Creole Jambalaya

Sorry for the lack of postings, but I\’m traveling. In London last night and Eindhoven, The Netherlands today. However, continuing on the Cajun/Creole theme, here\’s a new recipe.

When you look closely at the word jambalaya, you notice that it is actually three words. “Jambon”, from the French for ham, “ala”, as in the style of and “ya”, the West African word for rice. Shortened and pronounced as jambalaya.



Jambalaya is one of those dishes that seems to be claimed by both Creole and Cajun alike, so here’s my hat in the ring.



Ingredients 

3 Tbsp. Butter
1 lb. lean Pork, cut into ½ inch squares
½ lb. Tasso ham or other baked ham, cut into ½ inch squares
1 lb. Andouille, Creole or Chaurice sausage, cut into ¼ inch pieces
2 large Onions, finely chopped
½ cup green Pepper
½ cup green Onions
4 Garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh Parsley
3 Sprigs fresh Thyme, or ½ tsp. dried thyme
Pinch of ground Cloves
A few grindings of fresh Black Pepper
1/2 tsp. Cayenne Pepper, if you do not like it spicy, this can be omitted.
Two fresh Bay leaves, or one dried bay leaf
1 tsp. Salt
4 ½ cups of low sodium Beef stock
2 tsp. of Liquid smoke
2 cups of white Rice
¼ cup of green Onions, to finish

Melt butter to a large heavy saucepan or cast iron stockpot. Sauté onions, green pepper, garlic and lean pork for 5 minutes and then add the parsley, thyme and green onion and continue cooking for a few more minutes.

Then add all the rest of the spices add the Tasso ham, sausage and slowly brown for 5 minutes. Then add the rice, stir and coat thoroughly and then the beef stock and bring back to a boil, now add the liquid smoke, stir again and cover, and turn heat down to low.

Cook for approx. 35 min. stirring on occasion until liquid is fully absorbed, Take off the heat and let sit for 5 to 10 minutes, then stir in green onions and serve in deep bowls with hot sauce.

How to make a Roux

 A roux is the fundamental base for many classic sauces and is essential in Cajun and Creole cooking. It is a wonderful way to thicken a sauce and is easy to make. The one key to a roux is that the flour must be cooked long enough for the flour to lose its raw taste.


Ingredients 

1/2 – 1 cup of vegetable oil or butter, but not olive oil.
1/2 – 1 cup of flour, all purpose 

Note: If you don’t need this much roux, just use less ingredients, but keep the equal parts ratio.


In a heavy sauce pan or Dutch oven and turn the heat onto medium. Let it heat for a few minutes and then add the oil and allow it to heat for a few more minutes. This is my trick to allow the oil to heat first, as I find that this can allow you to make a perfect dark roux in as little as 30 to 45 minutes.


Now add the flour and stir with a figure eight motion for as long as you need to reach the darkness of the roux you need. I like to use a wooden spoon to make my roux, and the only key at this point is don’t stop stirring or it will burn. If the mixture is cooking too fast and starting to burn, turn down the heat. Roux will burn in an instant, and once burned is not salvageable.

There are four basic types of roux:

White- Only for the most delicate sauces, primarily used in French cuisine.
Light Brown- For delicate dishes like soups (bisques), or as an addition to a sauce.
Medium – For most poultry and seafood dishes. It’s the color of light milk chocolate.
Dark – For smoky dark gumbos for wild game, turkey or really any meat if you like that smoky flavor. It’s the color of dark chocolate. 

Cajun 101- Gumbo

Gumbo can be made so many different ways and books have been written about just the different combinations.

However, this is one of my favorite versions as it is smoky and dark. The flavor needs time to develop, so don’t try and rush it. The slower it cooks the better it will be.


The key to a great gumbo is the roux. Making a good roux is easy, if you follow the steps exactly and again don’t rush. Check back to the earlier posts on making a roux.


Always serve with freshly steamed white rice. I like to medium grain, as it gets nice and sticky. It seems to hold up better with gumbos and jambalayas.


Ingredients 

3/4 cup of vegetable oil
3/4 cup of all purpose flour
2 large onions, chopped
1 large green pepper, chopped
1 cup of celery, chopped with the leaves included
1 lb. of Andouille or other smoked sausage, sliced in half and then in ¾ inch pieces.
1 lb. chicken breast, cut into 1 inch cubes, or skinless chicken thighs
6 cups of hot water
1 Tbsp salt
½ tsp. cayenne pepper
3 bay leaves
½ tsp. thyme, or 1 sprig of fresh thyme
Lots of freshly ground black pepper
1 cup finely chopped green onions
1 Tbsp file powder

Make a dark roux, then add all the vegetables and spices and cook for 5 to 7 minutes. When the smell starts to fill the kitchen it’s ready. Then add the sausage, and cook for another 5 minutes. Now add the hot water and bring it to a boil and then turn it down to medium to low for one hour.

Now add the chicken breast and bring it back to a boil and cook for 2 to 3 hours. When the fat comes to the surface skim it off, otherwise your gumbo will be greasy.

When you’re ready to serve it, take it off the heat and add the file powder and green onions. Let it sit for a few minutes and rest, then spoon into bowls and put your white rice on top.

Onion Tart with Gruyere and Thyme

This tart was epic, so I wanted to share the recipe. I was really happy with how it turned out and once again it was so easy to prepare. The only time involved was in reducing down the onions, but you don\’t need to do much, it just takes time.


As I have said before I am a big believer in frozen pie crusts as long as they are of the best quality. I have found a brand at Whole Foods which are excellent and frankly, I can\’t tell a big  difference from made from scratch. The brand is called Wholly Wholesome and they are the Organic Traditional 9\” Pie Shells. www.whollywholesome.com


However, pie crusts was never one of my specialities, so if you enjoy making crusts, then go ahead and I\’m sure it will be stunning.


Ingredients


4 large Onions, peeled and very thinly sliced
4 oz of Butter
4-5 springs of fresh Thyme, with herb stripped away and stems discarded
4 Eggs
1 pint of Heavy Cream, also known as whipping cream or double cream
1/2 cup of shredded Gruyere cheese
Freshly grated Nutmeg
1/4 tsp Sea Salt
Freshly ground Black Pepper

Peel and then slice the onions very thinly. I find a mandoline makes this much easier. Melt the butter in a heavy sauce pan which has a lid. 

Add the onions into the butter, stir and add the salt and the pepper and fresh thyme and bring to a gentle simmer. Cover and cook for 2 hours on the lowest simmer. Then uncover and continue to cook gently until all of the water is gone and you are left with just the onions and butter.

Now you will need to blind bake/half bake the crust. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, use a fork to gently prick the pie crust on the bottom and on the sides.


Cut a piece of parchment paper so it overlaps the crust slightly and lay it onto the unbaked crust, and fill with dried beans. Push them so you have more beans on the sides and less in the middle. Then bake for 10-15 minutes.

After baking, remove the crust and lift of the parchment paper and allow the crust to cool. The beans can be stored and reused. They will be hot when they come out, so handle with care.

While the crust is baking, prepare the filling, by beating the eggs and then adding in the cream until well blended. Then add in the onion mixture and fold into the filling and then add in the cheese. 

Gently pour mixture into the crust, sprinkle with the freshly grated nutmeg and then bake for 35-45 minutes until done. The best way to check for doneness is to jiggle the baking sheet a bit. If the filling still moves, it is not done, when it is firm, it is done. Remove and allow to cool and serve with a simple salad.

I would serve this with a light white wine, like a Chablis or Sauvignon Blanc.

Pistachio Sauce

I think this sauce is wonderful and it is just perfect on any sort of kebab or grilled meat. I have not tried it on chicken yet, but I can imagine it would be great.


As it keeps well in the refrigerator, you can make a batch and then just allow it to come up to room temperature before serving it. You can always add a bit of water to thin it down as well.


Ingredients

10 oz of pistachios, shelled and ground in a small food processor
1/2 cup tahini
Juice from three lemons
1/4 tsp sea salt
3 cloves of garlic, crushed
1/4 cup of water


Begin by grinding your pistachios in your food processor. You want them to be finely ground, so the sauce will be smooth. Then add the lemon juice, garlic and pulse until mixed. Add in the tahini a bit at a time. It will get very thick, but don\’t be concerned, as you will add your water to thin it down. If it is still thick, you can always add more water. You want it to be the consistency of a thick sauce.


When you are ready to serve it, just pour it over your kebabs or other meats and enjoy.

Kebabs with Pistachio Sauce

I have been awful, not writing for a few days and after promising all of these yummy recipes. Most sincere apologies. Hopefully you will think this one is worth the wait.


I really like this recipe for a few reasons. One, it is easy to prepare, two, it can be made in advance and three, it tastes amazing. For me, this ticks all my boxes.


The important part here is to make sure you read through the recipe first. Also, have your meat ground twice. In other words, ask your butcher to run it through the grinder a second time, and three would be even better. It really integrates the fat into the meat and gives you the moistest kebabs you can imagine.


I would recommend serving this with a Pinot Noir, or if you prefer white, a bold German Riesling.


Ingredients

2 lbs of ground lamb or beef or combination of the two.
3 garlic cloves, crushed
10 oz of finely chopped shelled pistachios, I find it easier to grind/chop them in a small food processor.
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1tsp ground cumin
1 tsp smoked hot or sweet paprika
1 tsp ground black pepper
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp ground coriander seeds
1/8 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp sea salt
1/2 cup fresh flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
2 red onions, finely chopped.


Begin by chopping/grinding your pistachios and put into a bowl with all of the other dry spices. In a food processor, pulse the onions until they are finely chopped then add the parsley which has been roughly chopped and the crushed garlic. Then continue to pulse it until it is almost a puree.


Now in a large bowl pour the onion mixture over the ground meat and work in well with your hands until it is completely blended. Then sprinkle on the pistachio and spice mixture a bit at a time and incorporate it into the meat until it is all completely mixed. This will take about 5 minutes of working the mixture.


Put into the refrigerator allow it to rest. This can be as little as 30 minutes, or up to overnight. However, I think it is easier to form them into the kebab shapes after a shorter period of time and then let them rest in the refrigerator until you are ready to cook. I have left them up to two days and they have been absolutely fine.


When you are ready to form them, make sure that you make them about the size of a short Italian sausage. Approx. 4 inches long by 1 1/2 inch around. This should make about 12 kebabs. I find it much easier to split the meat mixture into 4 equal parts and then each part into three parts and then mold them. This ensures that they are all the same size and that they will cook evenly.


When ready to cook, bring them out of the refrigerator and allow them to sit for at last 30 minutes, so they are not quite so cold. Otherwise, you will find that they will be well done on the outside and raw on the inside.


There are four ways to cook these kebabs. You can brush them with olive oil and cook in a pan/griddle until browned all over, or you can put them on a baking sheet and into a preheated 350 degree oven for approx. 20-25 minutes. Or you can grill them under the broiler for approx. 8-10 minutes, turning them once during grilling. Or, you can cook them on a outside grill.


In the next post, I will give you the recipe for the pistachio sauce. It can easily be made while the kebabs are cooking

Prawns with Orange and Cilantro

This is a perfect light salad or mezze to compliment any sort of kebab, or even on it\’s own. The freshness is just stunning and carries the prawns to an entirely different place.


12 large Prawns/Shrimp, shelled and boiled just until they turn pink.
2 Blood Oranges, or if not available, a normal orange or tangerine, peeled, segmented and seeded
15 small Cherry Tomatoes, sliced in half
2 Shallots, chopped finely
1 Garlic clove, chopped
4 Tbsp Olive Oil
2 inch piece of fresh Ginger Root, grated
1 tsp Smoked Paprika
1 /2 tsp Cumin
1/4 Sea Salt
4 Tbsp chopped Cilantro


Peel, segment and seed the oranges,  and set aside. Boil the prawns until just pink, maybe 3-4 minutes maximum and allow to cool and then mix with the oranges in a serving dish.


Slice the tomatoes and then add with all other ingredients into a food processor and blend, then toss over the prawn and orange mixture and serve or refrigerate.

This would be great with a Pinot Grigio or an Albarino from Spain.

Sunday Dinner by the Bosporus

Sunday is always one of my favorite days to cook, as I can relax and make it a real event. This Sunday was no different, and I made a Turkish feast. Here was the menu:

Beef Kebabs with Pistachio and Tahini Sauce
Tomatoes with Pomegranate Seeds and Sumac
Prawns with Blood Orange and Cilantro
Hummus
Pita Bread
Cardamom Ice Cream from Carmela’s in Pasadena

It was quite the feast and showed me once again how amazing and varied the food from the east can be. The flavors were unique, well matched and tasted great. Everything had a freshness and lightness that really satisfied without being heavy. Suffice to say, it was a great meal.

As I’ve said before, there is a well of recipes and tastes to be had from the foods of Lebanon, Turkey, Morocco, Persia and Greece. The more I discover, the more I want to expand my knowledge.


Wine 101- The Absolute Basics

I have been asked by many readers to give some basic information on wine. I have been trying to find a way to take a subject which is massive and concentrate it down into the essential basics and I think I finally have it, so here goes.


Wine has been around since ancient times. It is the result of grapes which have been pressed and then the juice is allowed to ferment. 


In ancient times wine was not aged, as there was no method to keep the wine airtight, so wine was normally drunk when it was young. In ancient Greece and Rome wine was packed  into clay amphora or large barrels. 


During the early Middle Ages and even somewhat in ancient times it was not unusual to dilute wine with water or flavor it with herbs to soften the flavor. As very few people drank water, this was essential as wine and or beer was drunk throughout the day.


As technology progressed they began to cork wine bottles and then often dipped the neck in wax to further seal it. This is first seen in approx. the 1770\’s. Once they were able to cork and protect the wine in an airtight environment, then the wine could be aged, thus allowing subtle nuances to evolve.



So now that we have the basic history out of the way, let\’s talk about the basics of wine itself. To make it easy, let\’s first look at the types of wine:


White 
Rose
Red
Sparkling
Fortified Wine


Each of these types of wine is made using a variety of different grapes. There are many hundreds of varieties and hybrids of grapes, but we will concern ourselves with the very basic varieties.


White Grapes
Chardonnay
Sauvignon Blanc
Riesling


Red Grapes
Cabernet Sauvignon
Cabernet Franc
Merlot
Pinot Noir
Gamay
Syrah or Shiraz


Understand that this is by no means a comprehensive representation of all of the wine grapes around the world, and is particularly lacking representation for the wine grapes of Spain, Italy and South Africa, but it is a good place to start.


Now let\’s look at a listing of what wines these grapes are made into around the world. It is important to note that in France the names of the wines are from the places the grapes are grown rather than the name of variety used to make the wine. 


So for example, in France, the Chardonnay grape can be used to make a lovely Batard Montrachet, which is a white Burgundy from the Burgundy region of France, but it the name Chardonnay does not show in the name of the wine. 


In all other countries they usually will have either a name of the vineyard and then mention on the back or front of the bottle which grapes where used to make the wine. Example, a famous Chardonnay from California named Kistler will say:


Kistler – Name of the grower or wine
Kistler Vineyard – Name of the specific vineyard where the grapes were grown
Sonoma Valley – The location of the vineyard


And then on the back it will say that it is made with 100% Chardonnay grapes.


Let\’s look at some famous wine grapes and the  regions that utilize these grape varieties. To make it easy, I will outline the French regions first and then the rest of the world afterwards.

White Grapes
Chardonnay– White Burgundy and Champagne and as a variety around the world. Very popular in the US, France and NZ.

Sauvignon Blanc – Pouilly Fumé and Sancerre. Very popular in the US, France, NZ and South Africa.

Riesling – Normally grown and very popular in Germany, Austria and parts of Australia

Red Grapes
Cabernet Sauvignon – Bordeaux and as a variety around the world. Known for very bold full bodied reds in the US, France, Australia and South America.

Cabernet Franc – Usually mixed with other grapes to create blends as in many Bordeaux wines.

Merlot – St. Emiilion and Pomerol. Also used in blends in other parts of the world and on it\’s own in many countries. Known for it\’s soft, plummy and well rounded taste.

Pinot Noir – Burgundy and Champagne and on it\’s own in most of the world. Known for it\’s finesse and softness. Can be some of the greatest wines in the wine and the most expensive. One of the best grapes which reflects the French concept of \”terroir\”, which means the land or place where it was grown. It means simply that grapes grown on different land have a unique taste and style, which can be found no where else in the world.

Gamay – Beaujolais

Syrah or Shiraz – Rhone Vally of France and wines such as Hermitage, Cote Rotie and a little bit in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Grown in large quantities in Australia and creates some world class wines in their hot dry climate.


I hope this gives a little insight into this exciting and complex subject.

Pasta ala\’ Amatriciana

This was a specialty of Florence’s in the North End of Boston. The North End has traditionally been a home for Italian immigrants and is packed with great restaurants and bakeries. 

In addition, it is also the home of Paul Revere\’s house and the Old North Church. If you visit Boston, it is well worth a visit.


After I moved to the West Coast, I tried to develop Florence\’s recipe, and I think this is very close to the original.

This sauce can be made thicker and more concentrated by just using one can of tomatoes. It’s your choice.

I would serve this with any rich Italian red wine. One from the south of Italy would be regionally appropriate.

Ingredients

1 large finely chopped Onion
5 cloves of Garlic, finely chopped
½ lb. Pancetta (Italian Slab Bacon), either cut into ¼ inch cubes or ¼ inch strips
2- 28 oz. cans of crushed Tomatoes, or whole tomatoes that are lightly chopped in the processor. San Marzano’s are the best.
3 tsp. Red Pepper flakes or a few whole red chili peppers – Optional
2 Tbsp. Butter
Few grindings of fresh Nutmeg
Salt and freshly ground Black Pepper
Grated Romano and/or Parmesan Cheese

Melt the butter over medium heat, and add the pancetta. After the pancetta starts to release it’s aroma and renders down, add the onion, garlic, and cook until translucent. 

Now add the nutmeg, red pepper flakes and the salt and pepper. You want to just let the mixture sauté until it smells fantastic, usually about 5 to 10 minutes over medium heat.

Then add the tomatoes, bring it back to a boil, and then reduce the heat down and let it simmer. After 1 to 2 hours, you will have an amazing rich sauce, which is perfect with any tube pasta. Florence always served it with penne, so I do the same.

Before you add the sauce, always sprinkle your grated cheese over the pasta, toss and then add the sauce and toss again, and then add more Parmesan cheese. Tossing is the key to a well-made pasta dish.