Smoked Pork Enchiladas

There’s a reason why I turn to Mexican food so often.  Mexican cuisine has a rich and long history of embracing other cultural cuisines while maintaining its own identity.  Some cultures have a tendency to cling to strict tradition, when it comes to their cuisine, while other cultures are more willing to change and adapt. 

When it comes to cooking at home, versatility and adaptability is the name of the game!  So, when it’s time to plan a meal, I want to use items that I am familiar with but I want to combine them in new and interesting ways. 

I can stuff anything I want into a tortilla and call it a taco.  I can wrap anything I want in a tortilla and cover it with sauce and it becomes an enchilada.  My imagination is only restricted by considering the taste, texture and nutritional quality of the final outcome.  Once I consider those aspects, the rest of the process is a simple matter of deciding what cooking methods I want to use to achieve my goal.

I pulled some fresh chilis from the garden and I cooked down some fresh tomatoes to make a sauce.  I had leftover smoked pork roast in the refrigerator and Monterrey Jack cheese and corn tortillas.  The rest of the ingredients were spices that I always keep on hand.

 And that is why I’m making Smoked Pork Enchiladas!

Ingredients:

1 red jalapeño, seeded and sliced

3 small poblano chilies, seeded and chopped

1 Tbs cooking oil

2 cloves garlic, smashed

½ cup diced onion

1 ½ cups tomato sauce

2 Tbs red chili powder

1 ½ Tbs cumin powder

1 Tbs Mexican oregano, crushed

2 tsp garlic powder

1 lb. smoked pork roast, sliced and chopped

12 oz Monterrey Jack cheese

10 corn tortillas, softened by dredging in hot oil.

Directions:

Prepare the chilies.  Remove the stems and seeds.  Slice the jalapeño into thin rings.

Remove the stems and seeds from the poblano chiles. Slice and dice the chilies.

Add 1 tablespoon of cooking oil to a large, oven-proof skillet.  Set the heat to low/medium heat.  After the oil is hot, add the chopped poblanos and garlic. Simmer and stir for five minutes, or until the chiles and garlic sweat and soften. Add the onions and saute for another 5 minutes.

Remove the chiles and garlic and place on a cutting board.  Chop the chiles and garlic into smaller pieces.

Add the tomato sauce to the pan and cook at medium heat.   Add the cooked garlic, chilies and onion.  Add the red chili powder, cumin, oregano and garlic powder.  Simmer and stir for ten minutes.  Remove the sauce and place in a bowl.

Slice and chop the smoked pork and place in a mixing bowl.  Shred 12 ounces of Monterrey Jack Cheese.  Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the chopped pork and 8 ounces of the shredded cheese. Reserve the other 4 ounces of cheese for the topping.

Spread the tomato sauce mixture across the bottom of an oven-proof pan.  A thin layer is all you will need.

Prepare the enchiladas by placing a few tablespoons of pork and cheese mixture in a tortilla.  Wrap the enchilada and place into the pan.  Repeat, until all of the enchiladas fill the pan. 

Cover the enchiladas with the remaining sauce.

Bake in a 350° oven for 30 minutes. Top the enchiladas with the remaining 4 ounces of cheese and sliced jalapeño. Return to the oven for another 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and allow the enchiladas to rest for about 5 minutes before serving.

Serve with crisp lettuce, a splotch of sour cream and a whole, pickled jalapeño. 

¡Más sabroso para Tex-Mex! (give it a tasty Tex-Mex finish)

Power Outage Pizza

Yes, it’s another pizza post.  I swear I’m not making pizza every day…really!  The last post, Shrimp Pizza, was actually from last May.  I just now got around to posting it.

This post is from Sunday, August 9.  I had no intention of submitting a post because there was nothing novel about my approach to the pizzas – – until the power went out.

I have been dubbed an “essential worker” during this pandemic and I’m not entirely convinced that my work is essential but apparently, others do.  Many of my fellow employees have either contracted the virus or have been exposed to people who have tested positive which has resulted in several employees being asked to self-quarantine for 14 days.  On top of that hardship, we recently replaced our old operating system with a new one and we’ve spent the last several weeks learning how to operate the new system.  Needless to say, It’s been a stressful time. 

I’ve been working long hours and six day work weeks for the last few months and I don’t foresee that changing in the foreseeable future.

I say all of this to illustrate how important Sundays have become.  Some of my Sundays are spent decompressing, as I try to forget about all of the craziness and other Sundays are filled with lots of domestic chores that I have ignored because of previous decompression Sundays.  This last Sunday was a mixture of work and relaxation.  Yard work filled the first part of the day, before the temperature crested 95° and became too hot to work outdoors, and that was followed by making pizza dough, followed by a short nap, while the dough was rising. 

There was a beautiful balance to the day, until the power went off.  An electrical power transformer in our neighborhood failed and several houses lost power for about six hours.  Of course, I didn’t know how long the power would be out so I decided to finish the pizza-making process on the outdoor grill.  I prepared the grill while there was still some sunlight.  I prepped the ingredients for the pizza and made my tools handy, a la mise en place. 

By the time the coals were hot, I had about 30 minutes of sunlight remaining.  I rolled out the dough and took them to the grill to bake. 

Back in the house, the last shafts of sunlight faded and candles were lit.  Baked pizzas were carried inside, one by one, to be sliced on a dimly lit cutting board.  And, just as we all settled down to eat, the power came back on. 

We turned the lights off and ate by candlelight.

Now that’s a great Sunday! 

Bon appétit!

Ingredients:

5 cups flour

2 cups water

1 Tbs olive oil

¼ cup pitted Kalamata olives

¼ cup pitted black olives

¼ cup julienne sliced onions

2 oz sliced capocollo

2 oz sliced hot calabrese

2 oz can of anchovies, packed in oil

12 oz mozzarella, horridly crumbled by hand

6 slices of sun dried tomatoes, probably less than 1 oz

¾ cup marinara (I used a thin, homemade marinara sauce)

I made three pizzas.  Each pizza started with a base of marinara and Mozzarella.

Pizza Uno:  Anchovy, onion and olives

Pizza Due:  capocollo, onion, olives and sun dried tomatoes

Pizza Tre:  hot calabrese

Directions:

Prepare the pizza dough, using the flour, water an olive oil.  If you want to see one of my pizza dough recipes, check it out here.

Let the dough rest and rise for at least one hour.

Sprinkle an ample amount of cornmeal on three baking sheets.

Separate the dough into three equally sized balls.  Roll them out with a rolling pin and transfer them to the baking sheets.

Bake one pizza at a time by sliding the pizza dough onto the hot grill.  Add tomato sauce (marinara) and add cheese and toppings of your choice.

Close the cover of the grill and bake for about 10 minutes.  Lift the cover of the grill and inspect the quality of the pizza by carefully prying up a portion of the pizza and checking the crispness of the bottom.  You’ll know when the pizza is done.  Pull it off and place the next pizza dough on the grill.  Repeat until all of the pizzas are done.

I used a very thin homemade marinara, made with just a hint of anchovy… Shhh!…don’t tell anyone!

As I mentioned above, in the Ingredients section, I crumbled the mozzarella, rather than grating or slicing it.  The sun was setting and I needed to get the pizzas on the grill, pronto!  But, there’s more to it than that.  Random chunks of mozzarella are perfect for grilled pizza.  The pizza has a marvelous haphazard, spontaneous look, texture and taste.  I suppose I could say that it is “rustic”.  Yeah, that’s it.

Don’t forget to thank the service crew members that come out to replace your transformer in the unrelenting August heat.  Sure, they are getting paid for their work, but take a moment to realize that while you are sweating over a hot grill, they are sweating twice as much.  And don’t forget, they are the real essential workers!

Quick Chicken Enchiladas

Sometimes we just have to throw something together in a hurry.  This happens to the best of us, especially now.  It feels like the whole world is closing down on us and we have so little time to find joy.  So little time to give comfort to others.  So little time for ourselves.    

Yes, times are strange, but one thing remains.  We must eat, and eat, we will.

Many people have influenced the way I cook.  One of the many cast of characters was the mother of my friend, Barry.  

Ginger Hornburg was a sweet and feisty, pint-sized woman.  Her husband, Jack, was a giant, in stature and in heart.  The two were mismatched, when seen side by side, but it was clear that they were made for each other.  There was love there, and it was plain to see. 

On one occasion, I watched Ginger make dinner.  Her recipe for chicken enchiladas was typical for the time…shredded chicken, cream of mushroom soup, shredded cheese and corn tortillas.  Bake and serve.  Done!

When she realized that I was interested in watching her cook she made a point to tell me that the key ingredient was green chilis.  To prove the point she showed me a small can of Old El Paso diced green chiles (mild).  I’ve never forgotten that.  Green chilis are essential for chicken enchiladas.

I’ve grown and changed as a cook but I haven’t forgotten essential truths.  Green chilis are the defining touch to Tex-Mex chicken enchiladas and I have Ginger to thank for that!

Let’s make a fast and furious enchilada dinner.

I made these enchiladas while having a Zoom meeting with distant family members and then I followed that with a phone conservation with another friend. 

Start to finish time for this meal was about 45 minutes.  I remember when I could crank out a meal in 30 minutes.  Oh, those were the days.  I must be getting slower in my old age.  Or, maybe I’m learning to savor life’s little moments.  Yah… whatever!

I was lucky to have some grilled chicken in the refrigerator. 

Chicken Enchiladas – mas rapido!

I intentionally overstuffed these enchiladas because I wanted to use all of my left over chicken and I wasn’t working from a recipe.  I was doing the thing I do best…pulling things out of the refrigerator and pantry  and whipping up a quick meal. 

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As I mentioned previously, the key to this dish is pickled jalapeños.  Seriously, the pickled tanginess of the chilis is the defining element of true Tex-Mex chicken enchiladas.  No exceptions.  Don’t mess with Texas and don’t mess with Ginger!

No walk-through photos on this one.  I was too busy Zooming and talking to people on the phone!  Scroll down to see a photo of the finished dish.

Ingredients:

1 ½ cups water

2 chicken bouillon cubes

1 Tbs butter

1 Tbs flour

2 cups grilled chicken, shredded and chopped

2 green onions, chopped

3 whole pickled jalapeños, chopped

1 cup fresh spinach, roughly chopped

1 ½ Tbs cumin powder

1 Tbs red chili powder

2 tsp garlic powder

1 tsp dried oregano

6 corn tortillas

8 oz Monterrey Jack cheese, shredded

¼ cup sour cream

½ cup fresh cilantro

Directions:

Add the chicken bouillon cubes to the water and heat in the microwave for 2 minutes.  Remove and set aside.

Prepare a roux by heating butter in a skillet.  Add the flour and whisk.  Add the water and whisk until the sauce thickens.  Remove the skillet from the heat set aside. 

Prepare a round 9 inch casserole dish.  Smear a little of the sauce on the bottom of the dish.

In a mixing bowl, combine the shredded chicken, green onions, jalapeños, spinach, cumin, chili powder, garlic powder and oregano.  Mix with a spatula or wooden spoon. 

Soften the corn tortillas in hot oil and set aside.

Apply a heavy portion of the chicken mixture to each of the tortillas and roll the tortillas.  Place the rolled enchiladas in the casserole dish.  Rotate the enchiladas to coat all sides with the sauce.

Top with cheese and bake at 350° for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the top is bubbling and golden brown.

Serve with sour cream and cilantro.

And please, take time to show young people how you cook, even if they are wild-eyed, scraggly teenagers!

Just for Fun – Italian Marinade

I imagine that most home cooks have marinated meat at some point in their home cooking career.  So, if you’re looking for a new or trendy marinade, go to your search bar and type “new trendy marinade”. 

This post is just for fun. 

I’ve mentioned this before but I feel the need to repeat it…what’s up with the monstrous chicken breasts?!  When did this happen? 

I’ve seen lap dogs that are smaller than the chicken breasts I find at my local grocery store.  I’m not saying it’s a bad thing, it’s just that, well… 

The good thing is that these mammoth chicken breasts still tastes like chicken but it’s weird…weird, I tell ya’! 

Back in old days…hmm, maybe 20 years ago, if I wanted to filet a chicken breast I would simply lay the breast on a cutting board and slice it in half, horizontally.  Simple enough.  But these pterodactyl sized chicken breasts nowadays are so large that I find myself slicing it twice, instead of once.  I make a horizontal cut near the top and another cut near the bottom of the breast. 

I really didn’t intend on ranting about gargantuan chicken breasts.  It’s just that it’s so…weird

Let’s make a simple marinade for a big breasted bird.

Italian Marinade for Chicken

Ingredients:

Oh, let’s add a little olive oil…

Directions:

Cut the chicken breast horizontally to ½” thickness. 

Pour the marinade over the chicken.  Place the chicken and marinade in a plastic storage bag and refrigerate for at least two hours, but no more than twelve hours. 

Remove the chicken from the marinade.  Prepare the chicken as you wish…bake, grill, pan fry, or roast.

Here’s a little secret:  The marinade does not have to be discarded.  If you bring the marinade to a rolling boil in a pot for a few minutes it will be perfectly safe to use.  After it has boiled, bacteria will have been killed and you can safely use it for sauces or basting. 

Easter – Mac and Cheese

Well, our first major holiday during the pandemic is nearly over and I hope everyone is safe and well.  I thought that maybe this was our second holiday, considering the pandemic was on the rise during Valentine’s Day but, I believe we were still in “discovery mode” during that time.  The virus was mostly abroad and we only had a few cases reported in the United States.  It’s amazing how quickly our perception changed.

Churches are not having services, which is very odd, especially during a religious holiday.  Many families are separated from each other and there are unfilled seats at our dinner tables.  I’m thankful for our phones and the internet because we still have the ability to reach out to those we love.

But, enough of all that.  This is a food blog.  Let’s dig in.

I am fortunate that my daughter was available to help make this dish.  She’s a mac and cheese aficionado and I was thrilled to have her on my team!

This is a variation of the recipe I posted several months ago.  If you want to see the original post, click here.  The original recipe calls for 2 cups of dry macaroni noodles and I only had 1 ¾ cups this time, so I scaled some of the other ingredients down accordingly and made a few substations.

Easter Mac and Cheese

Ingredients:

3 strips thinly sliced bacon

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1 ¾ cups elbow macaroni

¼ cup butter

2 tsp bacon fat

¼ cup flour

3 ½ cups whole milk

½ tsp Dijon mustard

1 tsp Tabasco sauce

8 oz sharp cheddar cheese, grated

8 oz queso Chihuahua (white Mexican cheese), grated

Directions:

Cut the 3 slices of raw bacon into 2” pieces with a sharp knife.  Add the bacon pieces to a small frying pan.  Crowding the pan is recommended because the bacon needs to be cooked at the lowest heat setting and the resulting bacon fat will help regulate the temperature.  Frying the bacon at low heat will  help ensure that the bacon and the bacon fat does not burn.

Add freshly ground black pepper to the bacon.  I probably used between ¼ and ½ teaspoons.  The pepper will flavor the bacon and the fat that it produces.

Remove the bacon once it has become firm.  Set aside.  Reserve the fat for later.

Reserve the bacon fat.

Boil the elbow macaroni in a large pot of water. 

While the macaroni boils, heat the milk in a microwave oven for about a minute or two.  The goal is to warm the milk to about 120°, or just a little hotter than bath water.  Set the milk aside.

Strain the macaroni after it has become soft.  Leave the macaroni in a colander and reserve at least 1/3 cup of the starchy water.

In the same large pot, now empty, add the butter and bacon fat.  Set the heat to low and simmer for a minute. 

Add the flour and whisk, to form a roux. 

Slowly add warm milk, while whisking.  Turn the heat to medium high and keep whisking for a few minutes while the sauce thickens.

Add the Tabasco sauce and mustard.  Whisk to incorporate.  Once the sauce has thickened, turn the heat to low.

Slowly add the grated cheese.  Stir slowly, with a spatula, as the cheese is added. 

When the cheese has melted, add the macaroni and fold, to coat the macaroni.

Pour the mac and cheese in an oven-proof backing dish and bake at 350° for 15 to 20 minutes, or until it starts to bubble.

Remove from the oven and top with crumbled bacon.

Serve with love!

Happy Easter.

Rockin’ the Kitchen!

As I mentioned recently, my wife and I are working for “essential” industries.  We are still putting in regular hours at our respective companies.  Working in an environment that involves close human contact at a time like this can be nerve racking.  Sure, when we are at work, we focus on the jobs that need to be done.  But, when we come home we think of the risks we take each day we go to work.

We are not exceptional.  Many people are experiencing similar types of anxiety.  We all deal with it in our own ways.   

A few days ago, after a mere 4 hours of sleep, my wife awoke at the crack of dawn and went straight to the kitchen.  She spent the next 10 hours baking.  When my wife bakes, or cooks for that matter, the result is always impressive.  This particular baking marathon was fueled by her love of our family and her need to occupy herself with something meaningful.  It surely wasn’t fueled by a good night’s sleep!

It was therapy.  It was determination.  It was well-honed skill mixed with passion and promise.

The results were remarkable and very tasty!

* A deep dish cherry pie

* A pecan pie

* 4 loaves of jalapeño and cheddar cheese bread

* 2 casserole dishes of manicotti

Weekend Leftovers (and the Daily News)

I hate to say it but, it’s the weekend and I have too many leftovers in the refrigerator.  That’s a great thing for a weekday, when time is precious for us working folks, like us.  Yes, my wife and I have been deemed “essential” by the powers that be, but it drives me nuts when the weekend arrives and I discover that leftovers have overtaken the fridge .  This is my weekend crisis, along with worrying about the ever-expanding, impending virus.

A good weekend, for me, is when I get to play in the kitchen and make some food that can turn into leftovers for the upcoming week. 

But, today, it’s necessary to scoop together a meal from all of the leftovers.

How could I possibly tie all of these leftovers together to make a single, cohesive meal?  There’s shrimp in a garlic butter sauce with noodles, scalloped potatoes with ham and a chicken salad, intended for sandwiches.  Three mish-mash leftovers with only one or two servings each, among them.

I say, tie them together with some fresh bread.  Garlic bread should work.  Half of the bread for a small bread loaf and the other half for garlic knots, or in this case, a braided garlic loaf.  Add some fresh lettuce and we have a brand new meal!  Leftovers can always be boosted by adding a splash of something fresh.

Garlic Bread / Garlic Braid

Ingredients:

1 cup warm water

2 Tbs yeast

1 tsp olive oil

3 cups flour

2 Tbs garlic powder

Pinch of salt

1 quart prepared shrimp with pasta, with garlic butter sauce

1 pint prepared ham and scalloped potatoes

1 pint prepared chicken salad

Fresh lettuce, (any kind will do)

¼ cup olive oil

5 garlic cloves

Directions:

Prepare the bread dough by warming a cup of water and adding yeast and olive oil.  Set in a warm place to allow the yeast to activate for 20 minutes. Add water and yeast to a large mixing bowl and add the flour and salt.

Mix and knead for a minute.  Sprinkle garlic powder over the dough ball, cover with a towel and allow the dough to rise for 15 minutes in a warm place.

Knead dough again to incorporated the garlic powder.  Cover and keep warm for 30 minutes.

Heat an oven to 400°.

Knead the dough and divide in half.  Set one half aside.

Take one half and divide into thirds.  Roll each third into ropes, making one rope slightly larger than the other two.

Lay the ropes of dough on a clean surface, with the longest rope in the middle.  Braid the dough in a French braid. 

Lay the braided dough on a baking sheet and bake in the oven.

Take the remaining dough and form into an oblong loaf.  Place on a baking sheet and place it in the oven.

Bake for 20 minutes.

While the bread bakes, add chopped garlic to the olive oil and heat in the microwave for about 1 minute.  Carefully remove the olive oil and set aside.

Pull the braided loaf out of the oven and leave the other loaf in the oven for another 5 minutes.

Heat the shrimp and pasta in a covered pan, with a little splash of water.

Heat the scalloped potatoes and ham in a microwave oven for a few minutes.

Add the chopped lettuce to individual serving bowls.  Top the lettuce with the chicken salad.

Cut the braided loaf into bite sized portions and put the pieces in a mixing bowl. 

Pour the garlic and olive oil over the bread pieces and toss.

Place the braided garlic bread pieces in a serving bowl.

Slice the bread loaf into 1” slices.

In a large pan, heat about 1/3 of the scalloped potatoes and ham, with a little water.

Add the sliced bread to the pan and let the bread absorb some of the liquid.  Turn the bread over and turn the heat off.

Assemble individual serving plates by adding portions of the shrimp and pasta, along the with the scalloped potatoes and ham on bread slices, and braided garlic bread.  Serve with the a side of chicken salad and a sample of the daily news.

Back in the Saddle Again

I’m still reeling after last week’s epic gumbo battle so please forgive me if I babble for a bit.  For those of you who want to cut to the chase and see today’s recipe, scroll down until you find “Chicken Enchiladas”, in large, friendly letters.  But, know that you are missing all of the fun and I pity you.

When I was young, and by young I mean elementary school age, I recall that many home cooked meals featured Hamburger Helper or Cream of Mushroom soup.  I don’t know if it was because so many working parents didn’t have time to make dinner or if it was just clever marketing agents influencing those parents, but the fact was that those products found an indelible niche in American cuisine.

Campbell’s puts out about a zillion different kinds of soup but I swear I can only remember three from my childhood.  Tomato soup, Cream of Mushroom soup and Chicken Noodle soup.  Okay, to be fair, there was Chicken & Stars, but that was really just chicken soup with star shaped pasta, and it was marketed to parents of finicky and/or sick children.   

Cream of Mushroom soup took center stage, back in the 1970’s.  It found its way in many recipes.  The ubiquitous green bean casserole is a testament to the long-lasting power of Cream of Mushroom soup.  If you don’t have green bean casserole every Thanksgiving then,…well, you’re just not a real American. 

Cream of Mushroom soup, “America’s béchamel” 

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not bashing Cream of Mushroom soup.  Cream of *Whatever* soup is instant béchamel in a can, and that’s a marvelous thing.

I remember having homemade chicken enchiladas for the first time.  I was 17 years old and having fun, hanging out with a friend.  His mother made us chicken enchiladas with Cream of Mushroom soup and canned green chiles.  Canned green chiles, back then, didn’t have clever graphics printed on the label, showing a thermometer indicating the “heat” of the chiles.  Canned green chiles were just that…canned green chiles.  They were hot and spicy, and that’s all you needed to know.  I loved those enchiladas. Thank you and bless you, Ginger!

But, when I discovered that I could make my own thickener from scratch, I felt a sudden rush, indeed, I felt a sense of empowerment!  I realized that I could thicken sauces or soups and have total control of flavors and textures!  A pad or two of butter and a spoonful or two of flour was the key that opened the door to an endless array of sauces.

For this recipe I used homemade green sauce and I made a homemade sauce from a simple roux and chicken stock.  If you want to use canned green chiles and cream of mushroom soup, that’s fine with me.  Just make sure you do it with love.

Chicken Enchiladas

Ingredients:

3 chicken breasts (mine started out frozen)

2 ½ cups chicken stock

4 or 5 garlic cloves

½ onion, chopped

10 to 12 oz green chile sauce

½ cup sour cream

8 oz Monterrey Jack cheese, shredded

2 Tbs butter

2 Tbs flour

10 corn tortillas

¼ cup cooking oil

Directions:

Boil the chicken in water until the chicken is fork tender.  Remove and allow to cool to room temperature.

While the chicken simmers, puree ½ cup chicken stock, green sauce and garlic cloves in a blender. 

Add the pureed sauce to a small skillet and simmer on low heat, to mellow the garlic, for 15 minutes.

Add the chopped onions to the skillet and simmer for another 15 minutes. Turn the heat off and allow it to cool to room temperature.

Add ¼ cup cooking oil to pan and set heat to low.  Soften each of the tortillas in the oil for a few seconds and remove to a plate.

Wipe the skillet clean.  Start a roux by adding the butter to the pan and set the heat to medium/low.  Add the flour and whisk until smooth.

Once the roux is smooth, add the remaining chicken stock.  Set heat to medium/high and whisk until the sauce has thickened. 

Add the green chile mixture and whisk for a minute.

Pour about one cup of the sauce into a bowl.  Leave the remaining sauce in the skillet and turn the heat off. 

Lay the cooked chicken on a clean work surface and smash with the broad side of a knife.  The chicken will break and fan out, making it easy to shred.  Shred the chicken by hand.

Add the chicken to the cheese and mix by hand.

Lay the tortillas on a work surface and add the chicken and cheese.  Roll the enchiladas and place in an oven-proof skillet, containing some of the sauce.  Once all of the enchiladas are in the skillet, pour the remaining sauce over them.

Bake in a 350° oven for 20 to 25 minutes.

Serve warm with rice or fried potatoes and guacamole salad.

Gumbo (Part II: The Intimidator)

At the heart of every good gumbo lies a good roux. 

I probably make 3 or 4 roux every week but they are of the small variety.  You know, two tablespoons of butter, two tablespoons of flour added to two cups of stock or broth.  A small roux takes just a few minutes to prepare and it usually come out just fine.

I have been telling myself that I make gumbo every year or two.  I think that’s because I really enjoy gumbo.  The truth of the matter is that I have probably only made it four times, (now five times).  As much as I love a good hot bowl of gumbo, I dread making the roux.  There are very few things in life that can vex me like a making a big batch of roux. 

Making roux for a gumbo is not easy; at least it’s not easy for me.  The volume of the roux needed is much larger than my normal roux.  Additionally, the roux needs to cook longer to achieve a deep, rich lustrous color and flavor.  Lastly, pushing the cooking process too far results in a burnt roux, which I am unfortunately prone to doing.  If a roux burns it must be tossed and another one must be made.  Nothing good ever happens by attempting to save a burnt roux. 

The good German lager is for me, not the roux!

Once you start a roux you can’t leave it alone until it has finished.  A roux must be stirred constantly to prevent the flour from burning.  Even the tiniest amount of burnt flour will affect the entire roux.

My step-by-step method for making a roux:

1) Add equal amounts of oil and flour to a Dutch oven (over low/medium heat).

2) Stir continuously, making sure to scrape the bottom and edges of the pot as you stir.

3) Keep stirring while the roux goes from blonde, to tan, to mahogany, to chocolate brown.

4) Taste a sample of the roux, after allowing it to sufficiently cool.

5) Detect a hint of burnt flavor, throw away the roux and wipe the Dutch oven clean.

6) Repeat.

Three more important pieces of advice that are often overlooked:

1) Use the bathroom before starting the roux.  You won’t be able to break away from the action until the roux is finished (maybe 45 minutes to an hour).

2) Pour yourself a drink and make sure that it’s within arm’s reach as you stir.

3) Keep a small aloe vera plant in the kitchen, close to the stove, in case of burns.

As for the aloe vera, it’s really good for minor burns.  Roux is jokingly referred to as Cajun Napalm.  Even a tiny drop of the hot roux can cause your skin to blister.  I got two blisters from this batch.  I would have had three blisters but, when I got hit for the third time, I quickly pinched off the tip of an aloe leaf and rubbed it on the burn. 

Look closely and you’ll see I removed a tip from a leaf, at the right.
My drink of choice for the 1st roux was Spaten Lager. A nice Cabernet Sauvignon got me through the 2nd roux. Note the flat ended spatula…this is essential!

As I mentioned, I burned the first roux and had to start another one.  I cooked the roux over low heat both times. 

For the first attempt I used 3 cups canola oil and 3 cups flour.  I cooked the roux for 67 minutes and it reached a near-perfect chocolate brown color, but the roux had a slight burnt flavor. 

For the second attempt I decided to use 2 cups canola oil, 1 cup lard and 3 cups flour.  I cooked the second roux for 50 minutes. I brought the roux to a dark tan and shut the heat down before it turned to mahogany.  I didn’t want to run the risk of the burning the roux a second time!

This recipe makes about 2 gallons of gumbo (25 to 30 servings).

Ingredients:

1 lb medium sized shrimp, shell on and deveined

1 1/2 lbs cooked chicken breast, cut into 1/2″ cubes

3 cups canola oil

3 cups all-purpose flour

1 lb Andouille, cut into 1/2″ thick slices

1 large onion, chopped

1 bell pepper, chopped

1 large jalapeño, seeded and sliced

2 cups celery, chopped

1 whole head of garlic, minced

1 1/2 cups parsley, chopped

1 Tbs dried thyme

1 Tbs bay leaves

32 oz chicken stock

32 oz vegetable stock

1/2 cup shrimp stock reduction

12 oz okra, chopped

1 lb. crawfish tail meat

1 lb. crabmeat

1/2 cup clam stock reduction

12 oz white clams (about 12 clams)

Lots and lots of hot, steamed white rice

Directions:

Remove the shells from the shrimp and place in a skillet or pot.  Add a teaspoon of seasoning salt. Cover with water and simmer at medium heat for about 15 minutes.  Strain the liquid and reserve.  Discard the shrimp shells.  Heat the liquid in the pan until it reduces by at least half.  Reserve the reduction.

Put the chicken in a pot and cover with water.  Boil at low heat until cooked (about 40 minutes).  Remove the chicken to a platter and cool to room temperature.

In a small bowl, add the thyme and bay leaves. Cover with water and steam in a microwave for about a minute. Leave the herbs in the water and set aside.

Prep the vegetables and set aside.

Heat a large Dutch oven over medium heat.  (I used a 12” deep Dutch oven).  Add 1 cup oil and 1 cup flour and stir to incorporate.  Reduce heat to low/medium.  Add remaining oil and stir.  Add the remaining flour and stir constantly. 

After about 15 minutes the roux will begin to change from pale yellow to blonde.  Turn the heat to low and keep stirring. 

The roux will continue to darken and will become light tan and then dark tan.  Once the roux has turned to tan pay extra attention to the aroma and color of the roux as you stir. 

The color of the roux will begin to take on reddish/brown hue soon.  This is where I usually turn off the heat but, if you are brave and careful, keep stirring until the roux becomes chocolate brown. 

Once you are finished with the roux, turn off the heat and continue stirring for several more minutes.  The roux will remain very hot for at least 30 minutes.  Set the roux aside for now.

I stopped just short of mahogany on my second roux…yes, I chickened out!

And now, the easy part!

In a very, very large Dutch oven, (I used a 14” deep Dutch oven), add the chopped onion.  Sauté until the onion begins to turn brown. 

Add the bell pepper, celery and jalapeño.  Stir for a minute and add the garlic.  Stir for a few minutes and then remove everything to a bowl.

Add the sliced Andouille to the pot.  Stir over medium/high heat to brown the Andouille.  Remove the Andouille and set aside.

Add the chicken stock and vegetable stock to the pot and cook over high heat for 2 minutes.  Return the onions and Andouille to the pot.  Add the water from the steamed thyme and bay leaves. Discard the bay leaves and add the thyme to the pot. Turn the heat down to medium. 

Add about half of the roux to the pot and stir, to mix.  

Add the okra and stir.

Add the rest of the roux and stir.  The roux will thicken quickly.  If it is too thick, as mine was, add some water.  I added 3 cups of water.  Continue stirring.

Add the crawfish meat.  Stir briefly and turn the heat to low/medium.

Add the parsley and stir.

In a large skillet,  add two cups of water.  Set the heat to high and cover.  When the water reaches a hard boil, add the white clams, turn off the heat and cover.  The clams will snap open quickly.  Steam the clams for about a minute and remove to a bowl.  If some of the clams have not opened, bring the water back to boil and add the unopened clams.  If they pop open, hooray!  If they don’t open, they are doomed and will need to join the burned roux, in the trash can.  (All of my clams opened – Yippee!)

Reduce the steaming liquid from the clams to about one third.  You should wind up with a milky white reduction.  Strain the liquid through a paper towel and sieve to remove any sandy grit. Add the reduction to the gumbo pot.

Pull the clams from the shells and add the clams to the gumbo.  Discard the shells.

Add the chicken to the gumbo and stir.

Add the crab and stir.

Add the shrimp and green onions to the gumbo and stir.  The shrimp will cook within a couple of minutes.

Give the gumbo a good final stir.

Serve in bowls, over warm white rice.

So, other than a few 2nd degree burns and a failed roux, everything went according to plan!

Chicken Curry

I enjoy making a delicious curry dish every now and then but I have to admit, curry vexes me.  I’m the sort of guy that likes to know the subtle intricacies of the ingredients that I use but I have to admit, my understanding of curry is shamefully shallow.  Fortunately, my lack of understanding doesn’t prevent me from cooking with curry.  I’d like to make my own curry blends someday but, for now I will keep relying on my tried and true prepared blends.

Many years ago I received a boxed set of six curry spices from a friend.  Each container held 2 ounces of various spices.  There was Chaat Masala, Tandoori Masala, Garam Masala, Tea Masala and two that were simply labeled Hot Curry and Mild Curry.  I have used a little of each of them over the years and I still have those containers in my cupboard, tucked away in a far corner.  They have held up remarkably well over the years.  Some spices lose their potency and aroma over time but these seem to have incredible staying power!  I only use a teaspoon or two when I make a curry. 

This is a variation of a turkey curry that I bravely made several Thanksgivings ago, while visiting relatives.

Ingredients:

1 tsp hot curry

1 tsp mild curry

1 tsp turmeric

2 Tbs olive oil

1 yellow onion, chopped

5 garlic cloves, minced

1 ½ Tbs fresh ginger, minced

1 1/2 lbs chicken breasts, cut into 1 ½ inch pieces

½ cup chicken broth

1 ripe tomato, chopped

A pinch of salt

1 tsp cornstarch mixed with 2 tsp water (thickening slurry)

1/3 cup coconut milk

2 Tbs chopped cilantro

1 green onion, chopped

Directions:

Mix the spices in a small bowl.  Set aside.

Heat olive oil in a wok over medium-high heat.

Add the garlic and ginger, sauté for about 30 seconds.

Add the onion and sauté until they almost turn golden brown, about 4 or 5 minutes. Add the curry spices.  Sauté another 30 seconds and then remove everything from the wok and keep handy.

Add the chicken to the wok.

Stir-fry the chicken until the chicken turns white and firm, about 5 minutes.

Once the chicken has cooked, add the cooked onion and garlic and stir. 

Add the chicken broth and tomato and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low.  Simmer for 5 minutes.

Add a pinch of salt.  Stir and taste.  Add more salt, if you like.  Stir in the cornstarch and water slurry, to thicken sauce slightly.  Simmer for a few more minutes.

Stir in the coconut milk and turn out to a serving bowl.   Serve warm with cilantro and green onions over basmati rice.