Saturday, April 28, 2012

Cajun Prairie

Last week, we made gumbo and I would like to share it with you. Gumbo's one of those great dishes were everyone seems to have their own recipe. I got mine from James Beard's "American Cookery" and then I promptly changed it. This ones for all you land-lovers out there.

Serves 10. I think this is an understatement. I've had this gumbo for lunch and/or dinner for the last week and am nowhere near finishing it (Chrissie has also contributed to finishing it too).

2.5 pounds of chicken - fryer cut
4 Tbs butter
4 Tbs oil
Salt & Pepper
2 pounds of okra, cut to 1/4 inch chunks
2 medium onions - sliced
8 more Tbs butter
1/4 pound diced ham
2 cups canned tomatoes
2 quarts stock - chicken or beef
1 bay leaf
1 Tbs chopped parsley
1 pound Andouille sausage
1 Tbs Tabasco sauce
Gumbo file
Boiled rice

First, flour the chicken and sprinkle salt and pepper on it. Then saute the chicken in the 4 Tbs butter and 4 Tbs oil at the top of the recipe. Let it get nicely brown.

In a separate pan, saute the okra in 4 Tbs of butter.

And in yet another pan, saute onions in the last 4 Tbs of butter until brown.

Combine the chicken, sausage, okra, onions, ham, tomatoes, stock, and herbs in a large pot. Cover and simmer for 1.5-2 hours. At the end of the cook time, correct seasoning, sprinkle in the gumbo file. Shred the chicken into the soup and remove the bones. Serve over the boiled rice.

 There, super easy!

A couple notes to help your dish:

 - Gumbo file is the ground leaves from a sassafras tree. It is used to add flavor to a dish and also acts as a thicken for liquid. It is sometimes called "cajun seasoning." Go to a specialty store to find it - we found ours at Whole Foods. Add to taste in your dish.

 - Fresh okra is lots better than canned, but if that's all you can find, the gumbo will still be good.

 - Gumbo is traditionally made with seafood, namely shellfish I believe. "American Cookery" has a couple other recipes for gumbo and they have shrimp, crab meat, and oysters as other types of protein you can stick in. Feel free to mix and match meats into your gumbo. If you use any of the seafood I mentioned above, they do not need to be cooked for the entire 1.5-2 hours. In fact, just add them into the gumbo for the last 5 minutes of cooking.

Happy eating!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Where the Grass Grows

This is where we *hope* the grass will grow

Last weekend was finally nice enough to get out in the yard again. We decided to jump on the opportunity to attempt to help our poor little space deal with the wetness that is the Pacific Northwest *slightly* better. We aerated a couple weeks ago and this time laid some new top soil over the worst spots. In the process, we also tried to create a more gradual slope in the section of the yard that gets the most soggy to encourage the water to run off the same direction as everything else.

Then we laid some grass seed down! I know that grass isn't the ultimate thing for anyone who tries to claim the role of "suburban farmer." In some circles I fear it might be blasphemy. But grass is really handy when you have 2 dogs. Creating an edible landscape for them to do their business in seems a little counter-intuitive to me.

And Colton loves to lay in the grass and roll around in the summer time. Who can say no to this face?

With any luck, our yard will be on its way to recovery soon and we can focus on newer projects like our new raised bed (complete with strawberry border!) and the mini shed we keep talking about building.

Until next time!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

You Can't Go Home Again

My Grandpa retired this month. He was a chicken farmer. He came to the US in the 70's after a long and I'm told, successful stint of chicken farming in Taiwan. My Grandpa is in his early 80's and his retirement and the resultant closing of the chicken farm has left me pensive.

I grew up on my Grandpa's chicken farm. In fact, all of my siblings and cousins did. My Grandma would watch us while our parents were at work. When school started, we'd catch the bus at home and then take a different bus to the chicken farm when school ended. Every weekend, the entire family (my Grandparents, their children, spouses, and grandchildren) would get together and have dinner together. My world revolved around that place for a long time.

We played up and down the chicken farm. It was a pretty huge place. There were fields surrounding it, usually fallow, that we wandered. There were huge piles of sawdust the we climbed and rolled down. There were pallet jacks and we rode up and down the hallways. You had to be a little careful there too. There was a bunch of machinery to process the eggs, rat poison to deal with rodents, which I ingested as a child thinking it was candy (my mom had a minor freak out), and I'm told that coyotes prowled the fields after dark (again because of the rodents). You get the idea though, lots of memories.

These days, my good memories consisted of getting free eggs. They were not the best eggs, but they were pretty good, and they were free. The part of me that exists in the here and now laments that we don't get free eggs anymore. The part of me that exists in those memories laments that the farm is gone.

The good comes with the bad too. I think it's important to tell things how they are sometimes. My Grandpa's chicken farm was not the picturesque image of a farm. It would be what you could call an industrial-modeled farm. The chickens were housed in two giant chicken coups that stretched for a quarter-mile (ish). The chickens were kept in cages and probably never saw the light of day. When you opened the door to a coup, you were blasted by a wave of hot, smelly air that literally stopped you in your tracks. If you made it inside, you were greeted by the sound of thousands of chickens clucking in simultaneous cacophony. Several times, animal rights activists came and freed the chickens. I think they were eaten by coyotes after they got out.

The chickens produced so much manure, that neighbors worried about it contaminating the ground-water supply. We tried selling the manure off as plant fertilizer, but it never could match the amount of raw waste the chickens would make. Eventually, we erected huge roofs to go over the piles of manure so that when it rained, the water would not travel through the manure and on to the local groundwater. I imagine that thousands of years from now, after the ice caps melt and the sea level has risen, those piles of manure will be some of the last free holds of land and they'll be like the Galapagos Islands of Washington state.

Despite all of the short comings of the farm, I have only fond memories of it. I will definitely miss the old place. I spoke to my dad and he has a different feeling, mostly that of relief. He and his siblings were the ones that actually had to "deal with" the chicken farm with my Grandpa. Admittedly, if I had to be the one to sort out some of that crazy stuff, I would be relieved for it to be all over too. Like the title of the post says, you can't go home again.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Happy Easter!

Just stoppin' in real quick to say Happy Easter, everyone! Gotta get back to cooking our Easter-brunch-for-dinner!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Neapolitan Cake

Aaron's birthday was a couple weeks ago, so I've been pretty busy making sure he was appropriately celebrated. Game days, baking, and shopping kept me on my toes and away from the blogosphere. Happily though, all our endeavors should lead to some fun posts to entertain the interwebs.

Like Aaron's Neapolitan birthday cake.

Aaron has a story he loves to reminisce about in which he and several of his friends would regularly stop by a little doughnut shop on their way home from youth orchestra rehearsals. They would eat doughnuts, drink milk, and be generally merry. Apparently, the shop sold three kinds of milk: regular, chocolate, and strawberry. So one night a few of them got it into their heads that Neapolitan milk was a positively brilliant idea and started taking swigs of all three kinds in succession.

He's adoreable, but that husband of mine can be pretty strange sometimes.

Nonetheless, remembering this story gave me the idea that the food for Aaron's birthday should have a Neapolitan theme. So, my first mission was to create the perfect Neapolitan cake. As per my usual, the idea in my head tends to be a little bit more advanced than my skills actually allow for. (Sadly, things always seem quite straightforward in my head too. Realism hasn't made it to my imagination yet.) I decided I would make a layer of vanilla cake, a layer of chocolate cake, and put a filling of strawberry mousse in the middle. Then I would frost it with vanilla frosting, cover it with chocolate ganache, and put some nice fresh strawberries on the top. No problem!

Everything was going swimmingly until I tried to put a nice thick layer of mousse in the middle. My mousse recipe hadn't stiffened up as much as I thought it would and when I placed the vanilla layer on top of it, a bunch came spilling out the sides. I thought I had it cleaned up enough to frost it, but during the process, more kept oozing out and the frosting became a messy, gooey hybrid with the mousse and just pooled up around the bottom of the cake. At this point I quite seriously considered throwing the whole thing out the window.

But instead I finished a thin layer of the strawberry mousse, scraped all of the gooey mess off and threw the whole thing in the freezer while I made a new batch of frosting. Had I been thinking on my feet, doing this in the first place could have avoided the giant mess I made, but c'est la vie.

This was before all the filling started falling out. Had it actually survived this way, the image in my head was potentially going to happen.

Once I had the cake constructed I'd run out of patience to make it particularly pretty, so I whipped up a batch of ganache and just dumped it over the top. On the day of Aaron's birthday, (I made the cake a few days in advance and froze it) I cut a couple of decent looking strawberries in half, placed them on top and called it a miracle.

At least it was a tasty miracle.

Excuse the color balance. I'm still getting used to my new camera.

The recipes I used are as follows:

Vanilla Cake
Chocolate Cake
Strawberry Mousse
Buttercream Frosting
Chocolate Ganache