paleo logic

Today I ran across the “paleo diet.” Essentially, it’s the idea that the human body is better conditioned to eat a diet resembling the one our paleolithic ancestors subsisted on than a “modern” diet. Eat lots of meat, fish, eggs, lots of fat, some fruit root vegetables, nuts… eliminate all sugars, wheat, refined oils, salt, legumes, grains… dairy seems to be optional. Why is dairy optional? Because. That’s why.

The theory is that,

…in the 10,000 years since the invention of agriculture and its consequent major change in the human diet, natural selection has had too little time to make the optimal genetic adaptations to the new diet. Physiological and metabolic maladaptations result from the suboptimal genetic adaptations to the contemporary human diet, which in turn contribute to many of the so-called diseases of civilization.

Those “diseases of civilization” are things like heart disease, diabetes, asthma, Alzheimer’s, acne, obesity, and of course, cancer.

As a lifestyle kind of thing, “let’s have some bacon” I’ve got no beef (or maybe I have no legume) with this diet. But I do have a problem with sciencyish hokum masquerading as fact.

First of all, it’s a mistake to equate genotype with phenotype or morphology. We may share a genotype (basic genetic similarities) with paleolithic man, but we certainly don’t share a phenotype (characteristics, traits, appearance) or even morphology (systemic operation and configuration) with those ancient forebears. We’re taller, for one. We have better tools. We’re more attractive. We’re smarter. We live longer.

Each of those differences has profound implications for nutritional science. We’re bigger, which means that we not only require more calories than our smaller ancestors, but it also means that our general nutritional requirements are going to be different. We have better tools. That means that, on average, our caloric expenditure has gone down. We spend more of our time idle. That means that we’re more likely to store excess calories as fat. We’re more attractive. Not just my opinion, there’s a good deal of evidence to suggest that women (but not men) have consistently, generation after generation gotten better and better looking and I think there’s a strong case that improving beauty is a strong indicator of improving nutrition. We’re smarter. Not just better educated or more advanced, but actually smarter. There’s a wealth of information that indicates that g–the measure of general intelligence–has increased across cultures over time. Again, a steadily increasing intelligence would presume a steadily improving nutritional base. We live longer. This is the real proof in the sugary, sweet, agriculturally-dependent pudding: we live a lot longer. Decades and decades longer. And… maybe, just maybe, the incidence of diseases like asthma, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, obesity, and cancer correlates better with age than with diet. I know, radical assumption, that. As for acne… frankly I don’t buy it. I’ll bet showers, soap, and the invention of basic hygiene have reduced acne.

But wait, it gets better.

The idea that we evolved 200,000 years ago to eat a certain diet and just haven’t had the time to adapt in the last 10,000 years is… well, it’s dumb. First of all, it’s very likely that humans have been farming grains and legumes for as long as 100,000 or even 200,000 years. Secondly, even if we allow for only 10,000 years since the spread of agriculture, that gives of 400-500 generations in which to adapt to the new diet. Evolutionary adaptation is not simply time-dependent. It’s dependent on selective pressure and time. If the selective pressure is great enough, random mutation can induce widespread evolutionary change in very few generations. And if we assume the argument that our bodies were ill-equipped to handle the dietary shift that the advent of agriculture brought about, then we must acknowledge that such a radical shift would have generated tremendous selective pressure. Or in other words, for agriculture not to result in widespread famine and death, it would either have to have not been a horrible break from ancestral diets or, if it were, then we must have adapted to those changes.

And what of that paleolithic diet anyway? How much meat did they actually eat? What’s the “optimal” proportion of meat to tuber? Who knows? No one; Tuesday night dinners weren’t fossilized until Swanson came along.

Now it’s true that we’re fatter and older than our paleolithic friends, but only one of those things is actually bad. The few studies that were done on the sparse paleolithic populations that were still extant in the last century did provide some evidence that their populations were resistant to some diseases like obesity, asthma, and heart disease. These studies also indicated that these populations were ill suited to “modern” diets. But these studies are hardly conclusive. First,  obesity isn’t caused by eating evil legumes, it’s caused by consuming too many calories and burning too few. There’s a lot of actual science behind calorie reduction as a means to extend longevity and improve overall health. The paleolithic diets in these cases were also low calorie diets. With no control established, it’s simply disingenuous to claim that the paleo diet, rather than calorie reduction correlated with overall health. Note: it’s wrong to even imply correlation much less causation.  As for sensitivity to “modern” diets, that’s evidence that cuts both ways. These cultures were reproductively isolated from the rest of humanity and as a result may not have adapted as the rest of us did. Furthermore, because these populations were reproductively isolated for so long, they’re also genetically unique populations. In other words, it’s not only impossible to control for calories in these studies, it’s also impossible to control for genetic differences. At best, the most we can really say is that a tiny population of people in New Guinea seemed to do OK without much bread.

OK.

None of this is to say that you shouldn’t necessarily try this diet. If it sounds yummy to you–lots of fresh fish, lots of bacon, tasty fruits and nuts, whole milk and farm fresh eggs (yeah, livestock domestication came with agriculture, but who’s counting), and yummy yogurt (because… well, this one’s got me stumped. Yogurt would have to be post agriculture and since yogurt contains live bacteria, I would think that of anything, we’d be least adapted to its consumption)– then go for it.

But just don’t do it because you think that your body might not be “adapted” to corn, tomatoes, apples, rice, beer, wine, or clean drinking water.

And certainly don’t adopt this diet if you suffer from health complications that would make the diet a definitively bad choice for you.

Otherwise, go for it. But spare me the pseudo-science.

Island Pork Chops

The other night I took a shot at stacking elements in food presentation. The idea was to make a kind of Caribbean-y pork (or what I think of as Caribbean, anyway) dish. I’d grill some pineapple slices, make a rice cake, and some grilled pork with a salsa, and stack them up with some greens at the base. Like an island….

It worked, in the sense that I stacked everything and it all tasted great. It was also sort of failure, in the sense that it looked more like an odd rock formation than anything else. Plus, I made one salsa too many.

stacked pork

stacked pork again

Yeah, yeah, I should have cut the pork chop to match the rice cake and the pineapple slice better, and I could probably work on plating the greens and the red pepper coulis. And, as I mentioned, there’s one salsa too many: that’s a tomatillo salsa there at the sides. The tomatillo salsa was ok, but it certainly wasn’t needed. Oh well. (I also need to work on my photography… the colors all seem a little washed out. The greens in particular…. any advice on that?)

Back to the food; it’s all pretty simple. I made this to serve two, but all the recipes can be easily multiplied.

Swiss chard, sauteed with garlic.

1 bunch Swiss chard (I trimmed the stems)
2 tspns garlic sliced thin
1 tsp rice vinegar
2 tsp veg. oil

Heat the oil in a sauté pan. Add the chard and saute for 2 – 3 minutes. Add the garlic and continue cooking for 3-4 minutes. Add vinegar and toss before serving.

roasted red pepper coulis

2 medium sized red bell peppers, cleaned
1 clove garlic
1 tsp red wine vinegar
pinch kosher salt

Roast the peppers under the broiler until the skin wrinkles and chars on all sides. Transfer the peppers to an ice bath. Peel the peppers and chop coarsely. Add peppers and remaining ingredients to blender. Process until smooth.

banana rice cake

2 cups cooked rice
1 banana, chopped
1/4 cup fat free yogurt
1 large egg
salt & pepper to taste

Mush up (that’s a technical cooking term) all the ingredients in a zip-lock bag. Heat 2 tblsps veg oil on med-high heat in a small skillet. Put two round metal cookie cutters in the hot oil. Cut a hole in a corner of the zip-lock baggie and pipe the rice mixture into the cookie cutters. Cook in the oil for 2-3 minutes. Using tongs, turn over the cookie-cutter encased cakes and cook for another 2-3 minutes. The idea is to brown the bottom of the cake and then brown the other side. A crust will form on the bottom of the cake that will hold the cake together and keep it from spilling out of the cutter when you flip it. (I really liked this rice cake.)

pineapple ginger salsa

1/2 cup chopped fresh pineapple
1/4 cup grated ginger
1/2 cup chopped onion
2 tangerines, zested
2 tspns cilantro, chopped
1 small drop Dave’s Insanity sauce.
salt & pepper to taste

Heat 1 tspn oil in a sauce pan. Add onions and sauté until translucent. Add pineapple, ginger, and tangerine zest. Cooke for 4-5 minutes. Add juice from the two tangerines, the cilantro, and the drop of Insanity Sauce (just a drop!). Cook until the liquid has reduced. Salt and pepper to taste. (Never add salt before reducing a liquid, it will end up too salty.)

grilled pinepple slice

Slice the pineapple and grill it.

pork chops

2 pork chops
salt & pepper
cumin

I got this cool little oil spritzer for my birthday and I use it when I’m prepping meat for the grill. I spritz both sides of the meat and then sprinkle each side kosher salt and ground pepper. I added a little cumin to these chops, but that’s it.

Enjoy!

Thanksgiving Recipes

As prep for the marathon cooking event that was this year’s Thanksgiving, I took the time to write out my Thanksgiving recipes. It made shopping a breeze and I had a handy cheat sheet with me all of Wednesday and Thursday morning. Complete with schedule!

Alas, there are no photos of the food. The Turkey was a deep rich golden brown and I wish I had snapped a photo; the glaze worked wonderfully. The mashed potatoes looked like… well, they looked like mashed potatoes with little bits of bacon in them. The stuffing looked like stuffing and the pecan pies were gorgeous–easily the prettiest pecan pies I’ve ever made. (We have a new oven this year and it made a tremendous difference!)

The recipes were cobbled together from many different spots. The turkey was heavily influenced by Alton Brown, although I modified the recipe quite a bit. The potatoes are my own, the pecan pie began at the Camellia Grill in New Orleans but also owes a deep debt to my friend Eric’s mother, Pat. The stuffing comes largely from the Gumbo Pages. The cranberries are my interpretation of a classic standard.

Mashed Potatoes

8 russet potatoes (6 lbs) cut into 1 inch pieces
3 tsp salt
1 cup heavy cream
1 stick butter
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 lbs bacon, crumbled
1/2 lb Cheddar, grated
1/2 lb Gruyere, grated
1/2 cup sour cream
1/4 cup chopped fresh chives
1/4 cup Dijon mustard

Place the potatoes and 2 tspn salt in pot and cover with cold water by about an inch. Bring to a boil.

Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook until the potatoes are fork tender, about 20 minutes.

Drain in a colander and return to the cooking pot. Add the cream, butter, remaining 1 tsp salt, and black pepper.

Place the pan over medium- low heat and mash with a potato masher to incorporate the ingredients and achieve a light texture, about 4 to 5 minutes. Add the bacon, grated cheese, sour cream, mustard, pepper and chopped chives. Stir until thoroughly combined.

Cranberries

1 bag Cranberries
1 cup water
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 Orange, juiced and zested
2 tblspns chopped candied ginger
1/2 cinnamon stick
1 tspn cornstarch / water slurry
splash of brandy

dissolve sugar in water. Add cranberries and all other ingredients. Boil until the cranberries have burst. Add cornstarch slurry. taste and simmer for 10 minutes.

Andouille Cornbread stuffing

6 cups cornbread, crumbled
1 stick butter
2 lbs andouille,chopped small
2 bell peppers diced
1 bunch green onions, chopped
1 large onion diced
3 ribs celery diced small
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tspn ground allspice
2 tblspn dried thyme
1 tblspn fresh sage
1/2 teaspoon minced bay leaves
4 large eggs, beaten
1 cup stock
1/2 cup cream

Toast cornbread 10-20 minutes @ 350. Transfer to large mixing bowl.

Melt the butter in a large skillet. Sweat the green onions, bell pepper and sweet onions until soft. Remove the vegetables from the pan. Brown the andouille in batches.

Add back the vegetables, celery, garlic, thyme, sage, allspice, and bay leaves and cook 10 minutes or so. Mix the vegetables into the corn bread thoroughly.

Beat the eggs and add the stock and the cream. Put the stuffing into a buttered baking dish and add the egg/cream mixture until the stuffing is moist, but not sodden. Cover tightly with foil, then bake @ 350 for 45 minutes. Uncover and bake until the top is brown, about 15 minutes.

Pecan Pie

4 eggs
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup melted butter
1-1/4 cups light corn syrup
1-1/4 cups firmly packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 unbaked 9-inch pie shell
1 cup chopped pecans
1 tsp brandy
splash of lemon juice

Beat eggs.. Add salt, butter, syrup, sugar, brandy, lemon juice, vanilla and pecans; mix well.
Pour into shell. Bake at 350°F for 45-50 minutes.

Turkey

Remove offal bag.
Rinse thoroughly. loosen skin, exposing meat.

Brine:
1/2 gallon chix broth/turkey stock
1 1/4 cup Kosher Salt
1/2 cup Brown Sugar
1 tsp baking soda
2 tblspn whole black peppercorns
1 tblspn whole allspice berries
1/2 cup candied ginger, diced
10 whole cloves
1/2 gallon apple juice
1 gallon water as ice

Boil stock and dissolve sugar, salt, baking soda. Add peppercorns, allspice, ginger and cloves. Boil 3 minutes. Remove from heat. Pour in large 5 gallon plastic food bucket. Add juice and 1/2 ice. Add turkey breast side down and rest of ice. Cover and let sit for 24 hours.

Aromatics:
1 small onion cubed
1 apple, cored and cubed
1 cinnamon stick.
1 cup water
fresh rosemary
fresh sage

When ready to cook the turkey, microwave the aromatics and water on high for 5 minutes. Preheat oven to 500.

Remove the turkey from the brine and pat dry. Don’t rinse. Fill the turkey cavity with the aromatics. Rub the turkey all over with cooking oil, or–in this case–the rendered bacon fat I reserved from the bacon I cooked for the potatoes. Insert meat thermometer into the deepest part of the breast.

Put turkey on rack in roasting pan and roast at 500 for 30 minutes.

Remove bird, and cover breast with foil. Reduce oven temp to 330 and roast until internal temperature is 155. Meanwhile, prepare the glaze.

Glaze:
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup apple juice
3 garlic cloves
1/4 cup Cooking oil
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp vinegar

Add all ingredients to sauce pan and bring to a boil. Reduce liquid by half.

When turkey hits 150 degrees, open oven and baste the bird with the glaze. Remove the foil.

Roast turkey until temp reaches 158 or so. Baste turkey again. When temp reaches 165, remove turkey from the oven, remove turkey from roasting pan, cover with foil and let rest for 20 minutes.

Gravy:
Chopped fresh rosemary
Chopped fresh sage
red wine
flour
(I didn’t list amounts here because it all depends on the size of the turkey and how much gravy you’re making. For the flour, it depends on how much fat you’re using in the gravy. You want equal amounts by weight. It’s OK to eyeball it. Gravy is forgiving.)

Pour pan juices into large plastic pitcher. Let sit for a moment until the fat has separated. Remove fat from juices into large pan on medium heat. Remove any icky fatty solids from the drippings.

Add flour and stir constantly until roux just begins to brown. Add the rest of the pan drippings, the red wine and the rosemary and the sage. The gravy should suddenly thicken when you add the liquid. If it’s too thick, add water. Cook over low heat until the gravy is hot and yummy. The glaze is very sweet, and the pan drippings will be sweet as well. You may want to use half the pan drippings and supplement the rest with regular stock.

Cookbooks!

Inspired by Megan McArdle’s recommendations, I decided to put up a post about some of my favorite cookbooks. (I know I haven’t done much food-blogging in the past few weeks, but our digital camera took an untimely fall a couple of months ago. And a recipe without a photo is like creme brulée without the hard sugar crust. Speaking of which, I finally bought a propane torch! If I can get serviceable photos off my new cell phone, I’ll do a brulée post soon.)

On to the cookbooks.

1) Joy of Cooking

This has been a staple in my family’s kitchens for a long time. I love it. It’s packed with basic techniques, and canonical recipes for just about any dish you can imagine. It’s a great reference and a great place to find inspiration. I like Betty Crocker, but I prefer The Joy. Every kitchen needs a “go-to” cookbook for the basics, and this is mine.

2) The Professional Chef

I know this one is a stretch for the home cook, but I love it. It’s the core textbook used at the Culinary Institute of America. It’s not just a collection of recipes, it’s a textbook on how to cook. There’s no great prose, but there is a wealth of information. (Most of the recipes are designed for a professional kitchen, so I use them as guides only. I don’t often make soup to serve 20.)

3) The Larousse Gastronomique

The definitive reference cookbook. It’s literally an encyclopedia. Entries are arranged alphabetically, going from (in my older 1988 edition) abaisse to zuppa Inglese. (a sheet of rolled-out pastry and sponge cake soaked in Kirsch.) The new edition has expanded coverage of world cuisine but the focus is still on French and continental cooking.

4) The Sauce Bible

It’s, well, it’s the sauce Bible. It’s also another book intended for a professional audience. Like The Professional Chef, the recipes are designed for professional kitchens and the quantities can be… large. But I wanted it for technique, history, and culinary education and it delivers on each of those.

5) The Splendid Table

This is my favorite non-reference cookbook. It’s a culinary tour through Northern Italy. This is one to get for the recipes. From a grand Tortellini pie, to a simple pasta with balsamic vinegar, to a Brodetto that continues to amaze me, this is a fabulous cookbook. Kaspar has a wonderful style, and this is a great one to read too. Just a great book.

6) My Mexico

This is a new cookbook, given to me by my wonderful friends, Adam and Elina, as a wedding present. I still haven’t gotten though all of it, this is a cookbook to read. It’s just great food-writing. Some of the recipes (like the one for banana vinegar) can be a little daunting, but I think they’ll be well worth the effort. I haven’t tried to make the banana vinegar yet because I’m sure Jamie won’t be pleased with me leaving 4 pounds of bananas to rot in a bowl for 3 weeks….


7) ?????

I have a bunch of other good cookbooks, but none others that I’m sure are truly great cookbooks. And in some cases, I really like my cookbooks, but I’d love to see more. That’s particularly true when it comes to styles of food. For exampe, I have Creole Feast, and it’s great. The recipes are fantastic. But there are no photos, and there’s very little on technique or history. Truly great cookbooks give you recipes, teach you the history of the dish, and bring you into someone else’s kitchen to see it made. I love Creole Feast, but I don’t think it’s the definitive New Orleans cookbook. I’m still looking for that.

There are other great cookbooks I’m searching for. For example, I haven’t yet found the ultimate Thai cookbook, or the great New Mexican cookbook. I haven’t found the perfect English cookbook either. Ok… so some searches may take longer than others. But I’m still searching, and that’s where the fun is.

Cookbooks are great because they’re read and re-read. They’re books you thumb through again and again. They’re books that are used, and if they’re good, used often. My favorite fiction is dog-eared. But my favorite cookbooks are worn, beaten, and broken.

A great cookbook has torn pages, pages that stick together, pages that are stained with the recipe they describe. The jackets are loose and the spine is broken Often intentionally; a cookbook should lay flat on the counter! In some of my cookbooks I know where my favorite recipes are because the book falls open naturally to those pages.

What are your favorite cookbooks? Have a recommendation?


Thanksgiving

Would it be too corny to say that I give thanks for Thanksgiving? Probably.

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. It’s an American holiday and that’s cool. We live in the land of plenty and we know it. It’s also a capitalist holiday (or at the very least, it’s a celebration of the end of collectivist deprivation). Thanksgiving is secular too. Which means there’s no midnight mass, no morning mass, no afternoon mass, and no threat of a mass at any other time.

Thanksgiving is the start of the Christmas Season. I know that the malls and department stores have been in full Christmas swing since September, but Thanksgiving is when you can finally pull out your favorite Christmas CD without worrying about violent reprisal. And even though it’s the start of the Christmas Season, it has none of the pressure of Christmas; there are no presents to buy, there’s nothing to wrap, and the afternoon isn’t quite so boring. (One of my favorite lyrics of all time is, “And every day’s like Christmas Day without you. It’s cold and there’s nothing to do .”)

Plus, there’s lot’s and lot’s of really good food. It’s not Thanksgiving unless you can feed the square of the number of people at your table. And really, what’s better than sharing a meal with the people you love?

Thanksgiving has always been good to me. There have been few family fights and lots of good eats. Even when I was away at school or young and on my own, my friends and I would gather and we’d feast on what we could. We’d have Thanksgivings filled with dishes I’d learned growing up with my mother in New Orleans: shrimp Creole, crawfish etoufee, gumbo, and jambalya. The Thanksgiving meal is traditional for a reason; the ritualized menu reminds us of home and helps us remember. Even when I was thousands of miles from home, making a big pot of jambalya or etoufee helped bring a part of my family’s Thanksgiving to my table.

But it’s not always Creole and Cajun. I’ve made vegan mushroom paté, dozens of pecan pies, Thai spring rolls, and once I even made a lavish tortellini pie. It had meatballs, cheese, tortellini, a wonderful ragu bolognese, and a sweet custard. It turned out great and I loved it. Everyone else smiled and swallowed, but no one was as taken by it as I was. That was Thanksgiving in the Brown House in Portland. We called it the brown house because every ceiling, wall, and rail was brown wood. the floors were brown carpet. It was perpetually dark. You needed a flashlight to read in the living room. But it had a great stove.

We had a lot to drink at those Thanksgivings in Portland. They’re my “lost” Thanksgivings–holidays where we’d eat 12 pounds of turkey and drink 20 pounds of Beaujolais Nouveau. But they were all good days. I think. My memories are a bit hazy. We have photos, and everyone’s smiling, but you can’t tell what we ate for all the bottles on the table. One year we rented out the rec room in a friend’s apartment complex. Eric made six gallons of gumbo, and I made sweet-potato dim sum. We also had turkey, potatoes, cranberries and two cases of wine. There were 8 adults.

But I’m older and wiser and considerably more moderate now. I’ll be spending this thanksgiving with my wife’s family. There will be more than 20 of us. The chairs will be mismatched, the tables will be borrowed and crammed onto porches, and there will be games of touch football in the backyard. With any luck there will be a platter or two of deviled eggs. Of course, I’ll only have one or two. Now I drink less wine and worry more about cholesterol. But the dinner will be grand and the company will be better.

It will be my third Thanksgiving with Jamie’s family, and just my second with our kids. I know how much fun I’ll have, but I’ll still miss all of my family and friends that won’t be joining us. I’ll give my thanks and I’ll think aboutholidays gone by.

I remember the year of the bunnies.

My father lives in the Jemez Mountains in northern New Mexico. The house is halfway up a mountain with state forest on two sides and very distant neighbors on the others. It’s remote and beautiful and very pet friendly. The fish stay indoors, but the scores of cats and dogs are free to come and go as they please. My favorite dog of all time, Tucker, lived in that house for many years. Tucker was a mutt. He must have been mostly Collie and German Shepherd because he was full-sized, Shepherd colored, and had some Collie in his face. There must also have been a gutsy Dachshund somewhere back down the line, because his legs were only three inches long. He ran like an inchworm and he couldn’t jump into a truck without help, but he was as smart and loyal and loving as any dog ever was.

One year, now several years ago, my father had rabbits. I don’t remember how or why they came to live at the house, but they were there at Thanksgiving. As was I. It was a year I had made it home to family. Tucker had died years prior, and had been replaced by Todd and Chewbaca. Chewy is long gone, but Todd is still alive. Old and fat, he looks like a giant sausage that’s been stuffed into a dog costume.

My father had built pens in the garden by the house, and the bunnies lived very happily. They were, as bunnies must be, segregated by sex and so I presume they weren’t living as happily as they might have wished, but they seemed comfortable. And cute. And large and fat. They weren’t food bunnies; they were pet bunnies. And they were much loved by my little sister and brother.

On that Thanksgiving we had a traditional New Mexican spread: yams, cranberries, potatoes, stuffing, and green chile galore. And of course, we had a beautiful turkey. But as Ralphie Parker can well attest, all dogs — including the Bumpuses’ hounds — love turkey. So the dogs had been banished outside as the turkey was cooked, prepared, cooled and sliced.

We all sat down, and had just packed our plates… I’m sure I was just beginning to pour some gravy over my mounded pile of turkey goodness. My father had probably just finished singing along with the full version of Alice’s Restaurant; our meal had barely begun. We heard the mewling cries, and we wondered what they were. Then we heard the shrieks and we knew. Todd and Chewy were having a feast of their own. Apparently driven mad by turkey lust, they had finally found their way into the rabbit pen.

That Thanksgiving went to the dogs. But that’s as bad a Thanksgiving as I’ve ever had.

And I guess that’s my point. Thanksgiving is great because it’s simple. Get together. Eat. Laugh. Nap.

A bad Thanksgiving is spent alone in a box under an overpass. And thankfully, I’ve never been there. I have been blessed with such wonderful friends and such a wonderful family, my life is filled with joy and laughter and love. And that’s what I’m thankful for on the last Thursday in November and on every other day too.

Although I can’t sit down with everyone I love this Thursday, I’ll think of all of you as I say my thanks and pour my gravy.

Thanks to all of you for filling my life with wonder and joy.
May your Thanksgiving tables always be too crowded and your chairs mismatched.
May your turkey be large and brown with crispy skin and may your gravy be smooth and rich.
And may you always have one non-traditional dish–whether it’s a vegan tofu stew or a selection of fresh sushi.
May you drink and eat your fill, and may you nap peacefully after dinner.
May you play touch football in the fallen leaves and finally put on that Christmas music.
May you remember to tell everyone how much you love them.
May you always keep those you love close to your heart, no matter how far away they might live.

And may you keep your bunnies safe and warm.

Caribbean Soup

Our days have been pretty hectic lately. September is a busy month, what with my step-daughter’s birthday, my wife’s birthday and then my mother’s birthday all occurring on sequential days (keeps thing easy to remember). And then there’s my mother-in-law’s birthday about a week later and my step-son’s birthday a week after that. Toss in some back-to-school nights, some travel baseball, and some flag-football practice, and our September days fill up quickly.

I usually do most of our grocery shopping (it’s an easy stop on the way home from work), Jamie ended up getting the protein for Wednesday’s dinner on her way from home on Tuesday. She was looking at the chicken sausage and decided that “Italian” was getting a little boring, so she settled on Teriyaki and Ginger. “Sounds good,” I thought when she told me. But then I paused… teriyaki and ginger chicken sausage… what do I do with that? (I figured a marinara sauce would be… odd)

Yes, I know. Stir-fry. But I made chicken and broccoli stir fry on Tuesday night (it’s one of our youngest boy’s faves), and we’re a decadent American family. Not only do we not eat the same food twice in a week, we don’t even like to eat the same method of preparation twice in a week, much less on back-to-back days. So on Wednesday, I stopped at the market and tried to decide how to prepare the sausage.

I know what you’re thinking. “If you had time to go the store, why not just buy something else? Take a flyer on some beef why don’tcha? Keep the teriyaki ginger sausage in it’s little hermetically sealed packaging until next Wednesday and whip up another stir fry!”

I did think of that. But by this point, I felt like one of the Iron Chef’s. “This week’s theme ingredient is Asian Chicken Sausage!” “Fukui-san! What’s he doing there?” “I… I’m not sure, I think he’s opening another beer… yes, yes, it’s another beer… I think it’s Hefeweizen.” “Hefeweizen! Fascinating! And he’ll what, use that to deglaze the pan?” “No, no, I think he’ll drink that one too!”

Ok.. so maybe more of a Brass Chef.

I was standing in the veggie section, trying desperately to imagine an alternate preparation for teriyaki and ginger flavored sausage. I was running through sausage recipes in my head… grilled sausage sandwiches, sausage pizza, sausage and potatoes with some sauerkraut, sausage soup… AHA! Sausage soup! But not Italianate… how about… Asiany/Caribbean?

In the end I decided on a Sausage/Coconut/Pineapple soup. It was very, very yummy. Very reminiscent of Tom Kha, but definitely not Tom Kha. Here’s my best guess as to the recipe, since I once again failed to take notes as I went along.

1 lb Teriyaki & Ginger Chicken Sausage, sliced into discs
1 cup fresh pineapple cut into chunks
2 cans coconut milk
1 tblspn fresh grated ginger
2 tbslpns minced garlic
2 tbspns coarsely chopped cilantro
1 small onion, sliced
1/2 tspn Thai fish sauce
1 tspn crushed red pepper flakes
Salt and black pepper to taste

I began by throughly browning all the sausage in a dutch oven. When the sausage was browned, I added the onion and let everything saute together for a few minutes. Next I added the ginger, garlic and crushed red pepper, cooked for a minute, and then deglazed the pan with some beer from my glass (white wine would work too, and water would do in a pinch) — just enough to deglaze the pan.

Next I added the pineapple and let everything simmer together for a few minutes.

Then I added both cans of coconut milk, the fish sauce, and the cilantro and brought the soup to a slow boil. Salt and pepper to taste.

I served it with Tostones.

Jambalaya


This is a Cajun Jambalya, with just the barest of a nod to the Creole tradition. I like Creole Jambalaya (with tomatoes and seafood), but Cajun is my favorite.

I made this today for my mother-in-law’s birthday party. It’s my most requested dish for family gatherings; it came out very well today.

1 1/2 pound high quality smoked pork sausage (a good quality kielbasa is acceptable), chopped
1 pound andouille sausage (if you really can’t find good andouille, you can use chorizo), sliced into 1/8 inch pieces
1 pound ham, chopped into small cubes (use tasso if you can find it)
1 pound chicken (boneless and skinless — thigh meat is best, but I often use 1/2 breast and 1/2 thigh)
1 pound shrimp, peeled and cleaned, with their tails left on.
1 large onion, diced
1/4 cup celery rib,
chopped small
1/4 cup bell pepper, chopped small
2 tablespoons garlic, minced
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1 tablespoon thyme
1/2 tablespoon basil
3 bay leaves
1/2 tablespoon black pepper
1/2 tablespoon white pepper
5 1/2 cups chicken stock
3 cups long-grain rice

— Salt and cayenne to taste. Depending on the heat of the andouille/chorizo, whether or not you use tasso, and the saltiness of your sausage, you’ll need to use more or less salt and cayenne.

Heat a heavy Dutch oven on high and add the ham. After the ham browns, add the sausage and brown in batches. As the sausage browns, remove with a slotted spoon and add another batch. You shouldn’t need to use any additional oil, as the sausage should render plenty as it browns. Be careful not to burn the sausage — if you do burn the meat, the jambalaya will end up bitter.

When the ham and sausage have finished browning, brown the chicken. Don’t overcook the chicken, or it will shred. Remove chicken.

Lower the heat and add the onion. Saute until onions while scraping up the brown bits from the meat. Saute until the onions are soft and brown and just beginning to carmelize. Add the celery and bell pepper and saute 4 or 5 minutes. Add the garlic and saute for just one minute (Garlic burns very easily, you just want to sweat it). Add 1 cup of the stock and scrape all the tasty little brown bits from the pot. Add the thyme, bay leaves, basil, pepper and meat and simmer. Continue scraping the brown bits up — that’s where the color and flavor live! Continue simmering until stock is gone. This is where I do most of my tasting. The flavors should be pretty gigantic at this point, remember, we still have to add the rice!

Add the rest of the stock and bring to a boil. Add the rice, reduce the heat to medium, and gently turn the rice. After a couple of minutes, add the parsley. Turn the rice once or twice to ensure that no rice sticks to the pot. When the pot begins to boil, reduce heat to low, toss in the shrimpies and simmer, covered, for at least 25 minutes. Do not remove the cover while the rice is steaming.

DO NOT remove the cover. AND DO NOT STIR.

Don’t do it! I’m telling you, don’t lift that lid and don’t stir that pot.

Get your hand out of there! Did you stir that rice? You did, didn’t you!

When the jambalaya is done, remove from heat, turn the rice and meat to mix everything up again and serve!