Creole Gumbo-Southern Food Challenge 6

Calvin came into town this past weekend to hang out, spend time in NYC, and celebrate his birthday with us.  Of all the things we miss about our life in California, spending time with Calvin is near the top of the list. So, as usual when we do see him, we took the opportunity and crammed about a month’s worth of hanging out into one long weekend. I think we may have crammed about a month’s worth of eating into one weekend too. I had my first ShackBurger in Madison Square Park and my first John’s Pizza on Bleeker Street. Eataly was a culinary mosh pit; we got espresso and dodged elbows. We drank beer at the Blind Tiger and the Ginger Man. We got cannolis and lobster tails at Georgio’s across the street. For Calvin’s birthday, we took him to a little Japanese “soul food” restaurant we tried for Scott’s birthday called Hakata Tonton.  The three of us shared their signature hot-pot, full of vegetables, pork belly and feet, dumplings and goji berries in an amazingly unctuous broth. And before we put him on the train back out to JFK, we had lunch at  Ippudo, the best bowl of ramen I have ever eaten. I had tonkotsu ramen in Hong Kong for the first time last year; the creamy white pork broth and dark garlic oil with chewy ramen noodles, so lip-smacking and savory and have been craving it since……I ate so much I felt like a pork belly myself.

It made me think about the nitty-gritty of what it is that makes great soup really great. I think it is unarguably the broth. It’s the bones and cartilage and collagen and meat that slowly infuse their essence into water, creating something that tastes incredibly rich without fat. In beauty, one hears about having “good bones”; stock is literally the “good bones” of beautiful flavor.  I’m not asserting that good soup can’t be made with bottled chicken broth or water and aromatics, but every once in a while, it’s worth it to go the extra mile to make a rich, collagen filled stock, full of the most intense essential flavors and make a special meal superlative.

The easiest entry point for stock has to be fish (or seafood) stock. Using the shells, heads, and bones of the seafood going into this gumbo to make a simple stock creates a layer of flavor that deepens and echoes the sweetness of the shrimp and fish in every rich, spicy bite.

Creole Seafood Gumbo

1 pound of head-on shell-on shrimp

1-2 pound fish, fileted, bones and head reserved (I used red snapper)

about 1 cup bay scallops

1/3 to ½ pound of andouille

roux

1 medium white or yellow onion, diced

2 stalks celery diced (celery leaves have lots of flavor, chop them up too!)

½ green bell pepper, diced

2 fat cloves garlic, minced or micro-planed

¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes

½ teaspoon thyme

½ teaspoon ground black pepper

1 bay leaf

salt

1 can diced tomatoes, undrained

2 cups sliced okra (frozen works well off-season)

1 ½ quarts fish stock*

hot rice

hot sauce

Rinse the shrimp and fish. De-head and peel the shrimp. If you’re hard-core like me, filet the fish, slicing the filets into bite-sized pieces. Keep all the bones and shells for the stock. If you get a whole fish from a market and have the fishmongers do the dirty work of fileting, specify that you want to keep the bones and head. Some stores will sell packages of fish trimmings for stock; get a white-fleshed fish for this recipe.

Make a roux

I use less roux for seafood gumbo than for meatier gumbos. For this recipe, I used about ¼ cup each of flour and oil.

After the roux is dark enough, add the Trinity of diced onion, celery, and bell pepper (similar to mirepoix, onion, celery, carrot) to the roux and stir until the vegetables are softened.

Slice and quarter about a link’s worth of smoked andouille (maybe 1/3 pound). The only brand I could find here in town this week was D’ Artagnan; I don’t prefer their seasoning though. Stir it into the roux in the pan, getting it to brown a little on the edges.

When the sausage begins to render a little of it’s fat, add the garlic and spices; I usually gently toast spices for a moment before I add any liquid. When I began learning about Indian cooking and their treatment of spices, I started assimilating the technique of dry toasting or frying spices and herbs often along with the aromatic vegetables and it really seems to bloom and infuse their flavor and fragrance better.

Add the tomatoes, okra and stock. Bring to a simmer and stir until the roux is smoothly incorporated into the stock and cook it until the okra is tender. It shouldn’t take too long, maybe 20 minutes, but cook it slowly and gently so that the assembled throng has time to mingle their flavors. Taste for salt.

Finally- and I mean finally so as not to overcook- stir the scallops, shrimp and fish into the soup. Heat just to a simmer, very gently stirring the seafood into the broth so that it is just opaque and barely cooked through. Be gentle with the fish so the pieces don’t get too broken up

When the seafood is cooked, scoop some hot rice into a bowl and pour the gumbo over. Shake a bit of hot sauce on top.

*Make this basic seafood stock with the fish bones and head and shrimp shells and heads, a little onion and celery. I used the shells and heads of 1 pound of shrimp and the bones and head of a 2 pound red snapper, a stalk of celery and ¼ onion and two quarts of water. Bring it all to a simmer, covered and let it burble away for about 20 -30 minutes. Strain out the solids and reduce the stock to about 1 ½ quarts.

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Deviled Eggs-Southern Food Challenge 5

Deviled eggs are the edible equivalent of the little black dress: they can go anywhere, adapt to any situation, always appropriate, day – to – evening, dress it up, dress it down. You know.

In its simplest form, I can barely even justify calling the formula a recipe:

Deviled Eggs

For each two hard-boiled eggs (I know, who makes just 2?)

1 tablespoon of good mayo

1 teaspoon mustard

pinch of salt

pinch of cayenne

Whenever I’m boiling eggs, I try to start them in fairly hot, almost simmering water so that my timing is more accurate. I don’t like overcooking them. For deviled eggs, once I have gently lowered them into the simmering water, I set the timer for 11 minutes, then scoop the eggs out and submerge them in cold water to stop the cooking. After they’ve cooled, I peel them, slice them in half (tip: a thin bladed knife like a slicer works well for this job; a heavy chef’s knife blade can tear the whites up), and remove the yolks into a bowl. The yolks get mashed with a fork a little and then I add the mayonnaise and mustard (French’s yellow mustard is the classic in this case) and mix most of the lumps out.

At this point, you can just season the yolk with the salt and pepper, scoop it back into the egg white halves, maybe dust it with a little paprika and be done. You would have a very nice, simple deviled egg such as have graced the tables of thousands of church picnics across the South since time immemorial. Kind of like the equivalent of a black sundress and flats.

For a little dressier but still simple variation, maybe a brunch, I thought “salad nicoise” and chopped up some (2 teaspoons for 2 eggs) rinsed salt-packed capers and used Dijon mustard instead of the French’s. I don’t salt it until after  the capers are added and I’ve taste-tested . Even the rinsed capers may have enough salt. I shave a razor-thin sliver of red onion onto the  top for a contrast in crunch and flavor.

So, day to evening: mix the Dijon mustard into the yolks and mayonnaise and blend them until they are really smooth. When you put the yolks back int the hollow of the egg white, make a little dimple in the top with the back of a teaspoon and fill it with fish roe or caviar, according to your taste, the occasion, and the pocketbook. I used the tiny capelin roe, called Masago. It’s sweet and crunchy, popping delightfully between the teeth in contrast to the smooth creamy egg. It’s the plunging neckline with 5-inch peep toe sling-backs version of the deviled egg.

Deviled eggs are not intrinsically a fussy food. It’s beauty lies in its simplicity, so in that all of it elements should be evident in each bite,  use good ingredients. They are the perfect occasion to bust out the home-made mayo and fresh, sharp mustard (which loses its flavor over time, so it’s good to check that jar in the fridge once in a while to see if it still tastes). And use my suggestions as inspiration; think about how many flavors go well with eggs – smoked salmon, bacon, curry powder. Since it’s pretty risk-free to experiment with two eggs at a time, go for it and try all of them.

Collard Greens- Southern Food Challenge 2

 

Driving through the Southern country side in the winter:  black trees, bare and sharp against a pearly sky like Japanese ink paintings, maybe the lucky surprise flash of a scarlet cardinal; tawny fields with folds and furrows like the creased hide of a sleeping lion. It’s beautiful and restful in its monotony of winter-softened color, nothing to jar the eye but the occasional murder of black crows, or the pounce of a rusty hawk on some unwary rodent-until late Winter when the forsythia and quince suddenly explode like firecrackers and take your breath away for a second.

Even the winter gardens sitting lonely beside older homes have a subtlety, an unkempt bed-head look to them; mostly left to their own devices while their gardeners stay in the warm indoors, they are patches of root vegetables and earthy greens that burnish and sweeten with a little frost. Collards, with their dusty chalkboard-green leaves like well-worn old leather are the beauties of the bunch. They are Brassica like cabbages and broccoli; the leaves are braised, traditionally with smoked meat seasoning, until they are meltingly tender. Scott likes them with apple cider vinegar mixed into the pot liquor in his bowl; I like them with sriracha sauce (yes, green top, rooster- that one).

 

 

Since most of the work of cooking collard greens is in the preparation, I always make a big potful and freeze the leftovers for a busy day. I fill the kitchen sink with enough water to float all of the leaves so that any dirt or grit can sink to the bottom and then swish and wash the leaves really well, checking for ugly leaves and little creatures that may have tucked themselves into the bunches (this is probably more critical if you are growing them yourself- we found plenty of little caterpillars on the greens we brought in from our garden last year). I usually slice out the fibrous stems, cut the leaves in half long ways and stack them up like bundle of  dollar bills to cut them across into wide ribbons.

Meanwhile, in a big stock pot, I bring about a quart of water to a simmer. I don’t always use the same meat, but something with a little fat and some deep smoky flavor – diced bacon, smoked ham hock, a ham bone, or smoked turkey legs. While I’m cleaning and cutting up the leaves, I let the meat simmer in the water, covered with a lid, to start infusing the broth. Because I love their smoky heat, I usually throw in a dried chipotle or two. I add the greens and a little salt, clap the lid on again and let them collapse in the heat, with an occasional stir, checking they don’t steam out of liquid, slowly braising them to tenderness.

 

 

I usually like my vegetables on the crisp side- not the stereotypical “boiled to death” green beans and carrots and peas and spinach that give vegetables a bad name. But collards are an exception: like a tough, lean veal shank reaches its apotheosis as osso bucco after a long gentle braise, so the relatively fibrous collard leaves become rich and tender and flavorful. I don’t mean boiled though, a low simmer really, and I use a minimal amount of water so the flavor of the greens isn’t diluted too much. If I’m using anything but bacon, I’ll get tongs and pluck the bone out of the pot toward the end and shred the meat off to add back into the greens.

We’re still sort of in that “mud season” between winter and spring up north;  the Union Square Greenmarket stalls carry parsnips and turnips and cold storage apples (and I got sleet burn on my face last time I was there). I’m beginning to crave something sharp and fresh and green but for now I’m taking advantage of the last of the gifts of the winter and making a pot of collard greens. It’s especially good with beans and cornbread.

Collard Greens

what I put in the pot

2 bunches of collard greens (or more, if they are stingy bunches)

about a quart of water

3 slices of bacon, diced, or

2 small smoked ham hocks, or

1 meaty ham bone, or

1 nice big smoked turkey leg

salt, to taste (start with 1 1/2 teaspoons of flaky Kosher or sea salt)

1 or 2 dried chipotles

 

Braise over gentle heat for at least 45 minutes for a big pot, until the leaves are tender, but are not so cooked as to disintegrate when stirred.

 

Pimento Cheese – Southern Food Challenge 1

One of the first things I made after our cross-country move was pimento cheese. (The very first thing I made was grits with sweet corn and pan-fried catfish, just sort of as a declaration that you can put the girl in Jersey but you can’t put Jersey in the girl!). It was while we were living in that furnished apartment with a “fully equipped kitchen”  and I had to grate the entire block of cheese with a fork. It was totally worth it, but I highly recommend a cheese grater; it makes the whole process much easier. And you’ll get fewer blisters.

Pimento cheese is simple, easy to make, and endlessly varied. I like the combination of really sharp cheddar and creamy, mellow Monterrey Jack.

Pimento Cheese

makes about 3 cups

12 ounces sharp cheddar cheese

6 ounces Monterrey Jack cheese

1/2 cup roasted red peppers, chopped small

about 2/3 cup mayonnaise (we like Duke’s)

Use the fine side of a grater to grate all of the cheese. If you are using jarred roasted peppers, drain them well before chopping them up. Put everything into a mixing bowl that gives you plenty of room to energetically stir. Start with a bit less mayo and stir everything together so that the peppers are evenly mixed through the cheese and everything is creamy and cohesive. If it seems too stiff, or when you taste it, you prefer a milder, creamier flavor, add a little more mayo and stir it in.

Following the pimento train of thought a little further, you can add finely chopped green olives (the pimento stuffed type) to half of the pimento cheese-very nice on a cracker.

Southern Comfort: My Ultimate Southern Food Challenge-

It’s the first week of Spring and it has snowed twice here in New Jersey. That’s just mean. Especially since I had been driving through North Carolina just a few short days before, sunroof open, wearing  flip-flops and  a tank top. When one has felt that first sweet kiss of Spring-time warmth on bare skin after a long dark winter, coming back to sleety boot-and-glove climate feels a bit like a slap. Daylight Savings Time did not come a moment too soon for me.

I am loving the extra sunlight! While I’ve been busy exploring bite-sized chunks of NYC,  and have been doing really well on some of my New Year’s resolutions (wearing more eyeliner;  my “Walk ’til You Get Warm” exercise regime), I’ve honestly been a little listless, aimless this Winter. So I’m taking the burst of energy that the lengthening days bring me to try to  undertake an epic personal cooking challenge:  I’m going to cook my way through Garden & Gun magazine’s Ultimate Southern Food Bracket.

There are 32 Southern foods in the brackets, which are, in the tradition of March Madness, being narrowed down to the Championship face-off for Ultimate Southern Food. I’ve been voting the bracket on Facebook and have found some of the match-ups strange: how to choose between okra and banana pudding, or pimento cheese and country ham biscuits, (and this one in particular) deviled eggs and fried chicken? How can any of those be losers? I love them all! Having spent the last decade on the West coast and now living in New Jersey, I’m feeling a nostalgic pull to wade back into the flavors and scents of the Southern table. I might even add a couple of my own Southern favorites to the list.

So I’m going to try to cook them all, see if I stand by my votes, see which Southern foods are my desert island choices. Given some of the strange makeshift arrangements in my kitchen, my ignorance of where to source things like grits and country ham and crawfish in my area, and my firm belief that no one wants me smoking pulled pork or having a fish fry on my fire escape, I hope it will be fun and not an act of madness. I’m thinking it will be fun. And maybe a little crazy. So here we go-

 

Easy Peasy Key Lime Squeezy

We’re celebrating a birthday at our house this week. The tough thing about a December birthday is the tendency for it to get swallowed alive by the greater holiday season. People are busy, headed out-of-town, shopping, going to Christmas parties. I really try to maintain its individual specialness by not using Christmas wrapping paper for presents, not doing Christmasy stuff on the actual birthday and not fobbing off Christmas baking as birthday cake. The birthday boy likes pie, so pie is what he gets.

 

 

This year, I took about 20 minutes out of my busy schedule to make what may be the best bang for your buck homemade dessert ever- Key lime pie. I have told people how to make it before and gotten “Seriously? That’s it?” in response. Yes, seriously. It is a crumb crust and three ingredients, baked for about 15 minutes and that’s it. If you want to get really fancy, you can make the crust yourself,  but don’t even think about squeezing the limes, or you are on your own as far as I’m concerned.

 

Key Lime Pie

1 can sweetened condensed milk (14 ounces)

1/2 cup bottled Key Lime juice

3 egg yolks

1 Graham cracker crumb crust

 

Preheat the oven to 350. Blend the first three ingredients with a whisk or electric mixer until smooth. Pour into the crust and bake for 12-15 minutes until it has a softly set, slightly jiggly center. Cool. A snowdrift of whipped cream would also be lovely dolloped on top.

 

 

See? Tangy, custardy, creamy, and easy peasy!

 

I’m adding, for those of you who might want to make you own crust, and in keeping with the three ingredient limit on this post, a recipe for a crumb crust.

Crumb Crust

1-9 inch crust

about 1 1/2 cups cookie crumbs, like graham crackers, gingersnaps, or vanilla wafers

1/3 cup butter, melted

1/4 cup white sugar

Mix the three ingredients together, thoroughly combining to make sure the butter is all mixed in. Pour the crumbs into your pie plate and firmly press them into the bottom and sides to cover it evenly. I use the bottom of a glass or another pie plate to get a smooth, even crust. Bake for 7-9 minutes at 350˚.

Happy Thanksgiving!

When I reflect on this epochal year in my life, it’s too easy to concentrate on the parts of it that have been painful, uncomfortable, overwhelming. And while I know that there is a “time to mourn and a time to dance,” there are so many things that I am thankful for this year; I’m thankful for the grace of enduring friendships, for precious time with my family, a new nephew and brother-in-law. I’m grateful for the stability of employment and healthy babies born to friends, for dear friends beating cancer, for adventure, for a sense of humor, for not going through this year alone, for love.

We’re celebrating the holiday in the South this year at my in-laws. We drove down through nine states and the remnants of a beautiful East Coast Autumn in time for my mom’s birthday, a couple of my youngest sister’s senior year events, had a hilarious evening with friends at our favorite pub in Atlanta. We have eaten a little more BBQ than I care to admit. We’ve been having weather that is warm enough to allow us to sit outside with a fire and play guitar. We’ve had time to connect with friends that usually get squeezed by the holiday rush. It’s been nice.

I’m grateful to have been cooked for a good bit on this trip. In contrast to last Thanksgiving where my brother and I did an Amazing Race-meets-Top Chef Lightening Round style turkey dinner between his kitchen and our hotel at the beach in La Jolla, the only thing I really cooked this Thanksgiving dinner was a rather homely but delicious pecan tart. The recipe comes a little late for all of your Thanksgiving dinners, but it’s also eminently suitable for Christmas dinner, or Thursday night supper for that matter.

Pecan Tart

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into squares

1/4 cup sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 eggs

1/2 cup maple syrup

1/2 cup corn syrup

6 ounces pecans, toasted and broken up into large pieces

1 recipe of Cream Cheese Tart Pastry

With the oven rack in the middle of the oven, par-bake the pie crust at 325 degrees.

Meanwhile, melt butter in a heat-proof bowl over simmering water. Remove from heat. Mix in sugar and salt until all of the butter is absorbed. Beat in eggs, then syrup. Return bowl to hot water; stir until mixture is shiny and hot, about 130 degrees. Remove from heat; stir in pecans.

As soon as the pie crust comes out of the oven, reduce the heat to 275 degrees. Pour pecan mixture into hot pie shell. Bake until the center feels soft-set, like gelatin, when gently pressed, 35-40 minutes. Transfer to cooling rack and let it cool completely.

The tart shell is the same one used for the lemon tart in “Sweetart” except that I omit the pistachios.

Cream Cheese Pastry

Makes 1 9-inch pie or tart crust

1 1/4 cups all- purpose flour

2 tablespoons sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened but still cool

2 ounces cream cheese, softened but still cool

Lightly grease your baking tin. Whisk flour, sugar, and salt together.

Beat butter and cream cheese together with your electric mixer at medium-high speed until completely homogenous, about 2 minutes. Add flour, sugar, and salt and mix on medium low until the mixture looks like coarse cornmeal. Increase mixer speed and beat until dough forms large clumps and pulls away from the bowl.

Form into a disk and press into the pie tin with your fingers, working out from the center and up the sides until the dough is evenly distributed.

Wrap well and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

Bake at 325 for 35- 40 minutes for a fully baked crust or 20-25 minutes for a partially baked crust.

Celebrating sisters

I just got back to New Jersey last night from a fabulous weekend trip to Atlanta and points south for some pre-wedding celebrations with my sisters. Grace is getting married next week! I flew down Wednesday and Grace picked me up at the airport. The four of  us piled into Joy’s car, turned the air-conditioner on High and drove south through Alabama to a cottage on the Gulf coast.

It’s high summer in the South and produce stands are burgeoning along the highways. I find it nearly impossible to ignore a hand-lettered sign on the roadside offering watermelons or corn (picked today!) or peaches, but add “hot-boiled peanuts” to the signs and it’s like the car drives itself off onto the dirt verge and stops in front of the stand of its own volition. We got a watermelon, a bag of tomatoes, a bag of boiled peanuts, and a half sack of peaches. The gentleman who sold them to us said that the only problem was we’d wish we’d bought a whole sack. He had photos on the stand of the project his produce was funding – corrugated metal homes in Guatemala. When he asked is we were going to the beach, we said yes, to celebrate our sister’s upcoming wedding, and he said to Grace, “Well, I’ll give you some of my wife’s peach cake for a wedding present.” Moist yellow cake with nuggets of tangy Alabama peaches; pretty sweet wedding gift if you ask me! The cake and peanuts were fallen upon like a swarm of locusts.

The next couple of days went by too fast, sitting on the dock at night watching the lightning out over the Gulf and shooting stars overhead and talking, catching up on our lives, floating around in the blissfully warm buoyant Gulf water, getting a little sunburned, eating watermelon on the dock and spitting the seeds into the water, laughing, watching the fish and porpoises and shrimp boats and barges on the Intercoastal Waterway.  When the beach got a little too hot, we went shopping and found a sophisticated blue dress for Michal, who looked incredibly beautiful and also impossibly grown-up in it. We cooked together in the evenings, grilling corn and steaks which we ate with blue cheese butter and juicy wedges of  tomato, and made ceviche, fresh and cold with chunks of mango and avocado on crisp tostadas after that hot day at the beach.

Friday evening, we headed back through a couple of rainstorms which left the air feeling as if it had already been breathed. This humidity is taking some getting used to. I felt like I was submerged in water, even when I wasn’t. After the rain, the air had that soft, fragrant quality that I think of as so evocative of the South I grew up in. I think back, thinking about  the girls when they were my “little” sisters, and am so happy to have had this time to spend with the truly lovely women they have all become. I’m looking forward to this weekend, the wedding, spending more time with my family, grabbing a few more of these great, fun moments as they whip by.

Bay Ceviche

6 white fish filets, minced

or

1 pound bay scallops, quartered

1 tomato, diced

1 avocado, diced

1/2 large red onion, minced small

1 jalapeno pepper, minced small

1 mango, diced

about 1/2 bunch of cilantro leaves, roughly chopped

juice of 3-4 limes

Goya Bitter Orange seasoning to taste

or a splash of orange juice and salt to taste

Mix everything together in a glass bowl once everything is cut up and prepped. Toss to saturate with the lime juice. I lightly dusted the top of the bowl with the seasoning, mixed it in, and then tasted and added a little more just before serving. After everything is mixed, allow it to sit for at least 1/2 hour until the seafood looks white and opaque- which means it is “cooked”. Serve on crisp tostadas with a splash of Tapatio sauce.

“But you ain’t ever had my cornbread….”

I expect I might get a few “she’s an idiot, bless her heart”s for this one. I’m sort of messing around with one of the quintessential elements of a regional cuisine; but I have my reasons.

Although I hail from Atlanta, Georgia, and although my Southern roots spread deep and wide, my childhood did not really establish me with the fundamentals that constitute the canon of “real Southern cooking”. We didn’t eat pork  (so no BBQ) or seafood, we didn’t fry anything, and we weren’t allowed to eat white sugar. I knew more about tofu, bean sprouts, and carob (which in my opinion is the devil’s sorry substitute for chocolate) than I did about catfish or country ham or peach ice cream.  Our biscuits usually had whole wheat in them, and our (freshly ground before our eyes at the health food store) peanut butter sandwiches on whole wheat bread were PB&”M” for molasses instead of “J” for jelly.

This lack of orthodoxy in my education has enabled me to come away without a dogmatic position on what constitutes “real Southern cornbread.”  I do prefer a crispier cornbread, made in a cast iron skillet, to the cakier moister versions I’ve tried. But I don’t like cornbread so gritty that it feels like a mouthful of sand crunching between my teeth. And while I don’t want it sweet, I don’t mind a little sugar in the mix. This sort of precluded most buttermilk-based recipes also, since they are subtly sour.

I tried the ATK Best Recipes version, probably a pretty classic Southern style cornbread that involves pouring boiling water over part of the cornmeal to make a mush before mixing it into the rest of the ingredients.  While it does enhance the corniness of the flavor, it left me wanting more. I’ve always used a little milk in cornbread; I thought about substituting milk for water in which case I could heat the cornmeal in the milk and which honestly, I’m not going to do, one of the chief benefits of a quick bread being its quickness.

There were a few dismal failures, not even worth mentioning in detail, but I did have the foresight to write “not good” in pencil next to the cornbread recipe in one cookbook to save myself the trouble next time.

My next good attempt was with the 1931 edition of The Joy of Cooking’s “Method I.” for cornbread.  The recipe itself has a pleasing symmetry – ¾ cup flour, ¾ cup cornmeal, and ¾ cup milk – that is helpful to the “number remembering deficients” among us (me).

It was still a little on the gritty side for me, so I modified it ever so slightly, using half cornmeal and half corn flour (very fine cornmeal, not cornstarch) to make up ¾ cup. The recipe also stipulates an 8×8 square pan, but I use a buttered and pre-heated cast iron skillet.

So, with minor adjustments, here is The Joy of Cooking‘s

Corn Bread

Method I.

Heat the oven to 425° Grease or butter a cast iron skillet. Five minutes before the batter is ready to bake, place the pan in the oven until it becomes sizzling hot.

Mix:

¾ cup all-purpose flour

2 ½ teaspoons baking powder

4 teaspoons sugar

¾ teaspoon salt

¾ cup cornmeal (made up of half cornmeal and half corn flour)

In a separate bowl, beat together

1 egg

2-3 tablespoons melted butter of bacon fat

¾ cup milk

Pour the liquid ingredients into the dry, mixing minimally. Pour the batter into the hot skillet and bake at 425° for about 25 minutes.

It was a super bowl

I’m not going to say that I choose my Super Bowl team based on the city with the most appealing gustatory traditions, but if someone wants to draw that conclusion based on my making gumbo today, I can offer only a half-hearted defense. What do Colts eat? I don’t know, but I do know that I’ve had gumbo on the brain for weeks.

Last Friday found me in Old Oakland at the Friday farmer’s market and the Old   Housewives  Market.  A bustling farmer’s market in February is one of the loveliest things about living in this area. It was full of greens and citrus, cruciferous and root vegetables. I briefly considered what looked like a rubber chicken which was actually a real chicken complete with head and feet and suitable for stock-making, but I was single-minded and on my way to Taylor’s Sausage for some hot smoked sausage, then on to Ranch 99 for a duck.

My gumbo today was based loosely on Southern Living’s Chicken and Sausage Gumbo recipe with several notable differences. When I made the roux, I used a couple of tablespoons of bacon fat that I had in the refrigerator to add a little smoky depth to my peanut butter colored roux. The duck had been broken down and the bits and bones made into stock. The breast and legs were poached in the stock and shredded and the stock de-fatted before pouring it into the roux and vegetables.

While I love okra and tomatoes in gumbo, I was looking for a deep smoky winter gumbo. The dark roux added so much body and flavor to the soup that it didn’t miss the okra thickener.

Let’s just say that if we had had a cooler full of icy Gatorade lying around the house this evening, it would not have been inappropriate to douse me with it after supper, cause, baby, that gumbo was a winner!