Tuesday, November 24, 2009
There's nothing like the combination of food, New Orleans, and other people's obsessions to inspire you. It was on a visit here that I encountered a little gem masquerading as a worn, blue hardback entitled Cooking in Old Creole Days. Published in 1903 by Celestine Eustis, it offered an incredible look into the methodology of Creole cooking and the attitude towards culinary arts in the previous centuries. Despite, or maybe in part due to, a remarkable overtly racist prologue ("as a race, we are certainly not gifted with culinary talent") by S. Weir Mitchell, the book is fascinating from start to finish.
I jotted down a recipe for the most basic dish in the Creole repertoire: okra gumbo. I wanted to see how the traditional elaboration compared to what comes out of my pseudo-New-Orleanian family kitchen. So I followed the "receipt" to the best of my abilities-the ambiguity of it I actually found to result in a fun cooking challenge, allowing me to fill in the gaps with my own knowledge and whims.
And...most importantly...the gumbo was delicious! Chip proclaimed it amazing, and I thought it tasted quite good as well. A fairly easy meal. I do have to say I like my dad's darker, more Cajun gumbo better, but that could just be due to another tradition that dates back hundreds of years: a strong loyalty to your own flesh and blood's roux.
Put into a saucepan a spoonful of pure lard* and one of flour. Stir it well until it is of a light brown. Chop an onion into small pieces and throw them in. Cut up a fat capon or chicken into small pieces and put it into the saucepan with the flour and lard. Stir it all the while until the chicken is nearly done. When the whole is well browned, add a slice of ham* cut up small. Throw in two or three pods of red pepper*, and salt to your taste. Then add a quart of boiling water, and leave it on the fire for two hours and a half.
During that time you take either a can of okra or the fresh okra, and chop it up a bit. Put it in a saucepan with a little water and let it simmer a quarter of an hour, stirring it all the time. Then add to it either six fresh tomatoes or half a can of tomatoes, and let it cook on a slow fire for an hour, uncovered.
When your gumbo has been on the fire the two hours and a half, you take it off to cool, and skim all the grease off. Then you put it back in the saucepan and add your okra and tomatoes and let it simmer slowly for an hour or until the okra is thoroughly cooked. Serve hot, and eat it with dry rice served in a separate dish.
-Mme. Eustis, Mére.
*for the lard, I used butter. for ham, I used andouille. for the red pepper, I used chile de arbol.
Monday, November 23, 2009
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
We had the best soup in the world at work the other night. Unfortunately, it wasn't this one, but it did inspire this one. It was a similar to a typical lentil vegetable soup, but with a cream base instead of a broth one. And, atop of this already plenty delicious soup were delightfully crunchy cubes of roasted potato.
At home the next afternoon with a squash and daydreams of tiny crunchy squares of tuber, I devised this soup. It's oh-so-delicious, and quite simple and quick. The star anise adds an imperceptible depth and richness to the yummy yummy soup. And the curried parsnips are the perfect garnish, adding a kick of savory heat. Homemade chicken broth if possible, people!
butternut squash soup with curried parsnips
1 medium butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1 in cubes
3 star anise
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 shallots, chopped
3-4 cups chicken broth
1 large parsnip, peeled and diced small
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp curry powder
2 bay leaves
Preheat oven to 375.
Heat 1 tbsp olive oil and add garlic, shallot and star anise. Sautee until translucent and add squash and chicken broth to cover. How much you use will depend on how big your squash was. Simmer until squash is tender, about 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, toss parsnip with curry powder, 1 tbsp olive oil, bay leaf, salt and pepper. Roast until softened but still a tad crunchy, about 10 minutes.
Remove star anise and puree everything else. Thin with broth if desired. Serve with parsnips in the middle and, optionally, croutons.
Friday, November 6, 2009
We have this amazing cake at work, the most unassuming yet moist and delicious thing you have ever put in your mouth. It was my dad's birthday this week, and so I immediately thought about making it for him. Unfortunately, there wasn't enough time to collect the recipe, so I had to wing it by piecing together a few different ideas and hoping for the best.
I chose a cake recipe from Bon Appetit, but when I set out to make it I realized it was going to make a teeny tiny sheet of a cake, so I doubled the recipe. Then, when it came out in all of its ugly glory, I knew I would need something to fancy it up, as well as something to go in between the layers. The moist crumb was a red light for a traditional frosting...I know my limits and controlling the wild crumbiness was definitely beyond them.
With my remaining apples, I sauteed an apple butter for a moist middle layer, and then whipped up a glaze to try to disguise what turned out to be the ugliest yet most delicious cake this side of 2009.
apple walnut cake
1/2 c packed brown sugar
Juice three apples. Dice three peeled apples. Simmer the juice and diced apples until mixture is reduced to about a third. Add sugar, stir, and cook over medium heat about twenty minutes.
brown sugar glaze::
1/2 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1/4 cup whipping cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon salt
Stir all ingredients in small nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until sugar dissolves and mixture comes to boil. Reduce heat to medium; whisk until glaze is smooth, about 1 minute. Remove from heat.
4 cups diced peeled apples (about 4)
2 cup sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted, cooled
2 large egg
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
Preheat oven to 375°F. Butter and flour 2 8x8x2-inch baking pans. Mix diced apples, sugar, butter and egg in large bowl to blend. Sift flour, cinnamon, baking soda and salt over. Add chopped walnuts; mix thoroughly. Transfer mixture to prepared pans, dividing evenly.
Bake until cake is brown and crusty on top and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Cool cake in pan on rack.
Spread apple butter over one layer and place the other layer on top. Make glaze and pour over top of cake; let cool 30 minutes before serving.
*adapted from Bon Appetit