Category Archives: 30 Before 30

Easy Peasy- Ad Hoc Soup

“Soup is cuisine’s kindest course.” – Waldorf Astoria Chef, Louis P. De Gouy, in ‘The Soup Book’

Today is officially the first day of fall (yesterday having been the autumnal equinox-nerd alert!) and I think our taste buds are ready for the transition. So, it finally seems seasonally appropriate to blog about soup.  As opposed to when I MADE the soup and it was 80° out.  Lesson learned.

Repeat after me: “Seasonally appropriate”.

Split pea soup is one of the things I hated when I was young and have grown to appreciate.  Great split pea is creamy, but thick and with a touch of smokiness from the ham.  I found this recipe from Bon Appetit on Epicurious.com that seemed straightforward and classic.  And we’re off….

The basic ingredients are pretty friendly: onions, carrots, celery, and butter.  But you also need pork hocks and split peas.  Um, ok…two new ones for me.  I found split peas with the rice at my grocery store.  They come in a bag and honestly cost like $1. They are dried peas that have been, well split.  Check and check.

I had noticed pork hocks on the top shelf of the meat case before.  They look like a big, tapered bones with a opening at one end.  Mine came two in a pack.  A little scary…but so delicious.  Sidenote: “hock” just sounds hearty, don’ t you think?  When I say it out loud I think my voice even gets a little lower.  Like a woodsman or something.

I don’t really know what a woodsman is.

Ingredients...check out that pork hock!

Back to the soup.  Melt your butter and toss in the chopped veggies.  Once they are soft, in goes the marjoram and then add the pork hocks.

Veggies and pork hock

So, you could say that last step was ad hocYES– my first lawyer/food pun!   So, after a minute add the water (I used 1/2 chicken stock and 1/2 water) and bring it all to a boil.  Reduce the heat and cook, cook, cook.

After an hour cooking

The peas and other veggies will be falling apart by this point.  Remove the hock and set aside.  The recipe calls for pureeing the soup in a blender, but I like to use an immersion blender, which blends right in the pot.  Anything that keeps me from having to move around batches of hot liquid is a good thing.  Trust me.

Blend the soup to desired consistency.  I only partially blended it, because i like my soup to have a little more texture.  Totally personal preference:

Partially blended soup

Next the pork gets cut off the hock (woodsman voice) and goes back into the soup.

Delicious salty, smoked pork!

And we’re ready to serve.  TA-DA!!

Mmmmm..perfect for August weather! (shakes head)

The soup was fan-tastic.  Cooking with the bone adds a richness and a little smokey flavor.  And the pureed peas are a nice smooth texture with the ham.  And it was pleasantly salty, but it seems creamy from the blending of the veggies.

UNFORESEEN BONUS: I made “real” soup.  I mean…this is as hearty and homemade tasting as it gets.  Cooking with the “leftover” bones imparts a richness that you just can’t get otherwise.  Save the leftovers next time you make a ham….trust me on this one.

Oh, and we have a quart of split pea soup in the freezer becuase the day after I made this it was 91°.

xoxo Flyover Foodie

Now it’s a real Cajun party: Gumbo

“Always start out with a larger pot than what you think you need.”
– Julia Child

Gumbo + turducken = Party!  So dust off those beads and pour yourself a hand grenade.

My trusty co-chef and I decided that we should serve something along with the turducken, in case anyone “doesn’t want to eat frankenbird” (direct quote).  Hence, part of our multi-day poultry/Everest marathon included a pot of homemade gumbo.

I found this recipe from Epicurious for Shrimp, Chicken, and Andouille Gumbo.  Reading the comments, I discovered that the recipe yielded FAR beyond the 16 servings it described, which seemed just right for our group of 30+.  Plus, you can make the base the night before and then finished as the turducken was finishing.  Excellent.

Like most Cajun/Creole cooking, you start with a roux.  A roux is basically cooking flour in oil and stirring constantly until it turns a dark reddish brown.   Be patient…this process is the essence of Creole/Cajun cooking.  And it’s a cool process at that…flour and oil change into a dark, thick paste.  Roux has a hearty smell to it, adding depth, body, and little spiciness to the base of your gumbo.

Into the roux go all your chopped vegetables: onions, celery, bell peppers.  Stir to coat with the roux and cook until soft.

Action photo!!

Now the seasoning: garlic, cayenne, thyme, bay leaves and wine.  And of course, you only use 1 cup of wine which equals wine leftovers.  Wine leftovers = the best leftovers.

Add the canned tomatoes along with their liquid, chicken broth, and the cut chicken and andouille sausage.   The recipe calls for clam juice, but I could not find it ANYWHERE. I added extra broth.  Oddly enough, clam juice is an ingredient that pops up in recipes every so often and I. Am. Stumped. Anyone have suggestions?

Keep simmering and stirring until the chicken is cooked and then add the okra.  This recipe called for two bags of frozen okra.  I was holding my breath when I walked down the frozen food aisle at the flyover grocery store.  WOO!!  There it was…top shelf in a corner: frozen okra!!  Dump in the okra and cook for about ten minutes.

That is A LOT of gumbo!

Two things to note about the above picture.  1) That is a 15 quart stockpot.  Yeah…they weren’t kidding about this making a lot of gumbo.  2) The clock on the stove says “12:03”.  Yes, that is 12:03AM.  I was cooking gumbo at midnight.

At this point, we let the gumbo cool while we cleaned up the kitchen.  Then the pot got covered and stashed in the fridge overnight.  While I have no scientific evidence to back this up, I think  sitting overnight always makes these kinds of dishes better.

So just in time for the Turducken Cajun Extravaganza, the pot goes back on the stove and some more andouille sausage and the shrimp get added, let it simmer a bit and:

Party in a Pot!

Seriously, tell me that is not the fullest pot ever!  So. Much. Gumbo.Serve it over some steamed rice and your good to go.

So how was it?  I have it on good authority that it was delicious.  A new flyover friend and recent transplant from Alabama acted as our official taste-tester.  His verdict: “It tastes like good gumbo”.  Wooooo!!!

Smile = relief that everything fit in the pot!

Who’s ready for some gumbo!?  All in all, not a difficult dish to make.  Just take your time with the roux and maybe get some help chopping the 22 CUPS of vegetables.  Oh, and enlist an army of friends to help you eat the stuff.

UNFORESEEN BONUS: Learning what actually goes into gumbo.  Obviously, there are a million variations, but it always seemed like an intimidating recipe from another style of cooking.  It was a happy surprise to learn that at any given time, I probably have 85% of the ingredients on hand.

So make up a pot for your next gathering, add a couple of those mixed Hand Grenades and make it a party.

Just remember: eat first, then hand grenades.

xoxo Flyover Foodie

Conquering the Poultry Leviathan: Turducken

“Well, we knocked the bastard off !” – Sir Edmund Hillary

Alright loyal eaters, we’ve arrived at the mother lode of food preparation on the list of 30: the turducken.  We’re talking about 35 pounds of poultry layered like delicious nesting dolls of meat and stuffing.  But brace yourself, the preparation is not pretty.  Or brief.  So you might need snacks for this post.  Actually, skip the snacks and just get a beer.  I will do my best to keep the pictures tasteful and the steps  concise.

Put on your mountain climbing face…turducken is the Everest of the poultry world.

Step 1. Hire a sherpa: Read your recipe (over and over) and plot a strategy.

I got a little help with this challenge.  A friend had convinced me to include turducken on my list, with the promise that he would help me my first go around.  He was the Tenzing Norgay to my Hillary.

Per my friend’s suggestion, we used Paul Prudhomme’s recipe for turducken.  The recipe is incredibly thorough and has ALL the ingredients and steps listed, including for the stuffing(s).  Yes, plural.  Also, the final item on the ingredient list IS  “1 small hammer”.  I warned you it wasn’t pretty.

I’m not even going to attempt to summarize the recipe, but you can see the whole thing here.  I read this recipe over and over in the days before cooking so I would have a big picture idea of the whole process and so I wouldn’t panic from the altitude (altitude/butchering).

Step 2. Assemble your climbing gear: Shop for ingredients and order your birds.

We ordered the birds from a specialty deli and had them defrosted on site.  If you’re local, B&B Deli is the way to go.  Plus, while we were waiting for our birds (and lunch!), I got an appetizer.

A little appetizer while waiting to pick up the turkey.

And yes, that’s a piece of deep fried bacon.  They have EVERYTHING at B&B and it’s locally sourced, nose to tail.  I even spotted the elusive sweetbreads in a freezer case.  Also, I knew we were in the right place when I spotted this:

These guys don't mess around

Step 3. Map out the climb: Set your plan of attack.

The turducken party was set for a Saturday evening.  So, I made the stuffing on a Thursday night, Friday evening was reserved for assembly, and the “bird” cooked for about 8 hours on Saturday.  Yes…that’s three days total.   Take the time to develop your strategy and set up your base camp before you head to the summit.

As my counterpart said, “Turducken is less like cooking and more like staging a military invasion.”

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Coq Au Vin

“Why not make daily pleasure out of daily necessity?” – author Peter Mayle

Coq au vin, contrary to my initial impression, is not “fancy” French food.  It actually developed as a way to use the old rooster (the um, coq) in a dish after he was past his prime on the farm.  It’s actually an old and rustic dish and much more of a everyday dish than a fancy indulgence.

And, unlike the soufflé, it won’t judge you for not being able to speak French or asking directions to the Eiffel Tour.  It’s friendly French.

While the traditional recipe calls for a rooster, most contemporary ones, including the recipe I used, substitute a chicken.  Although, I kept thinking of Tom Colicchico on Top Chef in an episode where he kept saying that Casey had NOT made coq au vin because she used a chicken.  Sorry, Tom, but our flyover grocery was out of rooster.

Start by cooking your bacon in the bottom of a large, heavy pot or a dutch oven.  Remove the bacon after its cooked and put the chicken pieces in.  I bought chicken quarters and then broke them down.  Tip: Chicken quarters are insanely inexpensive, so if you get comfortable cutting up chicken, you can be very budget savvy.

The chicken gets browned and removed and in go your chopped veggies to brown in all that yummy flavor.  After the carrots, celery, and garlic are browned the chicken and bacon go back in the pot with the chicken stock, thyme, and dry, red wine.

Half a bottle of dry red wine.

Cooking with wine....a lot of wine.

At this point in the recipe, you can cover the pot and put it in the oven for 30 minutes.  BUT- I didn’t do this.  I just let it simmer away on the top of the stove on low heat while the liquid reduced and let the chicken cook in a bath of wine. See?  So much more easy going than a soufflé!

A bath of wine. Which sounds terribly relaxing.

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Christmas in July

“In my experience, clever food is not appreciated at Christmas.  It makes the little ones cry and the old ones nervous” – English food writer, Jane Grigson

I wasn’t trying to be clever by doing a “Christmas in July” dinner.  In fact, the idea didn’t even cross my mind when I added “Crown Roast” to the list of 30.  Had the item been “roast goose” I’d obviously have been mentally queuing up the carols.  I knew that crown roast was a festival meal fit for a celebration, but I started to get worried as I looked at recipes.  Every review seemed to say “a new Christmas tradition!” or “I can’t wait to make this again next Christmas!”.

So, unexpectedly, I prepared a Christmas dinner in the middle of a July** heat wave.

Like this: but with flip flops

And it was delicious.

To begin: a Crown Roast is a rack of pork ribs that have been trimmed, frenched, and tied into a round so the ribs can stand on end while roasting.  The shape of the roast mimics a crown, hence the name.  Also, I like to think its a meal fit for royalty, but that’s just because I like fancy stuff.

Start by, once again, befriending your butcher.  I explained what I wanted and our butcher found and trimmed the ribs for us.  We did the trimming and frenching ourselves at home, but a butcher can do this for you.

The Rack, untrimmed. (heheh..."rack". Whatever...you were thinking it too!)

NOTE: I made my first mistake here.  We were having 6 for dinner, so I had him cut down the rack. DO NOT DO THIS. Spend the extra money and buy the whole rack.  We discovered an hour later that our roast was too short to bend into a full crown (less ribs = less length = tighter circle).  In fact, we couldn’t even stuff it.  I just made this stuffing separately, baked it, and served it as a side dish.

So, once you get this thing home, you cut the extra meat from between the ribs (save it for the stuffing!) and then french the ends of the bones.  Frenching is when you take a sharp knife and clean all the meat etc. off the bones.  You’ve probably had lamb chops like this.  The roast gets seasoned, bent in on itself, and secured with cooking twine.  I seasoned it with salt, pepper, thyme, and marjoram.  It goes into a roasting pan and then pour 1 1/2 cup of water in the pan to keep it moist.

I didn’t take a picture of this…I was still berating myself for lacking basic knowledge of roast engineering.

The roast goes in the lower 1/3 of the oven at 350°.  After about 30 minutes, cover the tops of the bones with foil.  You’ll want to periodically check the roast to see if you need to add additional water.  I added additional water.  Then some white wine and some chicken stock as well.  Cook until its out of poisonous range, 155°.  It took our 12 rib roast about 2 1/2 hours.

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