Posts Tagged ‘thanksgiving’

Comfort Food

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le crueset dutch oven

It’s Thanksgiving week, and everyone I know is already stressing out, trying to get ready for one of the biggest culinary moments of the year. I’d like to say that for once, I’m not in that category, because I’ve already stressed out about too many other things to worry about dinner on Thursday. My only concern is that it be a warm, cozy experience for those I share it with.

Those words, “warm” and “cozy” have become almost ironic these days – oh, we like the idea when we see it on TV, but perhaps in our efforts to duplicate the pictures in Martha Stewart Living and create production numbers when preparing meals for friends, I think we sometimes make things colder, not warmer – and the notion of things being cozy rather than swift, efficient, clean and crisp – well, that can seem dated, can’t it? And I think that’s a shame – as my friend Ted pointed out on social media to me the other day, one of the reasons we value Thanksgiving so much is the coziness factor. We’re together with friends and family, the kitchen smells like our favorite comfort foods, and for a while, all’s right with the world. (And hopefully, we’ve also given a few bucks or a few hours of our time to support local food charities).

Behind all of what’s now regarded as cheesiness of the holiday – the Norman Rockwell prints and all – and the corporate media’s overhyping of Black Friday (now starting at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving so you can go into a berserker-type frenzy earlier than ever and hack people to death over the latest Chinese-made kids’ toy or bigger-than-our-actual-bonus-room TV), we sometimes forget just how terrific it is to have that day where we hang out with people we like and forget the diets to indulge in really good food.

And good food is comfort. I’ve had this driven home for me this week, as I channeled my mom (not for the first time), arranging for food to be taken to the home of a friend who’d just moved up here and promptly had cancer surgery at Vanderbilt. When something like that happens, we kind of grasp at straws to do something legitimately helpful, because we feel, frankly, helpless. So, I got together with a group of folks and arranged for dinners to get my friend and her significant other through the next few days. It’s something I’ve seen my mom do for years, every time anyone she knew was in need of a little comfort – from the time as I was kid, when my Dad was an Air Force Colonel and the military community just did stuff like that, through the corporate world, through today.

compelte southern cookbookEverything went smoothly, I’ve been ferrying food over every so often. Soups, stews, chili, those are the things we’re all opting for – warm, filling, healthy, invigorating for the cool fall weather. My own plans kind of went awry, because I’d bought everything for my beef stew recipe –a tried and true favorite altered from one of Tammy Algood’s wonderful recipes in her Complete Southern Cookbook (buy it!) – and I forgot to buy carrots at the Farmers’ Market or Costco on Saturday morning. By the time I got home, I realized my mistake, but then remembered that I still had a frozen container from the last time I’d made it, a few weeks ago. It freezes beautifully – so the now-defrosting stew, along with a loaf of crusty bread from the Publix bakery, was duly delivered to Amber and Andrew.

Yesterday, I picked up carrots, came home, and decided to make the stew, instead of freezing the meat. My husband had gone off with the guys for the weekend to an event with our medieval-themed living history group, and I had stayed home to work on some preliminary research for a book I hope to write, so it was me and the cats in the kitchen of the rural, 1940s ranch house we live in.

Four plus pounds of stew beef gets chopped into smaller pieces – including some very fine ones for my 16-month-old kitty Sigrun, who will otherwise steal pieces a big as her head from the bowl (later, I will find a horribly mauled mushroom under the table). Vegetables are cut up. Wine is measured (and drunk). Texts messages sent to Dad, to tell him to come get some in four hours when it’s done for himself and my mom (the whole family is into cooking, and when we cook, we share).

By the time the Dutch oven goes into the oven to slow cook for three hours on 325, there is a warmth in the house that isn’t tied to the heat from the stove. I retire with my glass of Malbec to sit on the couch and watch foodball with Sigy and our 9-month-old kitten Castiel (a rescue kitten, in place of my beloved 15-year-old cat Wickett, who died in September). I lazily text with my friends Bridget and Lara about our costumes for ChattaCon. (Yeah, I wear my nerdish tendencies like a badge – go figure).

When Seth gets home, there’s time to relax, enjoy good food, and share details of the weekend while the temperature drops and the wind blows outside. He’s exhausted; we sprawl and enjoy the evening. The house smells like rosemary and bay leaf, like stew made with wine, like bread properly toasted in the oven with fresh butter from Hatcher Dairy down the road. And let me add, I’m proud of my feminist credentials, this isn’t remotely a lecture on being the ’50s homemaker (as if!). It is, however, a reminder of the value of doing things right – of the warmth you bring to a house by cooking good, fresh food instead of popping pre-fab into the microwave and the contentment you get from the fruits of your labors. Tomorrow, it’ll be Seth’s turn to make chili in preparation for holiday weekend football with friends.

The Recipe

Redacted with permission from the Complete Southern Cookbook by Tammy Algood

(Tammy has explained to me that tweaking recipes to make them your own is vital, so here you have both Tammy’s original and my additions – find Tammy here).

Town Drunk Beef Stew

3 pound stew beef, cut into bite sized pieces (I usually go 4, because Costco sells it in bulk)

3 cups all purpose flour

4 tablespoons olive oil (I try to add some bacon drippings to this)

3 garlic cloves

1 pound fresh baby carrots

10 red potatoes, cut into quarters (I use purple fingerings, myself)

3 cups beef stock

2 cups crushed tomatoes (16 ounces – I also add a small can of tomato paste)

1 bottle dry red wine

2 bay leaves

1 tsp. dried basil

½ tsp Kosher salt

½ tsp fresh ground black pepper

1 cup frozen English peas

I also add:

Fresh basil leaves, shredded, when available (about 6)

Fresh rosemary – one sprig

Fresh thyme

1 cup button or other mushrooms, cut into quarters


Preheat the oven to 325. Dredge the beef in the flour until covered on all sides, shaking off the excess. Place a large Dutch oven over high heat and add the oil. When the oil is hot, add the meat a few pieces at a time.

Cook, turning several times with tongs, until the meat is crispy and brown on all sides. Remove to a large dish. Repeat until all the meat is cooked and set aside. (*Note, I do this in a separate pan, and when each batch of meat is browned, deglaze the pan with stock and wine, and pour the resulting rue over the well browned meat that I’ve deposited in the Dutch oven).

Reduce heat to medium high. In the same pot you browned the meat, add garlic, carrots, onions and potatoes (and anything else you wanted to add – like the mushrooms I use – and I also add a bit over butter to this process). Saute for 5 minutes. Add the browned meat, stock, tomatoes, 2 cups of wine, bay leaves, herbs, salt and pepper. Cover and place in the oven, bake 1 hour.

Add the remaining wine and bake, covered, 2-3 more hours, until the stew is fork tender. Gently stir in the peas and adjust seasoning if necessary. Remove the bay leaves and discard. Serve hot.

My note – again, this freezes beautifully. I do it in Zip-lock bags, so it’s easy to pull out, thaw and reheat.


The Game’s Afoot – Cooking Wild with Jesse Morris

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jesse morris killer chefs

Jesse Morris hunts

One of the things that’s constant in the South is the concept of living from the land through hunting and fishing. Very few of us who grew up here, or whose families are native, didn’t learn both skills as children, and that includes girls. I was 5 or 6 when I learned how to shoot and was fishing even younger, albeit with Dad or a grandfather to bait the hook for me.

If you’re a vegetarian or vegan, this probably isn’t the column for you – rest assured, there are plenty coming, but this one is going to look at hunting, and how one pretty dedicated Southern chef and hunter is making game work, especially now, as we shift between seasons for ducks, wild turkeys, geese and so on.

Regardless of how you feel about it, it’s a way of life around here – and frankly, with all the discussion going on about the problems caused by factory farming and the issues of everything from hormones to sanitation to the treatment of caged chickens, I have not one iota of regret about eating a cleanly, swiftly killed wild bird instead of an industrially farmed one that came wrapped in plastic from the mega-mart.

For urban dwellers in many parts of the country, that’s not an option, but for many of us, it’s pretty normal. It’s not a political thing – I can see very little difference on either side of the voting divide with regard to hunting – though the rationales may be a little different. The majority of us here hunt, bird hunting in particular is huge, and as a result, families I know tend to keep their bird dogs as house pets (I have more Gordon setter stories than you want to read).

As Thanksgiving approaches, and hunting season is upon us (varying as to what’s in season depending on what part of the South you’re in), it seemed like a good idea to check in with someone who’s cooking up wild game to serve with the change of the year. The person to consult in this case, aside from, you know, my dad, who’s always got some wild turkey breast frying up for Thanksgiving, is Jesse Morris. The Dallas resident and creator/owner/president of Killer Chefs took some time to answer my questions about cooking up some game birds as part of your Thanksgiving feast.

Morris was born and raised in Oklahoma, learned to shoot with his grandfather, and started working in restaurants young. If you’re interested in recipes, or in the best ways to cook up your own catch, visit him and his buddies at


What got you started hunting? My grandfather was an outdoorsman. He would sit with me in the backyard with a Crosman 2200 magnum air rifle and we would shoot paper plates. (I still have that gun but it’s broken – one day I would love to have someone rebuild it and put some nice wood stocks on it.) I was a big turkey hunter until my first duck hunt then I was hooked.

At what point did the interest in hunting start to include cooking? My first love wasn’t hunting, it was fishing. We had a pond out in back of our house, and after school I would make a bee line to go fishing. My mother was a school teacher and would get home late, so I’d catch some perch and clean and cook them – it was that or Fruit Loops.

Do you have any professional chef training or did you come by all this on your own? I started cooking around high school and moved to Dallas where I worked in my first restaurant. So no, I never went to culinary school.

Obviously, I’m asking about your background, so tell me anything else you want readers to know. I grew up on an old dirt road in Oklahoma, and I had all the land to run around on. That’s where I learned to fish and shoot a gun. When I came home afterwards, my mother always had a good meal to cook up. KillerChefs is dedicated to everyone else who wants to hunt up a good meal for themselves.
Given a choice, what’s your favorite game meat to work with and favorite methods of preparation – you a grill man or a gas range or what? I love working with duck, and rabbit is probably one of my favorite game meats to work with. Growing up in the lowlands of Oklahoma pecan trees are thick, so I love cooking on pecan wood – it works great for game meat flavors.

From my husband – when you go after small game, are you trying hard to hit it in the head, or do you have a method for removing shot (memories from bird hunting as a kid with grandfather)? As fast as those suckers fly, I just try to make a clean shot. I think as good as modern shot loads are and as fast as the FPS (feet per second) is, lots of shot ends up outside of the meat.

Ok – let’s say it, there are a lot of people who duck hunt that just don’t like duck. What’s your secret to preparing it and serving it? I make eating duck a process: First thing is to get the core temp down on the birds, next is to take care to clean them well. I take the meat and put it in a heavy salt water brine and into the refrigerator for 24 hours. The next day gets fresh water, then repeat salt, then fresh – so the whole process takes four days all together. Then I marinate for 24-48 hours (find the recipe for the marinade here) and usually grill to a perfect medium rare.

Following on that, what are the major differences you see in preparing duck, goose and small game birds like quail or pheasant? With goose I will dry age the meat in the refrigerator to help tenderize it, and I slice very thin. Quail and pheasant work great on the grill or for roasting.

What do most people get wrong when they cook game birds? One word: overcook

From my dad – so, when you’ve got a wild turkey, do you cook only the breast or the rest of the meat as well? If you’re cooking the rest of the meat, how do you tenderize it? What’s the best way to cook it? (For the record, my dad marinates it overnight in buttermilk, then fries it in a cornmeal batter – breast only. It’s delish). That’s a great way to cook the breast, but all the rest works too – just grab a Dutch oven and cook it low and slow till it’s tender.

Let’s talk brining – I assume that most game birds require it as much as a farm raised Thanksgiving turkey, am I right here? See the question above about duck, and yes brining is a great thing.

What do you find most people are ignorant about when it comes to eating game birds? That they are greasy – that’s the one thing I always hear that’s wrong. When people think of duck, they thing of duck confit that’s cooked in its own fat and is typically a little greasy – but wild duck is lean most of the season. By the way, duck cooked in its own fat is a good thing.

Tell me what you expect to see on your Thanksgiving table this year? Hopefully something I didn’t cook – ha ha! – I like to be cooked for sometimes.

black lab duck hunting


Gotta have the obligatory dog question – who’s your hunting companion? Do you typically favor labs, retrievers, setters? Give us your take on what you require in a hunting dog. I’ve got a great black Lab named Cash. He’s a fireball and one of the toughest dogs I’ve ever owned – he’s a pure athlete. A good dog has to have drive, concentration and obedience to work in the field.



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