Beet it

Before we get down to the dirt, I want to come clean about something: I hate beets. I mean, I hate them. HATE. I once made a flow chart for my mom to keep on her fridge, demonstrating how beets aren’t food and should stop lying to the masses. I harbor grave doubts about Australia en masse because of the national fondness for sneaking beets onto every damn food they can. There was a Sesame Street song about sugar beets that has, to this day, an unparalleled ability to cause instantaneous rage.

I hate beets. And yet, I bought a pound of golden beets at the grocery store last weekend. I can’t explain it, except maybe I thought taking them home to wither from neglect in my refrigerator might be a good way of expressing my contempt directly.

But this post isn’t about beets. It’s about potatoes. And I love potatoes. Not so much the eating of them – I mean, I eat them, without complaint and often with great enthusiasm. But what I love about potatoes, really, is growing them.

If you’ve never done it, it’s not too late – in most areas – to throw down a tiny fall crop for practice. Just chuck a chitted tuber in some out-of-the-way dirt, let it sprout and vine and take over everything until the plant dies back, and then dig up your bitty baby harvest of awesomeness. Boom! you’re a farmer.

For the real magic, though, you start these puppies in the spring:

chittin' on the window sill

chittin’ on the window sill

Seed potatoes are cheap and, at least around here, pretty easily available. I like to grow a variety – this year, I started Royal Purples, Russian Bananas, and Rose Apple Finns. I admit without reservation that I picked the Finns because of my dog’s name, and the Russian Bananas because it sounds just very slightly dirty if your sense of humor hasn’t matured since age 12. (Pro tip: mine has not.)

I leave the seed potatoes out in the sun for a few days until they’re nicely sprouty, and then I toss them down into about 6″ of straight compost…in a trash can. Just a standard-issue cheap plastic trash can, that’s had holes drilled into the bottom and about 6-10″ up the sides.

Cover the seed potatoes with more compost, and wait for the magic to start.

see?  magic!

see? magic!

Once the sprouts have all got at least 2 sets of leaves on them, add another layer of something dirt-like. It can be more compost, or it can be garden soil; I’ve even heard just using wood shavings is fine. Anything, really. Just bury all but the top set of leaves.

middling

And repeat. Repeat and repeat again, until the bin is full, or until you go away for a long weekend and now there’s so many leaves that you start to worry things will go weird if you bury them again. They won’t, but it’s fine to panic and stop whenever you want. They’ll keep growing, right up and out of the trash can.

Three little taters, all in a row

Three little taters, all in a row

Water when the dirt looks dry, and otherwise, ignore the heck out of them. Once the leaves start to yellow, stop watering, and once the leaves and stalks look damn near dead, it’s potato time!

You should have potatoes pretty much top-to-bottom in the can, of all manner of sizes. Getting them out is dirty work, but not terribly arduous – dig in with bare hands to start with, and when that stops being satisfyingly result-oriented, just tip the thing over and marvel at your bounty.

harvest

Today was the day my stalks finally looked dead enough, and my patience finally wore thin enough, that I decided to upend my entire potato crop, and let me tell you, it was an awesome one. From 6 seed potatoes, and with very little real effort, I got a good 15+ pounds of potatoes.

Like I said: BOOM. FARMER.

But meanwhile, back at those beets.

There I was, with time on my hands, dirt under my nails, nothing planned for dinner, 15 pounds of potatoes in various shapes and colors…and one bunch of beets in the fridge.

Ugh. Fine. Challenge accepted. Enter: the potato salad. With secret beets.

dawg

Step one: peel beets and cut them into bite-sized chunks. Give a roughly-equal quantity of potatoes the same treatment. You could probably not peel the potatoes, but I found it very comforting to do so, having just dug them out of the DIRT.

Heat the oven to 375. Toss the potatoes and beets with a liberal sousing of olive oil, and then sprinkle with coarse sea salt. For 3 large beets and about 5 potatoes, I used about 3T of olive oil and 2t of salt.

Cook in the top half of the oven for 45 minutes, stirring once at about the halfway point.

As soon as they come out of the oven, toss with about 2t of plain white vinegar.

Step two: saucy!

essentials

In a large bowl, I mixed 1/2c mayonnaise, 2T of mustard, and 2T of vinegar together with a whisk. Crucial points here: I really like vinegar. I also really like mustard. If you don’t like either, replace with an equivalent quantity of buttermilk, or, 1/2 the quantity of plain old milk. Add 1/2 t of salt and a few good grinds of pepper.

Step three: Toss the still-warm potatoes into the sauce, and stir til coated. Scissor-snip 2 green onions – smugly plucked from the garden, naturally, or store bought if needed – into the bowl and toss again. Let the whole mess sit at least 30 minutes, then eat or refrigerate.

It’s not pretty, but…

ugly

…it turns out: beets, when roasted together with fresh-from-dirt potatoes, tossed together with a little salty, fatty magic, and liberally vinegared…they’re kind of edible. They’re kind of good, even.

WHO AM I KIDDING. THEY WERE AWESOME. I AM STILL EATING WHILE I TYPE, AND IT JUST KEEPS GETTING BETTER.

I still hate beets, though.


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Secret bonus prize for reading all the way to the bottom? I found some funny shaped potatoes today. Like super funny. Like…FUNNY. That thing I said up there? About being 12? That’s a generous estimation.

yep.

yep.

YEP. THAT HAPPENED. IT’S COOL. IT’S NATURAL. YOU GET USED TO THESE THINGS WHEN YOU’RE A FARMER.

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Last Hoorah

The last week in Seattle has seen some of the most bipolar weather of the summer. We went from record-setting heat Monday to cloudy, thunder storms and downpours by Friday.

Holy Hot Car, Batman

Holy Hot Car, Batman

It was a good reminder that summer is nearing a close. As if the Back to School commercials weren’t enough!! While Summer puts on its final show of heat, warmth and garden harvest, I have been reminded of the end of summer campout I would go with my friend and we had a diet of cereal and S’mores for the entire weekend.

Yes Please

Yes Please

S’more Muddie Buddies

S’mores are, to me, the quintessential definition of a summer evening and over the last few weeks my Pinterest has been nothing but recipes and ideas. The great thing? S’mores is no longer just for campfires. There are so many versions and varieties to this perfect flavor combo the possibilities are endless.

S'more Krispie Bars

S’more Krispie Bars

S’more Krispie Bars

Unbeknownst to me, Mr. Plaid even got in the spirit and I came home to the Kitchen Aid whirring and he was making s’more cookies. For real!! As far as I can tell, he substituted some of the flour in a basic chocolate chip cookie recipe with crushed graham crackers and then added those cute tiny marshmallows along with chocolate chips. I wish I took pictures, but I ate the cookies too fast.

One Slice for you... the rest for me

One Slice for you… the rest for me

Cheesecake? No… S’more cheesecake!

I am now determined to do a progressive bake-through of all the s’more-based ideas. Care to join me?

Happy Birthday, to me!

Happy Birthday, to me!

S’more Birthday Cake

 

Please excuse me while I go into a diabetic coma! YUM!!!!

-Jenn

Cottage. Pie. Cottage pie.

Apparently all my tomatoes were waiting for was a little public shaming:

matoes

YEAH! So naturally, now that I’ve got the tomatoes I’ve been waiting for, and what with the days hot and sunny and the nights warm and balmy, dinner around these parts this week has been slow-cooked, piping-hot tomato-devoid cottage pie.

What? It TOTALLLY makes sense.

Cottage pie, for the uninitiated, is shepherds pie made with not-lamb. Shepherds pie, if you’ve lived under the saddest culinary rock in the quarry, is basically lamb-based meat pie filling poured sans-crust into a pan, and then topped with mashed potatoes before baking. It’s warm, comforting, cozy goodness, and, admittedly, probably much more appropriate to nippy early spring weather or the first brisk days of fall.

Except, every summer, I get dragged to local Highland games with my mom. This is a decades-long tradition, something we’ve been doing since the distant dark ages when she danced competitively at these events. Now, we mostly go out of habit and nostalgia, and to have one guaranteed day out of the year where I am not the pastiest person in the room.

Oh, and for the food. And the beer. And ALL the food. It’s the perfect meeting place of fair foods and UK staples, including heavenly meat pies that we sometimes buy an extra case of, frozen, before we leave, and have for dinners the rest of the week.

Net result, cottage pies are a summer staple for me, common sense and contrary weather be damned. And really, when one batch makes 6 hearty servings, a little slaving over the stove goes a long way. What’s one night’s cooking for three night’s dinners, right? Assuming, that is, you don’t have little fridge elves that eat pie for breakfast and lunch while your back is turned:

just one day later!

just one day later!

The recipe here is my own, and because it’s made to suit my preferences, heavy on the vegetable and light on the meat. If you want a denser, meatier pie, definitely use more meat – all the rest of the quantities can stay about the same.

Start with:

4 ribs of celery, chopped
1/2 lb pearl onions
1/2 lb carrots – Parisian globes if you can find them (Trader Joe’s obligingly has them in the freezer section!)

Sautee vegetables in a large pan in 2 T butter, ghee, or olive oil, cooking until everything is just starting to get tender.

aromatic

Add:

1.5 lbs ground turkey
2 t Penzey’s Lamb seasoning (you can sub in an equivalent amount of a combo of parsley, thyme, marjoram, and savory, but if you have access to Penzey’s, just get the blend. It’s got a little kick of spearmint that makes it magical)
1/2 t garlic powder

Stir together with the vegetables, and keep it moving occasionally until the meat is thoroughly browned and things are starting to want to stick to your pan. Pour in:

1 12oz can beef or chicken broth

Simmer about 30 minutes, or until the liquid is reduced about 50%. Stir in:

1 6oz can tomato paste

Transfer the whole mess to a 4 quart baking dish with high sides if you have one, or a 9×13″ baking dish if not. Top generously with mashed potatoes. Like really generously. Like two or three inches deep, if you have the space.

fluff

Bake at 350 for 30 minutes, or until the potatoes are golden and little bits of filling start to bubble up at the edges.

With regards to potatoes: at the moment, my favorite mash starts with a 3lb bag of Yukon Golds. I peel half of them and let the other half donate their peels in the name of rustic goodness. Quarter the potatoes, boil til fork tender (about 25 minutes) in salted water, drain, and then mash together with one 14oz can of full-fat coconut milk. Add salt and white pepper to taste, and revel in the fact that you’ve now made twice the potato you actually need for this recipe, and are now blessed with a bounty of mashed happiness you can shovel right into your face. And yes, I understand coconut milk sounds odd, but it brings all the buttery goodness of butter, and doesn’t loose its texture or taste with subsequent reheating.

on a roll

You guys, I am ready for tomatoes.

No, I mean it. I started plants indoors in February. I nurtured them carefully, hardened them slowly, and shook my fists at the sky when 3 of them got taken out by freak May hailstorms. I selected only the snobbiest, most pompous-yet-charming varieties, and when I started finding little baby fruits on my Bloody Butchers and San Marzanos last month, I literally called half the people I know to crow about it.

The tiny baby fruits of a month ago are fat and sassy and gloriously striped and whimsically shaped and all together just heirloom as fuck.

Was that the first fbomb we’ve dropped here? Sorry, but I don’t care. Tomatoes are serious business. THESE tomatoes are serious business.

heirloom

as

bomb!

I’m sure you see the other unifying feature of these tomatoes: they’re green. THEY ARE STILL GREEN. Here I am, absolutely perishing for the taste of garden-fresh perfectly sun-ripened tomatoes, and instead, I have a mini-farm chock full o’ things that are only barely edible if breaded and fried.

NOT COOL. I have done my time in the waiting room, and I am ready to see Doctor Tomato already. Not to mention, everything else in my garden is going gangbusters – I’m crawling in carrots, overwhelmed by onions, and let’s not even talk about the lettuce.

Yet here I remain, a few tomatoes short of a salad.

I cracked this week, and dove face first into the only cure I know: a $9 jar of spaghetti sauce.

Let me say this again: A NINE DOLLAR JAR OF SPAGHETTI SAUCE. Jar. Jarred sauce. for $9. That is ALMOST TEN DOLLARS.

This is why we can’t have nice things, or more accurately, why I flinch every time I open a bank statement. Because I budget and I plan and I scrimp and I save, and then I go $9-jar-of-spaghetti-sauce crazy. But you know what? Doesn’t matter. Tastes like tomatoes and sunshine. This is summer in a jar, and the closest I can get to tomato happiness until the lazy green jerks in my garden get their sunburn on.

To assuage my guilt over the sauce, I made garden meatballs, so that I had SOME fruits of my labors to chew on. What’s a garden meatball, you ask?

Well. It’s a meatball. With things from your garden. HELLO.

These aren’t pretty – as evidenced by the total lack of pictures! – but they’re yummy, and they’re flexible, and actually ridiculously healthy, especially if you, like me, eat your meatballs and sauce entirely sans-spaghetti.

What you need is:

20 oz of ground turkey – fat, lean, whatever. Sub non-turkey if you want. Use more or less if you prefer; 20oz is just how Jennie-O likes to pack her birds

1 egg, beaten

10 Tokyo White heirloom bunching onions, whites and tops OR 1 probably-too-small-to-pick-but-too-impatient-to-wait Walla Walla onion (or one small-ish standard issue grocery store onion) – minced as fine as you can manage. Go on, feel like you’re a chef!

1 grated Chantenay Red Core carrot (or about 1/2 cup grated grocery store carrot)

about 1T minced-up carrot tops (or about 1T fresh parsley, or 1/2t dried parsley)

about 1T each fresh oregano and thyme (or 1T dried oregano, and skip the thyme, because dried thyme feels like twigs. Unless you like eating twigs.)

Liberal sprinklings of garlic powder, salt, and pepper

Preheat your oven to 350, and put the spaghetti sauce of your choice – $10 craziness or otherwise – in a large pan over low heat. Add all the herbs and vegetables to the meat, and stir-and-squish with a fork until well distributed. Pour over the eggs, and smash it all together with your hands, like you are some kind of deranged sculptor whose chosen medium is meat. Roll 2″-ish balls and bake on a cookie sheet for 20-25 minutes. You don’t need to worry about how well-done the meat is; they just need to be cooked well enough to hold their shape. Don’t worry if white goo escapes – it’s normal. Plop meatballs hot into the sauce – with or without the white goo, which may be egg but may also be magical meatparts, and honestly, I think I am better off if I don’t ask. Cook at a slow simmer for at least 30 minutes, and up to an hour. Stir occasionally – very occasionally, say every 10 minutes or so. Bask in your warm, rustic summer-scented kitchen for the intervals between stirring.

Serve over noodles, or better still, straight up in a bowl, with a side of spoon. Either way, best eaten in the sun on the back deck, while you gaze down magnanimously on the abundant green tomatoes you TOTALLY don’t need.

For now, anyway.

Cake. Beer. Beercake. Believe it.

St. Patrick’s day is about the only holiday I don’t really celebrate. There’s reasons, not the least of them being – if my name hasn’t given it away, I get to be Irish 365+ days per year, and have the total lack of suntan to prove it.

Apparently, my lack of festive feeling doesn’t buy me a pass when it comes to baking. A lot of years ago, I made the mistake of bringing this amazing, truffle-y beer-soaked glory of a cake to a family boiled-meat-and-sad-cabbage dinner, and it’s been requested, demanded, and occasionally pleaded for every year since.

I don’t make it every year, or even most years, because as good as it is, it’s kind of a pest to make. No one step is particularly difficult, but there are a lot of them, and darn near all of them involve a whisk and a small sauce pan. I have a finite number of whisks and small sauce pans, so that means that there’s a lot of dish washing involved.

Cake is great. Dishes are not. Sometimes you have to make sacrifices, and some years, I sacrifice cake for lazy.

This wasn’t one of those years.

previewcake

Chocolate Stout Cake
adapted from this Guinness Cake recipe

cakesupply

Part one: the cake.

Start your oven preheating to 350, then, in a small sauce pan (that’s one!) combine:

1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/3 cup Young’s double chocolate stout

Place over low heat and whisk until smooth, then remove from heat and set aside. It will smell amazing. Don’t taste it. I don’t say this because I assume anyone reading isn’t smart enough to realize that beer + unsweetened cocoa powder = disaster; I’m saying this because somehow, I always manage to talk myself into ignoring that bit of common sense. Learn from my idiocy, please.

In a small bowl, combine and set aside:

1 cup flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

In a large bowl, or the bowl of an electric mixer, cream together:

1/3 cup softened butter
1 cup sugar

Then add, one at a time:

2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

To the now-cooled chocolate-and-stout mixture, add:

1/3 cup low-fat buttermilk

Truth: this is my favorite step, because it’s just so pretty.

buttermilking

Add the cocoa-beer mixture and the flour mixture to the butter-egg mixture in alternation, beginning with the cocoa-beer part and ending with flour. This batter isn’t going to be pretty – that’s the buttermilk and baking soda fighting it out, and making everything odd and granular-looking in the process. Just let it happen.

I bake the cake in a 9″ round springform pan, bottom foil-covered and the whole inside greased and floured to death. I strongly recommend doing this if you can, but if you don’t have a springform pan, any 9″ pan – square or round will do. Just consider adding parchment paper to the bottom before you grease and flour, because this cake sticks like duct tape otherwise.

Regardless of your pan preferences, bake for 25-30 minutes. You’ll know it’s done when the edges creep away from the sides. Cool in the pan for 15-20 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack that’s been placed in a large baking pan or on a rimmed cookie sheet. Leave it upside-down and let it cool completely.

While the cake is cooling, move on to step two: The Goo.

In a small saucepan (that’s two!), combine:

1/4 cup stout
1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 teaspoon vanilla

Stir and heat until smooth, then set aside to cool. Like the original cocoa-and-stout mixture, this will smell amazing. Unlike the original mixture, it will also taste amazing. Secretly? I put a tablespoonful or two of it aside in a coffee mug. You’ll see.

Step Three: The Saucing

Once the cake and the goo are both cooled, use a fork to poke a lot of holes into the bottom of your cake, being careful not to stab all the way through. Spoon the goo over the cake bottom, a spoonful at a time, and spread each spoonful around. Stop when the cake stops absorbing the goo easily – it should probably take up 1/2 of the goo easily. Let the cake rest, then flip it carefully onto whatever you plan on serving and storing it in.

Poke holes all over the top of the cake, and pour on the rest of the goo. Don’t worry too much if it doesn’t completely absorb, but if there’s any major puddles, poke a few more fork holes into them.

Step four: Ganache is Where the Magic Happens

In a small saucepan (that’s three!), bring to a simmer:

10 ounces heavy whipping cream

Try and use the fattiest, best heavy whipping cream you can find. I buy mine in adorable glass jars from a local dairy, and this stuff is so rich that you actually have to puncture the buttery fat layer that forms on the top of it before you can shake and pour it. Also, it comes in a 12oz bottle, and at least a tablespoon of that 2oz extra needs to get added to that coffee mug we talked about earlier. Trust me.

Simmering cream is tricky. It will go from not-boiling to OH MY GOD FROTHY DISASTER pretty much instantaneously. To avert catastrophe: tiny bubbles will populate the edges and a skin has will form on top. Watch closely, and when the skin appears to be moving up and down, almost like it’s breathing, remove the cream from the stove. Then add:

10 ounces semisweet chocolate mini chips

Mix and then whisk these together until smooth. Let cool very slightly, and then spoon onto the cake top. This works best if you do it pizza-style – pour into the center, then use the back of a spoon to smooth it out toward the edges. You don’t need to add more than about 1/3 of the total amount, and even if you’re careful, some of it’s going to spill over.

ganache2

Just let it happen.

ganache

Hell, revel in it.

Pour the rest of your ganache into a sealable plastic bag, and put it into the fridge for about 30 minutes. Squeeze the bag around about every 10 of those minutes to make sure it cools evenly. Then, take the bag out, snip a small hole out of one corner, and pipe out the much-less-runny ganache around the sides of the cake, and on the top if you want to be super fancy. Try not to worry if you wind up with ganache that escapes the bag’s closure into your and. Also, don’t feel too guilty if you don’t successfully resist the temptation to pipe ganache straight into your facehole.

cake!

There’s always a point in the baking process where I’m fully frustrated that all the effort – and all the dirty dishes! – are only going to result in a flat little 1-layer 9″ cake.

That frustration dissolves with the eating; then, it’s pure love at first bite. I describe this cake as 20% beer, 80% truffle by volume, and personally, I think it’s best served at room temperature or chilled, and accompanied by coffee – which, in turn, I serve myself in that mug of chocolate-goo-and-cream I set aside earlier.

Yes. Yes I do. I make no apologies – I need the energy to tackle the mountain of saucepans and dishes awaiting me.

Happy St. Whatsit’s day!

Imbibe the Ides of March!

Julius Caesar was given dire warnings by prophets about 3/15.  I’m here to sprinkle a little doom onto your calendar.  Don’t worry, it’s going to be a lot more fun than that makes it sound.

metric

I need to start with a confessional:  I don’t share Jenn’s love of bar carts. They’re totally lost on me, like, utterly.  I don’t understand who has that much liquor on hand, or drinks it quick enough to leave it out in the open like that.

Oh.  Oh wait.  Everybody.  Got it.

Let’s be clear: I am not a teetotaler.  I can shut down a happy hour with the best of them, and all my nearest and dearest know what the undersides of their tables look like, courtesy of yours truly.  I just rarely drink at home.  There’s exceptions, of course.  Pizza and champagne nights are sacred here.  The occasional lazy Sunday mimosa fest can’t be denied.  Every once in a while, a bottle of real-sugar Mexican coke makes its way into the house, and when it does, we unleash the Krakken – rum, that is.  By and large, though, booze is for bars, and it tends to be a guest here, not a resident.

bourbon

That probably explains why, despite being a confessed aficionado of all things whiskey and bourbon, I had an unopened bottle of Jack Daniels, given to me as a housewarming gift, sitting in a cupboard four years after the last box was unpacked.

The Jack Daniels moving gift is a family joke turned tradition.  The theory is, you’ve got a new house, so you buy a bottle of Jack to celebrate.  Only, you’ve got no place to put your glass, so you get a table.  Then, you can’t really reach the glass from your seat on the floor, so you get chairs.  Now that there’s a table and chairs in the room, you can’t wander around in the dark, so you get lamps…and so on and so forth, until one lone bottle of Jack Daniels furnishes and decorates your whole house.

Naturally, breaking it open for a blog that’s heavy on the home projects and liberal with the libations just seemed like the thing to do, you know?

So for the past few years, my go-to drink in bars has been one inspired by a flip comment in a podcast that’s hallmark is basically absurdist humor. So, really, there’s no way to know if they actually intended this drink for consumption, but if they didn’t, they still stumbled on brilliance when they broadcast the Shirley Temple of Doom.

The instructions are simple:

cherrybomb

Step one, you’re going to need a shitload of cherries. Their words, not mine.

drowning

Step two, you’re going to add bourbon. Or, tonight, whiskey that technically is a bourbon despite what it calls itself. This drink is all about proportions, so all you need to do is keep pouring until the cherries are swimming.

Step three: if you happen to work near an amazing shop that sells amazing ginger beer on tap and in growlers to go, you get to go a little fancy.

gingin

Reed’s Extra Ginger will give you a similar taste; regular old ginger ale works well, too. Just top that baby up.

doooom

This is best drunk with a straw, because it guarantees you will have a cherry-spearing device on hand when all the liquor is gone. Also, honestly, as much fun as this is to drink at home, I cannot overstate how much fun it is to discombobulate bartenders by walking up and demanding something that starts with a metric shitload of cherries.

But, I mean, now that the Jack is open…and we have all these cherries…and ginger beer…huh. Looks like I might be an at-home drinker for a while after all!

Laissez les bons temps rouller!

There’s some things in my kitchen that have, for no real reason, become irrevocably linked with certain foods.  Salads only get made in the big white bowl that was my first grown-up purchase for my first apartment.  Banana bread is never to be baked in anything other than the blue glass loaf pan.  The sangria pitcher is the sangria pitcher and the margarita pitcher is the margarita pitcher, and never the twain shall meet.

The purple Pyrex bowl serves double duty.  It’s the official mixing bowl of brownie batter, and it’s the surest sign that there’s about to be gumbo in the house.  Not for nothing, that bowl out on the counter is like a prophet of awesomeness.

veggiebowls

I’ve been making gumbo from the same recipe for so long that I don’t remember where the recipe came from originally, and don’t even refer back to the scribbled list of ingredients on the piece of oil-splattered paper shoved in the back of my 1960’s-edition Joy Of Cooking.  By and large, I make this dish from a combination of rote memory and eyeballing proportions, and trust my nose to make sure it all comes out right in the end.

I can’t promise that this is a particularly authentic recipe, but I do promise that it’s a pretty awesome recipe.

How it’s done:

Start with 2 onions – yellow, white, whichever.  Chop ’em up, and don’t worry too much about making it pretty.

Add three bell peppers.  Sometimes I’ll use all green, because for whatever arbitrary reason, they’re cheaper.  When the pretty colors go on sale, though, I like to mix it up.  Chop the peppers up, and again, don’t worry too much about making it pretty.  Honestly, you couldn’t ugly these up if you tried.

chopchop

Celery comes next.  I generally try and make sure I have about the same amount of celery as I do peppers.  Sometimes that’s 5 or 6 ribs.  Last night, it ended up being 9.  It’s possible I got slightly carried away because I like chopping celery.  Really, nothing makes you feel more like a legitimate chef like a santoku and celery stalks.

chopchop2

In a separate bowl, combine 1 tablespoon of salt, 2 or 3 bay leaves, and a generous 1/2 teaspoon each of black pepper, white pepper, thyme, oregano, and cayenne pepper.  It probably sounds like a lot of salt and a lot of heat, but trust me.  The salt is necessary, and as for the cayenne…we have fancy extra-hot 60,000 Scoville-scaled cayenne pepper in my house and heap that spoonful without a second thought.

In yet another bowl, measure out 3/4 cups of flour, and in yet another other bowl, add three heaping teaspoons of chopped garlic.

All the bowls are for a reason:  everything gets added at different times, and once you start cooking, there’s no time to pause for measuring or mixing.  That’s because step one is making a roux, and bringing it perilously close to scorching without actually letting anything get burned.

If you’ve made cream-based sauces before, you’re familiar with the roux-making process.  Sauces like that usually use butter, which has a much lower smoke point than the vegetable oil in this recipe.  That means this roux can take a bit more heat, and be cooked much darker, much more safely, than a butter-based roux.  However, it doesn’t have the nice, predictable seize-and-release that butter roux does, which makes it just as important, if not more so, to keep the whole mixture moving.

If you’ve never made a roux before, please just ignore everything I’ve said above, which probably makes the process mystical and somewhat daunting.  It isn’t.

First, heat a pan over medium heat. Much like the bowl, I have a designated gumbo pot; it’s a 5 quart dutch oven.  Any pan about that size will work, but if you have one with short, easily gripped handles, that’s the one you want to use.

Once the pan is hot, add 3/4 cup of vegetable oil. Heat it until you can see the heat shimmering on the oil’s surface, then dump in the flour.  Whisk, whisk, and keep whisking some more, keeping the whole thing moving, and paying special attention to the areas directly over the heat element on the stove.  It’s going to smell like hot oil for a while, and then kind of like popcorn.  That’s normal, and if you get nervous, you can use the roux once it hits that popcorn-scented stage, but let it go a little longer if you can.

Dark roux has the best flavor, but does the weakest job of thickening the final gumbo.  Light roux thickens like a champ, but it tends to be bland. I like to try and land somewhere between a rich caramel and a milk chocolate.

caramel

Once the roux is ready, dump the whole bowl of vegetables in on top of it.  Do it quickly, but carefully – I’ve sustained a few burns being careless at this point.  Switch from a whisk to the sturdiest wooden spoon you have, and stir and stir and stir til the vegetables are well-coated in the roux.

wegetables

Cook for 5 or 6 minutes.  Stir frequently, but not with the obsessive fervor you used during the roux-making.  Things should be smelling pretty great right now.  Be careful that you don’t drool into the pan.  Add the bowl of seasonings, and the bowl of garlic, and cook for another 3 or 4 minutes, stirring frequently.

If you put your nose over the pot and suddenly have a really good idea of what heaven smells like, you’re doing great.

Add 5 cups of liquid, and stir well, washing down the sides of the pan while you’re at it.  If you’re trying go easy on the sodium, stock is going to suit you better than broth.  I use broth, myself.  Use beef, chicken, seafood, or vegetable stock or broth – it really doesn’t matter.  Mix a few together if you’ve got oddball partial cans or cartons on hand.  I usually use home made chicken stock if I have it, or store-bought beef broth if I don’t.

Bring the liquid up to a simmer; leave it there for 10 minutes or so, then add sausage or chicken.  I almost always use sausage, and vacillate between using legitimate andouille and Johnsonville beef hot links.  Honestly?  Minimal difference in the final product.  I do recommend pan-searing andouille before using it, though; it doesn’t really retain its texture well otherwise.  If you’re not interested in using sausage, chicken works well at this stage.  However you do it, just make sure you’re adding something like a pound of it.

Leave the whole mess on a simmer, stirring occasionally if you happen to be in the vicinity, for about 30 minutes, then turn off the heat and add a 1/2 teaspoon or so of file powder and a pound of peeled, tail-free, deveined shrimp.  If you don’t like shrimp, you can always just add more chicken or sausage, but I strongly recommend you seek professional help, because seriously who doesn’t like shrimp.

As soon as the shrimp is done, you’re ready to eat.  Serve over rice, and sprinkled with a more file powder.  Leave plenty of room in your bowl to mix things around in, and to justify going back for seconds.

file

Happy and blissfully literal Fat Tuesday, everyone!