serrano chile.

Next we had sopes topped with meat and avocado and two kinds of tamales (rajas and chicken with green chile).

We finished the meal with a warm, sweet empanada filled with guava paste and cheese.

Sergio related that the ingredients are locally sourced and all natural. Nothing is frozen, and everything is made from scratch. To underscore the authenticity of the dishes, he related that some customers get tears in their eyes when they eat some of the specialties he produces. They said his food was just like their grandmother’s. I’ve had a fair bit of experience with Latin American food, both from my travels and from working with Maria on her cookbooks, so I did have a pretty good idea that these were on the exceptional side of authentic.

While there is a menu, Sergio noted that if there’s something you love from Latin America and it involves corn, ask. They might be able to make it for you.

This might not make anyone want to travel to Gurnee, but the restaurant is right behind Great America and not far from I94. So if you happen to be heading up that way for other entertainments, you might want to add this to the list of places worth visiting.

To see their menu, you can visit their site. http://www.momcorn.com/

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Rum on the Road

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My presentation on the history of rum (with a focus on how it helped lead to the American Revolution and then went on to cause trouble in Australia before pretty much spanning the globe) has been picked up by the Illinois Humanities Council’s “Road Scholars” program. Under this program, qualified non-profits gain access to a wide range of top speakers at a subsidized rate.

As part of promoting the Road Scholars program, the IHC had very talented artist Clare Rosean design posters for each of the topics being offered this year. The poster above is the one she created for my “Yo Ho Ho and a Bottle of Rum” presentation. Clare did an amazing job on all the posters, really capturing the feel of the varied topics. If you’re interested, you can see more of the posters, and learn more about the Road Scholars program, on the IHC site. http://www.prairie.org/roadscholars

Organizations that don’t participate in the Road Scholars program are still free to hire speakers in the program without going through the IHC, it’s just that they’ll have to pay the speaker fees. However, if you are an organization that participates in the IHC program (or qualifies and would like to sign up), know that these speakers are wonderful and fascinating (meeting them is a big part of the joy of being in the program). So I can recommend the program as a whole. The lovely, enthusiastic, and dedicated people at the IHC do a great job.

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Michigan’s Greenfield Village

I had long heard of Greenfield Village, but what I had heard hardly prepared me for the reality. It had been portrayed as a farm once owned by Henry Ford where Ford had installed buildings associated with his friends Thomas Edison and Harvey Firestone. While that is in fact true, it falls very short of telling the whole story.

Henry Ford's childhood was spent on this farm.

Henry Ford’s childhood was spent on this farm.

Greenfield Village is a sprawling collection of historic buildings, farms, trains, Model Ts, and horse-drawn wagons from across the U.S. and Europe, which offers an introduction to the way people used to live and, in some cases, the lives of some very important people in U.S. history. For the word lover in me, there was Noah Webster’s House, Robert Frost’s house, and the home and first school built by William McGuffy, of McGuffy’s Readers fame. Almost every building is the original, purchased and moved to the site by Ford — the few exceptions/recreations clearly noted as such. For the food historian in me, Luther Burbank’s birthplace and a recreation of George Washington Carver’s slave cabin (created from a description by Carver himself) gladdened my heart, as did the several farms and the Eagle Tavern, where one can dine on dishes from the 1800s. But I was delighted by everything. A chalet from Switzerland, a cottage from the Cotswold’s, an imposing jewelry emporium with massive clockworks from London represented Ford’s international interests. Demonstrating his love of invention were Edison’s Menlo Park complex, one of Edison’s first “Illuminating Companies,” the home and bicycle shop of the Wright Brothers, and a wide range of machines dating to the Industrial Revolution. And a lot more: print shop, gristmill, saw mills, plantation, windmill, and a long list of other historic homes. It really requires an entire day to explore even most of what this place has to offer, and probably a few visits to really take in everything (including the re-enactments of everything from cooking and plowing to short plays that bring to life events in the lives of those whose work or homes are there to craft workers creating once-common goods from glass, iron, tin, and wool).

McGuffy's School

McGuffy’s School

Then, if you have another day available, you can go next door to the Henry Ford Museum, often just called The Ford. The building covers 12 acres and has a collection that covers pretty much everything that happened from about 1850 to 1990. But that’s going to be another trip. This time, Greenfield Village was my focus — and though I stayed till it closed, I left already planning to return.

Cotswold Cottage at Greenfield Village

Cotswold Cottage at Greenfield Village

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