Friday, July 7, 2017

Refrigerator Pickles

You know how you can show someone you care about them?  Cook them something they love to eat.  You know how you can show someone you REALLY care about them?  Cook them something they love to eat, but that you hate.  This, my friends, is a true sacrifice.  Occasionally I will saute mushrooms for my mom and husband to add to their pasta, or their stir fry.  I have to, like, touch them.  And smell them.  My kitchen smells like them when I'm done.  And I have to live knowing that my skillet once had mushrooms touching it.  And yet, somehow, I plow forward, for the benefit of those I love.

This past Father's Day, I made authentic New Orleans style muffaletta sandwiches for my dad, because apparently some people don't think olives are gross.  Weird, right?  The smell of them almost made me hurl.  But, again, I powered through, for my dad's sake, because it was such a delight to see how much he enjoyed it.  I felt like a god damned saint.

This recipe is one of those moments where I made something I would never eat--pickles.  I do not eat pickles.  I do not like pickles touching my food in any way.  I do not like pickles to have been on my food and then been picked off.  IT LEAVES JUICE, YOU GUYS.  I do not like pickles to be in the same room as my food.  I don't even like the word pickle.  It's just SILLY, that's why.

But, hey, my family all likes them.  So, because I have a garden growing cucumbers like crazy, and because my husband asked me to make Cuban sandwiches, I thought I'd give it a go.  This is a recipe from my Grandpa's side of the family that has been tucked into my mom's recipe box for decades.  I've never known her to ever make them, but I bet that will change now, because she raved about them.  So did my dad; he said they were perfect on the Cuban sandwich.  But of course, you can make them yourself if you don't trust the opinion of someone who likes olives.

Uncle Gene's Refrigerator Pickles

As the name probably implies, these are not meant to be processed and canned for long term storage.  They are not cooked, which keeps them really crunchy.  But that does mean you need to store them in the refrigerator, so this doesn't make a huge batch.  I ended up with 2 (very full) pint sized jars.  I used pickling cucumbers, so I did not peel them.  Of course, that part is personal preference.

6 cups thinly sliced cucumbers
1 medium onion, sliced
1 3/4 cups sugar
2 Tbsp. pickling salt
1 tsp. dried dill weed
1 cup cider vinegar

Combine onions, sugar, salt, dill, and vinegar.  Give it a really vigorous whisking to try to dissolve as much sugar as possible.  Pour over cucumbers and refrigerate at least overnight before eating.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Strawberry Lemon Chiffon Pie

The unique items that I encounter in these decades-old cookbooks have definitely been the most entertaining, if not always appetizing, thing about researching for this blog.  For example, can I interest you in a Satan's Velvet Robe cake, whatever that is?  (Best part being that I found it in a church cookbook.)  Or perhaps some Shady Lady Pie, which somehow manages to combine marshmallows, instant coffee and orange jello?  Whether or not they are combined successfully is anyone's guess.  What about some wedding ring salad, a jello mold with peaches and maraschino cherries which the author instructs you to unmold onto lettuce leaves and serve with mayonnaise?  I hear it's the perfect accompaniment to goofy burgers, an amalgamation of chopped ham, stuffed olives and hard cooked eggs that you adhere together with salad dressing and chili sauce.  Seriously. The author of this one even added a footnote--SUPER GOOD!--to try to entice all the leery, wide-eyed readers who skim through and ponder, "what in the hell?"  I would say you can't make this shit up, but clearly someone did.  

But quite a few things in my old cookbooks are ubiquitous, too.  Open any book, for example, and you'll find a recipe for various forms of nut bread, or layer cakes, or cheesecakes, or sugar cookies, or jello salads.  Or, as we've previously discussed, donuts. The last time I flipped through a bunch of my books, another commonly recurring item that jumped out at me was chiffon pies.  Our culinary ancestors chiffoned the hell out of everything.  Citrus of all kinds, various berries....even pineapple and pumpkin.  And, oh yes, I WILL be revisiting pumpkin chiffon pie in the fall.  Because of course.

I love the idea of a chiffon pie for summer.  I don't know about where you live, but here in the St. Louis area we've had 16 days so far this June--JUNE, mind you--with a high in the 90s.  As a very fat, slow, massively pregnant woman, this vexes me greatly.  It seems high time for something light, fluffy, and cool. I love lemon, and there were many lemon chiffon pie recipes to pick from and craft what I hoped would be an ideal version.  Furthermore, I really liked the idea of combining the lemon with another flavor, because all of the old recipes seemed to feature just one fruit / flavor at a time.  I settled on either strawberry or raspberry, and in the end, the strawberries at the grocery store were gorgeous and affordable, so I said, get in the pie.  Instead of adding the strawberries to the actual chiffon mixture, I started with a bottom layer of a strawberry-lemon concoction that was kind of a jam consistency, and then layered the fluffy chiffon on top. 

I'm dealing with gestational diabetes right now, so I'm not even supposed to be eating desserts, but I'll do this for you, just this once.

Strawberry Lemon Chiffon Pie

You'll need a deep dish 9" pie plate for this recipe.  One of those shallow pyrex plates that come like 3 to a pack would definitely overflow.  Although you could do just the lemon chiffon layer in a plate that size and be fine, if you don't feel like / aren't interested in the strawberry lemon layer.  This dessert can be made entirely without turning on your oven.  I baked my crust for a few minutes, but I'm pretty sure the world would keep turning if you used your crust unbaked if you just didn't feel like heating up the oven.


1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs  (somewhere around 10 to 12 whole graham crackers, but you should measure after you grind them up to make sure)
3 Tbs. sugar
5 Tbs. melted butter

Process all 3 ingredients in a food processor until well combined.  Dump into a deep dish pie plate and press into the bottom and up the sides.  If desired, bake for 8 to 10 minutes at 350 degrees. If not, throw it in the freezer to firm up a bit while you move on with the fillings.

Strawberry Lemon Layer

3 cups chopped strawberries
1 cup sugar, plus a Tbs. or 2 for sprinkling on berries
1/2 cup lemon juice (about 3 to 4 medium lemons)
4 Tbs. cornstarch

Sprinkle the strawberries with a little sugar--about a Tablespoon or two--to get them macerating.  Let them sit for a bit until they're looking juicy.  Once your crust is cooling, (or chilling, as appropriate) process the strawberries in a food processor until pureed.  Pour the puree through a fine strainer to remove any seeds and solids.  Combine the strawberry puree and 1 cup sugar in a saucepan.  Discard the strawberry solids.  Whisk the cornstarch into the lemon juice and then slowly whisk the lemon mixture into the strawberry puree.  Bring the mixture to a boil and cook for about a minute while whisking; it will thicken quite a bit.  Remove from the heat and pour into the prepared crust.  Place a piece of plastic wrap directly on the warm mixture and chill while you drive on with the next step.

Lemon Chiffon Layer

1 Tbs. unflavored gelatin
1/4 cup cold water
4 eggs, separated
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup lemon juice (about 3 to 4 medium lemons)
1 tsp. grated lemon zest

Sprinkle the gelatin over the cold water and set aside.  In a double boiler, or in a heat proof bowl over a pan of water, whisk together the egg yolks, 1/2 cup of sugar, lemon juice, and lemon zest.  Bring the water to a low boil and whisk the lemon / egg yolk mixture constantly until thickened.  Add the gelatin to the lemon mixture and whisk it in until completely dissolved.  Remove the heat and chill briefly until it thickens a little more.  Do not let it chill too long on this step or the gelatin will totally set up and you'll have trouble folding the egg whites into it.

In the bowl of a standing mixer, whisk the egg whites until frothy.  Slowly add the remaining 1/2 cup sugar to the egg whites and continue beating until the whites form stiff peaks.  Fold the beaten egg whites into the slightly chilled lemon / gelatin mixture until well combined and no streaks remain.  Retrieve the pie from the fridge and dollop the chiffon mixture over the strawberry-lemon jam layer.  Smooth the chiffon layer out with a spatula and chill the pie until set, a few hours.  Serve with whipped cream.


Friday, January 22, 2016

Apple Pie

Grocery shopping at a commissary on a military post can be interesting sometimes.  There are the unique international products and ingredients that families get hooked on when they are stationed overseas in Germany or Korea.  There are the people who apparently only shop every 3 months or so, dragging a convoy of 2 or 3 heaping cartloads of food.  There are products that appear out of the blue one day and are gone, never to be seen again, the next time you go in.  And there is often an extreme "hit or miss" quality to many things.  My current commissary will occasionally just not have any chicken for days on end.  Like, not one piece, anywhere.  When it finally gets restocked, or is rumored to be restocked soon, someone usually posts about it on the spouse's Facebook page; a chicken forecast, as it were.  Right before we moved here, our commissary had just finished a very extensive remodeling of the deli, and then all of a sudden it closed completely for several months because of some kind of issue with a vendor contract.

The produce is probably the biggest hit or miss item, though.  Some days it's gorgeous and plentiful.  Other days it looks like someone left it in the sun for a few days before putting it on display.  So while I always prepare a weekly menu and a list, I try to be flexible when I go there, because you never know what's waiting for you.  A few days ago I walked in to one of the pleasant produce surprises: beautiful Jonagold apples for 99 cents a pound.  I took just a few home, and my daughter, Violet, and I devoured them.  So crisp and juicy.  Sweet like candy.  All those adjectives that describe the best fall apples.  In January.  In the middle of winter, when really good fresh fruit seems like a distant memory.  A few days later I sent Marc back to the store with instructions to get 4 or 5 big bags to make apple sauce and stewed apples for canning, and I think he brought back about 35 lb.  Seeing all of those lovely, shiny apples reminded me--my last apple pie was really disappointing.  It was time to set that right.

I think every family has certain foods that they associate with specific relatives, whether that's for good reasons or bad.  For instance, Marc associates jello dishes with his grandma, and that doesn't always mean a fond food memory, if I can be diplomatic about it.  Well, in my family, apple pie means my Aunt Linda.  And luckily, it's a really good food memory.

Aunt Lin's advice for addressing my tragic pie situation was that it was all about the apples; you have to have good apples, she said.  Jonathan is the only variety she ever uses.  I already knew I had great apples, and Jonagold are part Jonathan, and good for cooking, so I figured that was a pretty good place to start.  From there, Aunt Lin told me that she just wings it, layering apples with flour, sugar and cinnamon.  That was pretty much the extent of her counseling, so I took it from there, but this recipe is, in fact, more of a method than a real recipe.

I may have mentioned before, I don't really like pie crust.  I don't like eating it, which is, I assume, why I don't really like making it either.  But it's also one of those things that I keep trying to master, because I feel like a good home cook should be able to make a decent pie from scratch.  I'm happy to report that I made a damn good pie crust this time.  Even *I* thought it was great.  And maybe what I'm most proud of is that the pie as a whole turned out awesome, even with my 2 year old "helping" me.  Which is to say that, in some ways, she really did help by doing things like throwing the sliced apples into a bowl, but more often she was creating extra challenges by, say, attempting to throw half chewed apple slices into the bowl when she decided she was done with them, sprinkling WAY too much sugar in one spot, or sticking her finger through the pie dough as I was rolling it out.

Two year olds aside, I find that a good pie is really not that easy of a thing to make, but I feel like I took a huge step forward with this beauty.  Maybe someday I can take over my family's Apple Pie Queen crown when my aunt is ready to relinquish it.

Pastry for 2-Crust Pie

Make sure your butter, shortening and water are all very cold.  I usually cut up the shortening and butter into little cubes, spread it on a plate and then throw it in the freezer for 10 minutes or so.  Also, you can use a manual method for cutting in the shortening and butter, like a pastry blender, or 2 knives, but I'm way too lazy for that nonsense.

2 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt
2 Tbs. sugar
1/4 cup shortening, cut into cubes
3/4 cup butter (1 1/2 sticks), cut into cubes
5 or 6 Tbs. ice water

Put the flour, salt and sugar in a food processor and pulse several times to combine.  Sprinkle the pieces of shortening across the flour mixture and pulse several times until well distributed.  Add the butter and pulse it in the same manner as the shortening.  Dump the flour mixture into a bowl and sprinkle in 5 Tbs. of ice water.  Stir the flour mixture until the dough just comes together.  Add another Tbs. of ice water if it is still too dry and crumbly.  Divide the dough into 2 portions, shape in a disk and wrap in plastic wrap.  Refrigerate until it's very cold and solid, at least 30 minutes.

Apple Pie

I used a big, deep 9 1/2" pie plate.  It took about 8 cups of apples (7 medium apples) to fill it.  Those smaller, thin Pyrex plates that are sometimes sold 3 to a package would probably require 2 or 3 less apples.  That's a guess on my part.  Basically, you want to fill the plate up entirely with apples and have it mounded slightly in the middle.  Jonathan or Golden Delicious--the 2 apples that you cross to get a Jonagold--both make a good pie, too.  With a lot of apple recipes, I've also done a mixture of half Granny Smith, for tartness, and half a sweet variety.  You don't need much nutmeg, but the freshly ground stuff is infinitely better than pre-ground, if you have the gumption to seek it out.

6 or 7 medium apples, peeled and sliced  (See above note)
dash of fresh ground nutmeg
flour, sugar and cinnamon as needed
1 egg white, beaten

Place a sheet pan in the oven and preheat to 425 degrees.  Roll out the bottom pie crust and place it in the pie pan.  I put the bottom crust in the pan and then put it in the fridge to chill while I peeled and sliced the apples.  Spread a layer of apples across the bottom of the crust and sprinkle with nutmeg, flour, sugar and cinnamon.  Only use the nutmeg on this first layer or the flavor will be too strong.  Continue layering apples, flour, sugar and cinnamon until the pan is full and mounded a little.  Roll out the top crust and place it on top, crimping the edges and beautifying them however you choose.  (I did a rope style edge on mine)  Brush the entire top of the pie with egg white and sprinkle with sugar.  Cut several steam vents in the crust.

Put the pie in the oven on the preheated sheet pan and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until golden.  Lower the heat to 375 degrees F and rotate the pie.  Bake another 25 minutes.  Cool on a wire rack for a few hours before slicing.  Serve warm or at room temperature.  With ice cream.  It's the law.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Chocolate Gravy

What was your reaction when you read the words chocolate gravy?  If it was, "Ohmygawd, YES!!!", I'm guessing you're from the South.  If it was, "Whaaaa?", then you're probably from north of the Mason-Dixon line, at least in a cultural sense.  If you're in the perplexed group, let me enlighten you.

My husband's family is mostly from Oklahoma originally, and then eventually settled in Arkansas.  They have taught me some interesting things about food with a Southern influence--some of which I've liked (like this chocolate gravy), and some I didn't care for (like hominy casserole and pickled okra).  Luckily, my father-in-law keeps plenty of good Scotch around to wash down the stuff I don't like.  

When we would all meet up in Arkansas near my in-law's house, sometimes Marc and I and my sister-in-law's family would go out for breakfast at a little diner right by Bull Shoals Lake called Connie's.  This was always a really special treat.  On one particular trip to Connie's my sister-in-law, Leah, ordered chocolate gravy, and I almost gagged when the words came out of her mouth.  The only gravy I had ever eaten at breakfast was sausage gravy, and when my brain tried to imagine chocolate gravy, I envisioned some kind of horrible half sweet, half savory abomination of chocolate and sausage together.  She quickly corrected me and said, "it's like eating warm chocolate pudding for breakfast."  Turns out, eating warm chocolate pudding for breakfast is a-ok with me.  Thank goodness Leah was there to school me.  And thank goodness not all Southern food tastes like pickled okra.

Chocolate Gravy

3/4 cups sugar
1/3 cups cocoa  (I highly recommend Dutch-processed cocoa; I like Penzey's brand)
3 Tbs. flour
4 Tbs. (1/2 stick) butter
2 cups milk (whole milk is best)
1 tsp. vanilla extract
pinch of salt

Whisk the sugar, cocoa and flour together in a bowl and set aside.  Melt the butter in a nonstick skillet over medium heat.  Add the cocoa mixture to the skillet and stir until well mixed with the melted butter.  Cook for a minute or so to let the cocoa bloom.  Slowly whisk in the milk and turn up the heat.  Cook, stirring or whisking constantly, until thickened.  Off heat, stir in the vanilla and salt.  Serve warm over biscuits.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Two Spice Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

I don't know about your house, but around here, it's canning time.  This past weekend we made our yearly batch of seasoned tomato sauce, I'm getting ready to do salsa, and tomorrow I need to buy some peaches to try out jam or possibly peach butter.  I'm totally inspired now that we have (and I know how to use) a pressure canner.  We've actually had it for about a year, but I'm not gonna lie, I was scared of it.  Steam is a scary thing.  Steam inside of a closed vessel building up pressure is much scarier still.  When I worked at the military academy at West Point, for our mechanical engineering program we had a steam lab that filled up an entire room and powered light bulbs, and I didn't even like walking in that room when the thing was running.  I always envisioned it blowing up without warning, shards of light bulbs and steaming pipes flying.  Same deal with the pressure canner.  It doesn't matter that the thing has multiple safety mechanisms and redundancies, an exploding pot with burning hot jar fragments slicing through the air was all I could think of.  Luckily my husband is very brave.  Maybe because he has been shot at and I never have.  Or maybe because he has 3 older sisters who tormented the hell out of him growing up.  (My money's on the latter.)  Whatever the reason, he fearlessly took on the pressure canner, and he won.  And you know what?  It was pretty anti climactic.  But now I know how to use it, and I'ma be a canning fool.

I figured old timey books would be filled with preserves, jams, jellies and the like.  They were, but while flipping through one of them, an old, yellowed newspaper clipping fell out and landed in my lap.  It said Two Spice Cake, and I said, hells yeah.  It had been quite a while since I sent any goodies with Marc to work, so I decided to put the canning adventures on momentary hold.  After all, cake goes over better for a meeting than jars of peach butter.  

This recipe was tucked inside the pages of one of the books I got from my grandma Marguerite, and was dated December, 1964.  The only spices it had were cinnamon and ground cloves, both of which I love, so I was instantly intrigued.  Spice cake that relies on the "everything but the kitchen sink" mixture of spices can be delicious too, but I liked the idea of letting those two basic ingredients take center stage.  The recipe at its core seemed sound, so the only tweaking I did was to add salt and vanilla and adjust the mixing method a bit.  The 1964 version was also baked in a tube pan and then dusted with powdered sugar.  I opted for adapting it to cupcakes and then crowned them with a delicious (and lovely) cinnamon flecked cream cheese frosting.  

Ok, enough slacking off with cake.  Time to work on that salsa....

Two Spice Cupcakes

This recipe makes 24 cupcakes.  I used a #24 portion scoop heaping full of batter to fill the pan.

3 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 Tbsp. ground cloves
1 Tbsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup buttermilk, room temperature
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup butter (2 sticks), well softened
2 1/4 cups granulated sugar
5 eggs, room temperature

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line two 12-cup muffin tins with cupcake papers, or grease and flour the pans very well, if you're so inclined.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, cloves, cinnamon and salt.  Set aside.  Whisk the vanilla into the buttermilk and set aside.

In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar together with an electric mixer on medium speed until very fluffy, about 3 to 5 minutes.  Add in the eggs one at a time and mix well after each addition.  Add in about 1/3 of the flour mixture with your mixer on low speed.  Mix in half of the buttermilk mixture, followed by another 1/3 of the flour, the remaining buttermilk and then the remaining flour, stopping to scrape down the bowl as necessary.  Keep your mixer at low speed or you may get a flour facial.

Evenly divide the batter amongst the 24 cups in the pans; you will be filling them fairly full, close to the top of the cupcake paper.  As I mentioned above, a portion scoop is nice here.  Bake for approximately 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted comes out with a few crumbs attached, rotating the pans about halfway through baking.  Cool cupcakes in the pans for about 10 minutes, then remove them and put them on a cooling rack.  Once they are completely cool a few hours later, you can finish them with the cream cheese frosting or frosting of your choice.

Cream Cheese Frosting

12 oz. cream cheese, well softened (this is 1 1/2 of the traditional block size)
6 Tbs. butter, well softened (3/4 of a stick)
2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 cups powdered (confectioner's) sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon (optional)

With an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese and butter together and then mix in the vanilla.  With your mixer on low speed, mix in the sugar and cinnamon until creamy and slightly fluffy.  Try not to eat the entire bowl before you can get it on the cupcakes.  Enjoy!


Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Cream of Tomato Soup

Remember when I said I would revisit the idea of cream of tomato soup in the near future?  Yeah, neither do I, because it's been that long ago.  Well, I'm finally revisiting it, and what better time than now, when many of us home gardeners are in full tomato harvesting mode.

This summer has been very kind to my garden.  Last year by this time I think we had already had at least a dozen days over 100 degrees and were in the middle of a drought that made the corn field behind my house look drier than last season's bird's nest.  This year, however, cool, wet weather has made it so easy to tend my garden that I have barely had to water it myself at all.  The hardest part has been keeping the weeds under control.  And the crop has been fabulous, with plenty more green fruit hanging on and just waiting to ripen and be picked.  If grape tomatoes could be an investment, Marc could probably drop his retirement paperwork today.  There are so many, it's laughable.

Speaking of laughable, you should see how many roma tomatoes I planted.  I was so happy with the tomato sauce that I canned last year that I went all out for maximum sauce making production.  It ought to be comical because the bulk of that harvest will probably come in right around the time that I am having our first baby and learning how to be a new mom.  I hope Marc is up for making sauce without me.  I can just imagine me sitting on the couch feeding the baby while I yell across the room to him, "Ok, now peel the garlic, the papery part.  No, that's an onion, not garlic."  I kid, he's not that bad.  And actually, he does most of the work on canning day.  He just prefers not to prepare the product itself that is being canned.

But back to cream of tomato soup....

Our ancestors loved cream of fill-in-the-blank soup.  You name it, they ate cream of it.  And from what I can tell, "cream of" whatever just means that they made a soup out of the whatever and then added cream or milk.  Seems like an odd use of syntax to me, but what do I know?  There are numerous recipes for cream of tomato in my ancient books.  One called for "sifting" the tomatoes, which still has me scratching my head.  I took suggestions from some of them, but many were SO heavy on the dairy that it seemed to me the tomato flavor would be completely dull.  So for the most part this is another one of those recipes where I pretty much did my own thing and put lots of ideas together.  It turned out great on the first try, which ranks it right up there with peach pandowdy as one of the recipes I am most proud of.  Topped with some homemade croutons, it is the perfect little summer meal, and will make you so glad you grew those tomatoes.  Or at least bought some from the farmer who did.

Cream of Tomato Soup

Use a traditional pot, not nonstick, so you can develop some good fond.  Or an enameled Dutch oven, which is what I usually use.  Scoop the seeds out of the tomatoes and then weigh them; this is very important or you will be short on tomatoes.  (Unless you don't mind seeds in your soup!)  Leave the skins on, because when you blend it all up it will make a nice consistency.  As written this makes about 4 very hearty servings or maybe 6 servings if you're pairing it with a salad or a grilled cheese or something, but it's very easy to double as well.

2 lbs. tomatoes, cored, cut into quarters and seeds removed
4 Tbs. butter
2 tsp. oil
1 onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 celery rib, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbs. tomato paste
1/4 cup flour
1 Tbs. brown sugar
1 (32 oz.) box vegetable broth--I like Swanson brand best
1 bay leaf
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 Tbs. brandy, optional but delicious!

Melt the butter in a heavy pot until the foaming settles down.  Add tomatoes to the hot butter and make sure one of the cut sides is down, not the skin side.  They will not all fit in one layer, so make sure to rotate them around so all of them are cut down side on the bottom of the pot for a while.  Cook for quite a while until tomatoes are fairly dry and you have a nice fond in your pot.  This took me about 20 minutes, as I recall.  And pay attention to your stove.  Mine has a really high output so I needed a fairly low heat to keep from burning the fond.  Remove tomatoes and set aside.

Add oil to the pot and heat until the oil is shimmering.  Add the chopped onion, carrot and celery and a sprinkling of salt.  Cook until the vegetables are well softened, scraping up fond as the veggies release their moisture.  This will take about 5 minutes or so over medium heat.

Add garlic and tomato paste and cook until tomato paste has darkened slightly, about 2 minutes.  Add flour and sugar and cook about another 2 minutes.  If there is still a lot of fond on the bottom of the pot, pour in a little bit of broth and deglaze the pan, scraping up the fond with a wooden spoon.  Slowly pour in the remaining broth while stirring to keep the flour from getting lumpy (I actually prefer to do this part with a whisk, not a spoon).   Add bay leaf and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes.  Remove the bay leaf and add back the tomatoes.  Use an immersion (stick) blender to blend the soup completely, then add the cream and gently heat through.  Off heat, stir in brandy and season to taste with salt and pepper.  I garnished mine with chives and homemade croutons.


4 slices hearty sandwich bread, cubed
2 Tbs. butter, melted
salt and pepper to taste

Heat oven to 400 degrees.  Toss the bread in the melted butter and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Spread in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake for approximately 10 minutes, stirring a time or two.  Remove from the oven and let cool so they can crisp up.  Also remember that things tend to brown slightly more after you remove them from the oven.  You could also add other seasonings as desired, like garlic powder, or Penzey's Sandwich Sprinkle works great.  Let cool so they can crisp up.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Gumbo Z’herbes

In but a few short months, it will be spring in Chicago (no I am not kidding with that). Time to start thinking about how big your ass has gotten over the winter and maybe dream about a place that is actually warm at this time of year. So we're going to New Orleans for some gumbo. I know, gumbo doesn't normally strike one as being healthy, but despite the butter this one comes in at around 300 calories a serving. And it's delicious.
I put chicken thighs in pretty much everything I cook, so if you want the original, vegetarian recipe, head over to Chow. Also I have issues with green peppers so I use red, but you can pick your own poison there. A nice scoop of rice on top is heavenly, but completely optional.
Gumbo Z’herbes
  • 1/3 cup butter
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 red peppers, chopped
  • 3 ribs celery, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 lb chicken thighs
  • 1 large bunch of kale, chopped
  • 1 package frozen spinach (10 oz)
  • 1.5 tablespoons Cajun seasoning, OR
    • .5 tablespoon paprika
    • .5 teaspoons black pepper
    • .5 teaspoons white pepper
    • .75 teaspoons garlic powder
    • .75 teaspoons onion powder
    • pinch teaspoon thyme
    • cayenne to taste
  1. Melt butter in a thick-bottomed pot and add flour to form a roux.  Stir until darkened, about the color of peanut butter. Don't leave this unattended or you will be sorry.
  2. Add the onions, peppers, and celery.  Cook until vegetables begin to soften.  Add garlic and spices and cook an additional few minutes. I usually give the onions a head start because I can not abide the slightest bit of crunch in an onion.
  3. Add chicken and 2 cups water.  Add the kale a handful at a time, waiting until the last handful wilts down to add more.  Depending on how cooked you want your kale to be, cook the chicken for an hour before adding the kale.
  4. Simmer until the chicken starts to fall apart, about 2 hours.  Stir spinach in before serving. Add salt to taste (premixed Cajun seasoning will contain salt).
Serves 4-5, appx  300 calories.
Adapted from Chow. Also seen on Go Go Go.