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:
Somewhere in the intersection of pancakes and custards resides the Dutch Baby. With a gallon of frozen blueberries taking up space in our neighbor’s freezer (too daunting for our mini-fridge), I felt like taking on this new breakfast item. Be forewarned: if you bite into a dutch baby pancake expecting a pancake, you’ll be grossed out by the smooth creamy inner texture; if you expect a custard, it won’t taste quite right either. The trick is to appreciate the fusion of the two (the fact that it’s laden with blueberries and smothered in maple syrup won’t hurt either!).
Without further ado, the Dutch Baby Pancake :
BLUEBERRY DUTCH BABY PANCAKE
(recipe from Nourishing Traditions)
1Cup whole wheat flour
1 Cup yogurt, kefir or buttermilk (for those with dairy allergies, 1 Cup of water mixed with 2 Tablespoons of lemon juice or apple cider vinegar is a fine substitution)
1 Cup water
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp salt
2-4 Tbsp butter
1/2 Cup blueberries (fresh or frozen – if frozen, thaw a bit beforehand)
nutmeg, powdered sugar (optional toppings)
THE HOW TO
- The night before you’re planning to make the cakes, mix together the flour and yogurt/kefir/buttermilk/water+ This step will ultimately make the pancakes more digestible (and you can start it even earlier if you like), but, honestly, if you’re time-pressed or a very capable digester on all your own, feel free to skip it.
- The next morning….
- Preheat the oven to 400°
- Crack the eggs into a food processor and mix for several minutes. This makes the eggs light and airy and creates that custardy yumminess. Add the flour mixture, the additional water, salt and vanilla and process for another minute.
- Put 1-2 Tablespoons of butter in a cast iron skillet and put in the heated oven until the butter is melted and starting to sizzle.
- Pour half of the batter (1.5 – 2 Cups) into the hot skillet and throw in a handful (1/4 Cup or so) of blueberries.
- Bake in the oven, turning the heat down to 350° as you put the skillet in, until the pancake is puffed* and browned (15-20 minutes). Dust with nutmeg and powdered sugar. Repeat for the second pancake.
- Enjoy with maple syrup, honey, jam, yogurt, all the usual pancake toppings.
* Tips on getting your pancake to puff up (AKA what I wish I had known beforehand): Try not to peek in on its progress if you can help it. The consistent heat really helps – if 350° isn’t puffing it up enough, try 400°. Or try a smaller skillet and make several smaller cakes.
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 …
There’s often a depth to simplicity that those who can truly embrace it are lucky to enjoy. That said, this last Thanksgiving (a beautiful event I’ll devote more time to writing about later), I couldn’t help but feel a little sheepish as my additions to the feast included not one, but two, cabbage dishes. Sitting alongside the oyster stuffing, the chestnut soup, the delectable casseroles, they looked a little plain jane. But, I have to say, the fresh flavors of the veggies were a perfect compliment to the rich bready cheesy deliciousness of the other dishes.
This recipe comes from my friend Aldona who is also responsible for helping me turn 10 huge heads of cabbage into 5 gallons of sauerkraut.
So, without further ado, my contribution to the most epic dinner of my life:
SIMPLE SAUERKRAUT SALAD
1 Quart Sauerkraut
1 Granny Smith apple, grated
2 medium carrots, grated
1 small sweet onion, chopped fine
2+ Tbs Olive Oil
salt and pepper, to taste
The HOW TO:
- Stir together all of your fruit and veggie ingredients.
- Mix in olive oil and top with salt and pepper.
- Give thanks and enjoy!
Iron Chef: Pumpkin continued! The mini squash we managed to grow in our garden this year, while they seem frustratingly small at times, have proved to be just the right size for a batch or two of baked goods. The second half of the sugar pie pumpkin we used for the pumpkin scones went towards some delicious pumpkin granola this morning. A self-professed granola addict, I can’t believe I haven’t introduced pumpkin into the mix before now. A great addition!
3.5 C rolled oats 1/2tsp salt 1tsp cinnamon 1/2 tsp nutmeg 1/4 tsp allspice 1/8 tsp each, ground ginger and cloves 1/2C+ pumpkin puree 1 tsp vanilla extract 1/4 C maple syrup 1/2 C toasted hazelnuts, chopped 1/2C raisins THE HOW TO:
- Preheat the oven to 325° and spread a piece of parchment paper on your baking sheet.
- If using hazelnuts or any nut or seed, spread them onto another baking sheet and toast for 5-10 minutes while preparing the granola – once toasted, chop into whatever size you like.
- Mix together the oats, salt, and spices in a large bowl.
- Stir together the pumpkin puree, vanilla and maple syrup in a small bowl. Add these wet ingredients into your oat mixture and incorporate well – the oats should be well coated and slightly moist. If you like some clumps in your granola, squeeze the oats together in whatever sized pieces you prefer. This recipe doesn’t make a super-sweet granola, so if that’s what you’d prefer, mix in some extra maple syrup or brown sugar.
- Spread granola onto the parchment paper and bake for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, stir the granola up to cook it evenly through. Bake for an extra 10 – 20 minutes, taking it out when it starts to turn a nice light brown.
- Stir in raisins and hazelnuts.
- Enjoy with milk or yogurt, or by the handful.