Posts Categorized: Mississippi Mirth

Mother’s Day + Rhubarb Upside Down Cake


By Jim McCaffrey
Originally published in the Spring 2011 Inspire(d)

Happily, winter is just a sleeting memory. With the advent of spring comes an ever-changing cornucopia of newly-sprouting varieties of vegetation. Lilies of the Valley, Fiddlehead Ferns, Dutchman’s Breeches, Bluebells, and Jack in the Pulpit abound in the woods around the Driftless Region. One finds the spark of new life in the cultivated gardens of the area as well. Asparagus loves to nudge its pointy little head out of the earth at the first advent of frost packing it in for another season. Freshly planted onion sets strive mightily to reach out and touch the sun. Lettuces frolic with wild abandon, seemingly screaming out “Pick me! Pick me! And slather me with homemade Green Goddess dressing!” But the most formidable spring garden plant just has to be rhubarb. Once it takes hold, it is just like the Energizer bunny. It keeps growing and growing and growing.

So let me share a story from the McCaffrey Family Chronicles. A tale of rhubarb deception or at the very least, a mother’s indiscretion. I grew up the son of a father who went through the Great Depression and a mother who escaped with her sister from East Germany during World War Two. Together my parents some how came up with the down payment on an 80-acre farm just west of Decorah. I’m sure making the ends meet while raising five children and sending them to the Catholic school as well was no picnic in the park. After all, my dad was a rural mail carrier and like most families at that time, he was the sole wage earner. In order to make do, we had a couple of large gardens and raised various species of livestock that graced the table throughout the year. One year we raised 400 chickens in the garage. We spent an entire weekend butchering and pulling feathers. We then proceeded to have chicken for supper six days a week. On the seventh day we rested and had hamburger. I still do like chicken in spite of that experience. Needless to say, a lot of effort was necessary to keep the farm above the waterline.

We pretty much lived out of the gardens year-round. What wasn’t eaten fresh was preserved in one fashion or another. Potatoes and onions were piled on pallets in a dark abyss of a corner in the basement. To this day I can remember distinctly the raw spud aroma that permeated the basement air. Hey, my father was Irish, so 400 pounds of potatoes hanging out in the basement was not uncommon. We also amassed a trove of canned vegetables and pickles that were stored in a large floor-to-ceiling cupboard in the cellar. Mom was the “preserve principal” in our family. She had a small wooden-handled paring knife that she used for her culinary cutups. As a chef I marvel at the amount of food she processed with that knife. Bushels of sweet corn were voided of their kernels by several swift strokes. She spent hours at the kitchen table being the human vegematic. I can just see her slicing strawberries, chopping up rhubarb, and cutting green beans French style.

RhubarbUpsidedownCake

Rhubarb was usually the first of the yearly harvest. Mom would slice the stalks into small pieces and freeze most of them for when the strawberries were ripe and delicious. She then made some delicious strawberry and rhubarb jam and pies. My favorite of her desserts, however, was her so-called Rhubarb Upside Down Cake with a sweet butter sauce. Mom passed away a couple years ago and no one can find that recipe. I decided to use some Irish ingenuity and see if I could come up with something close. So I Googled Best Rhubarb Upside Down Cake. “What is wrong with this picture?” In fact, “PICTURES.” Every recipe with a picture of the cake had the rhubarb on top. Even Martha Stewart’s. (One can’t argue with America’s culinary maven). Mom’s rhubarb was on the bottom. My childhood conception of upside down cake has been completely shattered. Mom, how could you have led me so astray? OK. Take a deep breath and breathe easy, breathe easy. Time to come up with a plan. In the future, I will call it Rhubarb Upside Upside down cake and the heck with Martha. I plan on making this for my family in honor of my mom on Mother’s Day this year. It isn’t the original recipe but it is close. Oh, and Mom, I still love you.

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Jim McCaffrey is a chef, author, and co-owner with his family of McCaffrey’s Dolce Vita restaurant and Twin Springs Bakery just outside Decorah. He is author of a humorous cookbook titled “Midwest Cornfusion”. He has been in the food industry in one way or another for 40 years.

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RECIPE (PRINT HERE)
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Rhubarb Upside Upside Down Cake

8 Tbl butter
1 1/2 cups packed brown sugar
8 cups cut up rhubarb
3/4 cup butter
2 cups granulated sugar
4 cups all purpose flour
2 Tbl baking powder
2 cups milk
3 eggs
1 Tbl vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Melt 8 Tbl butter in large skillet or pot.
Add brown sugar and stir until blended. Add rhubarb and mix until well coated.
Grease an 11 X 18 baking dish. Cover the bottom evenly with rhubarb mixture.
Cream butter with sugar in an electric mixer. Add the rest of the ingredients.
Mix until smooth. Gently pour over the rhubarb mixture and smooth with a rubber spatula. Bake 40-50 minutes until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Sweet Butter Sauce
1 cup butter
2 cups sugar
1 cup cream or 1/2 and 1/2
2 tsp vanilla

Combine all ingredients in a sauce pan on medium low.
Cook and stir for about 10 minutes or until sugar is dissolved.
Pour warm over cake slices and enjoy!

Ed. note: Benji made this delicious – seriously delicious – cake for these photos and halved the recipe, baking it in a 9” round cake pan and two eggs. It worked beautifully. (Sorry, Jim, it’s not upside upside down, but we served that way, and MAN was it good.)

Mississippi Mirth: An Irish Feast!

ShephardsPie

A Wee Bit of Blarney

By Jim McCaffrey • Photos by Aryn Henning Nichols • Originally published in the Spring 2015 Inspire(d)

I am going to buck tradition for St. Paddy’s Day. Well, sort of. A traditional menu of corned beef and cabbage in America differs from what graces the tables in the old sod. When one visit’s the Emerald Isle and asks the age-old question, “Where’s the (corned) Beef?” He/she may be met with empty, blank stares. The closest applicable dish that comes to mind is probably back bacon and cabbage – two totally different animals. (No pun intended.) Okay, okay…they do have corned beef in Ireland, but it is not the headliner of Irish cuisine. When the massive potato famine led to the great emigration, many Irish made the long voyage to Ellis Island. Upon embarking into New York City, they encountered Jewish butcher shops churning out kosher corned beef at Godspeed. Almost divine intervention. It was a tasty cut of meat, prepared much like their beloved Irish bacon, but inexpensive enough for the impoverished immigrants. Paired with cabbage (cheaper than potatoes), it became a new household staple. Now you know the real history of how corned beef and cabbage became the beloved and traditional meal for St. Paddy’s day. And that’s the truth, (fingers crossed).

Speaking of traditions, I better share my all-time favorite Irish joke with you:

Patrick and Mary had been married for years. It was Patrick’s birthday. When he got home from work Mary informed him that she had made his favorite meal.

“Oh,” asked Patrick, “Did you make lobster?”

“Oh yes, Patrick,” said Mary.

“And those little red potatoes?” queried Patrick.

“Oh yes” replied Mary.

“And julienned carrots?” asked Patrick.

“Of course,” said Mary.

“And snails? Did you make snails?” Patrick asked.

“Oh my word, Patrick, I forgot the snails. I’ll run right down to the market and get some,” said Mary.

“No, no, no,” Patrick replied. “You’ve been cooking all day, I’ll run and get them myself.”

“All right,” said Mary, “But don’t you be stopping by the pub on the way!”

Patrick said, “No, I’ll be right back.”

So Patrick runs to the store and picks up a sack of snails. On his way back, he comes across Mikey standing in front of the pub. Mikey says, “Patrick, its your birthday, let me buy you a pint.” Patrick says, “No, I promised Mary I’d be right back.”

Mikey says, “In the time we have been talking, we could have quaffed one down.” Patrick says, “Oh, all right.” So Mikey buys Patrick one and Patrick buys Mikey one. They keep at it for a couple of hours.

Patrick suddenly grabs his sack of snails and says, “Mary is going to be furious,” and races home.

Just as he gets to the stairs of his house, the bottom of the bag breaks open and the snails fall to the sidewalk. Mary comes to the door and yells, “Patrick, where have you been?”

Patrick crouches down and gesturing to the snails says, “Move along laddies, move along.”

Ok, enough of this diatribe. Back to the meat of the matter, so to speak. In this case, the meat is Ireland’s beloved lamb. The Emerald Isle is aptly named for its abundance of lush pastures. This abundance has led to an abundance of sheep. Root vegetables incorporated with the lesser cuts of lamb became a favorite dish in the old country especially with the farming community. Better known as Shepherd’s Pie and in our case, we used ground lamb. Not always readily available, I was able to procure some at the Oneota Food Co-op in downtown Decorah. This simple but wonderful peasant dish is just great comfort food anytime of the year. I made it in individual rarebit dishes but it can just as easily be made in a casserole dish for everyone as well.

IrishSodaBread

Next up is another fun peasant entry, Irish Soda Bread. I have to admit that until a year ago, I had never even tasted it, let alone having baked it. My eyes were opened when I dined with Joey Homstad at Dublin Square in La Crosse. We both ordered the fish and chips. Delightful! Accompanying was a dense wedge of bread that had raisins in it. I thought this is weird but slathered it up with softened butter and gave it a try. It was on a different plane than fish and chips with its sweetness, but it worked anyway. The recipe I have included calls for caraway, which I think I will leave out in my next batch. It tended to overpower everything else in the bread.

And one cannot celebrate St. Patrick’s Day without a nod to Ireland’s infamous beer, Guinness. A recipe for Guinness cake was procured and we were off to the races. We were going to test all of these recipes at our quarterly Inspire(d) lunch, so the day before I decided to get ahead of the game and bake the soda bread and the cake at the restaurant. All went well, and after both were cooled to room temperature I placed them in one of our refrigerators. I asked our two waitresses for the night to make sure that no one touched the bread and cake because I was serving them the next day. Morning came and I headed to the restaurant to clean up and finish making our meal for lunch. I hadn’t frosted the cake yet, so I decided to get that accomplished first. Into the refrigerator I go and pull out the soda bread but to my dismay no cake was to be found. After going through all eight of our refrigerators three or four times, and pulling what’s getting to be less and less hair, I started making phone calls. The waitresses were unavailable, Conor said he didn’t see anyone move the cake, and when I called Brock he said he had moved it to the top right shelf. I told him that was impossible. There was an unopened box of avocados and an open box of salmon and that was it.

GuinnessCake

All I could think of was leprechauns. Those little rascals were up to their shenanigans and had pulled a fast one on me. Back to the drawing board. Make another cake, frost it and make the Shepherd’s Pie. Whew, just in the nick of time. The Inspire(d) crew rolled in and we had a great leisurely lunch. Later, Conor and I were prepping for supper and he pulled out the box of salmon. “Look, Dad, here is the cake, buried under the salmon.” he exclaimed. Damn leprechauns!

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Jim McCaffrey is a chef, author, and co-owner with his family of McCaffrey’s Dolce Vita restaurant and Twin Springs Bakery just outside Decorah. He is author of humorous cookbooks “Midwest Cornfusion” and “Mississippi Mirth”. He has been in the food industry in one way or another for more than 40 years.

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PRINT RECIPES HERE
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Shepherd’s Pie

Potato topping 

2 lbs russet potatoes
½ cup half and half
3 oz butter
2 egg yolks
1 tsp sea or kosher salt
Fresh ground black pepper to taste

Filling

2 Tbl canola oil
1 cup chopped onion
2 peeled carrots, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 ½ lbs ground lamb
1 tsp salt
Fresh ground black pepper
2 Tbl flour
2 tsp tomato paste
1 cup chicken broth
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
2 tsp fresh chopped rosemary
1 tsp fresh chopped thyme
½ cup fresh or frozen corn
½ cup fresh or frozen peas

Directions

Peel potatoes and dice. Put in a 2-quart pan and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil, decrease heat to a simmer and cook until tender. Mash potatoes. Add half and half, butter, salt, and pepper and mash until smooth. Thoroughly whisk in yolks.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Add canola to a large skillet. Set on medium heat. Add onions and carrots. Stirring occasionally, sauté until onions become opaque, 3 minutes. Add garlic, lamb, salt and pepper stirring occasionally. When lamb is browned, 3-4 minutes, sprinkle flour, stir, and cook another minute. Add tomato paste, chicken broth, Worcestershire, rosemary, and stir. Simmer for 12-14 minutes until sauce begins to thicken. Add corn and peas. Spread evenly in a 9X9 baking dish, cover with mashed potatoes, using a spatula to make sure topping goes completely to the edges and is smooth. Place on a baking sheet on the center shelf of the oven until potatoes begin to brown, 25-30 minutes. Cool for 15-20 minutes. Enjoy.

(This recipe is a variation of an Alton Brown recipe. If you can‘t find lamb feel to use ground beef in its place.)

Irish Soda Bread

3 ½ cups flour
½ cup sugar
½ tsp baking soda
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 pint sour cream
2 eggs
2 Tbl caraway seeds (optional)
¾ cup golden raisins

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Soak raisins for 30 minutes in warm water to plump. Mix all dry ingredients together in a large bowl. In a small bowl, beat eggs and stir in sour cream. Add to flour mixture and stir well wit a wooden spoon. It will get thick. Drain raisins and add with caraway (if using) and knead with until incorporated. Place batter in a greased 9-inch spring form pan. Sprinkle a little flour on top and pat the batter so it lies evenly in the pan. Use a knife to make a shallow crisscross on top. Bake for 50 minutes.

Guinness Cake

Cake
4 oz unsalted butter
10 oz dark brown sugar
2 large eggs, beaten
6 oz flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
7 fluid oz Guinness
2 oz cocoa powder

Icing
4 oz semi sweet chocolate
2 Tbl Guiness
2 oz butter
4 oz sifted icing sugar
1 oz finely chopped walnuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 10-inch spring form pan. Cream butter and sugar together. Beat in eggs. In a separate bowl, sift in flour, baking powder and soda. In another bowl, stir Guinness into cocoa. Alternately fold half quantities of flour and cocoa into butter mixture. Spread mixture into pan and bake 30-35 minutes until a tooth inserted in center comes out clean. Let cool 10 minutes before opening pan. For icing, melt chocolate with Guinness, beat in butter, cool a little and then beat in icing sugar.

Remove 1/4 of the icing and stir in walnuts (if using) to the remainder. When icing is cooled to being spread able, coat top of cake with walnut mixture and coat sides with the 1/4 chocolate mixture.

Mississippi Mirth: Decorah Community Meal + Chili, Cornbread, & Brownies!

CommunityMeal_Chili

Community Matters: McCaffrey’s cooks a main course monthly for the local Community Meal

By Jim McCaffrey • Photos by Aryn Henning Nichols • Originally published in the Winter 2015-16 Inspire(d)

In the early eighties Brenda and I owned the Café Deluxe and McCaffrey’s Supper Club in Downtown Decorah. It was a time of economic recession, though – there was a lot of unemployment and financial stress for individuals and families. Sure, there were food stamps available, but it was minimal. As I recall, food pantries weren’t as developed, either, especially in rural areas like the Driftless Region.

After reading about soup kitchens in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area – they were getting their food from a myriad of sources such as donations from grocery stores, restaurants, church groups, can drives, personal giving, etc. – I thought, “Why can’t something similar be accomplished in the rural areas?” I envisioned a non-profit organization that provided an umbrella to cover basic food needs necessary to sustain families in need. I wanted to call it “The Hunger Express,” with its logo being a speeding steam engine train bearing goods.

Well, that didn’t happen.

Unfortunately, the recession caught up with us as well. We sold the Café Deluxe to one of our employees. It saved 25 jobs, but resulted in the closing of McCaffrey’s. Brenda and I began work with two larger companies, but I never was able to get The Hunger Express out of my mind.

Moving on to present day, we’re lucky to have the wonderful First Lutheran Church Food Pantry in Decorah, registered with the Northeast Iowa Food Bank and well connected in the community. Especially since we have all just experienced the worst recession since the Great Depression of the thirties.

But that’s not all this community wanted to do. As most of you know, Brenda and I are currently running our restaurant, McCaffrey’s Dolce Vita, just outside of Decorah. About five years ago, Otter Dreaming came out and talked to me about a project he and a small group of forward-thinking individuals were working on. The idea was to create a monthly meal where everyone and anyone in the entire community were welcome – at no charge.

They approached the council of the First Lutheran Church to establish a venue. It was decided to make it a once monthly affair on the third Thursday of each month with one entity providing the main meal and various other organizations – service groups, sororities, etc. – providing salads, bread, and desserts. Otter asked if we would be willing to make the first main course. I never hesitated. Well, I guess I did ask how many they expected. Seventy-five was the number they were predicting and that was about perfect. I talked to Otter after the event and they said they wanted to keep it going. I told him I would continue to make the main meal, so they didn’t have to worry about that aspect. Fawn has also jumped into the fray and is helping with the meal and baking bread.

The Community Meal has continued to blossom: On average, 200+ people are being served – we have even gotten close to 300 a couple of times. That’s great, and what’s even greater is Sodexo at Luther College threw in their hat and is providing a main course on the first Thursday of each month. So now the Community Meal is held twice a month!

So what really is the neat aspect of this project is that everyone is welcome to come and participate. There are no barriers or restrictions as to who may join in. My understanding is that even a certain shanty Irishman would be welcomed if he could somehow break free from his restaurant duties. It is a great social community event. Why not come and join in the experience? Don’t be shy.

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Jim McCaffrey is a chef, author, and co-owner with his family of McCaffrey’s Dolce Vita restaurant and Twin Springs Bakery just outside Decorah. He is author of humorous cookbooks “Midwest Cornfusion” and “Mississippi Mirth”. He has been in the food industry in one way or another for more than 40 years.

CommunityMeal2

Decorah Community Meal is held on the first and third Thursdays of every month from 5 to 6:30 pm in the fellowship hall of First Lutheran Church in Decorah. All are welcome.

If your group, business, church, or civic organization would like to participate in the Decorah Community Meal, please send a message to decorahcommunitymeal@gmail.com.

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PRINT RECIPES HERE
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Café Deluxe Chili (serves 12-16)
I came up with this recipe for the Café Deluxe in our early stages of ownership. It is very simple and easily adaptable for large groups.

2 lbs. ground beef
2 large onions, diced
2 large green tomatoes
2-28 oz. cans diced tomatoes
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 28 oz. cans beans in chili sauce
Salt + ground pepper to taste
Tomato juice (optional)

Brown ground beef and season with salt and pepper (fresh ground if available) to taste. Drain. Place in large pot. Add remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Use tomato juice to thin out to desired consistency.

Note: As an option I usually add diced canned green chilies, 2-3 small cans, and offer fresh chopped onions and grated cheddar as an optional topping.

Green Chili Cornbread
A wonderful accompaniment to chili on those cold winter nights.

1 ½ cups buttermilk
1 4oz. Can diced green chilies
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 large onion, diced
2 large eggs
1 cup sharp cheddar cheese, grated
2 tsp sugar
1 tbl. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 cup yellow cornmeal
1 cup white flour

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Put buttermilk, chilies, onion, and garlic in saucepan and cook over low heat for 5-6 minutes, stirring often. Let cool for 15 minutes. Beat in eggs and add cheese. Mix together dry ingredients. Fold in wet ingredients and mix with a wooden spoon until blended. Try not to overdo the mixing so the batter stays light. Pour into a greased 1 ½ quart baking dish and bake 40-45 minutes or until golden brown. Test with a toothpick in center of dish. Cornbread is ready when toothpick comes out clean. Enjoy!!

Brownies

Finger Licking Brownies

½ cup canola oil
1 cup white sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 eggs
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
¼ tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. salt
½ cup all purpose flour
½ cup chopped walnuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9X9-inch baking pan.

In a medium size bowl, whisk oil, sugar, and vanilla. Whisk each egg individually into mixture. Whisk together flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt. Stir in walnuts if desired. Use a wooden spoon to fold in wet ingredients. Spread evenly into greased pan. Bake for 20-25 minutes. Brownies will be done when starting to pull away from pan edges. Let cool on a wire rack. Frost and cut into squares.

Frosting

3 Tbl. Butter
1 ½ cups powdered sugar
2 Tbl. Milk
2 Tbl. Cocoa
1 tsp. vanilla

Melt butter in small saucepan. Add cocoa and remove from heat. Stir in remaining ingredients until smooth. Spread over brownies.

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PRINT RECIPES HERE
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