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Vote for Nothing in the House as best blog

Screen Shot 2014-02-24 at 3.07.04 PM Nothing in the House, the witty and engaging pie blog from our very own senior pie correspondent, Emily Hilliard, is a finalist in The Homies, the annual awards given by The Kitchn/Apartment Therapy.

Hilliard has shared with AFR readers her secret for perfect piecrust, her discovery of the world’s best football snack, and many other observations that make our culinary lives better. Let’s help her win!

The winner will be determined by a crowd-sourced, popular vote. Please cast your vote for Nothing in the House by clicking right here. Voting ends at midnight Wednesday, but don’t wait until then. Put on your Nikes and Just Do It. Then, share the link with your friends on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and wherever else it might help.

Thank you, Emily, for all your great work. And good luck!    

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Kitchen Sink: The award for best movie food scenes goes to …

moviecorn As interest and anticipation for the Oscars build to a fever pitch, American Food Roots is planning its own award ceremony. You won’t get a statuette of a little gold guy, but winners will get … free popcorn! And a movie (or televised Academy Awards ceremony) without popcorn is like a burger without a bun.

Here’s the drill:

Name your favorite food movie OR your favorite food scene in a movie to be eligible to win.  Your choice can be from any century, from any country. Add a few words about why you think it’s so good.

Winners will be chosen by an impartial panel that will reach its hand into a hat. There will be three winners. Each will receive a coupon for five bags of the popcorn of his/her choice from Popcorn, Indiana, a company that describes itself as “wildly fanatical about healthier, whole-grain snacking.”  This prize is even good for you.

PI-FIT-Gr_SeaSalt (1) A few other facts about the prize popcorn:

  • It’s kosher.
  • It’s gluten free.
  • The company has special kettles that are filled, by hand, one scoop at a time, by real people.
  • It has flavors.

The submission deadline is Tuesday, Feb. 25. The winners will be  announced in the newsletter on Feb. 27, which should give them plenty of time to go to the supermarket with their coupons and get enough popcorn for the March 2 Academy Awards ceremony. Frankly, this competition is bigger than the Academy Awards. You can’t eat a gold statuette.

To enter your favorite food movie or food scene from a movie, click here.




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The Kitchen Sink: Back to ‘Victory Garden Cookbook’

Photo of "The Victory Garden Cookbook" and several raw sweet potatoes

In her 1982 book, Marian Morash advises how to turn sweet potatoes into a sweet finale. / AFR photo by Domenica Marchetti

In January, my husband signed us up for a weekly CSA (community-supported agriculture) program. Since then we have been “blessed” with an abundance of winter greens and sweet potatoes. Especially sweet potatoes. Lots of them. Big ones.

I’ve put them in soup and in chili, and we’ve consumed more than a few batches of these fries and these rolls.

The other day, I remembered an old recipe I haven’t made in years: Sweet Potato-Chocolate Cake, from “The Victory Garden Cookbook,” by Marian Morash. It’s a simple cake, but a beautiful one, with swirls of chocolate and a delicately spiced, tender crumb. Baked in a 10-inch tube pan, it emerges burnished and marbled, and needs only a dusting of powdered sugar. Like so many recipes in the book, it is homey yet good enough to serve to company. Baking it reminded me why I still love and use this book after so many years.

Sweet Potato-Chocolate Cake

Chocolate swirled into sweet potato batter makes an attractive cake. / AFR photo by Domenica Marchetti

Originally published by Knopf in 1982, “The Victory Garden Cookbook” was the companion cookbook to the original PBS gardening series of the same name. The show was produced by Morash’s husband, Russell, who also created “The French Chef” and other cooking shows starring Julia Child, as well as “This Old House” and “The New Yankee Workshop.” Marian Morash, an avid gardener who had worked as an executive chef on one of Child’s series, contributed countless recipes for the many vegetables featured on “The Victory Garden” show.

The book is an alphabetical homage to vegetables from asparagus to zucchini. Each vegetable (or family of vegetables) gets its own chapter, with information on growing, varieties and yields; plus basic instructions for blanching, boiling, sautéing, baking and more. The recipes — more than 800 altogether — beautifully showcase the versatility of each vegetable, on its own and with other vegetables, in salads, soups, sautés, stews, braises, breads and baked goods, in appetizers, main courses and desserts.

Long before Brussels sprouts, kale and fennel were the darlings of chefs across the country, they were Marian Morash’s darlings. “I never tire of marveling at Brussels sprouts,” she writes. “Cut open a Brussels sprout and examine it closely. See how the tiny leaves curl against each other and the way the color shades from cream to bright green.”

My mom got the first copy of the book in our house. I can’t remember for sure, but my guess is that it was a gift from my dad, an early devotee of PBS cooking shows (not surprisingly, we Marchettis were big fans of “The Romagnolis’ Table”). The sweet potato cake was one of the first recipes she made from it, and there was a period during which she seemed to make it at least once a week, to bring to friends or to keep on our kitchen counter.

A few years after my mom got her book, she gave a copy each to my sister and me. Mine has followed me more or less everywhere I’ve gone since then and I still consult it regularly. It’s a large paperback, and a few years ago, its front cover finally came off and had to be taped back on. I thought about buying a new copy — the book was re-released in 2010 — but by now part of the appeal for me lies in its worn state.

“The Victory Garden Cookbook” has none of the stunning photos that accompany so many of today’s cookbooks. There is not a whiff of celebrity about it. What it has is Morash’s down-to-earth style and practical, yet joyful approach to cooking. She is just a knowledgeable teacher sharing her passion. Maybe that is the secret to this book’s enduring appeal.


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The Kitchen Sink: 50 years of Buffalo wings

Photo from Wikicommons

Photo from Wikicommons

It may only be the 48th Super Bowl, but Buffalo wings will be celebrating their 50th anniversary.  The wings were first served in 1964 at the family-owned restaurant, Anchor Bar, in Buffalo, N.Y. They were the creation of Teressa Bellissimo, an Italian immigrant, who covered them in her own special sauce and served them with a side of blue cheese and celery because that’s what she had in her pantry.

On Super Bowl Sunday, finger-licking fans will consume an estimated 1.25 billion Buffalo wings, according to the National Chicken Council.

The men in Bellissimo’s life — her husband Frank and son, Dominic, disagreed on why she first made the wings. Frank said she whipped them up after the bar had received a shipment of wings by accident and didn’t know what to do with them. Dominic claimed the wings were a midnight snack for him and his friends after a night of drinking.

All three family members have died, and the true story with them. But the city of Buffalo doesn’t mind either way, and celebrates Chicken Wing Day on July 29 each year.

The deep fried, orange-coated finger foods were a regional food until the mid-1980s when Philadelphia discovered them. A wing-eating contest called the Wing Bowl started in Philadelphia and has taken place there since then.Ultimately, the treat winged its way to platters of football fare down the coast and across the country.


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Share the love – of pie

IMG_5638-600x400 Tell us about your favorite pie and why you love it, and we’ll enter your name to win a copy of the beautiful “Four and Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book,” by Brooklyn pie bakers Emily and Melissa Elsen (Grand Central Life & Style, $30).

To enter, use the comment section below to tell us about your favorite pie. All comments must be received by Wednesday, Jan. 29, to be eligible. It’s that simple – and potentially delicious.

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Oh, no! You don’t get the AFR Newsletter?

Frustrated_man_at_a_desk_(cropped) It has come to our attention that many of our loyal readers are unaware that we offer a newsletter. Sign up now, and every Thursday American Food Roots will be delivered directly to your email inbox. You’ll keep up on new stories, recipes and cool cocktail party banter from our weekly quiz. Stop missing out. Click here to sign up today.

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The Kitchen Sink: Mulatto rice for Zora Neale Hurston’s birthday


Zora Neale Hurston / Photo from U.S. Library of Congress

Zora Neale Hurston / Photo from U.S. Library of Congress

In Zora Neale Hurston’s classic novel “Their Eyes Were Watching God,” Janie Crawford returns to the unwelcoming small Florida town where she grew up. While people sit on their porches gossiping and speculating, Janie’s best friend Pheoby Watson stands up abruptly and says, “You have to ‘scuse me, ’cause Ah’m bound to go take her some supper.”

She brings her friend a “heaping plate of mulatto rice,” telling her it’s not as good as usual because she didn’t use enough bacon grease. “But Ah reckon it’ll kill hongry.” Which it does.

A simple tomato pilaf was called mulatto rice through the 1930s, according to Southern food historians. “Old Savannahians knew it as ‘mulatto rice,’  … neither an ethnic slur nor a reference to its origins, but a reference to color,” writes Damon Fowler in “Classical Southern Cooking.” People of mixed African, Native American and white blood were called mulatto. Hurston, who would be 123 today, may have intentionally used this dish as a reference to Janie’s multiracial heritage.

A recipe for mulatto rice appeared in “The Savannah Coookbook,” by Harriet Ross Colquitt, published in 1933. It would be appropriate for dinner tonight in honor of Hurston’s birthday.



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Kitchen Sink: Gulf fish straight from the water to the plate

Sheepshead, top, and sea trout are common in Florida's Gulf coast waters. / Photos courtesy of Florida Department of Fish and Wildlife

Sheepshead, top, and sea trout are common in Florida’s Gulf coast waters. / Photos courtesy of Florida Department of Fish and Wildlife

Last night’s dinner special was a personalized catch of the day. My husband and a friend went out for six hours with a fishing guide off Pine Island, Fla., and came back with a whole mess of gulf fish — most of which they’d never caught before. They hooked small red fish, snappers and grouper that were not legal size. But the captain cleaned and filleted their haul of sheepshead and sea trout, and The Lazy Flamingo cooked them to order.

Sheepshead were cooked over mesquite. / AFR photo by Bonny Wolf

Sheepshead were cooked over mesquite. / AFR photo by Bonny Wolf

Restaurants in Florida fishing communities commonly cook what you catch. So last night we had a banquet of local fish, freshly caught. For $9.99 a person. Including sides.

We chose to have the sheepshead grilled over mesquite and the sea trout simply grilled. The other option was blackened, but that often doesn’t turn out well.

The fish were perfectly cooked — moist and flaky. They tasted so fresh you could almost taste the salt water. The captain did the cleaning, the restaurant did the cooking and all we had to do was the eating.

Sheepshead are a little beautiful and a little creepy. Their yellow and black stripes give them a tropical look, but their human-looking teeth make them seem like extras from a horror film. My husband removed his hooks with pliers. “The food quality of sheepshead is very good,” according to the Florida Department of Fish and Wildlife, “and they are one of the only fish that can smile back at your during the picture.” The fish were sweet and flavorful. Wish they swam in waters closer to Washington, D.C., where we live.

The Lazy Flamingo on Pine Island, Fla., will cook your catch to order. / AFR photo by Bonny Wolf

The Lazy Flamingo on Pine Island, Fla., will cook your catch to order. / AFR photo by Bonny Wolf

The spotted (or speckled) sea trout is another Florida Gulf favorite considered a good eating fish. They are quite delicate, so are released promptly to the water if not kept for eating. They have a more delicate taste as well.

The Lazy Flamingo serves beer in icy cold mugs — a perfect accompaniment to the fresh fish. Not a bad dinner for the middle of winter.







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Kitchen Sink: ‘Tis the season for bourbon balls

Bourbon balls are traditional at the holidays and after Kentucky bourbon tastings. / AFR photo by Carol Guensburg

Bourbon balls are traditional at the holidays and after Kentucky bourbon tastings. / AFR photo by Carol Guensburg

While touring several Kentucky bourbon distilleries this summer, I learned more about the pleasures of the spirit — in a glass and, unexpectedly, in a confection.

Tours of Maker’s Mark, Heaven Hill and Buffalo Trace each end with a sampling of bourbon for visitors 21 and older. But every tourist, no matter the age, gets offered a bourbon ball as a sweet finale.

The bourbon balls I’d had before combined cocoa powder and crushed cookies, as featured in classic cookbooks such as “The Joy of Cooking.”

In Kentucky, the bourbon ball has a creamy center enrobed in chocolate and topped with a pecan half. Rebecca Ruth, a candy factory in Frankfort, lays claim to its design. In 1919, substitute teachers Rebecca Gooch and Ruth Hanly — praised for the chocolates they gave as Christmas gifts — decided to ditch education and instead capitalize on their candy-making skills. In 1936, Ruth Hanley Booe — by then the sole owner — introduced a chocolate with a bourbon-infused filling. Today, Rebecca Ruth contracts with various distillers to produce the bourbon balls that come at the end of many a distillery tour.

Kentucky-style bourbon balls are available online from Rebecca Ruth. Or, you can try making them yourself.


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Kitchen Sink: Ginger cookies with a Swedish flavor

The Boicourts' Christmas tree is hung with personally themed pepperkake. / Photo for AFR by Kate Boicourt

The Boicourts’ Christmas tree is hung with personally themed pepparkakor. / Photo for AFR by Kate Boicourt

The neighborhood children who go to Posey Boicourt’s house in Trappe, Md., to watch the trains go around the Christmas tree, get holiday ginger cookies that may be unfamiliar. In addition to cookies shaped as stars and candy canes, are those that look like the armadillos from Posey’s native Texas; ducks, crabs and starfish that reflect her home on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, and lobsters in honor of summers spent in Maine.

Posey Boicourt uses blah blah to make pepperkakor she shapes into starfish, crabs and armadillos. / Photos for AFR by Bonny Wolf and Kate Boicourt.

Posey Boicourt uses her well-worn “The Best of Swedish Cooking” to make pepparkakor she shapes into starfish, armadillos and crabs. / Photos for AFR by Bonny Wolf and Kate Boicourt

Furthermore, they’re not really gingerbread. Since she spent a summer in Sweden after high school, she makes pepparkakor, traditional Swedish ginger cookies that are thinner than regular gingerbread yet sturdy enough to be used as tree ornaments, as they are in Sweden. Posey follows a well-stained recipe from “The Best of Swedish Cooking,” adapted by Marianne Gronwall van der Tuuk for the American market in 1966. The book suggests shaping the dough into hearts, stars and people — no mention of armadillos.

Communities with large Swedish populations (think Minnesota) serve pepparkakor along with other traditional holiday foods, many of which are sold at the museum shop at the American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis, Minn. The institute was founded in 1929. The Turnblads, a Swedish immigrant family, built a castle-like mansion in Minneapolis in 1908, donating it 21 years later as a center for Swedish culture.

If you want to give your holidays a Swedish accent, whip up a batch of perpparkakor, raise a mug of hot glögg (mulled wine) and wish jul to the world.







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