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The Virtual Gourmand #22: Easy and Tasty Quickbreads

ImageThe word 'heirloom' has overtaken 'organic' as THE trendy term in food circles. It originally applied to fruits and vegetables whose seeds were collected, preserved and passed down through generations. Personally, I thought of it as a synonym for 'charge even more money for ugly fruits'. But the term did capture some of my interest. (When the seed companies start selling 'heirloom' plants, you know the trend is on its way out.)

Instead, the trend shifted to recipes. Jams, jellies, pickles - virtually any recipe you could get from your mom or grandma - were labelled as 'heirloom' recipes. Well, if the Virtual Gourmand is nothing else, it is authentic. And I'm going to share 3 true heirloom recipes that have been passed down to, and enjoyed by, five generations of my family (maybe six, if my distant cousins have started families of their own).

Let me give you some background on the origin of these recipes. My paternal Great-Grandmother, Elsie Iola Zook Workman, was a fantastic cook. Her parents moved on covered wagons to Illinois, following the railroad west after the Civil War. There is a picture in my father's study of her as an infant in front of a sod house built by her parents. She supported six children as a single, divorced mother through the Great Depression and beyond - initially, as a cook in a popular local diner. And once she stepped down from that position, she became the cook in residence at the Theta Xi Fraternity Chapter at the University of Illinois. When Elsie finally retired, she took up running a boarding house near the college campus until her health began to fail (while she was living with her youngest daughter - my grandmother - until her death at the age of 94).

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The Virtual Gourmand #21: Sausage 101

DSC00394Lately, I have begun a culinary journey into the world of charcuterie.  This term is derived from the French words for "flesh" (chair) and "cooked" (cuit). It dates from the 15th Century, and was applied to shops that sold pork products. The definition has expanded to include meats other than pork, and also applies to patés and terrines as well as sausages of virtually any type. I don't expect to teach you how to make a fancy goose liver pate or a seafood terrine (I doubt you would even be interested in that), but every man loves sausages, and I can show you some very basic methods and recipes for some of my favorites.

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The Virtual Gourmand 20: Three Dishes, One Smoker Full of Poultry

DSC00333Contrary to what you might think, barbecue is not the only thing I use my smoker to make. In fact, a smoker is a versatile tool that can smoke everything from poultry to cheese. I've even seen smoked butter, if you can believe that.

Similarly, gumbo is a highly versatile dish that can serve  4, 40 or 400. It can be made from virtually any meat. If I had to guess, I'd say gumbo was the foundation for that old Cajun saw, "If it moves, we can cook it. If we can cook it, we can eat it." Beyond a few simple ingredients, gumbo is a dish that can be customized in more ways than you can count.

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The Virtual Gourmand 19: Hot’n Fast Baby Backs on the Weber

DSC00305By now (if only from the number of articles I’ve written on the subject), I’m sure you’re aware that I am not just a casual fan of barbecue. Barbecue is probably my favorite food group, and would likely play a part in my last meal should I ever face the misfortune of being on Death Row.

Even though I have all manner of specialized equipment that I use to barbecue, this doesn’t mean that you have to spend untold dollars on such specialized equipment to achieve the same results. In fact, a humble grill can turn out fantastic baby back ribs. And you won’t have to spend the whole afternoon tending a fire, either.

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The Virtual Gormand 18: A Squash Dish Even Squash Haters Will Love

DSC00226I'm one of those people who generally hate squash. Crookneck, zucchini, spaghetti – to me they are all disgusting. Cool weather like we’ve been experiencing this past winter all across the country puts people in the mood for soups, chillies and stews. And I have found a recipe for a butternut squash soup that is hearty, filling and will tempt the palate of even the most vehement squash hater.

I have two girls and a boy attending college. And at various times, they all request this soup. They say they hate squash, too. The fact that the soup is very easy to make on a weeknight only adds to its appeal for the home cook.

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