Posts Tagged: McCaffreys Dolce Vita

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

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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.

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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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Mississippi Mirth: Chicken Noodle Soup

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A Chicken in Every Pot
…Or the magical powers of chicken noodle soup
By Jim McCaffrey • Originally published in the Winter 2012-13 Inspire(d)

Which came first the chicken or the egg?

Honestly? Who cares. Both are delightful ingredients for a winter/cold/flu season staple: chicken (egg) noodle soup!

Chicken noodle is not just any soup. It’s a soup that is cherished by many cultures throughout the world. Many different versions abound. Today ours is made from scratch with handmade egg noodles. Oh yeah baby, not your mama’s Campbell’s Soup, that’s for sure.

So lets get started. Broth is the key ingredient. You can use canned or boxed chicken broth. NOT!! (Well, maybe in a pinch, I guess. NOT!!!) Using a homemade broth in soups is just so far superior to the store-bought versions. There are a couple of ways I make my own broth (and you can too!). At the restaurant, we bake a lot of chicken. And, consequently, we have a lot of pan juices that we save. Think of it as liquid gold. We let the juices cool, and skim off any fat that might rise. The juices are then poured into plastic containers with tight lids. These we date using freezer tape and store in our freezer for future use. We pull out as needed, oldest first. Since we are constantly using the juices for soups and gravies, we don’t have to worry about shelf life, but if you’re not breaking out the big pots as often as us, a year is the max to store and I personally would toss after six months. When ready to use, thaw your stock-base out in the refrigerator the previous day. This base is naturally concentrated, so all you have to do is add water and seasonings (salt, pepper, herbs to taste) to fill out your soup. This works well if you have leftover chicken that you’d like to toss into a soup.

Another great way to make broth is to take a whole plucked and thawed chicken, remove the liver and any excess fat, and put it, along with about three to four inches of water, in a large pot. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cover. Cook for about an hour. Usually, when the chicken floats, you are good to go. To make sure, use tongs and grab a leg. If it becomes detached, chicken is ready to go. If not, simmer a few minutes longer. Remove the chicken and let broth cool. Skim off the fat and it’s time to make soup, with your chicken AND stock ready to go.

Congratulations! You have just passed Chicken Broth 101!

Noodles

Let’s move on to handmade egg noodles. Every good egg noodle has a story behind it. Mine goes like this: I was living in Iowa City in the early 1970s. Every few weeks I would come back to Decorah for the weekend. I have some great friends, Steve Olson (Ole) and Juanita Riveria (Goochie). They were living up by Burr Oak, it was winter, and I arrived at the door. “Come on in.” I walked into the kitchen and here was Goochie covered with flour, rolling out dough that almost completely covered the four by six-foot wooden kitchen table. “What’s going on, Goochie?” I queried. “Well, Barb Winter gave me a couple of chickens and I’m going to make chicken noodle soup. But first I have to make noodles and you can help.” I reply, “Ok, I’m in, but I’ve never done this before.” Fortunately, for Goochies sake, I am a quick learner and soon we were slicing the dough into long noodles and draping them onto any available space to dry. Backs of chairs, hung over counters, off of the table, etc. Man, noodle art at its finest. It would have made Andy Warhol proud. Thanks for the lesson, Goochie! If you have never had fresh-made egg noodles you are in for one of life’s great treats. I guarantee it is bliss.

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After all that noodling, it’s time to really sweat. Veggies that is. Like your mother always said, eat your vegetables! I like to sauté the veggies that I put in my soups. When they start to get soft, they also start to lose their water. I find this accentuates the vegetable flavors. The unami of soup flavor. Add it all to the pot. Yummy, to say the least. Of course we still have to have seasoning. The key word here is fresh. Just remember fresh is best when it comes to herbs. In almost all of my soups I like to use fresh thyme. It is extremely versatile. Then I crank it up with additional herbs. My mom was a big fan of sage. Although she primarily used dried herbs, she always said sage should be a big part of poultry dishes. And I always listened to my mom. You should too. Your mom, I mean, not mine. So into the chicken soup the fresh sage goes.

Now that your chicken soup is seasoned, put it to use for another season: the giving season. It’s all about sharing with your loved ones and friends, and a great way to start off this year is to divvy up a steaming hot bowl of chicken soup for everyone. Pass around some crusty bread and pour a crispy white wine. Enjoy the camaraderie and spread the love. This also works for the cold/flu season as you share the healing powers of chicken soup. It’s truly a magical winter concoction.

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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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PRINT RECIPES HERE
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Chicken Noodle Soup

1 3 1/2 -4 lb. whole chicken
Water
1/3 cup olive oil
6 stalks celery, chopped
4 large carrots, peeled and chopped
1 large onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
Homemade egg noodles (recipe to follow)
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
2 sprigs fresh thyme, minced
1 Tbl fresh sage, minced
Salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste

Remove liver and excess fat from chicken. Place in a large pot and cover with water by 3-4 inches. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer for about an hour. Meanwhile, pour olive oil in a large skillet. Sauté celery and carrots over medium heat for 3 minutes. Add onions and garlic and sauté 3 minutes more. When chicken is thoroughly cooked (see column directions) pull from broth and let cool. Let broth cool somewhat and skim broth off. When chicken is sufficiently cooled remove skin. Remove meat from bones and dice. Bring broth back to a simmer. Add sautéed vegetables and noodles. Add lemon juice and spices, adjusting as needed. Soup is good to go when noodles are nice and chewy.

Homemade Noodles

1 1/2 cups flour
2 eggs
2 teaspoons salt
Water

Make a mound of flour on your work surface. Make a well in the center. Whisk eggs and salt. Place in well. Slowly, by hand, mix flour and egg mixture until eggs are incorporated. If the mixture is to dry, add water a little at a time until you have a pliable ball of dough. Cover and let rest for 10 minutes. Divide in half. Roll out each half as thin as possible. Take a sharp paring knife and cut into strips, however wide you want your noodles to be. Hang off of counters and chair backs to dry, about an hour.

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PRINT RECIPES HERE
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Wheekend! August 13-16, 2015

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It’s mid-August already! Let’s keep having those fun summer #wheekends while we can. Live music, film screenings, artist receptions, festivals, demonstrations, and more! August 13-16, 2015 is gonna be one fun weekend!

Thursday, August 13:
Michael McElrath, Lawn Chair Night, Courthouse Steps, Decorah 7 pm

Humane Society of NE Iowa Pet Walk, Water Street, Decorah, 6:30-8 pm

Quiz Bowl, Courtyard & Cellar, Decorah 7:30 pm

The Fattenin’ Frogs, Eds (no name) Bar, Winona, 9 pm

Friday, August 14:
Time for Tales kids program, Deocorah Public Library, 2 pm

“Bikes vs. Cars” screening, T-Bock’s Upstairs, 7 pm

Robert Wolf Artist Reception, Java John’s, Decorah, 7 pm

Dave Zollo Duo, Courtyard & Cellar, Decorah, 8 pm

Cygene & Bluff Mountain Ramblers, the Root Note, La Crosse, 8:45 pm

The Slamming Doors & Sheep For Wheat, Eds (no name) Bar, Winona, 9 pm

Saturday, August 15:
Winneshiek Farmer’s Market! Decorah, 8am-11am

Decorah Chorale Auditions! Decorah High School, 9-11:30am, 

Back to School Carnival & Gymnastics demonstrations, Dolphin Gymnastics, Decorah 11 am – 2 pm

Opening Reception for artist Adam Paul Johnson opens at Lanesboro Arts Center, Reception 6-8 pm (sponsored in part by Inspire(d) Media!)

Foot-Notes Dance, Highlandville Schoolhouse, 8-11 pm

Faribault Woolen Mill Co.’s 150th Anniversary – the oldest Company in Minnesota! Music by The Pines, running of the sheep, petting zoo… beer & food trucks!

Bread & Butter String Band, McCaffrey’s Dolce Vita, Decorah, 7-10 pm

Prodo, the Root Note, La Crosse, 8:45 pm

The Maytags, Church Dads, Ali & The Scoundrels, Eds (no name) Bar, Winona, 9 pm

Sunday, August 16

Aase Haugen Auxiliary Ice Cream Social

All #Wheekend:

Pulpit Rock Brewing Grand Opening Weekend!

Waukon Corn Days

Czech Days, Protivin

Iowa State Fair, runs through June 23

Enjoy!
XO,
Inspire(d)