Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Phattest Fat Tuesday Ever

The title is a joke. Really. I just liked the sound of it. In all seriousness, today is Fat Tuesday and it calls for some serious eats. Gumbo is my go-to for any sort of Cajun, New Orleans, or Mardi gras themed celebration. It's easy. It's delicious in a meaty, creeping-heat at the back of your throat kind of way. Any smoked sausage will do, but I prefer Conecuh. It’s a perfect accompaniment to chicken in gumbo. Once the roux turns the color of a penny, you’re ready to add the vegetables. I prefer okra in my gumbo, but if you don’t care for it you can substitute your choice of vegetable or just leave it out altogether. Gumbo isn’t an exact science (some Louisiana cooks might disagree) so use your taste as a guide.

Chicken and Sausage Gumbo
Serves 10

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon butter 
1/2 pound smoked sausage, (preferably Andouille), sliced into 1/4-inch thick rounds
6 chicken legs
4 cups chicken stock
4 cups water
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped celery
1 cup chopped green pepper
1 cup okra, sliced into ½-inch rounds
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
2 teaspoons hot pepper sauce
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
Hot cooked rice
Heat 1 tablespoons of the oil in a heavy Dutch oven over medium-high heat; add chicken legs and cook until browned, about 7 minutes. Remove with slotted spoon and set aside. Add butter and remaining oil and stir flour into pot. Cook over medium heat until roux is browned, about the color of a penny. Add okra, onion, celery, green pepper, and garlic. Cook vegetables until slightly soft, about 5 minutes. Add chicken legs, stock and water. Add bay leaves, thyme, and hot sauce. Bring to boil and cook 1 ½ hours, until chicken is falling off bones. Remove chicken from pot and cool slightly. Remove meat from bones, discarding skin and bones; cut meat into 1/2-inch cubes and put back in pot. Season with salt, pepper, or hot sauce. To serve, mound about 1/3 cup rice in each soup bowl, then ladle about 1 cup gumbo around rice. Garnish with parsley.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Any Excuse to Eat Chocolate

My husband and I don’t generally celebrate Valentine’s Day with any fanfare, but sometimes I like to cook a nice meal for the two of us midway through the month of February. Plus, I can never pass up an excuse to bake dessert. 

For a sweet finish, this pie is crunchy, gooey and chocolaty. When I flipped through the Valentine’s Day issue of Bon Appetit, a gorgeous tart caught me eye. Their version was Milk Chocolate and Caramel with Hazelnuts and Espresso.  I had pecans and dark chocolate. Their version prompted a homemade shortbread tart crust. I had a frozen pie shell. Their garnish was roasted cocoa nibs. I stuck with toasted chopped pecans. 

Needless to say, the only thing that remained the same was the caramel. 

Whether or not you celebrate Valentine’s Day, there’s always time to eat well with your loved ones; the red paper doilies are optional. 

Dark Chocolate Caramel Pie with Pecans
Serves 8

1 pie crust

3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1/3 cup heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
½ cup pecans, toasted and chopped coarsely (bake at 350 degrees on a baking sheet for approximately 5 minutes, stir once)

1/3 cup heavy whipping cream
4 ounces dark chocolate chips (I use either Ghirardelli’s Bittersweet or Hershey’s Special Dark)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
chopped toasted pecans for garnish

Bake pie crust at 350 degrees until lightly browned, about 8 minutes.
For caramel filling, stir sugar and 1/4 cup water in heavy medium saucepan over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat and boil without stirring until syrup is medium amber, swirling pan instead of stirring, about 8 minutes. Remove pan from heat. Add cream (mixture will bubble up). Place saucepan over medium heat; stir until caramel bits dissolve. Add butter, vinegar, and salt; stir until butter melts. Stir in pecans. Caramel may be bubbly; don’t worry, it will settle in the refrigerator. Pour filling into crust. Chill until cold and set, about 30 minutes.

For chocolate: Bring cream to simmer over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and add chocolate and butter; stir until smooth. Spread chocolate mixture over caramel. Sprinkle with chopped pecans. Chill tart until topping is set, about 1 hour.