Thursday, February 27, 2014

Down on the Bayou, making Gumbo.

Here's a bit of Louisiana trivia: The word bayou (pronounced buy-you) is the French word for "slow moving river." And in Louisiana, biting someone with your natural teeth is considered a simple assault, but biting someone with your false teeth is considered an aggravated assault.  Wow!  Who knew?

Louisiana is known for Marti Gras, the Battle of New Orleans, jazz, and so much more.

Today we are talking about the oh-so-famous dish called Gumbo. Gumbo is a delicacy of Louisiana. It is rich and flavorful and is as varied as there are cooks who make it. There is seafood gumbo, chicken gumbo, okra gumbo, to name a few.

After a great amount of research, it became clear that understanding the history of gumbo is not so simple. Because so much of history is lost to us because so little was recorded, it is difficult to know exactly who did what and how this and that was done.

What we do know is that the long standing history of gumbo has made it famous as a premier dish in Louisiana. It even surpasses jambalaya or red beans and rice. And in every strata of Louisiana society you will find gumbo on the dinner table.
There are two categories of gumbo: Gumbo thickened with okra, which is where the name gumbo comes from.  The other category is gumbo made with file, which is ground sassafras leave.
Simply put, gumbo is a thick, dark soup with vegetables, meat or seafood. It is always served with rice. While the variations are infinite, there are some hard and fast rules:

1. Start with a roux of oil and flour that is cooked until it is a deep, rich brown color.

2. Always, always use what is known as the "holy trinity" of vegetables. What is the holy trinity, you ask? It is chopped onion, chopped, celery, and chopped bell pepper. 

The Holy Trinity
 3. Always brown your sausage and chicken before adding to the soup. The reason for this is there is a real richness and depth of flavor to gumbo. You will add to this richness by browning the meat. 

Despite the unlimited possibilities, it seems that there are three categories of gumbo: Seafood Gumbo, which contains oysters, shrimp, crawfish, and/or crab; Poultry and Sausage Gumbo, which has chicken or turkey in combination with andouille or some smoked sausage, and the lesser known Gumbo Z'Herbes, which is actually a meatless soup created for Lent using greens.

As with so many dishes from so many cultures, gumbo has its own legends and myths. You may have already guess at one gumbo Cajun or Creole? And, as usual, there is no clear answer. What seems to be consistent in literature is that the word gumbo is decidedly African in nature; coming from the Bantu word for okra. Okra was known as ki ngombo. And okra is one of the staples in gumbo.

The 2 Prickly Pears never get in the middle of any contravery or decide for anyone how they should go about cooking.  But we do offer a good recipe that can get you started on your Gumbo adventure.  Our recipe is the classic chicken and sausage gumbo. 

Chicken and Sausage Gumbo

 Here's what you will need:
1/2 cup oil
3/4 cup flour
1 medium onion chopped
1 medium bell pepper chopped
3 stalks celery chopped
4 cloves garlic minced
48 oz chicken broth
1 bay leaf
Cajun seasoning to taste
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
salt and pepper to taste
1 lb andouille sausage cut in 1/4 inch pieces
2 lbs chicken thighs cut into bite size pieces
8 oz okra (either fresh or frozen, chopped)
Cooked rice

Here's what you need to do:

Brown the andouille sausage in a large Dutch oven.  Remove sausage and brown the chicken in the same pan.  Remove the chicken.  Add the oil and flour to the pan to make a roux.  Continue to stir the roux over a medium heat until it changes to a deep rich brown.  This will take at least 18 minutes.  Be sure not to burn the roux.  Stir constantly.  If it does burn, start over.

Once the roux is brown, add the onions, bell pepper and celery.  Continue to heat allowing the vegetables to cook down for about 10 minutes.  Add the garlic and cook another 5 minutes.  

Add the chicken broth and bay leaf.  The broth will thicken.  If you prefer a thinner gumbo, add more broth. Add red pepper flakes, Cajun seasoning, salt and pepper.  Cook over a medium-low heat for about 20 minutes.  Taste to adjust seasoning as desired.

Remove the bay leaf.  Add the chicken, sausage and okra.  Cook for another 30 minutes. over low heat.

Serve over cooked rice.

There you have it.  Even Yankees like the 2 Prickly Pears can make a southern dish like Gumbo and enjoy the rich spicy goodness.

Now, go out and make something good! 

Thursday, February 20, 2014 your time away!

Today we have an "F" word.  More specifically, we will be talking about Fritters!

Simply put, a fritter is a small portion of batter which is deep fried.  The origin of the word is "frictura"  a  Latin word which means frying.  Often fritters contain pieces of fruit, meat or vegetables, but can be just plain fried dough.

As with so many foods, every culture (even cultures within cultures) have their own version that are popular to their people.  So is the case with fritters.  Other names for batter that is fried include: 

Beignets so well known to the French culture in Louisiana:

Churros is a Spanish fried dough rolled in cinnamon and sugar:

Filho are fried pieces of dough flavored with anis and orange and enjoyed by the Portuguese during Christmas:

Sirnik is a Russian fritter made from curd cheese, egg yolks, and a little flour and sugar, used as a breakfast dish:

Samosa is a treasured culinary creation in India which are stuffed with meats and vegetables:

And Frybread, a staple of every Native American dinner table:


Fritters are commonly sold at fairs and open markets around the world using food combination common to the native culture.  Fritters are best served hot and eaten immediately to experience the best texture and flavor.

Let's face it.  Fried dough is a part of most cultures because....well, what's not to like about fried dough?  And what better way to enjoy fried dough than to make fritters?

A common batter of eggs, milk, and flour is used to create fritter dough.  And there are endless combinations of savory and sweet additions to enhance the culinary experience.  Essentially any ingredient dipped in batter and fried would be considered a fritter.  A fritter that we commonly hear of is an Apple Fritter.  These can be readily found in the doughnut case in the local grocery store.  But there are also corn fritters, and banana fritters, and vegetable fritters (tempura), meat fritters (meat pies), crab fritters (crab cakes), potato fritters (latkes), and on and on.

So how about we get to the making of some fritters?  Let's start with the ever popular and commonly made Corn Fritter.

Corn Fritters
Here's what you will need:
 1 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
2 large eggs, beaten
1/3 cup milk
2 cups corn (either fresh, frozen or canned)
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 sweet red pepper, chopped
1/2 medium onion, chopped
1 Tablespoonn fresh parsley, chopped
Salt and Pepper 
Oil for frying

Here's what you need to do:
In a medium bowl combine the flour and baking powder together.  Gradually stir in the beaten eggs and milk.  Mix well, but only to combine.  DO NOT OVERMIX.
Stir in the corn, garlic, peppers, onion and parsley.  Mix to combine.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  

Heat oil in a large frying pan until hot.  If you drop a tiny bit of batter in the pan, it should sizzle.  Then your pan is ready.  Drop a tablespoon of batter for each fritter.  Don't over crowd the pan.  Pat each fritter down a bit so it will cook evenly.  Fry each side until golden brown.  Serve immediately.  Makes about 12 fritters.

Now don't think the 2 Prickly Pears forgot about our friends who are gluten free.  You can still have fried dough without using wheat flour. Because we are equal opportunity cooks, we have included a gluten free fritter.  Take a look see:

Zucchini Fritters
Here's what you will need:
2 medium zucchini, grated
1 teaspoon sea salt
2 green onions, thinly sliced
1/4 cup almond flour
1/4 cup grated parmigiana reggiano cheese
2 eggs, beaten
salt and papper
1 teaspoon lemon juice
Here's what you need to do:
Combine zucchini with sea salt.  Place the zucchini in a clean towel and let rest for 15 minutes.  Then squeeze the towel around the zucchini to get as much liquid out of it as possible.

Place zucchini in bowl and add eggs, onions, almond flour, cheese, lemon juice and pepper.  Mix thoroughly.  

Heat 2 tablespoons of oil to your frying pan over medium heat.  Drop a tiny about of dough in to get that sizzle.  When your pan is ready, drop a tablespoon of dough for each fritter.  Flatter batter and cook until golden brown on each side.  

Garnish with cream fraiche, or apple sauce.

So there is the short story on fritters.  They are yummy and common in their simplest nature.  Every culture has some version of them.  

Now go out and make something fritters!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Endive....How do you pronounce it anyhow???

As usual, when answering a question, it depends on who you ask.  But before we get to how to pronounce endive, let's get to what endive is exactly.

Endive is an unusual and most useful plant.  It is part of the chicory family and is actually the blossom of a root.  Have you ever seen escarole, radicchio or frisee in the grocery store among all the many greens there?  Well, it turns out they are all considered endive.

Endive is a bitter leafy vegetable, rich in many vitamins and minerals, especially folate and vitamins A, B and K, not to mention fiber.

The following photos will give you an idea of what the various endive plants look like: 

Escarole, or broad-leaved endive has broad, pale green leaves and is less bitter than the other varieties. Varieties or names include broad-leaved endive, Bavarian endive, Batavian endive, grumolo, scarola, and scarole. It is eaten like other greens, sauteed, chopped into soups and stews, or as part of a green salad.
Escarole Endive

·  Radicchio is a brilliantly magenta colored set of leaves. The most commonly available radicchio is Chioggia radicchio that looks like a small cabbage, and, in fact, resembles a looser-leafed and whiter-ribbed version of red cabbage.
Unlike flat leaf endive, with its tightly closed heads, curly endive looks a bit like an untended lion's mane. Curly endive, also known as frisée, has a slightly shorter shelf life than other chicories and keeps best if treated like lettuces leaves.
Curly leaf (Frisee) Endive
And now our personal favorite!

Belgian endive is extremely pale yellow in color, almost white.  It has tightly packed leaves growing long and narrow.  It is grown in the dark, which stops chlorophyll from developing and keeps the leaves white.  
Belgian Endive
The reason Belgian Endive is our favorite is because we really like the idea of edible bowls.  And this sort of endive is perfect for that very thing.  When you cut off the bottom of this endive you are left with many leaves that can be filled with all manner of yummy foods.  We will be providing a few ideas for your next party to serve as appetizers.

Let's start with a simple salsa and endive.

Endive boats with salsa
Here's what you need:
1 large Belgian endive, cleaned and leaves separated
1 large tomato *finely chopped
4 tablespoons sweet onions, finely chopped
4  tablespoons green pepper finely chopped
3 tablespoons jicama finely chopped
1 tablespoons minced garlic
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

Here's what you need to do:
Combine everything except the endive in bowl and let sit for about an hour to allow all the flavors to marry.  Fill each individual endive leaf with 2 tablespoons of salsa.  Serve! 

* it is important to finely chopped your ingredients so it fits nicely inside your endive bowl.

 Here are some other combinations to put together to fill your boats:
 Chopped Apples
Choppped Walnuts
Crumbled Blue Cheese


Chopped Tomatoes
Chopped fresh Basil
Diced mozzarella cheese
Balsamic Vinegar**
Olive Oil**

**Always be sure to use a good quality vinegar and oil when making your dressing.  It makes all the difference!


Left over chicken, chopped
Asparagus chopped
Red Bell Pepper chopped
Parmasan Cheese grated
Splash of lemon juice
Black Pepper


anything you want!!  We love edible bowls!!  

Oh, yes....back to how to pronounce the word Endive.  After a bit of research, we found that, once again, there is minor controversy here.  Some say EN-dive.  Some say en-DIVE.  Some say ahn-DEEVE.  Some say AHN-deeve. To-ma-to To-mah-to.  Whatever you decide to say is fine with the 2 Prickly Pears.

What we do say is go out and make something good.....and you can eat the bowl too!

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Cream doesn't start with "D"!!!!

Devonshire Cream
You are right....cream doesn't start with "D," and today's post is the letter "D, right?"  So why are we talking about cream?

Actually we are talking about Devonshire Cream.  Sneaking, we know, but there it is.  We never said we weren't sneaking Prickly Pears. :)

Anyway, when one wants a scone (pronounced scon like in John) one really must have a dollop of cream with jam, mustn't one?

Turns out that it isn't quite that simple because there is Devonshire Cream, Clotted Cream, and Double Cream. These lovely creams all originated in Southwest England, more specifically in Devon, Somerset, or Cornwall.  Regions are so specific on how to use cream with their scones and desserts, that in Devon the cream is spread on first and then the jam.  But in Cornwall the jam comes first and then the cream.  In fact, there is a long standing (friendly) revelry about which region actually made the first Devon cream and, of course, who makes it best. 

We won't be taking sides on this controversy, but we will strongly advise that the next time you make scones, you must include Devonshire Cream and Jam, along with a nice tea or coffee. 

So let's get down to it.  What are these creams and how are they made.

It turns out that whether you say Devonshire cream, Devon cream, or Clotted cream, you really are saying the same thing.  For our purposes, we will say Devonshire and Clotted interchangeably.

Devonshire cream is thick and buttery.  Originally, only the right breed of cattle was raised to yield a high content of cream to produce the proper creamy consistency.  Before milk came to be pasteurized, the milk was allowed to rest for several hours so the cream would rise to the top.  The cream was skimmed and put in large pans and placed over constantly boiling water.  The cream would then become thick and develop a golden color similar to butter.  The thick cream, or clotting was spoon off and cooled.  This process could take up to 12 hours.

Most of us don't have the means and time to make true clotted cream, but there are wonderful alternatives.  We'll get to that shortly.  If you, however, have the time and interest, here's a recipe site that you can use to make homemade clotted cream.

On the other hand, if you want a lovely cream that will satisfy and doesn't take a whole lot of time, here what you can do:

Easy Devonshire Cream
What you will need:

4 ounces marscapone (Italian cream cheese), room temperature
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
1-2 Tablespoons sugar

What you need to do:

Place all ingredients in a large mixing bowl and beat with hand mixer until mixture holds its shape and looks like soft, hearty whipped cream.  

That's it!  This will keep in the refrigerator for several weeks.

The next time you have guests over for breakfast or an afternoon get-together in your home, consider serving scones with Devonshire cream and jam along with coffee or tea.  It is an easy way to have a yummy and sophisticated event.

Your next tea with scones and Devonshire cream.

Now go out an make something good.