Like chili, gumbo has many rules, with most folks believing that their way of making this stew is the best. As I’m not a native of Cajun country, I tend to follow my friends’ leads when making gumbo, though even amongst that group I’ll see variations.
For instance, I have one friend who eschews celery in his gumbo, though another friend swears that without it the pot will never be authentic. Though this celery-loving friend can’t abide by okra in his gumbo, even though an African word for that vegetable, ki ngombo, is what some say gives gumbo its name!
Most of my friends do concur that tomatoes have no place in gumbo, though there are still a few who believe pouring in a can of Ro-Tel certainly won’t hurt. Then there are those that believe potato salad instead of rice is the better starch to add to your bowl, an affectation that seems strange at first but after a few bites you might wonder why you haven’t been serving it this way all along.
I could go on about the endless variations, but let’s jump to why I’m here—to talk about turkey gumbo, a time-honored day-after-Thanksgiving dish in East Texas and Louisiana, of course.
As the name implies, turkey gumbo is made with turkey. First you take the carcass and boil it up with some aromatics for a fragrant broth, and then you slide into the pot your roux, along with some vegetables, chopped leftover turkey, and leftover ham. (Though if you're not the type to serve ham along the turkey on Thanksgiving, sliced smoky sausage such as kielbasa or andouille is a terrific thing to add, as well.)
You let this cook for an hour or so (though it only gets better the longer it stays on top of the flame; likewise, it’s also much better the next day), ladle it into bowls filled with rice, and then dig into an agreeable stew that bears little resemblance to the feast you had the day before.
And this is why I think that turkey gumbo is so popular. While there’s nothing finer than a turkey, cranberry, and dressing sandwich the day after Thanksgiving, if you’re like me and have been thinking about Thanksgiving almost non-stop for the weeks leading up to the big feast, you just might be suffering a bit of Thanksgiving-food fatigue by Friday, and are ready to move onto something else.
That said, you probably still have a refrigerator groaning with Thanksgiving odds and ends that need to be eaten. Though if you make a pot of turkey gumbo with all that remains, you’ll not only have a satisfying good meal but also a dish that makes leftovers taste like something new.
Now I offer you a recipe, but in the spirit of all things gumbo, take this more as a guide than a directive. If you don’t like okra, don’t add it to the pot! If you want to serve this with sweet potato salad, go right ahead, I don’t think anyone will mind. After all, when it comes to gumbo no two pots are the same. Though there is one thing that most people will agree upon—when it’s chilly outside and you want something warm, gumbo is very, very good.
For the turkey broth:
2 ribs celery
2 carrots, peeled
1 medium yellow onion, cut in half
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon peppercorns
4 whole cloves
For the gumbo:
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup vegetable oil
2 tablespoons butter
1 large bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and diced
2 ribs celery, diced
1 medium yellow onion, diced
8 okra, stemmed and sliced
4 cloves garlic, minced
8 cups turkey broth or chicken broth (if not making your own broth)
2-3 cups chopped cooked turkey
2-3 cups diced ham or sliced smoked sausage, such as kielbasa or andouille
1/4 cup chopped parsley
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon fresh thyme or 1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
4 green onions, green part only, chopped
Cooked rice, for serving
First, to make the turkey broth place the bones in a large pot, along with the celery, carrots, onion, bay leaves, peppercorns, and cloves. Add enough water to cover the pot contents by an inch (about 12 cups), bring to a boil, and then turn the heat down to low and simmer for 1 hour.
When done, strain the broth, discarding the bones and vegetables, and then remove the fat from the broth with a gravy separator. If you don’t have a separator, you can take a quart-sized plastic storage bag and pour some broth into it. Snip a bottom corner of the bag and drain the broth, stopping when you get to the fat layer that is on top. (You will probably have to remove the fat in batches).
Wipe the large pot clean of any remaining debris, then return 8 cups of broth to the pot, reserving any remaining for another use. (If using pre-made broth, skip these steps.)
Meanwhile, as the broth cooks you can make the roux. To make the roux, heat the oil on medium high in a cast-iron skillet. Start adding flour a little bit at a time. Stir continuously for 30-35 minutes until the roux is a dark praline brown. Remove from the heat.
In another skillet, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Add the onion, bell pepper, and celery, and cook until soft, about 10 minutes. Stir in the okra and cook for 5 more minutes, then add the garlic and cook for 30 more seconds. Remove from the heat.
Once the roux is done and the vegetables are done, add both to the large pot with the broth and stir until well blended with the broth. (If using store-bought broth, then you’ll add it at this time instead). Also add the turkey, ham (or sausage), parsley, Worcestershire sauce, thyme, salt, pepper, and cayenne.
Bring to a boil then turn the heat down to low and simmer for at least an hour, stirring occasionally, though you can let it simmer for several hours if you prefer. Taste and adjust seasonings. Stir in the green onions and then serve over rice. Leftovers can be stored in the refrigerator for 3 days.
Yield: 8-12 servings
Note: If using sausage, you might consider frying it in the large pot for a few minutes until it begins to brown and crisp, before adding the broth and then continue with the recipe. It’s not necessary, but would add flavor.
Also, this gumbo is good with both regular roasted turkey and smoked turkey.
Monday, November 25, 2013
Friday, November 08, 2013
The other day, my cousin who now lives in New York asked if I was available for a quick lunch. I mentioned I was about to test a recipe for cauliflower and Gruyere macaroni and cheese and offered for him to come join me. “That sounds really good,” he said. “I’d love that!” But when I told him the recipe would take a little over an hour, he realized his didn’t have that much time, so we grabbed a quick burger instead.
The burger was satisfying. But a couple of hours later when I pulled out of the oven a bubbling casserole full of tender cauliflower and pasta smothered in nutty Gruyere and parmesan cheese, I found it hard to stop taking bites of this simple and satisfying dish, even though I’d already had a big lunch.
Now, I have to admit, when I first saw the recipe for the cauliflower and Gruyere gratin, as it’s called in the book Melt by Garrett McCord and Stephanie Stiavetti, I didn’t think too much about it. Melt’s subtitle is The Art of Macaroni and Cheese, and indeed the book is full of recipes for this comfort classic.
Yet, at heart, the book is a celebration of cheese, and to showcase a wide range of cheeses the authors have taken liberties with the phrase “macaroni and cheese” and also provided recipes for soups, salads, and even desserts where both cheese and pasta are present. If you love cheese, then it’s definitely a book that you will flip through and keep saying to yourself, “I want to make that!”
As there are so many intriguing recipes in Melt, I was a little surprised that it was the cauliflower macaroni and cheese that kept calling me to the kitchen. Perhaps it’s because cauliflower is in season right now or perhaps it’s because I love Gruyere and am always looking for an excuse to eat it. But no matter, the stomach knows what it wants, so that’s what I decided to make.
It’s an easy recipe that takes little effort, with chopping the cauliflower and grating the cheese the most laborious part of the process. With many macaroni and cheese recipes, there’s a lot of stirring as you make a flour-based sauce, but this recipe is a cinch as the sauce is just heavy cream along with dashes of powdered mustard, nutmeg, salt, and pepper. And after you pour it over the cauliflower and pasta, and slip it into the oven, the hardest part is waiting for the casserole to be done.
While macaroni and cheese is always in season, now is the best time for this particular version as cauliflower is at its best in the fall. This makes for a good vegetarian main dish, though it’s also just as welcome as a heartier side dish. And that’s how I plan to serve it—as an offering on the Thanksgiving table—so my family, including my cousin, can enjoy it, too.
Cauliflower and Gruyere Macaroni and Cheese, adapted from Melt: The Art of Macaroni and Cheese by Stephanie Stiavetti and Garrett McCord
1 head of cauliflower (any color—I used orange), chopped into tiny florets
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for the pasta
1 teaspoon black pepper
8 ounces elbow pasta
8 ounces Gruyère, shredded
2 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 clove garlic, finely minced (optional)
1 teaspoon ground mustard
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Pinch of cayenne (optional)
3 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano, finely grated
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Place the cauliflower in a lightly greased 9x9 baking dish or large cast-iron skillet, and then toss the florets with the olive oil and 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Bake for 15 minutes then remove from the oven, leaving the cauliflower in the dish.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil, add about 1 tablespoon of salt and the pasta, and then boil until the pasta is al dente, or softened but still a little chewy.
Once the pasta is done, drain and rinse the pasta and then pour into to the dish with the cauliflower. Add the shredded Gruyere and then stir to combine the cauliflower, pasta, and Gruyere.
Whisk together the cream, garlic, mustard, nutmeg, cayenne, 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Pour over the pasta and stir until well combined. Evenly sprinkle over the pasta the Parmesan cheese and then bake uncovered for 45-50 minutes or until brown and bubbling. Allow to cool for 10 minutes so the cream can set and then serve warm.
Yield: 8 servings
Friday, November 01, 2013
This sweet potato cobbler is a little late. My plan had been to write about it back in June, as it’s an adaption of Nathan Jean “Mama Sugar” Sanders’ recipe, a wonderful woman who is renown for her annual Juneteenth celebration where this cobbler is served. But life and stuff got in the way, so I’m sharing it now.
I met Mama Sugar back in March, when Foodways Texas bestowed upon her a lifetime achievement award for her contribution to Texas food. Besides hosting her annual party, Mama Sugar is also a legend in the cowboy world, as she is the leader and cook for her trail-riding group The Sugar Shack Trailblazers. When they’re out on the trail, Mama Sugar and her crew keep the trail riders well fed with her pancakes, stews, and barbecue. But the dish she is probably most famous for her is her sweet potato cobbler.
My first encounter with her version of the recipe was in a 2006 Gourmet article written by Robb Walsh. I wasn’t familiar with the dessert and as a fan of sweet potato pie I was curious how a sweet potato cobbler might taste. That said, I clipped the article, filed it away, and never got around to making it. After the symposium, however, I was reminded that I needed to see what the fuss was about.
Sweet potato cobbler is an old-fashioned dish, and while I’m not exactly sure how long people have been making it, the earliest recorded recipe I could find was in “The Sunny Side Dessert Book,” by S. T. Stone published in 1893. It’s not particularly common, but through the years you do see recipes for it appear in cookbooks, along with references to it in literature, though I could not find any recipe for it in any newspaper food sections or popular magazines (the Gourmet article notwithstanding). So while it’s clearly something people enjoy, it hasn’t quite entered the popular Texan dessert canon as much as its cousin, sweet potato pie.
When I finally made the recipe, I made some changes to make do with what I had on hand. Her recipe calls for cane syrup, but I instead made a simple syrup with granulated sugar and brown sugar. I then goosed up my sweet potatoes with a few more spices, stirring in some nutmeg and vanilla, and I also added orange zest to both the filling and the biscuit crust to make the dish a little more bright.
This is an outstanding cobbler. While sweet potato pie is a custard-based dessert, this dish is instead much like other fruit cobblers in that the sweet potatoes are sliced and left intact. As they simmer and then bake in the dark syrup, they yield into a sweet, tender filling that goes well with the soft biscuit crust.
If you love sweet potatoes, you will love this, too. Of course, it will make a fine addition to your Thanksgiving dessert table, though now that colder days are finally here, there’s no reason to wait until then. And speaking from experience, it makes for an excellent breakfast as well.
Now that I think about it, while a good cobbler is welcome at any time, I believe this cobbler’s richness and warm spices make it more in tune with autumn than summer. So the wait has been worthwhile. But before you head into the kitchen to start slicing your sweet potatoes and rolling out your crust, I’d like to share with you some words of wisdom from Mama Sugar. When she spoke to us, she said: “Cooking is what you put into it, cooking is love.” And that’s the truth.
Sweet potato cobbler
For the filling:
2 pounds sweet potatoes
4 cups water
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon orange zest
For the cobbler dough:
2 cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons granulated sugar, divided
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 tablespoon orange zest
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
3/4 cup buttermilk
Whipped cream or vanilla ice cream, for serving
Peel the sweet potatoes and then cut in half lengthwise then slice into half-moon shapes, about 1/2-inch thick. Place the cut sweet potatoes into a pot large enough to hold them, along with the water, granulated sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, salt, butter, vanilla extract, and orange zest. Bring the pot to a boil then turn the heat down to low and simmer until the sweet potatoes are tender but firm.
Lightly grease a 9x13 baking dish or a large cast-iron skillet. Once the potatoes are done, transfer them with a slotted spoon to the baking dish, leaving the liquid in the pot. Turn the heat on the pot to high, and boil the liquid until it’s reduced by 1/2 and slightly thickened, about 15-20 minutes, while occasionally stirring. You should have about 1 cup.
Meanwhile, to make the dough, stir together the flour, 2 tablespoons of sugar, baking powder, orange zest, and salt. Work into the flour mixture the cold butter until it resembles peas. Pour in the buttermilk and stir until well combined.
Preheat the oven to 375°F.
Place the dough on a lightly floured surface. Knead it a couple of times and then it out until it’s roughly a 9x13 inch rectangle or a 10-inch round circle, depending on whether you’re baking the cobbler in a baking dish or skillet.
Evenly pour over the sweet potatoes the syrup and then place on top of the sweet potatoes the cobbler dough. Sprinkle over the dough the remaining 1 tablespoon of granulated sugar, and then cut into the dough several slits so steam can release. Bake uncovered for 30-35 minutes, or until the top is golden brown. Allow to cool for 20 minutes, then serve. Serve each slice topped with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.
Yield: 8 servings
Thursday, October 17, 2013
Sundays in October might be my favorite days of the year. The leaves are starting to put on their annual show, the air is crisp, and there are so many choices on how you can spend your day.
For instance, on Sundays you can be lazy and sit on the couch all day reading the paper and a good book; or you can be busy, and visit flea markets and tag sales. You might choose to go to church in the morning and then come home for a Sunday roast; or you might save your eating for later that day when your football team plays a game.
The latter is how many of my friends spend their Sundays this time of year, and it’s always fun coming up with some good game-day grub. Things that always work for me are dips, chile con queso, and other easy foods that can be eaten with your hands. Of course, Texas chili, stews and soups are also good choices, but the nice thing about finger foods is you don’t have to mess with utensils.
Enter this skillet of Tex-Mex meatballs swimming in a spicy chipotle tomato sauce. This recipe is inspired by recipes from Rick Bayless and Diane Kennedy for Mexican albondigas, which is just the Spanish word for meatball. I’ve taken their lead but goosed up my meatballs with more spices and herbs, along with a bit of chili powder. And in a nod to old-fashioned Texas meatballs, have used crushed saltine crackers as a binder instead of the more traditional rice.
These don’t take too long to make, especially if you use a cookie scoop to form your meatballs. (Though if you have young helpers hanging around the kitchen, forming the meatballs is a good way to put them to work.) To get a nice crisp outer layer, I bake the meatballs for a few minutes before adding them to the sauce. And after a half hour of simmering, they’re done.
While you can enjoy these Tex-Mex meatballs any day of the week, I find them especially suited to Sundays, as they are indeed perfect game-watching food. Though if you have other plans on a Sunday, there’s certainly no reason why you couldn’t enjoy them after church or a visit to the flea market (or when reading page proofs to your latest book, as they were by this particular cook last Sunday).
I like to serve them with crusty pieces of bread, as I find that’s the best vehicle for sopping up some of the smoky, spicy sauce, but they’re just as good with warm tortillas or even toothpicks. Just know the most important thing is to make sure you have enough for everyone, as they will go fast. Yep, you probably won’t have any leftovers as these Tex-Mex meatballs are definitely crowd-pleasing food.
Tex-Mex meatballs in a chipotle-tomato sauce
For the meatballs:
1 pound ground beef
1/2 cup shredded zucchini
1/2 medium yellow onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup chopped cilantro, plus more for garnishing
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 cup cracker crumbs
Cotija cheese crumbled, for garnishing
Bread or tortillas, for serving
For the sauce:
1 (14-ounce) can diced tomatoes
2 canned chipotle chiles in adobo sauce
1/4 medium yellow onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon oregano
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1 cup chicken broth
1 tablespoon lime juice
To make the meatballs, place in a large mixing bowl the ground beef, zucchini, onion, garlic, cilantro, salt, black pepper, cumin, oregano, chili powder, allspice, egg, and cracker crumbs. Either using your hands or a spoon, mix all the ingredients until well combined.
Preheat the oven to 375°F and lightly grease a large baking sheet or 2 large cast-iron skillets. Form the meat into ttablespoon-sized meatballs and place on the sheet (you should get about 28). Bake the meatballs for 20 minutes or until lightly browned.
Meanwhile, in a blender mix together the tomatoes, chipotle chiles, onion, garlic, cumin, oregano, allspice, chicken broth, and lime juice. Blend until a smooth puree is formed. Adjust the seasonings and add salt to taste.
Pour the tomato-chipotle sauce into a large pot, but wait until the meatballs are done before turning on the heat. When the meatballs are done, bring the pot to a boil and then turn down the heat to a simmer. Add the meatballs to the pot and continue to simmer covered for 30 minutes.
Serve warm with bread or tortillas, garnished with cilantro and crumbled Cotija cheese.
Yield: 4-6 servings
Note: The sauce calls for 2 chipotle chile peppers, not 2 WHOLE cans of chipotle chiles!
Wednesday, October 02, 2013
Sometimes I can be reminded of home in the most unlikely places. For instance, last week I visited the Museum of Modern Art’s new Rene Magritte exhibit. Houston’s Menil Collection has a large number of his paintings and had donated some works to the show. As I walked through the galleries, it made me smile to see art I associate with home, and I felt Texas pride to see Houston so well represented in New York City.
After I saw the exhibit, I grabbed a bite to eat at The Modern, a restaurant at the museum. It’s German-inspired cuisine, and on the menu is a tarte flambée, which is an Alsatian baked flatbread that’s been smothered in bacon, onions, and a creamy sauce. It’s basically a bacon and onion pizza. Who wouldn't love that? And while it's not fussy, it’s still incredibly luscious and rich. It's a favorite of mine, and it’s a rare trip to the museum that I don’t make the time to stop into the restaurant and order one.
Now tarte flambée, which in Germany is known as flammkuchen, isn’t obviously Texan, but it also reminded me of home. See, Texas has a rich German legacy, not to mention in Central Texas there is also a community of folks from the Alsace region, an area in Eastern France that falls along the border of Germany and Switzerland. So an Alsatian tart is more connected to Texas than you might originally suppose.
I always thought making tarte flambée would be complicated, but after reading a recipe in Luisa Weiss’s delightful memoir “My Berlin Kitchen,” I was shocked at how easy it could be. Yes, you do make a dough using yeast, but don’t be scared of that if you’ve never done it before; the hardest part about yeast dough is being patient as it rises. After that’s done, then you simply spread crème fraiche on the rolled-out crust and then top that with large handfuls of sliced bacon and onions. Slide it in the oven, wait a few minutes, and you're done.
Traditionally a tarte flambée is only topped with bacon and onions, but I figured as long I was paying homage to Central Texas I might as well add some jalapeños, too. I doubt anyone will mind, though of course feel free to not use them if you want to keep it classic.
It’s terrific to serve as a snack when you’re watching the game, though it also makes for a fine main course. (And if you’re like me, you’ll find it’s perfectly acceptable for breakfast, too.) That said no matter when you enjoy this tarte flambée with bacon and jalapeños, I believe everyone will agree that slices of this creamy, smoky, savory tart makes for good eating. And who knows, it might even remind you of home.
Tarte flambée with bacon and jalapeños (adapted from “My Berlin Kitchen” by Luisa Weiss)
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon instant yeast
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 cup lukewarm water
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for greasing the bowl
8 ounces crème fraiche
2 medium yellow onions, cut into very thin slivers
6 ounces thick-cut bacon, cut into 1/4-inch batons
2 jalapeños, sliced (optional)
To make the dough, stir together the flour, yeast, and salt. Add the water and oil and then stir until the dough comes together. Pour the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and then knead until smooth, about 5 minutes. Lightly oil a clean bowl. Place the kneaded dough in the bowl, cover it with a clean cloth or plastic wrap, then allow to rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 500 degrees. (You want the oven to get really hot, so allow it to preheat for 30 minutes.) Punch down the risen dough and divide into 2 balls. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper, or lightly grease a large cast-iron griddle.
On a lightly floured surface, working in batches, roll out one of the dough balls until extremely thin. The dough will be resistant, so you’ll have to pause for a couple of minutes while rolling so it can rest and become more pliant.
Once the dough is rolled out, place it on the sheet or griddle. Top with 4 ounces (about 7 tablespoons) crème fraiche, half the bacon, half the onions, and half the jalapeños. Slide into the oven and bake uncovered for 10 minutes or until the crust is brown and blistered, and the bacon and onions are cooked. As the first one is baking, repeat the process for the remaining dough and toppings.
Allow to cool for 5 minutes before slicing and serving. Serve warm.
Yield: 4-8 servings
Note: Crème fraiche can be found in many grocery stores in the dairy section, usually next to creamy container cheeses such as mascarpone. If you can’t find it, you can either substitute 1 cup sour cream mixed with 2 tablespoons of heavy cream, or make you own. To make you own crème fraiche, mix together 1 cup heavy cream with 2 tablespoons buttermilk. Cover and then leave it unrefrigerated for 8 hours up to 24 hours or until thickened. Once it’s become thick, store it in the refrigerator until ready to use.