Sunday, November 14, 2010

Elsie's Gumbo

I spent my last year of high school in southeastern Louisiana.  This area is an amazing microcosm unlike any other part of our nation.  It's an island of cultures and traditions rarely practiced outside it's geography.  Folks there talk differently, cook differently, and rely heavily on the bounties of nature.  People there shrimp, crab, fish, and hunt recreationally.  This provides an interesting mix of ingredients for cooking.

I met my first wife in Louisana.  I spent a lot of time in her mother Elsie's kitchen.  Elsie grew up in a family with many children in a small town in bayou country called Raceland.  Her family spoke french in their home.  Their life was not easy, but they knew how to use the land and water to provide a significant portion of their sustenance.

Elsie's cooking talents were born of this simple life.  She would send Jan and I to the grocery store with a three item list.  With these three items and whatever was in the house, she would craft a delicious and satisfying meal.  After we had eaten her creation my tongue would be smacking my face.

Everyone knows that gumbo is a staple of Cajun cooking.  When I was in Louisiana I was exposed to two types of Gumbo, chicken and sausage gumbo and seafood gumbo.  Chicken gumbo frequently contains okra.  If fresh okra is used it is sliced and stewed down with canned tomatoes.  Elsie said that the acid in the tomato broke down the sliminess of the okra.  Otherwise tomato is not a common ingredient in gumbo.  The preferred sausage is andouille, but smoked sausage is often substituted, and it's saves a Cajun a buck.  Seafood gumbo is likely to have shrimp, crabmeat and oysters but not fish. 

I've eaten soups that people call gumbo, but they aren't what I experienced in my time in Lousiana.  This is usually because the the gumbo was not started with a roux. The foundation of Cajun gumbo is the roux.  The classic French roux is flour and clarified butter.  But we are talking about southern Louisiana which is definitely not dairy country.  Furthermore, with these people just trying to get by, cooking oil is much cheaper.  The Cajun version of the roux is 2 parts flour and 1 part cooking oil.  It is slow cooked in a frying pan or soup pot until it is toasted and brown.  This provides an intensely flavored base for the soup.  Elsie told me that you usually use a darker roux for chicken gumbo than you do for seafood gumbo.

I started my gumbo by smoking 4 chicken thighs on my charcoal grill with hickory chips.  Elsie would have boiled her chicken and saved the water for the soup.  Grilling the chicken is a great way to add more flavor to the dish.

Of course the most important step in making gumbo is to make the roux.  I used about 1/3 cup of oil and 2/3 cup of flour.  I usually start off with medium low heat, but as it cooks I turn the heat down.  You have to stir this very frequently because the flour settles to the bottom of the pan and browns.  It takes about 30 minutes before it's done, depending on the level of color and flavor you want.

Here's an image of the flour and cooking oil blended together before cooking.
While the roux is browning and you are stirring frequently, it's time to chop up some onion, celery, garlic, green onion, and parsley.  Bell pepper is commonly used too.  Elsie called these seasonings.  Once your roux is brown and toasted you can add all of the seasonings and sliced sausage to the roux.  Notice how dark the roux got.

After softening the seasonings in the roux I added the smoked chicken that I had shreaded.  I also added a can of cut okra.  The next part is very important.  I was taught not to put hot water in the pot with your roux.  It is said that it seperates from the broth and you end up with a nasty oil slick.  After adding several cups of cold water I seasoned with some dried oregano and basil, fresh cracked pepper, and about a 1/4 cup of hot sauce. I simmered that for about an hour or so.  

Louisiana Gumbo is always served over rice.  Rice is a major staple in Louisiana.  Any dish with a sauce, including all soups and stews, is commonly served over rice.  Standard long grain rice is the preference. 

Gumbo is a special meal in Louisiana.  It is served at parties and family get togethers.  It's something that's commonly made for a Sunday dinner because it's a bit of work.  I've even had turkey dinner for Thanksgiving that included a pot of Gumbo. 

I'm so glad that I got spend time cooking with Elsie.  She taught me so much about making delicious food.  I'm eating the gumbo I made right now.  I think Elsie would approve.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Fish Tacos

From what I understand there are two schools when it comes to fish tacos.  Some fish taco recipes call for lightly breaded cubes of fish fried in oil.  The other recipes call for grilled or sauteed fish that is flaked after cooking.  I've never been a fan of fried food and I hate what cooking with hot grease does to the inside of your home. 

I marinated a couple pieces of mahi mahi with lime juice, fresh ground pepper, salt, cumin, and shot it with cooking spray.  It's very important to put oil on your fish if you are cooking it on the grill. It keeps it from sticking and falling apart when you turn it. 

Baja fish tacos are commonly served with a cabbage slaw.  I shredded about a cup of cabbage. To that I added a couple of spoonfuls of sour cream, juice of half a lime, teaspoon of Penzey's red chipotle powder and a few leaves of cilantro.  A little less lime juice would have done since the sour cream has some acid in it.

I grilled the two pieces of fish on my medium sized Weber grill, but I only started enough charcoal for the small grill.  With the fish in the middle of the grill, I could warm my tortillas around the fish.  When the fish was done I flaked it.

When you eat at a restaurant in Mexico they always bring condiments like diced onions, salsas and lime wedges  to the table. I chopped a few ingredients to embellish our tacos.  Cilantro, tomato, avocado and lime wedges.

And finally the finished product. The tortillas were a little tough due to cooking them on the grill.  I'd probably be better off just steaming them in the microwave.  It was still delicious.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

What's Cooking?

There are many reasons I love to cook.  First of all I love to eat.  But I want to eat foods with flavor and variety.  There is no room on my palate for bland food.   

Those of you that I've cooked for know my saying, "I'm glad you enjoyed what I made for myself."  The truth is I get great pleasure from watching and listening to you enjoy my creations.

For me cooking is great therapy.  I find that it's a great way for me to leave my thoughts behind.  I can spend time by myself in the kitchen, listening to some good music and slicing and dicing to my hearts content.

I cook by feel.  I try to avoid measuring devices as much as possible.  A little of this and a little of that serves me well.  If I am intrigued by a dish that I read about or see on a cooking show, I'll search out some recipes on the internet.  But I rarely cook specifically to any recipe.  I'll look at a few and make my own interpretation.

I try to be conscious about what ingredients are in the refrigerator and plan meals accordingly. Wednesday evenings I am usually home alone and I make supper from whatever I can find in the house. 

This was a Wednesday supper.  It started with a leftover flank steak salad.  I boiled about 5 oz of linguine. While the noodles were boiling I made a dressing of soy sauce, fish sauce, sesame oil, honey, and chili paste.  I tossed the salad with the dressing and then I tossed in the hot cooked noodles.  The heat from the noodles warmed up the salad and wilted the lettuce just a bit.  It was really yummy.

Monday, October 11, 2010

What's Next?

Lyme disease has been the focus of our lives for the past couple of years.  It is still with us, but has less of an impact on our daily lives than in the past.  Lynette's recovery has progressed to the point that she is able to live a normal life.  She is definitely not back to where she was before she got sick, but there aren't many tasks that she can't undertake.

The rest of Lynette's recovery is going to depend on her body's ability to repair itself.  The nerve damage caused by her immune system's reaction to this infection will be long to heal.  She would love to be able to run again.  I would love to face her across the net on the tennis court.

Since I've not had much to report about, I will be changing the focus of my blog.  I have much to say about many other subjects and I love to write about them.  I look forward to using this space to share my pleasures, annoyances and anything else that flows from my finger tips. 

I love to cook and I love share pictures and tactics of my cooking methods with anybody who's interested.  I will be sharing my passion for cooking on this blog.  But I will also be talking about life and Lyme disease and whatever else is on my mind.

I guess I need a new name for my blog.  Any suggestions?

Friday, August 27, 2010

Wonder Woman

Lynette's employer changes their work hours during the summer.  They work 4 ten hour days and have Friday off.  Lynette doesn't really care for it much, but she does make good use of the extra day off.  Last Friday she helped Lauren and Danielle move into their dorm.  Lynette wasn't yet home when I fell asleep a little after 11:00 that night.  The next morning she was up at 6:30 headed off to Anna's volleyball tournament an hour away in Reidsville.

It's 9:00 pm on Friday.  Lynette is not yet home this evening.  She is at the Wake Forest University volleyball match.  I have not seen Lynette today but I can tell she has been a busy girl.  She cleaned our bathroom from top to bottom.  She vacuumed from our bedroom carpet the evidence that we have a dog.  She washed Sparkles (Danielle's duct tape covered car).  She drove my truck to have lunch with Anna at school.  From there she took our recycling to the dump where she sorted and tossed various bottles and boxes.  She filled my truck up with gas!  And when she got home, she cleaned the recycle bins and backed the truck in with extreme precision!

We went to see Dr. J two weeks ago.  He was proud to let us know that his daughter Jordan has been cancer free for 3 months.  There was a mix up in the appointment scheduling.  Anna and Lynette were each supposed to have an appointment but the office had only booked time for one.  Dr. J saw Anna and Lynette in a single appointment slot and only charged us for one.  I think the mix up worked out in our favor.

He did not make many changes to Anna or Lynette's treatment protocols.  He told Lynette to keep doing the same thing.  He reduced Anna's drug holiday from 3 weeks to 2 because he doesn't think she is progressing quickly enough.  She admittedly is not very disciplined about taking her antibiotics.  He told us to come back in 6 months. 

A year and a half ago Lynette couldn't walk. Her capabilities now are a testament to the medical treatment that she has received. What is the IDSA thinking when I see a person whose quality of life has improved infinitely by the exact treatments that they disapprove of?

Monday, June 14, 2010

We still have Lyme

Things are much better than they were not too long ago, but I have been reminded lately that Lyme is still in our life.  Side effects of medicines.  Symptoms of infection.  Expensive prescriptions.  We're not out of the woods yet.

Lynette was featured in the Patient Spotlight section of this month's newsletter from Dr. J.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Happy Anniversary

My father drove down from Richmond last year around Valentine’s Day. He came to help me install the chairlift so that Lynette could get up and down the stairs. At that time Lynette could hardly walk on level floor with a walker. It was great to have his support and help. Lynette’s first appointment with Dr. Fishman was the Monday after that weekend.

My father recently made a return visit. I took Thursday and Friday off last week and we built a storage room under our screen porch. This time dad saw a different Lynette. On Saturday she and Anna got up early in the morning to head off to a softball tournament. They made it back in the afternoon only to turn around and head off to a concert. On Sunday Lynette and Anna took off to Boonville to our niece’s wedding shower. My dad was amazed and happy to see how much Lynette has progressed.

Lynette and Anna are in Washington DC right now on a school field trip. Lynette managed to arrange an appointment with Dr. Jemsek while she is up there. She had to fight the unfamiliarity of the subway. I looked at Google maps and street view images and the Metro map and did my best to give her accurate instructions ahead of time. But things never work out exactly as you plan. Lynette still managed to catch up with the kids after her appointment.

Lynette had a lot of questions for Dr. J and he made some tweaks to her therapy. Tomorrow is the anniversary of Lynette's first visit to Dr. J.

It's also our 16th wedding anniversary.