Sunday, December 18, 2011

Yumbo in the Gumbo

Jeff, Daisy and Maya

Hethyr:  A few years ago a very close friend of ours left this world too soon.  It was close to his 50th birthday, which happened to coincide with our anniversary – October 27th.  Since his passing, I’ve made a big batch of (my version of) his gumbo around this time every year to celebrate his life.  Although we’re posting this a couple of months late, I did make the last batch around the end of October and we’re still enjoying it from the freezer.  This recipe, like most, has a sort of story to go along with it…

I first struck up a conversation with him at the bar at Front Range Barbeque and, oddly enough, I remember it having something to do with facial moisturizer.  WTF?  A rather bizarre conversation for a late 20-something girl and a late 40-something guy to be having in a crowded bar, right?  Well, that was the beginning of many strange and wonderful conversations with Jeff.

Love of bluegrass and good beer brought us together, but we found many other commonalities as well.  He loved to cook and actually taught me a lot about food and cooking before I became a chef.  We ended up in the same close circle of friends and did everything together for a few years before he left us.  He had this awesome childlike excitement about EVERYTHING and it was totally contagious.  He was also hilariously anal over the top when it came to learning about something new or getting involved in a new hobby.  He would research it thoroughly and then send his friends an email about all that he had learned.  Then he would talk about it incessantly for the next few weeks.  I miss those emails and chats a lot now and wish I could have them back.  But at least I have the good memories.

Christmas at our house 2007 - Dottie and Jeff

Well, one year I was planning and making the food for the Mardi Gras bash at Cucuru Gallery Café and I asked Jeff if he had a good, authentic recipe for gumbo and/or red beans and rice since his family is from southwest Louisiana.  I had no idea what I was getting myself into by asking that question!  He knew that I knew how to cook, but this was the email response I received anyway (I’m leaving out a lot of it to spare you, but I’m sharing the parts I found funny or interesting.  I’m also leaving out the actual recipe since I’ll give you my version below.)...  

“Hey, I've never written the beans and rice recipe down, but I've tried Emeril Lagasse's version and it's awesome.  Some folks can't stand that guy, but he makes very authentic Cajun… 

Here's my gumbo recipe.  It's the way that my mom and grandmothers made it in southwest Louisiana.  It's the way gumbo is supposed to taste.  Not like what most restaurants serve.  The sausage is one of the most important ingredients.  If you can't find the sausage that I recommend (impossible to find in CO), try to find a good slow-smoked (hickory) sausage.  Or you can substitute about 2 tablespoons of Colgin's liquid hickory smoke.
Difficulty: Difficult (but damned worth it)

Make the roux (while chicken is roasting):
CAUTION!! - This stuff will be over 350 degrees and will cause 2nd degree burns!!  Combine oil and flour in a large heavy pot (cast-iron is best) over  medium heat (add more oil if needed to make a runny paste texture).  Stir  slowly and constantly for about 30 minutes until about the color of a milk  chocolate bar (slightly lighter).  It's very important that you do not stop  stirring no matter what!!  Burning will happen in only a few seconds if not  stirred and will make the roux taste bitter. If this happens, throw it out and start over.  Note: It helps to have a 'real' stove hood that vents to the outside as this process will smell up the whole house if you have one of those hoods that blows it back into the kitchen (what's up with that?).
Remove from the heat, allow gumbo to rest for a few minutes, and skim off fat.  Stir in the parsley and half of the green onions.  That's it!!  You're done.

Serve over rice (making sure to remove the bay leaves as you serve).  Garnish with a sprinkle of chopped green onions and a dash of 'gumbo filé'.  Enjoy!!

Note: Gumbo, like most soups, chili, etc. will taste better after sitting in the fridge overnight.”

So, that was the email with about two-thirds of it removed.  See what I mean about him being over the top?  But this is honestly one of the best gumbo recipes I’ve ever had and he really did give GREAT instructions because my first batch got his seal of approval and he was super-picky about gumbo.  I also got this comment from one of my long-time clients whose family moved to Colorado Springs from Baton Rouge a few years ago…

“OMG!!!  Awesome gumbo!!!  Jeff gave you truly an authentic LA gumbo recipe... And the good kind...  Normally the lower south cook a creole gumbo and call that gumbo...NOT!!  True gumbo has to have a dark roux and you cooked it perfectly...  I know for sure he is looking down smiling...”

Makes me feel good to know that I can carry on his tradition.  I just wish he were still here to enjoy it with us.

One more thing that I feel needs to be addressed…  I’ve had people tell me that this isn’t true gumbo since it doesn’t include okra.  I have found out that this is not the case.  Gumbos can be categorized by the type of thickener used:  okra, filé OR roux.  Jeff’s version, and therefore my version, uses roux and filé.  I’m sure it would also be great with some okra thrown in, but I’ve never seen the need to add it – it’s perfect as is!

This is a pretty difficult recipe because it requires a LOT of hands-on time during the first hour or so but it is SO worth the time and effort.  Just be sure to make a gigantic batch so you don’t have to do it very often (it freezes wonderfully!).  I usually only make it twice a year – around Mardi Gras and again around Jeff’s birthday – but we enjoy it out of the freezer for months.  I hope you like it as much as we do.

Hethyr's Jeff’s Chicken and Sausage Gumbo
Serves 12 (although I usually double that!)
  • 2 whole chickens, cut into pieces (legs, wings, breasts, etc.)
  • 3 tablespoons Cajun Spice Blend (see recipe below)
  • 1 cup + 1 tablespoon oil, divided
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 10 cups water or chicken stock (I love to use homemade stock made from the carcass and scraps from the cooked chicken)
  • 2 cups yellow onion, chopped
  • ½ cup celery, chopped (feel free to use the celery leaves, too)
  • ¾ cup green bell pepper, seeded, ribbed and chopped
  • 3 pounds Andouille sausage, cut in half lengthwise, then cut into half moon slices (contrary to Jeff’s comment, it can be found in Colorado Springs at Ranch Food Direct)
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne
  • 3 bay leaves
  • Salt
  • ¼ cup parsley, chopped
  • 1 cup green onion, chopped
  • 8 to 10 cups cooked rice
  • Gumbo filé powder (optional)
  • 12 hard-boiled eggs (Jeff did NOT use eggs in his gumbo, but his brother Philip does and that’s where this addition came from – we love it, so it stuck)
1.  Preheat oven to 400ºF; rub chicken with 1 tablespoon of oil and 1 tablespoon of spice blend.  Place in a large oven-safe baking dish and bake for 40 minutes or until you can easily remove the meat from the bones (reserve bones for homemade chicken broth if you’d like!).  When it’s cool enough to touch, remove the meat and shred.  Cool.

2.  Make the roux (as Jeff said, this stuff can cause nasty burns, so be careful - I usually wear long oven mitts while I stir):  Combine flour and oil in a large heavy pot over medium heat.  Stir slowly and constantly for about 30 to 35 minutes or until it’s slightly lighter than a milk chocolate bar.  It’s very important that you don’t stop stirring because it can burn in a few seconds and it will make the roux taste bitter.  If that happens, throw it out and start again.

The roux should be "slightly lighter than a milk
chocolate bar" according to Jeff.

3.  When the roux is finished, add the onions, celery and green pepper and continue to stir for about 5 minutes or until wilted.  Add the sausage, remaining 2 tablespoons of Cajun Spice Blend, cayenne, bay leaves and chicken stock and stir until well combined.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, for 2 hours (add more liquid if/when necessary).

4.  Add shredded chicken, adjust salt and simmer on low heat for 1 hour more (add more liquid if/when necessary).

5.  Remove from heat, allow gumbo to rest for a few minutes and skim off fat.  Remove bay leaves and stir in half of the green onions and parsley.

6.  To serve, place equal amounts of rice in bowls, top with gumbo, sprinkle with filé, plop a boiled egg on top and finish with remaining parsley and green onions.  Best with good friends and beer!

Cajun Spice Blend
Note:  This makes a lot, but only use the amount called for in the recipe – you’ll have extra.
  • 2 ½ tablespoons paprika
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon onion powder
  • 1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1 tablespoon dried thyme
1.  Mix all ingredients together and store in an airtight container.
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Jon:  You might be surprised to hear about the quality of gumbo that is created here in the Pikes Peak foothills.  Every year as a kickoff to Manitou Springs’ Carnivale celebration, the Mumbo Jumbo Gumbo competition attracts dozens of exceptional entries from locals and far-reaching travelers.  Our friend Brian, who owns Front Range Barbeque on the West side of town, has won the professional division with his Alabama-born recipe, our friend Jonny has won the amateur division with his Wisconsin-born recipe, and our friends Travis and Whitney have won the amateur division with their Lousiana-born recipe.  Few things are quite as enjoyable as wandering through Manitou's Soda Springs Park and sampling gumbo after gumbo... a nice late-morning gorging on Southern stew.

Jeff never entered his gumbo into the Mumbo Jumbo Gumbo competition and Hethyr hasn't either.  However, there is no doubt in my mind that this recipe would be a serious contender for the crown.  No disrespect to the finely crafted dishes of our friends and the other worthy strangers who compete, but this gumbo is HANDS DOWN the best I have ever tasted.  This high-altitude Cajun concoction is as good as it gets.

It is no surprise that such an amazing creation originated from Jeff.  He emitted a wealth of great ideas, brilliantly useful and useless knowledge, profoundly creative innovation, and all-around positive energy.  He researched nutrition for humans and dogs to an encyclopedic degree, investigated the validity of current recycling practices, assembled M*A*S*H-worthy camping shelters, studied constellations, constructed the world's greatest camping beer cozy (see below)... all while managing to behave like a kid in a candy store over all the incredible wonders of the world.  Not a week after I told him I would begin pursuing a career in teaching did he buy me Teaching for Dummies.  The dude was always looking for the perfect answers.  It stands to reason that such a guy would create the world's greatest gumbo. 

If you have the gusto to embark on the sophisticated task of making gumbo - the mother of all edible creations - then it should be this one.  Jeff would be happy that his recipe lives on, and he would most certainly hope that you would find enjoyment in the scientific culinary process of the great gumbo adventure.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Las Aventuras de Los Cerdos Glotónes en Santa Fe

Hethyr:  Jon and I just got back from a couple of foodies’ dream-adventure.  He has been so amazing about surprising me with an anniversary trip almost each of the 10 years that we’ve been married (there were a couple there where we were WAY too low on funds to go anywhere, so I’ll cut him some slack there) and this year he took me to Santa Fe.  It’s only a few hours drive but we’d never been there and had always talked about going.  Although the crowd was, on average, a bit older than we’d expected (read lack of nightlife) and there was virtually no music scene, we managed to make every second of the trip enjoyable.  To their complete credit, they’ve got an AMAZING food scene and, in the end, that’s what we’re really after on a vacation.  In fact, almost every restaurant that we went to was part of the Farm to Restaurant Project which made us both very happy!  Here is our belated 10th anniversary trip in photo journal form.  A few of the pictures were taken with our cell phones, so the quality isn't great.  And since I mentioned it, if anyone would like to buy me a super-awesome camera, I’d love to improve the quality of some of the photos on our blog!  Ha!  Okay, just dreaming.  Maybe one of these days!

Night 1...  Dinner at La Plazuela at La Fonda

Our appetizer was the Grilled Bosc Pear, but we forgot
to take pictures!

My dinner:  Felix River Ranch (local) Lamb Shank with
White Bean-Poblano Succotash and Green Beans
Jon had the Enchiladas del Norte... two rolled corn tortillas
filled with chicken and topped with local Hatch green chile
and two eggs!

Dessert consisted of Mousse Shots - Vanilla Bean,
Key Lime (my fave!), Peanut Butter and Chocolate Malt

Day 2...  Breakfast at French Pastry Shop, shopping, art, beer, dinner at Cafe Pasqual's

I swore I was not going to get Nutella for breakfast but
as soon as I ordered the Banana Crepe and the server asked
if I wanted to add Nutella, I said yes.
Complete lack of self-control.
A block, a rock and a crock (or two) of salt
and a bottle of 18-year aged balsamic vinegar
The sweet bike I bought before I found out it didn't run.  ;)
There is almost always a colorful backdrop in
Santa Fe whether it's chiles drying or ladies'
Colorful cocks in a kitchen store.  Tee hee.
Hahahaha... they said "Faux Sheared Beaver."
Did I mention we're incredibly juvenile?
Jon's reflection in a shiny owl.
We wandered upon this sculpture garden by
chance.  It was a great example of the
wonderful art all over Santa Fe.
From Wikipedia...
"Yin... is the dark area occluded by the mountain's
bulk, while yang... is the brightly lit portion.
As the sun moves across the sky, yin and yang
gradually trade places with each other, revealing
what was obscured and obscuring what was revealed."
I love the that sun shining on my face shows
this exactly!
Santa Fe makes average photographers
look like pros.  ;)
Furniture made of stone - at least when it's in a reclined
position with a footstool - is surprisingly comfy!
Jon at Project Tibet.  That Buddha was huge!  I felt
such a sense of peace and calm throughout the garden,
courtyard and shops.  I asked Jon about it later and he said
he felt the same thing.
Kali statue that I loved at Project Tibet.
The bronze dog statues along Canyon Road
were among Jon's favorites.
One art, please!
This was actually a water feature - a stream
of water shoots out of the mouth - but we
snapped the picture on the day the gallery
was closed.

Being my usual monkey-self.
I would be really sad, too, if I had an eyeball
in the middle of my chest.
Time for a break on the patio at the Marble Brewery
Tap Room.
The plaza... most things are closed on Mondays, so it was
a bid devoid of life.

Although he seems to be double-fisting it, that
second beer was actually mine.  =)
Neither of us could get enough of Jon's dinner at
Cafe Pasqual's...  Acorn Squash stuffed with Mushroom
Cream Soup and topped with Pomegranate Arils, served with
Red Quinoa and Garlic French Bread - YUM!

My dinner was a little less exotic since the meal I opted for
first contained cinnamon and I'm allergic.  I ended up with
Dos Tacos Barbacoa - a bit bland, but still good.

Day 3...  Massages at High Desert Healthcare & Massage, bead shopping, lunch at The Shed (we forgot to take pictures!), rainbows, dinner at La Casa Sena (where we were "surprised" by the staff singing Broadway tunes!)

Santa Fe has some really great bead shops!
We bought Jon the two large pendants and I
get the strand of turquoise.  He's been bugging
me to make him new necklaces for a few years -
guess it's time I finally accommodate.

Full rainbow after a cold rain.
Dinner at La Casa Sena (another farm-to-table restaurant)...
I had Red Chile-Crusted Pork Tenderloin with Mashed Sweet
Potatoes, Puréed Peaches and Apple-Mint Salsa - delicious!
However, I kept stealing bites of Jon's New Mexico Beef
Ribeye with Sautéed Chard and Green Chile
Mashed Potatoes.  That is some of the tastiest beef I've
ever had.  And Green Chile Mashed Potatoes?  Genius!
Of course we couldn't stop with dinner...  dessert was
Lavender Crème Brûlée with Habanero Sugar.  And, of
course, we forgot to take pictures until it was almost gone.

Day 4...  Santa Fe Farmers' Market, lunch at The Station, more art, dinner and bluegrass at Back Road Pizza

Walking in to the Santa Fe Farmers' Market...  we bought a
colorful bunch of dried chiles from this booth
to hang on our front door.

Jon bought breakfast from the Intergalactic Bread stand... 
Green Chile and Cheese Flatbread.
I bought three varieties of carrots from this stand...
gold, purple and orange.
Pretty produce in the early morning light.
I also bought some of this freshly milled Whole Grain
Blue Cornmeal from Talon de Gato Farm.
Chiles, chiles everywhere!
We bought some heads of garlic from this guy.
More pretty produce including some purple & green kale.
At the South Mountain Dairy stand, we
purchased some Green Chile Squeaky Curds
and some Chipotle Ribbon Havarti.
Although the market was in the Railyard,
it was anything but run-down.
Lunch at The Station...  Jon got the Brie,
Bacon and Turkey Panini and I got the
Chunky Potato Soup with Italian-Style
Meatballs.  Another farm-to-table
restaurant - they make it easy to eat well!
New Mexico Rail Runner at the Railyard.
A couple of the naughty carrots we bought
at the market.  =)
One of our favorite gallery displays - at Galerie Züger.
Such pride and strength portrayed!
¿¡Dónde están mis pantalones!?
Beautiful tree pose.
Such life in this sculpture!
Pizza, beer and bluegrass at Back Road Pizza,
which has been featured on the Food
Network's "Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives."

Day 5...  Breakfast at Clafoutis (we forgot pictures again, but I had Coconut French Toast and Jon had Waffles with Fresh Fruit), hiking and Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs

Hiking near Ojo Caliente - the weather was perfect!
We saw this along the trail...  happy belated 10th
anniversary to us!
After several miles, we were ready to head
back to Ojo Caliente for some much-needed
soaking, although we didn't take pictures of
that part of the trip.  We did rent a private pool
for a couple of hours around dusk.  It was
amazing watching the stars come out and I
even saw a shooting star.  Perfect end to a
perfect trip!
Rocks and a pottery shard I found while hiking.
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Jon:   There are lots of important elements to an awesome vacation.  Well, actually there's just one.  Food.  Really good food.  Which is why any successful vacation must be well-designed.  It must include a two-phase plan, including (1) where to eat and (2) how to best waste time in between meals.  Hethyr and I kick ass at executing this plan.

With the savvy use of that crazy interwebby thing, determining the location of our next meal was a breeze.  As Hethyr mentioned, there are dozens of farm-to-table restaurants in Santa Fe, which made me quite happy (and slightly depressed upon returning to the factory-to-table restaurants of the Springs).  After gorging on all the aforementioned farmy goodness, phase two began.  Knowing that burning calories was our best way to eat again sooner rather than later, we chose to walk as much as possible in between meals .  When movement became too physically unbearable, phase two's backup plan was implemented:  Drink.  Few things increase the desire to masticate quite like a beer in the belly.  Oh yeah, and sitting in a hot tub works too.  I believe it is the sound of the water jets that remind me of a stomach growling, thereby fooling myself into believing I am ravenously hungry when I actually am stuffed full of cheese and green chiles like some sort of freakish walking enchilada.

So it went for five gloriously relaxing days.  Food, food, and more food, satisfying the most primal of needs (or at least one of the top two).  Oh yeah, and the art and shit was nice too.

Upon returning home, it was conveniently time to go to sleep, wake up, and begin the process of our Thanksgiving day gorging... a nice buffer in between the pseudo-world of vacation and the real-world of home.  Thankful for gluttony?  You betcha.

Happy National Eat 'Til You Puke Day!