Rice and Beans, Comfort Food To Many

Red Beans with Plantain and Olives.
White fish in sofrito and tomato sauce.

Years ago, the church I was attending, participated in an organized system of helping El Salvadoran refugees get to Canada to escape a brutal civil war occurring in their country. Our government’s position was if they were caught in the U.S. they would be deported. So some churches created and cooperated to form the “Overground Railroad”.

As a member of the hospitality committee, I was asked to feed visiting guests from time to time. When the church decided to participate in the “Overground Railroad”, the decision was made to send them to Denise’s house for her Rice and Beans.  

I never had such a fulfilling experience of hosting guests as I did feeding those men coming through our country in secret to get to Canada. When they came to my house and smelled familiar aromas of food cooked with sofrito*, big pots of rice and beans with fried plantain and white fish in sofrito and tomato sauce, some of them got teary-eyed.

I recently cooked rice and beans with white fish in a sofrito* and tomato sauce and it brought back the memory of feeding those brothers from El Salvador. Following are the recipes.

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Enjoying Summer’s Bounty – Gumbo Z’Herbes

One joy of summer is the many farmer’s markets that appear throughout the city. Seeing so many varieties of fresh, green produce, I was inspired to make a dish found in one of my favorite cookbooks, “Iron Pots and Wooden Spoons”, by Jessica Harris called Gumbo Z’Herbes.

Summer’s Bounty

I love to read cookbooks. Particularly those focused on a specific place or ethnic group. “Iron Pots and Wooden Spoons” is one of the early cookbooks by Jessica Harris and is the quintessential cookbook covering the African Diaspora.

Gumbo Z’Herbes is a combination of a “mess of greens” cooked the “old school” way, low and slow. In her cookbook, Ms Harris introduces this dish as a New Orleans specialty, with many variations based on who’s cooking it and what greens are available.  Following is my version, Chicago style.

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MOFONGO: The Beloved Puerto Rican Mash with Deep Ties to Africa

Last fall I wrote a short post about my appreciation for many of the food names throughout 
the Caribbean, central and south America.  I named Mondongo, Mofongo, and Sancocho as 
examples of names of dishes that have a definite connection with Africa. 

Click here for previous post   Mondongo, Mofongo, Sancocho. Fufu, Cou Cou, and Tum Tum

Today I stumbled across an article about Mofongo, a very popular dish in Puerto Rico, Dominican 
Republic and Cuba. While I knew in my gut there was a definite connection with African languages 
and food ways, this article provides interesting historical background for this dish.

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Achieving a Dream

For the past 12 weeks I’ve attended a culinary boot camp offered by the Greater Chicago’s Food Depository. The name of the program is Chicago’s Community Kitchens.  A job training program, it prepares individuals to enter the food industry at the entry level within 12 weeks of training and provides a 2 week internship at a participating food industry employer.  Professional knife skills, exposure to and daily cooking on commercial equipment, recipe scaling, sanitation, kitchen safety and life skills are all taught within 14 weeks.

A friend sent me a flyer describing the the program and the details of how to apply.  Initially I was intimidated by the physical demands (one must have the ability to stay on one’s feet for 8 hours with only a 30 minute break). I am a grandmother of 7 after all. The oldest 19 and the youngest not yet 2.  So without giving my age, you can see why I was worried. But I decided I needed my sanitation license to utilize commercial kitchen space to grow my food business and I needed to overcome my inexperience in utilizing professional, commercial-sized equipment.

My time at Chicago’s Community Kitchens has been invaluable. The dedicated staff and chefs as well as the friends I’ve made through this program will always be with me. I’m leaving with my ServSafe Managers Certification, new skills, techniques and knowledge all at no cost.  My payment and any participant’s is the willingness to show up everyday on time, work hard, have a positive attitude and accept criticism without getting angry or becoming discouraged.

Thank you Chicago Community Kitchens and Chicago Greater Food Depository for providing the opportunity to achieve a dream I first attempted 21 years ago.

Fine Tuning My Jambalaya

Street musicians on Jackson Square.

I had the opportunity to visit New Orleans earlier this month. A city with a fascinating history, culture, and steeped in rich food traditions. A friend had to attend a series of planning meetings for a conference and she invited me to tag along. The first thing I thought was here’s a chance to work on my Jambalaya.

NOLA’s City Park.

Several years ago I was unable to attend a family member’s wedding in Louisiana. They brought back an ice cooler filled with Jambalaya.  It was different from the Jambalaya I’d had in the past and I hadn’t had any that tasted that good.  Every time I asked for the recipe, they’d say, “Oh we just had this old Cajun guy make it for us. He makes the best.”

Well, I’ve researched recipes, and watched many demonstrations and couldn’t come up with a dish that came anywhere close to that “Old Cajun’s” — until now. Before flying to New Orleans I signed up online for a cooking demonstration at the New Orleans School of Cooking.  The chef, Chef Michael, demonstrated Gumbo, Jambalaya, and Pralines, a Creole sugar confection. His recipe and technique for Jambalaya produced the flavor, color, and texture reminiscent of the Jambalaya made by that “Old Cajun” guy!

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Ridgeland, SC, One Of Many Doorsways to Gullah/Geechee Food & Culture

Bar-B-Que Ribs, Collard Greens, Potato Salad, and Roasted Cauliflower. Potluck feast at Liz & Gary’s home. Ridgeland, SC.

Ridgeland, South Carolina is a small town full of big tastes and proximity to great destinations. Located south of Charleston, a little north of Savannah, Hilton Head, Bluffton, and any number of coastal sea islands, It’s a great location to go out and explore historical locations, restaurants, discover and experience Galluh/Geechee culture, and enjoy scenic beaches.

I had the privilege to visit in February for one week and I came back a few pounds heavier. Upon arrival I was met with the hospitality of friends, Liz and Gary. True “foodies”, they not only know where to go for a great meal, but can throw down themselves.

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Roast Pork Tenderloin Medallions w/ Grill Spice Rub

Spice Rubbed Pork Tender Loin Medallions

A good spice rub for grilling or roasting meats makes a huge difference in the success of any gathering. I use my spice rub on beef brisket, pork tenderloin, pork shoulder, whole chickens, etc.

Beef Brisket with Spice Rub

The star of this tenderloin recipe is the spice rub. I settled on this combination of spices after preparing and testing several different recipes.  My first use was on a 10 lb. beef brisket. Excellent!

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Final Installment to Back in the Saddle – Cruising the west coast of Africa

Botanical Gardens, Lome, Togo.
Abidjan, Ivory Coast.








A van arrived for us after our breakfast in the fabulous restaurant of the Omali Boutique in São Tomé.  I hope you visited the website through the link I provided in my last post. There was still no news of my luggage. We were driven to the dock to meet the cruise ship, Seven Seas Navigator of the Regency cruise line. The port of origin for the cruise was Capetown, South Africa. With an itinerary for 35 days, it would traverse up the west coast of Africa stopping in multiple countries, cross the Atlantic for four days, then stop in 5 Caribbean islands and end in Miami.  We would take part for 10 days.

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Back In The Saddle – Part Two

The flight from Lisbon arrived two hours later than scheduled in São Tomé.  I went to retrieve my luggage only to discover it had not arrived! Luckily I had a carry-on with toiletries and a two-day change of clothes. We were transferred to Omali São Boutique, a small, beautiful, oceanfront, boutique hotel. I decided I was not going to let lost luggage ruin my stay. Due to the late arrival and early morning departure to meet and board a cruise ship, I only took photos of our evening meal before going to bed. I hope you enjoy this link and see what a beautiful facility this is and learn a little something about São Tomé.  http://www.omalilodge.com/

São Tomé and Principe islands were believed to have been originally uninhabited, were explored by Portuguese navigators in 1471 and settled by the end of the century. … The Portuguese revolution of 1974 brought the end of the overseas empire, and on July 12, 1975, Lisbon granted Sáo Tomé independence.

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Getting Back in the Saddle

I know, I know.  It’s been quite a while since my last post.  The last three months have been filled with travel, good eats, direct sales of my spice blends and handicrafts, and new knowledge. My travels have taken me to Binghampton, NY, New York City, Washington, D.C., and west Africa including the island nation of Sao Tome, Principe, and the mainland countries of Togo, Ivory Coast, and Senegal.

While in the Hamptons, I visited the Whaling Museum in Sag Harbor, NY. I had never put whaling and African Americans together in my mind. While at the museum I picked-up a small book entitled “Blacks in Whaling“, FootSteps, African American History, published by Cobblestone Publishing Company

This small publication, (only 48 pages), documents the presence of African Americans in all phases of the whaling industry starting in the late 1700’s until the early 1900’s, the end of the sailing whaleship era. Quoting a passage from the book, “Whaling is still an unsung chapter in the story of African Americans’ creative survival. Seizing opportunities as they could, black men contributed significantly to the American whaling industry and – even more importantly – to the development of black society.”

I made my way to New York City down from the Hamptons to attend a family funeral service.  I had to grab a quick breakfast and so I ran across the street to a neighborhood take out serving traditional Puerto Rican food.  I ordered creamy yucca mash, roast pork (pernil) with the crispy skin, pickled red onions, and sausage all topped off with a fried egg.  Umm, Umm, Umm.

Little did I know this would be a precursor to a very similar meal in west Africa.

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