Wednesday, February 10, 2016


David and I discussed whether to use filé in the jambalaya. I referred him to this article which clarifies the difference between gumbo and jambalaya, and why some use cooks use filé in gumbo. I did not use it in tonight's dish.

Two things to know up front: 1) I cook the rice separately because I don't like mushy rice. 2) I prefer to cook everything else in the same pot, partly because I'm a lazy dish washer but also because the browned bits on the bottom of the pan add flavor to the broth.

  • 1 lb shrimp, cleaned
  • 1 c chopped cooked ham
  • 3 hefty Italian sausages (or whatever spicy sausage you prefer), sliced
  • 1 c chopped each: red bell pepper, onion, celery
  • shishitos or padrons (optional), up to a cup (they were in season!)
  • several cloves of garlic, smooshed
  • 3 strips thick-cut bacon, chopped
  • 6-8 boneless chicken thighs, cubed
  • 2 cups chopped tomatoes with juice (I use canned diced tomatoes)
  • 1 c chicken broth
  • 1 T. each fresh oregano, thyme (or 1 t. each if dried)
  • 2 T paprika
  • 1/4 - 1 t. cayenne powder
  • 1 bay leaf (optional)
  • cooked rice for serving
  1. A large high-sided skillet or stock pot is going to be your canvas. Be sure it's large enough to welcome all the ingredients, so you can stir without spilling over the sides of the pan.
  2. I start with sauteing the sausage and bacon. Once enough fat is rendered, I add the veggies, including the garlic, and chicken.
  3. When the onions soften and the chicken is slightly browned on the outside, turn the heat down to medium-low.
  4. Add the tomatoes/their juice, chicken stock** and the seasonings. Simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. When the chicken is completely cooked, turn off the heat.
  5. The jambalaya is still steaming hot, so I add the shrimp, cover the pan and let it sit until the shrimp turn pink, so as to avoid overcooking.
  6. We served this over a wild rice blend and topped with scallions, with hot sauce on the side, as my son likes it spicier than I do. 
  7. Indulge!
** Add enough liquid for a hearty soup. I prefer a brothy jambalaya.

Sunday, February 07, 2016

Cassoulet with cannelini, pork, sausage and duck

When I visit with my son, we usually pick something to cook together. It had been a while, decades actually, since I'd made cassoulet, but I sent David the link to this recipe in Saveur and he said "Let's do it!" Of course, there are many versions online, but this recipe most closely resembled the one I used the first time I made this casserole. Layers of meat, layers of flavor.

As we often do, we used the recipe as a suggestion. We did not add tomatoes. We did not have duck confit. We did, however, leave the Chico Locker and Sausage Company with a selection of their spicy sausage, a couple of meaty country pork ribs, and ham hocks. Then we stopped at S&S Produce where we got two duck legs and a few strips of smoked bacon from the butcher, and fresh oregano, fresh thyme and a loaf of whole wheat rosemary bread.

  • 1 lb dried cannelini
  • lots of garlic, minced
  • 1 fat onion, chopped
  • 2 carrots, cut in 1/4 inch-thick slices
  • 1 BIG meaty ham hock
  • about 1 lb. cubed pork -- cut into small cubes so they cook thoroughly
  • 3-4 spicy sausages
  • 3 strips of thick-cut bacon, chopped, fried and drained (save the bacon grease!)
  • 2 duck legs
  • fresh oregano and thyme
  • 1 cup chardonnay
  • chicken broth
  • 2 cups bread crumbs, preferably homemade from a tasty loaf of bread (we used a rustic rosemary bread baked locally)
Step 1: Cook the beans
  1. Start the beans on simmer in 2:1 ratio of water to beans. I don't bother soaking them.
  2. Render the bacon and set the meat aside to cool.
  3. Brown the carrots, onions and garlic in the bacon fat.
  4. Add these veggies and a ham hock to the beans and cook until the beans are just a little al dente.
  5. Set the pot on a back burner and take the ham hock out to cool, then remove the meat from the bone and give it a rough chop.
Step 2: Render the duck fat
  1. Skin the duck breasts and render the fat. Set this aside to cool. Chop the cracklins. 
Step 3: Prep the sausage
  1. Slice and sauté the sausage until it's almost done. Scoop out the meat to drain on paper towels. (I didn't reuse this fat.)
Step 4: Make the bread crumbs
I think you can figure out this step yourself.
Step 5: Layer the casserole
  1. In a 5.5-quart cast iron dutch oven like this one my hubby gifted me for my bday, begin layering the beans, fresh herbs and meats: beans, duck cracklins, sausage, pork, ham hock bits, a generous sprinkle of oregano and thyme leaves, then beans, rinse and repeat. 
  2. Nest the duck legs in the casserole.
  3. Add the wine and enough broth to keep things moist. You may not need much broth since you're also using the luscious liquid from cooking the beans.
  4. Top with fresh bread crumbs. Don't be stingy with the bread crumbs. Think of it as a crust.
  5. Drizzle the rendered duck fat over the topping.
  6. Cover and bake approximately 90 minutes at 325 degrees.
  7. Before you turn off the oven, confirm that the meats are cooked and the breadcrumb topping is toasty brown, like this. 

Step 6: Prepare to be impressed with this melt in your mouth goodness.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Mexican Vanilla Ma'mul

I had a variety of jobs when I was a college student, including a stint as an abalone cleaner. The shift leader was a Lebanese woman named Yvette, who taught me to make an entire Lebanese meal including ma'mul, cookies made with clarified butter and shaped in a wooden hand-carved mold called a "tabi" (also called taabeh or tamreah) which we bought at a Middle Eastern store.** Here's my collection.

Traditionally, ma'mul are filled with pistachios, walnuts or dates and scented with orange or rose water. Different molds indicate the type of filling. I've included online sources below if you're interested in finding a tabi. Some folks don't use molds, so don't let this stop you from making ma'mul. Just flatten the cookie ball a bit and score with a fork.

Spelling variations include mamool, mamoul, maamoul, ma'amoul, in case you're interested in googling to find other versions. This video shows how the cookies are traditionally shaped, filled, and molded or decorated.

I modified Yvette's family recipe to reflect my family's preferences, using locally grown walnuts and Mexican vanilla.

Roxanne's Walnut-filled Mexican Vanilla Ma'mul
Ingredients for dough
  • 2 c. clarified butter
  • 1/2 c. sugar
  • 6 c. flour (if possible, use some semolina to help hold the shape)
  • 1 c. lukewarm milk
Ingredients for filling
  • 3 c. ground nuts 
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 1 T. Mexican vanilla**
Make the filling
  1. Toss the nuts in your food processor and give then a whirl. You're making finely chopped nuts, not nut flour, so don't go crazy.
  2. Mix the ground nuts with sugar and vanilla, cover, and set aside.
Make the dough
  1. Clarify the butter.*** As a rule of thumb, five sticks of unsalted butter yield 2 cups of clarified butter.
  2. Cream the butter and sugar.
  3. Add flour and milk to the butter mixture, and gently knead until smooth.
Prep the molds
  • If you're using a wooden mold, brush it with lightly with melted butter, making sure to get into those little crevices. This keeps the first cookies from sticking when you tap them out. The butter in the cookie dough itself will season the mold, so this step is only necessary to do once per baking session.
Make the cookies
  1. I used to have only one mold and as you can imagine, it took quite some time to make 4 dozen cookies. Since then, I've collected few and if I bake alone, I set up an assembly line: chunk out the dough, make the disks, fill the disks, fill the molds, tap tap tap tap, and bake when the cookie sheet is full.
  2. Pinch out walnut-sized chunks of dough before starting to fill. Keep this all covered so the dough doesn't dry out.
  3. Shape a chunk of dough into a disk about 1/4 inch thick and about 3 inches in diameter.
  4. Put about 1 heaping teaspoon of filling in the middle of the disk, fold the edges over and pinch closed. 
  5. Put the "package" in the mold, folded side facing out, and press gently so the design imprints on the top of the cookie and the bottom of the cookie is flattish.
  6. Tap the ma'mul out and place on an ungreased cookie sheet. These cookies don't spread, so they can be placed fairly close together.
  7. Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes, until the bottoms are lightly brown. Don't turn your back on the oven! A burned batch will break your heart.
  8. When the cookies have cooled, sprinkle with confectioner's sugar if you'd like.
  9. Store in an airtight container.
Ma'mul taste better the second day and are wonderful dunked in morning coffee. They also ship well and make the perfect holiday cookie gift.

** Mexican vanilla: Mexican vanilla has gotten a bad rap, so be careful to buy from a reputable vendor. There are many online sources for Mexican vanilla without coumarin. Check Amazon or Williams Sonoma.  Yeah, yeah, you can always substitute another high quality vanilla, but imho, nothing compares with pure Mexican vanilla extract. In the words of David Liebovitz, "Real Mexican vanilla is perhaps the best in the world." Oh, and avoid vanilla blends. You want pure extract which is coumarin free & FDA registered.

***A special word about Ma'mul molds: Mine have been procured from various sources, including the now defunct Dayna's Market.
  1. If you'd like a traditional shape, try Hashems, DedeMedEid Molds, or search eBay for "maamoul mold."
  2. Or use a Chinese mooncake mold like these. You can also find mooncake molds on Amazon and Ali Express. This pattern would work beautifully.
*** Clarified butter is also known as drawn butter or ghee. Some Indian and specialty markets sell ghee. If you clarify the butter yourself, use only unsalted butter. What to do with the milk fats you skim off? I spread it on toast.