True Confessions of a Mid-Life Cook

There's a definite correlation between my profound love of music and how and what I've taught myself to cook. My favorite music to listen to and to perform is soulful, sensual, sometimes funky and always bluesy in nature . . . and that's exactly how I cook. I like to get my hands in the food. I chop, I knead, I stir with my hands. Sometimes I wear my big rimmed cowboy hat, nightie and Old Gringo boots in kitchen, sometimes a coonskin cap when the mood strikes and sometimes just an apron and a smile. Using the freshest of ingredients, I love to bringing a new spirit to old favorites. I am so to drawn dishes seeping in both Texas and Southern tradition,with a special affinity for those authentic old jewels found in South Louisiana.
Because they, too, are so powerfully soulful?

I've discovered being a good cook is a journey and not a destination. (Yes, I stole an over-used corporate slogan and made it my own--but it's still the truth) Every time we screw up, we learn. And in part, that's what this blog is about. Cooking fearlessly. With heart, with soul -- and with some damn good music to inspire. (If your three layer chocolate cake ends up looking like a Jerry Springer rerun or you cut the tip of your thumb off while making New Year's Day gumbo, WHO CARES?Proclaim Francine Reed's "I'm a Handful" your theme song. She would like that.)
We cook because we find ourselves kinda empty if we don't.

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Crawfish Cornbread Dressing

Way down in the bayou, stuck in the mud.
There’s a little critter that the Cajun people love.
She got two big claws and eight tiny feet,
And a tail full o’ meat, that’s good to eat.

Crawfish, I got ‘em if you want ‘em.
Crawfish, eat ‘em while they’re hot.
Crawfish, gonna pour some pepper on ‘em.
Crawfish, I like it like that.
You boil ‘em down ‘til they nice and red,
You squeeze the tail and you suck the head.

New Years Day eating is not complete without crawfish cornbread at my house. In fact, I can't imagine starting out the new year without my favorite little mudbug.
This easy dish really draws out the "oohs and ahhs" from every mouth it touches. I make mine the day ahead (like. . .toDAY) because it just seems to taste even better the next day.

Serves 10

About 4 Tbs. bacon fat
1/4 andouille sausage, diced
1/4 lb of hot pork sausage, removed from casing (I use our local - to die for - Mikulek sausage)
1 med onion, chopped
1 stalk celery, diced
1/2 green bell pepper, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
2 cups crawfish tails, chopped
2 green onions, chopped
1 small jalapeno pepper, minced
1 tsp fresh parsley, minced
Leaves from one spring fresh thyme
1 - 2 tablespoons good quality Cajun or Creole seasoning (I use Tony Chachere's)
6 cups crumbled cornbread
2 cups of good chicken stock
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 large eggs lightly beaten
plenty of fresh ground black pepper

Cook sausage in bacon fact over med-high heat, breaking up the pork with a wooden spoon.
Once browned, add onion, celery, bell peppers and garlic. Cook about 5 minutes. Add crawfish tails and cook a couple of minutes.
Transfer mixture to mixing bowl.

Add remaining ingredients to mixing bowl and stir until well combined. Spoon into prepared baking dish (I use butter) and at this point the dressing may be covered and refrigerated for up to one day or go ahead an bake it in a preheated 350 degree oven until it is golden brown, about 30 minutes.

And as a note, I generally always use fresh herbs, because in the end the dish always tastes better, 'fresher.' But when in a bind, of course I will use what I have in my spice cabinet. I hope you do the same.
Suggested listening: Mary Chapin Carpenter's "Twist and Shout"

Monday, December 28, 2009

Black Eyed Peas

Eating black eyed peas on New Years Day is considered a sacred ritual at my house. Particularly by me. I mean, why would anyone in their right mind turn down a spoonful of 'luck' for the new year? Besides, my crew - and our cohorts - need all the luck we can get.

Yes,I've been known to chase down, tackle and force these legumes down the mouths/noses/ears of teenage boys who initially refuse my offering. The one or two who aren't too fond of peas now know to wrap just one in cornbread, insert into mouth and swallow. It's much easier that way. In fact, a couple of years ago, one of my kids turned to his friend who was hesitant about eating a pea and said, "You can do this the easy way, or the hard way. Trust me, you're going to eat a pea before you leave this place."

I tend to make my peas a little differently every year, however, a couple of things remain consistent. 1) I prefer using fresh peas, but will use frozen. NEVER dried or canned. (Come on, it's not ANY trouble and the end result is sooo worth it.) And 2) I always use a hamhock.

Last year's peas were the best in recent memory (friends swooned) and I'm proud of jotting down the ingredients and method. So many times I don't.

Four small sacks of frozen peas covered with half good quality chicken stock, half dark beer. Bring to hard boil and add hamhock, about a tablespoon of sea salt (depends on the saltiness of your chicken stock,)and two links of finely chopped andouille sausage. Boil for one hour, stirring occasionally. Turn down to simmer and add small diced green and red bell pepper, finely chopped onion, pinch of oregano and basil, add two bay leaves, a good shake or two of fajita seasoning, a drop of liquid smoke, a pinch of cayenne and two cans of diced tomatoes. Let simmer down for another 2 hours, stirring occasionally and add a little liquid if needed.

(Oops, I forgot the garlic. Surely, I used garlic? Probably a couple of minced cloves.)

May 2010 bring everybody a whole lotta luck . . .and love. And just remember to eat a damn pea. Or more.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Gumbo Z'Herbes

I always make this for New Years Day. Traditionally a Lenten dish, green gumbo was served on Good Friday in old New Orleans to nourish the body after days and weeks of fasting. It is said that the number of greens you use determines the number of friends you will make in the year ahead.

I've discovered that people who generally don't like greens, love this gumbo. Start preparation early. Like with all gumbo, there's a lot of washing and chopping involved.

And I always listen to a little somethin-somethin wonderfully Cajun like 'Hip et Taiau' by the Hackberry Ramblers. I swear it makes that gumbo even sweeter. ^^

At least 7 greens. I use the following:
collards, mustard, turnip, parsley, shallots, watercress, spinach, beet/radish/carrot tops, chicory, cabbage, celery
Gumbo base
1/2 cup chopped onion, 1/2# lean ham chopped in 1/2 cubes, 1/2# veal chopped in 1/2" cubes,
1 large hambone, 1/2# good smoked sausage
1/2 cup vegetable oil, 2/3 cup flour
Liquid and seasonings
2 qt plus 1/2 cup COLD water
1 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
2 whole bay leaves crushed
1/2 c hot sauce tomatillo verde ( or good quality red salsa)
1/2 tsp thyme
1/2 tsp marjaram
1/8 tsp cloves
1/4 tsp allspice
4 cloves garlic, minced
4 celery stalks diced (2 if you used celery as part of your green selection)
secret ingredient: 1 pint of oysters in their liquor pulsed a few times in food processor
Wash greens thoroughly, cut off tough stems. Shake off water and place in 3 to 4 qt pan. Add 1/3 cup water, turn to high heat, cook 12 minutes. (I add a little good quality chicken stock instead of the water.)

Drain, reserving greens liquor in a separate bowl. Chop cooked greens fine and set aside.

Make roux by heating vegetable oil (use same large saucepan) over medium-low heat, adding flour stirring constantly until the color of peanut butter. Add onion, celery, garlic and continue to stir. Cook 5 minutes. Add meat and greens liquor, mix well, add greens.

Add hambone and all seasonings. Gradually add 2 quarts cold water, mixing thoroughly. Raise heat to high boil, then lower to simmer and cook for 1 hour. Add oysters (PLEASE do this. I don't care if you don't like oysters, do it anyway. . .you will thank me) and cook another 15 minutes.

Serve over Zatarain's long grain rice or with cornbread.

And of course, plenty of black-eyed peas!

Suggested listening: "Crescent City" by Emmylou and Lucinda

Warning: Somebody WILL kiss you when they eat this. Hopefullly, it'll be someone you love. ;-P Last year it was my neighbor, George. Hence the warning.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Indians and Pilgrams and Halfmanns, Oh My!

How, How HOW (no Indian pun intended)I love cooking for Thanksgiving. I relish stirring up my great grandmother's fourth generation cranberry salad and though I already know how to make it by memory, I always find her recipe card, written in her precious shaky hand, and lay it on the countertop beside me. The same holds true for my Nana's tradtional Southern cornbread dressing - the absolute best on the planet. I always set aside a bit of dressing mixture to add oyster and sausage to it for a little side of oyster stuffing just for me.

This year, I'm bringing to the table a new and different citrus stuffing, a lemony thyme turkey, and a variety of grilled vegetables including, eggplant, squash, asparagus, corn-on-the-cob and maple syrup glazed grilled sweet potatoes. Of course, the kids demand their 'smashed' potatoes (with bock beer.)

Making the desserts has to be my favorite 'cause I love getting my hands in the dough. This year I'm making Dillon a chocolate cream pie with toasted pecans, Zach's favorite sweet potato pie with Kahlua cream, and for Bruce and Ben and Casi, a peach/apricot Amaretto cobbler.

I'm gathering friends to come over have fun in the kitchen with me tomorrow.
You'll find me at 211 Churchill if you find yourself wanting to feel some Thanksgiving kitchen love on a Tuesday afternoon.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

"I don't care if it rains or freezes . . .

as long as I have my Purple Jesus."

Someone pointed out that I can't have a cyberspace tavern without offering booze. So here ya go.

1 1/2 oz of Tito's Texas Vodka
3 oz of Welch's grape juice
2 oz. ginger ale
Stir and pour over ice, garnish with red grapes and get ready for one religious experience. Or two. Or ten.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

It's a Strudel Kind of Day

I've taken two naps in the glorious rainy weather already today and I'm now about ready to roll out my strudel pastry. Mind you, I am not a baker. Not consistently, anyway. For instance, I tried to roll out my first ball of pastry earlier and when I tried to roll it, it stuck to my pastry board. It's in a heap in the oven now, and I'm sure it will be delicious . .but ugly. Just like my intentionally ugly birthday cakes.

I think I didn't chill the dough enough so my three remaining pastry balls went back into the refrigerator for another two hours. I am also going to work more quickly with a cold rolling pin and more flour. I've done this very recipe with enormous success before and I am determined that this second go-round will produce similar results.
3/4 cup butter
2 cups flour
8 oz sour cream
pinch of sea salt

Cut butter into flour until it resembles coarse meal.Stir in sour cream but don't work too much. Make 4 balls, wrap in plastic wrap and chill for at least three hours.

Favorite jam or preserves, today I used apricot and blackberry
sour cream
coconut (optional)

Flour work surface and rolling pin.
Roll out pastry on cold surface with cold rolling pin -- rectangle, thin as possible. Do NOT overwork dough.

Spread preserves, over the pastry, followed a little sour cream and then by pecans and coconut.
Roll pastry, brushing with a little melted butter with each roll. Tuck ends and placed on buttered sheet pan. Flatten just a little with spatula, brush top with butter and sprinkle generously with sugar and coconut if you wish.

Bake in 375 oven for 45 minutes. Dust with powdered sugar. Let cool at least 10 minutes before serving.

Note: The second go-round today proved to be wonderful -- exceptionally flaky pastry. Secret? Keep pastry and utensils very cold when working with dough. Have patience, let the dough chill for at least three hours.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Migas - it's whats for breakfast

Please don't think crumbling tortilla chips and adding them to scrambled eggs makes Migas. The secret is in browning corn tortillas in a little butter and oil that you will also use to cook your eggs in to marry the flavor of the corn into the eggs. I know this because Flaco told me at our neighborhood bar one night right before he disappeared for Lent. (He quits drinking during Lent each and every year.  Otherwise he's full of beer 24/7.)

A little vegetable oil and a little butter
One or two corn tortillas sliced in quarter inch squares
four or five eggs, beaten with a little water
1 chopped tomatoe
1/2 chopped onion
1 seeded and chopped jalapeno
tsp cilantro chopped (optional)
grated cheese for topping

Heat oil and butter skillet over med heat until is popping
Add corn tortilla pieces and brown til golden (crisp), careful not to burn
drain on paper towel and set aside
Turn heat down to low and add eggs to same butter/oil combo and cook until almost done
Add tomato, onion and jalapeno and cook until hot and eggs are done
Add cooked corn tortilla pieces
Add salt, pepper to taste and cilantro if desired
Top with cheese or salsa or both before serving.

Flaco is right about this must-do migas concept and I will tell him that after Good Friday.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Angelina's Pan Del Campo

Pan Del Campo is the original cowboy flatbread, known mostly throughout the ranching country of South Texas. This is my spin on this age-old favorite. Of course, this is my kind of dish because the sky is the limit on the variations. This particular combination of ingredients is exceptional. Have fun with it!

1 lb. bacon (20 slices)
1 package of refrigerated biscuits
1/2 cup flour for dusting
1/2 cup Cilantro Nut Mash (see below)
1/2 lb. fresh spinach
2 large ripe tomatoes cut into thin rounds
5 cups (one lb) of grated Monterey Jack cheese or any good Mexican cheese

Preheat oven to 375. In the microwave cook the bacon in batches until very crisp and drain on paper towels. Remove biscuits and roll each out onto flour board until very thin. Carefully transfer to baking sheet and bake for 10 minute until golden brown and crisp. Remove from oven.

Increase temp to 400. Spread each with cilantro nut mixture and scatter spinach and tomatoes on each. Sprinkle each generously with crumbled bacon and grated cheese. Return to oven for two or three more minutes to melt the cheese and serve while hot.

Cilantro Nut Mash

1 cup pecan pieces (pinon nuts work well too)
1 bunch fresh cilantro chopped coarsely
3/4 cup light olive oil
1/4 cup grated Asiago cheese
1 tablespoon fresh minced garlic
3/4 tsp sea salt

Toast nuts about 10 minutes in 350 oven. Don't let 'em burn.
Let cool 5 minutes
Place in food processor and coarsely chop
Add other ingredients and process until spreadable paste forms.
Too thick, add water. Too thin? Add cheese.

Monday, September 7, 2009

My Take on Dublin Dr. Pepper Cake

Dublin Dr. Pepper cake teeters on the brink of legendary status in this part of Central West Texas.

Could be because Dublin, Texas is nearby -- where this favorite soft drink was born. My twist? Dark chocolate, which cuts the sweetness and makes a mark with its decadent richness.

2 sticks unsalted butter
3/4 cup Dublin Dr. Pepper
1/4 cup strong coffee
3 tablespoons dark cocoa
1 tablespoon cocoa
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/4 cup butter milk
1/4 cup sour cream
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp. vanilla
2 eggs, room temp
2 cups flour
2 cups sugar

Preheat oven to 350. In saucepan, heat butter, Dr. Pepper, coffee and both cocoas until boiling.

Remove from heat and let cool. In mixing bowl, combine the buttermilk, baking soda, salt and vanilla. In another bowl, flour and sugar, mixing well. Combine all three mixtures until blended and stir in eggs (one at a time) and sour cream and pour into prepared pan or pans. Bake for one hour or until toothpick comes out clean.


1 stick butter
3 tablespoons milk
2 tablespoons Dr. Pepper
1 tablespoon coffee
3 tablespoons dark cocoa
1 tablespoon cocoa
1 lb. confectioners' sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup chopped pecans, optional

Combine butter, milk, Dr. Pepper, coffee and cocoa in heavy skillet and bring to boil. Add confectioners' sugar and vanilla and mix well. Prick holes with toothpicks into warm cake then ice cake while both cake and icing is still warm. Top with pecans if desired.