MARKET CHEF : Kimberly of Blues City Biscuits

October 11, 2011 |  by  |  Chef Demos

Well friends, another week, another chef demo, another trend emerges! Like many of our other chefs, Kimberly James of the spanking new Southern food cart Blues City Biscuits began her life in the kitchen as a young (11 year old) vegetarian. “Going vegetarian in the Delta in 1990 was really hard, to say the least”, she says, “My mother wasn’t about to cook something just for me, and most meals centered around meat, so I had to learn how to cook.”

Although her vegetarian days are behind her now, James still makes plenty of room on her plate for greens, her forever-favorite food. Growing up, she describes her mother as a good cook, and her grandmother on her father’s side as a great cook. “She never put pork in her greens, which is pretty unheard of in the South. She taught me that people only needed to add pork to greens if they were crappy greens, and hers were fresh from her garden and perfect just the way they were.” Today, at Blues City Biscuits, Kimberly honors her Grandmother by cooking down her organic greens with little more than smoke and chilis.

The oh-so belle-like Kimberly comes to us lucky, hungry wild wild Westerners by way of Memphis (where her family has been since the 1700’s!)  Australia, and finally Los Angeles, where she worked for six whirlwind years in the film industry. Wiped out and wrung dry by the smog and general LA-ness of LA, Kimberly and her husband decided it was time for a change. 20 minutes in to her first visit to Portland, she knew she had found her new home. Within months of the move, health issues that had developed in LA had cleared up, and she found herself ready to tackle her lifelong dream, born out of 10 years spent waitressing through college and graduate school, of owning her own little food business. I don’t need to explain all the reasons that a food cart made sense – you’re Portland people, you know what it’s all about! Finally she found the cart, and began to develop and perfect homespun, wholesome, organicandlocalandseasonal riffs on her childhood favorites.

“I never really consciously decided ‘I’m going to serve Southern food’. It’s more like, what else would I have done? It wasn’t until I left the South that I realized how really Southern I actually am. I really love in Southern food, and I believe in Southern food. It’s not just unhealthy, meaty food. Southerners like a lot of food on the table; a lot of colors and flavors that go together, lots of vegetables. When I was little, turnip greens were my favorite food. The way that some kids beg for cakes and cookies, I would beg for turnip greens. I think the best food carts in town are the carts where people are serving the foods they grew up on.”

We’ll get a taste of those begged-for greens at the market this Sunday when Kimberly cooks up beet and turnip greens to accompany an oh-so autumnal cider-glazed squash! Hope to see you there!

Cider-Glazed Squash with Hazelnuts and Kielbasa, Served on a Bed of Southern Greens

For the squash:
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • Fresh sage, finely chopped (about 2 or 3 Tbsp)
  • Fresh rosemary, finely chopped (about 2 or 3 Tbsp)
  • Fresh garlic, finely chopped (about 2 or 3 Tbsp)
  • 3 delicata squash, peeled, insides removed, quartered & sliced
  • 2 cups apple cider
  • 3/4 cup water
  • salt and pepper to taste
Melt butter over medium heat in a heavy skillet.  Add herbs and stir, cooking for a minute or two until herbs begin to soften and smell fragrant.  Add garlic and continue to saute another two minutes, then add squash and stir.  Let it cook two to three minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add cider, water, salt & pepper; stir again, turn heat up to medium-high, and bring to a boil.  Let it simmer 20-30 minutes or until liquid is mostly evaporated and squash is soft and creamy.
While it simmers, make the greens:
  • 1 small onion, halved and sliced thin
  • 2 Tbsp garlic, finely chopped
  • 4 bunches sturdy greens (chard, beet greens, turnip greens, collards, kale, etc.)
  • 1/2 cup + 1 Tbsp toasted sesame oil
  • 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tsp crushed red pepper
  • 1 Tbsp smoked salt
  • 1 cup water
Heat a Dutch oven or heavy pot over medium flame with 1 Tbsp toasted sesame oil in it.  Add onion and garlic; toss to coat with oil and let them cook while you prep the greens. Take the denser, tougher greens first and cut off the lower ribs below the leaves; discard those lower ribs.  Chop the greens into ribbons or squares – it doesn’t have to be precise or tiny, just so you can eat them with a fork once they cook down.  Don’t worry about the ribs in the middle unless they’re thicker than a pencil (if they are, just tear out the thick part).  Working in batches, chop one bunch of greens at a time, then put the chopped greens in a colander to rinse thoroughly, adding the wet greens to the onion and garlic in the pot.  Those will wilt down as you chop and wash the next bunch.  Add the next bunch of wet chopped greens, stir, and move on to the next bunch.  Repeat until all the greens are in the pot and the ones on the bottom are thoroughly wilted. Add the remaining toasted sesame oil, the cider vinegar, crushed red pepper, and smoked salt.  Pour the water over it all, turn up the heat to medium-high, stir, and then let it simmer uncovered for 15-20 minutes or until the greens are dark and completely cooked through.

For the top:
  • 2 links Olympic Provisions kielbasa, cooked
  • 3/4 cup hazelnuts
  • Cube the kielbasa into small chunks.  Chop the hazelnuts finely.
To serve:
Using a slotted spoon, transfer greens to plate and level out to make a bed of greens.  Top with the glazed squash.  Sprinkle with hazelnuts and then top with chopped kielbasa.  Repeat for each serving.
Feel free to make it vegetarian (or a side dish) by leaving off the kielbasa, or substitute bacon, smoked turkey, salami chunks, or other smoky meat.  For the greens, a blend of at least two kinds is best; at the market we used beet greens and Swiss chard.
Serves 6.

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