Tag Archives: cooking

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The Universal Language of Food: A Conversation with Aimee Zaring

Recent events have highlighted the need for an understanding of the situation facing refugees throughout the world. Refugees, unlike economic migrants, are forced to leave their countries of origin or are driven out by violence or persecution. As these individuals and their families struggle to adapt to a new culture, the kitchen often becomes one of the few places where they are able to return “home.” Preparing native cuisine is one way they can find comfort in an unfamiliar land, retain their customs, reconnect with their past, and preserve a sense of identity.

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In Flavors from Home: Refugees in Kentucky Share Their Stories and Comfort Foods, author Aimee Zaring uses her many years of expertise working with refugees in the Commonwealth to explore their everyday life, the situations that brought them here, and the food that connects them to home. Zaring shares personal and dramatic accounts of their fight for their lives, as well as heartwarming and fascinating stories of their transition to living in America. Zaring also illustrates the importance of understanding the persecution and struggle that these refugees have gone through and the ability of food to provide a sense of home for them when home is lost.

In order to foster a discussion about the lives of refugees in Kentucky and throughout the country, we’re sharing the following conversation with Aimee Zaring, author of Flavors from Home:


What first interested you to write Flavors from Home and how did that interest help to shape the finished book?

For many years, I taught ESL (English as a Second Language) to elder refugees, and we held occasional potlucks where students could share dishes from their homelands. Something magical happened at those potluck dinners. Usually at snack time, the students from each ethnic group would sit together at the same table—but not during potluck days. I was always filled with awe when I looked around the room and saw people from all over the world coming together around food. And I loved seeing how the elders seemed to become kids again as they stood proudly by their dishes and encouraged everyone to “Eat, eat!”

It occurred to me that someone should collect all these delicious recipes before they became altered or “Americanized.” As I began talking to the refugees about their favorite foods, I was reminded that food is never just food; there are always stories and strong memories associated with it. I realized that leaving out the refugees’ stories would be like leaving out the indispensable saffron in the Persian dish tachin. So I decided to make food the unifying element, linking all the stories, just as food in general unifies all of humankind. It’s one of the few things we all share in common.

Describe the circumstances that led a few of the people you interviewed to seek refuge in the United States.

All refugees are immigrants, but not all immigrants are refugees. Refugees flee their home countries out of fear or necessity because of persecution or violence. They usually cannot safely return to their homelands. Economic migrants, on the other hand, choose to leave their home countries to improve their lives, especially to better their economic conditions, and can generally return home when and if they choose.

As one can imagine, war is almost always the culprit. Nearly all the refugees I interviewed for Flavors from Home were driven out by the trickle-down upheaval and chaos resulting from war, military dictatorships, or political uprisings. The first refugee featured in the book came to America as a young girl with her family after the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. Several refugees in the book are from Myanmar (Burma) and were persecuted for their religious or political beliefs by the country’s longstanding military junta. Two refugees in the book are from Bhutan, the country often referred to as “the happiest in the world,” yet their specific ethnic group (comprised mainly of Hindus) made them a target in the small Buddhist-dominated kingdom. The last chapter in the book features one of my former students, a political activist who spent over two decades of his life in jails because of his enduring fight to defend human rights.

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The kitchen is home for Huong “CoCo” Tran at her Heart & Soy restaurant. (Photo by Julie Johnston)

Which of their stories did you find most uplifting?

Every one of these stories was deeply moving and affected me in a profound way. Sometimes I was moved by the sheer horror of what the individuals had seen or suffered through, for example Nicolas Kiza from Rwanda, who as a young boy traversed the entire Democratic Republic of the Congo by foot, trying to outrun the Rwandan Genocide, because, as he told me, “I’d rather be killed by a lion than my fellow Rwandans.” Sometimes I was moved by the refugees’ fierce determination and strong work ethic and how much they’ve accomplished in the United States with minimal assistance, often knowing little to no English. Huong “CoCo” Tran comes to mind. CoCo spent thirty days at sea after the fall of Saigon. She is now one of Louisville’s most inventive and successful restauranteurs.

Can you explain why some ended up in Kentucky, as opposed to another state?

Kentucky has several official refugee resettlement agencies, including Catholic Charities, Kentucky Refugee Ministries, the International Center of Kentucky, among others, which have been offering services to refugees for decades. Because we have a long tradition of hosting refugees and consequently have refugee populations already established in the area, resettlement agencies will often try to place refugees where they already have family and a built-in support system. The majority of refugees in Kentucky are resettled in Louisville, which has a lot going for it—a relatively low cost of living, good schools, ample job opportunities, a vibrant international community, and a current local government that by and large supports cultural diversity.

What makes food a more tangible connection for some than other aspects of their heritage?

For most refugees, food equals refuge. It offers a safe haven in a strange land filled with foreign customs. Though refugees must adapt to American ways to increase their chances of success (including the formidable task of learning a new language), nothing dictates that they must give up their native foods. Because of the widespread availability of international ingredients—through ethnic groceries, native produce grown in individual or communal gardens, and online shopping—there is no compelling reason to alter their dishes and culinary customs. Cooking and eating is a multi-sensory experience, evoking all sorts of memories and emotions. It’s the easiest and cheapest direct flight back home.

What do you hope Flavors from Home accomplishes, and what do you believe will resonate most with the audience while reading this book?

I hope Flavors from Home will serve as a launching point for dialogue between people from diverse backgrounds who might not otherwise have a reason or opportunity to communicate with each other. Food is something we all share in common and can enjoy together, and often no words are necessary. Food is its own language and can transcend barriers. I’ve seen time and again the goodwill that a fine meal can foster.

I hope, too, that the book will help educate readers on the many different cultures and ethnic groups that have been added to America’s melting pot over the past half-century. And I hope the stories will inspire people to persevere, even when all hope seems lost. Native-born Americans will no doubt walk away from these stories with a greater appreciation of our great nation, especially after viewing it fresh through the eyes of refugees. Yes, there’s a lot that’s wrong with our country, but there is also a lot that’s right, and refugees remind us to never take for granted our most basic freedoms. And, of course, I want people to try these delectable dishes and perhaps even discover, as did I, a whole new world of comfort foods.


Aimee Zaring lives in Louisville, Kentucky where, for more than five years, she has taught ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) at Catholic Charities, Kentucky Refugee Ministries, Global LT, and Jefferson County Public Schools.

To learn more about her book, Flavors from Home, visit our website.

Kentucky Apples Header

Classic Kentucky Confections for a Sweet 4th of July

 

The Fourth of July holiday is All-American: bombastic, creative, unique, celebratory, commemorative, joyful, and unconstrained. And what’s more American (or more Kentucky) than apple pie?

Celebrate with new and vintage apple-flavored favorites from some of UPK’s best-loved cookbooks:

Click here to download a PDF of all the recipes to print.

Blue Grass Baked Apple Dumplings


 

Blue Ribbon Apples


 

Bourbon-AppleCrisp


 

Duncan Hine's Apple Pie-2

 

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‘Cue Cards: A Guide for Father’s Day

Father’s Day is approaching, and you know what that means . . . Time to find the perfect place to take Dad for dinner.

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The first step to becoming a BBQ aficionado is being able to talk the talk. In The Kentucky Barbecue Book, Wes Berry defines many key terms for his readers. Here are a few you may not know:

Burgoo: an “everything but the kitchen sink” rich stew made with several meats and vegetables, cooked up in large quantities at Owensboro’s International Barbecue Festival and found at barbecue joints in Kentucky, especially those in the “burgoo tree” (my term) that includes the counties of Daviess, Hopkins, and Christian, among others.324255_346022322091385_842314571_o

Chip or chipped: a style of barbecue preparation popular in Union Co. and Henderson Co., where heavily smoked exterior pieces of pork shoulders, hams, and mutton quarters are chopped and mixed with a thin tangy dip sauce, a bold flavor creation that’s salty and good as a sandwich.

Fast Eddy: a meat smoking apparatus that often utilizes wood pellets and a gas flame.

Hickory: one of the hardest of the hardwoods, hickory trees are nut-bearing friends of squirrels and Kentucky pitmasters, who favor the smoke and heat imparted by hickory over all other woods. Several different species of hickory trees live in North America, including shagbark, shellbark, mockernut, bitternut, and pignut. Some pitmasters claim they prefer one species of hickory—like shagbark—to others.

Monroe County dip: Sopping sauce favored in several south-central Kentucky counties, made with vinegar, butter, lard, salt, black and cayenne pepper, and sometimes other ingredients like tomato or mustard, used for basting meats as they cook slowly over hickory coals. Also served as a finishing sauce.

Mutton: Mature sheep, either female or castrated males. Mutton is Kentucky’s claim to barbecue fame, although only 10 percent of the barbecue places in the state serve it.

Smoke ring: the pinkish hue imparted to smoked meats (a very good thing).

Grab a copy of Wes berry’s book to learn even more BBQ lingo and scope out the best places for smoky meats and saucy treats in the state.

Eat Your Words!

Eat Your Words!

Test your Bar-B-I.Q. with this Word Search of fall-off-the-bone terminology from The Kentucky Barbecue Book by Wes Berry. You’ll find a Word Bank of all the terms below. Print off your own copy to share here.

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Barbecue Ham Owensboro
Brisket Hardwood Pit
Burgoo Hickory Pork
Chipped Kentucky Sassafras
Coal Knife Sauce
Cornbread Lamb Style
Festival Meat Vinegar
Fork Mutton Western
Fried Okra
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Kentucky’s Regional Barbecue Styles and Sauces

9780813161112Later this week, the International Bar-B-Q Festival will take over the streets of Owensboro, Kentucky. The Bluegrass State’s culinary fame may have been built on bourbon and fried chicken, but the Commonwealth has much to offer the barbecue thrill-seeker. Luckily, Wes Berry (author of The Kentucky Barbecue Book) is here to help you prepare for this notable culinary event, explain Kentucky’s distinctive ‘cue styles, and serve up some recipes from around the state:

Kentucky’s Regional Barbecue Styles and Sauces

by Wes Berry

In the western counties, the preferred barbecue is pulled or chopped pork from whole pork shoulders or Boston butts. Traditionally, pork shoulders cooked on concrete block masonry pits for twelve to thirty hours, depending on the size of the shoulder, the type of wood used, the temperature inside the pits, the weather, and other factors like pit design. Pit masters burned down wood, mostly hickory, to coals and shoveled these underneath the meats every one to two hours, trying to keep a steady pit temperature. The most impressive pits have heavy thick insulated lids that are raised with the help of pulleys and cables.

Many of the western counties are also fond of smoking cured hams (city hams) and precooked turkey breasts, slicing them thinly to serve on sandwiches. Sauce styles vary county by county. The Hickman County sauce is mostly vinegar and cayenne pepper. Some McCracken County sauces taste strongly of vinegar and chili powder. Union and Henderson counties favor a savory Worcestershire-based dip, while over in Christian County to the east the sauces turn again to vinegar and cayenne. It’s safe to say that although Kentucky is most famous for mutton, pork is still king, dominating barbecue menus throughout the state.

Mutton, however, is our most distinctive claim to barbecue fame, although only 18 out of 160 places I visited [in writing my book] serve it. The “Mutton Tree,” as I’ll call it, is concentrated in western Kentucky, with Christian County and Hopkins County forming the trunk of the tree, branching out into Union, Henderson, and Daviess counties for the upper foliage. Owensboro is mutton central, with all four barbecue restaurants serving it. Mutton is usually basted while smoking over hickory coals and served with a savory Worcestershire sauce‒based dip, a thin, black potion that also contains vinegar and spices like black pepper and allspice.

Another noteworthy regional tradition—called Monroe County style—dominates barbecue menus in five south-central counties: Monroe, Barren, Cumberland, Allen, and Warren. This is the stuff I grew up eating. Locals refer to it as “shoulder.” Boston butts—the thick end of a pork shoulder—are frozen and then cut into thin slices, bone in, with a meat saw. Pit masters traditionally burned down hickory wood to coals and shoveled the coals underneath iron grates that held dozens of slices of shoulder. As the meats cooked over hot coals, the pit tenders flipped and basted the pieces periodically with a “dip” of vinegar, lard, butter, cayenne and black pepper, and salt. Because of the small surface area, pieces of shoulder soak up a lot of smoke in a short amount of time. Preferred length of cooking is around forty-five minutes, but on a hot fire you can grill a piece of shoulder in fifteen minutes.

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South Fork Grill’s Vinegar Coleslaw

  • 4 cups distilled vinegar
  • 5 cups sugar
  • Pinch of salt and pepper
  • 2 heads large cabbage, chopped
  • 1 carrot stick, chopped
  • ½ medium onion, chopped
  • ¼ green pepper, chopped

Heat vinegar, sugar, salt, and pepper. Set aside and let cool. Add 7 cups cabbage mix to the cooled vinegar. Stir well and refrigerate. Makes 10-12 servings.

Brothers Barbecue’s Red Potato Salad

  • ¼ cup white vinegar
  • ½ cup sweet pickle juice
  • ½ cup yellow mustard
  • 3 cups mayonnaise
  • 3 tablespoons dill weed
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 tablespoon ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon celery salt
  • ½ cup white sugar
  • 5 pounds red potatoes, chopped and boiled
  • 8‒10 sweet gherkin pickles, chopped

Whisk first 9 ingredients together for the dressing. Add cooked potatoes and chopped pickles and mix well. Refrigerate a few hours for flavors to blend.

Sarah’s Corner Cafe BBQ’s Smoked Shrimp with Pineapple and Vidalia Onions

  • 3 pounds shrimp, peeled or unpeeled (both ways work well)
  • 10 medium-sized Vidalia onions, quartered
  • 6-7 pounds pineapple chunks, with juice
  • Spicy dry rub (with cayenne, black pepper, paprika, etc.) to suit your taste

Spray large foil pan with cooking spray. Add onions and dry rub to pan and place on smoker at 250°F for 1 hour. Add pineapple and shrimp, shaking on additional dry-rub spices. Smoke for about 20 minutes or until shrimp is pink. Serve with barbecue sauce.

Ole South Barbeque’s Mutton Dip

  • 1 gallon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 gallon water
  • 2 tablespoons salt
  • 1 tablespoon black pepper
  • 2 cups white vinegar
  • 1 cup lemon juice
  • 2 pounds brown sugar
  • 5 pounds tomato paste

In a large pot, cook all ingredients until paste dissolves. Use it to baste meats, preferably mutton, periodically throughout the many hours of cooking required to tenderize the muscle tissues. When serving mutton, offer this dip in a bowl on the side for the dipping of individual pieces. Yields about 2½ gallons.

Ruby Faye’s Sweet Shoppe Chocolate Torte

  • 1 large box (14 ounces) graham crackers
  • 3 cups whole milk
  • 2 packages (3.4 oz.each) vanilla instant pudding and pie filling
  • 8 ounces Cool Whip
  • 15-ounce can of milk chocolate frosting

Combine milk, pudding mix, and Cool Whip. Mix until smooth. Line bottom of 9 x 13-inch pan with graham crackers. Don’t crush. Add half of pudding mixture, and then cover with another layer of graham crackers. Add rest of pudding mixture. Cover this layer with graham crackers. Cover with milk chocolate frosting, thinning frosting with milk to make it spread easier. Refrigerate until pudding is set, 1-2 hours.

Join Us This Weekend at Kentucky Crafted: The Market

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Come hang with us this Saturday and Sunday at the Lexington Convention Center for Kentucky Crafted: The Market, an annual showcase of Kentucky fine arts and crafts, specialty foods, music, and, of course, BOOKS!

Stop by to say hi and check out some of our new titles:

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Friday

Five Days of Giveaways: It’s a Festive Free-for-all on Friday

We’re in the holiday spirit here at the University Press of Kentucky, and we wanted to share a little of that cheer with our fans. All week we’ve been giving away a new book in a new way to a lucky someone.

We thought we’d close out our #5DaysOfGiveaways with a bang! Or, at the very least, a party… We’re calling it Festive, Free-f0r-all Friday, and here’s how it works:

We’ll be sharing menus and recipes to help you throw the greatest, most Bluegrass-y, Kentucky Holiday Celebration from some of our favorite Kentucky cookbooks. Join in on our fun on any of our social media accounts, and you’ll be automatically entered to win. One lucky fan/follower/subscriber/etc. will win a prize pack of ALL the books we’ve given away this week! Including The Kentucky Fresh Cookbook, a bourbon cocktail book (your choice), Out of Kentucky Kitchens, and The Blue Grass Cook Book, the prize pack will help you host a holiday fit for a Kentucky Colonel.

But what’s a party without a plan? Here are some great holiday menus (new and old) to get the festivities started!

Civil War Recipes Christmas Menu: 9780813120829

  • Boiled Turkey with Oyster Sauce Beet Root
  • Roast Goose with Applesauce
  • [Hot] Cole-Slaw
  • Boiled Ham
  • Turnips
  • Winter Squash
  • Savory Chicken Pie
  • Salsify Cakes
  • Mince Pie
  • Plum Pudding
  • Lemon Custard
  • Cranberry Tart

The Kentucky Fresh CookbookThe Kentucky Fresh Cookbook Christmas Dinner Kentucky Style

  • Roasted Tenderloin of Beef
  • Lemon Parmesan Beans
  • White Cheddar Grits
  • Linen-Napkin Dinner Rolls
  • Endive and Pear Salad with Walnuts
  • Kentucky Blackberry Jam Cake

The Kentucky Fresh Cookbook Christmas Breakfast

  • Blood Orange Ambrosia
  • Shaker Pumpkin Muffins with Walnuts and Flax Seed
  • Country Ham and Green Onion Breakfast Casserole

The Kentucky Bourbon Cookbook by Albert SchmidThe Kentucky Bourbon Cookbook All-Bourbon Winter Feast

  • Pork Tenderloin in Spiced Apple Kentucky Bourbon Sauc
  • Kentucky Bourbon Acorn Squash
  • Windsor Mincemeat
  • Kentucky Colonel Bourbon Balls
  • Kentucky Bourbon Bread Pudding with Kentucky Bourbon Sauce