Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Life Began as a Roux

A Roux. Music to my ears. How can something so simple make what you are cooking so good? Technically a Roux is equal parts fat and flour. The fat can be butter, oil, animal fat or whatever. The classically trained will use butter and flour to thicken and flavor dishes. For today's purposes we are talking about a Cajun roux.

I was in the mood for some Gumbo and you have to start with a hearty roux. This was 1 cup of vegetable oil and 1 cup of all purpose flour. I stirred them over medium high heat for about 25 minutes until it turned the color of a dirty copper penny. Here's an interesting factoid, the darker the roux the less thickening power it has. In this case I am not looking for thickening, but want a deep, rich flavor for the background of the gumbo.

Now gumbo is probably the best example for embellishing. There are no rules, you just put in whatever you like. There are many different versions of gumbo, some using rabbit, squirrel, chicken, various seafoods and anything else you can think of. In this version I used some chicken thighs, about 6 dove breasts and some spicy andouille sausage.

Gumbo Ya-Ya

1 medium onion chopped
2 garlic cloves chopped
2 celery stalks chopped
1 large can diced tomatoes (I used 1 quart of tomatoes I canned last summer)
2 – 3 cups okra sliced in ½ inch rounds
2 chicken thighs, skin removed
1 chicken breast, skin removed (I left the bones in while this cooked then removed them before serving)
½ pound Andouille sausage sliced about ¼ inch thick
2 quarts of water
Crushed red pepper
2 Bay leaves
Salt and Pepper

Make a roux. In a large stockpot over medium high heat, mix 1 cup vegetable oil and 1 cup of flour. Using a whisk continue to stir until it is the color of a dirty copper penny, about 25 minutes. Be sure to stir constantly or it will burn, you may need to adjust the heat down a bit if it is bubbling too much.

When the roux is ready, add the onion, garlic and celery and cook until just soft, about 2 -3 minutes. Next add the tomatoes and the water. Bring this to a boil and add the meats. Season with salt and pepper and a good pinch of crushed red pepper. Add the bay leaves. Lower the heat so there is just a slight bubble to the mixture and let this cook for about 1 hour. After about an hour add the okra to the mixture and continue cooking until the meat falls off the bone and the gumbo has thickened. Remove the bones from the chicken and shred it into pieces. It will probably just fall apart on it’s own.

Serve with steamed white rice and File powder. Garnish with green onions. Make sure you have a good crusty bread for soppin’.

You can embellish your heart out here. This could be made with no meat, I would use a good vegetable stock instead of water. You can use shrimp and andouille sausage. If you use shrimp, add it in the last 20 minutes or so of cooking and I would also use half chicken or vegetable stock with the water. You can use any type of wild game. I threw in some dove breasts and they tasted just fine. The okra will thicken the gumbo, it can be omitted if it isn’t your favorite. Green peppers are a good addition too. The sky is the limit, just make sure you have a good roux as a base.

This is my version of Gumbo, there are a zillion different combinations, just use what makes you happy and enjoy.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


We are still having really HOT weather here in Kentucky. What's that got to do with food? Nothing really except I like to keep the heat out of the kitchen. One of my all time favorites are steamed mussels and a cold glass (or 3) of crisp Pinot Grigio.

You can find Blue Mussels at most larger groceries. I usually buy them at Whole Foods because they are very good about checking each one of them. This is an important note. When you are cleaning the mussels, run them under cold water and they should close, if you don't see any movement throw it away. After steaming, if any of them don't open throw it out. That is another good reason to buy seafood from someone who knows what they are doing.

Perfect Every Time Steamed Mussels

Serves 2 as a main dish, 4-6 as an appetizer

2 pounds Blue Mussels, beards removed and cleaned
1 medium onion finely chopped
1 12 oz. beer
12 oz. water
1 lemon quartered
Black Pepper

I use a my large pasta pan with the steamer insert, it makes this much easier. If you don’t have a steamer insert use a large stockpot. Place the cleaned mussels and onions in the steamer basket of your pan. Sprinkle these liberally with black pepper and set aside.

In the stockpot, put the beer, water, squeeze the juice from the lemon quarters (put the rinds in the basket with the mussels). Heat the liquid in the pan until boiling. When it comes to a boil put in the steamer basket with mussels and cover with a lid. Let the mussels steam until they open, about 5 to 8 minutes. It is best to shake the pan a couple of times while they are steaming to even out the cooking. The ones on the bottom cook faster. When they are finished, remove the steamer basket carefully, let it drain slightly then pour all the contents into a large serving bowl or platter. You want all the good pepper and onions to go with the mussels.

Now if you aren’t using a steamer basket, bring the liquids to a boil and then gently add the mussels to the mixture, cover with a lid and steam as above. When they are finished you can just pour them out into a mesh strainer to drain off the liquid.

Serve immediately with some melted butter and lemon wedges. ( I always like to put a little spicy creole mix in the butter.) Make sure you scoop up some onions with the mussels they are oh so sweet.

This makes a great summer time meal. Sit on the deck with a nice glass of wine, a loaf a crusty bread, your sweetheart and some great mussels.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Into the Wild

I grew up thinking all the meat we ate just magically appeared in the grocery. Then I married the "Galley Slave" and soon learned to whistle a different tune. He grew up on a farm and spent his time hunting and fishing. Hmmm, will this work?

I quickly learned how to cook the game he brought home. Now our deal has always been that when the meat comes to me it looks just like it might have come from a store. In other words, it needs to be clean and neat. My initial endeavors were questionable, but were eaten with a smile. I eventually learned how to not overcook dishes and how to season with lots of tomatoes, peppers, onions and garlic.

As with most of us, work and family took away from hunting time. Now it is more of a 2 or 3 times a year. But we always look forward to Dove hunting at the first of September. This seems to be the first indication of Fall. We usually are able to freeze enough of those delectable Dove Breasts to enjoy through the winter.

Here is the first offering of the season. There are many ways to cook these delicious items. I like to bury them in wild rice with white wine and mushrooms and let them bake. But tonight the Galley Slave requested plain and simple, so here you have it.

I sprinkled a bit of salt and spicy pepper mix (see previous post) on each breast, wrapped it in a third of a slice of bacon and put them on skewers. I used 2 skewers as this gives you stability for turning on the grill. Actually this little secret came from the Galley Slave and it really works, try it with vegetable kabobs and you will be a convert. Then I grilled these skewers for about 20 minutes on medium low heat, turning a couple of times. You know they are done when the bacon is golden. The bacon really is necessary here as it helps keep the moisture in the meat, not to mention it tastes good too. I served these Dove Breasts with some baby squash sauteed in butter and olive oil along with onions, garlic and some cremini mushrooms. We also had roasted red potatoes and rosemary bread. A great meal to mark the beginning of Fall.

Friday, September 10, 2010

A Slow Week

I think this speaks for itself. The short week got away from me and I can't remember what I cooked. So here's a little chuckle for you from the Galley Slave who likes to play with his food. We'll be back next week.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Odd Measurements

A couple of years ago I responded to an offer for free recipes that included a gift. When I received the gift I was a little perplexed. It was a set of measuring spoons labled. Dash, Pinch, Smidgen. Now what would I do with these? Doesn't everyone know how much is a dash? So off into a drawer with not another thought.

Fast forward. I had decided to take up "serious" bread baking and while reading my personal favorite bread book, "The Bread Bible", I learned the use for these measuring spoons. Rose Levy Beranbaum's book tackles bread from a scientific outlook where measurements are sacred. This is quite the opposite of my approach to baking where you look at a cup a flour and say, that looks like the right amount. I was surprised she referenced the use of these small measuring spoons. Of course I assumed I was smart enough to figure out how much is a dash, I've done it many times and I'm sure I am always right. Maybe not.

Okay, maybe I'll need to buy some of these soon. Then I had a flash and remembered the "free gift" I had received. This validates my theory that one should never throw out cooking gizmos.

So now armed with the proper tools I am able to bake. I won't kid you to say this made me an expert or even close to one. It is interesting how much more consistent my measurements have become. While this may not be the answer to world peace or why I can't find any lids that match storage containers, it is comforting to know I am accurate in my cooking.