Tuesday, January 26, 2010


When I was in 4th grade I saw Gone With the Wind for the first time. When I was in 6th grade I read it for the first time. Somewhere along the way I decided I wanted to be Katie Scarlett O'Hara. If I couldn't be her I was willing to settle for being a Southern Belle. I wanted to sit on the porch drinking sweet tea and eating bbq. I wanted the accent. (Actually I still want all of those things.). When I was in 9th grade I went to Atlanta.

Oh Atlanta, you are the city that brings Gone With the Wind to life. You are where all the best parts take place. I'll admit it you captured my imagination. I knew you had grown up, but I hoped you had still retained some of your southern charm. Too bad you didn't.

I was so excited to go to Atlanta. Then I got there. It was dirty. And humid. And hot. I thought it lacked any kind of Southern charm. I returned home dejected. I cried for days. Weeks even. Sure, I still have high hopes for Savannah, Charlotte, and Charleston but are featured in GWTW. There is another city that is mentioned though.

New Orleans. Scarlett and Rhett go on their honeymoon. A vibrant city with a strong cultural identity that is seen in its food, music, and architecture. A city I have also been to. I went post Katrina and was astonished by the passion with which the Creoles speak of their city. I'll admit I went with low expectations. It was the city in the midst of a revival and I was very pleasantly surprised by everything I encountered.

Someday I will go back, but until I do, homemade gumbo will more than suffice. While a certain part (cough cough the dark roux) requires near constant attention, once that is done the gumbo is more than happy to just sit on the stove and take care of itself. This is not the stuff usually found in restaurants though. It is thicker and definitely spicier. My dad calls it the best gumbo he's ever eaten. While I'm not close to southern or Creole by birth this is a nod to my imaginary heritage.

I usually use chicken andouille sausage because it is all I can find. If you use pork, brown it in a separate pan and drain the fat before adding it to the gumbo. If you're shrimp aren't pre-peeled and you are using chicken stock, combine the chicken stock and peels in a small sauce pan and heat on medium while the roux is being made to up the shrimp flavor of the dish.


1 cup flour
1 cup vegetable oil
1 cup diced celery
2 green bell peppers diced
2 cups onion diced
8-10 cups chicken or shrimp stock
1 teaspoon dried thyme
2 bay leaves
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 pound andouille sausage
1 fryer chicken cut into parts, or 8 pieces of chicken
2 pounds shrimp, peeled
1-2 tablespoons gumbo file (optional)


Make the Roux:
In a heavy 8 quart pot combine flour and oil. Cook over medium low heat whisking constantly, until the color of chocolate. For a rough estimate of time, I can listen to 2 albums worth of music or drink 2 beers.

When it is the same color as chocolate add the celery, bell peppers, and onions. Cook until softened, about ten minutes. Add chicken or shrimp stock, spices, and the chicken pieces. Cook for 1 hour over medium low heat.

After an hour, add andouille sausage and cook for another 1.5 hours. Somewhere around an hour check the spices and salt level.

Right before serving, turn off heat and add shrimp and gumbo file. Let it sit for 5 minutes to thicken and cook the shrimp before serving.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Spinach Mushroom Benedict

(So I finally think I have a decent picture and what do I find? A string egg goo that is not very appealing. Go me.)
In the 6 months I attended culinary school I honestly didn't learn that much. I can make stock and attempt to name the mother sauces and break down a piece of meat. I might be able to fillet a fish on a good day. While a lot of these are skills that I almost never use, I did actually employ one today for breakfast. I woke up with a craving for what the most perfect, rich, sinful sauce in all the land. Composed of 2 different fats and occasionally temprimental this is not a sauce for the faint of heart. The sauce in question is of course Hollandaise. But since once can not live on sauce alone, brown some mushrooms in butter with a 1/4 teaspoon of thyme. Poach some eggs (I figure 2 per person). Saute some spinach. Semi-artfully arrange on a plate and pour on the hollandaise sauce.

This came together pretty easily and is definitely hearty enough (for me at least) to be served as an entree at dinner. Too bad I can only get away with it when my dad is out of town.

Hollandaise Sauce

This is the way I learned how to do it at school. I know you can use a blender. I just don't. There also aren't any exact measurements because its based on proportions. I always use at least 2 yolks when making hollandaise but I suppose you could make one. But why would you do that?

The proportions are:

1 yolk: 1-2 TBSP melted butter
Tabasco sauce (couple shakes)
Salt and pepper
Fresh lemon juice (just a small squeeze people)

To Make:
Take a kitchen towel and shape it into a donut. When you need to whisk off the heat set the bowl on this and it won't spin on you. Or get out ye old silpat and set the bowl on there.

Get out your double boiler. Off the heat whisk the egg yolks, lemon juice and Tabasco together.

Move to heat and whisk constantly until the yolks begin to thicken. This usually takes about 4 minutes. When the whisk begins to leave a visible path in the yolks, aka you can see the bottom of the bowl for a few seconds after every stroke, pull it off the heat.

Slowly drizzle in the butter while whisking constantly. You might not use all the butter just get the sauce to a consistency you like. Add salt and pepper (or any other spices you can think of. Old Bay is really good). Serve warm over everything.

Note: This sauce can be used as the base for a number of sauces, including bernaise sauce which is crazy good on burgers.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Chimay Braised Shortribs

For a few years now (well before I was legally able to drink at least) I've believed that a light beer is a summertime drink. In the winter reach for porters, or lagers, or stouts. Keep the ales and heffs and whites and wheats for the summer. The spicier, heavier beers are perfect for winter foods. I was happy and very much content with my basic rules for drinking beer. (Other rules include only cheap beer for beer pong and always ALWAYS say no to light beer even for beer pong.) It was basic. Rudimentary even but I knew that I could safely order a beer and maybe guess the food pairing. Then *cue ominous music* Judy Rodgers came into my life.

You of course know Judy Rodgers as the mastermind behind the Zuni Cafe. Before we continue I have to confess that I have had the Zuni Cafe Cookbook in my possession for years. And today was the first time I used it. (Why yes, I am currently hanging my head in shame.). I always assumed it was among the legions of cookbooks that are meant to be coffee table books. Not actually used. (I'm looking at you French Laundry Cookbook) Today, I realized my mistake. The recipes in this book are easy, seasonal, and delicious. Take for example, the recipe that rocked my world today: Short Ribs Braised in Chimay Ale.

Some things I learned from this recipe: 1) the beers for braising are Belgian Ales. CLEARLY not the stouts I had been using. 2) Mustard was meant to be broiled.

While I could wax rhapsodic (is that the phrase? I'm never sure) for the next 3 weeks (ps: I can and will) for the purposes of saving time I am just going to tell you TO MAKE THESE SHORT RIBS. NOW!

Short Ribs Braised in Chimay Ale
adapted from the Zuni Cafe Cookbook
serves 4

The notes before the recipe say that duck or goose legs are equally good in this preparation. Something to try next.

A note about the book: the ingredients and directions can be a tad vague. Just go with it. It will all work out.


About 2 1/2 pounds short ribs, cut across the bond into 2 in. bands
1 to 2 tablespoons mild olive oil
1 1/2 pounds yellow onions, sliced 1/4 inch thick
2 bay leaves
A few whole white peppercorns (I used black because its all I have and I don't like white pepper)
1/2 box crimini mushrooms sliced 1/4 inch thick
Up to 1 cup beef or chicken stock
Up to 1 cup Chimay ale or similar Belgian style ale
About 1/4 cup Dijon mustard

Cooking the Shortribs:

Preheat oven to 300. Evenly sprinkle salt all over shortribs. Warm oil in a 3 heavy oven safe pan. Wipe pieces of meat dry. Brown short ribs on the three meaty sides. Pour off excess fat.

Return meat to pan with bone side down. Add onions, bay, peppercorns, mushrooms, and equal parts stock and ale to come to a depth of about 3/4 of a inch. C
over and put in oven for 2 hours. Rotate meat 2 or 3 times during cooking. Remove from oven, remove meat, prop pan at slight angle and allow to sit for 5 minutes.

Turn on the broiler.

Skim fat that has collected at the lower side of the pan. Taste juice and simmer as needed to concentrate the flavor. Salt as needed. Put meat back in juice bone side down then brush or smear the tops with mustard. Set the pan under the broiler, about 5 inches from the element, to brown the mustard and glaze the surface of the onion stew, about 5 minutes.

Serve with mashed potatoes or spatzle.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Pear Cranberry Spice Cake

Its finally happened. It feels like winter in Southern California. Not just any winter mind you. This is Storm Watch 2010. While I love that I can finally FINALLY wear my many sweaters and jackets and coats, I have discovered that I lack the appropriate footwear for the occasion. It also doesn't help that I completely disregard whatever the weather people say. Unfortunately for my poor suede boots Dallas Rains was right today.

As I type it appears that the weather is about to pick up again. Gray, ominous clouds are beginning to cover my blue skies and the wind is going. Hopefully not strong enough for another Tornado Warning seeing as NO ONE HAS A BASEMENT or storm shelter. I think I would have to hide in my parent's closet should one strike. (Mine is full.)

Don't get me wrong though. I love the rain. I love the sound and playing in it. Most importantly though, I love staying inside and cooking anything that requires standing over a stove or having the oven on for a long time. Today is the day for spicy cakes, slow braises, and hot chocolate. By the end of the day I will have consumed all three.

For right now though, lets focus on the spicy cake. This cake features some of the best flavors of fall, pears and cranberries. As much as I LOVE the flavor of pears, overall I am not a fan of their texture (exempt from this rule? Asain Pears). While apples would be delicious in this cake as well, I loved the slight pear flavor. The cake remained moist for days and was just as good for breakfast as it was for dessert.

Pear Cranberry Cake
adapted from Gourmet Magazine

At my house we always have candied ginger laying around. I think it really compliments the flavor of the pears and adds a little more depth to the cake. I also added some walnuts for crunch. Normally nuts get left out of my baked goods but here I really liked them. For the glaze I did a basic powdered sugar glaze. I didn't want anything to compete with the flavor of the cake. Final note: apples can very easily be substituted for the pears. I'm also thinking about trying the recipe with cut up pineapple and upping the spices.

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon finely minced candied ginger (optional)
1 3/4 cups sugar
1 1/4 cups vegetable oil
4 large eggs
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
3 Bosc pears (1 1/2 pounds), cut into 3/4-inch pieces (I used closer to 2 pounds)
1 cup cranberries
1 cup walnuts roughly chopped (optional)

Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle. Butter cake pan.
Whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, and spices.
Beat together sugar, oil, eggs, and vanilla with an electric mixer until combined well.
By hand, mix in pears, cranberries and walnuts, then mix in flour mixture until incorporated.
Spoon batter into pan.
Bake until a wooden pick inserted into center of cake comes out clean, 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours.
Cool in pan 30 minutes, then turn out onto a rack and cool completely.