Wednesday, June 30, 2010

thick and spicy gumbo, with shrimp, chicken, and andouille sausage; a New Orleans feast

Gumbo, a stew of anything that walks, flies, swims, or crawls, reflects the diverse origins of New Orleans cuisine. Some say the name "gumbo" comes from "okingumbo," the African name for the okra plant. Others say "gumbo" comes from the Choctaw word "kombo" which means sassafras, another common thickener of the dish. One of the inspirations for gumbo was the French seafood stew bouillabaisse; but the ingredients also take some direction from a Spanish sofrito. The use of file powder (ground sassafras) is a Native American influence, as was the use of local seafood. Slaves from West Africa introduced okra to the dish.

Gumbo is a very broad term, including gumbos thickened with okra, file powder, or roux, as well as both Cajun and Creole interpretations of the stew. Okra is added early to the dish and stewed to release its thickening powers, while file powder is added at the end, or even at the table. A roux, a mixture of flour and oil toasted on the stove, adds both flavor and thickness to the gumbo. A Cajun gumbo cooks the roux to a darker hue. A Creole roux tends to be lighter and a Creole gumbo also is likely to include tomatoes, an Italian influence. Creole cuisine was from a higher economic class, which is shown in the occasional inclusion of ingredients such as cream.

This shrimp, chicken, and andouille sausage gumbo is thickened with both a roux and okra, and is more Cajun than Creole, though I don't think I cooked the roux quite long enough.

with some rice and some crusty bread on the side, this would probably feed 10-12

3 chickens, roasted
2 lb. shrimp, uncooked and with shell on (deveined if possible, to save you some work)

1/2 C flour
1/2 C vegetable oil or other fat with a high burning point (not butter)

1 white onion, diced
1 bell pepper, diced
2 stalks of celery, diced

6 C chicken broth (from the roast chickens; see below)
3 C shrimp broth (from the shrimp shells; see below)

4 andouille sausages, diced

20 oz. okra, sliced into thick coins, (mine was frozen, but fresh is awesome, too)

1 Tb cayenne pepper
1 Tb ground black pepper
2 tsp paprika
2 tsp sage
2 tsp cumin
2 tsp thyme
2 tsp parsley
2 tsp salt

The day before:
Strip the chicken from the three birds. Store the meat. Boil the leftover chicken carcasses in a large pot with enough water to cover for several hours. Refrigerate resulting broth.

While the chicken broth is cooking, shell (and devein, if necessary) the shrimp. Boil the shrimp shells in several cups of water for about an hour. Refrigerate broth.

If you're a trooper (or Gumbo Day itself is very busy) make the roux now as well. Refrigerate. 

Gumbo Day:
In a large pot of your choice (I used a heavy cast iron pot), mix the flour and oil. Turn on the heat medium low. You've got to stir and watch this carefully for 15-30 minutes, until it reaches your desired level of toastedness. I probably could've gotten my roux to be a bit darker, but I decided a preferred a lighter roux to a burnt one.

A roux is equal parts fat (butter, lard, olive oil) and flour cooked carefully to varying degrees of color. The darker the roux, the stronger the flavor (and the smaller the thickening ability). What a roux is, basically, is deep fried flour. A Cajun gumbo typically uses a much darker roux than a Creole gumbo. If you're making a dark (Cajun) roux, don't use butter as your fat, because it may well burn. Actually, roux in general likes to burn, so be careful!

When your roux is your favorite color of brown, toss in the celery, bell peppers, and onion. Stir this around and add both broths. If you want an extra kick to this gumbo (fire-heads out there, listen up), you could add some seeded (or not seeded, you crazy numb-tongues) hot peppers here as well. Or you could just add extra cayenne later.

The "holy trinity" in Cajun and Creole cuisine is celery, bell peppers, and onion. Other cultures have a different set of three base aromatics, such as mirepoix (French; carrots, onion, celery), yuxiang (Chinese; scallions, ginger, garlic), soffritto (Italian; also carrots, onion, celery), and sofrito (Spanish; garlic, onion, tomato). Well, I'm not sure tomato's classified as an aromatic, but you get the idea. 

Cook the roux, trinity, and broths together for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, chop and saute the andouille. A lot of spice, we found, will soak out of the sausage and into the broth later, which was quite exciting. For the moment, though, just brown the sausage in a frying pan while the pot simmers. Shred the roasted chicken you took off the bones the day before. 

When 20 minutes are up, add the okra and spices to the pot. Simmer for 30-45 minutes. Add the sausage and chicken. Return to a boil. 

Immediately before serving, place the shelled shrimp on the top of the gumbo and put the lid on the pot. Let the shrimp steam for five minutes, then cut one in half to see if it's cooked all the way through. If not, re-lid the pot and let it steam some more. 

Serve, devour, etc. Traditionally it is served over rice.

My family contributed this to a New Orleans-themed potluck. Also contributed was:

red beans and rice (this picture doesn't do the dish justice. The way the meaty juices soak into the rice...)

shrimp etouffee; made off a potholder recipe from New Orleans no less

potato and bacon salad (yes, I said bacon)

homemade bread with Cajun spices

cornbread muffins

and chocolate-pecan-bourbon pie (of which I had gleefully more than my fair share).

Not pictured are a fruit salad, Louisiana hot links, french bread, and about three bowls of rice (both the gumbo and the etouffee are intended for topping bowls of rice).

What's your favorite New Orleans dish?

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

homemade pizza: creamy chicken-mushroom, sweet barbecue-mushroom and tangy zucchini-olive

I come home and little sis says to me, "We never made pizza," a little accusingly.

I blink. "We were going to make pizza?"

"Yes," she said. "Over winter vacation, but we never did." It's summer.

"Oh," I said. "What kind?"


Her brain seems to work like this. You ask her, "What movies have we seen lately?" and she tells you that a month ago we saw this action flick called [title] at [movie theatre location] with [friend and/or family member]. We went to dinner at [restaurant] first. She got the [meal]. You got the [other meal] and didn't like it. [Friend or family member] threw popcorn during emotionally stressful parts of the movie.

So we made mushroom pizza.

Little sis thought it needed a bit more of the tomato sauce, so I recommend you spoon on a little more. Otherwise, it was quite tasty. The crust was great, and you can't go wrong with cheese, really. A few nights later, I made a barbecue-mushroom and a zucchini-olive pizza for my parents and visiting grandparents, and those went over quite well also.

Pizza Dough (make the dough the night before)
from Alton Brown's "I'm Just Here for More Food (food x mixing + heat = baking)"
1 1/4 C water
1 Tb salt
1 tsp sugar
4 C all purpose flour
1 pkg instant yeast
(AB also suggests you dissolve a chewable vitamin C tablet in the water, but I didn't have one. The dough still turned out great nonetheless. I'm not sure of the purpose of the tablet; any ideas, guys?)

Warm the water until it feels about neutral on your wrist. If you get it too hot (over 110 or so) it will kill the yeast, but it needs to be warm enough to wake it up. Think about body temperature.

In the bowl of a stand mixer with a dough hook attachment, mix the warm water, salt, sugar, yeast, and 3 C of the flour.  Add more flour as needed, until the dough pulls away from the bottom and sides of the bowl and is not too sticky to the touch.

(AB recommends you let it rest for 15 minutes at this point. I'm impatient. I didn't).

Turn the mixer up and let it knead the dough for 5 minutes or so. Knead by hand another thirty seconds.

Roll the dough into a ball an let rise in a large bowl greased with olive oil. AB says one hour. I was out of the house, so I let it rise for about 4.

Pat the risen dough down into a disk and store in the fridge overnight.

An hour before you'll be ready to make the pizza (the actual pizza-making should take you about ten minutes if you have all the toppings chopped and the sauce ready), take the dough out of the fridge and let it benchproof (aka: let it sit on the counter). The yeast need to warm up and wake up again.

An hour later, separate the dough into however many pizzas you want. I made three. Alton makes four 1-2-person-sized pizzas with this dough.

Stretch, roll, or toss and spin the dough into the proper flat, thin pizza shape. (I rolled it out). Put the pizzas on cornmeal or flour dusted cookie sheets and top. Stash any extra dough in the fridge for later (it'll last about a week).

It will take about 4-5 minutes in a 500 degree oven to cook the pizza though. Keep a close eye on it and wait until the crust is golden brown and the cheese is bubbling. (I actually took a bit longer than AB suggested, but I also used bigger pizzas and more toppings than he does).

You can, obviously, top this with whatever you like. AB recommends keeping "pizzas very simple: olive oil, a little cheese, a few toppings like herbs and olives."

But "mushrooms," says little sis. So we made a little tomato sauce by cooking some chopped fresh tomatoes, basil leaves, onion, and garlic cloves for about ten minutes and then putting them through my food processor. We lined the dough with the sauce (not quite enough, we found out. We'd went light for fear of making the thin dough soggy, but it actually turned out a little dry). We sprinkled on grated mozzarella cheese, shredded chicken, ground pepper and chopped mushrooms, and then baked it at 500 until golden and bubbly (for maybe five minutes or a little more). Delicious.

For my grandparents, I made two pizzas. On the first, I used the remains of our tomato sauce, mixed with a few spoonfuls of the juice from the kalamata olive jar. I used a more proper amount of sauce this time, and I have to say it was quite an improvement on an already quite good pizza. I sprinkled on mozzarella, thinly sliced zucchini and squash from our garden, and sliced kalamata olives. The sauce added the sweetness of roasted tomatoes and garlic, the zucchini was satisfyingly mellow, and the kalamata olives gave a pleasant zing.

The second pizza had a barbecue sauce base instead of tomato sauce. I grated some jack cheese and tossed on the remaining mushrooms and some thinly sliced red onions and generous grinds of black pepper. Mum liked this one best.

What's your favorite kind of pizza?

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

chilled pasta salad with bay shrimp, sweet peas, and red onion

I first met this salad on the buffet table of a massive, locally famous Christmas party of some family friends. It's been a yearly event for our family since before I was born, so I don't remember quite what year of my youth I had a spoonful of this delicious pasta salad and had my baby tastebuds wake up and say, yes, this is good. 

But several years ago, when I had just first started puttering around in the kitchen, I turned to Mum after an Xmas party and said, "Can we get that recipe?" So my once-yearly holiday treat has become a staple at my family's house. Little sis calls it "Summer Salad" and we make it together. It's fantastic for a hot day, as the name suggests, and tasty, too.

Summer Shrimp Salad
courtesy of Sir Deadhead's lady sister
serves a large crowd, or a family of four for a few summer days

1 pkg of salad pasta (the teensy short cylinder kind), boiled and drained
1 red onion, diced fine
2 C peas, defrosted
juice of one lemon
2 lb bay shrimp
1-2 C mayonnaise (to individual preference)

Mix all ingredients together. Chill in fridge for at least one hour. Easy and tasty. Isn't that exciting?

What are your favorite summer meals?

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

berry and buttermilk sherbet

My friends, it is summer. I know, I was surprised, too. But the sun's burning away, darkening tans and making lobsters out of the more fair-skinned of us, evaporating puddles, warming brick patios, and popularizing shady trees and chilled (or even just lukewarm) pools. How do you deal with this? Sunscreen? Wide-brimmed hats? Air conditioning? (We haven't got any). Visiting places (libraries, grocery stores...) where they do have air conditioning? I made sherbet.

And it was tasty, too. I think this is now my favorite sherbet recipe (or iced-fruit concoction of any kind). I've been playing with sorbets for a while, but haven't found one smooth enough to fit my tastes. Sorbets are just fruit; sherbets also have some sort of cream; and as for ice cream, well, cream's in the title. This sherbet was simple to make (three ingredients + one food processor = frozen berry magic) and quite tasty. I left the seeds in because Mum likes her berry confections that way. It has something to do with the crunch of seeds reminding her it actually came from a plant, I think. But if you don't like seeds, they're easy enough to strain out before you freeze it.

The sweet blackberry, sharp raspberry, and the tang of the buttermilk work well together. I really recommend this, especially for a hot summer afternoon.

Berry and Buttermilk Sherbet
recipe by One Perfect Bite
4 C berries (I used 1 C raspberries and 3 C blackberries, frozen. As you can see, it still came out very pink)
1 C sugar
2 C buttermilk

In a food processor, puree all ingredients until smooth. If you want a seedless sorbet, strain out the mixture now through a fine mesh strainer.

Pour the mixture into a metal bowl and stash in the freezer for two hours. After two hours, scrape down the edges and stir the frozen edges into the still soupy middle. Freeze for two more hours, then whirl it through the food processor again. You can serve it now, if you like soft serve sherbet, or you can let it set for another hour or so.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

citrus and chocolate birthday cake, a sugar overload

Three days into summer vacation, my university crowd reconvened to celebrate the birthing days of two of us, Boopsie the math major (we also have a Boopsie the computer science major) and BE. We hung out in a green, sunny park; made massage chains; walked to my lovely lovely local square of Asian grocery stores, Chinese bakeries, boba tea shops, and dim sum restaurants; walked back; swung on swings and climbed things; Boopsie-CS slayed invisble demons and sat on dinosaurs; we played frisbee-horseshoes, which is more (or as) difficult than it sounds; and ate this cake.

I used up an entire 2 lb. bag of sugar making this cake. Ok, I did have to scrap one batch of frosting, but still, if you are afraid of the sucrose monster, go no further. Beware. (The butter monster, too, is very much in evidence. Dieters, stay back).

The cake is a white cake recipe altered to my nefarious orange-flavored purposes. It is filled with a chocolate frosting, topped with melted chocolate, and then frosted with a rich orange buttercream. I messily scrawled on the top "HAPPY BDAY" with a mixture of powdered sugar, orange juice, and food dye. Not my prettiest cake, but tasty, and possible one of my most sugary. 

Citrus and Chocolate Birthday Cake

1 1/2 C sugar
1/2 C brown sugar
1 C butter
4 eggs
4 tsp vanilla
3 C cake flour
3 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 C orange juice
optional: lemon or orange zest (I didn't, but it would taste good if you did)

Preheat oven to 350.

Beat sugar and butter together. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Beat in flour and baking powder. Mix in orange juice until just combined. Pour into two greased and floured 9 in. cake tins. Bake 30 minutes. Let cool.

The cake was one of my favorite parts of this adventure. I really liked the moist, orange-y crumb. Muffins, perhaps?

2/3 C cocoa
6 Tb boiling water
1/2 C butter, softened
2 Tb chocolate chips, melted
3 C powdered sugar
2 tsp vanilla

Stir cocoa and hot water together, then beat in the butter and chocolate. Beat in the sugar and vanilla on low (powdered sugar LOVES to fly around my kitchen and cover everything with white fairy dust if I mix it in too violently). Taste and adjust to your liking for taste and texture. Water will thin it; powdered sugar will stiffen it; butter and chocolate will make it richer.

Melt 3/4 C chocolate chips. Yes, that's it.

2 C butter (I know, I know. But it's a birthday, right? It only happens once a year)
3 C powdered sugar, approx.
3 Tb orange juice, approx.

Mix everything together. Taste. Adjust. This is a very very inexact recipe, because I played with this forever. However, this will get you to about the right volume you need to frost the cake. Flavor and texture you can do on your own.

1 C powdered sugar
1 Tb orange juice
a few drops red and yellow food dye

Beat together. 


Put one of the cooled caked on your serving tray. Using a large knife, carefully cut the top of the cake so it is even and flat. I didn't do this quite properly, so my cake had a tendency to fall over. Most of my cakes do.

Pile the chocolate filling on top. Spread out smooth. Place the second cake carefully on top of the filling, domed side up. 

Top the cake with the melted chocolate. Stash the cake in the fridge to let it set. (This is a good time to make the buttercream frosting). 

When the cake is cool, take it out of the fridge. Pile all the buttercream on top, and then smooth the pile carefully around the top of the cake and then off down the edges. Putting all the buttercream on the cake at once helps you keep from mixing crumbs into it. Just smooth out and down and hope you've made enough.

Decorate however you wish. Slice and devour.

Happy birthday Boopsie-M and BE!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

a chocolate cream pie in a meringue crust, topped with sweet whipped cream and fresh raspberries

This is one of my mother's favorites of my desserts. Lucky for me, it is also one of my favorites and quite easy to make, as long as you have a stand mixer. It's doable with just a hand mixer. I know because I did it many times in the years before I met my lovely big blue KitchenAid mixer. (His name is Cookie Monster.) But your arm will start threatening to fall off partway through the beating of the meringue crust, and then you'll still have the whipping of the chocolate mousse and the whipped cream that goes on top to deal with. 

This is also a recipe that tests your patience and ability to withhold reward. You really should let it sit in the fridge overnight before you gobble it up, something I always have a hard time convincing Mum to do.

You can also leave out the crust and the pie tin, and instead grab some little cups or bowls and spoon the chocolate mousse and whipped cream into those. Let them sit overnight and you'll get several heaping servings of chocolate dessert and not have to deal with the crust. Mom likes this, too.

This recipe is very approximate. I figure you can't go wrong with copious amounts of fat, sugar, and chocolate. Adjust to your taste. I tend to err on the side of too much chocolate (you may have noticed). 

Mum's Chocolate Pie 
adapted from the Betty Crocker cookbook
3 egg whites
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp cream of tartar

2 cups whipping cream
 1 cup dark chocolate (chips are easier to melt, but if you want to chop up a bar, feel free)
sugar to taste (I don't use any, but I really like bittersweet chocolate. If you don't, why are you making this? Fine, fine, I forgive you. If you like chocolate, but don't capital LOVE it then you might want to cut back on the amount of chocolate in the filling.)

2 cups whipping cream
1/2 cup sugar

Preheat oven to 275°.

Beat egg whites, sugar, cream of Tartar until stiff peaks form. Butter a 9 inch pie tin. Line it with the meringue. I like to build the meringue up around the edges. I make it smooth on the base and sides, but then I stack it high and make it spiky and pretty around the edges.

Bake for 45 minutes, and then turn off the oven but do not open the door. Let it sit in the oven for 15 more minutes.

Meanwhile, melt the chocolate. Reserve about ¼ C to top with, later. Beat the 2 cups whipped cream until stiff. Fold the chocolate into the whipped cream until the mixture is a uniform amount of delicious chocolate. Taste it. If it is too bitter for you, add some sugar. I do not add sugar. Mom and I like chocolate a lot. I've said this before. (And I will say it again...) 

Smoothed? Well, smooth enough. Delicious? Definitely.

When the pie shell has cooled, spoon the chocolate mixture into it and smooth out the top. Beat the remaining 2 cups of whipped cream with the sugar. Taste. If it is not sweet enough for you, add more sugar. This should be thicker and stiffer than the chocolate cream, but be careful not to turn it into butter. Watch your whipped cream (both times, with the chocolate and with the topping) like a hawk. Unlike merengue, which is pretty much impossible to overwhip, there is a very distinct line between tasty whipped cream and dense, ucky, not good eats and it is very easy to cross. Spoon the whipped cream over the chocolate mousse filling. Sprinkle raspberries, blueberries, blackberries etc. on top if you wish.

To make the designs on top, dip a spoon into the reserved melted chocolate and flick your wrist back and forth in straight lines over the whipped cream. Rotate the pie tin to change the direction of the lines. Refrigerate for eight hours.

I didn't get you any pictures of the pie sliced. I was too busy making day-before-Mother's-Day brunch, and of course eating the chocolately goodness. Next time I make it, I'll upload a good picture of a slice.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

a dense pecan zucchini quick bread

There was a green zucchini the size of my forearm sitting in the bread box when I came home for the weekend. Mum said, "Do something with it." I did.

The yellow ones are squash, also from the garden. I'm waiting impatiently for the tomatoes to start coming in. There's not much tastier (or nicer smelling) than a fragrant red tomato with some garden dust still on it. Do any of you have home vegetable or fruit gardens? What summer produce are you hoping for?

I tossed in some pecans, too, because we had them, and Mum's crazy for them. We always have a few bananas frozen in our house and I love to add them to my quick breads, so I did that, too.

The bread turned out decently tasty, but I think I might double the spices next time and switch some of the white sugar out with brown to add some depth of flavor. (However, take this advice with a grain of salt; I love my gingerbread, for example, but the Snark at least found it a bit too powerfully spicy. So my desire for spices in my spice breads may be akin to my desire for chocolate in, well, life...) 

Pecan-Zucchini Bread
3 eggs
1 C sugar
1/3 C honey
2 teaspoons vanilla
3 C grated fresh zucchini
1 banana
1/2 C melted unsalted butter

1 Tb baking soda
3 1/2 C all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 Tb cinnamon
1 tsp fresh ground black pepper
1/4 tsp allspice
1 small pinch each cayenne pepper, salt, and ground ginger

1 cup pecans

Preheat oven to 350. 

Beat wet goods together (sugar is a wet good). Stir in dry goods. In a food processor, whir 1/2 C nuts for 5 pulses, then add the other 1/2 C and pulse five times more. Add to batter.

Pour batter into greased, floured pans and bake 45 minutes.

Friday, June 4, 2010

lemon curd, tart, sweet, and creamy

A lovely friend brought me a big bag of lemons. Now, I'm quite fond of lemons (also friends who bring you lemons). There are few things in the kitchen I think don't gain from a squeeze of lemon juice. (Advice from a friend: grind a lemon half down your garbage disposal after you've juiced it and the room will smell amazing, apparently). However, with these lovely yellow giants, I wanted to do something that was about lemons, not those many things that gain for their acquaintance; and in my mind lemon curd is just about as "about lemons" as you can get.

This is also one of the things I made for Mother's Day brunch for my mom, aunt, and grandmother, but I didn't take any pictures or make any notes, because I was busy being a good daughter, niece, and granddaughter. And eating pie. Before breakfast. You do get pictures of that pie, though, once I put them up. (I made it the day before).

I'm quite fond of lemon curd. You can put it on scones (I love scones), muffins, any breakfast treat you can imagine; you can fill pies and tarts with it; and I wouldn't be at all opposed to drizzling a bit of it over some grilled asparagus, but I don't think everyone would follow me that far. You should make some. It makes a great gift. Buy some of those little mason jars (or big mason jars, if you're a generous sort of guy or gal) and dazzle your friends. 

Lemon Curd
Thank you AJ for the lemons
6 lemons, juiced (about 1 C juice) (Do use actual lemons here, not bottled lemon juice. As aforementioned, this is all about the lemons, so the better your lemon juice, the better the curd will be)
1 1/2 C sugar
6 large eggs
8 Tb butter, salted 

For this, you're going to need a double boiler. Ideally, you want a pot filled with about an inch of boiling water; and then you want a metal bowl sitting on top of the pot. The bottom of the bowl should not be touching the water. The point of this is to not burn your curd. This way, the steam is what's heating your bowl, not the flame. This is a lot less extreme and a lot more consistent of a temperature. I don't own a pot or a bowl and was too lazy to rent one out from the dorm front desk (and even if I did, all my bowls are plastic...), so I made do with a glass pie tin precariously suspended over a small frying pan with a very shallow amount of boiling water. I felt very MacGyver-ish.

In the metal bowl over the boiling water, whisk together the lemon juice and sugar. In a separate bowl, beat the six eggs. Pour them slowly into the lemon juice and sugar mixture, whisking frantically. We want the eggs to cook as little as possible. If you're an overachiever, I'd temper this. (See here for what on earth tempering is). A few flecks of egg doesn't bother me, though. 

Whisk the curd in the double boiler for 10-15 minutes, until it thickens. If you want to taste the curd at this point, you can. Remember that we're adding butter later, which will mellow it out a little. This particular recipe is a bit more lemony than sweet, which is how I like it, but if you like it sweeter, toss in a bit more sugar.

Remove the pot from the heat. If you're an overachiever but didn't temper when you added the eggs, here you can strain the mixture instead. I didn't do this, either.

Throw in the butter cubes, and stir until they melt. It will be a little loose, but don't worry. It will thicken as it cools. Spoon the curd into jars or bowls or what have you and stash in the refrigerator.  

Lemon curd on my banana-and-berry muffins 

Lemon curd always makes me want to throw a tea party. What do you like with your curd? What are your favorite things to cook with lemons?