Saturday, November 13, 2010

Gumbo, Baby!

The coolness creeping up on us masqueraded as Spring for me one day this past week. I was walking with my best friend along a route we'd covered many times over the years and our conversation was also scampering over old fields with new fodder.
Our trip included crossing a short bridge that always makes me feel closer to the sky. In the few seconds we were at the apex I looked up, as I always do, to see what particular flavor of blue sky I was being graced with when a sharp breeze came across the bay and for that quick interval of seconds I smelled Spring.
Spring is still months away despite my hope to skip past fall and winter to my favorite time as a Daughter of Demeter.
There are still green things to harvest and eat, canned things from summer and cured meats from the last cold time to bring together in my favorite cool weather meal, Gumbo.
Shrimp, crab, fishies and chicken have no place in gumbo for me as a Florida girl. I don't like chicken and think burying crab or shrimp in soup-y stew-y things is WRONG. More on that later.
For now, this is my way to accept Fall.

Basic Sausage Gumbo

1 large red onion, diced
1 pound country sausage, sliced in 1/8" pieces (use 1/2 this amount if you are watching bad fats and boost the flavor with Vigo Ham Soup Base to taste)
1 green pepper, diced
4-5 stalks celery, chopped
2 32-oz cans petite diced tomatoes
2 cloves diced garlic
1 32 ounce container chicken stock
1 16 oz bag frozen sliced okra OR 2 cups fresh sliced okra
2 tsp sea salt
tbl paprika
many grinds of pepper
pinch paprika
some crushed red pepper and a bit of Cavender's
pinch or so of rubbed sage

Here's the hard part. You need a good pot (meaning not light-weight or thin bottomed), 8 tbls of good oil (extra virgin olive or grape seed oil, something good flavored and good for you) and 8 tbl flour.
Add the oil to the pot, heat over medium until shimmering and add the flour. Stir steadily to combine oil and flour until the mix is a soft gold, about 15 minutes. This stuff is liquid napalm so be careful not to get any on you. I like to use a flat whisk that has a heat-proof coating on it.IF YOUR BURN THE ROUX, DUMP IT OUT AND START OVER. Burned roux stinks and smells burned so you'll know if you've crossed that line. Roux requires constant stirring, no walking away to pour fresh wine or answer the door unless you have prehensile toes and can call them to stirring duty. You can easily ruin your dinner with burned roux.
After getting your roux pretty, thick and bubbly, pour in the vegetables (except okra) and stir very quickly to coat in the roux. The vegetables and the roux will act like you have just provided hem with a mortal insult by glomming together to make you think they're going to burn. Just keep stirring quickly with a wooden or other favorite spoon and it'll be OK:)
Continue stirring for about a minute to start the onions releasing their fragrance and then stir in one can of the tomatoes and about 3/4 of the chicken broth. Add seasoning and the sausage. Keep the heat at medium/medium high. At this point you decide if you want more tomato or not. I usually do, but at least one can of mine is whirred into a crushed state with an immersion blender. You can just buy tomatoes that are crushed already, but my pantry never makes that elusive can availabe when I need it.
This will also be the point at which you start thinking about adding the rest of the stock or not. A gumbo can be the consistency of a stew or a soup or in-between depending on your decisions along the way and whether or not you like rice with your gumbo. You can still change your mind as you move along the spectrum of cooking this dish.
Put the sliced okra in now, check seasonings, cover and reduce heat to medium low. Let it bubble along for about twenty minutes (range tops vary so if your's runs hot, get the heat lower so you don't burn your masterpiece). Check the flavor to see if you need salt/pepper/paprika/etc and add whatever your tastebuds dictate. Now is the time to decide whether you need that last bit of stock or more tomatoes if you didn't add them earlier. Make your decision, bring to a quick boil if you add anything, reduce to a low simmer afterwards. Cover the pot and let it simmer along for at least thirty minutes, an hour if you have it.

Gumbo is one of those dishes that becomes yours, just like really good chilis. The flavors and vegetable amounts that you and your family like are what matters.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Planning a Tasty Week, Lamenting a Short Weekend

I hurry. You hurry. We all hurry and we overlook important things along the way, or things that might make the day better or our frames of mind sweeter. Tonight's dinner is an example.

Tonight was supposed to have been a good dinner night and I made a very dumb mistake.
I had planned to have a grilled hunk o'beef with savory eggplant and potatoes au gratin. I had sliced and seasoned zuchinni, yellow squash, eggplant, red onion and portobello mushrooms to be grilled while the beef rested to use for another night.
The eggplant and potatoes were perfect - the one aromatic, the other golden - and the beef looked good.
The cut I had selected was, unfortunately, not the one I had intended. I had bought a hunk of top shoulder roast, which should be cooked slow-and-low, instead of chuck roast. I have done similar things before, thinking I grabbed a box of blackberry breakfast bars and discovering that blueberry bars were in my bag instead. My errors of Hurry are usually easily remedied. This one was Epic Fail.
When I applied my perfectly sharpened Rada knife to the rested beef, I detected a resistance that shouldn't have been so ...firm. I attributed that to the rareness of the meat. Beautiful, thinly cut slices of rare beef adorned our Fransicsan Apple plates. I had carefully positioned a portion of eggplant and scoop of potatoes before slicing the beef. These were pretty plates.
We enjoyed this aesthetically pleasing view until the time for eating began.
The beef was perfectly seasoned and grilled but tough as a boot - or as I would imagine one would be. We tried several different cutting methods (against the grain, with the grain, combo) and nothing helped.
The cats were delighted at their tiny bites of people food this mistake produced. We cut the rest into large chunks for the possums and raccoons who come to the back deck for meals and called it a win.
I'll serve the grilled vegetables with salmon filets this week so the grill wasn't fired for naught:)

Savory Eggplant
1 medium eggplant, topped and sliced lengthways
1 tin anchovies in oil
3 large cloves garlic, peeled
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup olive oil
Cavender's Greek Seasoning

Preheat Oven to 350 degrees. Cut a shallow, angled tic-tac-toe pattern into the flesh of the eggplant. Heat 1/4 cup of oil in a large skillet on medium high and when a drop of water "spits" in the pan add the eggplant, cut side down. While the eggplant cooks (reduce to medium low after about a minute), mash the anchovies into a paste. Put the garlic cloves through a press into the anchovy mix, stir in and add the 1/2 cup of olive oil.
The Eggplant halves should be golden - remove from skillet and place in a glass dish. The scoring in the eggplant should have opened the meat so you can spread the anchovy mixture across the surface and into the crevices.
Bake at 350 for 40 minutes or until the eggplant is tender.
I only serve this when I am making beef but that's just me.