Gumbo Wasn’t Easy

This will be a long post. If you are just reading for the method and ingredients just scroll down. It’s ok, I won’t be offended.


I have been asked by Kristian (psst check his blog out for some mystery short stories that will have you scratching your head trying to figure them out before the reveal) for my Gumbo recipe and it’s a great opportunity to share my story of how I came to learn to make it. A little back history: I am a born and raised Texas girl where southern hospitality is extended in my northern home (moved here for…ok that’s another post for another time) and my pride in my upbringing is something that cannot be taken away. My children, all born in the south, still receive ridicule for accents, manners, having a strict upbringing or just being born south of the Mason-Dixon line but we all find comfort in my cooking. Southern women take pride in our cooking and it’s how we show our love and other emotions. Lost a loved one? We are showing up with a casserole and time. It’s hot outside but we want to visit? Sweet tea, some sort of cookie, and a front porch are in order. Sunday dinner? Fried chicken. It’s your turn to feed an oil field’s worth of workers? Crawfish boil. Crowd to feed, Christmas gathering (not eve or the day just during the month) or it’s cold outside? GUMBO!

Before I jump into the list of ingredients and method of cooking there is a difference between Cajun Gumbo and Creole Gumbo. I found a lovely article that explains in simple detail about the two. Now, every house has its own version of a gumbo recipe just like fried chicken (yup I have my own) but it’s not really the recipe that matters so much but rather the method in which it’s cooked. Believe it or not my grandmother didn’t teach me to make gumbo, and old Cajun woman that was friends with my grandmother taught me. We would leave Texas and drive a few hours over into Louisianna and sit and visit for a spell and this is what allowed me to learn so much in that kitchen. From here on out there was NEVER a recipe written down and passed to me. It was a method taught and a few scribbles that I managed on my hand with a horribly, ‘close to drying up pen’ decades ago that I have people ask for all the time (the recipe that is, but no one is will to sit in the kitchen with me to learn).

It was a cold fall day and I was only a 12-year-old girl that loved to be in the kitchen with the older women. That’s when I also learned what it meant to have an old soul which that’s what they told me all the time. The subject came up about how the temperature was going to drop down into the 50’s (yup, I’m cold when it’s 70° out) and the debate over what type of soup to serve everyone came about. Sissy was going to teach me how to make HER gumbo recipe. The baton is being passed and it’s a great responsibility and not to be taken lightly. My young-self thought I was going to be handed a recipe card and just watch. Boy, was I wrong! I’m not going to have you go and slaughter your own chicken or use your grandpa’s meat grinder to make your own Cajun sausage so some things are substituted. Sissy said, ‘I’m not going to give you a card.’ In a Cajun accent, I could barely understand, ‘I’m going to teach you the secrets of my gumbo. You’re not going to watch you’re going to cook. I’ll show and help you ONE time.’ I learned that it literally is about taste, sight, feels, and love.

I was amazed at all the different ingredients she had on her counter and thought, ‘This SO isn’t worth the time.’ and wanted to give up there. This is an ALL day affair too, so be prepared to become one with your kitchen. But here is my updated list of ingredients that you’ll need:

Mess and Scants of Ingredients

  • One Whole Chicken – Boil until done and pick your chicken and set aside. KEEP YOUR BROTH! You will need that and water (enough to give you about 8 cups total liquid). If you cheat this step, Sissy can tell (I tried one time and she spat it out and said she could taste the can). But if you’re on a time crunch 8 cups of good chicken stock and a rotisserie chicken picked clean will work.
  • Yellow Onions-Dice your onions. How much you ask? Sometimes I dice up 1 sometimes 2. For this, I’ll say 2 smallish to medium onions or 1 large onion.
  • Celery-diced. Sissy used an entire bunch but I’ve been known to do as little as 6 stalks. Secret time: PEEL the celery before dicing. I know it sounds weird but I’ve learned that it’s just better when peeled-IN ANYTHING really.
  • Green onions! Trust me, an entire bunch of these beauties needs to be diced for this dish.
  • 1 super large bell or 2 smallish bells-Bell peppers that is. Take out the seeds and white veiny parts. Slice and dice.
  • Garlic-Peeled and finely diced. Don’t be afraid to use this! I normally do about 5-6 cloves worth but since it’s your first time start with 4.
  • Cajun or Creole seasoning. I’m heavy handed with the seasoning but start with 1 1/2 tbsps. You can always add but you can’t take out. ‘Slap Ya Mama’ is good and so is ‘Tony Chachere’s Creole Seasoning’. I personally use Tony’s when I’m feeling lazy and want to cut a corner but you can follow any seasoning recipe online. I still adjust the premixed seasoning but it’s a good start. It took many years to get it how I like it but start with a basic seasoning.
  • Okra-This is where it gets a little tricky with the thickening. If you can’t get fresh okra frozen will be ok to add but will add more liquid and no thickening. If you are able to get fresh okra it will thicken nicely and not as much roux will be needed.
  • Fresh Shrimp or crab or both- If not available frozen will do but more liquid will be added. Account for this with the thickening agents. About a pound will do of the seafood.
  • Boudin Sausage-This is a cajun sausage and is hard to come by. I do order it specially when my family isn’t able to bring some from back home when visiting. If neither of those options will work, Andouille sausage is good to use and if that’s not available, another cajun spiced sausage will work. IF neither of those is available a smoked sausage such as Hillshire brand will work. Slice the sausage and brown on both sides. Trust me, the level of flavor goes up a notch and the added texture breaks through the stew. Oh, about a pound will do.
  • Roux makings-In reality this is eyeing and adding a little more of this and a little more of that. I use butter but vegetable oil will work and All Purpose flour.
    To make your roux you’re going to want to with a 1 part butter/oil to two parts flour. On a medium-low heat stir and cook until it’s a beautiful chocolate brown. This works double duty giving your gumbo a nutty flavor while thickening. Remember the tricky parts and possible extra liquid additions? This is where you are going to want to make a little extra roux to add to thicken the stew. You can make the roux in advance or the day of. I do it the day of because cooking for me is therapeutic and get’s me back to a time when things weren’t complicated or when I was…well, me.
    THIS IS WHERE I DEVIATE-SISSY PROBABLY ISN’T HAPPY
  • 1 small can of tomato sauce (this helps when you are feeding little ones or you can’t handle as much spice).

Sissy’s Method (I tried my best giving measurements but again I still cook it the way I was shown)

Imagine you’ve already slaughtered your chicken and have it boiling in a pot (add enough water to cover your chicken and boil until the chicken is done). Sissy: You ready for some chicken-pickin’? When your chicken is done just pick the meat off the bones and set both the ‘chicken water’ and meat aside. Peel and chop the veggies. Sissy: These came from the garden and the herbs from the neighbor when we are done we’ll have a mess that we can take to the neighbors. Girl, add some of that chicken water to the pan and scrape up them flavor bits and add to the pot of chicken water. You can do this OR (which I do) is saute the veggies in the sausage drippings for a little more flavor then add a little broth to deglaze the yumminess and add to my ‘chicken water.’ In the same pan add ingredients for the roux. When you have your roux at the right color and consistency (thick like frosting and a chocolate color). In the chicken water add veggies, sausage, chicken, seasoning, and roux. If you can’t get fresh okra, more roux. If you can’t get fresh seafood and need to use frozen, more roux. At this point, you’re probably wondering how much roux is needed. Always make too much roux. You can save leftovers for about a while in an airtight container in the fridge or freezer. The only time I’ve thrown it away is when the oil separates. You want to obtain a thick stew consistency. I usually cook on low heat for about 4-5 hours stirring here and there. Don’t let it stick. After a while, take a taste out of the bowl of magic. Does it need more spices? Add a scant, stir, cook for a few minutes and repeat until you have faith in its healing powers. Is it too spicy? Don’t toss it. Add the tomato sauce, stir, cook and taste again. If it’s still too spicy and more tomato sauce. Still to spicy? I don’t know what to tell you other than, ‘Why did you add so much seasoning if you knew you couldn’t handle it?’ But I do have one more trick that will help. When you are satisfied with the level of spice, add the seafood and cook until the seafood is done.

When your pot of soul touching goodness is ready, serve over white rice or dump the rice on top. Whichever you choose. For the, ‘It’s still to spicy crowd,’ add some cold butter to your rice and pour the gumbo on top. The butter will help cut the spice and have some milk on hand.

It took me cooking this method of Sissy’s for 4 years until she deemed it as good as her mama’s. Every time we visited I bought the necessary ingredients and would slave over her stove (both summer and winter) for hours just for her to tell me, ‘No, close but you’re missing the soul. Where’s the love?’ I think what she really wanted was for me to have pride in my gumbo and serve it with love to the people I love. Give it a try and if you get stuck or have any questions send them my way. I won’t be harsh like Sissy but can help. Take pride in the tradition of gumbo creation and serving hospitality to strangers and loved ones.

Kristian, please let me know how it turns out or anyone else that tries for that matter. ENJOY!

Chicken Try-iaki Sliders

My daughter had a track meet last night and also a paper route to do afterward and I needed a quick dinner. My problem is that everyone is getting tired of my same old same old meals. Tell you the truth so was I. They had ground chicken on sale and so I thought I would hit the internet for some recipes. Before you think I did all of this from scratch…wrong. I had a migraine that wouldn’t let up and BSd my way through the meal prep.

I wasn’t about to cook and shred chicken or buy a rotisserie chicken to shred. Nope, I was going to use the ground. I add some stuff to fluff it a bit and Voila! We have the makings of slider patties. For the Teriyaki sauce, all I did was grab my favorite bottled brand. I’m a mom with a migraine, there isn’t time for a homemade sauce! Grabbed an Asian salad kit and some Hawiann sweet rolls and we have a dinner that my ENTIRE family was skeptical about but decided they loved it.

Here’s what I used:

  1. 2 lbs of ground chicken
  2. 1 Cup of bread crumbs (I had seasoned so that’s what went in)
  3. 1Egg
  4. 3 Carrots-grated (because this is the only acceptable vegetable for my husband)
  5. 1/2 Cup Teriyaki sauce (use whichever brand or make it yourself-make it yummy)
  6. Some lettuce or cabbage for topping (this is where I used the Asian salad kit-not dressed)
  7. La Choy Chow Mein Noodles for extra topping crunch factor.
  8. Salt to taste
  9. Pepper to taste
  10. Cayenne Pepper to taste
  11. Onion Powder (couple dashes)
  12. 2 Cloves grated garlic
  13. Non-Stick cooking spray

 Here’s what I did:

In a bowl, I mixed the bread crumbs, grated carrots, egg, seasonings, and garlic with the ground chicken. From there I flattened the mixture into my sprayed baking dish. Instead of having to form all the slider patties all I had to do was cut the one huge patty into 12 small patties. I baked the chicken for about 45 minutes in a 350° oven. Ok, I forgot about it being in the oven but it didn’t burn so YAY me! I spread the Teriyaki sauce over the top and baked for another 5 minutes. After letting my giant patty cool for a few, sliced and served on the rolls topped with the undressed Asian salad, and chow mein noodles. Let me tell you, it was moist and flavorful.


My writing is going to be a little delayed today but it will all get done. Tonight, spaghetti. I hope my husband can manage it.

Caramel Apple Dump Cake-TRY IT!

I was a little upset because I thought I ‘thought up and created’ an awesome new dump cake recipe. As usual, I was wrong but will share it anyways. Mine is a way easier version. It was so fluffy and moist that my kids and even my husband asked me to make it again (my husband doesn’t like anything with fruit cooked into it, so this was a HUGE win!) I have come to appreciate the minimal ingredient requirements for a dessert that can be thrown together and cook in the oven while everyone eats. My son and husband have come to enjoy the idea of desserts so I wanted something really different. Something that would taste like memories of growing up to the scent of my grandmother’s cooking.

While shopping at the store I had gone down the baking aisle and found Caramel Apple Pie filling. With that in hand, I wandered through the cake and cookie mixes and picked up a box of Spiced Cake mix. I decided that I wasn’t going to wash a possible fail and grabbed a disposable pan.

Here’s what you’ll need:

1 Can of Caramel Apple pie filling
1 Box of Spice Cake mix
3-4 Tablespoons (or more because I really just eyeballed it) butter
8″ x 8″ pan
Non-Stick Cooking spray (I wasn’t taking any chances)

To Do:

Eyeballing was most of my method in this so good luck!

  1. Spray pan (I used disposable but spraying kind of defeated the purpose and you’ll see why) with cooking spray.
  2. In the pan, mix 3/4 of the cake mix and the entire can of pie filling until smooth (this is when I later realized that I couldn’t respray the pan but it didn’t stick so I was good with it).
  3. Sprinkle the rest of the cake mix on top of mixture.
  4. Top with pats of butter (or chunks-whatever just need butter on top to mimic a crumble topping.)
  5. Bake at 400° for about 40 minutes or until the top looks done. I did insert a toothpick and it came out clean as well.

If you try this please let me know if you liked it or did anything different.

Pampering Pimento

Worst Monday EVER. Ok,  maybe not but it’s a clear second.  I haven’t had a chance to breathe until now. After being out sick my catch up like of necessary artwork was ridiculous! Came home and wrote my short story,  my daily doodle, and that was after all the running around right after work.

I left work on a mission.  I had to get a work permit for my daughter,  then her ID at the DMV so she could get her back account. Work permit was a piece of cake. The DMV was a nightmare! 45 minutes later we made to the bank right before it closed.  Got home and wrote while boiling taters.  I felt so stressed.  So I made my dad’s favorite comfort snack, pimento cheese.  Everything melted away. One bite and I was back at the kitchen table telling my dad what a bad day I had and he listened while loading crackers.

I found a recipe and made a few tweaks adding onion powder, parsley and a dash of Tabasco. I also used a yellow extra sharp and a yellow regular cheese.  Give it a try.  What is your go to pamper snack?

Avocado Warm-Up

 

I decided that I was going to do some warm-up watercolor practice before getting completely adventurous. A fellow blogger, Kristian suggested avocado mixed in egg salad on toast. I already had a huge breakfast this morning so I substituted the toast with pretzels and it was amazing!

I was halfway through my creature painting when I decided to try this snack. My picky 8-year-old even liked it. The avocado added an extra layer of creaminess without taking away from the texture hardboiled egg. I think I found a good protein pick-me-up during the afternoons that run me down. I find that after a panic attack or overwhelmed protein helps a great deal.

If there are any culinary suggestions from near and far I look forward to hearing about them.

Cabbage to Kraut

I didn’t go out this St. Patrick’s day instead I stayed home and cooked, wrote, and painted. Being around drunken crowds and eating dry corned beef isn’t my idea of a good time. My stomach was in knots yesterday and with the pain, I wanted a dinner that reminded me of my grandmother on St. Patrick’s day.

I purposely cook too much Corned Beef on St. Patrick’s day just because I LOVE Reubens. We all know the essential ingredients to those sweet, salty, tangy sandwiches are: Corned Beef (I’ve had it with pastrami), thousand island dressing, swiss cheese and of course sauerkraut. I have been spoiled with my grandmother’s homemade kraut that I could never eat it from a can or jar. People have suggested some from the local deli but all I could think is, ‘I’m not putting another bite of that crap in my mouth!’

I really REALLY wanted a traditional Reuben but I didn’t have days on end to make it like my grandmother did so I did my go to Google search. You can bet your sweet ass that in the search terms was the word, ‘easy,’ because my daughter had a paper route and I wanted to feed everyone before they left. This gave me 30 minutes but in reality, it was more like 15. I had the bulk of the recipe completed which was the leftover beef all I really had to do was slide the cabbage and dice the onion.

With all hands on deck (kids folding papers, and me attempting a new recipe) I read the reviews quickly and discovered that it was recommended to use more salt and more vinegar. I already didn’t have celery seed but had in my possession celery salt. A great substitute when people are recommending more salt to be added. I toasted my rye bread in the oven and sandwiches were assembled in less than 30 minutes.

I was really quite pleased that I gave it a chance and the sandwiches were gone in no time. I even think my grandmother would approve. If you try the recipe that I found please add more salt and vinegar to your liking. I did halfway through the cooking process. If you have a recipe that you would like to share for me to try that would be awesome.

Bacon and Jam

It all started with a fun fact included in my daily doodle a couple of days ago.  An educational and delightful conversation ensued between myself and an excellent writer. I encourage you to wander through her words and read between the lines.

We discussed what weird food combinations we liked and how some were learned from a young age. You can follow along in the comments if you would like to try some that we listed. I chose toast smeared with jam and topped with bacon. I used white bread, smoke-cured bacon, and Smucker’s Strawberry Jelly. I know it’s probably not the type of ingredients that Liz uses but as promised, I tried.

The results: OH MY YUM!!! As I’m waiting for the masking fluid to dry (my first attempt at using that stuff) I thought it would be a perfect time. The salty smoke bacon aroma of the meat cooking woke everyone in the house. I let it cool and crumbled it. I have a weird thing about my toast needing to be cooled before the topping is added. In my impatience, I waved the toast in the air to cool faster. I smeared the jelly on and sprinkled crumbled bacon on top. My kids, ‘EWW mom what are you doing?’ My husband, ‘Umm please don’t try anything too disgusting.’ I took a bite and they all watched with bated breath. Yum sounds were all I could make.

I ended up sharing with everyone before they would make their own. So, I ask you:

What is your weirdest or oddest food mash-up that you eat?

I would enjoy the culinary adventure. If I can get enough writers, culinary adventurous cooks, and just people that love food-I would like to start a feature of these people once a week. They can include the history, images, and everything. I’m really excited about this. The reason being, you can learn more about cultures and people from food. It’s a way we show love and comfort one another.

S.O.S and Depression

Lately I have been forcing myself to cook more. Something that will keep my hands busy and the derailing of the depression train of though. On top of dealing with the aftermath of being fired from the bar and Tom slandering my name now I’m also dealing with my marriage and the lack of relationship that we have. All of this combined made the perfect recipe for horrible thoughts and the aches and pains of depression.

‘So what’s for dinner? is the question that was being asked last night. ‘What the hell do I care? Y’all are capable people that can problem solve and use BOTH hands’ is what I wanted to respond with but didn’t. I did manage to remember to take the hamburger out of the freezer but nothing else. I didn’t even go to the store after work or pick the kids up for school. I came straight home and flopped on my bed.

Gravy

S.O.S is what I was making everyone but instead of putting the hamburger gravy on toast or rice I made mashed potatoes (there was my effort for cooking dinner). So here are some tips that made it super easy.

  • Use the grease from the cooking the hamburger. Don’t even worry about taking the meat out.
  • Add enough flour to soak up most of the grease and cook with the meat to pull that raw flour flavor out.
  • Dissolve a beef bouillon cube to add more flavor

There isn’t an exact recipe just a method. Add flour to meat to make a roux and cook until flour has browned a little. Add beef water (haha from the bouillon cube) and milk until you reach the desired consistency wanted.

Mash your taters up and pour your beef gravy over and voila! S.O.S. dinner is served. It did help me feel better to have real cooked food in my system instead of chips that I eat for lunch during the week (no appetite).

No it didn’t fix any problems but I was perked up a little and interacted with the kids rather than hiding in my room.

So S.O.S did save my dinner so give it a try when you feel like crap or no motivation.

Appetizing Applesauce Chops

 

As you all may know, I have had a life changing event, well at least for me. Cooking is one thing that I can do with my hands that can be therapeutic for me. I love to cook but recently have fallen into a slump that included a LOT of take-out dinners. Depression makes it hard for me to shop for ingredients and stand to chop, stir, and cook.

I wanted to try something new, I wanted to cook. I seen an episode of the Pioneer Woman that showed applesauce being made and then Applesauce chops. I went to the store, bought apples (that my kids later ate and only left me three but it would work) and some nice thick chops. I came home from work one day forcing myself to cook and not back out to rely on the golden arch and peeled and chopped apples. I threw them in the pot with some brown sugar, cinnamon stick, and apple juice. I cooked them until soft and mashed. I let it cool in fridge for next day’s dinner.

The following day I didn’t have to force myself to cook, I was simply excited. I warmed my cast iron pan, poured in some canola oil, seasoned and seared the chops and set aside. With the pan still warm I placed in some of the applesauce and the chops back in and cooked until done.

It was surprisingly good. No, I didn’t follow her recipe…in fact I fucking winged it and it turned out awesome. Served those chops along side a 3 cheese-cheesy grits and salad and it was perfect.

Ever seen a recipe and just made it your own…without following the recipe? Try it, you might surprise yourself.

 

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