People use all sorts of things to measure time. The obvious choice, of course, is a clock, but when you think about it, there are other more subtle ways to measure time.
Your newborn baby sleeps through the entire night. Congratulations, you just made it to six months, or has it been a year? Your neighbors have their trash cans lined up on the street. Oh, it’s weekly trash pickup day. You see Christmas decorations pop up at local stores when there wasn’t any the day before. It must be September already.
The kitchen is full of time measuring devices, aside from a clock on the stove or microwave oven. The refrigerator and pantry are full of time reminders. Expiration dates and “best sold by” dates are on just about everything. They tell you the necessary information, which is, “use this item before this time, or you will risk making everyone sick”. What they don’t tell you is when you bought the item. All you care about is the expiration date, and that’s OK.
Some food items are like time bombs. Their life clock starts ticking from the moment you put them in your shopping basket until the moment you eat them. King among those sort of items is common, white button mushrooms.
I look at mushrooms like this…
Day 1 – The mushrooms are nearly perfect. Rinse off the dirt, pat them dry and you can use them in fresh salads or any other purpose.
Day 2 – The mushrooms have barely changed. You might want to trim off the bottoms of the stems because they have turned a little brown, otherwise they are still good for any use.
Day 3 – Why haven’t I used these yet? If I use them now, I will need to pluck the stems out of the mushroom caps. They’re still fresh enough for salads, but just barely.
Day 4 and 5 – Critical warning! Mushrooms look a little smaller and browner than they did a few days ago. They also feel wet, in a not-so-good way. Use them now, or risk the death throes of Day 6, or dare I mention, Day 7!
Day 6 and 7 – Well, I really screwed up! I knew this was coming. I open the package and inspect the mushrooms. They have big, soft brown spots on them, and they aren’t white anymore, and wow, what’s that awful smell?
Fortunately, I’m only on Day 4 with my mushrooms. They aren’t salad worthy, and I need to find a way to disguise them and showcase them at the same time. Sauces are great solutions for vegetables and fungi as they enter their “autumn years”.
Let’s make some jägerschnitzel!
First of all, if your menu choice contains an umlaut in its name, you earn bonus points, and possibly a James Beard award! Secondly, if it is a compound German word, you receive the smug satisfaction of knowing a compound word when you see one.
Jägerschnitzel is a hunter’s schnitzel with mushroom gravy. Jäger means “hunter” and schnitzel means…well, schnitzel means schnitzel. Schnitzel refers to the pounding and breading method used when preparing the meat.
I made a few substitutions along the way, like sake instead of white wine and panko breadcrumbs instead of traditional breadcrumbs and I’m happier for it! I only took a few photos, but trust me, this is fairly easy to make and is very satisfying.
Mushroom Gravy Ingredients:
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
½ onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
8 ounces mushrooms, sliced
¼ cup flour
½ cup white wine (I used saké)
2 cups beef stock
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard, or whole grain mustard
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
Salt and pepper, to taste
Mushroom Gravy Directions:
Heat the olive oil in skillet. Add butter and chopped onion. Stir for two minutes.
Add garlic and continue stirring for another two minutes.
Add mushrooms and stir for three minutes.
Add flour and mix to combine.
Add wine and cook for three minutes.
Add beef stock and stir sauce for about five minutes, until thickened.
Add mustard and Worcestershire sauce.
Add salt and pepper, to taste.
1 cup cooking oil
4 boneless, center cut pork chops, pounded to about 1/8” thick
2 teaspoons water
1 ½ cup breadcrumbs (I used panko)
1 teaspoon salt
1 ½ teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoon smoked paprika
½ teaspoon caraway seeds, crushed
Pound the pork chops until they are very thin, about 1/8” thick. I like to lay the chops on wax paper and add another piece of wax paper on top and then pound the chops with the flat side of a meat cleaver.
Mix the eggs in a large bowl with water.
Spread the flour across a large plate.
Spread the breadcrumbs across a large plate.
Dredge the pork in the flour, dip in egg wash, and dredge in the breadcrumbs.
Fry the thin pork chops in hot oil for about three minutes and turn them over. Continue frying for another three minutes, or until golden brown, and remove them to warm place.
I serve the schnitzel with fried potatoes on a platter with the mushroom gravy on the side. This allows each person the option to add as much gravy as they like to the schnitzel. I like to pour the gravy over everything!
Just about every Chinese New Year I get the urge to make Chinese food. Sometimes I keep things simple and at other times, I go all out and make a feast, and when I don’t have the urge (or the time) to cook, I just go out for Chinese food.
This year I wanted to cook, so I went to my favorite little Asian market to look for ingredients, including Chinese long noodles. After searching the aisles for several minutes all I could find were clear rice noodles and curly egg noodles. I was left with two options: 1) Admit defeat and forget about the noodles, or 2) go to the front of the store and ask the woman at the check-out counter for help. I know from previous experience that the woman at the counter, who might be the proprietor, spends much of her time barking out commands, in Chinese, to other store employees, sticking price tags on items, and working the cash register. She also understands very little English, and I don’t speak even the tiniest bit of Mandarin or Cantonese. So, my choice was clear.
I navigated my way through the narrow aisles up to the register counter to have a chat with the Asian woman.
I feel like I should, at this point, paint a picture of the scene.
The register counter is elevated above the rest of the store floor and is enclosed by wooden panels and a clear, protective plastic curtain, installed at the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. Every place in the store feels tight and claustrophobic and the front counter is certainly no exception. There, raised above the store patrons, behind the hanging plastic curtain, that had become blurred by grime during the last few years, sits the middle-aged Asian lady, wearing a surgical mask, covering her mouth and nose. It is reminiscent of a dystopian Terry Gilliam movie, but it also reminds me of Danny DeVito, from the TV series, Taxi.
“Do you have Wu Mu noodles?”, I asked, with my best, clear and precise diction, hoping that would help her understand me. Her response was not in English, and it sounded to me like she said, “I take jaguar.” She shook her head as if to signify that she didn’t understand my question. I rephrased my question a few more times to see if she could latch onto something I was saying. I eventually stripped it down to “Chinese noodles.”, and she perked up a little and climbed down from her perch and waved at me to follow her.
We went down one of the aisles that I had already visited and she began pointing to different kinds of noodles as I shook my head at each of her suggestions. I sensed that she was getting tired of this little game as much as I was, so I decided to try pantomime. I pretended to make noodles, by stretching my arms and hands outward and slapping imaginary noodles down on an imaginary table. She gave me a knowing look and guided me to the end of the aisle and pointed to a large box of noodles.
The box reminded me of a boxed set of record albums, big and squarish. I purchased the four-pound box of Chinese Wu Mu noodles, and I left the store feeling accomplished and satisfied.
Four pounds of dry noodles is a lot of noodles! You can expect several future posts that feature them.
Wu Mu noodles, also known as Wu Long noodles are one of the most common types of noodles in China and they are exported throughout the world. All you need to do to find them is gesticulate wildly with your hands until some kind soul guides you to them.
Wu Mu noodles are steeped in tradition. They represent good fortune and long life, and it is bad luck to break them during the cooking process or to cut them while eating them. This can lead to a lot of slurping at the table, and that’s quite alright.
This recipe only calls for a few ingredients. I made my own sauce for the stir-fry but that could easily be replaced by a store-bought sauce of your choice.
The noodles and tofu are simple vehicles for the sauce. Make your sauce sweeter by adding more Hoisin sauce, make it saltier by adding more soy, or make it spicier by adding hot sauce, or chili paste.
Ingredients for the sauce:
½ cup soy sauce
½ cup water
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon black soy sauce (sweet soy)
2 teaspoons rice wine vinegar
3 garlic cloves, mashed and minced
1 Tablespoon brown sugar
1 Tablespoon cornstarch (or another type of starch)
1 teaspoon garlic chili paste
Ingredients for the stir-fry
12 ounces dry Wu Mu noodles (parboiled to al dente)
1 16-ounce block of firm tofu, pressed and drained, cut into 1 inch cubes,
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, thinly sliced
3 small bok choy – about 1 pound (or any other Asian cabbage), chopped
1 large carrot (or 2 medium carrots), sliced
½ onion, thinly sliced
1 large celery stalk, sliced
½ bell pepper, thinly sliced
Press the tofu to remove excess moisture by placing the tofu between paper towels and laying a heavy object on top of the top. Allow the tofu to dry for an hour, replacing wet paper towels as needed.
Dust the tofu cubes with the cornstarch.
In a large frying pan, add a little oil and set heat to high. Sear all sides of the tofu pieces until they are lightly browned. Remove from the pan and set aside. Searing the tofu is optional. I wanted the tofu to have a bit of crispy texture.
Prepare the sauce by mixing all of the ingredients. Set aside.
Boil the noodles in a large pot until they are al dente. Strain the noodles and set aside.
Prepare the vegetables by chopping and slicing and set them aside.
Heat a few tablespoons of oil in a large wok.
Add the ginger and remove after a minute or two. Discard the ginger.
Add the carrot to the wok and stir for a few minutes. Add the bok choy and toss. Add the onion, celery and bell pepper. Stir until the vegetables are tender, but not overcooked.
Add the sauce and stir. Add the tofu and continue to toss for another minute.
Add the noodles and toss to coat the noodles with the sauce.
Remove everything to a large serving bowl and serve warm.
For me, a trip to a farmers’ market is like a holiday. Going to an international farmers’ market is like a romp through Disney World’s Magic Kingdom! I run from one produce aisle to another, like a kid on a sugar rush, gawking at all of the wonderful, magnificent fruits and vegetables. “Oooh, they have Sumooranges! Wow, durianfruit…that’s scary! Hey, look at all the types of bok choy…which kind should I choose?”
The “thinky” part of my brain, that causes me to come to the market in the first place, just to buy a thing, gives way to the impulsive, spastic part of my brain that screams, “Grab everything…you’ll figure out what to do with it when you get home!”
On this particular trip to the international farmers’ market, after making the rounds through the produce aisles twice, I found my way back to the refrigerated display case that houses the fungi, you know, all the different kinds of mushrooms. I was drawn to a small package of slender, white mushrooms that were labeled, “Seafood Mushrooms”. I had no idea what seafood mushrooms were, which is ultimately what compelled me to buy them. I guess I’m a sucker for a good mystery!
When I returned home, I consulted the all-knowing internet to see what seafood mushrooms were and how they are used in recipes.
Here’s what I found:
Seafood mushrooms are a smaller version of Enoki mushrooms. They are white mushrooms with long, white stems and mushroom caps. The mushrooms have a mild, earthy, slightly sweet flavor and they taste a little like seafood when cooked, with a subtle flavor of lobster or shrimp. They are crunchy when raw and become chewier, the longer they are cooked.
Since I only bought a small, five-ounce package of mushrooms, I decided to make an appetizer that would feature the mushrooms prominently.
Seafood Mushroom Stir-Fry
Prepare the mushrooms. Rinse the mushrooms under cool running water. The mushrooms are conjoined in a bundle at the base, which needs to be trimmed away to separate the mushrooms.
1 Tablespoon olive oil
3 green onions, white parts only, cut lengthwise
1 Tablespoon fresh ginger, grated
5 ounces seafood mushrooms, cleaned and separated
2 teaspoon soy sauce
1 Tablespoon Hoisin sauce
Heat a wok to medium heat. Add oil and green onion.
I didn’t intend on making Mediterranean-style pork chops but, after scanning through the pantry and refrigerator, I found several items that needed to be used before they passed their prime and spoiled. I know this isn’t an elegant way to kick off a food blog post but, it’s the truth, and as a simple home cook, I know there’s plenty of cooks out there that have felt the painful guilt that comes when they discover that their grocery store purchases have rotted away, untouched and ignored.
Let’s take a look at our middle-aged cast of characters, shall we?
One pound of small yellow and red potatoes, about three weeks old.
4 small poblano chiles, fresh from my neighbor’s garden – two weeks ago!
3 tomatoes, picked pipe from my garden, a week ago.
½ red onion that must have been two weeks old.
A lemon, that held up surprisingly well for two weeks in the refrigerator.
Two pounds of bone-in pork chops, that passed the smell test after 7 days in the refrigerator.
Once I gathered the aging actors together for this ensemble, I brought in a young, vibrant supporting cast including, fresh garlic, Kalamata olives, and green and black olives.
4 Tbs. olive oil, divided
4 garlic cloves
1 ½ – 2 lbs. pork chops
½ cup water
1 lemon, sliced into ¼” thick circles
¼ cup wine (red or white)
1 lb. small potatoes (mix of yellow and red)
½ red onion, chopped
4 small poblano chiles
3 medium, ripe tomatoes, chopped
1/3 cup Kalamata olives
1/3 cup black olives
1/3 cup green olives
Mash the garlic cloves.
Add 3 tablespoons of olive oil to a large, oven-proof skillet. Set heat to low. Add the garlic and simmer for a few minutes.
Remove the bones from the pork chops. (I only did this because I knew that I wouldn’t be able to fit all of the pork chops in the skillet unless I removed the bones.) Sprinkle the chops with salt and pepper.
Add the pork chops to the skillet and turn heat to medium high. Sear the pork chops for a few minutes and turn them over to sear the other side.
Remove the pork chops and garlic and set aside.
Add about ½ cup of water to the pan and deglaze by whisking. Add wine and simmer at medium heat for two minutes.
Add the lemon slices to the skillet. Reduce the sauce, while stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes.
Remove the sauce to a bowl and set aside.
Wipe the skillet, to remove any remaining sauce. Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Add potatoes and toss, to thoroughly coat the potatoes with oil. Season with black pepper and salt. Toss again and bake in the uncovered skillet in a 350° oven for 40 minutes.
Carefully remove the skillet from the oven and pour the potatoes into a large bowl.
Add the seared pork chops and garlic back to the skillet.
Cover the pork chops with the potatoes.
Add a pinch of oregano to the chopped tomatoes and toss gently.
Add the chopped onion, tomatoes, chiles and lemon slices.
Top with olives.
Bake 30 minutes in a 350° oven.
Carefully remove the pan from the oven and place arrange the ingredients on a large serving platter.
One final thought: The only thing worse than throwing away perfectly good food that is reaching the end of its life expectancy is serving food that has gone bad or spoiled. If it smells bad, looks bad, feels bad, or tastes bad, it’s bad. Toss it and move on with your life! Your friends and family will thank you.
My day officially started with me leaving my lights on when I parked my truck at work. You see, I drive a wonderful little 1994 Ford Ranger pickup, and back in the olden days, cars and trucks didn’t have fancy sensors and computers that would automatically turn off headlights. I love the truck and wouldn’t give it up for the world, but I’m prone to “Nutty Professor” moments that make me forget the little things in life, like turning off headlights, while I ponder the great mysteries of life, or trying to solve work problems, while I drive to work.
Fortunately, one of my co-workers arrived almost two hours after I arrived and exclaimed, “You must have a really good battery because your lights are still on!” She was right, on both accounts.
I made the long trek through the warehouse and went outside and turned off the lights and whispered a silent prayer. Lo, and behold, when I cranked the engine, the truck started like a champ! Indeed! What a battery…especially since I had put the poor battery through the same sort of torment four or five times during the last few months!
I felt unbalanced and slightly out of control for the rest of the day. Some might use the phrase, “getting out on the wrong side of the bed”. I told myself that I was in for a real treat of a day! Sometimes, the life unbalanced leads to unexpectedly good things. Other times, it can lead to a chaotic mess that wreaks havoc on everyone and everything in your wake.
On the way to work I listened to the CD “Fragile”, by the band Yes, and when I was driving home, I was listening to the CD “Bloodletting”, by the band Concrete Blonde. Anyone who knows anything about these two albums, or bands, should pick up on the notion that my day was a little off kilter.
I recently took on a new assignment at work. It’s been exciting and rewarding, and it has been a refreshing challenge. Sometimes I feel like an Olympic swimmer, and twenty minutes later I feel like I’m barely treading water. That sort of back-and-forth sensation might make other people nervous, but those are the waters I enjoy swimming in the most. Swimming at peak performance and swimming to survive are both exhilarating experiences.
As I drove home, listening to Concrete Blonde, I thought of Stevie Ray Vaughn’s rendition of Jimi Hendrix’s “Little Wing”.
Stevie Ray Vaugh was no fool. His covers of Jimi Hendrix songs were nearly perfect. He paid homage to the brilliant, raw power chords of Hendrix and he lovingly reworked them, (and then mastered them), and the end result was like a swinging hammer draped in satin and silk. I have nothing but admiration for Jimi Hendrix and his contribution to the evolution of modern music, and to my endless enjoyment, but I have to say, there’s no cloud in the great blue skies that Stevie Ray can’t fly over!
Listen to Stevie Ray Vaughn’s rendition of “Little Wing”. Tight. Clear. No Lyrics. This is a cover song like no other. Slick finger work, up and down the fretboard. Jazz and Rock and Electric blues, all wrapped up with strength and subtlety. What a tribute!
My journey was nearing an end and I realized that I needed to finish the work week with a good dose of pizza. I pulled into the driveway, went inside, laid my wallet and keys on the counter and immediately started the pizza dough. I always make two or three pizzas and tonight I decided on three. I knew two of them would be traditional, Italian cold cuts, beef with mushroom, but the third was still a mystery.
It wasn’t until I pawed through the refrigerator a few times that the third pizza became clear, in my mind. I found 2 ounces of crumbled blue cheese that needed to be used and wondered what I might pair it with. About a half hour later, while the dough was still rising, I remembered I had a smoked chicken thigh, left over after last week’s grill, and I knew I had found a perfect match. I imagined the finished pizza in my mind, and I knew that a slight drizzle of Sriracha sauce would complete the deal.
There aren’t a lot of blue cheese aficionados in my family, which is a subtle way of saying, I like blue cheese and most of the family tolerates it, or detests it, so I thought this might be a good way of promoting my old friend, blue cheese.
The pizzas came out of the oven, one by one, and they were sliced and presented, side by side, on the kitchen counter. We all grabbed some slices and sat down at the table and quickly jumped into lively conversation.
My son briefly discussed plans about moving into a house with his friend. My daughter gave us an update on her boyfriend’s recent bout with Covid, and my wife had just finished a phone conversation with her 80-year-old aunt who wants a pair of red ballet slippers.
The dinner, and the conversation, was going well. Until the cat made a sudden and unfortunate appearance.
Our cat came from out of nowhere and skittered across the kitchen floor, leaving a slimy trail of poop behind her as she fled, out of sight. That killed the entire family dinner instantly. Some of us jumped up to go after the cat. Some of us ran to grab Clorox wipes to clean up the mess. Some of us just gawked at the trail of mess that was left for us to clean up.
Two minutes later, my son and daughter were removing plates from the dinner table, wrapping up leftover pizza in aluminum foil, and washing plates. Dinner was officially over, and I, the slowest of eaters, still had two pieces of uneaten pizza on my plate.
“What about the pizza?” I selfishly thought. “Does anyone want to say anything about the sort of genius mind that could come up with the notion of a pizza made with char-grilled chicken and blue cheese, with a delicate drizzle of Sriracha sauce?”
As I sat there at the table, still trying to eat the last few bites of pizza without thinking about cat poop, I realized that this is all part of the game. It’s all part of the deal. It’s family at it’s best. It really capped off a weird and funky day, quite nicely. I really couldn’t have asked for, (or expected) any other sort of ending to this topsy-turvy day.
So, now as I write, the clock finds its way to midnight and I pass from Friday to Saturday, in the blink of an eye, while
I don’t know why I’m making such a big deal out of this. It’s really just me prepping for dinner.
So, in case you were wondering what I was up to with onion, celery, bell pepper, garlic and okra, I’ll tell you.
It’s Gumbo, baby!
There’s no greater joy than making and eating a great gumbo. It’s also a little scary, but that just makes it more thrilling! Making a proper roux has been difficult and sometimes disastrous for me in the past, as I’ve mentioned at least once before in previous posts, but this time I took the training wheels off!
One thing that I love about gumbo is that it’s never made the same way twice. I should clarify. I don’t believe it should (or could) be made exactly, the same way twice. As one of my favorite local DJs says, on his “New Orleans Big Beat” radio program, “You never know what you’ll find in the gumbo. It might be jazz, funk, rock and roll, blues, or soul…it all goes into the gumbo!”
Gumbo is a soup/stew. The one thing that is essential in a gumbo is a roux and, if you are familiar with roux, you might be thinking of the butter, flour mixture that you whip up before adding stock, or milk, if you’re making a béchamel. It’s the basis of nearly every good sauce.
Gumbo roux is an entirely different critter. Traditionally speaking, a gumbo roux is made with vegetable oil or lard, or a combination of the two, and flour. Gumbo roux isn’t finished when the flour incorporates with the oil. It must be cooked to a point where it turns dark brown, to produce the desired flavor.
Once a year, or so, I put myself to the test and try to make a gumbo that can stand up to the good gumbos that I have eaten, over the years. With all modesty aside, I really nailed it this time!
Looking back on this particular gumbo experience, I would say that there were three key things that made the gumbo so tasty. First, I was wise enough to prep for the gumbo the night before I made it, as I mentioned in my last post. I could have pushed on and made the gumbo that night but, I didn’t want to make everyone wait for dinner and, my instincts told me to prepare some of the ingredients so that when it came time to make the gumbo, I wouldn’t be pressed for time or be stressed.
Secondly, I did what any great chef would tell me to do. I made a stock. I will describe how I made the stock later, but I assure you, it was the signature touch that not only made this gumbo different than ones I have made before, but it gave a depth of flavor that can’t be pulled out of can or a few bouillon cubes!
The final touch was the roux. As I said, I took the training wheels off and made a doggone roux the way it should be made. My previous attempts at making a roux involved nervously whisking oil and flour over a medium-low heat, trying to avoid the dreaded “burnt roux”. Cooking the roux at a lower heat resulted in 20 minutes of whisking only to wind up with a burnt roux. I was too timid. I’ve seen people make roux and the process should only take about 10 minutes.
You might be thinking, “how do you know if a roux is burnt?” Well, all I can say is smell it and be honest with yourself. If it smells burnt, it’s burnt, and there’s no turning back. Throw the roux out and start all over again.
This time, I added the oil to the pot and turned the heat up high. Not maximum, killer-high, but high. I let the oil get very hot and then I added the flour, all at once. The flour began to brown instantly, and even though I wanted to take some photos during the process, I had to keep whisking furiously. I turned the heat down to medium-high and whisked until my wrist was about to give out. Seven minutes later, I had a deep, dark roux. I turned the heat off and transferred the roux to another bowl, to stop the heating process and give the roux a chance to cool down.
The good thing about a dark roux is that it makes a rich gumbo. The downside about a dark roux is that it won’t thicken a gumbo as much as a lighter, blonde roux will. Big deal. I’ve got fresh okra!
The origin of the word gumbo comes from Africa, and it refers to okra, which brings me back to the memories I have of my first visit to New Orleans. The wonderfully diverse city of New Orleans, and the surrounding areas, owe its alluring charm to the many cultures that has made it what it is today. Africans, Acadians, Spanish, Native American Choctaw and just about every other nationality and culture you can think of helped build New Orleans. The list of immigrants continues with Germans, Mexicans, Caribbean Islanders, Chinese, Jewish, Vietnamese, Italians…I’m not making this up! When people speak of American as a “melting pot” of cultures, they shouldn’t just think of big cities like New York or Chicago. New Orleans was founded by and supported by a mélange of people and cultures. It is truly a remarkable city, and New Orleans is a testament to the notion that a diverse population is a beautiful recipe for a community.
16 medium whole, fresh shrimp
3 Chicken thighs (bone-in, skin on)
½ bell pepper, chopped
1 large tomato, chopped and divided
1 large sweet, white onion, finely chopped
1 large bell pepper, finely chopped
4 celery stalks, finely chopped
2 or 3 garlic cloves, mashed and minced
½ lb. andouille sausage, cut into ½” pieces
2/3 cup vegetable oil (I used canola oil)
1 ¼ cup all-purpose flour
64 oz chicken broth (8 cups)
6 oz fresh okra, cut into ½” pieces
3 Tbs Cajun seasoning
Several sprigs of fresh cilantro (for garnish)
Chop onion, bell pepper, celery and garlic. Mix the vegetables in a large bowl and set aside.
Peel the shrimp. Reserve the heads and shells. Set shrimp aside.
Rough chop ½ bell pepper and set aside.
Add about 1 tablespoon olive oil to a skillet. Set heat to medium/high and add the chicken breasts to the skillet, bone side down. Cover and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes.
Turn chicken over and sear, skin side down, for 15 minutes. Turn the chicken over again and add half of a bell pepper, chopped. Simmer for 5 minutes, or until the bell pepper softens.
Remove the chicken, separate the crispy skins and return the skins to the skillet. Set cooked chicken aside to cool.
Add the shrimp shells and heads to the skillet. Add 1 cup chicken broth and half of the chopped tomato. Cover and simmer at low heat for 20 minutes.
Remove the cover from skillet and mash the softened shrimp heads. This is not the time to be squeamish. Just remember, you’re using every part of the shrimp, which is honorable, and you will be rewarded with a very tasty sauce. This is a must!
Simmer uncovered at medium heat for another 10 minutes, to reduce the stock. Pour the stock through a strainer and reserve the finished sauce. This will make about 1 ½ cups of sauce.
I’m not kidding when I say that I’d be happy just to sit at a table and slurp down this stock and forget about making the rest of the meal. It’s that good! But, I know what this relatively small amount of sauce is going to contribute to the gumbo.
After a few moments of enjoying the aroma of the sauce, and dreaming about consomé de camarón, I was ready to get back to the action.
Add a teaspoon of cooking oil to a large stock pot. Put the pot on the stove and set heat to medium/low.
Slice the andouille sausage and add to the pot.
Sear the sausage, without stirring, for a few minutes.
Briefly stir and continue to sear the andouille until the sausage browns slightly. Remove the andouille and reserve the oil in the pot.
Add the chopped onion, bell pepper, celery and garlic to the pot. Cook at medium heat, stirring frequently for 10 minutes, or until the onion begins to turn translucent. Remove the vegetables to a bowl and set aside.
Remove the bones from the cooled chicken thighs. The bones should easily pull away from the chicken. Chop the chicken and set aside.
Now, go back to the large pot that was used to cook the vegetables. Wipe the pot dry with a paper towel, to prepare for making the roux. You don’t want to add oil to a wet pot! Add 2/3 cup vegetable oil to the pot. Turn heat to high.
Once the oil is hot, add the flour, all at once. The flour should begin to brown as it hits the oil. Don’t panic. Quickly whisk and reduce the heat to medium/high.
Keep whisking as the flour incorporates with the oil. Over the span of a few minutes, you should see the roux turn from blonde to tan. Keep whisking and scraping the sides of the pot with the whisk, occasionally. Let your nose guide you as you whisk. The aroma should smell something like roasted nuts, or toasted sesame seeds. The color of the roux should go from tan to dark mahogany. At this point, reduce the heat a little and bring the roux up to a dark brown. Again, let your nose guide you. If you think that the toasty aroma is approaching anything that might be considered burnt, shut everything down.
Turn the heat off and remove the pot from the stove. A roux does not have to be chocolate brown to be good. I’ve stopped at blonde before and have still enjoyed the final product. This roux wound up being the color of dark, milk chocolate.
As I mentioned earlier, this was the first time I made a roux using high heat. It came together quickly. I transferred the roux to a bowl, to stop the heating process. After the roux cooled a little, I carefully tasted it. Be very careful when tasting a roux. It’s as hot as lava. There was a slight hint of flour when I tasted the roux, which told me that I would want to simmer the gumbo for a long time.
Add the remaining chicken broth (7 cups) to the pot. Turn the heat to medium/low and stir, mixing the residual roux with the broth.
Add the cooked vegetables.
Add the andouille.
Add the okra and remaining chopped tomato.
Okra is a natural thickener. A dark roux is more flavorful than a light roux, but a dark roux will not thicken a gumbo as much as a light roux. Okra can make a soupy gumbo thicker, like a stew.
Add the chopped chicken.
Add the incredible shrimp sauce.
Add 3 tablespoons Cajun seasoning.
Add the roux. Stir gently to blend in the roux.
Turn the heat down to low and simmer, uncovered, for an hour to and hour and a half.
Remember, back at the beginning of this post, when I said that you never know what you’ll find in the gumbo? Well…while the gumbo simmered on the stovetop, I was also finishing a smoked pork shoulder roast in the oven. A few days earlier, I applied a dry rub to the pork roast and smoked it outdoors for about eight hours. It was a cool and windy day, and it was difficult to maintain the proper heat in the smoker, so the roast needed a little more time to finish. I wrapped the roast in foil and put it in the refrigerator and brought it back out while I was making the gumbo.
The wrapped pork should slow-roasted for two hours in the oven and, when I pulled it from the oven, I saw that some of the juices escaped the foil wrap and left a sticky glaze on the pan. I added a little water to the residue and whisked it. That produced a smokey, spicy sauce that just had to go into the gumbo!
Add the shrimp and simmer for another 20 minutes. The gumbo is ready to serve.
White rice completes the dish.
Top the rice with a healthy portion of gumbo and top with cilantro.
I’ll never be able to replicate this gumbo recipe, and I’m fine with that. There will be other gumbos to come, and they will have their own special place in my heart.
Eat well and eat with your family and friends every chance you get!
In case you are interested, the radio program, “New Orleans Big Beat” is presented by volunteer radio station, WEVL, in Memphis, TN. Check out their diverse and eclectic programming schedule here: wevl.org
Take a look at these items and tell me what I’m making for dinner.
Hmmm…that looks like bell pepper, celery, onion and garlic. Well, those are all common items found in lots of recipes but, if you know me well enough, you’ll be able to guess what I’m up to, right away.
Do you want a hint?
Maybe this accidental shot of my hand beneath the cascading sunlight will give a clue…
OK. Do you need another hint?
Sorry, no more clues. Let’s jump to the finished product.
If you guessed meatloaf, you’re only partially correct.
This meatloaf contained onion and a few slices of bell pepper on top, but it didn’t have any celery or fresh garlic in it.
So, what gives?
Here’s the deal. I planned on making one of my favorite meals and I realized that time was running out. So, I spent my time wisely. My first step was to continue prepping some of the ingredients for the meal that I REALLY wanted to make while going to a backup plan, at the same time. This is something I have learned over the years. Just because I want to make something wonderful and delicious, I might not have the time to pull it all together in time for dinner.
Enter meatloaf. (RIP Michael Aday)
Meatloaf is one of those things that can be thrown together quickly, and it can be made with all sorts of ingredients. I like to use ketchup, as well as dehydrated onion flakes, Worcestershire sauce, a little soy sauce, a dash of hot sauce, a couple of eggs, some dry oats, and salt and pepper to taste. I drizzled some barbecue sauce over the top of this one, just for grins.
I think most Americans would serve this with mashed potatoes and a steamed or sauteed vegetable dish on the side, but I decided to make put a twist on a traditional salad.
In case you’re interested, here’s an approximated recipe for the meatloaf. I was serious, when I said that time was of the essence. I didn’t measure anything.
Ingredients and Directions:
2 lbs 80/20 ground beef
1 ½ cup dry oats
1 Tbs Sriracha sauce
2 Tbs Worcestershire sauce
1 Tbs soy sauce
Combine the following in a mortise and pestle: 3 tsp dried onion flakes, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp cracked black pepper, 1 Tbs seasoning salt, 1 Tbs Cajun seasoning. Grind to a powder.
Mix all of the ingredients thoroughly and press into a casserole dish.
Lay a few rings of bell pepper on top and zig-zag some barbecue sauce on top.
Bake in a 350° oven for 1 hour.
Dinner was served and I was able to prepare for the next night’s meal. Win – Win!
Over the last several years, I have seen “Cheese Fries” or “Cheesy Fries” appearing on several restaurant menus. I have to admit, I get a little grossed out when I think about Cheese Fries.
I like French fries and I like melted cheese, but do I want gloopy cheese glopped on top of my French fries? – – Heck, no! Most Cheese Fries recipes call for melted processed cheese, which is fine for ballpark nachos, but I don’t want that gloopy mess on my French fries.
Despite my ranting about the utter wrongfulness of cheese fries, I’m not totally insensitive to people’s cravings, even if those cravings might lead them down the perilous path of gluttony!
So, with that, I tip my hat to the Cheese Fries lovers and offer them something I deem worthy.
6 medium sized russet potatoes, peeled and cut, French fry style, ¼’ thick sticks
1 ½ cups canola oil (or just enough to cover the potatoes in the skillet)
Seasoning salt to taste
3 Tbs. olive oil
1 lb. raw, deveined shrimp (tails on or off)
3 Tbs butter
6 cloves garlic, mashed
1/3 cup roasted bell pepper, chopped
1/2 cup chicken broth
1 1/2 cups half-and-half
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
½ cup grated Swiss cheese
Peel and cut the potatoes. These can be ¼” French fries or thick steak fry wedges.
Soak the potatoes in cool water to remove some of the starch. Strain potatoes and air dry for several minutes.
Fry potatoes to golden brown. Remove and strain. Return the hot oil back to the skillet. After a minute, add the fries back to the hot oil and fry for another minute, to crisp.
Put the finished fries in an bowl and keep in a warm oven.
Remove most of the oil from the pan and reserve a few tablespoons. Set heat to medium. Add shrimp. Turn shrimp over after two minutes and cook for one more minute.
Remove shrimp to a bowl. Set aside.
Melt the butter in the skillet and sauté the garlic over medium heat for a minute.
Add the chicken broth and reduce the sauce by one half.
Add roasted bell pepper.
Add half-and-half and simmer at low heat for a few minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Sprinkle the grated Parmesan and Swiss cheese over the sauce and simmer, at low heat, without stirring, for a minute.
When the cheese melts, turn the heat off.
Add the cooked shrimp to the sauce.
Add warm fries to serving bowls. Cover the fries with the creamy shrimp.
Serve with a cheesy movie!
May I suggest, Mystery Science Theater 3000: “The Magic Sword” ?
On any given day, I can search my refrigerator and find fruits and vegetables that, only a few days before, were vibrant and beautiful. What sad fate is in store for those items, that I have passed over and ignored? Often times, they sit, tucked away in the deepest corners of the produce compartment of my refrigerator until, one day, I acknowledge the awful truth. All good things must come to an end.
But, before I throw in the towel, I like to find a way to use the fruits and vegetables that have “gone south.” I am reminded of an excerpt from Jacques Pépin’s book, “Heart & Soul in the Kitchen” entitled, ‘For the love of wilted vegetables’. Jacque is a kindred soul who, like me, hates to see anything go to waste.
Today’s example is a lime, a lemon, a jalapeño, and a wedge of onion, that have past their prime, but not past their worthiness.
I was going to make salmon today and I was pawing through the refrigerator, looking for a lemon, when I came across these sad little items. They inspired me. In fact, I tossed the idea of salmon to consider what sort of noble thing I could do with the slightly wrinkled and discolored fruit and onion.
A marinade! Yes, indeed!
The pieces came together in my head quickly. I will marinate some chicken and make chicken fajitas for dinner.
Juice of 1 lime
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 jalapeño, chopped
1/4 large white onion, chopped
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp oregano
1 1/2 tsp ground dried onion
1 1/2 tsp cumin powder
1 1/2 tsp Tajin seasoning
1 tsp smoked paprika
2 tsp chili powder
Three hours later, after allowing the chicken to thoroughly marinate, dinner was served.
What can you do with your vegetables and fruit after they have gone south?