Sunday, December 30, 2012

Filé Gumbo

Today I’m making a holiday special, Gumbo. Gumbo is derived from a West African word ki ngombo, meaning okra. Basically, there are two types of Gumbo, despite all that you’ve heard, okra and filé. The names come from the main seasoning components. Filé is a seasoning made from sassafras leaves. Other than these two components and the addition of tomato paste to the okra variety, the two gumbos are essentially the same, yet the taste is very different.

Before I begin, a bit more on my background. Now days it is very in to talk about Cajun cooking. You hear about gumbo, and jambalaya, and red beans and rice, and the such as Cajun cooking. When I was growing up, I had never heard of Cajun cooking. Our family was identified as Creole (a French/Black mix), and our ethnic cuisine was Creole cooking.  Of course, the line is a fine one, especially for a Black Creole.  As you may know, the term Creole has had many different interpretations over the years.  The first use of the term was in the early 1700s by Europeans wishing to distinguish foreign born whites from European born.  Foreign born in this context was those born in the French/Spanish colonies in the Western Hemisphere, aka the Americas and the Caribbean. The term was later used to distinguish African born Blacks from colonial born and later still to identify peoples of mixed race, primarily the mixtures of French, Spanish, Black, and Indian, in varying degrees.  These later became the mulattos, which led to the color classifications by the amounts of Black/White blood they contained (quadroons, octoroons, etc...); and once this became too complicated the one drop rule kicked in.  Anyway, my grandparents moved from New Roads, Louisiana into a bayou at the edge of New Orleans, now known as Gentilly.  My grandfather provided for his family by hunting, fishing, crabbing, craw fishing, moss gathering, basically living off the land as any of the other peoples living on the bayou did.  I’m sure he and his Cajun counterparts shared many commonalities, including cuisine. 

So, with all that said, let’s make some gumbo.  I really wanted to make both okra and filé, but I’m just making filé today.

Filé Gumbo

1 large onion
2 (12-16 oz) large turkey smoked sausage (Louisiana hot sausage)
1 (2lbs) turkey ham (ham)
4 pound bag of chicken wingettes (various chicken parts)
2 pounds of Dungeness crab
3 pounds of shrimp
1 ½ cups of flour
   Canola oil
   Black pepper
½ tablespoon of cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons of Mrs. Dash Table Blend
2 tablespoons of filé

First of all, I put into parentheses the more traditional meats; I’m using turkey ham and sausage as a healthier substitute.  I’m sure that could be debatable, as I’m sure you’ve noticed sodium content goes up as fat levels go down; so I try to find low sodium/low fat turkey products.

I fill my gumbo pot about 2/3rds with water and put it on the fire.  While that’s heating, I make my roux.  If you make a good roux, the rest is fairly simple.  The roux is a flour and oil mix, much like making gravy.  In your skillet pour in some oil; I use either a canola or vegetable oil.  Then I pour in my flour over a medium heat.  Now in the ingredients listed above I said 1 ½ cups of flour.  This and the oil you use is an approximation, particularly the oil, which is why I didn’t list how much up there.  You will find that you will need to add more of one of the two as you work to get the right consistency.  What should that consistency be?  Well, you don’t want any lumps in your flour, it should look smooth but not liquidy.  If it is lumpy, add more oil; if it is liquidy, add more flour.  You really have to do this by feel.  All the while you should be moving the roux around in the skillet.  You can’t let it sit still in one spot too long or it will burn.  The goal is to find the right consistency, brown it, but don’t burn it.  Getting the darkest brown you can without burning it is tricky and requires your full attention.  Use your nose as well as your eyes. Once this is achieved, begin adding water to it while you mix it, creating a thick smooth mixture similar to mashed potatoes.  Now pour it into your gumbo pot and continue to mix it into the water.  If your water is still cold it will clump up.  Stir it in until it is well mixed in and there are no lumps.  If you made it through that last sentence, congratulations, your roux is complete.

The next step is to brown your chicken.  In a large skillet add some oil, just enough to keep the chicken from sticking, then toss in your chicken.  Let it brown on one side, then turn it over.  After that is complete, drop it into the pot.  You’re done with your pot for a couple of hours.

You can now turn your attention to the cutting board.  Dice up your onion, put it aside.  Then cube your ham and slice your sausage and set them aside.  If you bought shrimp that needs to have the shells removed and deveined, then you probably should have done that right after your morning coffee.  You can find some fresh shrimp already cleaned for you at most markets these days for just a little more than the shelled ones; if it’s worth your time, it’s worth the extra costs.  You should probably put on your rice at this time also.  There’s nothing worse than smelling a pot of gumbo, ready to be served, and then having to wait for the rice to cook.

Once your chicken starts to get tender, you can sauté your onions until they are clear, then drop them in.  I like to sauté my ham and sausage before I put them in as well, then I drop them in.  My pot was on a medium high fire so my chicken could boil; now I’m going to turn it down to a low medium.  You don’t want to rush this part.  You should be getting a nice aroma filling the air as the meats start to blend.

After another couple of hours, my chicken is starting to fall off the bone, which tells me it’s time to add my crab and shrimp.  I usually take my shrimp and crab out of the refrigerator about half hour before I use them, depending how cold they are; I don’t want them to be cold when they go into the pot.  Besides, I will wash them before I put them in as well.  Now’s the time for them to go in.  They don’t take long to cook, but I do want their flavors to mix in well with the meats. 

So after an hour, I’m ready to season.  I did list some measurements in my ingredients this time, but remember it is to your taste.  I add my black pepper, cayenne pepper, and again I’m using Mrs. Dash instead of salt.  My final step is to add the filé, making sure I mix it in well and adding more if needed.
The gumbo is finish, but should simmer for a while longer so the flavors can continue to blend.  This pot took me about 9 hours from start to bowl.  Traditionally, we usually have another meal cooking alongside the gumbo, which I did: mustard greens and roasted chicken quarters; but that’s for another post.

Happy New Year!


Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Smothered Chicken and Veggies

I try to stay away from fried foods as much as possible, though I do succumb from time to time. Not today. Here is my recipe for smothered chicken in au jus gravy, brown rice, green beans, and honey glazed carrots.

Smothered Chicken and Veggies

1 five pound bag of chicken wing parts
1 bell pepper
2 medium onions
1 cup of brown rice
4 cans of cut green beans
2 cans of sliced carrots
Extra virgin olive oil
Olive oil spray
Mrs. Dash Table Blend
Mrs. Dash Onion & Herb
Garlic Powder
Black Pepper

Green Beans
Today's veggies are green beans and carrots. I'm starting with my green beans so that they can take their time and cook. I usually start them off at a medium heat to get them boiling, then lower it in about half an hour and let them simmer until everything else is finished. But first, I put around a tablespoon of olive oil into my stockpot or enough to cover the bottom. Once it heats up I drop in my diced onion and saute them until they are clear. I immediately pour in the cans of green beans. I let them cook with the top off until I lower the heat; I then cover them, but not completely, leaving a small gap for some steam to escape in order to avoid boiling over. I season with Mrs. Dash Onion & Herb after about an hour into cooking.

I will normally use wings, wing parts, and/or drumsticks for smothering. I decided to use the wing parts for this meal since they were already in the freezer.

I turn my oven on to 350 degrees, wash my chicken, and then season them with Mrs. Dash Table Blend, black pepper, and garlic powder. I spray my 2 quart Corningware saucepan with olive oil and placed the chicken inside, then into the oven uncovered until it starts to brown. I flip them over and let the other side brown; both sides takes around 20 minutes. Once both sides have browned I remove the pan from the oven and add the sliced onion and bell pepper and a cup of water, then cover it and put it back in the oven. If the water gets too low before the chicken is ready to fall off the bone, add a little more as this is your au jus ("with its own juice"). The chicken should be ready in another 45 minutes.

While the chicken is cooking, I put on my brown rice so that it's ready around the same time.

I prefer using a bag of baby carrots for this, but I didn't have any; I did have a couple of cans of carrots though and they work well.

I pour the carrots, juice and all into my stainless steel skillet and bring it to a boil. The canned carrots cook much faster than the fresh ones, so you don't need to cook them long; 10 minutes is good. You then want to pour off the water and saute the carrots in about a teaspoon of olive oil for about a minute, then add in a tablespoon (more or less) of honey. After about another minute or two the honey will be absorbed and the carrots will begin to have a glazed look to them. Their done, and so is your meal!


Saturday, December 8, 2012

Salmon in Tomato Sauce

It’s 8:00 pm and I’m hungry. I just looked in the fridge and there’s barely a serving of leftover green beans. That’s it, nothing else. This is the danger zone; the time when running out for fast food makes sense, but I refuse to give in. So, I’m looking through the cabinets to see what I have that will make a quick dinner. Here’s what I came up with:

Salmon in tomato sauce

This is one of Mom’s old recipes, but with a twist or two. I had a few shrimp left in the freezer and I decided to throw in some curry powder for a little exotic flavor.

1 can pink salmon
1 cup of medium shrimp
½ bell pepper diced
1 onion diced
1 cup brown rice
Mrs. Dash Table Blend
Mrs. Dash Onion & Herb
Curry Powder
Garlic Powder
Black Pepper
Cayenne Pepper

First, I put on my rice, as this will take the longest to cook; then I cut up my veggies. I put a little extra virgin olive oil in my skillet. I prefer my stainless steel skillet for something like this. Once it heats up I drop in the veggies and sauté them until the onions are clear. I add my can of salmon (again, I like to take the bones out as much as possible - just a personal preference), and mix – breaking up the salmon as I go. I then add in the can of tomato sauce and the shrimp. As always, I season according to my own taste and I believe you should too. Personally, I tend to be a little heavy on the garlic and cayenne. I did decide to add about a tablespoon of curry powder for a little twist in the flavor.

There it is, quick and easy. Ready in about 45 minutes; serve it over the rice. 

By the way, I also I had five pounds of carrots on hand, so I dropped these into my Omega 1000 and made some carrot juice to go along with this.


Sunday, December 2, 2012

Collard Greens/Yams/Salmon Croquettes, with Carrot-Mango Juice

Collard Greens/Yams/Salmon Croquettes, with Carrot-Mango Juice

Collard Greens
I use the greens in the bag found in the produce section. So much easier than cleaning and cutting up whole leaves. I do however still wash them even though it says they are pre-washed on the bag.

2 bags of Collard Greens
1 medium sized brown onion

First I dice my onion. I then put approximately 2 tablespoons of Canola Oil in the pot that I'm going to cook the greens in. Once the oil is heated I toss in the onions. I saute the onions over medium heat, constantly stirring them until they appear clear. I then add 4 cups of water, and then the greens. I let them cook for about an hour, more if they are still not tender. I found an healthy foods chef online that insist on cooking greens for 5-10 minutes, just until they are a bright green. I tried that and it wasn't bad, but a little tough. Traditional African American cooking of greens take a bit more time than that, so I'm sticking with tradition here.

I am breaking tradition on the seasonings though. You will notice that there are no seasoning meats like ham hoc or neckbone. I stopped using those some 30 years ago and switched to turkey ham. Now days I go au naturale, no meats at all. Also, I no longer use salt in any of my dishes. Instead I season with garlic powder, black and cayenne pepper, and Mrs. Dash's Table Blend and Mrs. Dash's Onion and Herb.  Now, I know I'm supposed to give you exact measurements so that you can duplicate what I've done here, but like most unschooled-watch-what-your-mama's-doing cooks, I measure by feel and suggest you do so as well. You have to eat this, so season it to your taste...but stay away from that evil salt!


2 medium sized yams

This ones easy. Take your 2 yams, wash them. Wrap them in aluminum foil and place them on a cookie sheet. Heat your oven to 350 degrees and let them cook for approximately an hour. Check them ever so often by lightly pushing on them. The are ready once they are soft. They will let you know when they are ready by giving off a delightful aroma.

Salmon Croquettes

1 can Red (Sockeye) or Pink Salmon
2 medium eggs
1/2 small onion
1/2 bell pepper

I first diced up my veggies and placed them in a bowl that will be large enough to hold the salmon. I personally don't like the bones in my salmon, so I pick them out as much as I can. I then put the salmon in the bowl with the veggies, using a fork to separate the salmon and mix. I add the 2 eggs and season to taste, again using black and cayenne peppers, garlic powder, and Mrs. Dash's Table Blend. Mix well and form into 2-3 inch diameter patties. In a skillet I heat my Canola oil, enough to cover the bottom of the pan by about a 1/4 of an inch. Once it is hot, I drop my patties in, let them brown on one side, turn them over and brown on the other side and then take them out. It takes about 15-20 minutes. Notice that tradition has been broken once again. The usual way to cook these are to cover them in flour, or add flour to the mix. Not necessary, trust me.

Carrot-Mango Juice

10 Carrots
1 Mango

First I wash my carrots and my mango. I then cut off the ends of my carrots, a little something I learned when I first started juicing; it appears that pesticides concentrate at the ends, particularly the stem end. Of course if they are organic, no worries. I then remove the skin from my mango and cut it from the pit. This can be messy, so do it over a bowl so that you don't loose all those good juices. I have an Omega Juicer 1000. Love it! I couldn't live without it or my Vitamix. Anyway, I start off with the first half of my carrots, then add the mango being sure to include the juice that dripped into the bowl, and them the second half of carrots. Because the mango is so soft, it's important to sandwich it between the carrots so that you can squeeze all of the juice out.

Viola! There it is in about an hour and a half to two hours, an exquisite meal.



Earlier this year I was diagnosed with having Excessive Hidden Inflammation, or Chronic Inflammation as it is sometimes called. Shock? Not really. You see I've been having this reoccurring symptom called Iritis. Symptom because it is not an illness in itself. It is a reddening of the eye; sometimes somewhat painful and sensitive to light. I've had it treated several times over the years with the same diagnosis, "Iritis is a signal that there is inflammation in your body somewhere and it is showing up in your eyes." I'd get some prescription eye drops and be on my way.

Well, this year the story took a different turn. The condition was not treated as matter-of-factly as it had been in the past. For one, I had an extensive blood work for a CRP (C-Protien Reactive) Test. The test indicated that my hs-CRP level was extremely high at 56.4 mg/L, where the optimal range is 1.0 mg/L and high is somewhere around 3 mg/L.

So, what does this indicate? Recent studies show that excessively high levels of inflammation are the underlining cause of all the major diseases: heart attacks, diabeties, cancer. etc. For me personally, it is an indication that I am a high risk for a heart attack. Not what I wanted to hear.

I was then sent to a nutritionist, which actually further confounded the whole anomaly of my results. My diet is, and has been for many years, quite healthy. I eliminated red meats from the diet at least 30 years ago. I go on complete no meat binges from time to time, ranging from 3 months to a year. However, my regular diet consist of veggies, legumes, fruit, nuts, grains, poultry, and fish/seafood.  Even so, the nutritionist told me to eliminate or at least reduce the amount of grains in my diet. Rightfully so. As it turns out, food allergies can be a major cause of chronic inflammation. So, because I really do love rice, I reluctantly complied by reducing my grain intake.

Okay, so now I have this blog. I am not a doctor. I do not claim to possess the secrets that will cure illnesses and lead to better health. I do enjoy cooking and I do enjoy good food. Therefore, the sole purpose of this blog is to share some of the healthy meals I fix for my family and myself. I hope you will try them and find them both beneficial and delicious.