Saturday, December 27

Leftover turkey = a dang good GUMBO!

Being from Texas I have grown up eating really good Tex Mex, which I talk ALOT about on this blog. However, being from the Gulf coast region of Texas, I have also had my share of really good seafood. Some of my favorite memories are the summers spent at our beach house at Caplan beach on the Boliver peninsula. There was a place called Milt's seafood and my mom used to buy huge buckets of raw oysters. My sisters and I would PLOW through those buckets to find the elusive pearls. We had plenty of shrimp boils, soft shell crabs and barbequed crabs.

Yet we also have a teeny tiny cajun influence. My mother is the only sibling out of 4 NOT born in New Orleans. My grandfather went to Tulane and my grandmother to Sophie Newcomb. Sometime in the 40's they moved to Texas, Port Arthur to be exact, and that is where my mom made her debut into the world. I certainly can't claim to be a cajun, but there are strong cajun influences in Port Arthur. One of my mom's friends, also from Port Arthur, owned a very popular restaurant in Houston called the Rajin' Cajun, so we always had our fill of some pretty amazing cajun food. Countless boiled crawfish, poboys, etouffes and of course, gumbo.

For some reason, gumbo has always seemed really intimidating to me. I waited tables while in college at a high-end cajun restaurant called Denis' in Houston. Denis' gumbo recipe was a tightly guarded secret and he wouldn't tolerate roaming eyes in the kitchen. He just used to mumble something about a good roux being the secret and lifeblood of a good gumbo and then would cuss and yell at you to get out of there. I was satisfied to just eat it and enjoy it. I didn't need to know how to make it, and quite frankly felt sorry for the cooks who got there at the crack of dawn to make it.

Well, a decade down the road, curiosity and cravings got the better of me. We had a lot of left over turkey and I had deboned it and boiled the carcass and had a great stock to use for SOMETHING. Lately, I have really been craving gumbo. I started snooping around the internet, not quite committed to making it, just wanting to assess what exactly goes into this mythical roux making process. IF I was going to attempt to make it, I needed to be prepared. Honestly, I am not sure what all the fuss is about. It seems the hardest thing about making the roux is the constant stirring and something called 'cajun napalm'. I was more concerned about the stirring than the napalm, which in hindsight was a very naive thing.

So, I recruited my Christopher to be a stand in stirrer if my stirring arm were to give out unexpectedly. He got a stern lecture on the importance of jumping in IMMEDIETELY if I called out for him, and with that precaution in place, we got started on the roux.

The bones of a roux is basically a cup of flour and a cup of oil. Using a heavy bottomed pot, preferably cast iron according to the cajuns, dump both ingredients in and start stirring over medium high heat.

Keep stirring. It was amusing for about the first 15 minutes. Keep stirring. The goal is for the roux to turn from light to dark. So, again, keep stirring:

This is about the shade of brown-ness where my stirring arm gave out. Luckily, Christopher had been trained well, and jumped in and kept stirring:
This is also the stage where the cajun napalm warning came in handy. This stuff POPS and SPLATTERS and when it lands on your skin it burns like hell. It kept popping me. I am not exaggerating when I tell you that by the end of the roux making process I had at least one blister on my face and several on my arms! You need to be TOUGH to make gumbo. No sissy's allowed. And after about 33 and a half minutes we had gotten ourselves to this shade of roux:

I'm not sure if it should have been darker or not, but after my time investment and 3rd degree napalm burns, I wasn't taking any chances of ruining it. So to this glorious roux, I proceeded to add what is known as the 'Holy trinity'. Which is onions, celery and green bell pepper. I added some carrots as well, which I am sure would have caused any good cajun to have heart palpitations, but hey, I'm not a cajun, I'm a Texan and we are rebels by nature. You just add them directly to the roux and keep stirring for another 3 or 4 or 5 minutes, or really as long as you dare.

I felt like I was playing a game of chicken with the roux and at any moment the volitile brew would turn on me, so I started slowly adding my turkey broth before the roux could go rouge on me. I also added the turkey, some smoked sausage and okra. I then let it simmer for about an hour.

Meanwhile, I made some cornbread and cooked some rice. And then, the moment of truth, time to taste it. To say I was stunned would have been an understatment. I couldn't believe what I was tasting! It tasted like GUMBO!! Not only that, it tasted like GOOD gumbo!! I made gumbo!! I am still a bit in shock over it and am glad I have these photos that document it to prove that it really did happen:

It was truly a culinary triumph for me and one that I feel very proud of! So, if there is a lesson to be learned here, it's to just go ahead and TRY to make that recipe that you have been scared of for a long time! You just might surprise yourself and make something so delicious you will wonder why you didn't try it sooner! Gumbo. Demystified.

Feels good.

Thursday, December 25

SICK of Christmas food. Must. Have. Tex Mex.

Well, it's that time of year again. Christmas food galore. Here in Norway, it seems as though we start eating Christmas food about 2 weeks before Christmas. And Norwegian Christmas food is like no other I have had before. Rarely is there a vegetable in sight, and the higher the fat content, the better. Needless to say, I am DONE. I can't eat another piece of ribbe, jule polse, kjøttkaker or anything else I can hardly pronounce.

That being said, today I had such a strong craving for Tex Mex that it about knocked me over. I haven't had it in quite sometime, which is unlike me, so I started going through my mental Tex Mex menu. Growing up in Houston, I had the pleasure of having a number of mom and pop Tex Mex operations pretty much on every corner. I remember so many times out to eat with my family ordering the 'Speedy Gonzales' plate. If you are from Texas, you will know that the Speedy Gonzales is single cheese enchilada, a beef taco in a HARD shell and rice and beans. That's it. A perfect plate for a kid and I think my sisters and I must have consumed thousands of these through the years.

What I would have done for a Speedy Gonzales today. But, I didn't have what it would take to reproduce it, so I settled on creating a plate of super nachos! I love nachos because they are EASY. All you have to do is throw everything on some chips and broil it for a couple of minutes. It is nearly impossible to mess up. I say nearly cause if I said it was impossible, inevitably, someone out there would find a way to screw up nachos. So, this way, we cover all our bases.

I had some pintos that I had made a few months ago in the freezer, so I took them out and reheated them and I had some ground beef in the fridge that REALLY needed to be used, so I cooked that and added Penzey's Ancho chili powder and cumin.

After both of these were cooked, I arranged a baking sheet with nacho chips:

And topped the chips with the beans and the meat:

To this I added chopped pickled jalepenos:

And topped it all with grated cheddar. I use white cheddar cause that is what we have in Norway, but I have actually really grown to love it. It's not sharp at all and has a good mellow flavor. Then just slap it in a hot oven. I usually turn the temperature up to just below broiling, which for me, means about 230 celcius.

Meanwhile, I whipped up a batch of Ninfa's famous green salsa. Lisa over at the Homesick Texan has a great post on this recipe, so if you have all of the ingredients, by all means use her blog as a guide! I cheated, and started with a jar of La Costena Salsa Verde and to that, added a ripe avocado and used my stick blender to make it smooth. I then stirred in some sour cream. It really does taste JUST like Ninfa's green salsa and just makes everything taste better:

Take the nachos out of the oven when the edges turn brown and the cheese is bubbly:

Top the nachos with whatever cold things you want. I used tomatoes, lettuce, cilantro and chopped white onion and put a generous helping of the green salsa on the bottom of the plate to put the nachos on top of:

Of course I had to have a diet coke over ice:

And I was in HEAVEN. It was like a Christmas miracle. Those flavors were just amazing after all of the rich and heavy food I have been consuming over the last few weeks. It's times like these that I am so thankful for my Texas roots and even more thankful for my ability to recreate some of my favorite flavors in food:

Who wants turkey now???

Merry Christmas from Norway, y'all!

Friday, December 12

You know you grew up in the 70's if...

You wore a rainbow shirt that was half-sleeves, and the rainbow went up one sleeve, across your chest, and down the other.

You made baby chocolate cakes in your Easy Bake Oven and washed them down with snow cones from your Snoopy Snow Cone Machine.

You had that Fisher Price Doctor's Kit with a stethoscope that actually worked.

You owned a bicycle with a banana seat and a basket.

You even owned roller skates with metal wheels.

You thought Gopher from Love Boat was cute (Admit it!)

You had nightmares after watching Fantasy Island.

You had rubber boots for rainy/snowy days -remember Moon boots (you then advanced to Duck Shoes in the 80's)

You had either a "bowl cut" or "pixie," not to mention the Dorothy Hamill" because your Mom was sick of braiding your hair. How traumatic when people thought you were a boy.

Your Holly Hobbie sleeping bag was your most prized possession.

You wore a poncho, gauchos, and knickers.

You begged Santa for the electronic game, Simon.

You had the Donnie and Marie dolls with those pink and purple shredded outfits.

You spent hours out back on your metal swing set with the trapeze.

You had homemade ribbon barrettes in every imaginable color.

You even had a pair of Doctor Scholl's sandals (the ones with hard sole & the buckle).

You wanted to be Laura Ingalls Wilder really bad; you wore that Little House on the Prairie-inspired plaid, ruffle shirt with the high neck in at least one school picture; and you despised Nellie Olson!

You wanted your first kiss to be at the roller rink.

Your hairstyle was described as having "wings" and you kept it "pretty" with the comb you kept in your back pocket.

You know who Strawberry Shortcake is, as well as her friends, Blueberry Muffin and Huckleberry Pie.

You carried a Muppets lunch box to school.

You and your girlfriends would fight over which of the Dukes of Hazzard was your boyfriend.

Every now and then "It's a Hard Knock Life" from the movie,"Annie" will pop into your brain and you can't stopsinging it the whole day.

YOU had Star Wars action figures, too.

It was a big event in your household each year when the "Wizard of Oz" would come on TV. Your mom would break out the popcorn and sleeping bags!

You even asked your Magic-8 ball the question: "Who will I marry. Shaun Cassidy, Leif Garrett, or Rick Springfield?"

You completely wore out your Grease, Saturday Night Fever, and Fame soundtrack albums.

You tried to do lots of arts and crafts, like yarn and Popsicle-stick God's eyes, or those weird potholders made on a plastic loom.

You made Shrinky-Dinks!

You used to tape record songs off the radio by holding your portable tape player up to the speaker.

You couldn't wait to get the free animal poster that came when you ordered books from the Weekly Reader book club.

You learned everything you needed to know about girl issues from Judy Blume books (Are you there God, It's me,Margaret.)

You thought Olivia Newton John's song "Physical" was about aerobics.

You wore friendship pins on your tennis shoes, or shoelaces with heart or rainbow designs.

You wanted to be a Solid Gold dancer.

You had a Big Wheel with a brake on the side, and a Sit-n-Spin.

You had subscriptions to Dynamite and Tiger Beat!!