Thursday, August 30, 2012

Easy Chicken Gumbo with Lima Beans, Corn, and Crispy Okra

So I'm very thankful we did not lose power during Hurricane Isaac, because let me tell you, the humidity today rivals an Amazon rain forest and I just might DIE without air conditioning.

Yes, it's THAT serious.

I hope I'm not speaking too soon, though, because it's not over yet, or so the Weather Channel keeps informing me. Over and over.

And over.  And over. 

I want to change the channel, but it's forbidden because my man likes to stay shrewdly informed about all weather related matters.  Especially when there is a hurricane out and about.

Do you want to see my front yard?

Thanks goodness the sunflowers are on higher ground.  My husband and I have been staring out the window, both of us silently wondering if they will make it, but too scared to speak it out loud. 

We worked sooooo hard planting them.

I mean my husband did.  But still.  *We are one.*

So the good thing about rain is that it brings about feelings of comfort and coziness.  The tornado warnings not so much, but the rain that we had for like twenty hours straight brought some comfort and cozy to our home.

And a small lake in the front yard.

And when I feel all the comfort and cozy, I want to make soup.  And more specifically, gumbo.  I had a GLORIOUS bowl of gumbo this summer at a church gathering, and the woman who made it threw in some different kinds of veggies than what the average gumbo has, and one of them was lima beans.  So I had some in my freezer and decided to throw them in along with some corn.  And the only okra I had was frozen, breaded okra, but I had a light bulb moment and decided to fry it up and use it as a topping.  It was fantastic.

This recipe is a very basic gumbo recipe.  It's for the person who lacks time and, well, groceries.  And yes, I know you can add more flavor by starting with bacon, sausage, ham , etc., then making the roux from the drippings and all that, but I have some non-pork eating family members and I have to play by different rules.  Starting a roux without animal fat can be done.  It can.  And it can be very tasty.  My family loved this.

Here are my notes:

-The roux is the key to gumbo.  When making a roux, you're looking for the final product to be a reddish-brown.  Think the color of a penny.  I have made this twice in the last month and the second time I didn't cook my roux long enough and there was a noticeable difference in the flavor.  It was still good, but the distinctive flavor was not as strong.  Cooking the roux could take 20-30 minutes, so be patient and keep stirring.

-I loved topping this with crispy, fried okra.  I have family members who are opposed to any kind of okra but fried because it can be slimy.  This is a great way to add it in.

-Other veggies would work too.  I just happened to have lima beans and corn on hand.

-I boiled my two chicken breasts, then I seasoned the water they were boiled in to make a stock/broth.

-Don't forget to salt and pepper to taste.  Salt will bring out the flavor in anything.  I think it is the single most important ingredient in cooking.

-I used can corn, but frozen would certainly work too.

-The oil will rise to the surface and that needs to be skimmed off with a spoon and discarded as much as possible.

-This is great served with cornbread or biscuits.

Easy Chicken Gumbo with Lima Beans, Corn, and Crispy Okra

1 cup vegetable or canola oil
1 cup all-purpose flour
3 stalks celery, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium green bell pepper, chopped
8 cups chicken broth or stock or 8 cups water and 8 bouillon cubes
2 chicken breasts, cooked and shredded
1 (16-ounce) package frozen lima beans
1 (15-ounce) can corn, drained
Salt and pepper to taste
Cooked rice
1 (16-ounce) bag frozen, breaded okra, fried to golden brown and crispy

In a large heavy bottom pot, heat the oil until hot and add flour.  Cook for 20-30 minutes, stirring often to frequently, until mixture turns reddish-brown, the color of a copper penny. 

Add the celery, onion, and bell pepper and cook until vegetables are soft.  Add the chicken stock, shredded chicken, lima beans, and corn.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes.  Skim the oil off the top with a spoon and discard as much as possible.  Season with salt and pepper.  Serve over rice and sprinkle each bowl with the fried okra.

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Monday, August 27, 2012

Fluffy Buttermilk Drop Biscuits


This day is so sunny and gorgeous, you would never think that a hurricane is coming.

And it's hard for me to get motivated to do my million plus list of preparation items when I am looking at straight sunshine.

Go away, Isaac!  You're raining on my parade!

Before I go to check the generator, stock up on bottled water, and mow because everyone knows that it's easier to pick up debris out of short grass than tall grass, here's my new favorite easy biscuit recipe.

Biscuits are my total comfort food.  It's a little unsettling how many of them I can put away in one sitting.  Jelly, tomato gravy, just plain butter--it's all good.  And I've tried all kinds of recipes over the years, but I have been making this one the last few months because I am slightly lazy busy.  These biscuits have fluffy, moist insides and crispy bottoms. 

And I know everyone is all "butter is better", but that's not always the case to me.  I like to grease my skillet in butter and brush them with melted butter at the end, but I use all shortening in the dough and the taste and texture is fabulous.   I'm not saying these are the best in the whole universe, but it's a good, solid recipe when you don't want to spend too much time.

I slightly adapted this from the back of the White Lily bag. 

Here are my notes:

-Make sure the Crisco is chilled.  Why don't you just store a stick or two in the freezer right now so it will be ready when you are?

-Why we are on the subject, Crisco baking sticks = Brilliant.  I remember the dark days of baking when we had to scoop out the shortening into a measuring cup.  Has the baking world come a long way or what?!  (LIGHTBULB!!!!!  Why doesn't someone come out with peanut butter sticks???!!!   Just think how easy it would be to bake up a batch of peanut butter cookies if you could just slice the peanut butter into the dough?  Let me contact Jif and see if we can make this happen.)

-Want to be all awesome and roll these out and cut them with a biscuit cutter?  Just decrease the buttermilk by 2 tablespoons, then turn the dough out onto a well floured cutting board.  Knead a few times, then roll it out to about 1 inch thick.  Use a round biscuit cutter to cut out circles and place them in the pan the same way.

-I wouldn't bake them over 10 minutes.  Just put them under the broiler if they are not dark enough.

 -I generously grease my skillet with butter.  Generously.  This will give it that nice crispy bottom.

 -I use an ice cream scoop to scoop out the dough.  Much easier and more uniform than using two spoons.

Fluffy Buttermilk Drop Biscuits

(Slightly adapted from White Lily)

Butter for greasing skillet and melted butter for brushing tops
2 cups White Lily Self-Rising Flour (can substitute with other self-rising flour)
1/4 cup ice cold vegetable shortening
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons cold buttermilk

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  Grease a cast iron skillet or baking sheet generously with butter.

In a large mixing bowl, place the flour and cut in the shortening using a pastry cutter or using fingers until shortening is evenly dispersed and looks like pea size crumbs.  Stir in the buttermilk.  Dough will be sticky.

Drop by ice cream scoop (I used a scoop that measured 1/4 cup) onto greased skillet or baking sheet about 3/4 to 1 inch apart.   Bake for 8-10 minutes or until golden brown.  If they are not golden brown after ten minutes, place under broiler until desired color is reached, watching carefully.  Brush generously with melted butter immediately after removing from oven. 9 biscuits, but yield will depend on the size scoop used.

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Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Spiced Sweet Potato Ice Cream

Houston, we have sunflowers.

Future sunflowers.
When we got back from the mountains, we had sunflower sproutlings everywhere.  I'm hoping these little guys are tougher than my basil.  My basil never did quite make it. 

So the only reason I'm not posting my vacation photos is because I haven't been motivated to edit them.

(Did I just hear someone breathe a sigh of relief? 'Cause I thought I just heard someone breathe a sigh of relief.)

I was, however, very motivated to edit these ice cream pictures.  It's that tricky time of year when all I can think of is fall, but it's still summer.  So, this sweet potato ice cream is perfect.  It has the warm autumn  flavors of sweet potatoes, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger, but in a cool and creamy ice cream.  To top it off, and you simply must make this butterscotch sauce from Smitten Kitchen.  It's easy and super delicious.  In fact, the day I made it, I made a quadruple batch and filled up some jelly jars.  I overdo things like butterscotch sauce.

Here are my notes:

-I cooked my sweet potatoes quickly in the microwave, then scooped out the insides and mashed them up with a hand mixer.

-The ice cream will have some sweet potato lumps, but you will strain those out, so no worries.

Discard the pulp that's left.
-I pour some of the ice cream mixture into a fine wire mesh strainer placed over a large pitcher.  Then I take a wooden spoon and press the mixture through the strainer.  This takes a little bit of work, but it's worth it for a nice smooth ice cream.  I discard the pulp that's left.  You might have to do this several times.

-You will know the ice cream base is done cooking when it coats the back of a wooden spoon and leaves a clear path when you run your finger over it.  This is after you have added the egg mixture back in.

-The ice cream will have a much better texture if you let it chill overnight.

-I used dark brown sugar, but you could use light brown too, or a combination of the two.

-I also topped mine with some toasted pecans.

Spiced Sweet Potato Ice Cream

3-1/4 cups half and half       
1-3/4 cups heavy cream           
1/8 teaspoon salt
1-1/2 cups cup dark brown sugar, divided               
8 large egg yolks                   
2 cups cooked and mashed sweet potatoes
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground ginger
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1.      Combine half and half, the cream, 1/8 teaspoon salt, and 1 cup brown sugar in a large heavy sauce pan.  Bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring often until mixture reaches 175 degrees on a candy thermometer (just below scalding), about 15 min.  Remove from heat 
2.      Meanwhile, beat egg yolks on medium speed with a hand mixer in a large mixing bowl.  Gradually add remaining brown sugar, beating until sugar is dissolved and eggs are thick.
3.      Temper the eggs by adding about 1 cup of the hot cream mixture slowly to egg mixture, a 1/4 cup at a time, whisking egg mixture constantly. 
4.      Slowly add egg mixture back to cream mixture on stove, stirring constantly.  Turn heat back on medium.  Beat in sweet potatoes, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger on medium speed with a hand mixer until blended.  Heat mixture for about 10-12 minutes, stirring often, or until mixture thickens and leaves a path on the back of a wooden spoon when you run your finger across it. (There will be sweet potato lumps, but this is okay.)
5.      Remove from heat and stir in vanilla.  Strain mixture into large pitcher through a fine mesh strainer, mashing the pulp with the back of a spoon.  Discard pulp.  Refrigerate for at least 4 hours or better yet, overnight.  Pour mixture into the cylinder of an ice cream maker and freeze in ice cream freezer according to manufacturer’s instructions.  When done, transfer to a freezer safe container and freeze for 4 hours or overnight or until firm.  

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Monday, August 13, 2012

Chicken and Pecan Wild Rice Pilaf

It is SO hard to get back into the swing of things after a long vacation.  Hubby and I have been gone for a week long "culinary" tour of the mountains.  Yes, we ate our way through Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Georgia.  Then home again, home again, jiggety-jig.

Or should I say jiggety-jiggle?

More to come on all that later, WITH photos I might add.  

I know.  You're hanging on the edge of your seat, right, to see my vacay photos?  Be patient, my peeps.  I'll get to it.  And that's a threat promise.

Before we left, my totally awesome husband planted me a field of sunflowers for a fall crop.  I'll keep you posted on their development.  So far, not much.  But we dream big.

Ahhh, fall.  I eagerly await your arrival with outstretched arms. 

Changing the subject, here are two food products I just LOVE.

First off, this rice:

This rice is a blend of white, brown, wild, and red.  I love this but have to get it when I am out of town at Publix.  It only takes 15 minutes to cook and makes the perfect side dish. 

And this chicken:

I can actually get these at my hometown Wal-Mart.  I love them because they don't have all that nasty injected stuff that other chicken breasts have.  They come from humanely raised chickens and are raised cage free.  Yes, they are well over twice the cost of regular chicken breasts but this is one of the areas where I splurge.  We're definitely not vegetarians in my house but I do have concerns about the processing of chicken and beef nowadays.  I just don't think it's healthy when a single chicken breast weighs 10 ounces.  When I go out of town, I have been able to get the boneless chicken thighs in this brand and I love those too.

So here is my easy recipe that combines the two.  Simple, healthy, quick.  When served hot, it's a rice pilaf.  But it can also be served cold as a salad, which was actually my favorite way.  

Here are my notes:

-Make sure you toast the pecans.  It will make all the difference in the world.

-I like to cook the veggies just until crisp-tender.  I like the celery to have a bite to it.

-I almost always add a couple of chicken flavored bouillon cubes to my cooking rice.  It just adds so much flavor.

-I grilled my chicken breasts in a grill pan and used an all-purpose Greek seasoning.  You could use any seasoning you'd like.

Chicken and Pecan Wild Rice Pilaf

1 cup uncooked wild rice blend
2 chicken flavored bouillon cubes
1 medium onion, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
2 tablespoons butter
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, grilled, then cubed into bite size pieces (I used an all-purpose Greek seasoning to season mine)
3/4 cup chopped, toasted pecans
Salt and pepper to taste

Cook rice according to package directions adding bouillon cubes to water.  Place in a large bowl when done.  Sauté the onion and celery in 2 tablespoons butter over medium heat until crisp-tender; add to the rice.  Add chicken and toasted pecans to rice and stir until mixed.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Serve warm as a rice pilaf, or cold from the refrigerator as a rice salad.

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