Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Turkey Gumbo

Thanksgiving is almost upon us, and my friends are already teasing me, because I've been stocking up on turkeys.  Right now, I baked one last week, have one thawing in my fridge, and have 4 more in the garage freezer.  Crazy about turkey?  Meh.  More like crazy about turkey gumbo!

Turkey gumbo is my family's favorite dish.  By far.  Even the little picky man loves it.  It's in their blood.  My husband's father passed down he technique that he learned from his family, who came from a small town in Louisiana called Morgan City.  The town should technically be underwater, that's how far south it is.  They know their gumbo around there.  And around here, we're thankful that they do, and that the method was passed on to us!

The gumbo bowls were also passed down to us.  :)

I got permission from my wonderful father-in-law to share our family's gumbo with you, so, if you give it a try, be sure to let us know how much you love it too!

Gumbo is the perfect cold-weather dish, and a great way to put your holiday bird to good use after the feast.  It's a process, and takes patience, but I promise you, it's so worth the effort.  And if you plan it right, you can do some steps ahead and fit them into your schedule as you need.

The other thing about gumbo is that, even following the same steps, you will come out with something a little different every time,  Some of my gumbos have been better than others.  Some are thicker, some are thin.  Some have more of a kick, some taste smokier.  That said, I'm not sure there's such a thing as bad gumbo.  I mean, that's not a challenge or anything, but if you follow the general method, every time generally tastes pretty yummy.

So, I'm going to break it up into steps.  The first step is the stock.  If you want to cheat and skip all this, you could use store bought turkey stock.  I've done it in desperation before.  It's not bad, but homemade stock adds depths of flavor that you will be missing out on.

When you're done with your turkey, you need to break it down for this recipe.  Save all the edible meat you can off of it, even tiny scraps, and put that in one container or Ziploc bag.  Refrigerate that for later.  Then, take the turkey carcass and break it down more. This is what you will use to make the stock.  You can either throw all of this into a large pot (large large...huge...the biggest you have, short of a canning bath), or throw it into another container and refrigerate or freeze for later.  When you break down the turkey, you want to break the large bones up into smaller pieces if you can.  This will help it fit in your pot better, but it will also help the bones release more marrow and gelatin into the stock.  Include some of the turkey skin and scraps in here too, for flavor.  Basically, anything that you wouldn't eat as the meat, you can put in for the stock.  Stock is the essence of turkey.

With your broken down carcass, throw in several onions, quartered, about a half of a head of celery, chopped into large pieces, 6 or more cloves of garlic, crushed with the side of a knife, a small handful of kosher salt, a couple of tablespoons of whole peppercorns, and a few dashes of Tabasco sauce.

Cover that all with water, enough so that the water level is about an inch above the solids.  Then bring it to a boil and simmer for as long as you've got time to.  2-3 hours would be the minimum, I'd say, but I've let it go for 6 with a large pot, and it's been great.  Just make sure the water doesn't all boil away.  Add more if you need.  You'll want at least 8 cups of stock to come out of it in the end, but more than that is fine too...just means more gumbo to share!

One of the nice things about making this in the Midwest Novembers is that it's generally cold enough that my garage becomes an extra fridge, and I can just throw my stock on after Thanksgiving dinner, then walk the stock pot out to the garage to cool overnight.  If you don't have that option, or if it's one of those 70 degree Thanksgivings, you'll want to allow time for the stock to cool before you put it in the fridge.  Or, if you're making it earlier in the day, just go on to the next steps with the warm stock.

Carefully strain your stock through a strainer, catching out all of the bones, soggy veg, and small bits.  If you have a second huge pot, pour the stock into that, otherwise, wash out the stock pot and use that again.

The second part of the gumbo is the roux.  It's essential to your final product.  My father-in-law makes his on the stovetop, with just about an hour of constant stirring and attention.  The hubs and I "cheat" and use Alton Brown's scientific method.  Either way, you'll need a cup of white flour and a cup of vegetable oil.  Yes, I know...but think end product here.  Have faith.

Heat your oven to 350.  Whisk together the flour and the oil in a glass or ceramic dish. (Fair warning - this one is a bear to clean after.)  Pop it into the oven, and give it a stir with the whisk every 30 minutes or so.  In 60-90 minutes, you should have a nice, dark, nutty smelling roux.  Let that cool a bit.  Again, you could use the fridge or "outdoor fridge" and save this for another day, or use it on the same day.

Next, you'll need to make your veggie base.  Chop up several onions, until you have about 3 cups in small dice.  Chop up celery in small dice to make about the same amount.  Crush up 6-8 cloves of garlic.  In a large pan, melt a stick of butter and then add the onion, celery, garlic, some salt and fresh ground pepper, and a few dashes of Tabasco.  Cook it down until it is tender and translucent, but don't let it brown.  Save it for later, or move right on into the final product.

Now, the last step is bringing the gumbo together.  For this you'll need the turkey stock, the onion/celery mix, crushed tomatoes (a large can, or some preserved from your garden), a small can or tube of tomato paste, chopped okra (about a pound, fresh, or a bag, frozen), a little salt, pepper, and Tabasco for seasoning.  Bring that all up to a boil together and then add your roux in carefully.  You can drain and discard the oil off the top, if you'd like, but you don't have to.  If you are adding a hot roux to hot stock, be very careful, as it will sputter a lot when you add it.  Stir as it simmers.

Take the leftover turkey meat and cut it into bite-sized pieces.  Add that to the pot and simmer, stirring constantly.  You don't want anything to burn at the bottom.

Cook up some white or basmati rice according to the package directions, and then serve the gumbo over rice.  You can season your bowl with more salt, pepper, or Tabasco, as needed, but our favorite seasoning for gumbo is File (say it "fee-lay").  It's a green powder, made from the leaves of sassafras, and you can find it in the spice or Cajun section of most big grocery stores.  It thickens up the gumbo and adds an interesting touch of flavor.

Leftover gumbo keeps for several days in the fridge, and freezes very well.  A good-sized pot of gumbo can make for 4-5 meals for my gumbo-loving family, so it's really a great way to stretch your leftover turkey.  And, let's face it...I cook turkey just so that I can make gumbo.  It's just that good.  :)

You can make your gumbo all in one day, or break it up into parts and spread it out.  I usually bake my roux and make my onion saute while the stock is boiling so that I can throw it together and knock it out in a long afternoon, but on Thanksgiving, I usually spread it out into the next day.  I've even been known to freeze the turkey meat and carcass and make it up weeks later.  It's all up to you!  You can also play around with the ingredients.  Add some seafood, or some andouille, throw in some other veggies, if you'd like.  This is just the way my family makes and enjoys it.  Gumbo's a personal thing.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Cranberry Apple Cinnamon Vodka

You know what makes a great gift for the holidays?

Homemade booze.

It's easier than you would think to make something boozy and delicious.  You just have to plan ahead a little bit.  At least 2 weeks or so.

You'll need a large clean glass jar or jug.  I'm going to give you the proportions for a 750 ml bottle of vodka, and it will make a little bit more than that in the end, but I highly recommend going for the gusto and just starting with a handle, especially if you're making it for gifts.

Anyhow, for every 750 ml of vodka, you'll need the following:
10-12 ounces of fresh or frozen cranberries
1-2 apples, peel on, cored, and sliced thin
3-6 cinnamon sticks

As far as the vodka goes, go with what you like to drink, but don't go too high end.  There are too many other flavors going on here to waste this recipe on a primo vodka.  I go with what's decent and at a good price.  Smirnoff or New Amsterdam vodkas have done well for me.

Put everything but the vodka into your container.  Pour the vodka over it.  If you go with a handle, you can put half in your other container, then put another round of ingredients into the bottle with the remaining vodka...that's called resourcefulness!

Close your container and let it sit to the side somewhere.  Give it a shake daily or so.  Within a day or two, you'll start to see it take on color.

After at least 2 weeks, strain the liquid through a fine mesh strainer into a large bowl or container.  

Make a simple syrup by bringing 1 part water to 2 parts sugar to a boil.  Let it cool.  Use 1/2 cup simple syrup to every 750 ml vodka.  Mix it with the infused vodka.  Adjust the sweetness to your taste.  Store the rest of the simple syrup in your fridge. 

You can put it into clean glass bottles, or into a temporary container and then just rinse the container that you infused it in and use that again.  You can find bottles at some craft store, restaurant supply stores, or home brewing supply stores, among other places.

This makes awesome gifts, and it's easy and affordable.  It gets better with some age, so it's something that you can make ahead of time with no worries.  Last year, my family gave our neighbors a bottle of this and a cinnamon chocolate bread wreath, and everyone seemed to enjoy it.

You can drink this in small doses straight, but it's also a great mixer.  A shot of this in Sprite or ginger beer is a yummy treat, but if that's too sweet, club soda will work too.  Use it like you would use any flavored vodka.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Beet Blondies

Are you guys sick of blondies yet?  Am I throwing too many out there?  Sorry, but I'm not sorry.  Blondies are dead simple to make, endlessly adaptable, and fricking delicious.  So I'm going to wrap this week of vegetables with a veggie blondie.  Beet Blondies with White Chocolate, to be specific.

They are gorgeously fuchsia in color, speckled with snowy white drops of white chocolate.  They are sweet and slightly earthy, with a touch of citrus brightness.  These may just be the Hello Kitty of dessert bars.

Here's what you need:
1 stick butter (melted)
1 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon lemon extract
1 pinch salt
1 cup flour
1/2 cup roasted beet puree (about 1 medium beet, wrapped in parchment-lined foil and baked in over at 350 degrees for 40 minutes, then mashed)
1/2 cup white chocolate chips

Here's what you do:
Heat the oven to 350 degrees.  Grease an 8 inch square pan.

In a mixing bowl, mix the melted butter with the sugar.

Add in the egg, lemon extract, and salt.  Mix.  Mix in the flour.

Fold in the beet puree and the white chocolate chips and stir until combined.

Pour into the greased pan and bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes, until the center is set.

Enjoy the naturally pink treats.  I cut mine into small squares, about 16 of them, because they are pretty rich and decadent.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Creamed Cabbage

I get it.  Not everyone likes cabbage.  It kind of smells weird, and it sometimes squeaks when you chew it.  And some will say that it can give you unpleasant side effects, which also may smell weird.  I had a friend once laugh that there was a plant called "skunk cabbage", because, as he put it, "All cabbage stinks!".  But I love a good underdog, and I'm going to tell you that cabbage can be more than a stinky side dish.  When you give it a bit of toasting and then boil it with some cream, it goes from cringe-worthy to crave-worthy.

Take a half head of cabbage (a whole cabbage if it's small) and remove the outer leaves.  Then trim down the stem.  You want to keep a good amount of the stem, because that's what's going to hold each piece together.  Cut the cabbage into wedges from the stem, making each wedge about 2-3 inches at the thickest part, keeping the stem as part of each wedge to keep it together.  You want about 5-6 wedges total.

Melt some butter in a large pan, then arrange the wedges in a single layer, flat on their sides.  Cook without touching them for 5 minutes on one side, until they are browned on the edges.

Carefully flip them over and cook for 5 more minutes on the other side.  Then sprinkle them with a little salt and cover them with a cup of cream.  Bring it to a simmer, then cover and cook 20 minutes at a low simmer.

After 20 minutes, carefully flip each wedge with a spatula or tongs.  Cover and continue to simmer for another 20 minutes.

Squeeze the juice of a lemon over the cream, and give the pan a good shake to combine the liquid, then simmer it, uncovered, for another 5-7 minutes, until the sauce cooks down a bit.

Serve the cabbage wedges with a sprinkling of kosher salt.

This dish makes cabbage almost elegant; a rich, creamy dish with a nutty overtone and a slight tinge of lemon to brighten it up.  Get ready to be enchanted.

Enchanted by cabbage.  Good luck explaining that one.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Broccoli Cornbread

There are a few recipes in my recipe book that I've been making for so long that I honestly don't have a clue of where they started from.  Some of those recipes have taken twists and turns along the way as I've cared more and learned more about the food my family eats.  Broccoli Cornbread is a great example of one of those recipes.  It started as kind of a dump know, where you dump a bunch of stuff in together and then toss it in the oven.   Then we started eating more natural foods and less processed foods.  Broccoli Cornbread had always been a great dish, a yummy way to get things like broccoli and cottage cheese into picky kids, but I started to feel not-so-great about the cornbread mix.  And using frozen broccoli seemed silly when I had such fantastic fresh broc from the garden.  So I adjusted, and I think the current version is better than ever.

First, preheat your oven to 400 degrees.  Grease a 9 by 13 pan and set it aside.

Chop up a large head of broccoli into small florets, then blanch it in boiling water for 5 minutes.  Drain and set the broccoli aside.  You can also use a thawed bag of chopped broccoli.

Chop one large onion into small dice.

In a large mixing bowl, combine 2 eggs, 3/4 cup cottage cheese (I prefer the small curd for this), 1/2 cup sour cream, a half teaspoon of salt, and 2 tablespoons melted butter.

 In a separate bowl, mix together 2/3 cup flour, 1/2 cup cornmeal, 1 tablespoon sugar, 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder, and a pinch of salt.  If you'd like, you can just use a box of corn muffin mix here, or, you can use this mix in other places where you might use a box of corn muffin mix.

Mix the dry ingredients into the wet, and mix until well combined.  Stir in the broccoli.

Pour into the prepared pan and bake at 400 for about 30 minutes, until the bread has set all the way through.

This is a great side dish to chicken or a bean dish.  Leftovers are handy to snack on or as part of a healthy breakfast.

I'm sure that this dish will live on in my recipe book and continue to morph with our ever-changing lives, but for now, this suits us perfectly.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Maple Roasted Rutabaga

Rutabagas are one of those vegetables that I never really thought about before we started the CSA.  When we got our first one, I had no idea what to do with it.  I opted to make a soup recipe that I found in a veggie cookbook, and I wasn't impressed.

Then I was told by someone at the farm (he must have seen me wrinkle my nose at being handed another rutabaga) that rutabagas sweeten up when they are roasted.  He suggested a touch of honey with them.  Trying that pretty much kicked off my relationship with rutabagas.  I'm a fan now, for sure.  The dish has changed a bit, honey switched to maple syrup, a touch of seasoning...but it's still really delicious.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Butternut Pear Soup

We've been getting a lot of butternut squash from our CSA lately.  Like one or two a week.  Which is fantastic, don't get me wrong, but I'm not a huge squash fan.  So putting it to good use is a huge task for me.  I'm really trying to think outside the box and find ways to prepare it that make my tastebuds dance with excitement, and this soup is one of those recipes.