Friday, February 24, 2017

Mardis Gras and the Best Jambalaya!

Mardis Gras (aka., Fat Tuesday, Shrove Tuesday) is February 28, marking the last day of fatty food indulgences before Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. While some people around the world celebrate the day eating pancakes, I prefer a delicious bowl of jambalaya! I first acquired a taste for this spicy sausage and seafood-laden dish from a friend in college who made a batch along with freshly baked bread every Sunday. Although I think he used Zatarain's and a tube of Pillsbury, it was always a good time! Just like chili is in Texas, jambalaya is classic Louisiana party food, making it the perfect choice for Mardis Gras!

Jambalaya is a dish steeped in ambiguity. So much so, you can stir up heated discussions regarding just the root of the word "jambalaya!" One theory is that it comes from the Provencal word "jambalaia," meaning mishmash or mixture. Another theory is that it comes from the Spanish word "jamon," meaning ham, combined with "paella," the classic Spanish rice dish. The third theory is that it comes from the French "jambon," meaning ham, with a contraction of "a la" and "ya," the African word for rice. And finally, it might come from the Native American Atakapa tribe's saying, "Sham, pal ha! Ya!" meaning "Be full, not skinny! Eat up!" 

If that's not enough, contrary to popular misconceptions, jambalaya is not specifically a Creole dish. In fact, there are two kinds of jambalaya. Creole which contains tomatoes, and Cajun which does not. I prefer it with tomatoes. I also think the key to a really great jambalaya is tasso. Tasso is a highly seasoned smoked pork. I am lucky to find it locally, but you can order some from cajungrocer.com. Andouille sausage is also authentic; however, if you can't find it or don't want to add it to your Cajun Grocer order, you can substitute Spanish chorizo, not Mexican chorizo, which is not the same thing. Finally, I would be remiss not to mention "the holy trinity." Similar to mirepoix and sofrito, it is the base to most Louisiana cuisine. It consists of finely diced onion, celery, and green bell pepper. I use red bell pepper because I detest green bell peppers in any form. 

Just like cioppino, it's hard to make a bad jambalaya. Jambalaya is very adaptable and can contain shredded chicken, venison, oysters, etc. Feel free to add what you have on hand, or prefer, to make it your own! If it gets too thick, just add some water! So celebrate Mardis Gras this year with a delicious bowl of jambalaya, lots of crusty bread, cold beer, and a bottle of Tabasco (or Crystal) hot sauce. Beads optional!


Sausage and Shrimp Jambalaya

Serves 8

Ingredients:
1/2 cup tasso (or chopped ham), 1/4-inch dice
14 ounces Andouille (or Spanish chorizo, or other smoked sausage), 1/2-inch slices
1/2 cup onions, chopped
1/2 cup celery, chopped
1/2 cup red bell pepper (or green), chopped
1 large garlic clove, minced
28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes
2 cups chicken stock
1 teaspoon Cajun seasoning 
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon cayenne, or more to taste
1 teaspoon salt
2 bay leaves
1 cup long grain rice
1 pound raw shrimp, peeled and deveined
Italian parsley, chopped for garnish


Directions:
In a large pot or dutch oven, brown the sausage on each side in batches, set aside. Add the tasso, onions, celery, and bell pepper to the pot and saute until tender. Add the garlic and cook one minute. Add the tomatoes (with can juice), stir and break up with a wooden spoon. (An old-fashioned potato masher works great too!) Add the stock, browned sausage, Cajun seasoning, thyme, cayenne, salt, and bay leaves. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer 30 minutes. Remove the cover and raise heat to a boil. Add the rice, stir, cover and reduce heat to a simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. (Taste the rice to make sure it's done!) Remove the lid and add the shrimp. Cook for 5 minutes or until the shrimp are cooked through. Remove the bay leaves and serve with a garnish of parsley. Add hot sauce to taste at the table, along with crusty bread.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

For My Non-Romantic Valentine

My husband detests Valentine's Day. Every year he touts that it is nothing more than a "Hallmark holiday," manifested merely to sell cards. Hmm... Well, listen up buddy, there is more to the story than manufactured greeting cards. Besides being rooted in the pagan fertility festival of Lupercalia, there are two other legends for the creation of the most romantic day of the year. The first legend begins in third century Rome. Valentine, who was a priest, secretly married young lovers after Emperor Claudius II outlawed marriage for young men because he believed unmarried men made better soldiers. When Valentine's actions were discovered, Claudius ordered that he be put to death.

The second legend is believed that an imprisoned Valentine fell in love with a young girl who visited him during his confinement. Before his death, he wrote her a love letter and signed it "From your Valentine." That's pretty romantic! Either way, Valentine's Day is celebrated in the middle of February to commemorate the anniversary of Valentine's death, approximately 270 A.D. In addition, the oldest known valentine is a poem written by Charles, Duke of Orleans, to his wife while imprisoned in the Tower of London in 1415. It wasn't until the 1840s, that Esther A. Howland (sans Hallmark) began selling the first mass-produced valentines in America.

Well, if that convinces my husband or not, I am still going to make perhaps the most elegant and seductive dessert I know, "Double Chocolate Pate!" This decadent recipe, from the luxurious Greenbrier resort, consists of a velvety chocolate center enrobed in a crisp chocolate couverture. This recipe requires that you freeze the velvety center in a loaf pan for 24 hours before encasing it in the chocolate coating. So, you will need to start at least a day in advance. In addition, have a pot of simmering water on the stove and two heat-proof bowls ready for make-shift double boilers, see Gadgets-No Double Boiler? before beginning. I like to serve it with a raspberry coulis, which is nothing more than a bag of thawed frozen raspberries pureed with some water in a blender, sweetened to taste with sugar, and passed through a strainer to remove excess seeds. And finally, while this dessert may be a little messy to make, it really is simple and definitely exceedingly romantic!

It really is beautiful!

  This is how I like to serve it!

This is how I serve it to my husband! Ha! Ha!

Double Chocolate Pate

Makes one 10x4-inch loaf.

Ingredients:
For the Pate
8 ounces good-quality semi-sweet chocolate, roughly chopped
4 egg yolks
1/2 cup granulated sugar
4 tablespoons cognac (or other liqueur, such as Grand Marnier)
2 cups heavy cream

For the Chocolate Coating
8 ounces good-quality semi-sweet chocolate, roughly chopped
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup heavy cream

Directions:
For the Pate
Cut a piece of plastic wrap 15 inches long and 10 inches wide (or the length of the loaf pan). Line the pan with the plastic, keeping it as smooth as possible, so the 2 long sides and the bottom are covered by the 2 short sides stay bare (greasing the inside of the pan will help stick the plastic in place). Put the chopped chocolate in a double boiler and melt over low heat. Cool slightly.

In another double boiler, combine the egg yolks, sugar and cognac and whisk constantly over simmering but not boiling water (the bottom of the bowl should never be too hot to touch) until the mixture is very thick and fluffy and has tripled in volume, about 5 minutes.


Remove from the heat and fold in the melted chocolate. (The mixture may appear stiff at this stage.)


Whip the cream in a large bowl until it forms soft peaks. Stir a small amount of the whipped cream into the chocolate mixture; repeat until the mixture is fairly loose and the chocolate is well-blended with the cream, then fold in the remaining whipped cream.


Pour the mousse into the prepared loaf pan, rapping the pan lightly on the work surface to eliminate any air bubbles. Fold the plastic wrap securely over the top of the pan and freeze the pate for at least 24 hours.


The next day, make the chocolate coating; melt the chocolate and butter together in a double boiler, then stir in the cream.


Cut a piece of heavy cardboard so it fits exactly into the top of the loaf pan. (I use a piece of foil to make a pattern!)

Cover the cardboard with plastic wrap or aluminum foil. (To help remove loaf from pan, place in a pan with hot water and refreeze before continuing.) Remove the plastic from the top of the loaf and invert the pate onto the cardboard and remove the remaining plastic wrap and pan. Place the pate on a rack with a tray or plate (or bowl) underneath to catch the excess chocolate. Pour the chocolate coating evenly over the pate, spreading with a spatula if necessary to coat the top surface and sides, and reserving the excess.


Return the pate on the cardboard to the freezer to set.

When the coating is firm, flip the pate so the uncoated side is up. Remove the cardboard.


Reheat the remaining chocolate coating and pour it onto the uncoated surface, smoothing with a spatula.

Return the pate to the freezer until ready to serve. To serve, slice the frozen pate with a thin-bladed knife into 1/2-inch slices (to make slicing easier run the knife under hot water, wipe dry, then slice.) (I find that by setting the pate out 5-10 minutes before slicing helps to prevent the coating from cracking.) Arrange each slice on a dessert place and let rest 4-5 minutes to soften slightly before serving.

Recipe from The Greenbrier Cookbook: Favorite Recipes From America's Resort.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Saturday, February 4, 2017

The Chili Queens and the Five Commandments of Authentic Texas Chili


Chili con carne (simply known as "Chili") is a Texas obsession, even passing legislation making it the official dish of Texas in 1977! But who do we thank for this deliciously spicy Tex-Mex concoction? Why, the Chili Queens! The Chili Queens were the most beautiful, voluptuous, dark-eyed senoritas who would transport their perfected homemade chili in colorful chili wagons to Military Plaza in San Antonio, Texas, cheerfully serving stockmen, soldiers, rounders, and prowlers. Even Teddy Roosevelt was not immune to their allure! 

The Chili Queens are believed to have been selling their spicy creations for 200 years, but they had sold chili only for the last third of that period, selling strictly Mexican faire before that. Alongside roaming Mariachi bands, they would build mesquite fires on the square to keep the chili warm, light colorful lanterns strewn along their wagons, serving chili to whomever they could charm and convince that their chili was the best. I read an article years ago talking about how masterfully they could handle even the most brutish of men, smiling, inserting fresh red roses in customers' lapels with a lingering touch, craftily picked from a great mass of roses on her bosom! Oh my! With a twinkle in her eye, she nearly always had trouble making change, which was usually not a problem for her smitten customers! The Chili Queens remained a highlight in San Antonio until the late 1930s, when sadly the health department put an end to their time-honored profession.   

I love making chili for the earthy hunger-inducing smells, the fiery flavors, and for the longstanding tradition. So, in honor of my Texas heritage, I give you this:

The Five Commandments of Authentic Texas Chili:
  1. Thou shalt only use beef, cut into small chunks, never ground.
  2. Thou shalt never include beans.
  3. Thou shalt never use tomatoes, tomato sauce, or even paste.
  4. Thou shalt never include bell peppers. (That goes for salsas as well!)
  5. Thou shalt only use Texas beer. (preferably Shiner Bock)
Got that? Remember that making chili is not an exact recipe. You should gently cook it all day, tasting and adjusting to your likes and dislikes. In addition, this is simple campfire cuisine and should not cost a fortune. Use simple cuts of meat, like chuck. Chili is often best the second day, which makes it easy to remove the fat that will rise to the top and harden after refrigeration. And finally, it is almost impossible to make a bad chili. So, embrace your inner Chili Queen and get cooking!


Chili Con Carne (Chili)

Serves 4-6, can easily be doubled

Ingredients:
For the chili:
4 tablespoons canola oil
3 pounds beef chuck, cut into 1/2" cubes, tossed with some salt and pepper
2 large yellow onions, small dice
3 garlic cloves, minced
3-4 tablespoons chili powder (Gebhardt, if possible)
2 tablespoons flour
3 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon paprika
2 teaspoons crumbled oregano (Mexican oregano, if possible)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar (this ensures it will not taste bitter)
1/2-1 teaspoon cayenne, or more to taste
2 serrano chiles, slit down one side (or whatever chiles you prefer, chipotle chiles work well too)
8 ounces strong beef broth (I add 2 tsp Better Than Bouillon beef base to 8 ounces water)
1 bottle Texas beer (preferably Shiner Bock)
1 tablespoon Masa Harina
1 tablespoon cilantro, chopped

For garnish (pick and choose as you like):
Sour Cream
Freshly grated Cheddar cheese
Diced Avocado
Sliced jalapeno, seeds and all
Finely chopped red onion
Sliced green onions
Your favorite hot sauce
Oyster crackers
Cornbread (I like the simple Jiffy brand mix, sold at most stores. I always mix in some honey, as well.)

Directions:
Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil over medium-high heat in a heavy Dutch oven or large pot. Add the meat in batches to brown slightly. Remove to a plate, or the lid of the Dutch oven! Drain off any excessive amount of fat that may accumulate. Add the onions and garlic to the pot, adding additional oil if needed. Saute until tender and lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Return the meat to the pan.

Combine the chili powder, flour, paprika, and cumin. Sprinkle the mixture over the meat. Stir with a wooden spoon, reducing the heat to low, until the meat is evenly coated, 1-2 minutes. Stir in the oregano, salt, sugar, cayenne, serrano chiles, beef broth, and beer. Raise the heat and bring to a boil, stirring often. Lower the heat and simmer slowly for at least 2 hours, or all day, until the meat is very tender. (Remember to stir occasionally adding more beer or water, if needed! If it dries out too much, it can burn and ruin your chili!)

Sprinkle in the Masa Harina and cilantro, stirring occasionally and cook until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Remove the serrano chiles and taste and add additional salt, etc., if necessary. Serve with garnishes laid out in bowls, so everyone can garnish as they like!