Tuesday, October 28, 2008

30. Creole-Style Shrimp and Sausage Gumbo with Okra

Date Cooked: October 26th, 2008
Page: 525
Rating: B-

This dish has been haunting me for awhile. I’ve wanted to try my hand at it for months. In fact it was one of the first dishes I wanted to try. The problem is it scared me, well only the first part did… making a roux. I figured this was a technique I needed to learn. I’ve decided to take the ‘mise en place’ part of cooking more seriously and this time I didn’t start anything until everything was checked and double checked. See I am already beginning to improve as a cook. Once everything was measured and chopped I started in. The first step was to make the stock for the gumbo. This was done by taking the discarded shells from the shrimp and boiling them for 20 minutes. Once done the stock was mixed with clam juice and ice water to provide a warm stock for the gumbo base. This was placed aside so I could begin with the roux.

I was excited and hesitant about this part. The excitement came from getting to use my new La Creuset dutch oven which I picked up at Homesense for practically a steal! It isn’t the one I truly would have liked in a perfect world but the price was right and it is all I needed. Now for the hesitant part, I had to try a controlled burn of flour. The oil was heated in the dutch oven and once the temperature was reached I began slowly adding the flour and constantly stirring. Stirring, stirring, stirring. The book recommends 20 minutes to reach an optimal color? Flavor? Not sure what I am trying to reach. The recipe said it needed to look like a dirty penny or milk chocolate. What do you think?
I was constantly fearful that while making the roux I was going to grab the handles of the dutch oven and burn myself. I caught myself a few times seconds before burning my hand. I’ll need to get used to handling cast iron on the stove top. And I am sure I will probably burn myself before I am conditioned.

Once the roux reached the correct color I threw in some onions, peppers, celery and okra along with some seasonings. Let’s talk about Okra. It is a rather disgusting little vegetable. Well that might be harsh. It has a subtle flavor on its own but is rather slimy as it breaks down. I could only find whole frozen okra so I cut it myself. As it was thawing it gets slimy and when you start to cook, it gets very gummy and stringy. What should I expect from something used as a thickening agent.

After sauteéing the stock was added to the dutch oven and the gumbo was simmered for 30 minutes. Then I added the sausage for another 30 minutes before finally adding the shrimp. A few minutes later the gumbo was removed from the heat and parsley and scallions were added. Served over rice it was ready to eat. I always thought gumbo was thicker and more like a stew than a soup. So to be honest I don’t know if it turned out correctly or not.

Rating: B-. My wife and I both agree about the Gumbo. It was not spicy or seasoned enough. This is more to do with the books quantities and personal taste than anything else. Once seasoned liberally with salt and pepper it was a very nice dish but it really could have used some bite. It calls for cayenne pepper but in such a small amount that I didn’t even notice it at first.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

29. Roast Stuffed Turkey

Date Cooked: October 10th, 2008
Page: 367
Rating: A-

** This is a horrible photo of the turkey and makes it look like a big burnt ball. It looked much better than this photo portrays and I didn’t remember it being blackened like that which makes me think the camera is darkening the photo. Just feel I need to justify this.

As I had stated in the last post I didn’t spend the entire time cooking this turkey but I did prep it, load it in the oven and carve it. My sister-in-law monitored it and made sure it was nicely buttered.
The 16lbs. turkey started its journey to the table in a 4 hour salt water bath. Actually it started with a rinse and removal of the giblets, neck and a little trim of excess skin, then it hit the salt water. What I discovered is that I do not have a pot or bucket large enough to brine a turkey of this size. I thought I did but the turkey was too wide and although I considered jamming it in I thought better and started looking for an alternative. That alternative was a Rubbermaid tote that was much too large. The brine calls for a cup of salt in four gallons of water but I needed a lot more than 4 gallons of water to cover my turkey. I think I used two whole boxes of salt to brine it. It’s a good thing table salt is cheap. It took two people to safely lift the tote once it was filled with the water and turkey. The next problem was finding a place cool enough to store it while it brined because I’m pretty sure fridges large enough to hold a 20 gallon tote aren’t common. It’s a good thing fall is here because my garage was still pretty cool from the nighttime temperature drop. So the turkey was finally brining and I could hit the basement.

Four hours after it was placed in the brine I removed the turkey and rinsed it before patting it dry. I loaded it onto the oven rack and pre-heated the oven. I threw some onions, carrots and celery in the pan and then I left the kitchen. My sister-in-law, once she was finished preparing the stuffing, jammed it to capacity (and I mean this turkey was STUFFED). She buttered it and put it in the oven.

At some point around the 2-3 hour mark I was done with the basement and able to finally help in the kitchen. It was also perfect timing for turning the turkey. Have you ever turned a greased up 16 lbs turkey with silicon oven mitts? I won’t ever again. Now I know why they sell big turkey forks. After struggling and burning myself and coating my shirt sleeves in turkey juice it was ready to go back in the oven. And I was ready to start a few other dishes (not from the book). The house at this point was smelling awesome!

Once the turkey was done I set it on my cutting board to rest for a bit. The pictures do not do it justice. Once it had rested for a bit I scooped out the stuffing and then set to carving it. I was really looking forward to this part of the dish. I think overall I did a really good job as a first timer carver. I unfortunately didn’t get any photos of the final product. But take my word it was a delicious turkey if I do say so myself.

Rating: A- I am a huge fan of brining and I don’t think this is a step I will skip anymore in poultry preparation. The turkey was cooked wonderfully and had lots of moisture and flavor! I’m sure it could have been better but I was definitely pleased with the team effort in putting this together.

28. Bread Stuffing with Ham, Pine Nuts, Mushrooms, and Fennel

Date Cooked: October 10th, 2008
Page: 369
Rating: B-

Okay so thanksgiving in Canada has come and gone and I had high aspirations for creating several dishes from the book for this wonderful event. Well that didn’t go quite as planned. You see I also decided that this was a good time to begin the heavy lifting part of my basement renovations so I was trying very unsuccessfully to accomplish both tasks. We had enough cooks in the kitchen so I spent most of my time in the basement. But I did get two recipes from the book done… well I helped complete two recipes from the book. And by help I only actually got my hands dirty on the Roast Turkey. So faced with my first dilemma of this project I’m going to post both items but I must give credit to the actual chef.

I don’t actually have a picture of this due to the chaos in the house, but half of the stuffing is in the turkey in the picture in the next post and the other half was baked separately. My sister-in-law prepared the stuffing for this dish and she did a fantastic job considering she didn’t know she would be doing it. I’d like to describe the process but you know… I wasn’t really there.

Rating: B-. I liked the flavor of the stuffing a lot but I found it too moist. I like a much drier stuffing. I would make this again but would not cook it in the turkey and I would find ways to reduce the moisture content.

Monday, October 20, 2008

27. Smothered Pork Chops

Date Cooked: October 7th, 2008
Page: 462
Rating: B+

Ahhh… another pork dish. This dish went smoothly and I would say was definitely the beginning of a shift in my cooking. I settled on this recipe since I had all the ingredients and wanted to use the pork chops I had in the freezer, plus it had bacon and that is just a sure sign of a great recipe.

Let us begin with this wonderful tale of smothered pork chops. I’ll start at smothered. That is a word which invokes one thing in my mind. A pillow pressed against the face of a sleeping individual. I don’t want you to think I am some creepy individual but I can’t say I have heard the word smothered used in many other contexts. Pretty much just the crime version. So I have only begun the recipe and I am already comparing it to a crime. The only crime here is me in the kitchen.

The dish starts out with cooking the bacon to render it down and crisp it up. This of course gets the whole kitchen smelling nicely of bacon. I’m thinking all recipes should start this way, even if they don’t use bacon. A little cooked bacon to snack on while cooking would be perfect right? I wonder if they sell bacon potpourri.

Once the bacon was done and set aside the pork chops where quickly sautéed until both sides were seared a nice golden brown. They were then set aside to rest while the remainder of the ingredients came together. The remainder of the ingredients where a lot of onions! I was thinking this recipe seemed really out of proportion until I realized it was written for four servings and I was cooking only two. So these two pork chops were absolutely going to be smothered… I’m trying to figure out a word which would raise smothered to a whole new horrific level but I just can’t, maybe it’s time to invest in a thesaurus, or therapy.

Once the onions were caramelized all the ingredients get put in the pan (except the bacon) and then you bury the pork chops under the onions and cover and cook. 30 minutes pass and the house is smelling good. The pork chops got plated on some rice and then covered in the sauce with a little bacon sprinkled on top. The picture shows what I think a little bacon is.

Rating: B+. These pork chops were really good and serving them on rice was a great choice since the sauce is quite delicious. My only complaint would be that the pork was a little overcooked and probably could have spent a little less time buried under the onions. Pork on pork will always be a winner.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

26. Sautéed Pork Tenderloin Medallions with Cream, Apples and Sage

Date Cooked: October 3rd, 2008
Page: 469
Rating: B

Where do I start with this dish… well it was definitely a hectic one to complete as I was cooking another dish at the same time that was composed of several of the same ingredients. I highly recommend when creating a meal that after you get you ‘mise en place’ set up that you double check the ingredients and quantities for each. I had a lot of confusion as I tried to pull this together. No disasters, sorry to disappoint, but a few moments of panic.

I first started by getting the pork tenderloin sliced into medallions. I had come to realize that I love pork like this. The only problem is that I am still trying to figure out how to get the silver skin off easily. As I have mentioned before when cutting up the chicken I have a tendency to get a bit obsessive. I can (and have) spent several minutes meticulously trimming what I feel is silver skin from the tenderloin. I was proud of the finished product but feel that it was a bit excessive… okay it was a lot excessive. I need to see how it is done properly so I can save time in the future.

Once the tenderloin medallions, apples, sage, cider, and several other bit players in the recipe were ready I set to work. The medallions were sautéed and then set aside for a rest, not like they did much work. I’m the one that needed the rest after trying to remove them of their skin. Once done some onions and apples were caramelized and then simmered in apple cider. This is where I messed up… a little. The other recipe I had cooked (Braised Cabbage) also called for apple cider and I had two quantities sitting on the counter. I grabbed the wrong one (that had twice as much cider) and added it to the pan. I very quickly realized the possible error and scrambled to check the Book. Sure enough I screwed up but since I had to reduce the liquid anyway it would just take longer. Of course longer means everything gets to simmer in hot liquid for a lengthened period of time. This had two outcomes I will explain shortly. Once the sauce was reduced some cream was added along with the tenderloin medallions and a few more ingredients. All this got warmed through and then plated.

How was it you ask? Well let’s start off by saying it was pork so it begins with good marks. My error in apple cider measurement though created a much more intense apple flavor to the dish which wasn’t bad. The only negative was the increased cooking time turned the apples to applesauce. It was actually not a very nice textural accompaniment. You would take a wonderful mouthful only to hit an extremely overcooked apple piece and have it turn into soggy mush after the slightest bit of pressure. Not to mention a momentary burst of apple flavor that overpowered the entire mouthful. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the dish but it would have been nice if the apple flavor was a little more subdued and the apple pieces a little more… structurally sound.

Rating: B. If I had planned ahead to screw up I could have saved myself some work by using apple sauce instead of apples and cider. But then who actually plans to fail? Oh wait, I do by failing to plan.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

25. Oven-Baked Brown Rice

Date Cooked: October 3rd, 2008
Page: 215
Rating: C

It has been a very busy Thanksgiving weekend and I anticipate that the next few months will be equally busy as I dive into a home renovation project. But we still need to eat and I still love to cook so this blog will continue! But enough excuses, lets start from where we last left off.

Ah, the comfort of cooking basics. I love rice and it is my favorite starch but I’ve never cooked brown rice before. I was always under the impression that it was tougher to cook and since there was no plain instant version of brown rice, well there are the prepackaged flavor versions that my Uncle Ben makes but I always find those a little bit oily and the rice always tastes undercooked, no matter how long they get cooked. If cooking non-instant rice was a challenge for me I could only imagine how this was going to turn out.

In order to build up a good base for making excuses I did tackle this when I was preparing two other dishes which required a lot more of my attention. So with that said let’s begin. Are you ready for the read of your life? Are you sitting down? Are you sure you can handle the thrill that is oven-baked brown rice?

I put the rice in a ceramic baking dish. I added boiling oil, water and salt. I baked for 1 hour. I fluffed the rice and let it sit covered with a kitchen towel. I let it sit uncovered. I served and ate. That was pretty intense wasn’t it? Wait… did I just type boiling oil? What is this, the dark ages and I am defending my kitchen from invading hordes of barbarians. I may be a bad cook but believe me I boiled water, not oil. Although if I had boiled oil I can assure you this post would have been EXCITING!

Cooking brown rice was actually pretty boring and the result was… equally boring. It was also a little overcooked but that is most likely because I am still trying to figure out the cooking time/temperature adjustments I need to make when using my convection oven. I actually prefer the white rice preparation that I have been cooking from the book. It has much more flavor and is quicker to make. Plus, it uses the stove top so I am not tying up my oven for a rather blasé rice dish. All that said I look forward to trying the other brown rice recipe variations in the book as I am sure an infusion of flavor can only improve upon this.

Rating: C. Nothing inspiring here and I am actually unlikely to make this dish as is again. There is just no real need to spend an hour baking a boring, low flavor dish.

Monday, October 6, 2008

24. Cabbage and Apples Braised in Cider

Date Cooked: October 3rd, 2008
Page: 148
Rating: C+

Sorry it has been a busy week and it will probably only get busier so my time for posting is limited (I usually write these posts during breaks at work but I’m not getting too many of those at the moment). But enough excuses and on with the food adventures!

I had made a vegetable soup early in the week and had a fair amount of cabbage left so I was trying to find a good cabbage recipe from the book. There are not many… recipes in total for cabbage not just good recipes for cabbage. I saw a recipe for braised cabbage and figured that could be interesting. I traditionally only eat cabbage in coleslaw, cabbage rolls and soup. That is the extent of my culinary travels with cabbage so cooking it as a focal point in a dish would be new for me.

The recipe is fairly straight forward so I was able to navigate without too much difficulty. Only one hiccup with this recipe. It starts by sautéing apples in butter. This went well but since I was cooking two other dishes at the same time I may have left the apples sitting for too long before stirring them around. It turns out that the natural sugars in Granny Smith apples can caramelize fairly quickly. I added the apple cider, caraway seeds and some thyme and let it reduce. Then I packed the large saucepan (dutch oven) full of cabbage. Then I had to toss to combine. I loved this part. You see I had so much cabbage that I couldn’t actually maneuver anything in the pot. As I struggled to get the sauce (that was burning on the bottom) to cover the cabbage I was spilling cabbage everywhere. Nothing is as pleasant as lightly syrupy cabbage hitting a hot burner. I love burnt sugar as much as the next person (which is very little, just to make that clear), but cleaning burnt sugar from a burner is not fun. I finally got fed up and just put the cover on and let it cook down some. I returned a few minutes later and was pleasantly surprised to find that it cooked down nicely and I was finally able to get all the cabbage coated, made even easier due to the water released from the cabbage. The water even helped release some of the charcoal from the bottom of the pot.

It really didn’t take long to prepare but the verdict? Well I had two helpings but not really because I liked it but simply because no one else was likely to eat it. I would definitely eat cabbage braised again but I would probably change the additional ingredients. The apple flavor was pretty strong and could have been mellowed out a bit. The apples themselves weren’t really needed and I probably could have just used the cider. I’m also on the fence with regards to caraway seeds. Not sure if I like them, am indifferent to them or dislike them. Basically I have no idea about them. I don’t even know if I could identify their taste in a dish. Really I don’t think I am remotely qualified to talk about them. If they had legal rights I’m sure I would be slapped with a slander suit right now so I will back off the caraway seeds.

Rating: C+ I’m really torn about this one. I wanted to like it and don’t really have anything overwhelmingly bad to say about it but it just wasn’t… right. I won’t prepare this dish again as written, let’s put it that way.

Friday, October 3, 2008


Thank you Cecil of FoodCraze! You have been a reader from the beginning and your creations have inspired me to look beyond the food I know to the world of fine cuisine that all cultures have to offer. The food you prepare makes the stuff I attempt look easy (but for those following along not everything that looks easy has been easy for me). So thanks again for this award! I finally feel like I am earning some blog cred!

But of course this award leaves me with a bit of a dilemma. Who do I award it to? I am new to blogging but I haven’t been reading food blogs for a long time either. So my exposure to the incredibly immense volume of blogs is pretty limited. But I do have a few that I find inspirational. And if Cecil hadn’t given the award to me she would have been at the top of my recipient list for the award back!

Let’s start with…

Kevin at Closet Cooking. This was one of the first blogs that I came across in the summer that hooked me into the world of food blogging. His minimalist blog lets each recipe shine. I was as much inspired by the food as the photos and it was his recipe for hummus that started me down this journey. So thank you Kevin from myself and my family (that get to eat the food you inspired me to make). I’m sure you’ve received these awards before but here is another one!

Deborah at Taste and Tell. When I was surfing the blogs before I had one I came across her preparation of the Meat Loaf from the New Best Recipe, one of the first recipes I would blog about. I am drawn towards blogs that are more than just recipes and Deborah’s fits that nicely. I also appreciate that the food is approachable with the understanding that while we would all love fresh ingredients, and to make everything from scratch the real world doesn’t always give us time. Deborah knows that and provides us with tasty recipes that are practical for a busy life!

Mandy at Home with Mandy. Just recently started reading her blog but I find her blog very entertaining. I really enjoyed the peek inside her fridge. Of course no one will ever see the disaster that I call a fridge!

Laurie at That’s Not What The Recipe Says. Another recent addition to the blogs I follow but her adventures recently in the kitchen when attempting to make fresh ravioli sounded very much like an experience I would have!

Jessica at The Joy of the Joy of Cooking. A fellow cook-through blogger I started reading her blog near the end of her time in Japan. I find her honest approach to cooking (and the difficulties faced in high altitude cooking) refreshing and entertaining. Congratulations to Jessica and Josh on their engagement and I continue to look forward to reading their adventures through the Joy of Cooking.

Adam at Gourmet, All The Way. Another cook-through blogger he is tackling the Gourmet Cook Book. Since he has only recently started I find it very inspiring to follow along to see his process for selecting recipes. He also tends to have some funny anecdotes about the recipes along the way.

This is where I feel bad because I feel I should include every blog I read but for me these seven above strike a particular chord with me and why I am blogging in the first place. Thanks for all the great reads and I look forward to many more!

By the way, this award comes with rules, here they are:
Please find at least 10 more blogs of any kind which you deem to be excellent; but hey if you only come up with 3 or 5, I don’t mind. Post about the blogs you picked, linking back to me and to them. Once you’ve posted, return here to let me know your post is up, and of course let your 10 award winners know too.

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