Meet the Freezalator

We have an appliance in our house called a Freezalator. You can’t order one online. You can’t find one in stores. Freezalators are just born. They appear (at the most inconvenient times) in your kitchen and they really never leave.

Several years ago when we bought our wonderful home, a very nice, almost new refrigerator came with it.

Awesome.

We lived happily with this fridge for about 3 weeks until one dreadful day it announced its transformation to freezalator by spraying copious amounts of water out from underneath its closed doors, flooding the kitchen floor and messing with the mind of the Geek Squad guy who was here working on our TV.

“Uh, lady?”

“Lady!” We got a problem here.”

By which he obviously meant that I had a problem, not him.

From that day forward this “refrigerator” no longer had a designated upper refrigerator section and lower freezer drawer. No, now it froze everything, everywhere, all the time.

It was now The Freezalator.

After the initial incident (and clean-up) we got over our shock and decided to just go with the flow, man, and live with it as it was-only instead of living in the kitchen, it would now reside in our laundry room and act as a kind of freezer, while we would fill its spot in the kitchen with a lovely new fridge that knew its proper place and didn’t suffer from weird personality issues.

For the most part this has worked well, especially since the very top part of the Freezalator keeps things just barely frozen, and anything stored near the bottom becomes akin to an iceberg.

I can pick and choose from various levels of frozen.

Very fancy.

There have been a couple of times that it decided to not be the Freezalator anymore and instead to be the No-More-Work-alator, but oddly, and I suppose with some humility, it has quickly repented and returned to its semi-freezer state.. Overall though, it’s behaved itself and been a big help when we entertain and need lots of extra kind-of-frozen space.

I would suggest you get your own, but evidently they choose you, not the other way around.

You should be so lucky.

Next up in kitchen fun- G!

Lu

Hey Hey Etouffee

One thing I learned while living in South Louisiana is that those folks know how to have fun! If it’s not a crab boil, an oyster feast or a crawfish festival, your next door neighbor has made a gumbo and insists that you and the kids come over “right now while the rice is still hot”. And “just come like you are, don’t put your shoes on,- we’re all a mess anyway”.

I could go on and on about Cajun and Creole food and what I learned about them when I was there, but today I’ll concentrate on one of the most fabulous E’s I could think of, and that’s delicious Etouffee.

Etoufee is typically made with some shellfish (mine pictured above is crawfish- tis the season!) and is served with white rice. Don’t even think of trying to substitute something like brown rice, quinoa, or heaven forbid, cauliflower rice. That’s a smack in the face to any good Louisiana cook!

The first step is to make a light roux which just consists of very slow-cooked flour and oil (or butter if you prefer). To the roux you add flavorings- onion, celery, garlic, seasonings, etc… then the stock, and finally the main ingredient, the crawfish. The whole dish is then smothered (cooked on pretty low heat with the lid on)(and, by the way, where the word etouffee comes from).

Unlike gumbo and some other tasty Cajun dishes, etouffee is pretty quick to prepare and lends itself to a lot of variations. I can actually get an Etouffee on the table in 45 minutes or less if I’m in a pinch, but it’s good to know that like a gumbo, an etouffee tastes even better the next day after the flavors have a chance to “marry”.

Y’all. I can’t tell you how good this is. And easy!!

Here’s my recipe:

Crawfish Etouffee

Ingredients

1/2 c. flour

1/2 c. oil

3/4 c. chopped onion

1/2 c. chopped celery

1/2 c. chopped (any color) bell pepper

2 cloves garlic (minced)

2 bay leaves

2-2 1/2 c. fish, shrimp, or chicken stock

1 T. Better than Bouillon (low sodium chicken flavor)

2-3 T. tomato paste

1 T. Cajun seasoning (such as Tony Chacherie)

2-3 t. Worcestershire sauce

1 lb. frozen crawfish tails (thawed)- or you can certainly use fresh is you’re lucky enough to have them!

chopped parsley and green onion (about 1/3 c. each)

Directions

  1. In a large heavy saucepan heat the oil and whisk in the flour. Cook, stirring constantly (!) until the roux is about the color of peanut butter.
  2. Add the onions, celery, bell pepper, garlic, bay leaves and cook until veggies are soft (about 10 minutes. Add chicken or shrimp stock (consistency is key! your etouffee should be pretty thick-more the consistency of a gravy), Better than Bouillon, tomato paste, Cajun seasoning and Worcestershire sauce and bring to a boil.
  3. Cook for about 20 minutes stirring occasionally.
  4. Add crawfish tails, parsley, and green onions and cook with lid on for about 20 more minutes.
  5. At this point you can add about 1/4 cup of butter (for richness)
  6. To serve, (and for a pretty presentation) fill a bowl about 1/2 full with etouffee and then carefully place a round scoop (I use my ice cream scoop!) of rice in the center. Sprinkle with a few more green onions and a bit of parsley for flair!!

I hope you enjoy- it’s one of my very favorites!

Lu

The Devil’s in the Details

We’re talking fun and entertaining and all things food-related, and we’ve made it on the alphabet train to D.

It’s already April and we’ve been basking in the warmer/milder weather that precedes the almost unbearable heat of summer. Outdoor get-togethers with family and friends are here at last.

If you’ve ever attended a family reunion in the South, you’ve been offered a Deviled Egg. It was likely served up on an egg plate (those nifty little trays with special indentations for each egg half), and was probably made with love by your Great Aunt Ethel who rode over 50 miles to attend the reunion holding those precious plastic-wrapped eggs in her lap the whole way.

Heaven forbid Uncle Aulsie gets a little too aggressive with his driving.

Deviled Eggs have been around forever and there are as many versions as there are chickens to lay those eggs, but have you ever wondered how the Devil got involved? Back in the 19th century the term “deviled” was often used to describe foods, many times egg dishes, that were spicy or zesty (remember the mustard and vinegar?)There are other names- stuffed eggs, salad eggs, dressed eggs, and even angel eggs.

But whatever you call them, only one thing matters:

Every family believes their recipe is the hands-down best, and everyone else’s recipe is frankly “just awful”.

The basic recipe calls for hard-cooked eggs which are first split, then to the yolks are added an array of ingredients, the most typical of which are mustard, mayo, vinegar, salt and pepper.

You can add a whole slew of other things too- herbs, sour cream bacon, onion, chives, cheese- you name it, it can go in!

For me, the tangy-ness of the mustard and the addition of vinegar are key. Mine are pretty simple and require little thought or measuring (and also no particular cooking talent)

  1. I gently drop the eggs into boiling water to cover and then boil for 10 minutes, then remove from heat.
  2. Let the eggs sit in the hot water for a couple of minutes, then plunge into cold water.
  3. As soon as they are cool enough to handle, roll each one on the counter with enought pressure to gradually break the shell all over, then just peel it off.

There is NOTHING more frustrating than trying to remove the shell from an egg that just absolutely won’t let it go.

4. Cut each egg in half, remove the yolks and to them add mustard, mayo, vinegar, salt and pepper (and whatever else you want!)

5. Then re-fill the egg halves with the yolk mixture with a spoon (or you can be fancy and pipe it in with a piping bag or a plastic bag with a corner clipped off). Top with your choice of garnishes.

Because you may be making just a couple of eggs or 50, add the mustard, etc… in small amounts, tasting along the way, until you get it just like you like it.

There’s really nothing for me that says Spring has arrived like a platter of Deviled Eggs.

I’d be so interested to know- do you love or hate them? What’s the secret to your own recipe?

And also, can you help a sister out with “E”? I’d be so grateful.

Lu

Say Shar-coo-tree. Now don’t you feel French?

C, naturally, is for charcuterie.

Don’t be disturbed if you can’t pronounce it, much less know what it is.

The French pronunciation is shar-coo-tree, and well, sometimes it pays to sound French.

But even if you’re just Texan like me and say this with all four syllables and lots of long r’s, it’s still the same- charcuterie is the culinary art of preparing meat products such as bacon, salami, ham, sausage, terrines, galantines, ballotines, pates and confits.

We’ll save a talk about those last five for when we’re all feeling particularly studious (you’re welcome) , but in the strictest sense, charcuterie just deals with the age-old treatment of cured and prepared meats.

Simple.

Charcuterie boards, on the other hand, are a more modern iteration and have taken on a life of their own. You can find examples everywhere of this updated twist on your Grandma’s holiday meat and cheese tray.

In fact, current variations (like a pancake board? baked potato board?) have veered so far away from what traditional charcuterie is all about (the meat, remember) that they are really just boards, and that’s OK. They make a lovely centerpiece and are a fun food presentation for a crowd.

If you want to get on board (ha) the keys to making one are:

color (lots- remember that “we eat first with our eyes” thing)

variation (meats, cheeses, crackers, veggies, dips, sweet bites of dried fruits and nuts are staples) and

quantity (no one likes an anemic looking skinny board, so stuff that thing full to overflowing!)

Any way you load it up, a charcuterie board spells fun.

(Just with a lot of letters and a confusing pronunciation)

Lu

So many B’s, but let’s do Brunch.

The kitchen/cooking world is filled with all things B. Baking and broiling and breakfast. Broccoli, banana and burnt. You can enjoy bisque, borscht, and Bordeaux, but nothing says fun more than brunch.

I think you’ll agree, just the idea of brunch conjures up a picture of tasty food and a relaxed time with friends. Blessedly brunch is traditionally served at 10 am or after, so non-early birds (like me) can enthusiastially jump on the brunch-love wagon. And just think- all you early bird get the worm-ers can just think of it as a welcome snack between your way too early breakfast and lunch.

Brunch is everyone’s best friend.

After the last year of few to zero family/friend gatherings, perhaps a brunch is the perfect way to break out of the isolation routine..

What’s your idea of the perfect brunch?

Mine would include a variety of savory and sweet, breakfast-y and lunch-y type things:

Candied Bacon (help me)

Fresh Fruit Salad

French Breakfast Puffs (a must-have for me)

An egg dish or omelet bar

Maybe something with a little spice- like a cheese dish with jalapenos

A make it yourself Champagne, Mimosa or other fun punch bar.

The idea, of course, is to serve delicious food in a relaxed setting to people you love (or even just like!)

Who’s with me?

Lu

Fun is Not a Four Letter Word

Photo by Rachel Claire on Pexels.com

At a time in our history which seems to reek of contention, whether you lean right or left, mask or no mask, or how you turn your toilet paper roll, I think we can all agree that 2020 was pretty darn hard. Perhaps we could at least join hands in accord on that one point? (Sanitizer available immediately thereafter, of course) I mean I know some great things happened in 2020 for a lot of people- grandbabies were born, people got married etc… but what seemed to be missing most though, from 2020, was fun. And without spending much more time bemoaning the last year, I’m here to say that I need some fun and I’m going to use this little nondescript corner of the internet to make some fun for myself if not necessarily anyone else.

You’re welcome to join me if you’d like. In fact I’d love that.

In sticking with a topic that I find fun (and for the life of me I just won’t understand someone who doesn’t agree) we’re talking FOOD and all things that go with it. And while we’re at it let’s hold hands again and agree that putting things in alphabetical order is fun and also orderly, so:

In the category of things commonly misunderstood/little used/confusing/or just plain interesting in the kitchen, we’ll begin with

A is for Apertif.

I’ll be honest, I’ve probably actually spoken the word apertif maybe two or three times in my entire life. I did not grow up fancy. I drank Tang and considered a TV dinner with some Salisbury steak, mashed potatoes and 2 teaspoons of applesauce for dessert something wildly swanky simply because it wasn’t homemade. My Mom was the best cook ever, but kids are weird and don’t appreciate that kind of thing when all their friends are getting to eat Swansons out of aluminum foil trays.

So there were typically no apertifs at my house.

Many times confused with appetizer or maybe even asparagus, an apertif is just an alcoholic beverage served before a meal and is meant to stimulate the appetite. Years ago it started out as a sneaky conduit to deliver quinine to patients fighting malaria but the quinine is typically not included these days.

Hmm. To each his own I suppose.

The concept of the apertif basically made its way from Europe to the US in the 1970’s starting the phenomenon we know today as Happy Hour. I’m pretty sure though, with pitchers of beer and other super sweet and otherwise overdone umbrella-laced concoctions that we’ve strayed a bit from the original intent.

Because it’s purpose is to stimulate the appetite rather than satisfy and certainly not to intoxicate, a true apertif is typically just a taste of champagne, liqueur, or wine that is quite dry rather than sweet.

And clearly not served in a pitcher.

So for 2021 I say we all embrace the spirit of the apertif, or at the very least use the word in a sentence now and again.

Here’s a handy example:

I’ll take my apertif sans the quinine, thank you.

Lu

Friday Lunch (also Iceberg for President)

A glorious change in the weather (adios drizzly rain, you’re such a downer…) drew JT and me outside for an al fresco lunch today. We enjoyed this really quick to prepare salmon salad and then for dessert a couple of fried apple hand-pies- because when you eat a salad it’s only right to immediately back it up with something sweet and indulgent.

Welcome to my advanced school of logic.

I try to keep salmon in the freezer for days just like this, it thaws quickly, needs only a bit of seasoning rubbed on (I love the Table Mountain Seasoning from Savory Spice), and then a quick cook on both sides in a cast iron skillet (use butter please). After about 3 minutes per side I like to place the skillet in a 350 degree oven for about 3 more minutes to cook it through because this girlfriend is not a fan of raw fish.

Not apologizing.

This time I also threw a few cherry tomatoes in the skillet and served it all unashamedly over iceberg lettuce.

Can anyone tell me why and when iceberg became the un-cool, low-class lettuce? Personally I love its crisp texture and the way it holds up to heavier dressings, so my vision is to make it hip again.

Serve the salmon with a dressing made of mayo, sour cream, Dijon mustard, lemon juice and parsley. Or if you don’t have the time or inclination to make your own sauce, just use Ranch because let’s face it, Ranch is pretty good on anything.

We’re excited to be attending a fun and fabulous Mardi Gras themed dinner extravaganza at a local restaurant tonight, and because the meal will be anything but light, this lunch was the perfect way to tide us over!

Hope all of you are experiencing the same glorious weather, and have plans to enjoy your favorite people and food this weekend!!

Lu

p.s. I hope I can count on your support for Iceberg. Thank you.

Morning Confessional (and a to-die-for breakfast)

So.

I gazed out the window of the iconic Plaza Cafe in Santa Fe, NM, luxuriating in the crunchy brioche french toast dripping with syrup and the three perfectly cooked strips of the world’s best bacon, and revelled in the fact that I was not the one who got up early to cook it.

Let’s say I had a revelation of sorts.

While I absolutely LOVE breakfast, I don’t particularly like to cook it. There. I said it.

And here’s the problem: BREAKFAST HAPPENS IN THE MORNING, DANG IT.

Do I love to cook? Yes. Do I absolutely adore the plethora of sweet and savory breakfast choices? I do. I love egg-y things and bread-y things, sausage-y things and fruit things.

I will fight you for crispy bacon.

But honestly, morning is not my time. As much as I wish I was, I’m just not Perky Polly before around 9, and might even more accurately be described as Grumpy Gus. I try, really I do. JT is the early riser of all early risers and to top it off- he’s super happy in the morning. Seriously, the man is crazy happy in the morning.

I just can’t.

So, if you’re ever here and I tell you I’d love to get up early and cook you breakfast- take it from me and be a little suspicious… because, well, I probably really don’t want to do that at all. Not one little bit.

Do I want to cook you breakfast? Absolutely! Do I want to serve it to you in the early morning? Not a chance.

But after about 10am? I’ll be your Breakfast Betty.

I’ll make you homemade cinnamon rolls, biscuits with the best sausage gravy, omelets and frittatas galore. I will squeeze you fresh orange juice, turn it into a Mimosa and sprinkle your french toast with the lightest dusting of powdered sugar.

I’ll serve you candied bacon until you swoon.

And I’ll do all that with a smile on my face. As long as it’s not too early…

Here’s one of the best breakfast bread-y things around- a classic New York Crumb Cake (not to be confused with a Coffee Cake which traditionally has a swirled cinnamon batter, a glaze of some sort and less crumbly topping/cake ratio).

This is buttery and rich with a thick covering of the most wonderfully huge chunks of crumb topping.

The really great news is that you can make this in the afternoon and slightly re-heat it the next morning, eliminating the need to actually get up at all. 🙂

New York Style Crumb Cake

Ingredients

For the Crumb Topping:

1 cup packed golden brown sugar

½ cup white granulated sugar

½ teaspoon salt

1 ½ tablespoons ground cinnamon

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted

2 ½ cups unbleached all purpose flour

For the Cake base:

2 ½ cups unbleached all purpose flour

¾ teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

12 tablespoons (1 ½ stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 ½ cups white granulated sugar

2 large eggs, at room temperature

1 ¼ cups sour cream

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions

1.   Preheat oven to 350°F and with the oven rack in the center. Butter the bottom and sides of a 9”x13” baking dish

2.  Make the topping. Combine sugars, salt and cinnamon in a medium bowl. Pour the melted butter and whisk until combined, crushing any large lumps. Stir in flour until mixture is uniform.

3.  Make the cake:   Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl.   In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment, cream the butter on medium speed until smooth. Scrape down the bowl and add sugar, and continue beating until fluffy. Add eggs one at a time and beat for 30 seconds, scraping down the sides of the bowl in between addition. Add sour cream and vanilla and beat until just combined. Stir in the flour in thirds, scraping the sides of the bowl before each addition, until incorporated. Batter will be thick.

Pour the batter into buttered pan, level with a spatula. Scoop a handful of the topping mix, make a fist, and crumble the topping over the batter. Repeat until all the topping is used.           

Bake for 45-55 minutes in the oven, rotating the pan twice. The cake is baked when a cake tester or toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Cool pan on a wire rack for 30 minutes before serving.

HaHa- who am I kidding? You won’t be able to wait 30 minutes or even 10! Enjoy!

Gumbo Weather

In South Louisiana, at least the area in which I was privileged to live for a few years, there’s an actual season called “Gumbo Weather.”

It begins around November when temperatures start to drop and continues well into February, or at least until many Cajuns strut their gumbo prowess on Super Bowl weekend. You won’t find the official dates on most calendars but for people like me it just symbolizes that glorious time during cooler months when you’re yearning for some comfort food and when turning on the stove doesn’t also necessitate turning on the air conditioner.

In the 1901 Picayune Creole Cookbook a reference is made to “the occult science of making a good ‘Gombo a’ la Creole.'” Despite this rather off-putting assumption, no voodoo, sorcery, and certainly no culinary degree is required. A good gumbo though, can feel a lot like magic.

For me, learning to make gumbo involved a lot of trial and error- mostly error, but thankfully my foibles are not our focus here.

Typically a Cajun gumbo starts with a dark roux, carefully tended at very low temps with constant stirring- and that’s constant with a capital D-O N-O-T S-T-O-P. It definitely requires patience if not any particular culinary skill. If you think you might need to answer your phone in the other room or if, heaven forbid, you may need to go to the bathroom, you do not need to be starting on a dark roux.

In contrast, a Creole gumbo might be made with a much lighter, thinner roux requiring just a bit of oil and flour and very little stirring time.

If the thought of making a roux makes you sweat and slightly twitchy, I recommend a great little product called Tony Chachere’s Instant Roux mix. It can become your best friend if making a roux from scratch is not in your wheelhouse. There are actually lots of other sources for ready-made roux , some frozen, some jarred. All easy. All non-anxiety producing.

Just don’t disclose to a real Cajun Mamaw that you had some help from Mr. Chachere or a jar. That way no one gets hurt, and we all eat gumbo anyway.

You’ll find at least a million recipes out there for gumbo-one for every cook who decides to make one. You’ve got your chicken, sausage, shrimp, duck, and all kind of iterations and combinations hereto. The debate rages strong on whether okra is a mandatory ingredient, and some cooks wouldn’t think of serving their gumbo without offering a little potato salad to eat along with it. I prefer mine over rice, am not opposed to throwing in some okra if I have it, and don’t mind a little gumbo file’ (dried sassafras leaves) to sprinkle over the top.

In my opinion a couple of things are non-negotiable: 1. the roux, and 2. the “holy trinity” of chopped onion, bell pepper and celery. These are what make gumbo taste like gumbo and not like soup, and are probably the “occult science” thing alluded to back in 1901.

Whatever your preference, whatever the recipe, there’s a gumbo out there for you- and bonus- it tastes even better the next day!

Here’s my favorite:

Shrimp and Sausage Gumbo

Luann at Hobnob Kitchen

  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 3 celery ribs, chopped
  • 1 green bell pepper (sometimes I use orange instead), chopped
  • 1 tablespoon garlic, finely chopped
  • 6-7 cups chicken stock
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • Pinch of cayenne
  • Dash of hot sauce
  • Salt and fresh ground black pepper
  • 2 or 3 bay leaves
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
  • 1 (15 oz.) can petite diced tomatoes
  • 3 links andouille sausage, sliced in 1/4-inch thick rounds, browned and drained on paper towels
  • 1 pound peeled and deveined shrimp (I always slice mine in half bilaterally)
  • 6 green onions, chopped
  • 1/2 cup coarsely chopped parsley
  • File powder, for serving

Directions

  • Slice the sausage into 1/4 inch thick rounds and brown (in a bit of oil) in a skillet. Drain on paper towels, and set aside.
  • Make a dark roux: Heat oil in a large Dutch oven over high heat. When oil begins to smoke, whisk in flour. Continue to whisk constantly until mixture is a rich brown color. Be careful not to produce specks of black. That means the flour is burning. If specks appear you must start over. When roux is dark peanut-butter colored, add onions, celery and bell pepper.
  • Stir mixture until the vegetables are softened. Add garlic and cook for 1 minute. Slowly whisk in the stock and the can of tomatoes (juice included) , the Worcestershire, hot sauce, and cayenne. Season lightly with salt and pepper and bring the liquid to a boil. Add the bay leaves and thyme and simmer about 30 minutes. Stir in the sausage and simmer for another 15 minutes. Stir in shrimp. Cook just until shrimp is opaque. Turn off the heat.
  • Serve over rice with a sprinkling of green onions, parsley, and file powder