Sunday, March 27, 2011


Summer has been on my mind these past few weeks. My shorts, flip flops, and favorite Hawaiian Shirt sitting at the ready in my bottom dresser drawer. Were not quite there yet, but we always stay in what seems like seasonal flux during April, May, and June. All the Gardeners, including myself, are becoming anxious to tear into the soil and start there crops, knowing fully well that a few snows and cold spells are still quite possible.

So to bide my time, I play around with different recipes, some complex and some not. Whatever my mood is, that is what I head after. If I chose something that’s going to take quite a bit of time in the kitchen, I make sure I have some music that fits the mood.

Many years ago my friend Camille Fauth, who was born and raised in the Louisiana, taught me how to make her grandmothers Gumbo. This turned into an all day event. Not something I expected, but I had never made Gumbo before so I didn’t know what to expect. After, what seemed a full day of reducing a Roux and then a slow cooking process that never seemed to stop, we finished the Gumbo. We did plan to sell it but between staff and cooks I think we may have sold half of the Gumbo. It was quite delicious.

I have repeated this recipe a dozen times but after the first time I made Gumbo I decided to omit the Okra that is traditional. I just really don’t care for Okra because of the flavor and texture. It also doesn’t help that I had to make deep fried Okra back in my California days for a restaurant menu item. Almost every order had the stuff, so hence, I don’t care for it.

That’s the great thing about playing with a recipe, you can add what you like, making sure it complements and balances flavor. Same reason I added a packet of crab boil to this recipe. I just think the herbs and heat add an overall balance to my personal taste all the while not losing what the dish should be. One last item I swapped out on this was the carrots for Green peppers. I know that traditionally the “trinity” is Onion, Celery, and carrots, but I just didn’t feel that I wanted carrots in my gumbo but I did however love Green peppers and they are still a staple of southern dishes, so I swapped them out.

Overall, I think this is still an ongoing and evolving recipe I have played with over the years. There are still things about it I want to try, but for now it produces a good flavor and a well balanced gumbo that I think could make a menu item in my dream Bistro.



Deep skillet
Flour (amount varies)
½ cup canola or corn oil
¼ tsp salt
½ tsp pepper
1 diced medium white onion (but not minced)
Time and patience

Large Stock Pot
2 cups chopped onions
1 cup chopped Bell Pepper
1/2 cup chopped Celery
10 cups chicken stock
1 Crab boil packet
2 Bay Leaves
1/2 teaspoon ground thyme
1 (3 1/2-4 lb) Roasting Chicken, cut into serving pieces
2 teaspoons Salt
1 teaspoon cayenne
1 lb andouille, cut crosswise into 1/4 inch slices
2 tablespoons chopped green onions
2 tablespoons chopped Fresh Parsley
File’ Powder

1 Make your Roux.
First, assemble all of your ingredients so they are close to you - within reach. Once you begin, you cannot leave it alone! It must be tended to constantly until it is finished. While these steps don't go into making the gumbo soup-part, we are going to make the all-important base. Make sure you have the time to stick with this until the roux is finished.

Place skillet on medium-low heat, adding approximately 1/2 cup of oil. Let the oil get warm before starting to add ingredients. Add a 1/2 teaspoon of pepper, and 1/4 teaspoon of salt to the oil. The oil will 'fry' the pepper flakes, don't worry!

Begin adding flour. You are going to add it by sprinkling it into the oil, using your spatula to smash any lumps and keep smoothing the mixture. If it begins to brown the flour too quickly, turn the heat down. Add flour until you can drag your spatula across the bottom of the skillet through the mixture and it slowly fills in the path of your spatula. This is a good consistency to work with, and a great beginning. This takes time, and a lot of flour (though I wouldn't be so silly as to tell you exactly how much - it may vary) be patient and keep adding until you get where you want to be - stirring CONSTANTLY.

THIS is the tricky part. You are stirring a lightly seasoned oil and flour mixture. You wonder when you can stop. You may even get bored. But the end result is worth it - stick with it! Keep stirring, keep cooking - until your roux is very “near” burned. By all means - don't burn it...but you are going to want this to get to a dark rich golden brown, likely darker than you are normally comfortable with. As you NEAR this color, proceed to the next, and last, step.

Your roux is nearly done! Now you are going to add your finely chopped (but not minced) white onion - to taste. I normally use about half of a medium white or yellow onion. These will caramelize quickly - and please be careful as they will pop as their water content mixes with the oil-based mixture. Once the onions are caramelized or the mixture reaches the perfect color - whichever comes first - remove the roux from the burner immediately. Transfer Roux to a stock pot, making sure stock pot is up to temp so not to shock the Roux with a cold pot. You're ready to begin your gumbo!

2 Add the onion, bell pepper & celery and cook, stirring often, for 6 to 8 minutes, or until veggies are soft.
3 Add the chicken stock, and the Crab boil packet then blend into the roux mixture.
4 Add the bay leaves & thyme.
5 Season the chicken with salt and cayenne.
6 Add the chicken to the roux-water mixture & simmer for 1 hour.
7 Add the andouille sausage & cook for 1 hour more or until chicken is tender.
8 Skim off any oil that has risen to the surface. Remove the bay leaves.
9 Check your seasoning Balance. Add more salt & cayenne if necessary.
10 Add the green onion & parsley.
11 Serve immediately in soup bowls over steamed rice.
12 File’ powder can be passed around the table so that guests can add it to the gumbo according to individual tastes

I know that this is a pretty long recipe and I would rate the complexity at medium. I think if you give it a try you may be surprised that it truly isn’t hard, but more time consuming and slow moving than anything.


Saturday, March 19, 2011

Ginger-Marinated Grilled Portabella Mushroom Salad


I read somewhere that it is ironic that the word “die” is the first part of that word. I have never known anyone who enjoys it, though thousand upon millions do it every day. I count myself among the multitudes for the past several weeks. Is it Trendy? No, I don’t think so. I would much rather be trendy with a snowmobile or a Lund fishing boat. If, I’m wrong, the twisted bastard out there that made it trendy should be shot.

I don’t subscribe to the idea that when dieting you can only have tasteless, airy food that has one calorie. Nor do I force myself to gag down a rice cake or a bowl of dead rice. I like flavor. I like my small portions to be something I look forward too, because when I get to finally eat the smaller than I would prefer portion, I want it to be good. I want my body to say, “Sheeew, I thought he was going to eat dirt, this is much better!”

This week I ran into my long time friend Wendy, and we had few moments to visit and laugh about food and dieting and making something good to eat that won’t blow our diets. She told me about the progress she was making and the restrictions her diet had. She put me to the task of coming up with something she could eat. Not an easy task considering the restrictions and busy life. But, I think I may have been successful.

Ginger-Marinated Grilled Portabella Mushroom Salad

4 portabella mushrooms
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1 cup fresh pineapple juice (not concentrate because of the added sugar)
6 tablespoons chopped fresh ginger
2 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
Black pepper
Spring Mix Salad (I buy the premixed Salads from the local Grocery Store)

Clean mushrooms and remove their stems. Place in a dish, mushroom gill side up.

Prepare the marinade:
In a small bowl whisk together the vinegar, pineapple juice and ginger. Drizzle the marinade over the mushrooms. Cover and let marinate in the refrigerator for about 12 hours, turning mushrooms once at 6 hours

Its Getting HOT in Here, So Take Off all Your Cloths:
Prepare a charcoal grill or heat gas grill or broiler. Away from the heat source, lightly coat the grill rack or broiler pan with cooking spray. Position the cooking rack 4 to 6 inches form the heat source. Grill or broil the mushrooms on medium heat turning them only once, until tender, about 5 minutes on each side. Baste the mushrooms’ with the leftover marinade to keep from drying out. Using tongs, transfer the mushrooms to a cutting board. Cut into one inch thick lengths. Garnish with basil and pepper.
Place your spring mix salad in a large bowl and drizzle the remaining Marinade over Salad and toss gently. Using tongs, place a good amount of salad on a plate in a pile. Place the Sliced Portabella Mushrooms on top of the salad.

Serve immediately.

I don’t know the calorie count for this Salad, but I can’t imagine it’s very high, since most of the ingredients are fresh and unprocessed. If you want to use a different salad dressing just substitute the marinade with it. I never EVER use the low calorie dressings. They are horrible and have a nasty after taste. Just use your “normal” favorite and remember moderation.

Wendy, I hope this fits the bill for a busy life and diet that, well, doesn’t allow for much flexibility. Really, you cut out bread of all things? I think I would rather have a colonoscopy than give up bread completely. Oh! Did I mention meat? NO WAY am I giving up my meat! Can’t go without MEAT!

I wish you all well in your “die”iting endeavors. Keep up the hard, yet good work.


Sunday, March 13, 2011

Pico De Gallo with Toasted Pine Nuts and Avocado on Toasted Crostini

What a whirl wind of events happening both at home here in Lander, Wyoming and all across the world. I’ve spent the past few weeks knee deep in world and local events. Trying to stay current and aware of what is going on around me. I have been busy trying to make time to cook and write for the past two weeks, but with local and world events being what they are, I find myself easily distracted from the task at hand.

Several weeks ago there was the interesting development of Liberia, were it looks to this politically stunted Chef, as if democracy might be making a play for power. Unfortunately, bloodshed and Genocide seem to be the result. Then just last week, locally, a well known family lost there little child due to an accident that was beyond anyone’s control. And most recently, the horrific earthquake in Japan that followed immediately with a 30 plus foot wall Tsunami, which added insult to injury. Now I’m reading to top that, there Nuclear power plants are most likely going to meltdown.

Tragedy, Genocide, and Horrific events that some of us Americans only see in movies seems to becoming reality. Hard to focus on cooking when so many sad and unfathomable things are going on around me. Hard to see a silver lining, when all you see is smoke and fire on the horizon. I made a point of turning off FOX, MSNBC, and CNN this morning to give myself a mental break.

I have switched the TV to my current favorite channel “Cooking Network”. More specifically I’m watching two shows that are currently my favorite, “Bill’s Food” and “Chuck’s Day Off”. I often get good ideas from both of these shows and they seem to be more “at home” kind of cooking.

Over the past months, I’ve watch those two shows every Sunday morning after I get back home from church. They always seem to break my mind away from the week’s activities and bring me to the sweet bliss of cooking imagination. Some might call that mediation or out of body experience, but I call it sweet bliss, because all worries and topics on my mind go away, and it’s just me and the kitchen. Now, don’t misinterpret the last few sentences, because I don’t get all metaphysical, I just become focused on my passion for cooking.
So the following recipe is one of those ideas I got from watching my favorite Sunday morning food shows. It’s more of a snack, less a meal. My suggestion is to break away from current events/life and take some time to go into the kitchen to make these. Sit down with your creation and enjoy the moment, because it seems right now, all we can muster are little moments to break from the heaviness of life.

Pico De Gallo with Toasted Pine Nuts and Avocado on Toasted Crostini

1 1/2 lbs tomatoes, seeded and diced
1/2 cup finely chopped Vidalia Onion
1-2 jalapenos, (seeded for less heat, if desired), finely chopped
1/4 – 1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
Juice of one lime
1 cup Toasted Pine Nuts
1 Avocado chopped
2 French bread baguettes
Olive oil
Fresh garlic cloves, halved
Kosher salt & pepper, to taste

Toast your Pine Nuts:
Take a dry non-stick pan. Put the pine nuts in (use no oil) and turn the heat to medium. Shake the pan every 30 seconds and toss the pine nuts. When they are lightly browned, turn the heat off and remove the pine nuts to a plate and leave them to cool. If you leave them in the hot pan they will keep on cooking for a minute or so.

Toast your Crostini:
Preheat oven to 400° F. Slice the baguettes into 1/4 to 1/2 inch slices for crostini, 1/2 to 3/4 inch for bruschetta. Brush or spray one side of the crostini with the oil. Place on cookie sheets, oiled side down. Brush or spray the top of the crostini. Place in oven and bake until lightly browned and toasted, about 6 to 10 minutes. (Thicker slices should be baked at a slightly lower temperature, requiring more time until browned.) Turn the trays halfway through baking to ensure even toasting. Remove from oven. Rub each piece with the cut side of the garlic halves while toasts are still hot. Use warm or at room temperature. Cooled leftovers can be wrapped in foil and kept at room temperature for several days, then refreshed briefly in the oven before using.

Getting Down To it:
In a medium sized bowl, gently combine chopped tomatoes, onion, Pine nuts, and Avocado, jalapenos, cilantro and lime juice. Season with salt & pepper to taste. Can be served immediately, but I recommend allowing salsa to rest for an hour to allow flavors to combine.

Try to give yourself a little break from life. It’s what keeps us from going completely nuts. Only being a little nuts is good, but being a whole lot of nuts is bad.

Sit, Eat, Enjoy!