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Counter Intelligence: Cooking with Larry Groce, a reformed ‘Junk Food Junkie’

By By April Hamilton
For the Gazette-Mail
DOUGLAS IMBROGNO | Gazette-Mail
Larry Groce and April Hamilton present plates of freshly made apple rings. kale rings and chocolate soufflés.
DOUGLAS IMBROGNO | Gazette-Mail
Kale Chips are easily made by sprinkling olive oil and sea salt on de-ribbed, torn kale leaves and baked for about 20 minutes.
TOM HINDMAN | Gazette-Mail
Larry Groce holds a plate of apple rings as April Hamilton dusts a chocolate soufflé with powdered sugar.
DOUGLAS IMBROGNO | Gazette-Mail
Larry Groce takes a taste of one of the chocolate soufflés he and April Hamilton prepared at Darin Fisher Designer Kitchens.

Have a look at Billboard’s hit songs of 1976 and you’ll find sing-alongs by some of the most celebrated musicians in history. The Beatles, Diana Ross, Elton John, David Bowie and our own Larry Groce.

Written from behind the wheel of a Volkswagen Kombi van somewhere along the fast food trail between Barbour County, West Virginia, and Boston, Groce’s blockbuster “Junk Food Junkie” was composed as an ode to the traveling musician’s conflicting eating habits. It caught fire when his audiences belly laughed at the song’s relatable humor. “I constructed it to be dramatic. I never expected it to be a hit. I just wanted to make people laugh,” he said.

Still today, Groce has a knack for comedy. As the host of the nationally-syndicated radio show “Mountain Stage” — 32 years and running now — the humble platinum-selling, Grammy-nominated musician gets a kick out of announcing himself as a “submerging” artist, and the audience chuckles on cue. Having just released a new record with his wife Sandra and a cast of musician friends, he is clearly re-emerging on stage. And today he is taking on a new stage, the kitchen.

“We made three things,” he said from behind the counter at Darin Fisher’s Designer Kitchens in Charleston, “a nice mix of great stuff. We made apple donuts — apple rings — this is pretty simple. Even I can do it. And this is pretty great, we made kale chips. Kale, olive oil and salt, bake ‘em ‘til they’re crisp. This is cool, I’m glad to know about this. It’s not that hard to do. I’m definitely gonna make these.”

Then, gesturing at the small ceramic dishes that just emerged from the oven, he announced, “We made this wonderful chocolate soufflé with eggs and chocolate. Cook it just right so that it rises. It looks beautiful and it tastes beautiful,” the words spilling out like velvet. “Wow! Oh man, that’s good. We have a fruit, a vegetable and a dessert,” he beams. “This is not junk food, it’s great food.”

In 1970, Groce had a gig with his guitar in New York City at The Focus, an organic food restaurant and photo gallery on the upper west side.

“It was my first exposure to brown rice. I liked it. It was such a contrast to my eating habits as a kid,” he said.

A year and a half later, he hit the scene in Los Angeles where the health food movement was in full swing. Then fate — a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts — brought him to West Virginia. “I decided I wanted to live here when I realized music was taken seriously.” He has performed in all 55 counties in the Mountain State.

Chasing gigs around the country as the opener for comedians and pop acts throughout the ’70s, Groce kept his audiences roaring with his quirky hit song.

Though the tune titters about this puritan natural foodie flip-flopping to the despair of his junk food addiction in the solitude of night, Groce says the song’s format makes use of major and minor chords. The bright, merry Mr. Natural opposing the dark and sad Junk Food Junkie. “Yeah, in the daytime I’m Mr. Natural, just as healthy as I can be, but at night I’m a junk food junkie, good lord have pity on me.”

Fast forward, Groce now has a home without wheels. “Since I now have a personal trainer and my wife and one daughter are vegetarians, I’m hoping that my two girls will grow up eating differently than I did. They already do, thank goodness.”

With his eating habits taking an about-face from Colonel Sanders to kale chips and his re-emergence with his new record “Live Forever,” he will certainly find himself at the top of all the charts.

Here’s my own reworking of “Junk Food Junkie,” titled “Fast Food Fasting:”

Back home in my kitchen, yeah

Where I cook the night away

My friends will not believe their eyes

When I whip up my soufflé

Yeah in the daylight I’m Mr. Fast Food

Just as lazy as I can be

But at night I’m in the kitchen

Just cooking as I please

You know there’s such temptation

Everywhere I turn

It’s there on every corner, man

Just feel my poor heart burn.

I’m a friend to all the dealers

Each day I visit twice

I got Ronald’s phone on speed dial

Yeah man that is my vice

Yes it is

Oh folks but I’ve got to kick the habit

I hope that I don’t die

I’m going to take up cooking

And I’m gonna tell you why

There’s a market up the street yeah

Where I can get fresh things

I just discovered kale chips

And hand-cut apple rings

Chocolate Soufflé

Easier than you think. Adapted from “Rick and Lanie’s Excellent Kitchen Adventures” by Rick and Lanie Bayless. Use really good chocolate for truly amazing soufflés. These are a dinner party favorite. The soufflé ‘batter’ can be scooped into the soufflé dishes in advance and chilled until just before serving time

Makes eight.

Butter for greasing the dishes

6 ounces semisweet chocolate, broken into small pieces (bittersweet chocolate chips work well)

6 eggs, separated

2/3 cup granulated sugar, divided use

2 tablespoons heavy whipping cream

¼ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Confectioners’ sugar for dusting

Set out eight 6-ounce individual soufflé dishes or custard cups.

Smear each with a little soft butter and sprinkle inside of each mold with a bit of sugar, tipping to coat evenly.

Set on a baking sheet.

Preheat oven to 350. (Unless baking later…)

Place chopped chocolate in a large microwavable (glass) bowl.

Microwave chocolate on high for 1 minute.

Stir and microwave 1 minute more and stir again. If not completely melted, microwave at 30 second intervals.

Set aside.

Make the soufflé base:

Separate eggs, placing yolks in one mixer bowl and whites in another.

Beat egg whites with mixer on medium speed until fluffy but not at all stiff — 3 to 4 minutes.

Sprinkle in 1 tablespoon of sugar.

Beat 1 minute longer on medium speed — until whites are shiny and firm but not stiff. (Beaten whites should form a soft peak — looks like the top of a soft serve ice cream cone — when turned-off beaters are lifted out.)

Add ½ cup of sugar and salt to the egg yolks.

Beat with mixer on medium-high speed until very light, fluffy and thick — about 3 minutes. (Mixture should be so thick that when you lift turned-off beaters, an egg yolk “ribbon” falls and takes 3 to 4 seconds to dissolve).

Set aside.

Stir cream and vanilla into melted chocolate.

Stir in 1/3 of the egg yolk mixture.

Fold in remaining egg yolk mixture in 2 additions.

Set aside.

Stir 1/3 of the egg whites into chocolate-egg yolk base.

Gently fold in remaining egg whites in two additions.

Divide evenly among prepared soufflé molds. (At this point, you can refrigerate the soufflés for several hours before baking, but then they will need to bake longer, about 20-23 minutes).

Bake and serve:

place molds in the middle of the oven and set timer for 15 minutes (unless using delayed baking method… see above). Don’t open oven during baking. When timer goes off, soufflés should be puffed and cracked on top. When you gently shake the baking sheet, soufflés should jiggle only slightly (when you spoon out the center to eat, it should be creamy). If soufflés are really jiggly, quickly close oven and bake 2 to 3 minutes longer.

Remove from oven, sprinkle with powdered sugar and serve immediately — before the soufflés start sinking.

Kale Chips

A simple recipe from April’s Kitchen. Rinse, spin, tear, toss, sprinkle, bake. “This is cool. I’m glad to know about this one, it’s not that hard to do”— Larry Groce on kale chips

Makes about six snack servings

1 bunch of kale, rinsed and spun or blotted dry and torn into bite-sized pieces (tough center ribs removed)

olive oil, about 1 to 2 tablespoons

coarse salt, about 1/2 teaspoon

Heat the oven to 400 degrees.

Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

Toss the kale with just enough olive oil to lightly coat the leaves. (If using curly leaf kale, massaging the oil into the raw kale helps the oil penetrate the leaves).

Spread out into a single layer on the prepared sheet and sprinkle with salt.

Bake until crisp, about 15 minutes. Some kale varieties take more or less time to crisp — baby kale crisps very quickly and the thicker curly-leaf kale takes longer.

Let cool briefly and serve. Leftover chips can be stored in an airtight container for a few days at room temperature. But really there’s only a slim chance of having any extras.

Apple Rings/Apple Donuts

Recipe from “Counter Intelligence: The Best of April’s Kitchen”

A favorite snack at our house, apple donuts are remarkable and so satisfying.

Thinly slice apples crosswise and remove the circular core from the center. Voila! No frying, no sugary coating. Just crunchy apple slices that look like a donut. All credit here goes to my brilliant husband for inventing this remarkable treat.

April Hamilton has always said, “Cooking is fun!” She shares her easy, practical recipes for delicious food through her cooking classes for kids and families. April’s husband and three daughters help with testing and tasting in their Charleston kitchen. April would love to hear from you at aprilskitchencounter@gmail.com. Hungry for more? Visit www.aprilskitchencounter.com, and follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/Aprilskitchencounter.

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