Category Archives: Food

Gumbo Ya-Ya

I’ve been craving gumbo for several days now, and since I did not have a headache yesterday, I decided I’d make a pot of gumbo. To make an authentic gumbo, it takes time. I miss New Orleans, a city I used to go to regularly when I was in graduate school because it was nearby, about an hour and a half away. I’ve heard that the only thing more New Orleans than a dented pot of gumbo simmering on the back burner is arguing about the right way to make it. Most places, especially seafood restaurants along the gulf coast, make a pretty tasty gumbo.

Gumbo has a heritage claiming both French, Native American (Choctaw), and West African roots. If you’re not familiar with it, gumbo is a thick stew served over rice and made with a roux (a mixture of butter and flour) and a wide variety of ingredients such as celery, peppers, okra, onions, sausage, chicken and/or seafood. With so many options, everyone seems to have perfected their own treasured recipes, which leads to impassioned debate on which one is best. Even so, gumbo does more to bring us together than divide us, as queen of Creole cuisine Chef Leah Chase said, “There’ve been a lot of problems solved in that dining room over a bowl of gumbo.” 

The late famed chef Paul Prudhomme created “Gumbo Ya-Ya,” the recipe I chose to make. Making Chef Paul’s “Gumbo Ya-Ya” completely from scratch took much of my day yesterday. I love to cook and try out new recipes. Sometimes I really enjoy making complicated and time-consuming recipes. I started by roasting a chicken to be used in the gumbo. Then, I began to prepare the rest of my ingredients by dicing the peppers, celery, and onions and slicing the andouille sausage. Once the roasted chicken had cooled, I deboned it. Some gumbo chefs don’t debone the chicken or remove the shell from the seafood used. I prefer for it to be ready to eat when done and not have to work separating bones or shells from my gumbo.

Once all the ingredients were prepared, I began making the roux. A good roux takes a long time. It must be stirred constantly for 30-45 minutes. Mine took the full 45 minutes to get the “color of dark mahogany.” I started out with a moderately low heat, but ended up turning the heat up to medium to get the desired color. If you make this recipe, let me give you a few tips and make a few suggestions. 

  • First, the roux is going to begin to smell nutty and eventually smell a bit like burned coffee, but don’t despair. It should smell that way to give the gumbo a dark, rich flavor. 
  • Second, I would use unsalted chicken stock to be able to control how much salt you want to use as the gumbo cooks. 
  • Third, I halved this recipe. I did not need six quarts of gumbo. 
  • Finally, suggest adding a pound of small or medium peeled and deveined shrimp at the end. You can either add cooked shrimp, or if you want to add the most flavor, add the raw shrimp and let them cook in the gumbo. They won’t take long to cook. If you want to forgo the chicken and use crab instead, then I’d suggest adding okra and making a seafood gumbo. I did not go this route because it seems impossible to get fresh okra in Vermont.

So here’s the recipe for “Gumbo Ya-Ya” and a picture of my finished product.

GUMBO YA-YA 

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb. (4 sticks) unsalted butter 
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 red bell peppers, in medium dice
  • 2 celery stalks, in medium dice
  • 1 medium onion, in medium dice
  • 1 ¼ gallon (20 cups) chicken stock
  • 2 tablespoons Creole seasoning
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon dried hot red pepper flakes
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 tablespoon chopped garlic
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 1 lb. andouille sausage, cut into ¼ inch-thick slices
  • 3 ½ lb. chicken, roasted and boned
  • hot sauce to taste
  • boiled rice as accompaniment

Instructions:

  1. In a 12-quart stockpot melt butter over moderately low heat.
  2. Gradually add a third of the flour, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, and cook, stirring constantly, 30 seconds. Add a third more flour and stir constantly, 30 seconds. Add remaining third of flour and stir constantly, 30 seconds. Continue to cook roux, stirring constantly, until it is the color of dark mahogany, about 30 to 45 minutes.
  3. Add bell peppers and stir constantly 30 seconds. Add onions and celery and stir constantly 30 seconds. Add the stock to roux, stirring constantly to prevent lumps.
  4. Add all remaining ingredients except chicken, rice, and hot sauce and bring to boil. Simmer gumbo, uncovered, 45 minutes, skimming off any fat and stirring occasionally.
  5. Add chicken and simmer 15 minutes. Adjust seasoning with hot sauce. Serve over rice.
  6. This recipe yields about 6 quarts, but gumbo freezes well and can be thawed without losing flavor.

Dinner and Drinks

I went out last night for dinner and drinks with our new curator. I really do like her. She’s very nice, and she’s very easy to talk to. When I first met her in person, I knew I’d get along with her. She’s a very perceptive person and very bright. She just seems to be a genuinely warm and interesting person. I love meeting someone and the conversation just flows. I feel like we’re old friends not like she’s just a new coworker.

She seems to be setting in just fine. Though she’s from the South, she has worked in New England before in her previous job. So, she’s familiar with some of the quirks and charms of New England. She’s also realizing that Vermont weather is not quite like that of other parts of New England. I warned her to make sure to dress warmly Tuesday. Our low temperature is supposed to be -8 degrees Fahrenheit with windchills as low as -35. Our high Tuesday is supposed to be 5 degrees. She’s getting an early taste of how bitterly cold Vermont can be in the winter. I was lucky that my first winter in Vermont was fairly mild.


Moment of Zen: Christmas Cooking

I love cooking for holidays whether it’s Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, or the Fourth of July. You name it, and I love the food traditions on holidays. Usually, when I go home to Alabama for Christmas break, I do most of the cooking for our Christmas get togethers. My mama isn’t as able as she used to be, so I take up the slack. I usually stay through New Years to cook for that holiday as well. My grandmama always made a very traditional southern New Year’s meal, and after she died, I kept the tradition alive. This year will be the third year in a row that I haven been there to cook for New Years, but maybe next year will be different. My mother has assured me that I will be home next year for Christmas “come hell or high water.”

This year, like last year, I’ll be doing all the cooking just for myself, though I may take some cornbread dressing down to my neighbor. My plan is to have some turkey, dressing, and a few vegetables. I have some ice cream for dessert.

MERRY CHRISTMAS

Just Desserts

I hate being cooped up in my apartment all day, so I decided to drive up to Williston, Vermont, to have lunch yesterday. I realized once I started up there that the restaurant (Texas Roadhouse—I love their rolls) I had planned to go to (my boss had given me a gift certificate for it as a Christmas present) was not open for lunch during the week. However, there are plenty of restaurants to choose from. I decided I’d go to 99 Restaurant. If you’ve never heard of 99 Restaurants, they are a New England staple. The food is pretty good too, and I’ve been to the one in Williston enough that the hostess takes me straight to what she refers to as my “usual table.” They are really nice, but while I like the food, it’s the music that I love. They always play ‘90s rock music, which is the music of my high school and college days. I always get their Country Fried Chicken. The first time I had it, I thought the gravy was odd, but it’s grown on me. Anyway, on my way up there, I decided I really didn’t want the Country Fried Chicken, so I decided I’d go to Chili’s and have their Chicken Enchilada Soup, one of my favorites. I got to Chili’s and realized that the parking lot was full, and if there was not parking, there would be no tables available.

Since Chili’s, Ninety-Nine, and Texas Roadhouse we’re all out of the question, I decided to go to Vermont Tap House. Vermont Tap House, as the name implies, has a large selection of beers and hard ciders, but I wasn’t in the mood for alcohol. They also have a large selection of wood-fired pizzas along with appetizers, sandwiches, and salads. I usually get their buffalo chicken pizza. While not a traditional pizza, it is pretty good. As I was waiting on a table, I saw their dessert menu (now we get to the point of this post). They had Maple Creme Brûlée, Chocolate Mousse, Death by Chocolate Cheesecake, Tap House Dough Bites (fried dough balls covered in cinnamon sugar and powdered sugar), and Bread Pudding (ask for the flavor of the day). When I finished my pizza, I asked for the dessert menu and decided to ask about the Bread Pudding. Being from the South, I’ve had a lot of bread pudding, so I was a little skeptical about how well a Vermont restaurant would make bread pudding. My waitress told me that the bread pudding this week was a Chocolate Stout Bread Pudding topped with Toasted Oak Ice Cream and Candied Pecans. It sounded a bit unusual (What flavor is “toasted oak” anyway?) but also intriguing, so I thought, what the hell, I’ll give it a try. Thank God I did. It was wonderful.

The bread pudding was soft and creamy on the inside with a layer of delicious chocolate on the bottom and just a little crunchy on top to give it a contrasting texture. I’ve never had ice cream on bread pudding. Usually, it’s a warm bourbon or rum sauce. The ice cream was a perfect complement. I can’t describe what flavor toasted oak is, but it had a light brown color like a coffee ice cream and had a hint of vanilla. The rest of the flavor was indescribable but delicious nonetheless. There was nothing left when I was finished, and I usually don’t eat all of a dessert unless it is creme brûlée. When my waitress came by to check on me, I did something I never do, I told her to tell whoever made the bread pudding that it was truly delicious. It told her that I was from the South and had eaten my fair share of bread pudding and this ranked as one of the best. She was very pleased to hear it and told me she’d tell their pastry chef. The pastry chef only comes in once a week, and when she does, she prepares all the desserts for the week. My waitress said that she didn’t think she was in today, but she’d definitely give her the message. She said she’d be thrilled to hear it.

I did not have high hopes for a Vermont bread pudding, but it far exceeded anything I would have imagined. The best bread pudding I’ve ever had was at Stonewall’s BBQ in Oak Grove, Mississippi. Many places make bread pudding with whatever bread is available. Stonewall’s made theirs with cinnamon rolls and drizzled it with a delicious white icing. Nothing else ever came close to their bread pudding until the Chocolate Stout Bread Pudding topped with Toasted Oak Ice Cream and Candied Pecans I had yesterday. I don’t often brag about food I’ve eaten in Vermont. I think some of y’all already know how I feel about Vermont “cuisine,” but when I find something good, it’s worth writing about. This bread pudding was worth writing about.


Busy

Yesterday was a busy day, and by the time I was able to stop and write my post for today, it was nearly 11 pm, well past my usual bedtime on a work night. I’d planned to write my post earlier in the day because I had finally remembered what I had planned to write for Thursday’s post. However, I was busy yesterday morning at work and couldn’t work on it then, and I took yesterday afternoon off to run some errands. The errands took longer than I had expected and by the time I got home, it was time to cook dinner. 

I’d found an interesting recipe for Wintertime Braised Beef Stew that I wanted to try out. It was a unique take on beef stew and I thought I’d try it. I’m always trying to improve on my recipe, but I think I’m going to give up on that quest. My simple beef stew recipe from my mother is still the best. Stew beef, potatoes, carrots, and onions cooked in a rich beef stock is far better than anything else I’ve tried. I know some people add celery, but I use celery salt because I hate cooked celery. Other people add peas at the end, but I’m not a fan of that either.I’ve read a few recipes that use red wine to make the stew richer and more robust in flavor. I tend to think it makes it too robust. The one thing I have found that I just can’t handle is putting tomatoes in a beef stew, like the recipe for the Wintertime Braised Beef Stew called for. I do flour and season the stew beef before browning it, which makes for a thicker broth, and honestly, the simple tried but true recipe is still the best.

Anyway, I’ve had a few ideas for posts that I’ll write for next week. I hope y’all will enjoy them. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see. Until then, I hope all of you have a wonderful Friday and a good weekend.


Cooking vs. Baking

I can cook most anything. Sometimes, I use a recipe, but sometimes I don’t. However, baking is a different story. Other than cookies, I’ve never been much of a baker. I can make a very tasty coconut custard pie, but I inevitably overfill the pie crust and it overflows when cooking and causes a hell of a mess. Before i go further, let me explain what I think of as the difference between cooking and baking. For me, cooking usually refers to a savory dish that you eat as part of a meal, whereas baking is sweets or desserts made in the oven, such as cookies, cakes, or pies. For a more detailed and precise definition of the two, see this article about “Cooking vs Baking.” Cooking is an art, while baking is more of a science. With cooking, you can experiment with the ingredients to make the dish a creation of your own, and the variations can be endless. Baking, however, requires exact measurements. The order in which ingredients are added is also often a factor in baking. While I can follow a recipe just fine, I’ve often not been very successful with more elaborate cakes. Cookies and pies, I’ve pretty much mastered. The exception is pound cakes.
I have been craving a good pound cake for a few days now, and I plan to make one. But, what kind should I make? My mother is a master at cake making, and while measurements have to be exact during baking, my grandmama could make most of her cakes with her eyes closed. Also, pound cakes are usually a pretty simple recipe with only four ingredients and one measurement: a pound each of butter, flour, sugar, and eggs. But there are many variations of the pound cake: classic, butter, sour cream, cream cheese, etc. I love a good buttery pound cake, but my favorite is a brown sugar pound cake, so that s what I plan to make, a Brown Sugar Pecan Pound Cake. I doubt I’ll have the energy to make one after work tonight, and I probably won’t make one tomorrow night. However, this weekend is supposed to be cool (our high Saturday is 65) and rainy, so what better day to make a cake and have the oven on for over an hour.

This recipe is a Southern twist on a classic. I’ve never made this particular recipe. It comes from dinnerthendessert.com,which claimed that this Brown Sugar Pecan Pound Cake is rich, moist and full of pecan crunch and takes just over an hour to cook. I’ll let you know how it turns out.

Brown Sugar Pecan Pound Cake

Prep Time: 10 min
Cook Time: 1 hr
Serves: 12 Servings

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup Unsalted Butter
  • 1 cup Brown Sugar, (packed)
  • 1/2 cup Sugar
  • 3 large Eggs
  • 1 teaspoons Vanilla Extract
  • 1/2 cup Whole Milk
  • 1 1/2 cups Flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon Baking Powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon Salt
  • 1 cup Chopped Pecans

Preparation Steps

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees and spray a 9×5 loaf pan with baking spray.
  2. In a stand mixer on medium high speed, add together the butter, brown sugar and sugar until light and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes.
  3. Add in the eggs one at a time until fully combined, then add in the vanilla.
  4. Add in the milk and flour, baking powder and salt (alternate them in thirds) until just combined.
  5. Add in all but a handful of the chopped pecans and stir.
  6. Pour batter into the loaf pan and sprinkle on the rest of the pecans.
  7. Bake for 55-60 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Busy Weekend

Do you ever have one of those weekends when you feel it never was? When you were so busy that you end up feeling like you never had a weekend at all? This weekend was one of those. On Saturday, I went to Burlington to get a few things that I can only get up there. The problem was that the one thing I needed was from Target, and they were out of stock of the item. Ugh! I did have some other stuff to get while I was in Target, but I could have probably gotten all of them closer to home and not have to spend the better part of my day going to Burlington. It’s about an hour’s drive up there.

Also, while I was up that way, I went by Best Buy to look for a microwave. I’ve never had a microwave in the years I’ve lived in Vermont, and I recently bought a baker’s rack and microwave stand for my kitchen. I’d never had a microwave up here because I tend to cook things on the stove or in the oven, but it would be very convenient to occasionally throw something in the microwave and get it done quicker. Plus, I miss popcorn. I have tried to make it on the stovetop, but it’s a bit of a pain. I think I know which one I want, so I will order it and have to go back and pick it up since they only had the display model in stock. After going to Best Buy, I then went to Walmart to get the rest of the items I needed. I don’t mind going to Target, but Walmart is really hell on earth. Honestly, there is a reason why there is a website called People of Walmart. It’s frightening. After all of that, I was exhausted.

Yesterday, I tried to find the item I had wanted at Target locally. Some places carry it on occasion, but not always. I had no luck. However, I did eat at this wonderful little restaurant in Barre (BARE-ee), Vermont, called The Quarry Kitchen & Spirits. If for any reason you ever find yourself in Barre, I’d suggest going there. I got the French dip sandwich (something that is really hard to find in Vermont), and it was delicious. I haven’t had one this good in years. It’s probably my favorite sandwich, so I will be going back to this restaurant.  Also, they had very good fried pickles.

The rest of my day was spent making English muffins. I mentioned a few months ago that the Vermont Bread Company went out of business, and I loved their English muffins. I have been trying to find a brand that I liked as much, but while I have found some that are decent substitutes, none were as good as the ones from Vermont Bread Company. I thought, “Why don’t I try to make my own?” I looked up a recipe and found one at King Arthur Flour and went down to Norwich, Vermont, to get all the ingredients and some English muffin rings. When I got there, I saw that they had a “White Whole Wheat English Muffin Mix.” It looked fairly simple to make, if not a little time-consuming, so I bought a box to try. However, I just hadn’t had the energy to make them until yesterday. 

I mixed the dough and let it rise for 90 minutes, and then, I was ready to make the muffins. I heated the skillet, greased the rings, set them on the skillet, and sprinkled in some semolina flour. Per the instructions, I put 1/3 cup of dough in each ring and spread out the dough. I had a hard time getting the right amount in each ring, so while they were in the first twelve minutes of cooking on one side, the dough rose much more than I anticipated. I then removed the rings and flipped over the English muffins to cook ten more minutes on the other side. They turned out beautiful but really big. I then put them on a rack to cool. When I finished cooking the twelve muffins the mix makes. I made four of them at a time, and four of them were big, four were too small, and the last four were huge. 

Two of the “big” ones were actually fairly perfect in size. (They were the ones I ate last night.) Once they cooled, I sliced one in half and popped it in the toaster. They didn’t have the nooks and crannies that most people think of when they think of English muffins. So, they looked dense, but they were still light. When they finished toasting, I put some butter on the two halves and some strawberry jam. The whole process took about three hours, so at first, I thought, I probably won’t be making these again. Then, I tasted them. OMG! They are so good. I would never have imagined they’d be this good. If you have three hours, like to cook, and are so inclined, I highly recommend making them. They were the best English muffins I have ever had, even if they were a bit misshapen (one even looks like a Mickey Mouse that a four-year-old would try to draw, LOL).

All in all, it was a very busy weekend. Now today, I have to go to work feeling like I never had a weekend. Maybe I’ll take a day off this week if I can.


Road Trip

I will be spending most of my day in a car with my boss. We have to drive up to the northern part of the state to look at some artifacts someone wants to donate. We know we will be bringing back at least one donation, but I’m not sure how many more. Sadly, my boss does not look like the guy in the picture above. My boss is kind of dorky. We will also be professionally dressed and not in workout clothes, LOL. It’s going to be a long day. He’s expecting us to be back by lunch, but I expect it will be more like the middle of the afternoon. He told me yesterday that we will also be visiting another museum, but I have no idea why. He didn’t say, and yesterday was a vacation day, so I didn’t ask. I’m sure he thinks he told me; he always thinks he tells us stuff. However, he’s constantly forgetting to tell us things we need to know. He’s a really nice guy, just an incompetent and inefficient dumbass.

Tonight, I have plans to go with a friend up to Burlington to eat at a new barbecue place. The menu looks good, so I hope the food is actually good. A lot of times, Vermont restaurants put their own Vermont twist on food, especially when it’s a food where simpler is better. This place doesn’t indicate on their menu that they’ve put a Vermont twist on it, but we will just have to wait and see. The only food twist that’s apparent on their menu is their cheesy gravy tots, which sound like a southern version on poutine.


The Dinner Date

My date Saturday cooked me dinner. It was originally supposed to be an early dinner, which I thought meant 5 pm or 6 pm at the latest. However, we did a lot of talking over coffee first, and he started cooking dinner around 7 pm. The had decided he wanted to grill and air- or dry-steak. Dry-aged beef is apparently known for its richer flavor and more tender texture than its fresh-cut counterparts. We went to a butcher shop near his house to get the steak cut fresh. Apparently, it is best to have a thick cut of meat, in this case about 1.5”, instead of two thinner steaks. I’ll be honest here, when I saw it, the steak did not look that appetizing. In fact, it looked like it had gone bad, but that’s because a lot of the moisture is taken out of it, similar to the curing process for prosciutto. I do love a good steak, so I kept an open mind.

He also roasted some root vegetables—carrots and parsnips—and sautéed some greens, which included collard and Swiss chard. He finished the greens with a balsamic sesame reduction. There was also a cucumber and tomato salad in a tasty yogurt (I think anyway) dill dressing. Everything was perfectly prepared, and while the steak was more rare than I normally prefer, the taste was divine. It was only seasoned with a little salt and pepper before it was grilled, but the taste was pure steak. Unless you’ve had dry-aged beef, I cannot describe just how good this was. The roasted root vegetables and the greens were also very good.

The whole meal was fantastic. My cooking is usually more on the simple southern cooking side, though I can make a few high end dishes. This was more on the gourmet side, and he obviously enjoyed cooking for someone else. I felt honored that he made me such a meal. We ended the night with a simple blueberry cherry parfait with layers of whipped cream and Mascarpone mixture. 

As I was leaving, I told him how much I’d enjoyed the museum, the conversation and company, the the delicious meal. I also told him I hoped I’d see him again. He said that we’d definitely see each other again and that he had a wonderful times as well. Now, the question is do I text him and if so, when? Or do I wait and let him make the next move? I have never been good at this part of a first date. I have tried both approaches and I’ve rarely gotten a second date. Only three or four times in my life have I gotten multiple dates. I just don’t know.

Also, because I was there until nearly midnight, I fear that I overstayed my welcome, but one friend told me that you don’t talk for ten solid hours if you didn’t like the person. I really enjoyed talking to him and spending time with him. He’s a very nice man, so I guess time will tell if this will be a friendship, a romantic relationship, or if it will just fizzle away. I do hope it’s friendship or romance, but time will tell.


Fourth of July Traditions

When I was growing up, our family had five big holidays that we celebrated: New Year’s Day, Easter, Independence Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. New Year’s Day was always celebrated with traditional foods (pork, greens, and black-eyed peas) and with my paternal grandmama’s family. Easter was a holiday for just my parents, sister, and me. We always had ham, macaroni and cheese, and the other vegetables varied. Independence Day was always celebrated with my paternal granddaddy’s family. Thanksgiving was always celebrated with my mother’s family, and Christmas was numerous gatherings with all the different branches of my family. Each of them was a very special occasion that I always looked forward to.

The Fourth of July was always particularly special. My granddaddy had his own barbecue pit and would cook pork and beef ribs. Ive always preferred pork ribs. My grandmama would make the sauce that would go on them. Granddaddy also would grill some corn on the cob, too. Grandmama would make baked beans and potato salad. My mama would make the coleslaw. Daddy would go early in the morning to help Granddaddy barbecue the ribs, while Grandmama made iced tea and lemonade for refreshment. Everyone else who came generally brought a dish and they often varied according to who came that year. After lunch and around the middle of the afternoon, we would usually cut up a watermelon, and many of the years, Grandmama would get out the ice cream churn and make her special ice cream. There is just nothing like my grandmama’s homemade ice cream. Well, maybe Bluebell’s Homemade Vanilla Ice Cream, but only the Light Homemade Vanilla Ice Cream. The regular is too sweet.

Family would come from as far away as Arizona to be at Granddaddy’s Fourth of July barbecue. All of the nearby family members would have some out of town relative staying with them. Sadly, the largest gathering was the last. My granddaddy died of cancer in 2001 and that Independence Day every member of the clan came from far and wide. Granddaddy was bedridden at the time, so my daddy did the barbecuing. Granddaddy was so sick, he was no longer able to eat much, but he was so happy everyone came that year. He died just three weeks later. He had held on for that last barbecue, which tells you how special it was to him.

While we keep up with most of the other holidays, the Fourth of July has never been the same. It’s always been a much smaller affair after Granddaddy died. Daddy usually still cooks ribs, but they are now made with Mama’s BBQ sauce recipe instead of my grandmama’s. In the last five years, I have only been back for the Fourth once. It’s just not the same.

This year, I will be cooking some ribs, baked beans, and scalloped potatoes just like my mama taught me. Well, the ribs will be cooked in the oven, something unthinkable for the rest of my family, but I do not have a grill. This year it will also be a solitary affair. I found one small rack of ribs at the grocery store. I was surprised the supermarket had a small rack of ribs, but they did and only one of them so, I bought it.

Happy Fourth of July, Everyone!