Monday, November 25, 2019

A Cajun-style Thanksgiving (Recipes included)

Happy Thanksgiving y'all!


She says...

Troy and I had our Thanksgiving dinner a little early this year. We had some family and friends in town so we went ahead celebrated on Saturday evening. Honestly, Cajuns don't need much of an excuse to have a gathering with lots of good food!

Troy was in charge of the fried turkey and I took care of everything else. Here is the step-by-step for my venison rice dressing:

Brown 1 lb of ground venison in a couple tablespoons of olive oil. While it is browning, season with black pepper and Tony Chachere's, to taste.

Once browned, add 1 small onion, diced and 1/2 of a red and green bell pepper, diced. Cook until the onions are translucent.


Add 1 cup of uncooked long grain white rice, 2 teaspoons of Worcestershire sauce and soy sauce to the pot and stir.  Once combined, add 2 cups of beef broth. Bring to a simmer, cover with a lid and allow the rice to cook for 20 minutes.


After 20 minutes, taste test for seasoning and serve hot. (If you don't have access to venison, you can substitute ground beef.) Enjoy!


He says...

Fried turkey....once you've had a fried turkey, you'll never bake another one! Ideally, you want to pick out a 10-14 lbs bird, no bigger. For our "feastivities," we had a 12.54 lbs turkey. You should start the marinade process about 24 hours in advance....not a requirement...but, doing so allows the marinade to soak into the meat. 

Seasoning the Bird:
The first thing you need to do is season the turkey with a good Cajun injector seasoning. Our go-to is Louisiana Fish Fry Products, Cajun Butter Marinade. We also like to drop a couple teaspoons of D.a.T. Sauce in the marinade. The D.a.T. Sauce has some large pepper flakes that will stop up the injecting needle, though. Filling the syringe can be tedious if adding the D.a.T. Sauce into the marinade.

The Beginnings - Inject-able Marinade, Injection Syringe and a Willing Turkey! 
For the timid, you can pour half of the jar of marinade into a small cup or bowl so that you don't cross contaminate the marinade jar with turkey. For the brave, use the whole jar! I prefer the whole jar method, injecting the bird in multiple locations on one side of the bird until I reach half a jar. Then, inject the rest of the jar in the other half of the bird. At each injection point, work the needle in different angles and depths as you slowly depress the syringe plunger. The goal is to get as much of the marinade as possible through different layers/locations of the meat. As you can see in the two photos below, try to cover as much ground as possible with each single needle stick.

Be Generous with the Marinade!



Stick the bird in the top of the breast, the bottom of the breast, the middle of the breast. Stick it in the thigh, in the leg and in the wing. Get that marinade everywhere you can possibly get it. With the last of the marinade, spread a thin layer over the skin and generously sprinkle some Tony Chachere's Cajun Seasoning over the skin and in the body cavity. This is a photo just before it is covered with foil and placed in the refrigerator, overnight.
Heading to the Fridge for 24 Hours!

Frying the Bird:
In my line of work, we always preach and practice, "Safety First!" So, from a safety standpoint, there are several very important things to remember. First, always cook in an open space and not in a garage or under an overhang. Secondly, once your grease is up to temperature, turn off your fire before you drop the bird into the grease. After the bird has been lowered, re-light your fire. Lastly, lower the bird into the grease very slowly.

You obviously need a good, deep frying set up to fry turkey. We have a cast aluminum pot with a propane burner that we have used for years. We have used the electric fryers and have friends and family that use the air fryers. Me, I'm still old school and like using the gas burner.
Old School Burner, Pot and Propane Bottle
You will want to use 2.5-3 gallons of peanut oil for frying a turkey. We are using three gallons of LouAna Peanut Oil. You can typically find this in the three gallon containers. However, we picked up some discounted, single gallon containers.
LouAna Brand Peanut Oil
Remove your bird from the refrigerator and let it start coming to room temperature about 45 minutes before you start the fire. Depending on the outside temperature, the grease can take an additional 30-40 minutes to get to temperature. There are many schools of thought with regard to how long you cook the turkey and at what temperature. People will tell you 4 minutes per pound at 300°F. Some will say 3 to 3.5 minutes per pound at 350°F and add an additional five minutes. I'm usually somewhere in the middle of all this and really judge my time based on the grease temperature while cooking. And of course, my meat thermometer will give me the final say-so on how long I'm cooking the turkey. Personally, I like to shoot for the 350° F temperature. But, it doesn't always work out that way from a variety of factors....outside air temperature, how cold was the bird when it hit the grease, how quickly the flame can recover the lost heat, etc. For that reason, I like to drop my bird in the grease with a temperature no less than 375°F, knowing the temperature will drop. This fry, the grease was at a cool 390°F when we shut down the fire and slowly dropped the bird into the grease.
Just Before Dropping the Bird
Again, shut down the fire and slowly drop the bird into the grease. There is still a lot of moisture/water in the bird that will "flash" as it hits the hot grease. This can create a hazardous situation if dropped too quickly. Here is what it looks and sounds like going into the grease.



The temperature immediately dropped 50°F and eventually settled in the 325°F for pretty much the duration of the frying time with the regulator turned all the way up. We started checking dark meat temperature about 35 minutes into the frying process and realized we were getting pretty close to ready to pull. The bird came out of the grease at 41 minutes with an internal temperature of 162°F. So, by my Cajun Calculus, that was roughly 3:15/pound cook time at 325°F. Here is a picture of the finished product.
Fresh Out of the Grease!
We let it rest for about five minutes before carving into it. When you carve into the bird, the marinade and natural juices just begin to flow! Doesn't this just make your mouth water?!?!
From the Cutting Board.....
....To the Serving Platter!
 Have a safe and thankful Thanksgiving, Everybody!




Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Mini Christmas Bucket List (A link party)

She says...

It's the holiday season and my favorite time of the year, especially Christmastime! This is such a special season so I have decided to join Leslie in making a mini bucket list. It's not that elaborate and mostly just a list of my Christmas traditions.

  • Decorate Our Tree - Last year, we bought a new pre-lit, LED, slim tree. It's perfect for our living room area. The year before, half of our tree lights went out the week of Christmas! I blame the Grinch. Ha!
  • Attend Christmas Parties - We are all wearing our Christmas sweaters and will be a fun night!
  • Shop for Gifts - When our kids were younger, Troy & I would go out at 4 a.m. the morning after Thanksgiving and try to get some good deals on gifts. Thankfully, we don't do that anymore. I try to start shopping in October and November so it is not so overwhelming. I also shop the sales on Cyber Monday.
  • Wrap Presents - This is fun for me! I get all of my supplies out, put on some Christmas music and take my time to enjoy it. I realize some people hate wrapping. But when my older sister and I were little (in the 70's) my Mom would take us to D.H. Holmes to shop. While she was shopping, we would go upstairs and watch the ladies wrap gifts. We learned how to wrap beautiful presents.
  • Drive to Look at Christmas Lights - The locations vary; but, every year we hop in the truck and drive around looking at beautiful holiday lights and decorations.

A few other things I do are send holiday cards, watch our favorite Christmas movies, host our family Christmas dinner and most importantly, attend Christmas Church service. With all of the holiday hustle and bustle, taking time to celebrate the birth of Jesus is truly the gift.


Monday, November 11, 2019

Troy's Seafood Gumbo - Recipe Swap (Link Party)



He says....
Wikipedia defines "Gumbo" as "a stew popular in the U.S. state of Louisiana, and is the official state cuisine. Gumbo consists primarily of a strongly-flavored stock, meat or shellfish, a thickener, and what Louisianians call the "Holy Trinity" of vegetables, namely celery, bell peppers, and onions."

First off...I would not have used the term stew and gumbo in the same sentence unless I was asking you if you preferred chicken stew or chicken gumbo! There are many variations of gumbo that differ from ways to prepare the roux (pronounced rue) to what ingredients are used. I would think gumbo closer to soup than a stew....but, what do I know? I love to make all types of gumbo...chicken and sausage gumbo, poule d'eau and gizzard gumbo, squirrel gumbo, okra and egg gumbo and a myriad of seafood combinations...all different type of gumbos that can be prepared in a number of ways! I would consider my seafood gumbo prep more "traditional." However, some may see mine as different from their "traditional."

My first order of business is always to cut up the "trinity." The word trinity is typically associated with Christianity representing one God within the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. From a gumbo aspect, the "tri" in trinity represents three items within one mixture - onions, celery and bell pepper. But, I was never good at math and Latin.....my onions consist of two types of onions - yellow and green. So, that would technically be four items! I prefer relatively equal quantities in the mixture to include one large yellow onion, one large bell pepper, one bunch of green onions and several stalks of celery...all chopped to a fine to medium coarseness. I always leave a small section of green onion tops to chop and add later for more color. My grandmother would use two part yellow onions to one part bell peppers....just for additional variation in this recipe.

The Cajun Math version of a Trinity. From Top Left, Bell Peppers, celery, yellow onion and green onion with green onion tops in the middle.
The next order of business - season the seafood. Ideally, if you have leftover crabs, crawfish or shrimp from a previous seafood boil...these are the BEST! They have already been seasoned and that seasoning accents your finished gumbo! Unfortunately, there aren't many leftovers after a seafood boil...so, you have to start from scratch with fresh, lump crab meat, crab claws, fresh peeled shrimp, crawfish tails, oysters, large flaked fish, scallops....pick your favorite or ideally, mix and match. For this gumbo, we are using about two pounds of fresh peeled shrimp which were roughly a 35 count shrimp (meaning 35 whole shrimp per pound). We're also adding 16 ounces of cooked, lump crab meat, 16 ounces of crab claws and a pint of oysters. Season this seafood meat with your favorite seasonings. We prefer D.A.T. Sauce and a little Chef Paul (Prudhomme) Seafood Magic, a hint of salt and fresh cracked red/white/black pepper mix. You can add your favorite Cajun seasoning...as much or as little as you like. Cover these and let them sit and soak up DAT goodness! Just a word of advice...if you happen to buy any frozen seafood that is not fresh, defrost these and rinse thoroughly. They are often flash frozen using a process which introduces some chemicals/preservatives. So, give them a good rinse and dry before seasoning to knock off any residual preservatives.
Fresh, South Louisiana Shrimp; Peeled and de-veined.
The next step...and most probably the most important....the Roux! There are countless ways to make a roux...with oil, without oil, in the oven, in the microwave, on the stove top, from a jar, yada yada yada. From the roux aspect, the flour and oil in a black iron skillet is my idea of "traditional." My go-to is a 9 quart, black iron, Dutch oven. I prefer the black iron pot or any other thick bottomed, thick sided pot which will retain heat. I will cover the bottom with a thin layer of cooking oil; about 1/8-3/16" deep. I'll place this over a medium fire bringing the oil up to temperature. As the oil begins to get hot, I'll slowly stir in enough all purpose flour to obtain a consistency that is not oily, but not too pasty. It's just an appearance thing to me and something I never measure out. So, I can't give you quantities. It's basically enough flour to displace the oil, but maintain viscosity. It will stir freely. I'll add just a pinch of salt. From here, the stirring and tending to the roux begins!
The first stages of the roux as it begins to brown.
I prefer a flat bladed wooden spoon to stir the roux....what can I say other than it feels traditional. The roux must be tended to and constantly watched to prevent burning (ruining) your roux. I rarely let my roux sit untouched for more than about 30 seconds as I am constantly stirring....left to right, top to bottom, clockwise, counterclockwise....no particular direction....just continuing to move the flour through the oil. Watch for any signs of smoke....an indicator that the fire may be too high. This is a long, slow process. Over time, the roux will gradually darken. As you can see in the photos, the oil/flour mixture will have a very slight "boil" as it cooks. The consistency will also get slightly thicker as it cooks.

Further along in the roux process...notice it is beginning to darken.
How dark should you let your roux get? This is all a matter of personal taste, what type of gumbo you are making and how patient you are! Personally, I prefer a dark roux for everything! Some folks say dark roux for seafood and slightly lighter roux with chicken and sausage....but, both are always going to be dark if I'm cooking! My rule of thumb is this; when you think the roux is dark enough, go another five minutes!

The roux getting darker!
When you have your roux to your desired darkness, add in your trinity.
Adding the trinity to the dark, brown roux.
Fold the vegetables in with the roux for a minute or two until they have absorbed plenty of heat from the stove top. You're not trying to make them translucent or caramelize them, here. You just want to get them to get good and hot.

Trinity folded in and coated with the roux.
Once hot, place the lid on the dutch oven and turn off the fire. Let this sit for twenty minutes. During this time, the roux will darken and the trinity will saute using the residual heat....why I like to use the thick, cast iron pot. The trinity will also begin to sweat and thicken the roux. After the twenty minutes, take the lid off, allowing any moisture on the lid bottom to fall into the pan. Give the pot a good stir and fold. The yellow onions should be semi-translucent and all vegetables soft around the edges. The roux should take on a thicker consistency with the introduction of the vegetable moisture.

After sitting twenty minutes.
Next, I'll put the fire back on medium and stir in one can of drained Rotel diced tomatoes and peppers. I prefer the regular....but, my family prefers the milder Rotel. As this is heating up, I'll begin adding the seafood stock and water. I typically use packaged seafood stock and cut it pretty good with water. In this large pot, I'll use one quart of packaged stock and the rest water. Packaged stocks are usually pretty high in sodium and the water will help dilute it.I'm guessing I use a about a 1.5:1 ratio....maybe 2:1....again...I really don't measure out anything. It's always a taste and looks kind of thing.


A good, hardy shrimp, crab and oyster gumbo!
If you prefer going old school and making a stock from scratch, all of those peelings from the two pounds of fresh shrimp you peeled earlier....simply boil them in two to three quarts of water with a couple bay leaves, teaspoon of salt, a bit of Old Bay, some whole parsley stalks, a couple stalks of celery cut into about two inch lengths, and a quartered yellow onion. Bring to a rolling boil, reduce heat to low, cover and let simmer for about fifteen minutes. Allow the mixture to cool to room temperature. The "broth" will become more seasoned as the water cools. Strain the liquid into a different container and put aside until this point of the process........or, just get the pre-packaged stuff!

Now, I will add in all of my additional seasonings. Some of my go-to's are celery salt, red/black/white black pepper, fresh parsley flakes, three or four bay leaves, a couple splashes of D.A.T. Sauce. I'm generally pretty liberal with all of this. I'll add a small palmful of filĂ©....would that be the equivalent of about a tablespoon? Could this derivative of sassafras leaves be the "thickener" referenced in the Wikipedia definition? I'll bring all of this to a good boil, stirring frequently keeping anything from sticking to the bottom of the pot. Then, drop the heat to a slow boil until the celery is soft and the onions are translucent. During this time, skim off any residual oil from the top of the gumbo.

Lastly, I'll add the seasoned seafood. I'll add the shrimp and oysters first. About two minutes later, add the crab meat and crab claws. I prefer a hardy gumbo with plenty of meat in every bite. Some people prefer less meat and more liquid. If you want more liquid, add some water here to thin it down...or make it go further for more people! Chop up the remaining green onion tops you had leftover and add them into the pot for presentation. The bright red Rotel tomatoes and dark, green onion tops make for a great presentation. Let the mixture simmer on low heat for about five minutes. Taste for any remaining seasoning you want to add...salt, hot sauce, your favorite Cajun seasoning, etc. If needed, simply add and you are ready to warm your soul!
Traditionally....put a healthy scoop of rice in a bowl and spoon/ladle the gumbo over the rice...always having much more liquid than rice....remember, this isn't stew! You want that rice swimming in the gumbo! If you're a meat and potatoes kind of person....substitute a thick, hardy potato salad for the rice. I didn't discover this until much later in life and love gumbo over potato salad when I have the opportunity.

Maybe the next time I cook this, I'll actually take the time to try and measure out ingredients. But, again...it's gumbo. By definition....there is no "real" recipe to cooking a gumbo...just the process. Roux, trinity, seasonings, meats and stock....all to the point that is pleasing to the eyes and pallet! Happy Eating!

And since this is a link party, please head over to Michael Ann's blog, OutandBack to see what tasty soup recipe she has in store!