Best-of-the-Midwest Chili (with Oneida White Corn or Hominy)

Kirby Metoxen, tourism coordinator for the Oneida Nation in Oneida, WI, spends a lot of time talking about Oneida white corn. One of the three sisters, corn figures prominently in the Oneida creation story, as well as the nation’s history.

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Jeff Metoxen, director of the Tsyunkehkwa (joon-hey-qwa) agricultural site where the corn is grown, harvested and dried on the Oneida reservation near Green Bay, WI, says the heirloom variety–sometimes called “110-Day Corn”– is planted each year, producing 8 to 10,000 pounds of corn for the community every season.

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Everything about this corn is a labor of love: Each corn plant produces only one cob. Because the corn has such a high moisture content, it has traditionally been harvested by hand and then braided into bundles for drying.

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Processing the corn is equally labor intensive. First, the dried corn is boiled with hardwood ash, or, baking soda to remove the hulls, and then rinsed and dehydrated to make it shelf stable, or, is boiled again until tender and sold refrigerated in fresh-packs. Betters says most of the community still uses the corn in traditional non-spicy recipes. But she herself uses the corn inposole and to make tamales and says, “more people are broadening their perspective on what you can put Oneida corn in.”

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Chili, for example! With a more pronounced roasty-corn flavor than hominy , Oneida white corn is really nice mix-in to my favorite Midwestern-style chili made with a rich meaty-bone stock, ground beef, onion, chili peppers, cumin and chili powder. You can buy the corn fresh from the Oneida Market next time you’re in Green Bay, or, they will ship it to you dehydrated. In a pinch, you can also make this chili substituting hominy for the Oneida white corn.

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Senator Russell’s Sweet Potatoes (Version 1 & 2)

Calling down to Georgia’s  State Capitol offices and the Culinary History Society of Georgia, nobody could comment on the gustatorial habits of Richard B. Russell, Jr. (1897 – 1971) the famous politician this dish is named for. But judging from its ingredients, one thing is sure: Richard Russell had a sweet tooth. Depending on the version you source, this sweet potato casserole—a mainstay going back for generations on Southern holiday tables, includes from two to three cups of sugar. That, plus plenty of butter and pecans, makes this more of a dessert than a side dish, in my opinion.  But sidedish, or dessert, there’s no denying that the butter-crunchy pecan crust and smooth, whipped sweets beneath taste delicious.

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I’m including two versions of the dish. The first, which may be the original, comes from Nicolette Bruner, who got it from her husband’s grandmother, Stella Roberts Russell, one of Senator Russell’s cousins. It has about half the butter, a quarter of the milk and a third of the sugar used in the second version.

The second version comes to us from Victoria Osteen, who, with her husband Joel, pastors Lakewood Church, of Houston, TX, one of the largest congregations in the country. Victoria’s mom’s family comes from Georgia and says the dish goes way back on their traditional holiday menu.

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Short Rib Stroganoff

Chef Rob Hurrie’s deeply-flavorful short-rib bourguignon is an upmarket spin on his favorite childhood dish. “My affinity for rich foods started early,” Hurrie laughs, describing his Mom’s “2-cans-of-condensed-soup with ground beef, bacon & sour cream” stroganoff. Hurrie’s update at his  Black Pig restaurant in Sheboygan, WI, is a short rib slow-braise with so many good things: red wine & sherry, rosemary & thyme, mushrooms & bacon, crème fraiche and truffle oil.

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When you’re ready to make this, you could go all-out and order Golden Bear Farm bacon through the Goodside Grocery Co-op in Sheboygan (call or e-mail them at the number on the site to let them know what you’re after.) Or just use good quality applewood-smoked bacon.

Very Airy Vintage No-Bake Cheesecake

Cheesecakes come in dozens of flavors and textures. Contrasting with the dense, baked cheesecakes many know, this vintage 1959 no-bake version is so light and airy, it about levitates above the plate. If you have cheesecake lovers in your holiday dining crowd, definitely try this one. You can make it two days in advance–keep it well-covered in a domed cake-keeper in the fridge until service.