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50 Women Game-Changers (in Food): #36 Edna Lewis - Braised Beef Short Ribs w/ Whipped Rutabaga

the "Gourmet" prompt...
36. Edna Lewis- The granddaughter of an emancipated slave, Lewis, another Judith Jones protégée, brought sophisticated Southern dishes into the spotlight.

Now Edna Lewis?  Edna Lewis I know.  Lewis was born on April 13, 1916 in Freetown, Virginia, a community founded in the late 19th century by three freed slaves, one of who was Edna's grandfather.  She was one of eight children.  Edna grew up cooking with her family, using fresh, seasonal foods as a way of life and a wood-burning stove.  Her father died when she was 16 and Edna left freetown.  She made her way to Washington DC and eventually New York city where her first jobs were as a seamstress and working for a communist newspaper; she was also involved in political campaigning and demonstrating for FDR.

In 1948, she opened a restaurant with John Nicholson in Manhattan on East 57th Street called Café Nicholson.  Her simple, delicious Southern food (she was the chef) attracted regular famous faces such as Truman Capote, Gloria Vanderbilt, Tennessee Williams, Marlene Dietrich, and Richard Avedon (husband of Dorcas Avedon whom she had worked for when she was a seamstress and created a couple of dresses for Marilyn Monroe).  Edna stayed with Café Nicholson until 1954.

When she broke her leg in the late 1960's, she had to take a break from restaurants and in this time began writing down her recipes, which resulted in the Edna Lewis Cookbook (praised by both James Beard and M.F.K. Fisher).  She followed up with The Taste of Country Cooking, In Pursuit of Flavor, and finally The Gift of Southern Cooking which she wrote with Scott Peacock, another great Southern cook.  The Gift of Southern Cooking was actually my first introduction to Lewis when I was fortunate enough to win a copy from Bo almost two years ago...I've been enamored ever since.  Lewis was the first African American woman to reach a nationwide audience and is often credited for started a genuine spark of interest in Southern cooking.  This is probably due to the fact that along with her good food, she includes personal history, reflections, and memoirs of her own life growing up and now.  Lewis continued cooking in restaurants until she retired in 1992.  She also taught cooking classes throughout her adult life and started the Society for the Revival and Preservation of Southern Food in the mid-90's with a group of friends.
In her lifetime, she earned a James Beard Living Legend award, Lifetime Achievement Award IACP and Southern Food Alliance.  She was named Grande Dame by Les Dames d'Escoffier, won the Barbara Tropp President's Award, was inducted into the KitchenAid Cookbook Hall of Fame.  Just to name a few. 

She passed away in her sleep at home in Decatur, Georgia at the age of 89 on February 13, 2006.

So.  There were numerous things that I almost made to honor Lewis this week.  I actually did make her bacon-wrapped trout covered in scallion sauce (with a base of homemade mayonnaise) a couple of weeks ago, but I decided to make and talk about something else today.  I decided to go with something deep, rich, and comforting that in my mind totally invokes the essence of Southern cooking - braised beef short ribs.  Which is ironic since Lewis was once quoted as saying "I figured out a long time ago that beef has no flavor."  Yeah.  She rarely ate or even cooked beef.  BUT.  She loved short ribs.  Especially these that are prepared in the manner you would prepare lamb or veal shanks.  They use tomatoes and lots of onions which when braised slowly along with the rich fat from the short ribs produce an intense sauce that coats the meat.  Southern comfort at its finest.

Braised Beef Short Ribs

by Heather Schmitt-González
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 2½ - 3 hours
Keywords: braised entree beef tomatoes Southern
Ingredients (4 servings)
  • 8 beef short ribs (~4-4½ lb.)
  • salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tsp. dried thyme
  • ~¼ c. lard or vegetable oil
  • 3 yellow onions (~4 c.), peeled & cut into wedges
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 20 whole cloves garlic, peeled
  • 28 oz. canned whole tomatoes
  • 1 c. beef stock
  • ½ c. white wine
Preheat oven to 325° F.

Rinse the short ribs under cool water and pat dry with paper towels. Sprinkle each side with salt, pepper, and half of the dried thyme. Heat lard or oil in a large, heavy-bottomed skillet until hot, then add the ribs in batches (without crowding) and cook until deeply browned on all asides. Transfer to a baking or casserole dish that is just large enough to hold them. Set aside.

Carefully pour off all but 2 Tbs. fat from the pan. Immediately add onions to the pan (the smell!). Sprinkle about a teaspoon of salt over the onions and cook, stirring from time to time until the onions start to color. Add bay leaves, a few grinds of black pepper, and the remaining dried thyme. Stir well.

Add whole garlic cloves and cook for about three minutes longer. Pour in the tomatoes with their juices, the stock, and the wine. Bring to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes, scraping up the beautiful bits of fond from the bottom of the pan. Taste the broth. It should be highly seasoned.

Pour the vegetables and liquid over the browned ribs, spreading the vegetables evenly around. Cover with a layer of parchment and a double layer of foil, shiny side down. Seal tightly. Put in center of preheated oven and cook for ~1½ hours, or until a paring knife pierces the meat easily. Uncover and bake for another 30 minutes or so, basting often, to caramelize the ribs.

Remove from oven and spoon off any visible fat. Taste the juices and correct seasoning, if necessary. Serve hot, over whipped rutabaga, with the veggies and braising juices spooned over as a sauce.

It's easier to pull of the fat if you chill the whole thing first. Cover and reheat in a 350° F oven for 25 minutes, then remove foil for another ten.
adapted from The Gift of Southern Cooking by Edna Lewis and Scott Peacock
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Whipped Rutabaga

by Heather Schmitt-González
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 30-45 minutes
Keywords: boil side vegetarian rutabaga
Ingredients (4 servings)
  • ~2½ lb. rutabaga, peeled & cut into large chunks
  • ~3 oz. butter, at room temperature
  • 2-4 Tbs. heavy cream
  • salt
  • ground white pepper
  • freshly ground nutmeg
Put rutabaga chunks in a large saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat, and simmer until the rutabaga pieces are fork-tender, ~30-45 minutes.

Remove from heat and drain. Using an electric mixer, whip rutabaga with butter, 2 Tbs. cream, a pinch of salt and white pepper, and a few good gratings of nutmeg. Taste and adjust seasonings and consistency. Enjoy!
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In May '11, Gourmet posted a list of 50 Women Game-Changers (in Food) that runs the gamut from food writers to cookbook authors to television personalities to restauranteurs to chefs to food bloggers.  Some are a given.  Some are controversial.  Speaking the names of some brings fond childhood memories.  Speaking the names of others will make some readers cringe.  And of course, some of our favorites were not even included.  We food-lovers are a passionate bunch of people and whether we agree or disagree, every woman on this list has earned her place for a reason.  Being a woman who is passionate about food (cooking, eating, talking about, writing about, photographing), when I caught wind of Mary from One Perfect Bite's idea of cooking/blogging her way through each of these 50 per week...I knew I wanted to join her.  Many of these women paved the way for us in culinary school, in the kitchen, in cookbooks, in food writing, and on television and I think it is a fabulous way to pay tribute to their efforts.  Some of the women on the list have been tops with me for years.  Some I have heard of (perhaps even seen, read, or cooked from) before.  And there are even a handful that I am not familiar with at all.  I excited to educate myself on each of these women game-changers and hope you look forward to reading along.  We are going in order from 1 to 50.
Who is cooking along with these 50 Women Game-Changers?

sources: The Gift of Southern Cooking, Edna Lewis Biography, Wikipedia

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