Stalking the Waiter

Riffing on foods, flavors and methods, that would be telling.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Weekend Herb Blogging #17 - Wild Bay

The California bay laurel, Umbellaria californica, grows in wild profusion in my part of the California Wine Country (as elsewhere, I'm sure). These are not the "true" laurel, Laurus nobilis, but their leaves can be used in cooking.

Dry them as you would true laurel and add them to soups or stews. Although the flavor is very similar, these leaves are much stronger than their "noble" relative. Use about half what you would of true laurel. For example, one leaf in a large pot of flageolet beans is plenty. If you have access to California bay leaves, experiment with them, to see how much is palatable for you.

Lightly Pickled Veggies

I wish I could remember the proper name for these, but I don't. I got the recipe from a Guatemalan friend I worked with at UCSF. They’re lovely and light as part of a hot weather buffet or snack tray. Berta used to make a huge batch for her annual entertaining the coworkers party, and they vanished with amazing speed. They’re cooked only long enough to give them a little pickle flavor. They should definitely still have their crunch.

  • Baby carrots or carrot sticks
  • Cauliflower, broken into florets
  • Salsify, cut in pieces to match the carrots
  • Celery sticks
  • Green onions
  • Water, enough to let the veggies move around without crowding
  • Bay leaf
  • White vinegar
  • Salt
  • Sugar
  • Peppercorns

  1. Put the water, bay leaf and peppercorns in a large enough pan to give the veggies room to move around. Set it over medium heat.
  2. While the water is heating, wash all the veggies and drain.
  3. Cut the tops off the green onions about an inch above the white, just enough to give them a flare of green, and remove the root end.
  4. When the water is warmed, begin adding vinegar, salt and sugar, tasting as you go until you like the acid/salt/sugar balance – it should be a little tart. As a starting point, if you used a gallon of water, start with a cup of vinegar. Add the salt and sugar by pinches – it’s easy to get too much.
  5. Add the solid ingredients, like carrots, caulilflower and salsify, first. Don’t let the mixture boil; just keep it at a simmer (just below a boil)
  6. After 15 minutes, add the green onions and celery. Simmer for an additional 10 minutes.
  7. Remove veggies from the liquid with a slotted spoon and let cool to room temperature. You can chill them if you like. They keep well in the refrigerator for at least a week in their cooking liquid, but they will be come more strongly flavored.
To serve: Arrange decoratively on a platter. They’re a good accompaniment for poached fish or grilled chicken breasts.
Leftovers – if you have any of these veggies left over, which I doubt, you can slice them up in a salad for nice bits of zingy flavor.

Caution: It's probably best not to pick leaves from roadside trees or trees on public lands, unless you can ascertain that they haven't been sprayed, making them toxic and not fit for food use.

Weekend Cat Blogging #34

Kiri's on the road again, so this weekend Boo over at MasakMasak is the master of ceremonies. Drop on buy and get the cat blogging roundup for this week. Now, without further ado, I present to you my own little feline mistress.

In a bid for world domination, Princess Louise (ruler of the Snuggle People on the Planet Bump) has revealed her alien Pupil of POWER!!! Be afraid. Be very afraid.

{tags }

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Blog Party #6 Retro Party

Blog Party - This sounded like a fun one - a retro cocktail party with munchies, drinks and snacks from the 40s through the 60s, prime cocktail party time. As usual, I didn't read the fine print. The entries are due today. I can write this up and hope I'll get it put together for the pics in time for the roundup, which is what I'm going to have to do. Early to bed tonight, for early to rise tomorrow.

I thought I'd do three beverages, each with an appropriate munchie. Being born and raised in California, my take on this may be different from those who grew up or whose parents entertained in different parts of the country. I've raided my mother's and my aunts personal cookbooks for these, so I know they're authentic. :G:

First we have the Mediterranean represented by Retsina with Gyros meatballs and Tzatziki dipping sauce.

Then we have the East, serving either Sake or Sapporo with Rumaki marinated in garlic chili sauce and brown sugar.

And last, going probably back to my grandmother's era, the classic Martini with Art Deco Caviar Canapes, not that my grandmother was in the least a Martini kind of lady.

Something for everyone.


Gyros Meatballs

Preheat oven to 350 F.
  • 1/2 pound each ground lamb and ground beef
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped onions
  • 1 tsp. oregano, crumbled
  • 1/4 tsp. sugar
  • 1 tsp. pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. cumin
  • 1 tsp. hot paprika or half that of cayenne
  • 1/4 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2 tsp. olive or peanut oil
  1. Put everything into a large bowl and smoosh it around, with your scrupulously clean hands, until it is well mixed.
  2. Form into bite-size meatballs, keeping in mind that they will shrink some as they cook.
  3. Put a wire rack onto a jellyroll pan, and put the meatballs onto the rack.
  4. Cook in the oven for approximately 20 minutes.
  5. Using a tongs turn them about half way through.
  6. Check one at about 15 minutes, by cutting into it and seeing if it's still pink, or use a pen thermometer - it should be 160 degrees. They will continue cooking after they are out of the oven.

Tzatziki Sauce

  • 1 pint sour cream
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 tsp. lemon juice
  • 2 tsp. olive oil
  • Salt, to taste.
Put everything in a bowl and whisk together until well incorporated.

Serve the meatballs on a platter with toothpicks and have the bowl of Tzatziki nearby.


Preheat broiler
  • 1 pound chicken livers
  • Water chestnuts (1-2 cans)
  • 1 tbsp. Chili Paste with Garlic
  • 2 tbsp. brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp. soy sauce
  • 1 lb. bacon, not thick sliced.
  • Toothpicks, soaked in water to keep them from burning under the broiler.
  1. Trim any bits of fat or stringy stuff from the chicken livers and cut into bize-size pieces, keeping in mind the size of the water chestnuts, so not too small.
  2. Mix chili sauce, brown sugar and soy sauce and pour over chicken livers. Marinate for at least half an hour but not more than an hour.
  3. Drain water chestnuts and pat dry.
  4. Drain chicken livers and pat dry.
  5. Cut bacon slices in half.
  6. Assemble by taking one piece of liver and a water chestnut, wrap a half slice of bacon around them and secure with a toothpick.
  7. Same setup as for the meatballs: Put a wire rack onto a jellyroll pan, and put the Rumaki onto the rack.
  8. With the overn rack at about four inches from the heat source, broil the rumaki for approximately 5 minutes on a side, turning with tongs.
  9. When the bacon is done, the liver should be cooked through,too, but cut one open to be sure.

Caviar Art Deco Canapes

  • Two colors of caviar
  • 1-2 hardboiled eggs, pressed through a sieve for a very fine grain
  • Crustless, thin sliced white bread
  • Room temperature unsalted butter
  • Very finely chopped onion
  • sour cream
  1. Butter the bread lightly before cutting into 2 inch squares.
  2. Using a straight edge, lay it diagonally across the squares.
  3. Carefully spread a single layer of one color of caviar onto one of the resulting triangles.
  4. Do the same with the other color on the opposite side of the straight edge. Carefully remove the divider to keep the line between them as straight as possible.
If you have the patience or the inspiration, you can make checkerboards of alternating colors of caviar, or concentric circles, etc. You can either garnish the sandwiches with the onion and/or sieved egg, for example, running a narrow strip down the dividing line between the caviars, or putting a small dollop on either section, or serve them and the sour cream, alongside, with a small spoon or fork for guests to garnish their own.

Cheers and bon appetit!

Monday, January 16, 2006

Pork, Pork, Everywhere - Very Slow Pig Weekend I

Well, I missed the Pork Blogging Weekend or Slow Pork or something. Ah, Slow Pig. I didn't remember it until the day after we had the delish BBQ ribs for dinner. Then I was at a loss for something else pork so soon, but, now, I'm thinking about adobo. Too bad I'm not going to be eligible for the prizes; they sound super.

After reading about rillettes over at Becks & Posh, I was reminded of how tender and succulent a good pork adobo can be. The first way I learned to cook adobo was my best friend's mother's recipe. It was almost like a sauerbraten in flavor - based on cider vinegar and pickling spices, although she was from the Philippines. This was my benchmark adobo, until I met Procsy, a nurse, also from the Philippines, but a different part, with a very different style of cooking.

Procsy's adobo is based on lemon and garlic, two of my favorite things. She used the traditional combination of chicken and pork, and it was a mind blower. Her recipe is one of those things I have to make in small batches, because I just cannot leave it alone. In thinking about it, it seems to me that if you did the adobo thing to flavor the meat, then cooked it slowly with a lot of it's fat, until it was tender enough to turn into paste, then you'd have a highly flavored rillette of pork and chicken. Hmmm. But would it be good on toasted crusty bread??? I'll have to think about this.

My appetite is telling me an open-face sandwich with butter lettuce, the rillettes on top and...and...something...

To be continued. Why strain my brain when I've already missed the boat, and it's the middle of the night? :G: Tomorrow.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Amazing Discovery - Butter Tempers Tomato Sauce

I was watching America's Test Kitchen this weekend, and they put butter into a slightly acid sauce to bind it and to reduce the acidity. I wish they'd said why butter can do that.

It's something I've been wondering about for years. Way back in college I discovered that putting a pat of butter, on top of the tomato sauce, on top of my pasta made it much less acid. I have no recollection, now, why I would have done such a thing, but I did. For most people this would not necessarily be a good thing, but I get a rash if I eat too much acid food. I'm not giving up my pickles and hot sauce, so the tomato sauce gets buttered. I've done that for years every time I eat tomato sauce at home. :G: And I'm still wondering why it works that way.

Anyone have a clue?

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Riff Alert - Groundnut Soup

After reading through some of your comments, I was inspired with a new idea.

Groundnut Soup
Cookie would like it peanuttier and Kathy is going to try it with Garam Masala. So, what about a more peanut heavy, spicier version of the Groundnut Soup, swirled with a yam puree seasoned with ground coriander and something like maple syrup or just brown sugar. The soup would be thick enough to support swirling it with the heavier puree, and the heightened spiciness would be a great foil for the milder, sweeter yam. Sounds good to me. Pretty, too, with the taupe soup and the brilliant orange of the yam. Yum. :G:

Pepperoni Pizza Polenta etc.

Serves 6-8

This is just what it sounds like, basic (cheese) polenta topped with tomato sauce, pepperoni and cheese before baking. Kids love this, and I’ve seen adults eat an amazing amount, too. If you have polenta left over (or made an extra big batch for the Polenta Florentine) this dish takes only a few minutes to assemble and bake before the meal is ready. Just put together a green salad while the dish is baking for a complete meal.
But don't stop at pepperoni, if your pizza tastes run to something more exotic. Feta or goat cheese, a variety of pitted olives, roasted veggies, other kinds of meats - add whatever suits your fancy for this polenta pizza.
I usually make this in a casserole dish so it’s mostly polenta and less fatty and salty, but you can also use a shallow pan so the polenta is more like a pizza crust (you’ll need more tomato sauce). Caution, make the polenta at least an inch thick, however, or it could get tough in the baking.

  • 4 cups Cooked polenta
  • 1 cup Basic Tomato Sauce* or canned Pizza or Spaghetti sauce
  • 2-3 cups Grated cheeses (Jack, Parmesan, etc.)
  • Sliced Pepperoni, to your taste
  • Optional: olives and green onions,sliced
  1. Spread Polenta in a baking dish.
  2. Top with tomato sauce and grated cheese.
  3. Arrange the pepperoni slices on top.
  4. Sprinkle with olives and green onions, if used.
  5. Bake at 350 until heated through and cheese is melted, about 30 minutes.
  6. Let rest at least 10-15 minutes before serving so it will set up a bit.

* Basic Tomato Sauce
I’ve been making this sauce for many, many years, and, for me, it has the best flavor combination. It's light but zesty, and I find the acid of the vinegar freshens the tomato flavor and the sugar brings out its richness. You can add tomato paste, meats, wine, broth, more herbs, whatever, to tailor it’s flavor to your own preferences, but it’s wonderful on pizza or spaghetti, as is.
I’m giving you proportions for using only 1 medium can of tomato sauce, but you can scale it up to pretty much as large as you want. I make this in big batches, let it cool, then pour it into sandwich or quart size zipper bags. I lay them out on cookie sheets in the freezer. When they’re frozen, you can stack them up to save space. Then just grab one or as many as you need for your recipe, pop the frozen sauce directly into a saucepan and simmer over low-medium heat until they’re thawed and heated through, or thaw them standing in a microwave safe container in the nuker.

  • 1 medium can tomato sauce
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, crushed or chopped fine
  • Pinch basil or summer savory
  • 2 tsp. olive oil
  • 2 tsp. red wine vinegar
  • Pinch sugar
  • Salt and Pepper to taste

  1. Put all the ingredients into a saucepan and simmer over medium heat for about 10 minutes, longer if you want a thicker sauce. If it starts to bubble and spit, you’ll need to reduce the heat.
  2. Taste for seasoning: too vinegary, add a tiny bit more sugar; salt and pepper.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Fancy Grits - Cornmeal by Any Other Name

Here is another old column being recycled. I wrote it at about this time of year, so it fits. This time it's a trio of corn meal dishes to prepare ahead, if desired, and bake when needed:
  • Polenta Florentine
  • Pepperoni Pizza Polenta
  • Tamale Pie.
I'm spreading it over three posts, again. Also, I use my StirChef, which I told you about in this post, to make both my Polenta and my sauces for these recipes. I'm happy with the Instant Grits, but since I got the StirChef, I'm more likely to use the real, slow cooking, needs constant stirring thing.
The holidays are behind us, but winter is still here and colder than ever. This is a good time for hearty, satisfying meals. Cornmeal, in this case in the guise of polenta, makes a variety of stick-to-your ribs dishes which can serve as elegant or hearty entrees and side dishes.
As you might expect, I have my own approach to the Italian classic dish. I’ve served Polenta Florentine at a lot of buffets. The first time I did, it was dubbed “fancy grits” by a southern friend. Polenta, grits and plain old cornmeal or masa are all the same food, just ground and prepared a little bit differently.
I, personally, like spinach in Italian dishes, the Florentine style, with cream sauces. I also like the Italian way of combining tomato and cream sauces in the same dish. So it was that I came up with my version of polenta, Polenta Florentine. Serve this as either an entrée with salad or veggies, or as a side dish with a simple grilled or roasted meat or fish.
I’ll leave it up to you as to which form your “polenta” base will take: the true, from scratch polenta, a cornmeal cereal, or an “instant” grits product. If you’re a purist and have the time and patience, by all means buy the true polenta. Otherwise get one of the packaged cereal products. The differences will be in the coarseness or fineness of the grinding of the cornmeal, the color and, of course, in the ease of preparation.

Basic Polenta
I use the same liquid ingredients for my polenta dishes, no matter which cornmeal product I'm using, a mixture of broth and milk (evaporated milk, milk, even half and half). This gives the polenta a bit of flavor and creaminess it doesn’t have when prepared with water; however, if you are watching fats or calories, you can use water or all broth.
You’ll want to make enough to have 6-8 cups of the cooked polenta to fit your casserole dish. You can add grated cheeses while it’s still hot on the stove - I use a mixture of cheddar and Monterrey Jack, stirring them in as they melt. If you quit here, you’ve got Cheese Grits or Polenta, but this makes the basis for these three polenta dishes.

Polenta Florentine

Serves 6-8

  • 1/2-3/4 cup Tomato sauce, straight from the can
  • Pinch Basil or summer savory
  • 6-8 cups Cooked polenta, still warm
  • Baby spinach, rinsed and patted dry (stems chopped off) or frozen chopped spinach, thawed, drained and squeezed dry
  • 4 cups Generic White Sauce*
  • 2 cups Parmesan or Romano cheese, grated or shredded
  • Optional: A sprinkling of paprika for added color

Preparation (instructions for layered dish):
  1. Pour tomato sauce to thinly cover the bottom of a casserole dish (9-inch square to small lasagne size). Sprinkle on herbs.
  2. Pour on half the polenta and spread it evenly over the bottom. Sprinkle with half the cheese.
  3. Mix the spinach with half the white sauce, spreading over the cheese and polenta.
  4. Pour the remainder of the polenta over the creamed spinach, carefully, so as to maintain the layers.
  5. Spread the remaining white sauce over the polenta and top with the rest of the cheese (and paprika, if used).
  6. Bake at 350 degrees until heated through and the top has turned golden, about 30-40 minutes, if you started with warm polenta.
  7. Let set for a 10-15 minutes before serving - it will hold its layers better and not be so likely to run all over the plate. However, you could serve this in a cream soup bowl without offending me.
  8. Make your salad and garlic bread while you wait.

Alternatively, you can prepare this in individual au gratin dishes, using only one layer of polenta and topping with creamed spinach and cheese.
* Generic White Sauce
This sauce and can be used as a base for a variety of dishes requiring a white sauce.
Makes about 4 cups
  • 2 Tbsp. Butter
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed or chopped fine
  • 1/2 cup white flour
  • dash white pepper
  • dash nutmeg
  • Optional: splash of dry sherry
  • 1 can broth** (about 14 oz.)
  • 1 cup milk
  • Optional: 2 tbsp. grated parmesan or romano cheese
  • Salt to taste

  1. Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic, cook and stir until the garlic is coated in butter.
  2. Add the flour and white pepper. Stir continuously until the flour is beginning to turn barely off-white and has lost its raw smell. This is a roux.
  3. Combine the broth and milk. If you're using the sherry, whisk it in now. Then, whisk and stir vigorously as you add the other liquids to the roux. Continue whisking gently until the sauce has thickened.
  4. Add the cheese, if used, and stir well.

**anything but beef

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Ten Mysterious/Weird Things - I've been tagged!

Cookiecrumb, over at I'm Mad and I Eat, tagged me for this meme where you list ten facts about yourself that mostly nobody knew. Heh. So, we can't call them secrets, can we?

Okay, here I go, as usual, in no particular order:
  1. I once nearly ran over Woody Allen in a parking lot in Sausalito. He seemed to think I was cute in my little sports car, though, so he didn't mind.
  2. The first time I cooked Thanksgiving dinner for a crowd, I'd never roasted a turkey, my oven ignition was literally being held together by chewing gum, and the kitchen faucet exploded and was "repaired" by me with liquid solder. Hey, it worked. Oh, and did I say this was a crowd of people I worked with, and I was in the house alone, sans parental supervision/assistance??? It was all good, except we had one divorce come as a direct result of that day, and, no, it's not what you're thinking.
  3. I made my first sale as an artist, selling a drawing to the Uncle Wiggly column in the newspaper for $2, when I was about six years old. And, from an adult perspective, isn't that a rather obscene name for the kids page???
  4. I am really turned on by a guy who can wear a boa with panache. A straight guy.
  5. My hair is halfway down my back and growing, because I can't make up my mind what I want to do with it. The last time I couldn't make up my mind about my hair, it was six inches below my waist for several years.
  6. I once made a semi-pet of a possum. She would have been a total pet, but I had too many mixed feelings about the appropriateness of the idea. Still miss the little doll, too, what a personality.
  7. I don't have a sweet tooth (and I'm allergic to chocolate, the one sweet I find irresistible), but I can't be trusted alone with a ham, a roast chicken, a rare beef roast, an antipasto get the idea.
  8. I've never ridden on a motorcycle, although I've dated several guys who drove them, even was engaged to one.
  9. I once moved an overstuffed chair in a VW Beetle convertible. Heck, I once moved a wicker sofa in my little sports car, top down, of course. Remarkably versatile, convertibles.
  10. I can be hypnotized by delicious scents, flavors, colors. Hmmm. Sounds not so much, although I love most kinds of music. Odd.
Well, there you have B'gina. And I wonder what kind of bizarre picture those miscellaneous facts paint. Smiiiiling.

Almost forgot to tag some folks. What a great way to find out more about someone. So, I'm going to tag five very interesting people:
Sorry if any of you have already been tagged. These memes are everywhere!

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Winter Soups with Tradition III - Groundnut Soup

This is the last Holiday Soups installment: Groundnut Soup. A traditional lunch dish in many African countries, now a staple of Kwanzaa celebrations. This soup is rich, with the peanut butter making it creamy. Be sure to use natural, unsweetened peanut butter. It's filling and so, so mellow and good. I don't make this soup very often, but every time I do, I wonder why it took me so long to get around to it.
In Ghana, the dish usually contains tomato, and it tends to be spiced up with red pepper flakes or hot curry powder. In the Sudan, the dish is milder, sometimes made with milk, sometimes with lemon. I’ll give you the recipe for the basic soup, and let you decide which flavor enhancers you prefer. If you use the curry powder or other dry spices, add them to the oil when you sauté the onions and garlic. It takes some of the harshness out of their flavor and gives a more well-blended taste.
This recipe has turkey as an ingredient because it was originally developed for an article on holidays, and at holiday time we're likely to have turkey left over. However, true Groundnut Soup does not use meat. To keep this vegetarian/vegan, use a vegetable broth or water for the liquid.

  • 1 Onion, diced
  • 1-2 cloves Garlic, minced
  • 1-2 tsp. Hot curry powder
    1/4 tsp. Cinnamon and small pinch Ground cardamom
  • 2 Tbsp. Vegetable oil
  • 1-2 cups Turkey, shredded or cut small
  • Broth to cover
  • Optional: Tomato paste (1 small can) or 2 tomatoes (chopped small)
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  • Optional: Hot pepper flakes
  • Peanut butter (1-2 Tbsp. per cup of liquid)
  • Garnish: Pimentos, diced (optional)
  1. Sauté onion and garlic (and dry spices if used) in the vegetable oil until just beginning to turn golden. Garlic burns very easily, giving it a bitter taste, so keep the heat at medium and stir while cooking.
  2. Put all the remaining ingredients, except the peanut butter, in a soup pot and simmer.
  3. When the liquid is warm, ladle some into a bowl and combine it with the peanut butter, stirring until well-blended. Add back into the pot.
  4. Serve hot with a starch, like rice or bread.
  5. You can provide a dish of chopped pimentos for garnish, which adds a nice mild sweetness.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Winter Soups with Tradition II - Gumbo

This is the second installment from my old Holiday Soups column, with a few revisions to bring it up to date: Gumbo, as zesty as you want to make it, as luxurious as you like. We associate gumbo with New Orleans and Louisiana, but it's popular throughout the southern states.
It's traditional on Christmas eve to go to Midnight mass, then come home to a simmering pot of gumbo. Sounds like heaven to me, especially up North where the winters are cold, cold, cold. After all the hardship that's been visited on that part of the country this past hurricane season, we should all cook a belated pot of gumbo to remind us of how important the recovery of the region is to our country, and maybe send them a little good luck for a change.
The first time I tasted gumbo was at the home of my friend, Lisa, in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. We were passing through on our way driving from Baltimore to San Francisco, in February, and she wanted to show us what southern hospitality was all about. She had some gumbo from the holidays in her freezer. She set it to thaw and simmer on the stove while she made a pot of rice. I don’t remember what all was in it, shrimp and chicken I know, but it really sang to me. So, I set off on a search for my own perfect gumbo.
The key to any gumbo is the roux. If you develop a real fondness for gumbo, you might want to make a large batch of roux to keep in the refrigerator to save time. It's best made in a cast iron dutch oven, the gumbo pot of choice for me. It needs to be a heavy bottomed pan to keep from scorching the roux. If you only have something lightweight, reduce the heat, watch it carefully, and never stop stirring.
Stir Chef
This step can be time consuming, taking as long as an hour,'s where I insert a plug for about the handiest gadget I've ever come across. It's called a StirChef*, and it stirs sauces and other kinds of things that need constant attention, so you don't have to. Really. I use it for making this roux, allowing me more time to assemble and prep the other ingredients.
Filé powder also helps to flavor and thicken the mixture, as does okra, if you aren't put off by its texture. The variety of ingredients is limited only by your palate and you pocketbook. I’ve listed many, so just choose the ones you like, use them all, or add some of your own. If you can get crawfish and prefer them, use them instead of the shrimp. You can use whole chicken pieces and whole sausages, but they will require more cooking time.

  • 1 cup each Flour and vegetable oil
  • 3-4 Onions, cut into segments, top to bottom
  • 1 cup Celery, chopped
  • 2 cups Red and green bell pepper, chopped
  • 3 cups Turkey, pork or chicken, shredded
  • 1 lb. Shrimp, peeled
  • 1 lb. Sausage (Andouille or Linguiça), sliced
  • 2 or 3 Bay leaves
  • 10 cloves Garlic, diced finely
  • 2 qts broth
  • to taste Salt, white and cayenne peppers
  • Optional: Sliced okra, chopped greens, chopped tomatoes
  • File powder
  • Hot long grain rice for serving

  1. Make the roux by combining the flour and vegetable oil in a heavy soup pot. Cook and stir over medium heat until the roux turns a caramel color, but not blackened. So, watch it carefully and stir continuously. Some people prefer a darker roux for spicier ingredients like the sausage. If that's you, continue cooking until the roux is a hazelnut brown.
  2. Sauté the onions, celery and sausage in a little vegetable oil until veggies are softened and sausage is lightly browned, and set aside. NOTE: If you're using whole chicken pieces, brown them here, as well.
  3. When the roux is colored, add the liquid in a stream, whisking as you add. If it's too thick, add more broth.**
  4. Add the remaining ingredients (minus "sea food") and let the gumbo simmer until the everything is cooked/heated through.
  5. Add the shrimp or crawfish. Simmer just long enough for them to cook.
  6. I pass the file powder at the table for those who like it. If you put it into the pot, do it at the end or it can get stringy and yucky.

Put a mound of rice into a large soup bowl and spoon the gumbo over the top.
Provide hot sauce for those who can never get enough heat.

* A few years ago, I talked to the guy who developed the StirChef. I wondered how strong that motor could be, when it was run by just a few flashlight batteries - could it handle polenta/cornmeal, a very heavy dish? Well, they wanted to know how strong it was, too, so they tested it on cement. :G: Yeah, if it can handle cement, it can handle polenta. I have two of them. When I make my Polenta Florentine recipe, which requires both polenta and a bechamel sauce, I can have both of them cooking at once without having to worry about the stirring and the watching. Heaven.
** Alternatively, you can cook the bulky ingredients (meat and sausage) in the liquid ingredients first. Remove them, using a slotted spoon or tongs, and set aside. Then add the liquid to the roux.

The 2006 Food Challenge or This Year I Dare II!

I've thought of another item to add to my first three:
Baking bread - I used to bake bread at least once a week, pizza also at least once per 7. I was so used to it that I never used a recipe. I haven't made bread, aside from some abysmal stuff in a bread machine, in years, and I want to get back to that. So, my fourth challenge will be that, by the end of the year, I'll be making bread at least once a week again. I think homemade bread tastes and smells (!) wonderful, heavenly, delicious, all of that. Plus it's got better texture and body than almost all storebought. I'd like to be nearly self-sufficient on the bread front again. I find that being out of bread is one of the things that most often prompts a trip to the market, and that's just plain sad.

Oh! Here's number five:
Homemade mozzarella - I've been wanting to try this for years, ever since I was teaching in Baltimore and had to make weekly trips to the (world's best) Italian deli, Mastellone's*, on Harford Road, for fresh mozzarella and other goodies. It's really not that hard, a little time consuming and requires a little equipment, but I've got a year to get my act together.

*Very nice couple, BTW, and they have some things there I've never managed to find now that I'm home in California, again, like a sheep's milk Romano with black peppercorns in it. It's soft enough for eating but hard enough to grate. Ambrosia. I was addicted to that stuff. Oooh, and big, fat capers packed in salt, still in the barrel they came in. Just a really great source for authentic Italian (and some Middle Eastern) deli-type stuff. If you live in Baltimore or are visiting, go there!

Mastellone Deli & Wine Shop
7212 Harford Road
Baltimore, MD 21234-7702
(410) 444-5433

The 2006 Food Challenge or This Year I Dare!

That's a New Year's challenge from Ilva at Lucullian Delights. Instead of a New Year's resolution, you choose to make, and blog about, five foods/dishes that intimidate you, that you may have tried and failed at, five things that are going to push your cooking envelope. :G:

Here are my challenges, two of them also on Ilva's list:
  • Souffle - I've never made a souffle. I've never had a souffle I liked. So, my challenge will double the jeopardy: not only make a souffle, but make one so sublimely wonderful that I'll like it and add it to my repertoire. Oh, my goodness, I think I'm already in trouble.
  • Choux Paste - I love cream puffs, eclairs, profiteroles, all those little puffs full of heavenly goodness. My mom used to make them when I was growing up, but I haven't had homemade ones since then. I understand that they're quite simple to make, so I'm going to give it a go and probably gain 20 pounds from eating all that heavenly goodness.
  • Ice Cream - I haven't made ice cream in years. It's a lot of work, even with the technological toys we have available. You see, I don't want to make just one flavor, I want to make several, at the same time, together. Do you see?
    When I was catering and entertaining a lot, I had a couple of Salton (IIRC) ice cream makers that made two containers at a time. Many moves later, they are who knows where. I'd make different fruit flavors, each with a different, pronounced color and flavor, and serve baby-size scoops of all of them in one dish - colorful and delicious. I haven't done this in years, because the recipe I used for each flavor was different from the others. Doubling my challenge, once again, I'm going to come up with a base that I can use for all my fruit flavors so that I am not too lazy to do this anymore. (And I've got to find those ice cream makers!)
  • ...

To be continued. I need to think about my two other entries. Those three have been nagging at me for ages. Thank you Ilva for pushing all of us to break down those barriers, whatever their origins.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Doing a Flyby

Sorry I haven't been blogging with any regularity lately, but life has hit me with multiple whammies. I'm flu-ing, so nothing has any flavor or appeal. The Aged Parent is in the hospital, until a few days ago a bizarre series of detours around flooded roads to reach. At least the roads are open, again.

I'm thinking about recycling some food columns I did several years ago, just to keep the blog alive. If so, you'll be seeing a couple posts in a few days time. Until then, it's going to be quiet here.