Jammin' Out Jambalaya

 Our latest Cook the Books Club pick has been (you all have til June 1st to join in) The Feast Nearby, by Robin Mather.  How she lost her job, buried a marriage, and still found her way, living on $40.00 a week, eating locally, keeping chickens, foraging, preserving, and bartering, in rural Michigan.

Still, all things considered, eating locally is one thing in Michigan and another on an island in the Pacific. Besides which, we each have our own priorities and my #1 priority is that whatever I put in my mouth would be healthful, without pesticides, preservatives, hormones, etc. etc., whether or not it was raised by a neighbor.  Although, when possible I do make an effort to buy locally....  Maybe not enough.

Short of shooting a wild  pig myself, gutting, breaking it down, hiking out of the woods with the meat on my back, then making the bacon, we wouldn't have any.  However, having said that and reconsidering things, I have decided to make more of an attempt to buy my chicken, duck, pork roasts, and sausage from a friend who actually does all that darn hunting stuff, as well as raising chickens, rabbits and ducks, and making sausage.  He's a very self-sufficient guy.  With a huge garden.  Quite inspiring.  As was this book.

I especially enjoyed the moments with Pippin, Robins's very clever parrot, having had no idea that some varieties of parrot were so intelligent.  He understands and answers her.  Amazing.  Overall, the book is geared to locales with freezing winters, getting the summer harvest into storage by canning, dehydrating or freezing.  We have a year-round growing season here in Hawaii, though preserving what we grow is still an excellent thing.  Using fruit that is abundant beyond what can be eaten out of hand, to prevent waste and save money.  Just think of all the wine I don't have to buy, because I grow the fruit and make it.

The book is divided into 4 overall sections, based upon the seasons, with recipes appropriate to each.  It was hard to single out one dish, from Baked Acorn Squash with sausage and maple syrup to Cardamom-coffee Toffee Bars, Lamb and Apricot Tagine, and Cheese Souffle with greens, all sounding delicious, but what especially called to me was the Jambalaya.  I do love a good Cajun-Creole Jambalaya.

In the past I have made it with shrimp, but this time used left-over roasted chicken along with some really excellent Pederson's Jalapeno smoked sausage.  Both organically raised, by the way.


makes 4 servings

1/4 cup olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 ribs celery, chopped
2 cloves garlic, smashed and minced
1 lb. smoked sausage, cut into 1/2 inch thick slices (I used 1/2 that amount and 1 cup chopped roast chicken)
1 cup long-grain white rice
1 pint diced tomatoes, with roasted green chiles (I just added minced fresh green chiles)
2 cups chicken broth
1 teaspoon dried oregano, crumbled
1 teaspoon dried basil, crumbled
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme, crumbled  (I used fresh herbs from my garden, and tripled the amounts)
1/2 teas. freshly ground black pepper
1 /4 teaspoon salt
1 bay leaf, broken in half

 Add the oil to a large, heavy skillet over medium heat; heat for 1 minute.  Add the onion, bell pepper, celery and garlic, and cook, stirring until the onion is softened and translucent, 5 to 10 minutes.

Add the smoked sausage and cook, stirring, until the sausage begins to brown slightly, about 5 minutes.  Add the rice, stir to combine, and cook, stirring until the rice is well coated with oil and becomes slightly translucent, about 5 minutes.

Pour in the tomatoes and stir to combine.  Add the chicken broth, herbs, salt and pepper; stir to combine.  Bring the mixture to a boil; cover and decrease the heat to the lowest setting.  Cook for 25 minutes.  If you are adding shrimp or roast chicken, add for the last 5 minutes.  Uncover and stir.  If the rice has not absorbed all the liquid, continue to cook for another 5 minutes, or until it has.  Remove the bay leaf halves, and serve immediately.

What a fantastic dinner that was.  I am totally looking forward to the left-overs.  But, not tonight.  Tonight we are having ahi with Mather's Moroccan style Roasted Beets with cumin and olive oil.  I made it yesterday, but will be adding a bunch of fresh mint, toasted pine nuts and some salted preserved lemon to it.  Just needed a bit of something extra.  Occasionally you need to tinker a little to make recipes your own.  Next I'm looking forward to trying the Seffa Medfouna (saffron-braised chicken with steamed vermicelli), and after that...   so many yummy things to try.

Will also share this with Beth Fish Reads for her Weekend Cooking link-up.  Check it out.


Mushroom Soup Umaminess

 Well, there should be a word. So I am coining it, as of now.  Umaminess.  The n'th degree of umami.   In my favorite little market the other day I was astounded by a new batch of shitake mushrooms that had just arrived.  Specimens so robust, so plump, so big and fresh looking, it was impossible to resist them; practically jumping out of the bin and into my cart.   Well, I had been wanting mushrooms for soup; and, in my humble opinion shitakes are the kings of mushroom flavor.   They are admittedly pricey, but when vegetables look really really good, it is totally worth it.  Besides which, I am a mushroom admirer, see my various posts on the subject.  The fungal fascination.

In her blog, Ruth Reichl had mentioned Elizabeth David's book, An Omelette and a Glass of Wine, which I then got from the library and have been reading.  A collection of various articles she had written over the years. In that interesting book David very briefly discusses soups thickened with bread;  particularly a mushroom soup recipe of hers which appears in French Provincial Cooking.  Now I was not willing to wait for another book, and could find no such recipe online.  So, it was time to improvise darlings.

Always on the lookout for ways to utilize the remains of my loaves of bread, this was a match made in heaven for the soup of shitakes.  The method is not too difficult.  Briefly, just saute some onion in a bit of butter, add your mushrooms, saute some more, then add stock and the bread cubes, some fresh thyme or marjoram, simmer, blend.

Cream of Mushroom Soup TDF*

4 cups chicken stock (preferably homemade)
1/2 cup white wine
1/2 lb. mushrooms and stems, sliced
1/2 large onion, chopped
4 tablespoons butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon fresh thyme or marjoram
1 cup bread, crusts removed and cubed
1/2 cup cream
 truffle oil (optional, but nice to drizzle on top)
clipped fresh chives to garnish
*to die for

Reduce stock and wine by about 1/4 and set aside.  Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a heavy pan and saute the onions until translucent.  Add in the remaining butter, melt and add in the mushrooms, salt and herbs, then saute a  few minutes.  Now stir in the bread cubes, and enough stock to just come over it all, and cover.  Simmer until the bread is dissolving into the broth.

Let it all cool a bit and then blend with remaining stock until smooth.  Return to the stove and heat, adding in the cream, stirring until well combined and hot.  Serve up with a drizzle of truffle oil if you wish and some clipped chives.  You can trust me when I say this was the best EVER mushroom soup.  We both licked our bowls clean.  Seriously.

Linking this up with Beth Fish Reads, for her Weekend Cooking.


The Mysterious Properties of Beans and Green Papaya

Not so mysterious really.  Papayas have an enzyme, blah, blah, blah.  Sometimes science takes all the mystery out of things.  This post developed as a result of my pinto beans not softening.  I added the small amount of baking soda, soaked them overnight, boiled them for hours, on hours, all to no avail.  They remained quite firm.  Then, I remembered the tenderizing effect of green papayas, and thought we'd give that a try as a last ditch attempt.  Nice there were some in the garden.

Unfortunately the papaya did not help.  Definitely a good thing I had started early on my Cinco de Mayo project, a big pot of Chile con Carne, to go with my Margarita.  The beans weren't totally hard, but a large portion of them got eliminated set aside for another use (maybe bean dip), and the chile turned out fine with mostly meat and vegetables (including that green papaya, which cooks up like squash.)  Do you know that in some places they don't even consider putting beans into chile.

Also the mystery of the beans got solved.  If you keep your dry beans, especially here in Hawaii with the humidity and warmth, for a year or longer, there are phenolic compounds, blah, blah, blah..... and they will never get soft.  Period.  No matter WHAT you do.  *see note below.

Next day,  3/4s of a green papaya left.  Now, what does that suggest?  Yes, Green Papaya Salad, which I do happen to love.  One of the best things on a Thai menu.  And, perfect to have after or with a bowl of Chili, seeing as the green fruit has a lot of that digestive enzyme.


Fiddlehead Ferns for Dinner

I am so thrilled with my warabi, or fiddle-head ferns.  The little patch of them in a side garden by some rocks has grown and is thriving.  We are now having lovely fern shoots as a vegetable from time to time, and I don't need to go out in the boonies and forage.

Whether you know them as warabi (Japanese), ho‘i‘o (Hawaiian) or ostrich fern (most of the mainland), the fiddle-head ferns are the young, edible, tightly coiled shoots of the fern that resemble the end of a violin or fiddle. The shoots remain coiled for about two-weeks before they unfurl into the delicate, lacy greenery we are all familiar with.

The species most commonly found in Hawai‘i is the Pteridium aquilinum, which grows in temperate and sub-tropical regions. It was introduced to the islands by Japanese immigrants who value it mainly for the young stems rather than the unfurled coils. Certain varieties of the plant contain the carcinogenic compound Ptaquiloside and need to be cooked thoroughly before eating.


Pasta, a Better Lunch than Sandwiches, Faster Too!

 Left-overs are key here.  And, I had some good ones: asparagus, steamed and refrigerated, extra grated Parmesan, fresh pigeon peas, boiled and chilled, a little container of left-over spaghetti pasta and of course, the staples, an Olive Tapenade, which is important to have in your fridge, along with capers, and you could add anchovies, but the base is a combination of the noodles and olive oil, or preferably this great Tapenade, the chunky version with olives of several kinds, peppers, garlic and other spices in olive oil.  Just get some and keep it handy for pasta, pizzas or panini.  Do it, yes!

So all you do is heat a few heaping tablespoons of that wonderful Tapenade over medium, then when it starts to sizzle, add in all your extras with the pasta, toss til heated through and voila.   Is that easy or what?? Top with clippings of fresh parsley or minced basil, or....and the grated cheese.  Best lunch or quick dinner you'll ever have.  Guaranteed!  Sending this post to Beth Fish for her Week-end Cooking collection.


Marinated Mushrooms and Just Keep Getting Better, Awesome Pickles

Since these pickles turned out absolutely fantastic, I'm posting the recipe.  Because y'all are so nice, and totally deserve it.

Also giving the recipe for marinated mushrooms included with a mystery by Mignon F. Ballard, which I just finished. She writes very lightweight little confections, and adds recipes at the end for some of the dishes mentioned in each book.  This one happened to be called Claudia's Marinated Mushrooms.  So you might say it spoke to me.  In more ways than one, since I do love mushrooms (having been known to forage them against the advice of  husband and granddaughter) and marinated or pickled things.

I served the mushrooms as part of an antipasto plate for Resurrection Sunday dinner yesterday, to rave reviews.  Including my own.  Not the most photogenic of subjects, but superlative in taste.  Trust me.


So Beautiful, Colorful Pasta Bowties for Puttanesca High Hog

I love, love, love this Farfalline Multicolori, it is Specialita for sure.  A bit (uulp) pricey to say the least, but  your spirits will be raised, just looking at the package.  Mine were.  A possible cure for depression.  Color therapy.  A friend was behind me in line, and both she and the checker totally convinced me.  Not that I needed much convincing.  Healthy too, no fake colors in there, they use spinach, turmeric, paprika, beetroot or squid ink.  So colorful.

Having just finished the latest (in our library anyway) set in Venice, Donna Leon mystery, By It's Cover, I was hankering for Italian.   Always enjoy her tantalizing descriptions of meals eaten along the way.  So inspired by the book, did a Puttanesca on the high hog (wearing fancy bow ties, with pork, ha ha) with it last night.  Just added some cubed ham, crisped up in olive oil, garlic, olives, capers, and cream.  Some of the saved pasta water as well.  Also, the colors do not leach out as some other colored pastas have a tendency to.  Lovely and deelish!  Will share this with Beth Fish's Weekend Cooking.  She is sharing a delightful cookbook with contributions from mystery writers this time.


Swiss Pumpkin for Cook the Books Club

For our Cook the Books Club this go round, hosted by fellow Hawaii resident and blogger, Deb of Kahakai Kitchen, we read (or in my case re-read) Comfort Me with Apples, a memoir by noted Chef, Food Editor, Restaurant Critic, TV personality, and author, Ruth Reichl.

I must suffer from some sort of medium-term memory loss.  Most of the book seemed new to me.  Had forgotten the long, drawn-out, often sad, business of her marriage break up and affairs, but on the brighter side of honesty, there is humor, good food, more humor and interesting snippets with restaurant personalities and food VIPs.  Do read as well, Tender at the Bone: Growing up at the Table, and Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise, they are even better.

There was much in her memoir to tempt and inspire, as well as challenge our cooking skills.  Reichl has the ability to communicate smells and tastes through descriptive writing, aided by an unbelievable palette, which is the premier gifting for a food critic or chef.  I sometimes wish mine could be tuned up a few notches. It would certainly help in the area of wine tasting as well.  I wonder if there is an herb that would help??

It was difficult to decide exactly what to prepare for this round.  So many directions you might go, from California nouvelle, to Chinese or Thai.  The idea of Cook the Books Club, in case you are new here, is to read the current bi-monthly book selection and then to cook and post a recipe inspired by your reading.


The Year of the Kumquat

 A very small portion of them shown here.
When life gives you lemons, you make lemonade, or in my case Lemon Mead, and when you've been blessed with a load of kumquats, you need to be creative with them.  We haven't really had a whole year of them, it just sounded good, and sometimes feels that way.  Bob has had a strange obsession with the fruit ever since Thanksgiving when I made a Cranberry Kumquat Sauce.  I know it was only partly my delicious creation, with the other driving factor being humor.  Really, the name is not that funny.  He started with Facebook posting a W.C. Fields film clip on kumquats.  Yes, that was funny, ha ha ha.  Then Googling and posting all sorts of information on the fruit, health benefits, recipes and etc.  And which has caused other people to give him kumquats.

Bob notwithstanding, I still needed to deal with the second large bagful of those tasty little citrus, thanks due to Nancy, whom some of you might remember from my fabulous post on chocolate making.  First up was marmalade, which I simplified.  I did not like the sound of most of those lengthy recipes.  So, rather than mincing them all, one at a time, I tossed the halved, seeded fruit into a food processor and voila.