After we traded in the idea of Mardis Gras in New Orleans for Mardis Gras in Michigan (this gave me the opportunity to introduce Neil to his first Fat Tuesday paczki), Neil and I had Cajun cooking on the brain. It didn’t take long for us to fill the kitchen with the incredible smells of a delicious sausage gumbo, a thick Cajun stew. A perfect meal for a future pig farmer and a lady with ambiguous dietary self-restrictions.
Holy cow, was it good! Before I get to the recipe, here are a couple of things we learned as we looked for the perfect recipe:
1. Bell pepper, onion and celery are sometimes called the “holy trinity” of Cajun cooking – a flavor blend common in the cuisine – and they definitely add to the depth and flavor of the gumbo.
2. Filé powder, a seasoning made from ground sassafras leaves, is often used to thicken and flavor gumbos. Often it’s added just before eating. We weren’t able to find it, so if you’ve ever tried it, I’d love to know what it’s like.
3. A good roux (pronounced “roo”) is CRUCIAL
What’s a roux, you ask? Basically, it’s a cooked mixture of flour and fat. But oh, it’s so much more than that! It adds thickness, depth and flavor (not to mention a cooking challenge!) to an average pot of soup.
INGREDIENTS (serves 4 hungry people)
2 links sausage (we tried Andouille and Keilbasa courtesy of Zingerman’s Deli and the Copernicus European Delicatessen)
1/3C oil or butter
1/2 C flour (whole wheat pastry or white)
1 large onion, finely cut into large half-moons
3 cloves garlic
2 green bell peppers, roughly chopped
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
2 Tbs mixture of thyme, paprika, cayenne, bay leaves, oregano (or a handy Cajun spices blend)
3 quarts stock, warm
1/3 C chopped parsley
salt and pepper to taste
6C cooked brown rice
the how to
- Cut the sausages into 1/2″ slices and cook over medium-high heat until browned in your soup pot. No oil necessary – they should release plenty of their own. Pour them in a bowl and set aside for now.
- Using the grease released by the sausage (and the additional oil or butter, as necessary), pour in the flour and begin to make your roux. Stir continuously – it can quickly burn. The flour should get to a thick pasty consistency – not too wet, not too dry; add more oil if it’s drying out – and should look somewhere between a dark copper and rich chocolatey color. This depends on your patience and preferences, but can take anywhere between 7 and 20 minutes of stirring (it’s worth it, I promise!)
- Once your roux has darkened, add the onion, garlic, celery, bell pepper and spices and cook until the vegetables have softened and the onions are translucent.
- Add the stock and bring the liquid to a boil. Then turn the stove down to low and let simmer for half an hour.
- Add the cooked sausage and continue to cook for half an hour+ until the soup has reached the consistency you’d like and the flavors have melded.
- Add salt and pepper to taste, and throw in the chopped parsley just before serving.
- Serve over rice, topped with Tobasco sauce and accompanied by a spicy glass of wine.
- Savor the flavors. Happy Belated Mardis Gras!
In our recipe searchings, Neil and I came across a cookbook (Justin Wilson’s Homegrown Louisiana Cookin’) written with a crystal clear -and hilarious- voice:
In preparation for our moves (AKA the end of retirement), Neil and I have made lists of restaurants in Bellingham we want to try out, shows in town we want to see, etc. Another list includes meals we want to make and enjoy together. Sharing space atop that list with the likes of blueberry coffee cake and mushroom risotto are pierogi, delicious Polish dumplings. This recipe is slightly adapted from my friend Aldona, takes about 1.5 to 2 hours from start to finish and is a perfect comfort food for these cold clear nights.
POTATO CHEESE PIEROGI
INGREDIENTS (serves 4)
2Cups white flour (whole wheat pastry flour works too, but won’t be as soft or easy to work with)
1 large egg
3/4 Cup hot water
1 Tbs olive oil
1 tsp salt
Fried Onion Deliciousness
1/2 stick of butter
1 large onion, chopped pretty fine
3 large potatoes
1 Cup cottage/farmer cheese
salt and pepper to taste
one large scoop of Fried Onion Deliciousness
Fried Onion Deliciousness
curry, chopped herbs, yogurt – you name it! get creative!
THE HOW TO
- Cut potatoes into small chunks and boil until soft and mashable.
- While the potatoes are cooking, pour flour into a large bowl. Make a big well in the flour and crack the egg into it. Add the salt, olive oil, and about half of the hot water.
- Knead the dough together, adding the rest of the water as needed until you have what feels like a soft pie dough – not too dry, but not sticky either. Let the dough rest, covered so it doesn’t dry out, for 20 minutes or so as you prepare the fried onion deliciousness and pierogi filling.
- Put the half stick of butter in a cast iron skillet, and, once it is melting and starting to sizzle, add the chopped onion. Fry until the onions are translucent and smelling irresistibly delicious.
- Drain the boiled potatoes and mash with a fork. Add the cheese (we got Polish farmers cheese from the European import store, but most any cheese – farmers, cottage, cheddar – will do) and a big scoop of the fried onions. Season with salt and pepper to taste. *For one batch of pierogi, we added curry powder and peas to this mixture.
- Roll out the dough on a floured cutting board. It should be pretty darn thin – a millimeter? – thick enough that it won’t tear when you add the filling, thin enough that it won’t taste gummy once boiled.
- Using a cup, cut out circles of dough 3 inches in diameter or so.
- Put a Tablespoon or 2 of filling on each circle of dough (it takes much less filling than you might think!) and crimp the edges together to form a pocket, a mini-calzone. Make sure your edges are sealed or the dumplings will spill open when boiling.
- As you’re finishing with filling the pierogi, heat up a large pot of water to boiling. Dunk about 10 – 12 pierogi in at once. They’ve finished cooking about 30 seconds after they float to the top (2 minutes or so altogether).
- Top with the left-over fried onions, soy sauce, sour cream, hot sauce and anything else you’re inclined to try.
- Enjoy hot, with a glass of wine and a winter companion. Marvel at the countless ways cultures have managed to accessorize dough and make it taste delicious.
Don’t get me wrong; I’ll never say ‘no’ to the rich complex flavors of a curry, the way dozens of spices can meld just right and dance on the tastebuds. And while I couldn’t necessarily tell you what exactly turmeric tastes like, I know that I love it blended with countless other spices in Channa Masala or a pot of Dal. But I also love a recipe that lets its main players speak for themselves, one that can stand on its own – with maybe just a little help from salt and pepper. That’s where this recipe for Polish salad comes in. Some call it Russian salad, and I’m sure it goes by all kinds of names, but it came to me straight from a Polish woman (my friend Aldona’s mom), so I’ll take her word for it.
There’s plenty of room to play around in this recipe. Potatoes, carrots and celeriac form the base – and I’d say each one is pretty crucial, though the proportions are up to you. As for the bells and whistles, I added onions, peas, pickles, and hard-boiled eggs. Other ideas include parsnips, a tart apple, scallions or diced celery. A mayonaise/yogurt combination binds the salad together with salt and pepper adding a little kick. Warning: this salad is addictive – the kind of dish that perfectly straddles the heartiness of winter and the sweetness of spring.
Ok, without further ado:
INGREDIENTS (serves 6+)
2 Celery Roots (Celeriac), peeled and cut into large chunks
6 medium Potatoes, peeled and cut into large chunks
4 Carrots, peeled and cut into large chunks
1 Cup Peas
1/2 small Onion, diced
2 Eggs, hard-boiled and chopped
2 Dill Pickles, chopped
1/2 Cup Yogurt + Mayonaise
salt and pepper, to taste
THE HOW TO
- Boil the celeriac, potatoes and carrots until tender (not mushy). Remove from water (which would make a perfect stock for soup) and, once cool, chop into small cubes.
- In a large bowl, combine the cubed veggies with the peas, onions, hard-boiled eggs, and the pickles.
- Mix the yogurt and mayonaise together (I used probably 4 or 5 tablespoons of mayo and let yogurt fill the rest of the 1/2 Cup – if you want a creamier salad, add more) and pour over the veggie mixture in the bowl.
- Add salt and pepper to taste. Lemon juice, celery seed, mustard, or dill would also be delicious, but I think you’ll find the veggies – and the mayo, of course – speak for themselves.
I remember pretty clearly the first time I saw them: a dozen eggs for 5 dollars. I had just moved to Seattle, and, wandering around at the University District Farmers Market, my eyes caught the carton and what I then considered to be the ridiculously expensive price. What could possibly make these eggs worth five dollars when I could find a dozen at the supermarket for one dollar?
A vegan at the time, I didn’t let the question linger in my brain for too long. I picked up my veggies, probably went to the store and bought a 3 dollar brick of tofu, and let it rest there.
It wasn’t until I worked at a farm that raised chickens – and until this year when I raised my own – that I began to understand a few things:
1. Not all eggs are created equal. The pale yellow soft yolks you’ll find in much of the supermarket stock don’t compare to the rich firm orange-yellow yolks of the eggs that come from chickens who have had (and made use of) access to grass, dirt, bugs, veggie scraps, etc
1a. That grass and dirt, the fresh air, bugs and veggie scraps – they’re part of a more varied and healthy lifestyle that animals in a factory-farm setting don’t have access to. This is at least an ethical issue, to say nothing of the health of consumers and of the environment. (Food Inc speaks to these issues brilliantly)
2. Raising chickens on a small-scale farm (or likely any scale) is not a get-rich-quick scheme. The farmers I’ve talked to barely break even on selling their eggs (yes, even at $5/dozen) – and that’s without considering their labor in the costs. I’ll price out our costs in just raising 6 chickens below.
and 3. Raising chickens is absolutely worth it! Not only do they provide delicious eggs, but they scratch up and fertilize our soil, and are great pets and companions.
But they do cost, in both money and time –
And here’s how much, in our case:
6 baby chicks: $18
organic feed: $20/40 pound bag (from Scratch and Peck)
The chicks went through about $70 worth of feed before they started laying eggs (around 5 months). Once they got laying, they were eating about 2 bags of feed/month ($40/month) and were laying 5 to 6 eggs/day.
So let’s look at one month into their laying: Just to get them to that point, we spent $88 Adding on an extra $40 for that month’s feed gets us to $128 in the hole. Let’s say they’re laying 5 eggs/day for that month: that’s 150 eggs, or about 13 dozen. If we price eggs at $5/dozen (which is what we were paying for them at the farmers market), that’s a $65 value. $128 in expenses – $65 in eggs: That puts us at $63 in the hole.
If, in all of the following months, we pay out $40 in feed and gain $65 in eggs, we’ll break even in a few months. Of course this doesn’t take into consideration the infrastructure: our fencing, the chicken tractor we built so that they could cruise our yard, heat lamps, straw, food and water dishes, etc. And then there’s our time and effort: providing fresh food and water, letting them out, closing them in at night. How do you price those out?
Some people choose to; some don’t. I’ve loved having our chickens, and it’s hard to put a price on being able to eat fresh delicious eggs that you’ve raised in your own backyard. Ultimately, I just think it’s worth it. And for those still raising your eyebrows at the 5 dollar price-tag, I can’t blame you: I’ve been there before. But consider how much dense, protein-packed food 12 eggs really is; consider too what else you’re willing to spend that 5 dollars on.
If that doesn’t have you convinced, shell out the 5 bucks and make this:
INGREDIENTS1 medium onion, chopped 3 cloves garlic, chopped 1 medium sprig rosemary, stemmed and chopped 2 medium potatoes, chopped thinly 5 eggs 1 -2 Tbs butter salt and pepper, to taste THE HOW TO
- Heat butter in a cast iron skillet over medium heat. Saute onion until translucent and starting to brown.
- As the onions are cooking, boil the chopped potatoes until they are tender, but not mushy. (Peel them if you like) Potatoes should be in pretty small chunks, but whatever shapes and sizes you prefer. (I cut the potatoes in quarters and chopped them a centimeter thick or so).
- Add the garlic, rosemary, salt and pepper to the onions and, once incorporated, add the potatoes too.
- Cook this mixture for a few minutes; as it’s cooking, whisk up the eggs.
- Try to spread the potato mixture evenly over the bottom of the skillet and pour the eggs over top. The eggs will begin firming up – this should take 5 to 8 minutes. Turn down the heat a bit if it seems to be happening faster.
- After it looks like the bottom has firmed up but the top is still a bit liquidy, turn the broiler of your oven on (this wouldn’t be a bad time to sprinkle some cheese on top if you have some on hand) and finish the top under the high heat – just a couple of minutes.
- Enjoy with salsa or hot sauce or as is – the eggs speak for themselves!
This meal accomplished all kinds of amazing feats: It put a huge dent in the massive squash my neighbor gave to me a couple of days ago. It was my first trial of the Painted Mountain dry corn we grew this year. It used two of my favorite kitchen tools – the immersion blender and the grain grinder (gifts from Neil’s mom and my parents). AND it managed to capture what is, to me, the essence of a perfect Fall meal. Something that warms you from the inside out – creamy, just a hint of spice, y.u.m. These are both slight adaptations on great recipes from 101 Cookbooks and Mark Bittman.
PUMPKIN CURRY SOUP
1 medium sized pumpkin or winter squash
coconut oil (or butter or olive oil)
1 small onion, chopped
3+ cloves of garlic, chopped
1 can coconut milk
3 Tbs+ red curry paste (to taste)
salt and pepper
The HOW TO
- Preheat the oven to 375°
- Chop the pumpkin into small chunks and roast in a baking dish with a little oil or butter for about an hour, or until the pumpkin is soft.
- Once the pumpkin is soft: In a large pot over medium heat, saute the onion and garlic in coconut oil until onions are translucent.
- Add pumpkin (skins and all if they’re thin enough), coconut milk, and curry paste.
- Add water slowly, pureeing the soup as you do, until you reach a desired consistency.
- Keep on low heat, letting the flavors meld, and add salt and pepper to taste.
- Adjust curry paste levels if you need – I wanted a little extra spice, so I added some Sriracha hot sauce to my bowl.
But what’s soup without something starchy to sop it up with?
PAINTED MOUNTAIN CORNBREAD
1.5 C medium grind cornmeal
.5 C whole wheat pastry flour
1 tsp salt
3 Tbs sugar (optional)
1.5 tsp baking powder
1 – 4 Tbs butter*
1.25 C milk
*the amount of butter you use is up to you; I used 4Tbs and it gave the bottom and edges of the bread a rich – and obviously buttery – taste and browned everything nicely. You can certainly get away with using less.
The HOW TO
- Preheat the oven to 375° Put the butter into a 10 inch cast-iron skillet (or an 8 inch baking pan) and put into the oven until the pan is hot and the butter fully melted (browned is fine).
- While the pan and butter heat, combine the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Mix together well.
- Beat the eggs into the milk until they’re fully incorporated. Then pour this wet mixture into the dry ingredients.
- Pull out the skillet and pour in the batter. It’s a strange sensation to pour it into the little butter pond you’ve formed, but don’t worry – you’re doing the right thing!
- Smooth out the top if you need to, and pop that puppy back in for about 30 minutes, or until the top is nice browned.
- Serve with soup, maple syrup, or nothing at all. Enjoy!
It’s a long road to cornbread …
Tis the season for casseroles, folks. And there’s no one better than a Midwesterner to tell you so. Broccoli, tater tots, containers of Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup, and, of course, french-fried onions – everything is pretty much fair game in the casserole world. Memories of Grandma Lavern’s hot dog and egg noodle casserole still warm my heart, even though my hotdog days are thankfully long behind me. Hotdogs or no, casseroles are the quintessential comfort food. Cheesy, starchy, fresh out of the oven – delicious!
Really, a casserole (or hot dish, as some like to call it) is just a word for something baked in a casserole dish. So it’s like calling something a “crock pot meal,” pretty open for interpretation. And just like whatever you put in your crock or your soup pot, there’s a wide range of ingredients (and ingredient quality, nutritional value, etc) you can use – that’s up to you.
This is the dish to make when you’re craving the comfort of a casserole, but don’t seem to have any tater tots on hand. I’ve used the following recipe (or some derivation) for quite some time now. It’s perfect for when I’ve made extra quinoa (sometimes intentionally, sometimes by accident). Quinoa is relatively new on the scene and is touted by some as being a “super food.” I think a lot of foods are pretty super, but quinoa does have protein in amounts impressive to a vegetarian like me. It cooks quickly (comparable to white rice) and has a texture and flavor that lend itself to a lot of different dishes. For those of you who aren’t sold on quinoa, give this recipe a try. Let me know what you think.
4 Cups cooked quinoa (about 1 cup uncooked) 1 bunch greens other veggies* Olive Oil (2Tbs or so) 1 medium onion, chopped 3+ cloves garlic, minced 1/2 – 3/4 C cheese, grated (Gruyere and Feta have both been delicious) 2 eggs salt and pepper Herbs (sage, rosemary, oregano, thyme) Parmesan cheese (optional) * There’s a lot of room to experiment in this recipe. I like to make the dish more about the veggies: I’ve added sweet peppers and zucchini (one each) in the summertime, tons of extra kale in the spring. The creaminess of winter squash or sweet potato would compliment the cheesiness I think. The eggs and cheese act as binders in this recipe, so you can always add more of either of those if you feel like you’re getting veggie-heavy – particularly if you’d like a casserole you can slice up instead of scoop out. ** This time around I used 3 eggs from our chickies, all kinds of greens (and the pinks, yellows and reds of chard), broccoli, a sprig each of rosemary.thyme.oregano, and a Jalapeño Queso Fresco from Samish Bay Cheese in Bow, Washington.
THE HOW TO
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees and lightly oil a 9×13 baking dish, I mean … casserole.
- Heat olive oil in a pan and saute onions and garlic until onions are translucent. Add other veggies and saute until close to soft, definitely not mushy. They’ll finish baking in the oven. Saute greens too; if they lose a lot of liquid, drain most of it off. Remove from the heat and season with salt and pepper.
- Beat the eggs in a large bowl, adding a pinch of salt and some black pepper. Stir in the quinoa, cheese (reserve a little cheese for the topping if you like), the veggie mixture and the herbs. I go pretty heavy on the herbs (a few tablespoons, depending on what I’m using) – fresh herbs are so tasty! Sometimes I’ll add crushed red pepper here too.
- Scrape the mixture into your oiled baking dish. Add some of your reserved cheese or some parmesan for a topping if you want; it’s perfectly delicious without. A little drizzling of olive oil over the top will give it just a little crispiness too.
- Put on the middle rack of the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes, until the cheese has browned just a bit.
- Ignore the rumors of impending snow flurries and warm yourself from the inside out – enjoy!
I know, I know – At first glance, this is not a shining example of regional seasonal fare. The sky was clearing this evening, hinting at a cold night and my mind went straight to one of my favorite Indian meals, a spicy chana masala (tomato-y garbanzo bean curry type dish). Look deep into the exotic spicy goodness though, and you’ll see onions and garlic from our garden, last year’s canned tomatoes, and 2 other exciting highlights, both of which I bought from Alvarez Farm at the Ballard Farmer’s Market last weekend in Seattle:
1. A ghost pepper (insert oohs and aahs here): What is a ghost pepper, you ask? I asked the same thing, and quickly knew by the smile in the vendor’s eyes that I was in for a treat. The ghost pepper, or Naga Jolokia (AKA the California Death Pepper), is rumored to be the hottest pepper in the world. Hundreds of times hotter than your standard Tobasco sauce, it puts the Habañero to shame!
I brought my bright red ghost pepper home, timidly cut off a slice and tossed it in my mouth and waited for all hell to break loose. And waited… and waited… It was sweet, with just the tiniest bit of spice – and I was being a coward. This first slice was from the very tip of the pepper, no chance of making contact with seeds. The second slice: holy toledo! The ghost pepper has its newest fan. I’ve been using it in moderation, a few quarter sized pieces in a pot of lentils, a pinch of seeds here, a pinch of seeds there. Spicy, but certainly not lethal.
Back to the Ballard Market and my second find:
2. local garbanzo beans! I get so excited about the prospect of locally grown beans and grains. Particularly when they taste this good – did I mention Alvarez grows peanuts too? An incredible farm on the East side of Washington, support them any chance you get!
Ok, onto the recipe which does, admittedly, use a lot of spices you may not have readily available. There’s a small Indian market (that also carries a wide range of VHS tapes) in the U-District in Seattle where Neil and I stock up. If you cook Indian food frequently, it’s definitely a worthwhile investment; if not, maybe just get a couple staples: cumin seeds and curry powder, for example. There’s a lot of room for experimentation in this recipe, and the flavor only improves as the spices meld.
(another adaptation from The Smitten Kitchen)
INGREDIENTS (serves 2 hungry people)
1 Tbs Coconut Oil or Butter
1 large onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 hot pepper (1/4 ghost pepper), minced
2-3 Cups tomato puree or stewed tomatoes
2 Cups (precooked) garbanzo beans
1 tsp ground coriander
4 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp garam masala
lemon juiceThe How To: Heat oil or butter in a skillet on medium heat. Add the garlic, onion and hot pepper and sauté until the onions begin to brown. Turn the heat down to medium-low and stir in the spice mixture. Cook for a couple of minutes; this intensifies the taste of the spices and lets the onions and garlic really absorb the flavor. Add the tomatoes and garbanzo beans and simmer for at least 10-15 minutes. Add salt, lemon juice and any other spices to taste (my canned tomatoes were acidic enough that I didn’t need too much lemon juice, but I cooked them longer to make them taste more stewy/smoky and less fresh). The flavors of this dish deepen and improve the longer it simmers – that said, from start to finish, this took about 40 minutes to make.