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Did you know that Old Dutch Corn Chips and Coca-Cola are the world’s best cure for the flu? It’s true. I know this for certain because my mommy told me so. In my family, corn chips and coke is the sick day comfort food de rigeur. People are often shocked when I share this information with them. Especially since I come from a healthy eatin’, gourmet cookin’, organic growin’ kind of family. But we all have our dirty little secrets. My mommy had a mild (read: major) M&M addiction. Me? Chef Boy-Ar-Dee Beefaroni. Yep. For real. Dad? Fried chicken liver and onions (let’s hear it: “EWWWWWWWWWWW!!!!”). My sister reports a varied series of junk food faves ranging from Captain Crunch Cereal (“I loved to eat [it] until the roof of my mouth was all cut up”) to fudgsicles and kraft dinner. My brother hasn’t reported back on my enquiry, but I have this recollection of him really liking corn dogs. I could be making that up.
Anyway, the point is, junk food is often comfort food and in my family, corn chips are one of the ultimate comfort foods. And no, not corn tortilla chips, though those are also good. I’m talkin’ the classic corn chip of Old Dutch and Frito’s fame (I should note that although I grew up with Old Dutch, that may be a Canadian thing. By all reports, those being the ones found on Wikipedia and at the Frito’s website, the Frito’s Corn Chip is the All-American Original). These chips are made with corn meal and … um … corn meal. It gets mixed with some water and salt and then fried.
In the good ol’ US of A, corn chip recipes abound. A classic dish found at county fairs across the country is a bag of corn chips with some chili dumped in it. I kid you not. You open the bag, add the chili and some shredded cheese and eat the mixture out of the bag with a plastic fork. A home-cooking variation on the theme is the corn chip casserole. Of course, there’s always the nice and simple dip it in some french onion dip you bought at the same 24 hour convenience store where you found your corn chips.
A big reason that there are so many corn chip recipes, or corn chips at all for that matter, is the history of corn agriculture in America. I learned this in a course I took on globalization and indigenous peoples a few years ago. I think it may have been in an essay by Ralph Nader, though I could be mis-remembering the exact source of my information. In fact, I caution that this information should be taken with a grain of salt (preferably atop a corn chip) as I may have some of the details wrong – but the general idea is right. Which is that back in the depression, crop prices were so low, the Feds enacted legislation forcing the farmers to keep production low so that prices would stay high. This lasted through the New Deal era and McCarthyism and Beaver Cleaver, but eventually things changed and in the 1970s, people got worried about weather-induced crop failure and suddenly crop restrictions vanished and were replaced by massive government subsidies. Add to that the advent of hi-tech large-farm production and you have a massive glut of corn on the market. The subsidies are still in place, turning organizations like the National Corn Growers’ Association and the American Corn Growers’ Association into massively powerful political lobbies, almost as big as the NRA.
All this means a lot, and I mean a LOT of excess corn on the market. Which is why you find corn in almost every snack product marketed in the United States. If you’re interested in this topic, I can’t give you the reference to the essay I read ’cause the book is packed away somewhere, but I can send you to this PBS site which has tons of information about King Corn and will shock you with a wealth of facts to support the theory that the nefarious corn growers are in a conspiracy with Washington to keep Americans obese and suffering from malnutrition, diabetes and possibly, niacin-deficiency induced pellagra, otherwise known as “redneck disease”.
I still love corn chips and lots of other corn products besides. For today’s blog, since I didn’t have the flu, I couldn’t buy my usual fave, Old Dutch. Instead, I decided to try my hand at making corn chips from scratch. Without access to a deep fat fryer, my options were limited, but I came across this recipe which looked uncomplicated and potentially tasty.
In fact, this was one of only a very few recipes I could find that was for a true corn chip, not a corn tortilla chip. [An aside: corn tortilla chips are made by frying wedges of corn tortillas. They have a very different flavour because they are made with masa harina, a nixtamalized corn flour, and not corn meal. I’m sure there’s a taco day coming up sometime and I’ll tell you more about that then. I love to make my own corn tortillas].
My only concern with this recipe was that it didn’t seem greasy enough so I decided to use an excessive and gross amount of oil on the cookie sheets which amounted pretty much to deep fat frying the chips. My first batch, I chickened out because my cookie sheet didn’t have a rim and I was worried about the oil running off the sheet as it heated up and starting a grease fire in my oven. So after the first batch (pictured), I switched to a pizza pan with a nice high rim and poured a disgusting amount of oil into it. It worked out fine. The chips were a little tough and chewy, but the flavour was nice and they scooped salsa well. My sister-in-law preferred the chewier ones. I liked the ones that I left in the oven longer than the recipe said to leave them in for and they got a little over crunchy. Still, over all … *meh*. Next time I’ll just buy Old Dutch.
It’s National Noodle Ring Day.
I’m all about comfort food. It’s just that the food that comforts me is wild mushroom risotto with sherry and truffle oil; or the upcoming (watch for it) oysters, duck and champagne dinner Della and I have planned for Boxing Day.
There are recipes all over the internet for baked noodle rings with cheese sauce (it’s apparently a German recipe). I thought I’d spruce it up a bit by making an authentic baked macaroni and cheese (in a ring, of course). Perhaps drizzle in some truffle oil (that would definitely comfort me). But I couldn’t do it. It’s too close to Christmas. I tend toward a certain “curviness” as it is, and as I have only a few precious Christmas calories to spend, I prefer to spend mine on eggnog. Vats of it. I could go on and on about eggnog. Deanna will be blogging about eggnog on Christmas Eve, and I eagerly anticipate her recipe.
So instead (shameless cheater that I am), I made a ring with whole-wheat spaghetti and my Mom’s spaghetti sauce (with a few adjustments of my own). Less calories than mac-n-cheese, leaving room for those vats of eggnog.
Spaghetti Sauce is the “Betty” to Bolognese’s “Veronica”. It’s the girl next door of pasta sauce: uncomplicated and friendly, it will give you a hug at the end of a long day and listen to you complain about your life with love in its eyes. This sauce is the height of simplicity. It was often a birthday dinner in our house (who doesn’t love spaghetti?).
Spaghetti with Meat Sauce
A note on the dried herbs: you will recall that I grew up on the prairies. When I was growing up, you couldn’t buy fresh herbs in the grocery store year-round. Also, I’m surprised to discover that fresh herbs can become bitter in a sauce that’s simmered over several hours. I like to use the dried and then finish with fresh just before the end.
- 2 T extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 large or 2 medium onions, small dice
- 3 stalks celery, small dice
- 6-8 cloves garlic
- 2 lbs extra-lean ground chicken or turkey
- 3 C sliced mushrooms
- 1 large carrot, peeled & grated (feel free to add other diced vegetables as desired)
- 2 T dried oregano
- 1 T dried basil
- 1 T dried thyme
- 1 tsp dried rosemary, crumbled
- 1 bay leaf
- 3, 16-oz cans whole plum tomatoes, with juice
- salt and pepper to taste
- 2-3 T fresh herbs (oregano, basil, thyme or a combination)
- tomato paste (if required)
- Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat until almost smoking. Add the onions and celery and sauté until the onions are translucent and starting to brown (5-7 minutes).
- Add the garlic and chicken or turkey. Sauté until lightly browned, using a wooden spoon or spatula to break apart the chicken into small chunks.
- Add the mushrooms and sauté until browned and moisture has cooked off.
- Add the carrot, oregano, thyme and rosemary and cook for another 5-7 minutes until the carrot is softened.
- Add the tomatoes, using your wooden spoon or spatula to break them up a bit (don’t worry, they’ll have lots of time to soften up). Add the bay leaf.
- Don’t salt and pepper it yet – it will reduce and the flavours will intensify.
- Simmer gently (do not boil the hell out of it) for 3-5 hours with the lid off. (This way you’ll thicken the sauce to the point that you shouldn’t need tomato paste)
- When thickened (or when you give up), add the fresh herbs and cook for another hour with the lid on. If your sauce is watery, add some tomato paste to thicken. Taste your sauce and add salt and pepper as required.
- Then… put it in the fridge overnight. (Yes, that’s right. The best spaghetti sauce has had some beauty rest before the big show. Come on, do you think Betty would try to seduce Archie after a long, tiring day?)
- The next day, slowly heat the sauce to simmer (not boil).
Serve with spaghetti and fresh parmesan.
If you want to make the recipe more “Mom-thentic” (for all of you shameless bacon-eaters out there):
- skip the olive oil. Instead, dice -8 slices of good bacon and sautee until browned.
- add the rest of the ingredients as above, but
- use ground beef instead of chicken.
P.S. Sage, the apron was a sturdy blue jean. Jim has a matching man-apron in the same fabric.