Category: Food (page 1 of 2)


Tonight Paul and I rode the stretch of the KRVT that runs between our house and the Kal-Haven trailhead. Along the way I found this absolutely massive puffball. It was literally bigger than my head. And of course, since it was the one time in the last ten years I went out without my pannier, I had to carry it home zipped inside my hoodie like a great round beer gut.

Paul isn’t interested, so I have a heaping plateful of mushroom slabs fried in butter. Anybody want them for breakfast tomorrow morning? Just fry them again with a couple eggs and you’ll have a killer breakfast.

Hurrah for Teenage Cat

I planted a dwarf Montmorency cherry tree several years ago, and have been waiting eagerly for a year in which I could actually, y’know, pick some cherries. Previously, one defiant bird stripped all the cherries before they even had a chance to ripen, but this year, the tree not only had a bumper crop, but the birds mysteriously stayed away.

In the last week, we’ve harvested three huge bowls of tart cherries, probably around 10 quarts total. I was mystified at the good luck until Paul reminded me that a feral cat has taken up residence in our backyard — a slender, white-and-grey kitty with gangly long legs that we have taken to calling “Teenage Cat.” That seems to be the only differing factor this year — the topmost branches were picked clean as usual, but all the lower ones remained untouched — and it seems as likely an explanation as we’re going to get.

After pitting them in stages and freezing them (there’s only so much pitting one can do in a day before one starts getting aggrivated…) I’ve simmered the cherries down in the crockpot and whirled the results in my blender to make a kind of cherry butter. I’m more fond of jam with whole fruit, but this allows a nice thick jam consistency without a ton of extra sugar or pectin. I like it lots.

Thanks, Teenage Cat! We’ll have to leave you some extra food out this winter.

RIP Ormel Olmer

This weekend, while cleaning my kitchen down to the studs in preparation for a baby shower I was hosting, I bit the bullet and finally opened the jar containing my sourdough starter.

I found out that dead sourdough starters smell like rotting meat. Seriously.

Stone Soup Gumbo

Hey, look! It’s a post that’s not a weekly update!

I do a whole lot of home cooking, but it’s so routine that I’ve pretty much given up on blogging about it. Today, however, I made a wonderful pot of gumbo whose ingredients were almost entirely thanks to the generosity of others, and that’s definitely blogworthy.

It started last Thursday, at the 17th annual Biggs|Gilmore Thanksgiving feast. The accounting team cooked three huge turkeys, everyone brought a dish to pass, and we all ate like kings. Afterwards, there were turkey carcasses. Turkey carcasses that were headed into the garbage. Heresy, I say! I grabbed an empty aluminum dish and made off with a giant pile of bones and wings and drippings. That same night I boiled the bones up into a gallon of glorious, wobbly turkey stock (Paul always has to watch me shake the pot the morning after: “Look, honey! WOOBLY WOOBLY WOOBLY”. I am so easily amused.) which went into the freezer to await the arrival of… sossidge.

There’s a certain someone who loves me and Paul very much. So much so that she FedExed us a box of home-ground, home-smoked sausage.

Real genuine andouille made my real genuine Louisiana folks. It arrived this morning, to much joy, and stabbing. Seriously, you guys, it tasted so good that it’s a miracle any of it made it into the pot.

Ten minutes after its arrival, I started thawing the turkey stock and the shrimp, and made a quick trip to the store for more rice. Got in the door, set the rice to soak, started the oven roux (R.O.U.Xes? I don’t believe they exist.) peeled the shrimp and started boiling the shrimp shells for seafood stock.

Then the hallway smoke alarm went off. Then the basement smoke alarm went off. Alas, I didn’t stir enough, and the roux was burned (nooooooo) which sent poor Paul back to the store to buy more flour — I’d had exactly enough left to make the roux, but no more, of course. In the meantime I chopped and got everything else mised in its place. Paul returned from the store, I set the new roux to cooking — this time on the stovetop, like a smart person — and watched it like a hawk, stopping just short of a brick roux and finishing it in the stewpot with the veg (no okra, alas. Paul can’t stand the stuff, so we use filé instead).

As soon as the veg were soft, in went the shrimp stock and the turkey stock, and the andouille followed shortly after.

Now it’s burbling away, and in another hour or so I’ll add the shrimp. You guys, I so wish you could smell how good my kitchen smells right now.

I love Gumbo so much. I never had it growing up, but it’s such an fantastic thing — you take all this stuff that folks would otherwise throw away, add some veg and sausage, and get the most delicious meal from it. It always amazes me how some of the best-tasting recipes from every culture are the ones born out of frugality and necessity — and in this case, generosity. I’ll be bringing some in to work on Monday to complete the circle.

Whip it good

I bought too much whipping cream for Thanksgiving, and now I have two extra cups. What should I make with it? (And no, ‘chug it straight from the carton’ is not a valid recipe.)


On Sunday, Paul took the dog to the park across the street, and noticed a huge patch of mushrooms that had sprung up overnight. He thought they looked like an edible kind, so he called me over. I was 95% sure I was looking at shaggy manes, but being that I really like my liver and want to keep it in good working order, I hesitated until I could check them with a practiced mushroom hunter.

Unfortunately, shaggymanes have about a one-day window in which you can pick them, and by the time I got a solid confirmation it was three days later. Most of the patch had turned to black goo (hence their other nickname, “Inky caps“), but there were a few brand-new mushrooms that’d popped up in the interim. Those I picked tonight, and fried in butter for dinner. So good! They would make an absolutely outstanding cream-of-mushroom soup, and I know the taste would compliment chicken really well in a casserole. Seriously, they were fantastic; I like the taste better than oysters or hen-of-the-woods. Best of all, now that I know we’ve got a good patch of them growing, we’ve got many years of delicious harvests ahead of us.

Pasties and Pawpaws

Coworker J came over tonight and he and Paul and I made pasties. J’s a Yooper by birth, and was lamenting the lack of pasties hereabouts, and so last year I told him we’d make them together. The autumn got away from me, and so we had to wait until this year to make the pasties. They were worth the wait! We even made some with “afters”: a little crust divider with dessert on the other side — in our case, apple pie, with some fresh Northern Spy apples — so as you eat your way through from right to left you get two meals in one crust. So tasty! I highly approve of this innovation.

In the middle of the day, I got the weekly newsletter from the Food CoOp, which announced that they had pawpaws in stock. This made me ridiculously happy: I’ve heard about, read about, and even sung songs about pawpaws, but had never tried one. We didn’t have pawpaw trees on the farm, and thanks to their short shelf life — a day or two at the most, once they’re ripe — I’d never seen one for sale at a store or farmer’s market. I jumped at the chance to finally see what all the fuss was about.

The verdict: like many good things to eat, pawpaws are a lot of work, but the taste is completely worth it. All the descriptors I’d read, “custardy,” “like an overripe banana,” “tasting of mango or pineapple” were completely accurate. I wasn’t prepared for how messy they are, though: soft and sticky and sweet, with plentiful black seeds to navigate, each bigger than a lima bean, each of which clings tenaciously to the sweetest bits of pulp. And that pulp — oh, my. What an unexpected surprise! You can smell it coming through its skin, rich and sweet and amazing, and it tastes so different from any other fruit that grows around here. I can’t imagine why more people don’t make more of a fuss over them. These would be fantastic in pudding, or quickbreads. Or jam! If only I had a place to plant pawpaws.

Gardening costs

Whenever people discuss frugality or ways to stretch your budget in this tough economy, one of the first things that gets suggested is starting a garden and then canning or freezing what you grow. I myself am a big proponent of both, as should be obvious to people who read this blog.

But really — how much does one save? Well, that depends on a lot of factors. Let’s take, as an example, the tomato sauce I made this weekend.

around a bushel of tomatoes (~50 lbs)
one large onion
a head of garlic
four bell peppers

Yield: about eight quarts (I like thick sauce; you could probably get ten if you like it thinner)
Time: six to eight hours, including processing time.

First, let’s assume best-case scenario: starting your own plants from seed and planting on land you have access to: your yard, or a neighborhood garden.

A packet of tomato seeds and a packet of pepper seeds would set you back about $5 total (and that’s using cheap, hardware-store seed, not organic seed). Alternately, healthy young plants cost about $2 each — you’d need at least 4-8 tomato plants depending on yield and at least one good pepper plant, for a total of around $15. Then you have to tend and water them for at least 3 months. Total cost, not counting time and water investment: $5-$15, plus $2 for lids, plus another $1 for a big onion and $1 for a head of garlic, best case scenario, assuming you already own canning jars; that’s somewhere between $1 – $2.40 per jar.

Buying direct from the farmer’s market, tomatoes cost around $25 per bushel. Best case scenario, if you qualify for SNAP and have a participating market, you might be able to get them for $12.50. Plus lids, onions and garlic again, you’re looking at $2 – $3.75/jar.

None of this takes into account having a functional stove, pots big enough to boil two gallons of sauce down, a food mill, the time to process the food, or the transportation to get a bushel’s worth of tomatoes back home (try that on the bus sometime). Even if you only “pay yourself” $1 per hour for your time, and ignore the transportation/gas/electric/water costs involved, those quarts are much closer to $5-$10 each. Throw kids into the equation (either watching, or figuring out babysitting during shopping/gardening and cooking) and the time cost gets exponentially steeper.

I grew my tomatoes from seed at a community garden, but bought the peppers, garlic and onion, and that made my material costs equal to about $1.50 /quart. I’m blessed to have inherited a seemingly endless supply of canning jars, as well as a Victorio Strainer, so I don’t have any equipment costs beyond lids. Giving myself $1 an hour, and factoring in a few external costs, I project my sauce actually works out to someplace around $5-$8/quart. Not much of a savings when you consider you can walk into Meijer’s and get Newman’s Own for $2.16. True, organic sauce at the food co-op costs $6/quart — but that $25/bushel at the farmer’s market is for conventional tomatoes. The cost goes up if you buy organic (again, unless you grow your own).

Here’s another thing to consider: I don’t have a yard suitable for growing food in. I did cobble together a couple of small garden boxes, but the light is weak enough that I’m pretty limited to what I can grow. That still gives me a much better setup than someone with an apartment balcony, and works out to about 16 square feet of dirt. I’m a pretty good gardener, can afford good seed, practice square-foot gardening, use trellises and can afford the odd bit of fish fertilizer. I also have space for a compost heap, which keeps me from having to buy more dirt every spring –again, not something someone could do in an apartment, or in most rental scenarios (though one of my landlords did let me keep a garden when I asked, so it’s not out of the question). All this means I have much more knowledge, space, and tools at my disposal than your average person off the street. That being said, here’s what my home garden yielded this year:

a pint of sugar peas
a dozen tennis-ball sized tomatoes
a quart of string beans
a pint of edamame beans
three small bunches of chard
about fifteen salads’ worth of lettuce
about a pound of runner beans

and that’s all. This was a legume-heavy year to prep the soil for nightshades or cucurbits next year — and while I could do another late planting of lettuce or kale, I’d only get maybe another two small bunches out of them. (Cold frames are off the table this year — I just don’t have the time, energy or tools to build them, and even if I found some storm windows to salvage, I’d still be looking at about $30 in lumber, parts, and gas.) And again, this is with a better setup than many urban gardeners could hope for.

Yes, gardening, cooking, and food preservation *can* help extend your food budget — and home- or locally-grown food is better for you in all sorts of ways — but they’re just not magic bullets. Unless you have a huge yard, save your own seed every year, and have the time and energy to throw into heavy-duty gardening, they’re a supplement, at best.

I am, of course, going to keep doing each of these things as long as I have the time, money, and location to do so — and I want somebody to come check me for a pulse if I ever stop — but I think it’s important to have a look at the total cost at the end of the season.

Harvest time!

There’s a woman who comes to all the Farmer’s markets in town (we have them five days a week, go Kalamazoo!) who has a real gift for wild foraging. Since the fall started, she’s brought to market four different kind of wild Michigan mushrooms that I’d never tasted before: Button, oyster, hen-of-the-woods, and last night, Sulfur shelf, aka Chicken-of-the-Woods. True to its name, it tastes uncannily like chicken. So much so, in fact, that I would highly recommend it to any vegetarians looking for a meat replacement. It tastes amazing, is good for you, and not full of the additives and preservatives found in most fake meat. Most of the other mushrooms wound up in a fantastic risotto (thanks again, Kat, for the recipe!), but a few buttons got frozen in a giant ice cube to go with a roast someday, and some oysters got dehydrated, and will end up in casseroles. Since I don’t trust my own foraging identification skills mast spring morels, I’m deeply grateful to have someone who can bring this part of Michigan’s autumn bounty to my table.

In case the above didn’t tip you off, my internal food preservation alarm has started firing, and I’ve dropped pretty much everything else over the last couple of weeks to start putting up the harvest. This weekend is the giant Can-a-pa-looza, when I’ll make tomato sauce, can the sauerkraut that’s been fermenting for six weeks or so, and probably make some nice brown chicken stock. Last night’s cooking was an enormous Pa Nang curry with brown rice, a pumpkin bisque (gotta clean out the freezer to make way for new stuff!), a huge daikon gifted to me by the Foraging Marketer, and the start of some crockpot tapioca pudding. In the coming weeks, I’m going to get my hands on some beef marrowbones, and finally try my hand at pho. Oh, and there’ll be pasties in there, somewhere, too. Good heavens, I love to cook at harvest time.

Farmer’s Market Haul

Ten pounds of blueberries, all frozen. A dozen lovely tamales from Andrew. Squashed peaches sliced and frozen for smoothies. Bulk cukes put up as fridge pickles. Fresh local oyster mushrooms, recipe suggestions needed! Cabbage head as big as mine, now fast becoming sauerkraut, thanks to Paul’s new stomping skills*. And now: drawing.

Next weekend: A laundry hamper full of collard greens.

* My wooden stomper was handed down to me by my mother, from my great-great-aunt. It’s at least 60-80 years old, but I’d guess it’s much older than that. It’s perfectly weighted, perfectly shaped to the hand, smooth with age and use. I adore it, and it’s one of my favorite kitchen tools — and possessions. It’s also useful for stress relief and self-defense.

Winner winner chicken dinner

I needed to keep my hands busy yesterday, so I made a lovely roast chicken with fruit and nut stuffing, on a bed of white and sweet potatoes. It was wonderful, but the best part came after I’d carved the bird down to its bones and put the leftovers away. I fished around in the freezer and found the bag of necks and wings and bones I had (what? you don’t have a bag like that in your freezer?), threw them back in the dutch oven along with tonight’s carcass, and tossed them around in some olive oil.

Back into the oven they went, under the broiler for a good twenty minutes, getting turned occasionally so the bones didn’t burn and the necks got browned on all sides. Once they were done, I deglazed the pot, and put all the wonderful browny bits into the crockpot along with the sweet-potatoey pan drippings, mirepoix, garlic and bay leaves to cook overnight into stock. Tomorrow I’ll strain the bones out, whirl the cooked veg and meaty bits in the blender until they become a thick golden broth, and make a chicken stew to be reckoned with: barley and mushrooms and yellow lentils, carrots and celery and onion and edamame beans.

It never ceases to amaze me how many of the best-tasting recipes come from the leftover trimmings, the bones and odds and ends, soaked and stewed for what seems like too long, but never is.

Wheat Stalk Bread

You know, that last post left a rotten taste in my mouth. Who wants a Unicorn Chaser? I DO!

Here’s my first attempt at pain d’epi — wheat stalk bread. We’re going to a potluck party tomorrow night at the house of a professional chef, so I’ve got to bring my a-game. Since I brought homemade cheese last year, I thought I’d give pain d’epi a try, since a) it is absofreakinglutely gorgeous in presentation, and b) because its little wheat-ears are perfect for pulling apart at a party, no knife required, and the rest of the loaf stays fresh until the next piece is torn off.

This was the test batch in preparation for the party. I made the dough ahead, and it’s been burbling away in the fridge since Wednesday night. I cannot explain how utterly gorgeous this Peter Reinhart dough is. You will have to come to Kalamazoo, so that I can thrust a fat bubbly blob of it into your hands so you can see for yourself.

I made a few errors — which made me very glad I did the test batch — but I think I should be able to rectify most of them when I bake tomorrow. For example, I had way too much flour on the counter, and the bottoms of the baguettes never sealed properly. I also forgot to mist the loaves with oil, so they got too dry.

The ends got a little toasted because they touched the back of the oven; I tried to get them diagonally on the stone, but got a little overzealous with the peel. Still, not bad for a first try, and the taste, oh the taste. One stalk is over half gone, and it’s not even cooled down yet. Good thing I took pictures right away.

For delivery to the party, I’m thinking maybe a waxed-paper cone of these with a ribbon around it, like a bouquet of flowers, a present to the host to make up for all the wine I’m going to drink.

These loaves remind me, in a long-distance way, of the shock of wheat that we lay on the altar at my grandfather’s funeral. Maybe it’s just the rural girl in me coming out, but there’re few things I find more lovely than wheat, the fabled amber waves of grain all undulating in a field, the symmetry of the stalks and bearded ears all tied neatly in a sheaf, the Amelie-pleasure of dipping your hand into a bag of berries, the sliky feel of good pastry flour, the delicious aroma of the bread it makes.

I like this project very much.

Absolutely no whey

Tried making some lovely blueberry crockpot oatmeal last night to hide the whey powder in. Refrigerated it last night, took it out this morning, and it smelled so foul I dumped the entire container right into the garbage, and followed it with the remaining whey powder. Man. I either bought the wrong kind of whey, or this stuff is just plain disgusting. I’m leaning toward the latter.

I wonder if growing up on a farm will always keep me from eating otherwise interesting food. For example, there’re quite a few stinky sheep and goat cheeses that I can’t touch with a pole, because they smell like the barn when it needed to be mucked out: musky and gamey and ammoniac, with undertones of wet wool. This whey powder throws me another sense memory: it smells like getting up at 6am, pouring colostrum powder into an ancient blender, filling glass pepsi bottles with the custard-colored liquid, fixing them with rubber nipples, and heading out to a sheepshed full of bummer lambs ready to knock me over for what I carried.

See, that’s it! My brain thinks I’m making breakfast for the wrong mammal.

No Whey

I’m trying to eat more protein, so I went to the not-CoOp health food store in town and tried some of that whey powder that my bodybuilder friends are always going on about. This morning I mixed a scoop with my breakfast cereal’s milk and sat down to a protein-rich breakfast.

Oh my word, that stuff is gnarly. It smells like the formula we used to feed to the orphan lambs. I can see why people hide it in stuff. I can not see how my coworker chugs two quarts of it every day.

I’ve never been a big fan of the kind of “health food” that consists of supplements and artificially-derived, highly-processed nutrient goo, and this negative reaction is one more piece of anecdotal evidence, the plural of which is quickly becoming fact in my head, whether I want it to or not. I think I’ll go back to cottage cheese and eggs for breakfast, because I sure as heck don’t have the time to wash a blender every morning.

Catching up

It’s been a nice last few weeks. Not much to report, just a lot of work going on behind the scenes on a few different projects I’ll be able to talk about soon. The next few months promise much more of the same, so unfortunately I probably won’t be posting all that much till springtime. But it’s all time well-spent, and I think once everybody sees what I’ve been up to, they’ll be happier with the results and not a bunch of inane blogging.

Still, I’ve had quite a bit of fun in with all the work. We finally got some snow — really good snow, and temperatures to hold it there — and I’ve been out skiing a half-dozen times. Friday I got to go out nightskiing with D. through Asylum Lake, the clouds overhead parting briefly to show a huge glowing Jupiter, then slamming shut again into a claustrophobic, low cover that reflected the city lights so brightly that we cast thin shadows. The weather’s in that perfect winter zone where you get fast easy skiing, the snow squeaking underfoot like beach sand, but not so cold that your face and ass freeze solid before you can get home.

A bunch of guys at work have started a Scoville Heat Units group. We made a field trip to a local shop with an amazing range of hot sauces, and each bought a bottle or two. Then we spent the next couple of lunch hours playing chicken with them. I’m still getting started climbing up the rungs of the heat ladder, but having fun doing so; I’m much fonder of the sauces that have good flavor in addition to heat, so my contributions were more to the fruity end of things, but everyone liked them, so it was all good. So far, so good — no unfortunate side effects — and I’ve even managed some of the mis-named “ghost pepper” sauce.

Paul’s show went really well. A whole lot of people showed up, and he’d already sold copies of the limited-edition prints by the end of the night. Kyle Norris from Michigan Public Radio came by and interviewed Paul, Dan and Katie, and then took a whole lot of audio and photographs for an upcoming NPR spot on the monthly Green Brain Comics Jam. She said there’s even a chance the spot might go national when it runs. Exciting!

Paul and I also joined a couple of friends for an awesome night of cheesemaking yesterday, in preparation for a party next weekend. We made a big loaf of queso blanco, several beautiful lumps of beautiful mozzerella, and some lovely ricotta, which we selfishly savored while it was still warm, garnished with honey and black pepper. No ricotta for anyone else! Just us! Oh so good, and so nice to see S & A, both of whom we get to visit far too rarely.

Bread in the Old Style

So yesterday I baked Reinhart’s pain a l’aincienne, and it was an unequivocal success.

And now I understand what those fancy cookbooks mean by “custard” when they talk about the interior of bread. The crumb was wide open, its thin beautiful tender membranes of gluten surrounding holes big enough to hide olives in, its texture soft and moist but not gummy, almost as though it were solidified custard. Amazing.

The crust was amazingly tender but amazingly flavorful. I’m used to the hard, thick, crunchy crusts of the no-knead bread, the kind that scours the inside of your mouth like bad breakfast cereal if you’re not careful with it. I happen to love this kind of crust, but it’s been rejected by my family as unchewable, so this may become my go-to bread for family gatherings.

The overall flavor was very mild, but I’m assuming that’s because the dough only got about 18 hours’ worth of fermentation time. I still have the other half in the fridge, and am going to let it hang out there until the 4th day, which is the longest Reinhart says you can keep it in there. Then I’m going to make a big gorgeous ciabatta out of it.

Yay for bread!

Kitchen hack: Mussel broth

I’ve been trying to eat a bit lighter after the holidays, so last night I bought a pound of mussels and steamed them in chicken broth and garlic (no butter, no cream). I reserved the cooking liquor and today it’s miso soup. Oh so good; I really should’ve thought of this sooner.

Levelling up in Bread

I have always loved bread. Well, love probably isn’t quite a strong enough word. I’ve always been deeply passionate about bread. Eating it, kneading it, watching the beautiful proofed boules swell in their bowls, and the amazing way the smell of its baking makes any place feel homey and comforting.

Unfortunately, I’ve been a hopeless baker for most of my life; I’ve turned out an embarrassing number of doorstops over the years, which my friends and relatives ate anyway, bless them. In college my mom gave me a bread machine, which I used faithfully for ten years before I had my first real bread breakthrough: the famous New York Times No-Knead Bread Recipe. Combined with what I’ve learned from rearing my sourdough starter, I’ve finally gotten a little bit smarter about bread, come to understand what a dough should feel like, how it should look as it rises, how not to force all the little bubbles out when shaping a loaf.

This year, after visiting a friend whose husband is really into baking (like “takes professional-level classes at the Culinary Institute of America” into baking), I came back home with a burning urge to level up in bread. My Christmas wish list this year was half books, and half baking equipment from King Arthur Flour: red SAF yeast, a proper banneton, and a copy of Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day — a wonderful primer on wet-dough, long-fermentation breads, written for novice bakers. [Thanks, Brian! I promise I will gift your family with much better bread from now on!]

Yesterday I went out and bought a baking stone and a “peel” (kitchen hack: I subscribe heavily to Alton Brown’s theory that the only unitasker in your kitchen should be your fire extinguisher, so my “peel” is actually a rimless cookie sheet that I can use for other purposes — and it’s the exact same size as the baking stone, so if I proof the loaves on it, I know it’ll fit on the stone. Look at me bein’ SMRT.) so that I can finally move away from the Dutch Oven method of baking my loaves. Not that it hasn’t been great, but I’m limited to what I can plop down into the pot, which means no shaped loaves or baguettes.

I also bought one more book to use alongside Five Minutes — Peter Reinhart’s Artisan Bread Every Day. I was intimidated by Reinhart’s earlier book, The Bread Baker’s Apprentice when I took it out of the library a few years ago, but this one seems pretty rudimentary, which is good for me. I figure that between those two books I should be able to teach myself the artesian bread basics.

I started last night with Reinhart’s pain a’lancienne, and holy dang his dough-kneading techniques are complete magic. I can tell already that this is going to be the start of a beautiful project. The next thing I want to do is the Five Minutes OMGORGEOUS pain d’epi. Seriously, is that not the most beautiful bread ever?

Who knows? Maybe in a year or two I’ll be ready for the Bread Baker’s Apprentice Challenge!

Gumbo Filé!

Over Labor Day weekend, my mom and I ate two pounds of king crab legs. They were delicious, and we were left with about a pound of shells. Since I was just hanging around the house all day, I decided to boil them up, and got about two quarts of lovely crab stock. When I asked for suggestions for recipes to make with it, a certain Louisiana native (and spectacular cook) suggested that I made gumbo out of it, and I decided to take the challenge.

I’d never made gumbo before, nor any kind of creole cooking, and Michigan doesn’t exactly have a large Acadien population, so it took a while to gather all the supplies. Our local pork broker sold me some (fantastic) grass-fed, natural-casing, no-preservative, local-grown-and-manufactured andouille. My last kayaking trip on the Pine River took us past some sassafrass trees that still had green leaves, so I picked, dried and ground my own filé powder — a necessity since Paul won’t eat okra (yeah, I know — his loss).

Fast forward to this weekend, when I finally had time to make the recipe. First I peeled the pound of frozen shrimp and dumped the shells in with the frozen crab stock, boiling them together with celery and onion for about four hours until the stock was golden brown and perfect. While that was going on I stuck the sausage and shrimp back in the fridge to keep, chopped all the veg, and learned to make My First Roux. (okay, I’ve made white sauces before, but nothing like a real, dark roux.) Thank heavens that I picked Alton’s recipe — instead of having to stir my arm off for two hours to get a nice brick roux, I just stuck the cast-iron skillet in the stove and baked it, stirring every fifteen minutes or so. It was so simple that it took all the fear out of roux-making, and knowing that I can just babysit it while I get all the other recipe prepwork done makes me eager to try other roux-based recipes. Look out Jambalaya, here I come! (now where’m I gonna find crawdads in yankeeland?)

Anyway — I got the recipe all made up and set it in the big dutch oven to simmer. The low heat was perfect for the shrimp (added at the very end) and despite cooking for about 30 minutes, it never turned rubbery. The dish was a resounding success, though I went all crunchy-granola and served it over brown rice, which is probably a heresy. Can’t help it, I just like brown rice better, and its nutty flavor blended really well with the spices and the toasted flavor of the roux. The filé powder thickened things up like magic — I could hardly believe how fast it worked — and I’m very glad I erred on the side of caution and let everyone add their own tiny pinch into their own bowls. A little goes a ridiculously long way.

I’m so glad I took this on. It was a ton of work, especially when you figure in all the hunting and gathering I had to do, but I learned so many new skills that it was totally worth it (e.g., I am never, ever throwing out another crustacean shell ever again). And now for leftovers OM NOM NOM.

Dang, garden.

Man, I go away for four hot days and the snap peas go from deflated little pods to brimming-full of fat peas, the strawberries are ripe except for their little green noses, and the cherries are blushing. Here’s hoping I get some of them before the birds do, this year.

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