Gumbo

GumboI’ve lived in Alabama for almost four years (wow, typing that makes me pause). Before I moved here, I doubt that I’d ever had gumbo once. I don’t think I’d ever tried okra–one of the key gumbo ingredients–except for maybe some of that fried stuff down at the Cracker Barrel. When Glenn brought home okra from the farm last year (and kept bringing bags and bags of it home every single week), I figured I’d better learn to make it. I started searching for recipes, not knowing what made good gumbo…well…good! I tried recipe after recipe, and they were all fine, but none was THE ONE. By the time summer was over, I was tired of trying and tired of gumbo.

Bowl O' OkraThis year, when Glenn brought home the first batch of okra, I was ready to try again. This time, I consulted the recipe of Paula Deen (you know, Paula Deen of the Food Network, the one who uses a pound of butter in every recipe?) of my neighboring state of Georgia. Why in the world had I not even considered looking at a Paula Deen recipe last year?! Well, for one thing, the last time I tried a Paula Deen recipe, I had a bit of a disaster. It wasn’t her fault. It happened when I made her outrageously delicious coconut cake for my own office going away party. My coworkers at the Baltimore Museum of Art requested I make my OWN GOING AWAY PARTY CAKE. Ha! I don’t blame them for asking me to make it–I had made it once before, and it was INSANE. It is an amazingly rich, sweet, wonderful cake, and I was happy to make it again (I wanted it too, you know!). I spent all evening on it…probably four hours total. I slaved over this cake, knowing it would be my last hurrah at the museum and knowing my colleagues were waiting patiently for it.

Finally, around 10:30 that evening, I finished it. I was exhausted. I was so ready to sleep. I picked up the cake to put it in the refrigerator until morning, and as I opened the refrigerator door, some unknown hateful spirit–perhaps some jealous Food Network Paula Deen competitor? Rachael Ray? Alton Brown?–picked that cake right off my palm, flipped it upside down, and it landed on the kitchen floor completely inverted. Yeah, there was no saving that one.

Chicken and SausageGlenn was sitting in the other room watching a baseball game. I quietly, to myself, in disbelief, said “Oh. My. God.” Glenn didn’t hear me. A little louder I said it: “Oh. My. God!” He suddenly sensed displeasure in the kitchen and looked my way. “OH. MY GOD!!!” I said a third time. This got his attention. He looked down the short hallway at me, standing at the refrigerator with the door hanging open and an empty cake plate in my hand. I saw his eyes look at my eyes, then the plate, then the open refrigerator door. His head slowly lowered until he reached the dead cake, smeared beneath my feet on the linoleum floor.

Make a RouxHe looked back up at me, his mouth open. I looked at him, my mouth open. After several minutes of staring at each other in silence, I smiled. Then he smiled. I laughed…a deep gutteral, insupressable laugh. Then he laughed with me, involuntarily making me laugh even harder. What else could we do? There was no saving this cake. It was carnage, pure carnage, and it had met its demise before anyone could even taste it.

So, we did the next best thing (actually eating the cake being the first best thing)…Glenn got out the camera and began to take pictures. First, we took pictures of the cake, splattered all over the kitchen floor. Then we took pictures of the two of us eating the cake off the kitchen floor–carefully–with forks…then without forks. Finally, we took pictures of our two cats eating the cake off the kitchen floor.

Gumbo 2009 003Then we emailed the pictures. Emailed them to my entire department, knowing they would all open them first thing the next morning, laugh, and then take pity on me when I didn’t show up with my–er, Paula Deen’s–cake. Waiting for me when I got to work the next day for my going-away party was a very lovely coconut cake made at a local bakery that someone had sneaked out to buy after they had watched the cake disaster unfold in my email photo array. One of my coworkers, soberly, cut the store-bought cake and passed the plates and forks around. We all sat down to eat it, and each of us looked around the table at the others. “It’s great!” I said, with a grateful smile. “Yes, it’s very good,” each one of my colleagues said politely as we tasted our slices. But I know what we were all thinking. Each of us, right at that very moment, was thinking the same thing. We were all thinking how much we loved, and how much we missed, Paula Deen.

RiceAnd that brings me back to gumbo. When you want a Southern recipe, always always always go to a Southerner! And be careful! Don’t drop your wonderful completed recipe all over the floor for godsakes! Yes, Paula Deen’s recipes tend to be over the top with fat and butter, but in this case, gumbo just doesn’t have a lot of fat in it anyway. The only neccesary fat in this recipe is five tablespoons of butter. It sounds like a lot, but remember this recipe feeds 8-10 people…so that’s not much at all. If you don’t want to use real andouille sausage, you can always substitute turkey or chicken sausage. The pork andouille, however, is what really makes this recipe authentic, so if you can do it, don’t skimp on the sausage.

Gumbo 2Gumbo recipe from Miss Paula Deen, Y’all!

8-10 servings

3 large boneless skinless chicken breast halves

salt and pepper

1/4 cup vegetable oil

1 pound smoked sausage, cut into 1/4-inch slices (I used a little less than that…about 3/4 of a pound. Also, I used smoked andouille sausage)

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

5 tablespoons butter (she calls for margarine, but come on, people…go for the good stuff)

1 large onion, chopped

8 cloves garlic, minced

1 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped

3 stalks celery, chopped

1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce

1/4 bunch flat leaf parsley, stems and leaves removed, coarsely chopped, plus chopped leaves for garnish

4 cups hot water

5 beef bouillon cubes

1 (14-oz) can stewed tomatoes with juice

2 cups sliced okra (she calls for frozen, but I had PLENTY of fresh)

4 green onions, sliced, white and green parts

1/2 pound small shrimp, peeled, deveined and cooked

1. Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a heavy bottomed Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Cook the chicken until browned on both sides and remove. Add the sausage and cook until browned, then remove. Sprinkle the flour over the oil, add 2 tablespoons of butter and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until brown, about 10 minutes. Let the roux cool.

2. Return the Dutch oven to low heat and melt the remaining 3 tablespoons butter. Add the onion, garlic, green pepper and celery and cook for 10 minutes. Add Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper to taste and the 1/4 bunch parsley. Cook, while stirring frequently, for 10 minutes. Add 4 cups hot water and bouillon cubes, whisking constantly. Add the chicken and sausage. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for 45 minutes. Add tomatoes and okra. Cover and simmer for 1 hour. Just before serving add the green onions, shrimp, and chopped parsley. I like to serve gumbo over jasmine rice. It would also be great with some nice crusty bread.

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Don’t Take Lemons For Granted

Seems that all g.’s traveling to Boston lately has resulted in a diet of sandwiches: sandwiches on the plane, sandwiches in the airport, sandwiches at lunch meetings. when I asked g. what kinds of things he wanted for dinner this week, he said “anything but a sandwich.” We both craved something “fresh” for dinner, and I’ve realized over the last few years that fresh usually equals something with lemons.

Lemons and Knife

Plus, they are just so darn pretty.

Lemons

Especially when it’s still technically winter and fresh veggies are still of the sweet potato and turnip variety, lemons always step up to the plate and lift you out of a cream-based-soup winter rut, which seemed wonderful around November, but is now getting tired.

Here is the first recipe I made this week. It’s from Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa at Home. I changed the recipe just a bit by adding about two tablespoons of pesto. I had a ton of basil last summer and made pesto, then froze it in an ice cube tray. I’m trying to use it up, and this was the perfect dish. Basil is another one of those foods that automatically freshens up supper.

I also may have added some white wine as well. It was available and, well, right there in my cup, so I thought it would add a little more flavor.

Shrimp with Pesto Ice Cube

 

The lump of green in the middle is a frozen ice cube of pesto.

 

Lemon Shrimp Scampi

This rather large portion is g.’s.