Monthly Archives: January 2015

Chicken Sausage Gumbo in the Crock Pot: Laissez les bon temps rouler!

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My dearest husband and I are taking a twice-weekly Spanish class at the local community college and, as part of my transition back to the American lifestyle, I bought myself a lovely crock pot to prepare dinner on class nights, since we’re in class at our usual dinnertime. But here’s the problem with crock pot recipes: so many of them call for just chopping a bunch of meat and veg and dumping them into the crock pot. Eight hours later, you’re supposed to remove the lid and find a delectable, savory stew. Balderdash! You’ll have a rubbery, under-seasoned, gray mess, that’s what you’ll have.

And we all know that you can’t get that authentic Cajun flavor unless you start your gumbo with a roux. Now, I was only a Southerner for five short years, but I’ve been to N’awlins, and I’ve eaten some truly divine Cajun and Creole cooking. And I know that a good gumbo starts with a roux – flour and oil, cooked on high heat with constant stirring until it reaches a nice, nutty brown. No roux, no Cajun, and don’t let anyone tell you different. But you don’t need a lot of roux to get that Cajun flavor – a little bit goes a long way, adding flavor and thickening the broth to a velvety consistency. And here’s the truth about crockpot recipes – you’ve gotta start them on the stovetop before dumping them into the crockpot; otherwise, they’re gonna taste bland and sad. If that’s too much work for you, order takeout.

So, here’s how I modified a few recipes I found online for chicken and sausage gumbo in the crockpot. To serve three or four people, you’ll need:

  • A Dutch oven or soup pot with a nice, heavy bottom
  • A crock pot or slow cooker
  • A wooden spoon or other hard, heat-resistant stirring implement. You’re going to be working with a roux, AKA Cajun napalm, so you don’t want to use a stirrer that could melt.
  • 2 Tbs. of neutral oil, such as canola or peanut
  • 2 Tbs. of plain wheat flour
  • A medium-to-large onion, chopped
  • 2 stalks of celery, chopped
  • A green bell pepper, seeded and chunked up
  • 2-3 cups of frozen, sliced okra. Don’t bother thawing first; it’ll have plenty of time to cook in the crock pot.
  • A 12-oz. can of V-8 juice. I used the reduced-sodium kind, since the spice mix, sausage and broth contain salt. Suit yourself.
  • Enough chicken broth to cover the other ingredients – about 2 cups. Again, I used the reduced-sodium kind.
  • About 2 Tbs. of your favorite Cajun seasoning blend. If your spice blend does not contain salt, you might want to add some to taste. Be sure to taste the spice mix before dumping it into your recipe; some are quite spicy, some not so much.
  • A pound of skinless, boneless chicken thighs. Thighs just taste better after stewing for hours in the crockpot, whereas breasts tend to dry out, even in liquid. Go ahead and spring for the organic stuff – it’s not that much more expensive.
  • 2 andouille sausage links, sliced about ½ inch thick. You want about as much mass in sausage slices as you have in chicken thigh meat. I found some good ones made from chicken.
  • 2 bay leaves
  • ½ tsp. of mustard powder
  • 1 tsp. of powdered dried thyme. This is part of that characteristic Cajun flavor.
  • Maybe some fresh garlic, sliced thin, if your spice mix doesn’t taste garlicky enough for your liking.

 

OK – here’s what you do.

  1. In your Dutch oven/soup pot, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the flour and stir constantly with your wooden spoon until your roux turns a nice, nutty brown. Watch it carefully – once it starts to color, it’ll brown up fast, so stir vigorously and keep your eyes on your pot. You want it to be at least the color of peanut butter, but a bit darker is even better. It’s the roux that gives your finished gumbo that characteristic Cajun taste. But beware! This stuff can burn, and burnt roux will ruin the flavor of your gumbo. When it doubt, throw it out and start over.
  2. When the roux has reached the desired color, dump in the chopped onion, celery and green bell pepper, and reduce the heat to medium. Stir well so that the roux is distributed and coats the veggies. It might not look like there’s enough oil in there to sweat the veggies, but trust me – there is. Cook the veggies for at least 5 minutes over medium heat, stirring frequently, and leaving the lid on between stirs. Add some of the Cajun/Creole seasoning as you stir, as well as the powdered mustard, the dried thyme and the bay leaves. You want the veg to soften a bit and the onions to look a bit translucent. Doesn’t that smell marvelous?
  3. Pour in the V-8 and stir it all around a bit, so that any marvelous goodness stuck to the bottom of the pan dissolves into the V8. Dump this mess into your crock pot. Toss in the frozen okra too
  4. Wipe out the pot and add a bit more oil – just a whisper – to keep the chicken from sticking. But if it sticks, no worries, as you’re going to deglaze with chicken broth. Season the chicken meat, which you have cut into bite-sized chunks, with the remaining Cajun seasoning. When the pot is hot, add the raw chicken and cook until golden on all sides – more or less. If you miss a few spots, that’s no big deal, as you’re going to stew it in the crock pot for a while. You don’t need to cook the chicken through, just stir it around until the exterior is nicely colored. Toward the end of this process, throw in the sliced sausage and brown it up a bit.
  5. When the meat is done, dump it into the crock pot; then deglaze the soup pot with the broth. Stir that around until you’ve incorporated all the yummy, meaty goodness clinging to the bottom of the pan. Dump this into the crock pot. Add the garlic, if you’re using any, and stir everything well.
  6. If the solids aren’t covered, add enough chicken broth (or V-8) to just cover them. Put the lid on the crock pot and crank that sucker up to “high.” Leave it on high for a good hour. Then you can turn it down to “low” and let it go another 4 hours or so. A bit longer is OK. No peekie! If you open the lid, you release the heat, and it takes quite a while to build up again, which means a longer wait for your gumbo.

And there you go! It’s traditional to serve this stew/soup over a scoop of white rice, but you can use brown rice, quinoa, or no starch at all, if you’re feeling Paleo. A good squirt of Tabasco sauce would not be amiss. Laissez les bon temps rouler, cher!

On Free Thinkers and Trends

Trends are designed to make us buy shit. Not literally shit – that’s never been trendy, because there’s plenty of it around. You don’t even have to go to the store to get some (literal) shit – it’s available right there in your home. Or at least on the sidewalk in front of your home. Thanks, neighbor dogs! And cats. And raccoons. No, trendy items are only trendy if they require effort and expense to attain.

I once loved magazines – loved, loved, loved magazines, with their bright, shiny pictures; with their neat little packages of information and inspiration; with their message of eternally-springing hope. I’m speaking of women’s magazines here, the kind with a fashion focus – not, say, Ms. But the raison d’être of a magazine is to get you to buy shit – clothing, “beauty” products, purses, toilet bowl cleaner, fitness gadgets, what have you. And how do the marketers do that, dear reader? You know the answer as well as I – by making you believe that your life is somehow lacking, and that your life will be so much better if you buy this particular shit.  But you’re not – lacking, that is. And your life will not improve if you have in your house any particular consumer item that is advertised in those magazines.

So yeah – lately, the shine has worn off magazines, as far as I’m concerned. I’m just having a hard time seeing past the ads, despite the sometimes-good writing that I find buried between the ads. Have you ever tried this? Take a magazine – whichever type you choose. Flip through it, and tear out any page that has nothing but advertising on both sides. Make a note of how much slimmer your magazine now is.

And blogs! Some of my formerly favorite blogs, sort of online magazines, have morphed into vehicles for selling shit. Writers whose points of view I once looked forward to reading are now more focused on convincing me to buy this blouse, that moisturizer, and that other mascara. Jeesh! If I wanted that, I’d buy a magazine.

Here’s where I lose credibility with some of my younger readers: I do not care what the latest fashion trends are. The beauty of reaching my advanced age, 52, is that I feel just fine about choosing clothing that covers my nakedness, is comfortable, and suits my own ideas about what looks good on me. Are those snazzy-to-me shoes “so last year”? Who cares! Does this hat remind you of your grandmother? That’s your problem! Do the cool kids not approve of my simple, practical purse? Tough shit, cool kids! Who asked you anyway? I use a purse to haul around things that I want to have with me when I’m away from home, not to impress the cool kids.

And really, that speaks to my personal philosophy: You should do the things you do in life because they please you and express your inner essence – not because they might impress someone. It’s a key distinction. I taught high school until recently, and every day I would pass in the hallways clumps of black-clad “emo” types whose carefully chosen outfits carefully toed the emo party line. They made a big point of being “different,” but all in the same way. As I passed, they’d get louder so as to attract attention. They were trying very hard for a negative reaction – from teachers, from parents, from peers. I see people like this on the streets of Tacoma, in their oh-so-similar hipster outfits with the baggy gray beanies, and they’re mostly out of high school, yet many of them are still angling for the disapproval of passers-by like me. I find that sad. Why should you care about what sort of reaction you can draw from perfect strangers? Do you really need me, a middle-aged person, to validate what a badass you are?

Then there was S-, a student in my classes the last few years before I retired. She wore the oddest, coolest outfits, which she often designed herself out of scraps of cloth, old garments, and funky items cobbled into accessories. But she did this to please herself, and for that reason, I was always delighted to notice and to compliment her wardrobe choices. S- enjoyed what she wore, whether others approved or not; she was expressing herself.

I want to dress like that too, now that I no longer have to meet someone’s expectations for what’s appropriate. Not that I want to wear silver lame skirts and tiaras, like S- did, but it’s wonderful to be able to please myself, sartorially. And it’s such a relief to realize that, no matter what event comes my way, I already have something appropriate in my closet. I don’t need any new clothes! Take that, advertisers.

And that goes for electronics – so I’ll say no thanks to an expensive smart phone. I have a computer at home, and I don’t care to snap photos of myself in various locations throughout the day and post them for all and sundry to admire. You like your smart phone? Good for you – enjoy! You think that I’m hopelessly uncool because I don’t have one? Who cares! That also goes for social media. I enjoy Facebook, especially the goofy videos that my friends and “friends” post – that porcupine eating a pumpkin – too cute! And I like to read what distant friends are up to. But I’ve heard that the cool kids have left Facebook behind in favor of Instagram, Twitter, and God knows what else. Who cares! Not I.

I was noodling around on the internet, looking for others’ interesting thoughts on being a free thinker who doesn’t unquestioningly follow fashion, technological, and/or social trends. Most of what I found related to the Free-Thinker Movement – apparently devoted to freedom from religious dogma and clerical control, with past ties to the anarchist movement of the 19th century.  I’m greatly simplifying here, but – in any case – this was not at all what I was looking for. How disappointing! Where were the articles, essays and websites devoted to thinking for oneself in daily life? I did, however, find this good bit from Urban Dictionary website (always a fun read):

Free Thinker

A philosophical viewpoint that opinions or beliefs of reality should be based on science,       logic and reason. Ideas should not be derived from religion, authority, governments or         dogmas.

A free thinker should not reject nor accept any proposed truths of organized religion,           established norms, media, etc. They should determine if the belief is valid based on their     own knowledge, intuition, research and reason. Just because other people believe in it,         doesn’t mean it’s right! Use your own judgment and think critically!

by Autumn’s Modesty, September 19, 2009

Thank you, Autumn! I’ll bet she doesn’t waste much time reading fashion magazines or trolling the mall for external validation. So – here’s to free thinkers. I shall do my very best to be one.