Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Leah Chase: Down Home Healthy

It seems many of us have diets on our minds these days. The desire to begin the new year resolving to eat less junk food, nibble more fiber, increase HDL (good cholesterol) and lower the "bad" cholesterol (LDL) overwhelms our balance. Is it any surprise that January is Diet Month???

Oh, I've made diet resolutions before. When I think back though I don't ever remember "going on a diet" for health reasons. The deeper I dig into whatever bit of memory I have left, dieting to me was usually a fad or a phase. Fact is, I'm a pretty healthy eater although, I can't say the same for my cooking. How can that be you may ask. Well, I'm not one to substitute anything for butter! I'm very unhappy about the lack of fat left on showcase meat. Bacon has become my buddy! I cover most large pieces with some sort of bacon before roasting, sometimes I use plain old butter. (I think they call this barding:) I use whole milk, eggs and cheese! Oh I'm sure I could go on. My key seems to be eating very little. (minus the mallomars and Hershey's kisses and...and...and...:) Bottom line? A clean bill of health! (as I sit here munching on my miniature Reese's Peanut Butter Cups:) Somethings gotta give before my heart does.

Cooking shows don't help you know. I'm yet to find a "healthy" cooking show that has more to offer in benefits of diet awareness than some of the "healthy" blogs I visit. Off the top of my head, I just read a hilarious post over at Jim's titled Nutritional Value of Baked Stuffed Post. Another  interesting post I happened upon was over at Coco Cooks. Not only is her review most interesting, she's giving away a copy of The Mayo Clinic Diet Book (hurry you have until January 10th)

As a matter of fact, the other night I was so exhausted from unpacking, that I decided to quit early and catch a glimpse of the Iron Chef America: Super Chef Battle episode. All those beautiful vegetables from the White House Garden doused in calories!!! As tempting as that Cauliflower au Gratin oozed try me, I would have preferred a "kicked up" roasted version.

Down Home Healthy

Today is the day the acclaimed "Queen of Creole Cuisine," Leah Chase was born in 1923. (follow that link if you want to see a video of Leah Chase "expertly" frying chicken and cooking up other goodies.) They're from the show In Julia's Kitchen with Master Chefs which aired on PBS. Leah Chase was also interviewed by The History Makers in 2002.

Does the Dooky Chase Cookbook ring a bell? Leah Chase is Dooky Chase's Star Chef. Down Home Healthy: Family Recipes of Black American Chefs Leah Chase and Johnny Rivers is a gathering of recipes which focuses on enjoyable foods that are "lower in fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium; higher in fiber; and promote good health."

I make my bread pudding without butter and with evaporated skim milk and egg whites now. (Ed Note: 2 egg whites equal 1 whole egg yolk in recipes. Don't laugh, but I've been know to use the egg yolks as a shampoo.) Same rich taste, fewer calories and next to no fat. For a delicious sauce, mix cornstarch with a little water and stir it into the hot milk, sugar and seasoning mixture. You don't have to use the traditional butter and flour. ~Leah Chase~

First, an extract about this extraordinary woman from wiki:

Leah Chase is the author of The Dooky Chase Cookbook. Her restaurant, Dooky Chase, was known as a gathering place during the 1960s among many who participated in the Civil Rights movement.

As the owner and chef extraordinaire of the popular Dooky Chase Restaurant in New Orleans, Leah Chase has distinguished herself as a community and civic leader through her dedicated involvement with numerous charities and organizations. The preeminent chef in the Dooky Chase kitchen, Mrs. Chase has established a reputation as one of the best purveyors of Creole cuisine in the nation.

Leah Chase was born in rural Madisonville, Louisiana and moved to New Orleans at the age of 18. After working briefly in a laundry in the French Quarter, she found a job at the Colonial Restaurant on Charter street. It was the first time she had ever seen the inside of a restaurant. In 1946, she married Dooky Chase, Jr., and shortly after entered his family’s restaurant business, which would grow into the present day Dooky Chase. Her husband’s mother was running the restaurant, and as Leah says, “Black people had no other place to go, so she had a captive audience.” Over the years, as Leah’s expertise and popularity grew, she was able to exert more influence upon the cuisine and atmosphere at Dooky Chase. She successfully grafted her country roots, both in ethics and food, to the black Creole tradition of the city, and soon the restaurant became a reflection of Leah herself, and of the black community as a whole.

The Dooky Chase Restaurant was not spared by Hurricane Katrina.

Mrs. Chase (everybody calls her Leah but a real queen deserves more respect) joined her husband in his family restaurant in the 1940s, determined to serve the kind of food she learned to cook at home.  Although it is located in an African American neighborhood and originally catered to blacks, the restaurant now serves African Americans, white Orleanians and tourists, American presidents and other celebrities. The restaurant was wrecked by the flooding that followed Hurricane Katrina and was closed for over two years while Mrs. Chase lived in a nearby FEMA trailer. (source)

There's a wonderful interview with Leah Chase about rebuilding the restaurant and its historic significance over at the Creole Folks blog.

"...We played a big part in that Civil Rights movement. We owe that to come back. What we try to tell people is just realize you can go anywhere you want to now. Years ago Duke Ellington came and the only place he could sit down and eat was Dooky Chase. Nat King Cole. Sarah Vaughan. All those people. Now you have many places. I'm so glad. You know what? People remember..."

The Recipes

There are so many recipes to savor in this delightful booklet. It may only be forty-four pages but it is just jammed packed with deliciousness, healthy tips and personal commentary. It was a difficult choice to choose a recipe. I was leaning toward the recipe for Catfish Stew and Rice but when I read Ms. Chase's introduction to New Orleans Red Beans, I just had to include it.

"Monday was laundry day in our house. Laundry day meant red beans and rice to us because we let them cook all day as we washed and starched and dried and ironed the family's clothes. We had plenty of thyme in the garden, so we used lots of that. What we didn't know then was just how Healthy our Monday dinners were. Today's version made without fat, is even healthier. It's just what the doctor ordered."

New Orleans Red Beans

FYI: Elvis Presley would be celebrating birthday #75 on January 8th. See my Quick Links post from last year:) It has his favorite foods:)

1. Creole Queen: Leah Chase (rebuilding Dooky Chase’s Restaurant)
2. Dedication of Leah Chase Louisiana Gallery
3. In the kitchen with Mme Early: black women in restaurants
4. Eating for a Healthy Heart