Carla Hall’s “Soul Food: Everyday and Celebration”

This spring, just a day or so before she was in Benton Harbor doing her cooking demonstration at the KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship at Harbor Shores, both Carla Hall—and the world—learned her long-running show, ABC’s Daytime Emmy-winning lifestyle series The Chew was being canceled.

“I need a job,” she told the crowded roomful of people. “Does anyone know of a job for me?”

And  because she is so lovable, the entire audience sighed and I’m sure more than a few thought, what can I do to help Carla find another job.

Those concerned about what Carla was going to do next, quit worrying because this kitchen dynamo seems to be everywhere. Now the food contributor for GMA’s Day, the third hour of Good Morning America,  she just made an appearance at the prestigious Chicago Ideas joining others for a panel discussion titled “More than a Meal: Food as a Cultural Nexus “and her newest cookbook, Carla Hall’s Soul Food: Everyday and Celebration with Genevieve Ko (Harper Wave 2018; $29.99) just hit the shelves this Monday, October 23.

Poured Caramel Cake

Photo credit Gabriele Stabile

“It’s so funny when The Chew ended everyone said what are you doing and now I say what am I not doing?” Hall tells me on the phone after apologizing profusely for being late to call due to a scheduling mix-up.

Describing the years she co-anchored, with Clinton Kelly and Michael Symon, The Chew as like wearing gold handcuffs, Hall says it was an amazing experience but the 39 weeks a year she spent filming didn’t leave time for much else.

“Freedom—it’s lovely,” says Hall who is .glad to have the time to explore her food journey in her book. It’s a melting pot of her heritage—ancestors from Nigeria and Portugal and Southern by birth–and career choices– eschewing her training as an accountant to become a fashion model in Paris and then getting into the food scene, graduating from L’Academie de Cuisine in Gaithersburg, Maryland, opening a catering business in New York City and appearing on Bravo’s “Top Chef” and “Top Chef: All Stars.” With her distinctive looks and intelligent dead-pan humor, she connects quickly with audiences whether in person or on screen, showcasing her ability to throw together a quick meal, her philosophy of cooking with love and accenting it all with her famous catch phrase, “Hootie Hoo,” success came quickly.

Yet at some point during her time in Europe and in New York, she found herself not only yearning for the soul food cooking of her grandmother, a hospital nutritionist, but also for a way to explain that type of cookery to others. She also, in her cookbook, strives  to differentiate both what she terms celebration and everyday types of southern cuisine.

“On the everyday side I have a recipe for sea island shrimp and grits which is usually really heavy with cream butter, maybe a ham and Tasso gravy and maybe cheese,” she says. “I stripped all of that out after talking to someone in the Carolina coast, making it very simple and on  the lighter side—the shrimp with some vegetables and some tomatoes.  On the celebration side I wanted to do the smothered chicken—everything goes in a pot, gravy is made with the sauce, the chicken falls off the bone—it’s like a dish my grandmother would make, it’s delicious.”

Of course in every chef’s kitchen there’s a failure here and there.

“I was doing ginger cake with lemon cream and the lemon cream just wasn’t good,” she says. She also worked exceptionally hard on her hot water cornbread recipe.

“I started off trying to change it because I remember doing it in Clinton Kelly competition and just two people picked me out of 10, the winner was a cheesy casserole,” she says with some disdain. “So I was thinking maybe I have to change it. I was cooking, cooking and then it was the day of the shooting for the book and I went back to the tried and true. That was an aha moment.”

Always creative—after all one of the first recipes she demonstrated on GMA’s Day was a wine can chicken—Hall says might be looking outside and see a tree turning brown and  think oh, how about a crust.

Spoonbread Dressing

Photo credit Gabriele Stabile

“Someone turned me on to these fruit and nut snacks from Trader Joes and I’m like that looks like a filling for a pastry, so took a pastry and put this round into it and cooked it,” she says. “One of the reasons I love to cook is I love process and cooking is a process.  I love puzzles which is why I liked accounting but of course if you get too creative in accounting you go to jail.”

Her book is the first step in educating others about soul food.

“I am so excited about the book. When I saw the first copy and I opened it up and cried. I smelled it,” says Hall. “When I talk to people abut soul food and people say oh soul food is having it’s having its moment and I think for me it’s always had this moment. It’s about a person’s culture. Writing it was a very personal journey, about my ancestry, about me trying to change people’s perspective but it was a journey I didn’t expect.”

The following recipes are from Carla Hall’s Soul Food: Everyday and Celebration

Carla’s Spoon Bread

¼ cup unsalted butter, softened

1 onion, finely chopped (1 cup)

1 celery stalk, finely diced (1/2 cup)

1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt

½ teaspoon poultry seasoning

2 cups whole milk

1 cup water

1 tablespoon sugar

1 cup fine stone-ground yellow cornmeal

11 ounce can whole kernel corn, drained

1 teaspoon baking powder

3 eggs

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Use 1 tablespoon of the butter to generously grease a 3-quart rectangular baking dish.

In a large saucepan melt the remaining 3 tablespoons butter over medium heat. Add the onion, celery, and salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 4 minutes or until just tender. Add the poultry seasoning; cook and stir for 1 minute.

Add the milk, water, and sugar; bring to boiling. Continuously whisk the mixture while you pour in the cornmeal in a slow, steady stream. Cook, whisking constantly, for 5 minutes or until the cornmeal has absorbed all the liquid and is thick and smooth. Remove from heat and stir in the corn and baking powder. Cool for 20 to 30 minutes or until lukewarm, stirring often to avoid clumping.

In a large bowl whisk the eggs for 5 to 7 minutes or until pale yellow and very foamy with no liquid remaining. Add beaten eggs, one-third at a time, to the cornmeal mixture, folding gently until incorporated. Spread evenly in the prepared dish.

Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until golden brown and set and top springs back when gently touched. Cool slightly before serving (spoon bread may fall during cooling).

Caribbean Smothered Chicken With Coconut, Lime and Chiles

4 large bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs (about 1 1/2 pounds total)

Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1 teaspoon vegetable oil

6 large sprigs thyme, plus fresh thyme leaves for serving

2 large onions, thinly sliced

2 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped

1 habanero chile, partially slit open

1 cup low-fat coconut milk

1/4 cup water

Finely grated zest and juice of 1 large lime, plus wedges for serving

1/2 teaspoon curry powder

Season the chicken generously all over with salt and pepper.

Heat the oil in a large, shallow Dutch oven or deep sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the chicken to the pan, skin sides down. Sear for about 5 minutes, turning them over once, until browned on both sides and some of their fat has rendered. (They will not be cooked through.)

Push the thighs to one side of the pan, turning them skin sides up; add the thyme and onions to the other side of the pan and reduce the heat to medium-low. Cook for about 4 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until they pick up some color.

Add the garlic, chile pepper and 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and pepper. Cook, stirring, for 1 minute, then pour in the coconut milk and water. The browned skin on the thighs should remain above the level of liquid. Increase the heat to medium; once the liquid begins to boil, move the onion mixture around the chicken pieces, as needed. Cover and cook for about 20 minutes, or. until the chicken is cooked through. Discard the thyme sprigs.

Uncover and stir in the lime juice. Cook for about 5 minutes, then stir in the curry powder and lime zest. Scatter some thyme leaves on top.

Serve right away (with or without the chile pepper), with lime wedges.

Poured Caramel Cake

16-20 servings; makes one 9-by-13-inch cake

6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) room-temperature unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons, plus more for the pan

2 cups flour, plus more for the pan

3/4 cup buttermilk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 1/4 cups sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

3 large eggs, at room temperature

For the caramel:

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter

1 3/4 cups sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

12 ounces evaporated milk

For the cake: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Use some butter and then flour to coat a 9-by-13-inch baking pan or dish.

Combine the buttermilk and vanilla extract in a liquid measuring cup.

Combine the 2 cups of flour, the sugar, baking powder and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer or handheld electric mixer. Beat on low speed until well blended. Add the oil (low speed); once that is evenly distributed, add the butter a tablespoon at a time, beating until fully incorporated. The mixture will have the consistency of coarse sand.

Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Stop to scrape down the bowl. On medium speed, gradually add the buttermilk mixture, beating to form a smooth batter.

Pour into the pan; bake (middle rack) for about 25 minutes, or until a tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Transfer the pan to a wire rack; let the cake cool completely.

Meanwhile, make the caramel: Place the butter in a deep saucepan over medium heat. Once the butter is half melted, add the sugar and salt. Cook, stirring with a wooden spoon, until the mixture is dark golden brown. It will look grainy and the fat will separate from the sugar, then come back together.

Remove from the heat.

Jane Ammeson can be contacted via email at janeammeson@gmail.com or by writing to Focus Department, The Herald-Palladium, P.O. Box 128, St. Joseph, MI 49085.

 

 

 

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