Okra Gumbo with Sausage and Fish

My friend Mike offers us his classic gumbo recipe with okra, andouille and seafood. I wish I had gotten a chance to taste it, but the color of that roux is evidence enough that it must have been great.

This recipe was adapted from several in Chef Paul Prudhomme’s Louisiana Kitchen. This gumbo is a family favorite. It isn’t too spicy, has a delicious toasty, nutty complexity from the roux, and the okra keeps it from being too thin (the darker you make a roux, the less thickening power it has). It is, however, a definite time commitment. This is a recipe where you should have everything completely prepped and lain out before you start heating the oil for the roux.

Gumbo previously: Gumbo with Chicken, Andouille and Shrimp
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Salsa Verde Baked Cod with Pineapple-Poblano Salsa

salsa-verde-fish-dinner

Call this my California comeback meal.

I cooked very differently in Argentina. I used almost exclusively Argentine products, except some spices I brought with me. I was cooking meals for me and only me, so I was less adventurous, plus my kitchen was less stocked. (Ask Marissa, who said she’d never seen a fridge of mine so empty.) And when I went out for meals, it was mostly for Argentine or Italian, nothing with much spice. So I looked forward to the flavors I’d return to in Los Angeles.

pineapple-poblano-salsaCilantro, lime and chilies — one of my favorite combinations, common in Mexican and Indian cuisine — came together in two components of this fish. First, a salsa verde, which cooks with the fish, then a pineapple and roasted poblano salsa served on top.
Does it need both? Maybe not, but we had produce to use up, and the two salsas work together nicely. The tomatillo sauce keeps the fish moist while baking, and I loved the sweet, sour and spicy addition of chunky pineapple-poblano salsa.

We served the fish with cilantro rice, quesadillas and a salad with my cilantro-lime dressing (used before on an Ahi Tuna Tostada and Fiesta Quinoa). The meal was very California, and I liked it.

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‘Beard on Food’ and Sardines on Toast

beardJust after the James Beard Award semifinalists were announced, I decided it was time to learn more about Beard himself. I made a special trip to the university library to check out one of his books. I’ll add that in seven semesters at Missouri I never needed a library book for class, but since starting this blog, I have checked out nine books and browsed many others on the second level of the West Stacks.

Anyway, back in February I picked up Beard on Food (an unpleasant title to anyone unfamiliar with the man who might have been the first celebrity chef). The book is a collection of his favorite columns and recipes, starting with the

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perfect hamburger and ending with Saltimbocca all’Emiliana, a delicious-sounding dish with spinach, veal scaloppini, prosciutto, sage and Marsala.

The essays were all written before 1974, which means they are filled with reminders of how much has changed over the years. We’ve come a long way since the time when wasabi needed to be called “green Japanese horseradish.” Today nearly anyone will answer “yes” to Beard’s query, “Have you encountered pita?” And let’s be thankful that avocados are no longer called “alligator pears” and are not “a very expensive delicacy.”

At times Beard is quite funny. My favorite line being: “Two of my best friends are a stripper and a zester. In case that raises some pretty wild visions, let me hasten to say that they are not girls but gadgets, and I couldn’t do without them in the kitchen.”

You can tell Beard was a man who had profound appreciation for food. Many of his columns are dedicated to a particular ingredient, and he kept his recipes simple enough for each to shine. One essay was called “The Sardine, a Small Miracle.” He talked about one of his favorite sandwiches, “homemade bread, well-buttered, spread with mashed sardines, a few drops of lemon juice, and a thin slice of onion, eaten with a glass of beer or wine.”

sardines-on-toast

I thought about sardines. In my head I didn’t think I liked them, but then I wasn’t sure if I ever really had them. Did I actually dislike them? I decided to buy a tin and find out.

I followed Beard’s recipe for wined sardines on toast. If I was going to like sardines, it was going to be with butter, onion, garlic, wine and lemon, that’s for sure. Turns out all those things are delicious with the little fish, and my friend Marissa agreed. She didn’t think she liked sardines either until actually tasting them this way on homemade bread. So if you’re on the fence, as we were, I feel this could open your horizons. And it would probably make the late James Beard proud.

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Ahi Tuna Tostada Salad

This is why my friends and I don’t go out to eat often.

It’s because we make dinners like this. And we can make four of them for the price a restaurant might charge for one.

Of course, if my kitchen were a restaurant, last night’s special might have read as so:


Ahi Tuna Tostada Salad

Spice encrusted ahi tuna seared and served with mango-jicama slaw on a crisp corn tortilla and a bed of romaine tossed in cilantro-lime vinaigrette

I don’t have much else to say about this, but I think you’ll like the warm, earthy spices on the rare fish. The jicama slaw is a balance of sweet and sour, soft and crisp, and the leftovers make a good side dish the next day. The whole thing is filling, but you can easily feel good about it afterward.

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Marinated Tuna Steaks

deconstructed_sushiI’m generally skeptical of eating fish in Missouri, a landlocked state more than 1,000 miles from a coast in either direction. But when I saw some perfectly pink tuna behind the glass of Hy-Vee, I remembered the tangy marinade I made when I was in Sydney last year. Michael wasn’t thrilled about the idea of fish for dinner, but I was already dreaming of the ginger, soy, citrus combination.

When we got back to the house, Michael suggested serving it with raw carrots and cucumbers on top of warm rice. I wasn’t immediately sold, but I didn’t put up a fight.

Well, wouldn’t you know it…I loved the tuna in the deconstructed sushi style, and Michael loved the meaty tuna steak. His exact words were, “My mouth is very happy.”

tuna-steak

This dinner is quick and easy, which isn’t always the case in my kitchen, I admit. It’s also not as expensive as you’d think. We get a lot of questions from people asking, “How do you guys eat like you do? You’re college students!”

People forget that you can get a lot more food for your money when you eat at home. These tuna steaks were about $6 each, and they were huge…almost too big. One small cucumber was 20 cents. A carrot about 10 cents. The portions of rice? Maybe 40 cents. Ginger, 10 cents. 25 cents for half an orange. And we’ll overestimate and say it was a dollar for the small amounts of other ingredients.

Total, this meal was $8 a person, and we were stuffed. Try getting full at a sushi restaurant for that cheap and not being sick afterward.

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