Saturday, February 21, 2009

Cooking Up A Storm

I love cooking. My father taught me from a young age how to appreciate food and how to cook food that was inspired by what was on the shelf and in the store, not hindered by the limits of a cookbook.


From the age of ten up until I came to college, I cooked everything and I cooked often. Dinner was often up to me, my family was often a source of guinea pigs for my latest concoction. Then I hit college and dorm life, the spark didn't die but it did recede to corner of my mind. Every now and then, the ember would flare and I would go out of my way to find a kitchen where I could cook a meal but it would die back down.

When I left the dorms to live with my wife, the spark once again started to grow. I spent the whole summer making new dishes and using obscure recipes to build off of. I focused largely on foods that I had grown up with. Most of my focus was on Greek dishes, especially comfort foods such as spanikopita and avgolemono. Unfortunately, the summer only lasts so long.

When I returned to school, the spark once again began to die down. My roommates, being bachelors, have little taste. Some of the shit they eat is absolutely frightening. The Hippie often eats things like corn chips slathered with gravy and covered with cooked peas, or leftover Chinese food burritos, or the mystery-mix-of- the-day wraps. Cooking good food seemed pointless and the passion began to die down once again. The Tech is often more refined in his food selection but corn chips and nacho cheese, or meat chili with crackers are often a staple of his diet.

Then I started to spend time with the Flock, a group of friends that have known each other for almost as long as I have been in college. The members of the flock all have an affinity for food that helped my love of food reemerge. Because of my exposure to a group of people that love food as much as I do, I have made a commitment to get back into cooking and to start over from the beginning. To relearn all the basic skills and to bring my wife along for the journey... lucky her.

At the beginning of February, I bought eight books on food and cooking from Amazon.com. At this point, I have received four of those books:
Les Halles Cookbook - Anthony Bourdain
Think Like a Chef - Tom Colicchio
On Food and Cooking - Harold McGee
The Flavor Bible - Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg

The books that haven't arrived yet are:
Essentials of Cooking - James Patterson
Le Bernardin Cookbook - Maguy Le Coze and Eric Ripert
Jacques Pepin's Complete Techniques - Jacques P├ępin
The Art of Eating - MFK Fisher

These books fill two desires: My desire to relearn the basics and the desire to feed my obsession with cooking and food.

In addition, I bought some new items for the kitchen. A food processor, some pans that aren't so cheap that they warp and bend, a few other odds and ends, and my baby....
Henckels Twin Pro S 8in Hollow Edge Chef's Knife which I got for a cheaper price elsewhere.

My kitchen probably won't develop any farther than this unless we get my wife a stand mixer, which I know she would love. Unfortunately, we do not know where we will end up in the future, but I hope to have much more done once we have found out where we will be going for the years following this Master's Program stint.

Chicken, Andouille, and Shrimp Gumbo

I made gumbo today, it was very tasty.




Chicken, Shrimp, and Andouille Sausage Gumbo

This is a recipe for feeding a lot of people or for lots of leftovers. It fills up a 4 Qt slow Cooker to the brim. Keep this in mind if you're not planning on a feast.

Ingredients
3 Cups Chicken Stock
5 Cups Water
2 Green Peppers
2 Large Onions
2 Celery Stalks
4 Cloves Garlic
1/2 lb Okra
3/4 Tbsp Cayenne Pepper, or more if you like more heat
3 Cooked Chicken Breasts
1 lb Andouille Sausage
1 lb Cooked Shrimp, deveined and tails off
1 3/4 Cup Flour
1 Cup Olive Oil
1/2 Cup Green Onion, chopped
Salt and Pepper, to taste
Cooked White Rice

Prep

- Veggies
2 Bell Peppers, finely chopped
2 Celery Stalks, finely chopped
2 Large Onions, finely chopped

4 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 lb okra sliced (not added in this dish as it is unavailable around here at this time)

Green Onion, chopped ~ 1/2 cup

- Meat
1 lb Cooked Andouille Sausage Sliced, 1/2" slices
1 lb Cooked Shrimp, deveined and tails off
3 Cooked Chicken Breasts, diced


In the slow cooker, add one half of the stock on high and cover.

Roux
Heat medium saucepan over medium heat
Add oil
When heated, add flour (add a pinch of flour to oil, if it bubbles, it is heated)

Whisk every 15 seconds or so, for 35-45 minutes
35 minutes should produce a lighter brown roux, 45 minutes should produce a chocolate color mixture that is very thin.
Do not leave the roux unattended during this process, if you burn the roux, you have to start over from the beginning.
When the roux is done (dark and thin) add the onion, celery, and bell pepper.
Cook until the onion turns clear.

Slow Cooker
Add the other half of the stock to the roux in small increments to keep the temperature from dropping too much.
Pour into the slow cooker.

Add the water, garlic, the spices, the chicken, and the sausage to the cooker.
Put the cooker on low, to cook throughout the day. Or put the cooker on high, and cook for 4-6 hours. About an hour before serving, add the Okra and the Shrimp.

In a gumbo bowl, or a deep enough vessel, mound 1-1/14 cup of rice in the bottom.
Ladle the gumbo over the rice and serve.
I always add plenty of Tabasco to my gumbo.