It’s harvest time and you’ll find a new batch of corn products at market right now, including grits for your breakfast or as an anytime comfort food.
Photos by Zachary Cross
Brad Swancy from Riverview Farms Milling recently brought this season’s milling to the market and, wow, it is so fresh! I tried the grits and the corn smell and taste are wonderful. Riverview Farms Milling also brings cornmeal, polenta, and popcorn to market. Located in Northwest Georgia, the milling operation is part of the larger Riverview Farms, “...a second generation organic farm, and a diversified, self-sustaining operation that supports livestock, veggies, & grains.” The grits I tried are an heirloom, white dent corn, Hickory Cane dent corn.
Corn is an interesting plant. It has gone from a nearly inedible grass, to the staple of indigenous American peoples and scorn of Europeans, to now the staple crop of the world. Maize is what most of the world calls it and what its Latin name, Zea mays, sounds like. Corn, on the other hand, is in many countries the name for any type of cereal grain.
Whatever you call it, there are many ways to prepare it, starting with the whole corn. Native peoples all over the Americas nixtamalized their corn. They soaked it an alkaline solution, washed, then hulled it. This produces hominy corn, softer and easier to work with than the original. The change in flavor is, for example, the difference between corn chips and tortilla chips. Nixtamalization also changes the nutritional makeup of corn, making available nutrients, especially niacin, that were originally unavailable. When Europeans and others began cultivating and eating corn many did not know about nixtamalization, or did not know of its importance. In people with monotonous diets, primarily of corn, this led to a deficiency disease called pellagra (warning: unpleasant photos of the skin condition caused by the disease). Doctors were puzzled by pellagra for decades, with many not willing to believe that corn-heavy diets were the cause.
A diet with a wide variety of foods makes nixtamalization less of a concern, but it’s a simple process if you want to try it at home. Simple in part because we do not have to gather wood ashes to get the process started, we can simply pick up a box of pickling lime at the grocery store to make lime water. Find the full process here.
Whether hominy or not, grits are a classic southern food. They are tasty with just a little butter, or well-seasoned and served as a side with shrimp, sausage, or other meats. I’ve been making a casserole of grits and cheese for a long time. These days I often make a double batch of grits for breakfast, then use the leftovers to make a casserole at supper, either that night or later in the week. When I make grits for breakfast I serve them plain and let everyone add butter and/or cheese to their tastes in their bowls. Then I add the remaining ingredients when it’s time to make the casserole. I use an immersion blender to help mix the ingredients into the stiffer grits. I followed the recipe this week to make sure it works and made a few adjustments to the original. If you find yourself short of cheese, butter, or eggs, the casserole is pretty flexible. Give it a taste before you bake it and adjust as necessary. Cream or milk is not used in this recipe but can be added to change the taste or texture if desired. I’ve found the baking temperature to be flexible as well. Feel free to bake it at a different temperature to accommodate another dish. I’ve tried up to 425° successfully. Adjust the baking time to fit the temperature.
Adapted slightly from The More with Less Cookbook
Bring to a boil in a saucepan:
3 cups of water
1 cup grits
1 tsp salt
Cook over low heat 5 minutes, stirring occasionally with a whisk. Turn off heat.
⅓ cup butter
2 cups shredded cheese
3 eggs, beaten
Turn into buttered 2 quart casserole. Sprinkle with paprika.
Bake at 275° for 1 hour or 375° for ½ hour.
Add, before baking or to serve, hot pepper sauce, hot peppers, or a green garnish.
Printable recipe here
Finally, some chilly weather! Broccoli-Cheddar soup is a classic and easily made with local ingredients.
I often do not cook with recipes. Sometimes this makes sharing a recipe difficult as I am cooking by eye and by taste and have no idea how much of each ingredient I’ve used. I did pay close attention last time I made this soup so I could share it with you.
I used to hate even the smell of broccoli-cheddar soup. I think it was a combination of the sharp cheese and also of overcooked broccoli. Also, many “cream of” soups have a lot of flour in them to make them creamy, especially in the low-fat 90s when cooks started reducing cream and needed a replacement.
All the cream of… soups I’ve made for a long time are potato based. This makes them creamy without any flour so are appropriate for folks eating gluten-free. They will also be creamy with minimal fat but are definitely yummy with plenty of cream!
I make this a bit differently every time and I encourage you to try different variations. It’s good to be at least flexible as ingredient availability can change. For instance, when I made this soup for the photograph I had 1 ½ pounds of broccoli and barely one pound of potatoes. It was still yummy, and the difference, while perceptible was small. I have used a mirepoix as my base before - a combination of onions, celery, and carrots - and that is good, too. For this batch I made a quick stock of shitaake stems, but often I use only water. And I had no cheddar cheese. I used Monterey Jack instead and in the future I’d like to try one from Sequatchie Cove Creamery.
In addition to variations in ingredients there are differences in preparation. The simplest way is to make everything in one pot and blend it up when you are done. Blend it completely for a smooth texture or leave some chunks if you like. Or, steam some of the broccoli and/or potatoes in separate small pot(s) to add in after blending. It’s all up to you.
Photo by Zachary Cross
Serves ~ 6
1 small to medium onion
2 Tbs butter
1 pound broccoli
1 ½ pounds potatoes
Salt to taste
1 cup milk or cream
4 oz cheddar cheese, shredded
Sour cream to serve
I thought about sharing a soup this week, but it’s too hot for that! Instead, this week’s recipe is for something seasonal that can be appreciated room temperature or cold: apple kuchen.
Photos by Zachary Cross
This is not a guest post but it was made by a guest chef: my older daughter, Lexi. She’s had an interest in cooking, and especially baking, for a long time. Since I discovered that I have a wheat allergy I’ve stopped baking with wheat and also most grain flours. Lexi has filled the void my decreased baking has left.
We discussed both the pronunciation of kuchen (we learned koo-ken from Mennonites) and the definition. Basically, it means cake in German. One of our favorite dessert recipes, though, from The More-with-Less Cookbook is for peach kuchen, and it’s more of a custard pie. Turns out that is a Käsechun, a cheesecake, specifically Pfirsich-Käsechun. The M-w-L recipe uses sour cream or yogurt for the custard, something I found odd but yummy (we’ve always used yogurt). Now I learn that German cheesecake is made with a German cheese: quark. It sounds a bit like Greek yogurt in that it’s strained and a bit tangy. It’s not yogurt but an acid-set cheese - not one made with rennet - and I’m excited to try making it in the future.
Lexi made more of a traditional sheet cake with an apple topping, so it’s an Apfelkuchen. There’s no streusel on it, though it sounds like it doesn’t need it. Jeffrey pronounced it “moist, but not the least bit gummy.” It certainly smelled heavenly, I suppose the combination of cinnamon and apples. And it was gone in less than 24 hours!
The blog post this recipe comes from is a bit of an advertisement for White Lily flour. Lexi used regular all purpose flour, but made sure to sift it thoroughly to keep it light and fluffy. The cake is in the post is very white, Lexi’s version is a lovely golden color from the pastured eggs she used. She also only used 3 apples “because I sliced them so thin,” and it sounds like that was plenty. They were Winesaps from Wheeler’s Orchard, plenty tart in place of Granny Smiths.
From Chocolate, Chocolate and More
4-5 medium Granny Smith Apples
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
2/3 cup sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups White Lily All-Purpose Flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup sour cream
3 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup powdered sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons milk
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
Cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add in eggs one at a time, add vanilla.
Combine flour, baking powder, salt and cinnamon.
Alternating, add flour mixture and sour cream, starting and ending with flour. Mixing just until each addition is incorporated into batter.
Lightly grease a 9x13 baking pan. (I line mine with parchment paper for easy removal of cake to a serving tray.) Spoon batter into prepared pan.
Peel, core and slice apples into thin slices (about 16 slices per apple) place apples in a single layer across top of batter.
Combine sugar and cinnamon for topping. Sprinkle over top of apple layer.
bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 40 minutes, until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.
Remove cake from oven and let cool 30 minutes.
Prepare glaze, combine powdered sugar, milk and vanilla, stirring until smooth. Drizzle over top of cake. Serve cake still warm or can be served cooled.
Store in refrigerator.
A rotisserie chicken is a modern convenience food. It’s ready for you to eat (and even still hot at the store!), can be served as a traditional carved bird, or it can be shredded to use in other dishes - and it’s cheap! Take a little hands-on time, though, and a long, slow cook in the oven, and instead have your own tender and tasty chicken that’s locally and humanely raised.
Is that rotisserie chicken really inexpensive? Although it will depend on the store and day, usually no. There are loss leaders or fresh chickens nearing their sell-by date that a store decides to use, but, generally, the rotisserie chickens are just smaller than the fresh chickens you will buy in the same store.
What about the convenience? If you’ve made a special trip to pick one up, you’ve spent more time than prepping a roast chicken takes. Certainly they look and smell appealing when you’re already shopping and hungry, but a little planning ahead can mean that the chicken is already prepared for you at home.
How was that bird raised? A chicken purchased at the grocery store is definitely going to be factory-farmed. Even if you shop at Whole Foods it may not be raised the way you might think. You probably have seen information about the 5-step animal welfare rating. Looking at the Global Animal Partnership site shows that a chicken has to be at least step 4, and more likely step 5 or 5+ to compare what you’d get at market. Step 1 is barely one step up from the lowest level of care. Right now at the Chattanooga Whole Foods a rotisserie chicken is Step 2 and on sale for $7.99. You get what you pay for: Step 2 provides little improvement: enrichment activities and no cages but a life all indoors.
What is a busy locavore to do? Make your own! There are many ways to roast chicken that take different amounts of prep and cooking time. The October issue of Real Simple has a recipe for chicken with 10 minutes of prep, then 2 ½ - 3 hours on low heat to roast without any attention needed. The long time does make this likely a weekend project. If you’ve purchased your chicken frozen, great, leave it in the fridge till the weekend and it will hopefully be defrosted and ready to go. (I feel like chicken takes forever to defrost so I’m a little cynical about how long it takes.) If you’ve bought it fresh on Wednesday, will it still be good Saturday or Sunday?
I went down a reddit hole trying to figure out safe poultry shelf life via the internet. I’ve waited until the weekend to cook Wednesday’s fresh chicken myself, but I wanted to make sure it was safe enough to recommend! The USDA’s official recommendation is to cook your fresh poultry 1-2 days after you get it home. This is a recommendation intended for poultry purchased in a supermarket or similar store. I wondered, though: how long does it take for a fresh chicken to get from slaughter to store? How long does it sit there before you buy it? Vegetables and fruits can be days or weeks old, eggs can be months old, surely chicken suffers a similar fate?
Yet, it turns out, you don’t want to eat your chicken too fresh! You can eat it within a half hour of slaughtering but wait much longer than that and you need to let it rest for at least 24 hours. Some sources say 4 or more days for best flavor. I find this fascinating! According to an NC State poultry professor, chicken can reach the store a day after slaughter, but should be consumed within 14 days at the latest. Two weeks is a long time. But note: chicken needs to be keep at 40 F or below during that time. Please be safe and bring a cooler or insulated bag plus ice packs to market if you’re going to hold your chicken over.
Not only is your chicken going to be local but some of your seasonings will be as well. Rosemary and thyme or oregano are sturdy herbs that can stand up to long cooking. They’re readily available at the market, and thyme and rosemary grow well unprotected through the winter. Salt, pepper, and lemon round out the seasonings for a tasty chicken that goes well with many dishes that is able to stand alone as well. Lemon thyme could be used as a substitute for the lemon zest. The lemon itself adds moisture to the chicken but with long and slow cooking it shouldn’t matter too much. I’m going to try lemon thyme with this week’s chicken.
Photo by Heather Cross
Real Simple’s recipe doesn’t mention this, but I learned from Martha Stewart to loosen the skin on the breast and rub it with fat and seasonings directly on the meat as well as on the skin. She also puts thin rounds of goat cheese under the skin and arranges sage leaves (sage is another good herb for roasting) nicely on top. It’s pretty but not necessary for a yummy bird.
For your side, roasted veggies are a natural match. Usually I roast at high heat, but roasting veggies alongside chicken or other meat is pretty traditional. Real Simple recommends a separate pan of veggies; you decide which you would prefer. And if you roast plenty of vegetables you will have the beginnings of plenty of meals for the following days.
From Real Simple Magazine October 2017
1 tablespoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary
2 teaspoons chopped fresh oregano or thyme
1 lemon, zested
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 3½ -to 4-lb. chicken
1 tablespoon olive oil
How to make it:
Preheat oven to 300°F. Combine salt, rosemary, oregano, 1½ ￼teaspoons lemon zest, and pepper in a small bowl. Place chicken on a rimmed baking sheet and rub all over with oil. Season with herb mixture, inside and out. Halve lemon and place inside cavity.
Roast until chicken is pull-apart tender (grab a leg and wiggle it; it should easily come away from the bird), 2½ to 3 hours.
Printable recipe here
Photo by Zachary Cross