Saturday, December 31, 2016

Chicken and Sausage Gumbo #13CajunBites

As another main dish for his Cajun dinner party, D wanted to make gumbo. Or rather, he wanted his buddies to help cook the gumbo. I had so much fun watching these boys make their way around the market and the kitchen. 


Note: For authentic gumbo, you should add filé. I didn't have that, but it was delicious anyway!

Ingredients serves 8 to 10
  • 6 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
  • 8 C water
  • 4 T butter
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 1/2 C gluten-free flour
  • 1 C onion, diced
  • 1 C celery, diced
  • 1 C green bell pepper, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
  • 1 C diced tomato
  • 4 C okra, cut into coins
  • 1 pound cooked andouille or other smoky sausage, sliced into thick coins
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 t fresh thyme
  • 2 t Worchestershire sauce
  • 1 T Cajun seasoning
  • 1 t paprika
  • 1 t hot sauce (our homemade hot sauce) or more, if desired
  • 1 t filé powder, optional
  • cooked rice for serving
Procedure

Place chicken thighs in a large pot and cover them with water by 1". Bring the water to a boil and simmer over low heat for an hour until the chicken is falling off the bone.

Melt butter in olive oil in a large skillet. Add the flour and create a roux. Cook until a nice caramel color. Stir in the onions, green pepper, celery, and garlic. Cook until tender. Add in the sausages, tomato, and okra. Cook for 15 minutes. 

In the meantime, shred the chicken and return the meat to the pot. Keep the bones for making stock. Stir in the vegetables. Add the bay and thyme. Whisk in the Worchestershire sauce, Cajun seasoning, paprika, and hot sauce. Bring to a low boil. Simmer for at least 30 minutes, but an hour if you can manage it. Check seasoning and adjust if needed. Simmer for another 20 to 30 minutes. Serve hot over rice.

NOT a Banana Split!


Yesterday, I was talking to my boys and my mom, asking them to pick up a few things for our belated Christmas celebration with friends. My friend overheard the list - bananas, ice cream, sparkling water - and guessed I was making banana splits for dessert.

No, these are not banana splits. When R pulled out the stick lighter and lit the dessert on fire, my friend admitted: "I should have known that banana splits weren't fancy enough for your table."


I don't actually think I've ever had a banana split; I definitely have never made a banana split. But, now, I'm going to have to look up a recipe and see how I can make it fancy. But last night, we served Bananas Foster to cap off the evening. It's the addition of the banana liqueur that takes this from Flambéed Bananas to Bananas Foster!


Ingredients makes 12 small servings
  • 6 bananas, peeled and sliced into thick coins
  • 1 C butter
  • 1 C organic dark brown sugar
  • 1 t ground cinnamon
  • 4 T banana liqueur
  • 1/3 C spiced rum
  • ice cream for serving



Procedure
In a large sauté pan over medium heat, combine the butter, brown sugar, and ground cinnamon. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the butter melts and the sugar is dissolved, approximately 5 minutes. Add the banana slices and cook, until just tender, approximately 2 to 3 minutes.

In a measuring cup or other container that you can pour from easily, mix the liqueur and the rum.


Turn off the burner and pour in the rum. Using a stick lighter, ignite the alcohol by placing the flame just inside the outer edge of the pan. 


The flame will be a faint blue or purple but will be very hot. It should extinguish in 10 to 15 seconds as soon as the alcohol burns off. 

Holding the pan handle, gently shake the pan from side to side to coat the bananas with the sauce.


To serve, scoop ice cream into individual bowls. Spoon some of the bananas and sauce over the ice cream. Serve immediately.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Red Beans and Rice #13CajunBites


This quintessential New Orleans dish, holds a special place in my heart. When R was a toddler, he wasn't very good at sitting still for dinner. He would take one bite, run away from the table, come back, take one more bite, and leave again. The sole exception to this pattern was when my mom and dad picked up red rice and beans from a local restaurant. R loved it, sat through the entire meal, and devoured his entire bowl.

So, when we were planning the Cajun menu for D's birthday party, R excitedly agreed to make the red beans and rice. I used the Domingo Rojo beans from Rancho Gordo, one of my favorites! I used to buy a ton of dried beans whenever we were at the Ferry Building in San Francisco till I discovered them at Happy Girl Kitchen here in Pacific Grove. Woohoo.

Ingredients

  • 1 pound dried red beans, soaked overnight
  • 1 T butter
  • 1 T olive oil
  • 1 C diced organic white onion (you can use yellow, too)
  • 1 C diced organic green bell pepper
  • 1 C diced organic celery
  • 5 or 6 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
  • 1 to 1-1/2 pound sausages (we used a mixture of duck sausages and rabbit sausages)
  • 1 to 2 t fresh thyme leaves
  • 1 to 2 bay leaves
  • 1 T Creole seasoning + more to taste
  • hot sauce to taste
  • freshly ground pepper to taste
  • freshly ground salt to taste
  • cooked rice for serving


Procedure
Because the kids were assembling this meal - and eating it - with in a 2 hour window, I presoaked and precooked the beans. Read how to cook dried beans. If you are not precooking, this dish will take about 4 hours from start to finish. 

Once the beans are cooked to your desired softness, drain and set aside.

If your sausages aren't precooked, boil until firm. Then cut on the bias and set aside.

In a large souppot, melt butter in the olive oil. Sauté the onions, celery, and bell pepper until the onions are translucent. Stir in the garlic and cook for another few minutes. Add in the sausage slices and cook until you have some browning on them.

Spoon in the beans. Add in the thyme, bay, and Creole seasoning. Pour in enough water to cover the beans and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cover. Cook for - at least - an hour. Stir occasionally so that the beans don't stick to the bottom of the pan.

While the beans are cooking, cook your rice. After about an hour, use a potato masher to smash some of the beans. You will want some smashed and some whole. Stir in the cooked rice. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and hot sauce, if desired. Serve hot.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Tasting Notes: Celebrating Teendom at Coqueta


Ever since we watched Hundred Foot Journey, the Enthusiastic Kitchen Elf has been asking to eat at a Michelin-starred restaurant. So, for his thirteenth birthday, I found one that was within walking distance of our hotel in San Francisco and had a menu that within my budget: Chef Michael Chiarello's Spanish enterprise, Coqueta.

Yes, thirteen. I can't believe these boys are both teens - thirteen and fourteen. How did that happen?!?


So, you enter the restaurant through the bar which was wall-to-wall people. Jake looked at me and asked, "You picked this place?" All four of us gravitate towards quieter, less populated places. But once the hostess took my name, located our reservation, and motioned for us to follow, we stepped into a room with a completely different feel.

Ridiculously high ceilings are matched by the raised tabletops and benches that line the perimeter of the room. Leather bar stools provide seating on the opposite side of the tables. There were some elegant wreaths that were a nod to the season, but I was drawn to the cow hides hung like tapestries on the walls.

Coqueta means 'flirt' in Spanish and a playfulness in the ambiance and menu are evident. We had so much fun!

Let's start with the drinks, because that's what we ordered first. The boys had the Limonada which were tall glasses of sparkling lemonade garnished with a sprig of fresh rosemary and some blueberries. Jake went for the Mojito which was made with Arehucas Rum and topped with a lime "air." 


I ordered their Red Sangria but found it was a little too sweet for me, so I swapped: my Sangria for Jake's second cocktail, the Crimson & Fog. Crafted with Rittenhouse Rye, Campari, Punt e Mes, Star Anise, and NOLA Coffee Liqueur, it was too bitter for him and it was just my style! Salud


Most of the dishes on the menu are meant to be shared so we all selected different things we wanted to try. D insisted, "I just want the paella. You can all order whatever else you want, but we are getting paella!" 

From the Tapas Calientes menu, R ordered the Pulpo a la Parilla, wood-grilled octopus with freshly-dug fingerling potatoes and pimenton olive oil. As you can see, we had battling forks flying all over that plate. They all loved it, I actually thought the char was a little overpowering. 


Our server suggested we order the Patatas Bravas because we were pretty protein-heavy. I'm glad we did. The potatoes were tender in the center, crispy on the outside, and the two dipping sauces were fantastic.

Since D loves sea urchin, we picked the Mar y Montaña from the Montaditos (Open Face Sandwiches) menu. I would say that Mar y Montaña was my favorite selection of the night and I plan to replicate it as soon as I can find some fresh urchin! Just read these ingredients: sea urchin on small toasts drizzled with melted Ibérico lardo and topped with lomo Ibérico and fresh rosemary.

We also tried the Pan Con Tomate . That, too, was delicious.


Moving to the Raciones - larger, family-style menu - we ordered the Pluma which was a roasted buttery soft, acorn-fed Ibérico pork shoulder loin. It was served with a honey-chili glaze and threads of roasted peppers.


And, of course, the birthday boy got his Paella


This was a classic paella served with pickled garlic scapes and lemon aioli. I have to admit that just days after this dinner, the boys went to our friends' house and Juan made them his authentic paella recipe. Both boys agreed that "Mr. Redondo's paella beat the paella from the Michelin-starred restaurant!" R added, "He did a better job with the socarrat." That's high praise! Bravo, Juan!


While I had initially planned a dessert in the Ferry Building, based on how impressed we were with the rest of the dinner, we decided we had to try dessert! And I never turn down espresso. Never!


I tried the Trio de Pintxos - a salted caramel with pimenton, quince gelatina with thyme sugar, and salame de chocolate. It was the perfect size dessert for someone who doesn't have much of a sweet tooth. Just a bite for me...and I shared with Jake. He spotted a drink similar to his beloved affogato - their Carajillo - and ordered that.


D ordered the Churro Fantasia, crispy Spanish doughnuts with a drinking chocolate. R opted for the flan.


What a dinner! I am grateful that D finally had his Michelin-star experience. And I am thrilled that it was all that he imagined it would be. See my happy teen...


On the way out the door, I noticed this and wondered: If I'm really, really good next year, do you think Santa will bring me a jamon leg and stand?!?! Please. Pretty please.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Caldo de Siete Mares for Christmas Eve

After a three-day trip to the Bay Area - and since we were heading straight to a Christmas Eve mass - I needed an easy dinner that I could whip up after church for my parents before they rested up before their mass...at midnight. I decided to consolidate my Feast of the Seven Fishes into one pot!


Before we left the East Bay, we popped into Market Hall in Rockridge and chose some beautifully fresh seafood from the Hapuku Fish Shop. I even remembered to bring cooler for our fish and cheese. Feel free to adapt to whatever your fish market has.


Ingredients makes 6 to 8 entrée servings

  • 1 T olive oil
  • 1 T butter
  • 1 pound white fish, cut into 2 to 3" chunks (I bought some bluenose)
  • 1 pound other fish, cut into 2 to 3" chunks (I bought some salmon)
  • 1 C diced organic white onion
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
  • freshly squeezed juice from 1 lemon
  • 1 t sea salt
  • 1 pound shrimp or prawns (I shelled them, but left the tail on)
  • 1 pound squid, cleaned
  • 1 pound clams, scrubbed and rinsed
  • 1 pound mussels, scrubbed and rinsed
  • 1 pound scallops
  • 1 C fresh tomatoes, diced
  • 1/2 C fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1/2 C fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 6 or 7 C stock
  • 1 or 2 C clam juice
  • 1 organic lemon, sliced into wedges for serving
  • hot sauce for serving, optional (here's our homemade version)

Procedure
In large souppot or Dutch oven, melt the butter in the olive oil. Stir in the onion, garlic, and salt. Sauté until the onion begins to soften.

Add in the fish. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the fish pieces are opaque, approximately 5 to 6 minutes.

Add in the shrimp, squid, mussels, clams, scallops, tomato, parsley, and cilantro. Pour in the broth and clam juice. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium, keep covered, and let the soup simmer until the seafood is cooked through and the shellfish is open, approximately another 10 minutes.

Ladle the soup into individual serving bowls and serve with the lemon wedges and hot sauce.

Notes: It's It Ice Cream


As I sit here and type this up, I realized: for it being December, we sure ate a lot of frozen treats on our trip to the Bay Area. You can read about our late evening jaunt to Smitten: here. While Smitten was a new adventure for us, It's It Ice Cream is a long-standing favorite. It's the ice cream sandwich the boys pick whenever they want a sweet treat from the grocery store. Sadly, we can only get vanilla and mint flavors here. But I've long known that there were other flavors. I just needed to head up to the factory store to get my hands on some.


The birthday boy looked at all the choices and knew that I had a Groupon for a dozen. He chose two each of Green Tea, Cappuccino, Pumpkin, Chocolate, and Strawberry; and added one Vanilla and one Mint.


We purchased enough dry ice to last 24 hours and headed out for our next adventure.


Jake thought we needed a decal for the car. Really?!? Okay.


And we hadn't yet left the parking lot when the boys crack opened the styrofoam cooler and made their selections.


R wanted to try the Green Tea. I shared the second one with Jake.


And D went for the Pumpkin. By the end of our trip we had devoured them all.


The verdict: Green Tea is my favorite now. I liked the Cappuccino, but it wasn't coffee-y enough for me. D loved the pumpkin.  I wanted to pick up another dozen of the various flavors and bring it home for friends who have also been longing to try, specifically, the Green Tea version. But I didn't have time, so that will have to be another trip. Soon. Who's in?

Notes: Smitten Ice Cream's Cool Factor


We've always wanted to try Smitten Ice Cream - who wouldn't want to try ice cream churned just for them...with the help of liquid nitrogen?!?but every time we go, there's a line out the door. And we despise lines. 

So, when I knew we would be getting out of a play late on December 23rd, I took a chance that other people wouldn't be waiting in line on a cold winter's night for ice cream. I was right. Yep, two days before Christmas...at ten o'clock at night, there weren't too many people ordering ice cream.


We've made our own liquid nitrogen ice cream; click for one of those posts: here. But Smitten uses a special Brrr™ Machine that founder Robyn Sue Fisher created. That was cool.


But, cool factor aside, there weren't a lot of options for flavors. And the ones they did have were on the ordinary side. The most exotic flavor was Earl Grey. And while Earl Grey is a favorite ice cream flavor of ours, this wasn't a stop-you-from-talking version.


Still, we were happy we tried it. D noted that it had a really creamy texture, but declared that it definitely didn't unseat any of our other favorite ice cream spots.


But it was a fun adventure and I'm glad we finally made it through the door there. Though we certainly won't be making detours on road trips to get to Smitten. On the East Bay, I think Lush Gelato (tasting notes here) still holds their ice cream adoring hearts.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Creole Cheese Ball #13CajunBites


J told his dad that this was his favorite thing on the menu. I did the cheese ball part ahead of time, but he made the topping all by himself. And that is what made the dish!

Ingredients 
  • 8 oz cream cheese, softened
  • 1 t  Cajun seasoning
  • 1 t Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 t garlic powder
  • 1/2 C butter
  • 1/2 C organic dark brown sugar
  • 2 t Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 t dijon mustard
  • 1-1/2 C coarsely chopped pecans

Procedure 
In a small mixing bowl, blend cream cheese, garlic powder, 1 t Worcestershire, and Cajun seasoning. I used a fork to fully incorporate the flavors. Shape into a 4-inch circle, about 1" thick. Place on serving plate, cover, and refrigerate until firm - at least a couple of hours.

In a skillet, melt butter over medium heat. Stir in brown sugar, Worcestershire, mustard and pecans. Cook over low heat until the sugar is dissolved and everything is bubbling.

Remove cheese ball from the fridge. Spoon pecan mixture over cheese ball. Serve with slices of bread.

Maque Choux #13CajunBites


Coming up with a menu that included THIRTEEN different Cajun dishes - to celebrate D's 13th birthday - was challenging enough. Then, add to that, all the dishes needed to be able to be cooked - by kids - and consumed within a two and a half hour window. That was a little more challenging.

I found a recipe for Maque Choux and knew that would be an easy addition. Maque Choux is a traditional sidedish from southern Louisiana whose name is thought to derive from the French interpretation of the Native American name.


Ingredients
  • 4 T butter
  • 2 C diced onions
  • 1 C diced green bell pepper
  • 4 C corn kernels (we used a mixture of white and yellow)
  • 1 C organic heavy whipping cream
  • 1 t fresh thyme
  • 1 t salt
  • 1 t organic dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 t hot sauce, optional (I think that J opted not to include that)



Procedure
Melt butter in large skillet over medium heat. Add onions and sauté until translucent, approximately 5 minutes. Add bell pepper and corn kernels. Sauté until the peppers beginning to soften, approximately 5 minutes.

Pour in the cream. Fold in the thyme and hot sauce, if using. Whisk in the salt and sugar. Simmer until sauce thickens, approximately 5 minutes. Season to taste with more salt, if needed.

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