Preserving the Tradition of African American New Year Eats

blackeyed peas over rice

Black-eyed peas over saffron Rice.  Photo by Crystal Johnson

African American New Year’s Eats face a stigma.  Much of the younger African Americans, the yuppies and hipsters realize the food isn’t healthy and there seems to be a resentment about the traditional foods being the leftover grub for Black folks during the slavery days in the United States.  As an African American who grew up in New York as a 70’s child to parents from the south, I have an appreciation for the traditional foods of our history.

Food is correlated to history.  For the first time in years my dad prepared for me what I would call a Soul Food dinner.  The flavors were altered a bit with his age being in the 70’s.   There is a consciousness about blood pressure and salt.  Traditionally, the traditional pig feet and collard greens are  foods laddened with salt.

Pig feet

Pig Feet prepared by Carl Johnson.  Photo by Crystal Johnson

Pig feet are normally drenched in vinegar yet my dad’s gourmet take steered away from the vinegar.  I say pour it on.  It helps cut back the fat anyway.  He put before me Pig feet, chitterlings and black peas over rice.    Let’s talk about the chittlin’s .  A whiff nearly knocked out and brought me back to age 10.  The aroma is the substance of history and tradition.  Chitterlings as they are properly called are the pig’s intestines.  The undesirable parts of the pig were left to the slaves.  Thus, it is understandable that many blacks today take offense maintaining a tradition of eating something we don’t have to eat.

My father also included in the menu, cornbread.  However, he got fancy by putting it in the shape of a rose.  Now I can tell you my dad proudly presented these dishes with love and appreciation of our history.  He prepared these dishes in a way that you may find it in a fine restaurant.   He also prepared the most delicious pressure cooked collard greens lightly seasoned with white pepper.  There was no pot liquor to be found.  Pot liquor is the leftover liquid from collard greens.  Mom used to talk about that when I was a child.  You couldn’t find much historical record of pot liquor when I was a child.  I almost thought it was an old wise tale but today with the internet more of the history of African Americans moving form oral to written history.  Today, we also know the nutrients of collard greens and kale was a healthful blessing to our diet.

chitterlings

Chitterlings aka “Chittlin’s” Photo by Crystal Johnson

I guess what I want people to walk away is there is room to embrace our historic food traditions.  It may involve leaving some of the menu items off or merely changing the preparation.   But in a culture that has tried to stay alive, let’s preserve some of our culinary traditions.   Many cultures around the world maintain food traditions which symbolize oppression as a remembrance.  Maybe preparation of these foods can be a way of recalling Black history in America as we build our way toward a brighter tomorrow.

The Neely’s Creamed Collard Greens

Creamed collard greens

A few years I got the opportunity to interview Patrick and Gina Neely of the Food Network and we talked about a variety of things.  Among the recipes mentioned, was creamed collard greens.  I tried this recipe and it has been a winner for me. It puts a spin on the classic African American preparation of collards and gives a robust earthy taste to what would be the typical creamed spinach.

Ingredients

4 bunches collard greens, tough stems and ribs removed
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 large shallots, minced
2 cups heavy cream
Pinch freshly grated nutmeg
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup grated Parmesan

Click for Directions

See MCCN Editor’s Interview with the Neely’s. 

MCCN Best Foodie Films List

babettesfeast_pub04

Babette’s Feast

I’ve been meaning to do this for year but apparently Anthony Bourdain has beat me to it.  And since I am a fan of the chef and writer.  I will defer to him for part of this list of Best Foodie Films.    This list has no ranking of one film versus the next.  These are simply some of the best foodie films. – Crystal A. Johnson, MCCN Editor (Film and Food Critic)

  • Soul Food -The film centers on the trials of an extended African-American family, held together by longstanding family traditions(coming together over Sunday dinner of soul food) which begin to fade as serious problems take center stage
  • Chocolat– A woman and her daughter open a chocolate shop in a small French village that shakes up the rigid morality of the community.  Film stars Johnny Depp and Juliet Binoche
  • Pressure Cooker -The Documentary follows two semesters of students in a Culinary arts program under the supervision of a no-nonsense Chef/Teacher who helps to push these Philadelphia high school students to excellence in and out of the kitchen.
  • Eat Pray & Love –  Based on the best selling book of the same name, Julia Roberts stars in a film which partly celebrates Italian Food.
  • Kings of Pastry-is a truly thrilling and informative look at the somewhat secretive and incestuous world of French patisserie.
  • Last Holiday – stars Queen La’Tifah as woman afraid of her own shadow but loves cooking.  When thinks she is facing death, she decides to taste the full flavors of life.    
  • Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs – is based on a children’s book which made its debut in 1978.  The weather comes three times a day, at breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and is always food and beverages.
  • Princess and the Frog– This Disney film is all about a New Orleans gal who wants to open a restaurant.  She doesn’t expect a Prince Charming to make her dreams come true.
  • Spanglish- This one my sister would probably vote for considering that it is one of her favorite film.  Adam Sandler plays a chef.  Watch Sandler learn how to make “The World’s Greatest Sandwich” 

Bourdain Listing  is below.  Everything would be a pick of mine but Tempopo because I have never scene it.

Patti La Belle’s Cabbage Shuffle Recipe As Spicy As She Is

Singer Patti LaBelle is known for her amazing voice but among family and friends she is known for cooking.  Her collection of recipe as are wide as her range as a vocalist.  She says friends such Cyndia Lauper, Natalie Cole and more don’t just drive by the house but rather they drop in for a meal.

Watch Video

 

Los Angeles Taste of Soul 2011

Ribs, fried chicken, collard greens, macaroni and cheese, fried catfish, cobler…are you in heaven? Nah, but the food is going to be out of this world at the 6th Annual Taste of Soul happening Saturday, October 15th from 10am-6pm. So it might just be a good idea for you to satisfy that soul-food craving soul with some of the best cookin’ this side of heaven.  READ MORE

Carla’s Macaroni & Cheese Recipe

Recipe by Carla Crudup of Make Yourself Comfortable: Macaroni and cheese is a true food icon.  This legendary dish made its public debut in the United States in the early 1800s as it graced the table of President Thomas Jefferson, who served it in the White House.  A star was born, and the rest is history!  Today, macaroni and cheese is considered one of the classic American comfort foods. This recipe exemplifies the true essence of this popular dish. The spices and cheese blend highlight the wonderful taste of this American food prodigy. -Carla

Ingredients

  • 2 cups uncooked elbow macaroni
  • ¼ cup unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon shallots, finely minced
  • ¼ cup flour
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg*
  • 2 ½ cups milk
  • 7 oz. grated sharp cheddar cheese
  • 2 oz. grated mozzarella cheese
  • non-stick cooking spray
  • paprika and dried parsley for garnish

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Cook macaroni in 4 quarts of boiling water until tender; drain and set aside.  In a large saucepan over medium low heat melt butter.  Add shallots and sauté 1 minute.  Add flour, salt, and peppers. Stir and cook until mixture is smooth and bubbly.  Gradually stir in milk and add nutmeg.  Cook on medium heat, stirring constantly until thick and smooth.  Reduce heat to low and stir in grated cheeses until melted. Add macaroni to cheese sauce and pour into cooking spray coated 3-quart casserole dish.  Garnish with paprika and parsley.  Bake uncovered for approximately 30 minutes or until bubbly.  Serves 6.

 *Substitute ground nutmeg if the fresh nutmeg seed is unavailable. But freshly grated nutmeg has a much more intense flavor. Nutmeg is commonly used in sweet or baked goods, but it is also fantastic in savory dishes such as this béchamel cheese sauce.  It is one of my favorite spices because of it’s versatility and subtleness that enhances the natural taste of any dish.

 Watch Carla talk about her passion for Nutmeg and Food: http://www.multiculturalcookingnetwork.com/videos/viewvideo/35/whats-the-dish/carlaintmov.html

Restaurants open in Harlem for Thanksgiving

Whether you can’t cook or don’t want to cook if you are looking for a place to eat in Harlem on Thanksgiving.  The following restaurants will be open.

Melba’s

300 West 114th Street

212-284-7777

Will have a three course prefix Menu for $45

Website: http://www.melbasrestaurant.com/

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Amy Ruth’s

113 West 116th Street

212-280-8779

On the Menu: Prefix Meal for Thanksgiving, in additon to the regular authentic southern cuisine menu items

Website: http://www.amyruthsharlem.com/

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Billie’s Black

271 West 119th Street

212-280-2248

On the Menu: Upscale Gourmet Soul food

Website: http://www.billiesblack.com/

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Red Rooster

Prefix Menu for $55

Website:  http://redroosterharlem.com/

For more info about Harlem visit uptown flavor at: http://uptownflavor.com/

Memphis at the Beach Cafe- A Comfort Food Spot Bringing Fine Dining with Soul to The Beach

memphis at the beach

by Crystal A. Johnson – Los Angeles Examiner Comfort Food & Soul Food Restaurant Critic

A group of Manhattan Beach locals claim they are “…Bringing a little bit of Soul to the beach”, by partnering with Memphis Group to bring Memphis at the Beach Café. The Memphis Group has been around since 1995 and started with a small spot located in Costa Mesa. The Memphis at Beach Cafe take on the franchise is a large venue and very cosmopolitan. The Manhattan Beach location is known as the former post office to locals, situated on the corner of bustling Manhattan Ave. The streets are lined with a plethora of restaurants. Memphis at the Beach is no more than a block from beach and it’s pier. The outside of the restaurant features beautiful shades of blue and green glass surrounded by lush green organic faux grass with interiors warmed with eco-friendly high design furniture. The windows are large and the lighting is enticing to those who pass by.

None of the upscale trendy aesthetics scream Memphis or soul but once you sit down, see the families dining together, and  recieve a serving of cornbread then a sense of comfort comes over you. My dining companion and I quite enjoy the cornbread served with delicious honey barbecue butter. Being the child of Southern parents, I can guarantee that I know good cornbread. Before sampling the main course entrees, a pecan crusted goat cheese salad is served. It consists of arugula, beets, and yam chips with roasted garlic buttermilk vinaigrette. We are impressed with the plating of the salad and not once does the plating disappoint.

(We’re just getting to the good part- Read more at the link below)

Memphis at the Beach Cafe- A Comfort Food Spot Bringing Fine Dining with Soul to The Beach

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Taste of Soul, Los Angeles 2009

TasteofSoul

The 4th annual Taste of Soul, L.A.’s Soul Food & Music Festival, is presented by the Los Angeles Sentinel Newspaper in conjunction with Radio Free 102.3 KJLH and the 94.7 The Wave, and will take place Saturday, October 17 from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. Each year, the one-day urban festival features the best in soul food cuisine and live entertainment. Billed as Los Angeles’ largest street festival, the Taste of Soul Festival takes place outside on Crenshaw Boulevard between Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Rodeo Boulevard and plays host to over 100,000 attendees from all over Southern California.

This year Eric Benet will host and many other celebrities are expected.

See Highlights from last year’s festival with G. Garvin, Brian McKnight, Boney James Corbin Blue, and many more:

Read about Info for Taste of Soul 2010

Best Soul Food…I mean Southern Cuisine Restaurants

by Crystal A. Johnson-letter from the editor

There is the old expression, “If it looks like a duck, it is probably a duck.”  That’s what “Southern Cuisine” looks like to me.  Collard greens, cornbread, catfish and sweet potato pie are soul food in my book but I understand those foods have a common ground which extends beyond the borders of a soul food heritage.  Gone are the days of say it loud, “I’m soul food and I’m proud.” People say the term Southern Cuisine is all inclusive.  We do not want to alienate anyone. Mexican food restaurant in the title would not stop me from entering El Torito and neither would Chinese food in a title.  Read my popular Los Angeles Examiner article on Southern Cuisine Vs. Soul food.  It begs the question of whether soul food has a bad connotation to it. 

With respect to the restaurants listed below, I shall reveal some of the best “Southern Cuisine spots.”  If your restaurant isn’t listed, invite me to check it out.  If you think you know a better place for Southern Cuisine, email MCCN  at multiculturalcookingnet@gmail.com.  Look out for a people’s choice list of Southern Cuisine spots on the upcoming official website.

Ms Peaches-North Hollywood, California

Why did it make the list? 

  • The owner’s  healthy preparation and consideration to serve  healthier food to customers when it comes to Southern Cuisine.
  • Desserts- All bets are off! You want fabulous desserts like grandma use to make.  Look no further (Click on Article below)

miss_peaches_jan_2009011005

 

Ms. Peaches brings southern cuisine to the heart of North Hollywood

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Connell Moss owner of Ms. Peaches

Mary Helen’s Southern Cuisine-Hampton, Virginia

Why?  This is the south, like it or not, pig feet and chittlins(yes, I spelled like it is said rather than correctly)  are on the menu.  And the pig feet is good, really good.  The collard greens… Oh yes, why go on about it when I written about it. Click below:

http://www.examiner.com/x-9408-LA-Comfort–Soul-Food-Restaurant-Examiner~y2009m7d15-East-Coast-Pit-Stops-In-Search-of-ComfortFood-in-Virginia

Red Springs Cafe- Baltimore, Maryland

Why?  The food is darn good.  When people make me try something that I don’t normally like and it is good then I am impressed.  Great coconut cake.  I don’t like coconut anything normally.  Read more:

http://www.examiner.com/x-9408-LA-Comfort–Soul-Food-Restaurant-Examiner~y2009m7d28-East-Coast-PItstops-Seeking-ComfortFood-in-Baltimore-Part-II

Sylvia’s- Harlem, New York

Although I have never written a review on this classic well known spot, the memory of the flavorful experience of smothered fried chicken lingers.