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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Pasta with Pesto, Potatoes, Shrimp and Green Beans

Aug-Sept 2009 041Last weekend was my husband’s birthday. To celebrate properly, I made him work on our if-you-touch-it-it-might-collapse garage…all week. Actually, we both took the whole week off from work and called it a “work-cation” to make it sound like so much more fun! But really, there was very little “cation” in it at all. This garage has been on our to-do list since we moved into our house three and a half years ago. We’ve been slowly gutting it of the makeshift cabinets and falling-down plywood walls to remake it into a workshop/storage area. Living in a tiny bungalow built in 1940 means we have precious little closet space, so the thought of having this much extra storage is worth a week of hard work (I think?).

 

 

Green Derby Snap BeansSo, on Friday night, after working so hard all week on our rotting, termite-infested garage, I planned to take Glenn to Bottega for his birthday–kind of a reward to both of us. Turns out it was even more of a reward than I ever thought it would be. Early Friday morning I woke up around 2 am to the sound of something falling. It sounded like a “Wooooosh! Thump!” Being startled in the middle of the night, and having my whole life taken over by garage renovation, my first thought was “Good lord, the garage fell over!”  I got out of bed immediately, tried to wake Glenn who was completely unresponsive, and ran out to the garage. It was still standing (of course!). Thinking that I must have just heard some thunder or had ingested too much wine the night before, I went back to bed. The next morning, Glenn and I woke to the very strong smell of fresh wood and two very large gum tree branches laying off to the side of our front porch–having fallen barely 6 inches from the house. Apparently one branch broke off, hit another branch on the way down, bent the hanging edge of our gutter 180 degrees, and landed in the rhododendron. 

 

Beans, Potatoes and ShrimpYes, we were very, very lucky that we did not wake up to a hole in the house–or worse. We know. But still, there were two giant tree limbs laying in our rhododendron, and picking them up was not going to be easy. On Friday morning, after running a few errands and locating our handsaw, we got to work on cutting up the tree limb and carrying it to the curb for the city to pick up. It took us about two hours. We may have said a few curse words. At the tree. At our neighbors for not helping us. At the garage for being so old and making us already exhausted before having to deal with this. &*$^% garage!  I will never allow you to store my extra stuff!!

 

Toasting Pine NutsThat dinner at Bottega was looking better and better. After long naps, we awoke, cleaned ourselves up to look presentable, and had one of the best dinners ever. Glenn had Rabbit Torino (rabbit, stuffed with plums and rosemary, and wrapped in pancetta). I had the most wonderful duck breast I’ve ever had with farro (a type of grain, sort of like quinoa), apples, braised carrots, and arugula. People, it is HARD to get duck breast and rabbit breast right. It is sooo common for it to turn out tough. Both the rabbit and the duck were very moist, tender, and flavorful, not gamey. For dessert we split a white chocolate bread pudding (what garage? what tree? what stinky neighbors?). But the very best thing I had at Bottega–the thing I kept thinking about all weekend–was my appetizer: handmade pasta with shrimp, new potatoes, pine nuts, and pole beans,  all in a very rich and buttery pesto sauce. Add the full bottle of wine we consumed to this and you’ve got yourself a birthday party!

  

New Potatoes, SlicedI will tell you that I thought about this pesto sauce like a new boyfriend (er, before Glenn, of course). I had to recreate it. So, Monday night, I tried my best to at least get all the elements right. Rather than pole beans, Glenn had just harvested some Derby String Beans. I thought that would be a fine substitution. I also had a lot of basil in my own garden that needed to be harvested soon–so I made a very easy pesto sauce.  New potatoes? No problem. Toasted pine nuts? Got ’em. Shrimp? Got some nice Gulf shrimp right around the corner at the market. Handmade pasta? With not enough time to handmake some pasta, I just used some lasagna sheets and halved and quartered them. (I just tried to renovate a garage for godsakes! Gimme a break, will ya?)

   

 

Frank Stitt Wanna Be Pesto with Pasta, Beans, Potatoes and ShrimpAnd what element did I taste in Frank Stitt’s (Chef at Bottega) homemade pasta that made it truly decadent? What one food item made this dish over-the-top?

Butter! Oh yes, Mr. Stitt does not skimp on the butter–and I was determined to not skimp on it either! We don’t want to make Mr. Stitt angry when we copy his recipes, now do we?

I have to say, though I did not make the wonderfully delicate handmade pasta that I had at Bottega, and I think my version of this dish needed about a quarter cup more pesto (and, yes, even more butter!), for my first attempt at this, it turned out very well. I will definitely make it again–perhaps when I have more time to make the pasta myself. 

 

 

 

Glenn with DrillYou may be wondering just how much work got done on that garage by week’s end. Well? It still looks very much under construction, but we did get some of the worst of the jobs completed–we framed in the front, replaced a wall in the back–but there’s so much more work that needs to be done before we can inhabit it in any way. I think I’m sensing another “work-cation” coming soon–followed by a dinner out!

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here is my very loose interpretation of  Frank Stitt’s Handmade Pasta with Pesto, Shrimp, Beans, and Potatoes (I can’t remember the actual name of it!)

This served two people–one of those people was extremely hungry. Also, I really made this up as I went along…so you could add or subtract whatever you wish.

1/4 cup of toasted pine nuts

2 medium new potatoes, cooked and sliced

6 lasagna noodles, cooked, halved and quartered

a handful (about a cup) of string beans (or pole beans), string removed and cut to about an inch

1/2 pound of shrimp, peeled and deviened. I salted and peppered these quite liberally. You know, cause I’m a liberal.

2 tablespoons of butter (if I made this again, I probably would have used even more! WOW!)

about a cup of pesto (see my recipe below)

salt and pepper to taste

 

Here’s basically what I did. First, I toasted the pine nuts in a cast-iron skillet.

Then, I cooked the potatoes for about 15 minutes (or until they were tender). I put the lasagna noodles in the same water for about 10 minutes. Because there were only 6 noodles, it was easy to just lift them out of the water to drain them. Then I removed the potatoes and sliced them and sprinkled them lightly with kosher salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, I put the beans in the same water to blanche them for about 3 minutes.

Then I put everything into a large skillet in this order: butter first (till it melted), then shrimp (for about 3 minutes…until they started to turn pink), beans (I gave them another 2 minutes or so), cut up noodles, potatoes, pine nuts, and finally pesto. Mix everything up until the pesto covers all.

 

My basic pesto recipe (this was not quite enough pesto, in my opinion. Next time I’d probably add about a 1/4 cup)

1/4 cup chicken stock

handful of basil (stems removed)

1 clove garlic (I hate pesto that is too garlicky. Some people like more garlic…so add more if you do!)

1/8 cup parmesean

approximately 1/4 cup olive oil–possibly a little more to bring it to a looser consistency

salt and pepper to taste

Note: I usually add walnuts or pine nuts to my pesto, but because there were pine nuts in Frank Stitt’s recipe, I decided to leave them out. Also, I wanted my pesto to be thin, not thick.

 

Put everything but the olive oil into a blender or food processor. Blend while streaming in the olive oil until it gets to be a nice consistency. Some people like a thick pesto, but I prefer mine fairly thin–like a vinagrette.

Check for seasoning–add salt and pepper if necessary. The parmesean will make it fairly salty, though.

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.