The Story of post-Thanksgiving Gumbo

There has been a tradition in our family for a number of years now of making gumbo with our leftover turkey on the Friday after Thanksgiving.  I’m not sure exactly when it started, but Thanksgiving just isn’t Thanksgiving until we’ve made gumbo.

My aunt even brings her own container to take it home in when she comes to visit.  This year she was unable to join us, but we were thinking of her while we made it.  If we could ship it long distances, it would be on its way to Florida as I type.

I claim a pretty mixed-bag of southern roots.  I was born in Mississippi and  raised in Georgia (spending large portions of my childhood summers in the Mississippi countryside).  My mother was born in Texas and grew up between Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi.  Her mother was born and raised in Louisiana, and her father was born and raised in Mississippi.  My father’s people are strictly Mississippi as far as I know (although now we’re all scattered throughout the US).  Needless to say, my heritage is southern, through and through.
This particular recipe hearkens back to my Louisiana decedents.  It is a pretty even mixture of the Cajun and Creole versions as it uses both a brown roux and file powder as thickeners, and it has a tomato base.  Sometimes we add shrimp, sometimes not (this version is completely sans seafood), but we always add andouille sausage for extra flavor – this year we’re using my house-made andouille and fresh turkey stock.
Turkey neck, backbones and carcass simmering away with celery, onion and carrot to make a lovely dark turkey stock.
You can throw in pretty much anything you might have on hand, meat-wise.  One year we added wild duck to the mix because my cousin had bagged a few on a recent hunting trip.  When we are in Florida for the holiday (although it has been admittedly too long since we’ve gotten down there for Thanksgiving), we add lots of seafood.  If you’ve got venison, toss it in there.  The beauty of gumbo is that it’s a perfect vehicle for using up various bits of leftovers you might have lying around the fridge and freezer.
Now, I like okra in my gumbo, but my mother does not.  As she will be enjoying the final product with us, we will not be adding okra to this pot.  However, please feel free to add it to yours – it can only make it better (in my oh-so humble opinion).
The bones of this recipe are adapted from David Rosengarten’s Dean and Deluca cookbook.  If you’re familiar with Mr. Rosengarten, you know he is quite the food historian; therefore, I trust his recipes for their authenticity and their consistency. The adaptations here are that I use turkey stock in place of seafood stock or clam juice, and I use turkey in place of the crawfish he suggests.  Otherwise, I follow his recipe pretty closely.
Spicy Red File-Thickened Gumbo
with Turkey and Andouille
prep time: 20 minutes
cook time: 4 hours
serves: 8-10
Ingredients
2/3 cup vegetable oil
2/3 cup flour
1/4 cup minced garlic
2 cups minced onion
2 cups minced celery
1 cup minced green bell pepper
1 cup minced red bell pepper
1 cup minced scallions or green onions
2 quarts plus 1 cup turkey stock
two 28-ounce cans of crushed tomatoes
2 bay leaves
2 teaspoons dried thyme leaves
1 teaspoon dried oregano leaves
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
2 cloves
1/2 teaspoon Louisiana hot sauce, or to taste
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon lemon juice
1-2 pounds andouille sausage, cut in 1/4-inch slices
1-2 pounds cooked turkey meat
1-2 tablespoons file powder
cooked rice as an accompaniment

Heat stock in a large stock-pot.

Flour and oil, before they have become a dark roux

In a large skillet, make roux by combining oil and flour.  Stir constantly with a flat wooden spoon or a roux whisk over medium-low heat until mixture turns a redish-brown color.  If you think it is getting too brown or about to burn, immediately remove it from the heat.

Dark, reddish brown roux

Add chopped garlic, onions, peppers, celery and green onion to the roux to stop the cooking.

Add the roux to the hot stock and whisk to combine.  Add the tomatoes, bay leaves, thyme, oregano, cayenne and cloves.  Now add the sausage and the turkey.

Let simmer over low heat for 3 hours or more.

Serve over boiled rice.  Add hot-sauce, a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of file powder to individual bowls.  Do not add file powder to gumbo while it is cooking, as it will result in a stringy-textured end product.

I recommend this as a different way to use up that leftover turkey you’ve got taking up space in your fridge.  You’ll probably still have some left for turkey sandwiches, but this will give new life to what might otherwise be considered boring Thanksgiving leftovers.

Enjoy!

Southern Culinary Traditions At the King and Prince: Shrimp and Grits

A week or so ago, I packed a bag, grabbed my camera and laptop, and climbed in a car with my good friend, Rachel.  We drove five hours south of Atlanta to St. Simons Island, Georgia for three nights and two days at the King and Prince Beach and Golf Resort.  Rachel and I have traveled together many times over the years, and I can honestly say this was one of the best trips we’ve ever taken.

The historic building at The King and Prince Beach and Golf Resort

It was a bit of a working vacation, as we had both been invited to attend a FAM trip focusing on the resort and their efforts to incorporate local and regional cuisine into their dining experiences.  If you’re unfamiliar (ha!) with the term, FAM is short for “familiarization,” and these trips are often offered to travel writers and agents as a way for them to educate themselves about an area.  Obviously I am neither a travel writer nor a travel agent, but since this trip focused on Southern Culinary Traditions, they were also looking for writers who focused more on food.   This is the first sponsored trip that I’ve been invited on, and I am admittedly a little ambiguous about them.  Since I don’t have a reference point, it’s hard to say whether this trip was typical; however I was very impressed by the fact that, even though the trip was sponsored by the King and Prince, we were exposed to a myriad of local vendors, growers, producers and attractions.  It really felt like an educational opportunity, and in that sense it was an extremely enriching experience.  This is the first in a series of posts focusing on what I learned over the course of three days.

The view from my room at The King and Prince Beach and Golf Resort

The King and Prince is a historic hotel, opened in 1935 as a seaside dance club.  It has seen many iterations over the years, including serving as a naval coast-watching and training facility during World War II.  In its current state, it is an elegant resort with multiple dining options, five swimming pools and it boasts the distinction of being the only beach-front hotel in St. Simons Island.

The interior of my room at the King and Prince Beach and Golf Resort

The rooms are spacious and  comfortably appointed.  Each room has a Keurig coffee maker, mini-refrigerator, free wi-fi, flat screen television and either one king or two queen beds.  My room had a small balcony overlooking the pool and the beach and ocean beyond.  There are a number of premium rooms available, as well as villas and resort residences.

The lobby of the King and Prince Beach and Golf Resort

When we arrived at the King and Prince on Sunday, we were greeted by a light-filled lobby, a friendly reception agent and the hotel’s publicist, Leigh Cort.  We had time that afternoon to get settled in our rooms and then it was off on the Lighthouse Trolley for an excursion to the old Coast Guard Station and Maritime Museum.  St. Simons Island has a storied past spanning the prehistoric and historic eras and rife with interesting tidbits related to Native Americans, Spanish explorers, Revolutionary war battles, rice and cotton plantations, Gullah Geechee culture, and German U-boats.  The Coastal Georgia Historical Society offers a number of different programs related to the history and culture of St. Simons.

Cheeses from Flat Creek Lodge, Georgia pecans, Savannah Bee Company Honey

Upon our return to the hotel, we were treated to cocktails courtesy of 13th Colony Distillery, and an assortment of cheeses from Flat Creek Lodge Dairy.  The hotel’s Director of Food and Beverage, Vinny D’Agostino, is making a concerted effort to incorporate local and regional products into his various menus, and these are just a couple of the vendors with whom he’s been working.  Although he’s only been with The King and Prince for a short while, he’s making significant changes to their Food and Beverage Program, using wild-caught seafood, most of it from local and regional waters; incorporating prohibition-era cocktails utilizing spirits from 13th Colony; Featuring Georgia vineyards on the Wine Menu; working with the Georgia Olive Growers Association to get the word out about their product; and partnering with a variety of other growers and producers to round out his offerings.

Southern Gin, Plantation Vodka, Southern Corn Whiskey from 13th Colony Distillery

For dinner, we dined on shrimp and grits.  The hotel’s chefs did a cooking demonstration in the Solarium, and they were kind enough to share the recipe with everyone so that we could try it at home.

Table set for dinner in the hotel's Solarium

Dinner itself was lovely, both the food and the company.  Although it was our first night together as a group, the conversation flowed as easily as the food.  I’m sure some of that could be attributed to the abundant cocktails and wine, but I also think it has a lot to do with the setting and the simple act of breaking bread together.  Food is the great equalizer (we all have to eat), and when you enjoy a meal together, you’re sharing more than just the food – you’re sharing stories and experiences that might not otherwise be revealed in a different setting.  The fact that this trip centered on food gave us all an opportunity to get to know each other in a comfortable setting over delicious cuisine.  Again, the wine and spirits didn’t hurt matters at all.

Shrimp and Grits in a Tasso Cream Sauce

My first experience with Shrimp and Grits was at Crook’s Corner in Chapel Hill, North Carolina back in the mid-nineties.  Since then I’ve tried a number of different variations on the same theme, but have not, until now,  encountered Shrimp and Grits to rival those at Crook’s.  The version that Vinny and his team presented to us on Sunday night might just have surpassed them.  The combination of cajun spices, tasso ham, whole kernel corn, stone ground grits, sweet white Georgia shrimp, and a rich cream sauce came together to create a well balanced combination of flavors and textures.

Homemade version of the King and Prince's Shrimp and Grits

It was so good that I recreated it for my family when I got home.  We will make it back down to St. Simons Island and The King and Prince sometime in the near future, I feel certain of that. In the meantime, I can share the culinary souvenirs that I brought back and spread the word about this quaint little island and all that it has to offer.

Ingredients for Shrimp and Grits

Shrimp & Grits (adapted from King and Prince Shrimp & Grits in a Tasso Cream Sauce)
prep time: 10 minutes
cook time: 20 minutes
serves: 4-6

Ingredients

  • 1 pound wild Georgia white shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 1/2 cup tasso ham (I couldn’t find tasso, so I used 4 sliced of uncured peppered bacon instead)
  • 1/2 cup chopped green onions
  • 1 cup whole-kernel white corn
  • 1 cup diced tomatoes
  • 1 clove garlic, grated
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 cup half-and-half
  • 1 cup asiago cheese, divided
  • 4-6 servings of stone-ground grits, prepared according to package directions

  1. Prepare grits according to package instructions.  For more flavor, replace the cooking water with chicken stock.
  2. Chop meat (either tasso ham or bacon) into small pieces and saute in a large skillet over medium heat until crispy and all of the fat has rendered out.
  3. Drain all but 1 tablespoon of the fat from the pan and add the green onions.  Saute until wilted
  4. Add the corn, tomatoes, garlic, cayenne and thyme.  Stir to heat through.
  5. Add the shrimp and saute until just cooked through
  6. Add 3/4 cup of the half-and-half and 3/4 cup of the cheese.  Stir to combine and remove from the heat.
  7. Add the remaining half-and-half and cheese to the grits and stir to combine.  Taste both the shrimp mixture and the grits for seasoning.  Add salt and pepper to taste.
  8. Serve shrimp mixture spooned over grits.  Garnish with additional green onions and cheese.
  9. Enjoy!

Disclaimer: While our accommodations and food were provided by the King and Prince Beach and Golf Resort, I was not compensated for the trip and the opinions in this post are mine.  I was under no obligation to write about my experience, but I felt compelled given how much I enjoyed my stay.  Thank you to our hosts and to the residents of St. Simons Island for a truly memorable time.

$5 Slow Food Challenge: Jambalaya and Community

The concept of community is relatively new for me, but I’m learning to embrace the idea.  I’m lucky, because my neighbors are warm and welcoming – something that I’ve not always been completely familiar or comfortable with.  I’m getting there, though – more and more every day.

I signed on with Slow Food USA about a month ago to take their $5 challenge. I had these grandiose ideas that I’d throw an elaborate dinner party and invite friends and family to be a part of it.  Then I realized that the scheduled date for the challenge coincided with a writing workshop that I’d already paid to attend.  So, I decided that instead of doing it on the 17th, I’d do it on the 18th, mostly so I could do it justice.  And it wouldn’t be a dinner party, per se. It would just be dinner for the family.  The immediate family – the ones that live in this house.  At least, that’s how it started.

Anthony Bourdain says, on his Travel Channel blog, that “the greatest , most beloved and iconic dishes in the pantheon of gastronomy—in any of the world’s mother cuisines—French, Italian or Chinese–originated with poor, hard-pressed, hard working farmers and laborers with no time, little money and no refrigeration.”

For this $5 challenge, I decided to look to one of those beloved and iconic dishes – one that originated in a culture that thrived mainly because the people who cultivated it knew how to stretch just about everything to make it last longer and go further.  Jambalaya (both the Creole and the Cajun version) derives from Spanish paella, and uses inexpensive but flavorful ingredients to create an abundant, filling meal.

There is a sense of community in the Cajun/Creole culture.  An ingrained reliance on neighbors and extended family for support and sustenance.  A cooperative spirit.  As a whole, we’ve moved away from this sense of community – everyone is so isolated, so insulated from each other.  We’ve forgotten where we come from in our hurry to get where we’re going, and we ignore the importance of tradition and camaraderie in our quest for self reliance.  And I’m as guilty of it as the next person.

Yesterday, as I gathered the ingredients for this simple dinner, intending for it to feed only myself, my husband and our two boys (and perhaps my mother, if she didn’t already have dinner plans), I got a text message from our neighbor across the street.  She was inviting us to come over for an afternoon swim.  I had just started cooking, and I wasn’t sure whether my husband would be done with yard work in time, or that I’d have dinner ready anytime soon, so I started to text her back with a “thanks, but no thanks – maybe next time” kind of message.

But then I reconsidered.  I looked at the pound of sausage that I was browning, and the 8 chicken legs I had waiting in the wings, and the two cups of rice, and I thought: this is enough to feed all of us, and still have food left over.  So instead of “thanks, but no thanks” I told her I’d just started cooking jambalaya, but that we’d love to share with her and her husband.  So, an hour later, we trekked across the street in our bathing suits, carrying a large pot of jambalaya and some of the last tomatoes from our garden, and we shared a meal with our neighbors.  And it was that much better because of the sharing.

I managed to make this meal for about $16 total, but that’s mainly because the majority of the ingredients came from my garden and my canning pantry.  I used chicken stock that I’d put up a while back, a jar of tomatoes that I’d canned during the peak of tomato season, and the bell peppers, thyme and parsley also came from the garden.  The andouille came from a regional supplier to Harry’s Farmer’s Market and was probably the most expensive part of the dish at $6.99 a pound.  The chicken came from two pounds of organic drumsticks that I’d bought for $2.99 a pound a while back and froze for use at a later date.  I don’t think they were local, but they were just about the only part of the dish that wasn’t – well, except for the rice.   If you break that down, we fed seven people for about $2.25 per person, and we had leftovers.

Jambalaya
prep time: 10 minutes
cook time: 1 hour
serves: 8-10

Ingredients

  • 1 lb. fresh or smoked andouille sausage
  • 2 lbs. chicken parts
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 green bell pepper, diced
  • 2 celery stalks, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon dried parsley
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 1/2 cups brown rice
  • 3 cups canned diced tomatoes, with juice
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  1. Begin by browning the sausage in a heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat, allowing some of the fat to render out.
  2. Remove the sausage to a plate and brown the chicken parts in the fat from the sausage.  I removed the skin from the chicken legs, but you can leave it on if you want (more flavor that way, but also more fat).
  3. Remove the chicken to a plate
  4. Saute the onion, celery, pepper and garlic in the same pan you browned the meat in
  5. Add the uncooked rice, parsley, thyme, salt and pepper and stir to combine.
  6. Slice the sausage into 1/2-inch thick rounds and add it and the chicken back to the pot.
  7. Add the tomatoes and the chicken stock to the pan and stir to combine.
  8. Reduce heat to a simmer and cover.  Allow to simmer, covered until the rice is cooked through.  Cook uncovered to thicken sauce if necessary.
  9. Enjoy!

>Comfort Food: Red Beans and Rice

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Okay, so these aren’t exactly RED beans.  They’re actually Cranberry beans, and they’re the closest thing I had to red  beans in my pantry.  I think they’re really pretty in their dried state, and they’re packed with lots of good fiber (if you’re interested in that sort of thing). 
From the time I was six years old, it was just my mom and me.  For about four years early on, we lived in a little two bedroom apartment, and I can still remember most of the meals that we ate like it was yesterday.  
There was canned tuna on toast with melted cheddar cheese; breaded chicken patties, served with canned green beans (or perhaps peas) and macaroni and cheese; vegetable soup (made in huge batches and frozen); spaghetti and meat sauce, usually with a salad.  And there was red beans and rice. 
Looking back, I realize that money must have been tight during those years.  A single mother raising a child on her own, away from a family support system – it couldn’t have been easy.  As a child, though, it never occurred to me that our life might be different from anyone else’s.  I never wanted for clothes or toys, and there was always food on the table.  Really good food.
As I grew older, we moved up from that little apartment into a townhouse and then into a single-family home in a subdivision.  However, our meal choices didn’t change all that much.  The tuna on toast and the breaded chicken patties went by the wayside, but the vegetable soup, spaghetti with meat sauce and red beans and rice stayed with us.  If there’s one thing I learned from my mother (and I hope there’s more than one thing), it’s the value of cooking at home, especially with inexpensive ingredients like beans and rice.  
So now, when I find myself making one of those dishes, I’m always taken back to those lean years.  I’m reminded that these are meals that transcend circumstance.  These are meals that you can enjoy whether you have a lot or a little.  They taste good, they’re easy to execute, and they don’t cost very much to make.
 
 
Now, when I was growing up, I think Mom used kielbasa or some other beef smoked sausage in our red beans and rice.  Now that I’m making my own version of this childhood favorite, I use a more traditional sausage – Andouille.  In fact,  I had some andouille in my freezer that I’d made over the summer.
You can see along the edges where it’s kind of pink – that’s the result of slow smoking over a hardwood fire.  Andouille is a pork based sausage, complex with flavors from thyme, allspice, cloves, nutmeg, garlic and cayenne pepper.  It ranges from extremely spicy to fairly mild.  The great thing about making it yourself is that you can control the heat.  This has a nice warm heat, without being overpowering.
Red Beans and Rice
prep time: 2-24 hours
cook time: 2 hours
yield: 8-10 servings
Ingredients
1 lb. beans, soaked
1 cup chopped green onion
1 red bell pepper, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 lb. andouille sausage, chopped
2 cups (uncooked) brown rice
salt and pepper to taste
  1. Place soaked beans, onions, pepper, garlic, bay leaves, thyme and oregano in a pot and cover with 8 cups of water.  Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook, covered, until beans are al dente. Taste for seasoning.  Add salt and pepper to taste.
  2. Add sausage to the pot and simmer for another 30-45 minutes, just until beans are tender.
  3. Cook rice according to package directions.  
  4. Remove bay leaves from beans.
  5. Serve beans and sausage over rice.
  6. Enjoy!

Even though my five year old doesn’t normally like beans, he scarfed this up.  The sausage really does impart a lot of flavor, making the whole thing taste very meaty.  In an effort to curtail the heat, we served the kids theirs without any sausage, since most of the heat is contained within the meat.  P did complain that the broth was a little spicy, but he just drank some milk and kept on going.  You could easily do this with another type of sausage, including a smoked turkey or chicken version.  I’ve even done it completely without meat, using chipotles in adobo to impart some smokey heat in place of the andouille.  

>Recipes from the Pirate’s Pantry, and a Forrest Gump reference

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Today’s dinner recipe comes from a beloved Junior League of Lake Charles, Louisiana cookbook called Pirate’s Pantry.  This book was originally published in 1976, and we’ve had it in our family for about that long.
Amazingly, it’s still available for purchase from Amazon.  This book is not actually in my collection, it’s in my mother’s, but I figure it counts since it’s all in the family.

Mom had been craving shrimp in some form or another, so we started pouring through our respective cookbooks looking for something that featured the crustacean at the forefront.  We talked about Shrimp Etouffe, Shrimp Jambalaya, Boiled Shrimp, Fried Shrimp (then we started reminiscing about Forrest Gump), and finally settled on Shrimp Creole.
The recipe is deceptively simple.  It doesn’t seem, from the ingredients list, that it will taste like much of anything except tomato soup with a lot of onion and celery thrown in; however, once it simmers for a while and the shrimp are allowed to impart their flavor to the gravy, it becomes wonderfully complex in its flavor profile.
Begin by making a roux – 4 tablespoons flour and 4 tablespoons vegetable shortening.  Cook it, stirring constantly, until it turns a rich brown color.
Meanwhile, chop one large onion, 1/2 cup of celery, 1/4 cup of green bell pepper, 1 clove of garlic and 6-8 green onions.  Once the roux reaches the desire color, add the vegetables to stop the cooking.
To this mixture add one 8 oz. can of tomato sauce, 8 oz. of water and one tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce.  Allow it to simmer for 30 minutes.
 
Bring the mixture to a boil and add 3-4 pounds of shrimp, salt and pepper to taste.  Cover and let boil until the shrimp are cooked through.  Serve over rice.
I kept thinking it was going to need some herbs or other seasoning, but it absolutely didn’t.  Besides the peeling of the shrimp and the chopping of the vegetables, this was one of the simplest and most flavorful dishes I’ve made in a long time.  The shrimp were definitely at the forefront, as they imparted their flavor to the gravy without being overpowered by the subtle flavors of the classical Louisiana holy trinity.
Shrimp Creole
3-4 pounds of shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 large onion, diced
1/2 cup celery, diced
1/4 cup green bell pepper, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
6-8 green onions, chopped
1 8 oz. can tomato sauce
8 oz. water
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
salt and pepper to taste