Smoked Duck and Andouille Gumbo for Mardi Gras

Smoked Duck and Andouille GumboFat Tuesday
I got a call from my sister over the weekend to see if I had her cookbook. I did, in fact, have it. I have been holding it for ransom for quite some time.

It is not surprising that she would be looking for this particular cookbook this time of year, because next Tuesday happens to be Mardi Gras. And this cookbook, in my opinion, happens to be one of the best New Orleans cookbooks available. Susan Spicer’s Crescent City Cooking is filled with wonderful things.

New Orleans is one of those bucket list places for me. I have never been, and I have absolutely no desire to visit during Mardi Gras or the heat of the Summer. But I do have a desire to go and eat my way through the city. There is just so much history, not only in the streets but in the music and food. It makes my mouth water to think about it. Just not sure when I am going to get there…

In the meantime, cookbooks like this one give us a taste of the city, and whet our appetites for more. I have written about recipes from Spicer’s book, and I now bring them to your attention in advance of Mardi Gras. Her Autumn Salad with Apples, Comté, and Hazelnuts and Cornmeal-Crusted Crayfish Pies are good, But without question, the best of the best is the Smoked Duck and Andouille Gumbo.

And for something a little sweet to go with your Mardi Gras feast, there’s Bananas Foster Bread Pudding with Vanilla Ice Cream and Caramel Sauce from Emeril Lagasse.

Laissez les bon temps rouler!

Smoked Duck and Andouille Gumbo
Adapted from Crescent City Cooking by Susan Spicer
Yields 8 Servings
You can substitute an equal amount of roasted chicken for the duck. But if you get a chance to use duck, give it a try. It’s delicious!

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Amy’s Aram Sandwiches

Amy's Aram SandwichesLovin’ Lavash

Hi, my name is Amy and I have been on a bit of a lavash kick lately. I have been rolling whatever I have left over in the fridge in lavash, and calling it a sandwich. We had leftover pork loin the other day. I wrapped it up along with lettuce and some chutney and it was the bomb. Lavash is just so versatile and it’s a nice change from the usual white, wheat or sourdough.

For those who may not be familiar, Lavash is a thin, unleavened flatbread that originated in Armenia. Fresh lavash is soft and pliable which makes it easy to fill with your favorite ingredients and roll it up. You could use a flour tortilla as a substitute, but it doesn’t taste as good in my opinion.

What you fill your lavash with is entirely up to you. The possibilities are endless. The most popular version in my house is roast turkey, roast beef, lettuce and havarti cheese along with a little mayonnaise (and, depending on who’s eating it, some tomato). However, I have also used smoked salmon with cream cheese, red onion and a sprinkling of fresh dill. If you have any leftover grilled veggies they are fantastic in lavash with some spicy hummus…goat cheese works well in these too. And then there is the Greek version with lamb and tzatziki. For a little extra flavor, you can also throw your aram sandwich on the grill to crisp it up. Think of a bacon lettuce tomato and avocado lavash with a little bit of  grill on it. Seriously, I’m drooling right now…

So, the other great thing, besides versatility, is that aram sandwiches are convenient. Basically, it’s wrap, cut and go. And, if you cut them small and arrange them artfully on a platter, they are perfect if you have, say, a volleyball tournament and need to feed 12 hungry spikers.

Amy’s Aram Sandwiches
See filling and condiment recommendations in the post above, or get creative with your own. Read more…

Valentine’s Ice Cream Cake

Valentine’s Ice Cream CakeIce Cream Cupid
If you have been reading this blog for any amount of time, you will know that Valentine’s Day in my house is not celebrated with chocolates and champagne. Valentine’s Day is all about ice cream.

We’ve done sundaes and root beer floats. We’ve done multi-layer ice cream pies and straight up ice cream cones. This year I want to do a recipe that I love but haven’t had an occasion to make in a while. This Valentine’s Ice Cream Cake is not difficult, and you can use whatever assortment of ingredients inspire you. Your choice of flavors and candies or toppings will depend on the taste buds of your valentine, and individualizing the cake is fun.

The concept is pretty simple. You layer the ice cream of choice and pound cake with your favorite toppings (a.k.a. roughly cut candies, sauce, nuts, toasted coconut…you get the idea, think ice cream sundae). The basic recipe came from The Pioneer Woman, and I have adapted it to my personal tastes.

So, feel free to get wacky with the flavors and go all out with the combinations. Because our ice cream selection at Piedmont Grocery is fairly large, I have had the opportunity to come up with some great ideas. And you can get really creative.

The basic recipe is below, followed by a few of my favorite variations. Happy Valentine’s Day!

Valentine’s Ice Cream Cake

Basic recipe
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Hot Cheezy Things Redux

Hot Cheezy ThingsComfort Me With Football
I have to say I am looking forward to the Super Bowl this weekend, which isn’t new. I generally like to watch the game and the commercials. I really don’t have a team I am rooting for—my husband is a Patriots fan, though. Frankly, I am simply looking at the Super Bowl as a few hours of suspended reality. I think we all could use the break…

The good news about suspended reality? Calories don’t count. And, football means foods that would otherwise be a no-no in larger quantities, foods like sausage, beef, cheese, gooey desserts, etc. You get the idea. I’ve prepared a lot of different foods for Super Bowl, from chili and cornbread, to pulled pork, or grilled brats.

So, I am still working on the menu for the weekend. We will be attending a crab feed the night before, so crab’s out. I can’t believe I am saying this, but I am kinda Mexican food-ed out. (I know, is it even possible?!?)

Maybe it’s time for some Oriental Barbecued Ribs, if only as a teaser for the warmer, dryer weather?

Or maybe I’ll just drown myself in fat and cheese with our favorite Hot Cheezy Things. I originally posted this recipe in 2012, but it bears repeating. Every time I whip some up, people go crazy for them. And they are perfect for football.

Hot Cheezy Things
Yep. That’s what we call them. One of our favorite snacks while watching football! I watched my Mom make these as a kid, but I don’t have an actual recipe. I just wing it. You really can’t screw them up, though. I mean it’s cheese and mayo. What could go wrong? Feel free to add cheeses or change the type of cheese you use.
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Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookies

Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookies

The Science of Cookies
My daughter worked on her science project over the weekend. Thankfully, it did not involve an overflowing volcano. It did involve baking soda…

Her experiment was to see what the difference was between cookies that were baked using butter, margarine, and butter flavored Crisco. And, also to see which one would taste better.

I had my own theories as to how things would work out since I have read a number of articles either online or in magazines about which ingredient produces the best cookie. But, the difference with this experiment is that there were no other modifications to the recipe. All three were made the exact same way except for swapping out the butter, margarine, and Crisco. And, they were cooked for the exact same amount of time.

Her hypothesis that the butter would make the best cookie makes sense. Everything is better with butter. But I was still curious to see the results.

The biggest difference was visual. The Crisco cookie was a photo-ready cookie. It looked like the perfect chunky chocolate chip. The butter and margarine were not as visually appealing. They were kinda flat with chocolate chips sticking up. And the margarine cookie could have used more time in the oven to get a little bit more of the golden color.

The flavor difference was insane. The butter one, as expected, was the tastiest of the three and was crispy on the outside chewy on the inside. Margarine produced a very soft cookie with good flavor but you could tell it wasn’t a real butter flavor.

The butter-flavored Crisco was gross. It tasted like eating a spoon full of chemicals. Now, this may be because we went with the butter flavor. Maybe the regular wouldn’t be as bad? It is, after all, fantastic in pie crust. But, even then I go half Crisco half butter. And using Crisco in biscuits makes some super good biscuits. We were all a bit surprised at how bad that cookie was because it looked so good.

Now, to be fair, there are a lot of ways to make cookies without using butter. Sometimes margarine just makes a better cookie. The key is adjusting the rest of the recipe to get the flavor and results you are looking for.

While none of us were surprised by the fact that butter was the winner, what this experiment did was spark a conversation about ingredients and paying attention to what is in the food we eat. (Why exactly do those cookies that we buy look so good? Could it be the hydrogenated oils that were used to make them?)

And, as we sat there feeling superior in our newfound knowledge and determination to not eat the bad stuff, we ate a few more handfuls of the butter ones ‘cause we wouldn’t want them to go to waste!

So, below is the classic Toll House Cookie recipe from the back of the chocolate chips bag. And, if you wish, you can play around with proportions of butter and Crisco, or just take our word for it. And, here is a link to a recipe from King Arthur Flour that combines butter with shortening for a photo ready cookie.

Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookies
Adapted from the back of the chocolate chip bag.

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Chicken Tikka Masala

Chicken Tikka MasalaEatin’ like a Grown Up
We’ve reached a major milestone in my household! Well, I think it’s major. To be clear, I am not talking about the real major milestones like getting your driver’s license, or being accepted into college, or even the elusive doing the things I ask you to do, when I ask you to do them, not when I am foaming-at-the-mouth-mad milestones. No, the milestone I am talking about is the spicy hot food one.

My husband and I like our food spicy. For the longest time, I have had to dial it back when cooking, because I wanted my kids to actually eat. My kids are pretty adventurous when it comes to food as far as ingredients and cuisine go. But if I made it too spicy hot they would start reaching for the fall-back banana. Lately, it’s as if the clouds have parted and the sun is shining down in my kitchen…because my kids are asking for their food to be more spicy. Yee Haw!! Bring on the harissa and chilies!

We eat Mexican food it seems like, daily. So, when I noticed a lot more salsa use I was intrigued. The other night I made blackened salmon with a fire breathing spice rub, and they kids all loved it. I started getting excited. When we went for Indian food last week, and my son said he wanted to swim in a vat of the sauce armed with a straw, I knew we had turned a corner.

Their Indian dish of choice is Chicken Tikka Masala, which ranges from medium to spicy. The good news is that you can find it on basically every Indian restaurant menu. So, you have the opportunity to taste and compare. Frankly, I’m just looking forward to a little more spice and dinner choices in our lives…

Chicken Tikka Masala
Adapted from Bon Appetit Magazine
Yields 6 Servings
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French-Style Beef Stew with Carrots and Parsnips

French-Style Beef Stew with Carrots and ParsnipsRainy Days and Mondays…

When the weather is as rainy as it has been the last week, I look to the things that warm me up. Usually, it’s something slow roasted or slow cooked in the crock pot. It could be pot roast or it could be a turkey breast but whatever the ingredients, it is a bowl full of warmth and comfort.

Last Sunday, while we contemplated lining the animals up two by two, I threw some beef chuck in the crock pot and made some tasty beef stew. And, it was the perfect answer to the wind and rain, especially served with warm crusty bread to sop it all up. Yum.

There is a multitude of recipes for beef stew you just have to decide which one is your favorite. That’s the hard part for me. Sometimes I want straight up stew with all that beef flavor. (Like my Batchelor Beef Stew.) Other times I like French-Style Beef Stew with Carrots and Parsnips and some red wine. And then there are the times when dark beer and onions make a great combo too. (Check out my Beef and Guinness Stew.) Depends on my mood…

So, this is the one I made this weekend. If you wish, it is easily done in the slow cooker. Just follow these directions. But instead of cooking in the Dutch oven, you put it all in a large crock pot on low for about 8 hours, or until the beef is falling apart tender.

French-Style Beef Stew with Carrots and Parsnips
Serves 6 Read more…

Chicken with Tarragon and Mustard

Chicken with Tarragon and MustardJanuary, the good and the bad.
Well, we made it. We survived the holidays. Now it’s back to normal life—which is in some ways good and some ways bad.

I don’t think I could have kept up with the eating and drinking (at least not the way I was doing it), so to be back to normal is good. However, there is the post-holiday let down. The excitement, the parties and good cheer are gone. It’s just the daily routine. It’s kinda boring.

January can also be what I call the food doldrums. The cold winter months can be less than exciting ingredient wise. Sure there are plenty of good soups to battle the cold air and rain, but I get bored with that after a while. Yes, you can always throw together a roast dinner but again, meh. The produce offerings are tasty but limited. This is the time of year to get creative with your dried beans but even then, for me, there is just not that much excitement. On top of all that is the need to lighten things up and eat better…

January is definitely when my slow cooker gets the most use, mainly because I am worn out from all of the holiday cooking. So, I go looking for new ideas for the slow cooker. A few years ago I stumbled on a series of slow cooker cookbooks that are not the usual pot roast or pork shoulder. Each book is devoted to a particular cuisine. There is the French version, the Italian, the Mexican, Mediterranean and even the Indian.

I have tried recipes from them all, but I tend to reach for The French Slow Cooker the most. One of my favorite recipes is Chicken with Tarragon, Mustard and Cream because it’s uncomplicated and tres French. The original recipe calls for heavy cream (and it is good that way), but I usually lighten it up with 2% milk instead. And, just be aware that the sauce won’t be as rich, which is good…and bad.

Chicken with Tarragon and Mustard
Adapted from The French Slow Cooker by Michele Scicolone
Serve 4 to 6
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Moussaka

MoussakaThe Kickasserole

I gotta say, it was a good Christmas this year. Not one clunker gift could be found amongst the massive pile of paper and cardboard. We were all spoiled rotten. One of my favorite gifts has my thoughts spinning…

At Christmas time each year it’s a pretty safe bet that I will receive something that is at the very least related to cooking. This could be a cookbook, or a subscription to my favorite cooking magazine, or even some bizarre ingredient. But more often than not, it is a tool to be used in the preparation of food. This year was no different. What was different however was the personalization on the side. I received a gratin dish with “Amy’s Kickasserole” engraved on the side. It is a thing of beauty, and beyond awesome! But it is also as if a challenge has been issued.

One does not simply cook any old thing in a dish that says Kickasserole. No my friends, leave the mac & cheese or the baked ziti to the plain white earthenware. The Kickasserole is destined for much more interesting and grander fare, which is why my mind has been spinning. What would be the perfect recipe for the maiden voyage of the Kickasserole?

I have come to the conclusion that I can’t make anything that I have made before. That would be boring. It needs to be an event. So here’s the plan. One of the other gifts I got was a Greek cookbook. My daughter and I have decided we are going to cook from it for New Year’s Eve. And one of the recipes we will be making is one of my favorite dishes, Moussaka. I have never made it before. Ever. So I think it is the perfect choice to ring in the New Year and to begin the new era of the Kickasserole…

Moussaka
Adapted from Kokkari: Contemporary Greek Flavors
This is the cookbook from Kokkari Estiatorio, my absolute favorite Greek restaurant in San Francisco. If you have not had a chance to eat there, I highly recommend you make reservations! Read more…

Christmas Cookies from Our Collection

Christmas Cookies from Our CollectionThere is still plenty of time for Christmas baking, so we have compiled a list of some of our favorite Christmas cookies from our collection. Because Christmas just isn’t quite the same without cookies!

Anise Cakes These hard cookies are meant to be dunked into coffee or tea, like Read more…