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.

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.

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