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Archive for May, 2011

Our May hostess, Denise, of There’s a Newf in My Soup!, challenged The Daring Cooks to make Gumbo! She provided us with all the recipes we’d need, from creole spices, homemade stock, and Louisiana white rice, to Drew’s Chicken & Smoked Sausage Gumbo and Seafood Gumbo from My New Orleans: The Cookbook, by John Besh.

Mandatory Items: Prepare a pot of gumbo, using one of the recipes provided, a variation thereof, or any other gumbo recipe you find that tickles your fancy.

I’m so happy when a Challenge host says to us that we can use any recipe that tickles our fancy, or fits our dietary/lifestyle needs. Because I’m trying to cook more healthfully, traditional recipes don’t always mesh harmoniously with my lifestyle, and long, complicated recipes don’t always mesh with the busy lives we have. When the husband is coming home from work an hour or two late, you don’t want dinner to be stuck in some sort of limbo while waiting, or wait until he’s home to begin the 4-hour-long preparations required for the meal. Plus, this month my folks are in town from Las Vegas, so the Challenge recipe had to be something that a diabetic eater could fit in to her daily diet, and not include shrimp. So while I didn’t go with one of the provided recipes, I was able to find a gumbo recipe that came together quickly, used easy-to-find ingredients, and was healthful enough to possibly become a regular recipe.

Note: My apologies for the quality of the photos! I had to do them with my cellphone camera. I never charged up the rechargeable battery on the good camera. 😦

Chicken & Sausage Gumbo*
serves 4 or 5

6 oz. boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut in 1-inch cubes
9 oz. Aidell’s jalapeno chicken sausage (3 links), sliced
10 oz. frozen gumbo-style vegetables (corn, pepper, okra, and onion)**
1 clove garlic, minced
1 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
1 c. low-sodium chicken broth
15 oz. can diced tomatoes
bay leaf
1/4 tsp. dried thyme***
1/8 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

*This could also be Chicken & Shrimp Gumbo, or Shrimp & Sausage Gumbo, but for one anticrustacean among us. I’m looking forward to a Shrimp & Sausage Gumbo version in future!
**Perhaps it is my geographic area, but a mix of gumbo vegetables could not be found in my local stores. I was, however, able to find a 10-ounce bag of frozen cut okra, so I supplemented that with some frozen whole kernel corn and frozen chopped onions, to total between 10 and 14 ounces.
***WHY DO I NEVER HAVE DRIED THYME?? I seem to be allergic to thyme, in that there is never any in the kitchen, even when I could have sworn there was. I substituted dried tarragon, with no ill effects. With so much chicken in the dish, it was quite complementary.

Step 1: Get your ingredients together and recruit some assistants! As you can see, my assistant is so excited to participate, she has to be held back:

Until she realizes there is food in progress:

Coat the bottom of a large stewpot generously with non-stick spray. Heat to medium-low heat and add the cubed chicken and the sliced sausage. Brown, stirring constantly, about 2 minutes.

Stir in frozen vegetables and garlic; saute until vegetables are thawed, about 5 minutes.

Sprinkle the 1 tablespoon of flour over and cook 1 minute, stirring well. Stir in chicken broth and tomatoes and scrape up any browned bits sticking to the bottom. Add bay leaf, thyme (tarragon), salt, pepper, and simmer 5 minutes.

Remove bay leaf.

At this point, I kept simmering, as I was waiting for the rice cooker to finish up and the gumbo sauce to thicken. I was concerned that it was looking too soupy. When the rice was done and in a bowl on the table — and my diners were waiting — I said the gumbo would be what it would be, and transferred it to a large bowl with a ladle for serving. My dad’s first comment — “Looks good! Although I know some chefs [who] would’ve added a bit more liquid.” So it must not have been too soupy after all! (What qualifies him to pronounce on my gumbo? We lived in Louisiana ages and ages hence.)

In the serving bowl:

Served with rice:

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This is the year of two things: Queen Victoria and Indian cooking. At this moment’s reflection, I realize those two things aren’t necessarily separate. I was looking for easy, “different” recipes for the summer and this jumped right out at me, and was declared an easy winner.

Grilled Tandoori Chicken Skewers with Red Onions
serves 4

1 1/4 lbs. skinless chicken thighs, cut into 32 chunks (about 4 pieces per thigh)*
2 Tbsp tandoori spice mix**
1 medium red onion(s), cut into 16 wedges
2 spray(s) olive oil cooking spray
1/2 cup(s) plain fat-free yogurt

*This measurement is extremely questionable. In the package of thighs I got at my store, 8 thighs is about 2 pounds of meat (a little more). I weighed out a pound and a quarter on my kitchen scale and then cut that in to 32 roughly-same-sized pieces. It came out to about 6 thighs, some larger than others. I didn’t get fewer than 4 pieces from any one thigh, but I got 5 to 6 pieces from others. And I was pleased with this method.

**Once again, I used Patak’s curry paste, available in the Indian foods section of my closest large grocery store.

Put cut-up chicken, 1/2 cup of yogurt, and the spice mix in a resealable plastic food storage bag. Seal bag and turn to mix and coat. Place bag on a plate and refrigerate on lowest shelf for at least 1 hour or up to 8 hours, so you can do this well in advance of dinner if you know your afternoon’s going to be busy.

Preheat grill. Remove chicken from marinade; discard leftover marinade. Thread chicken and onion wedges onto 8 metal skewers, using 4 pieces of chicken and 2 pieces of onion per skewer. I did chicken, onion, chicken chicken, onion, chicken. (If you are using wooden or bamboo skewers, as I did, soak them in water for at least 30 minutes before use to prevent incineration.) Lightly coat chicken and onions with cooking spray.

Grill skewers, turning often, until chicken is no longer pink in center, about 7 to 9 minutes. Yields 2 skewers per serving. Serve with sweet potato fries or cous cous or rice.

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Roasted Onion Cheese Ball

This is an excellent party recipe that can be made, in stages, and ahead of time. I’m going to give you the original recipe from Stonewall Kitchen, the makers of the roasted garlic and onion jam I’m enamored with, but I also give you this caveat: I have yet to make the full-sized recipe come out quite right. But I think that has more to do with the cream cheese than the recipe itself. More below.

Roasted Garlic & Onion Jam Cheese Ball
serves many as an app at a party

16 ounces cream cheese (you can use fat-free)*
1/4 c. Stonewall Kitchen Roasted Garlic Onion Jam
dash of freshly ground pepper
1 1/2 c. Monterey Jack cheese**
1/2 c. chopped pecans

*Caveat: I do not believe that this recipe will work, even in half measures, if you use the cream cheese that comes in a tub. I have tried this twice, once as a full recipe and once as a half recipe, and it didn’t work either time. I think the cream cheese in the tub has a higher moisture content, and it takes more than twice as long to reach a stage in the fridge where it will retain the shape you want to give it. I haven’t tried the full-sized recipe using bricks of cream cheese because only 1 of the stores in my area carries fat-free cream cheese in brick shape, but it works a treat for the half recipe. Stick to the bricks.

**I cannot find low-fat Monterey Jack cheese to save my life. I’ve been using a fancy-shredded low-fat 4 cheese Mexican blend and it’s been a hit all three times I’ve brought this recipe out. If I weren’t striving to make this recipe low-fat, I could use regular Monterey Jack, which can easily be found in the grocery stores; but just so you know, the 4 cheese Mexican-style blend works just fine.

Bring the cream cheese to room temperature. This will make it easier to work with.

When the cream cheese has come to room temp, mix together the cheese, the jam, and the pepper. Fold in the shredded cheese. At this point, I return the bowl with the mixture to the fridge so the mixture can firm to a malleable state and for the flavors to meld. If you are preparing to have guests over, take this opportunity to vacuum something.

Form the chilled mixture in to a ball. It will probably warm up, between your handling it and the warmth of the room, so once it is in a ball return it to the bowl and pop it back in the fridge for fifteen minutes.

When the ball is chilled and firm again, roll in the chopped pecans. Pat the pecans in with your fingertips, gently, to make sure they’re stuck on. Wrap tightly in clear plastic wrap and return to the refrigerator until the guests arrive!

Serve on a plate with a cheese knife and handfuls of small crackers. We prefer Breton Minis.

If you have no other choice than to use the tub cream cheese, don’t panic. Follow all the steps through trying to form the cheese mixture in to a ball. Do not even attempt it because it is icky and you will get stressed out. Mix in the chopped pecans and pour the whole thing in to a serving dish, smooth the top over, and cover the dish with plastic wrap and refrigerate until party time. This tastes NO different as a dip than as a ball, and at a recent party I watched people spread not only crackers but also vegetables and tortilla chips with the cheese “dip.”

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