Creole Cajun Category

An Adventure Anniversary in Kauai: 10 Years!

As I walked over the gap from plane to paradise, I immediately smelled sea salt in the air as its light moisture descended on my skin, wrapping me in a warm dewy embrace. We had finally arrived in Kauai.

Expectations were already running high given the accolades I received for Kauai from what seemed myriad friends and colleagues, and yet I sensed this island would still manage to surprise us.

Kauai – home to a variety of climates on any given day, stretches of grassland ideal for raising cattle, dense fragrant jungle forest, beaches ringed by ancient rocky cliffsides, and “red dirt” soil rich with iron giving it its famous rust-like hue – promised adventure, perhaps even danger. This trip would be quite a contrast from the lazy luxury I’d experienced 10 years ago in Maui for our honeymoon. Kauai seemed the ideal destination for an adventure anniversary.

And of course, exploring would require plenty of energy-fueling eating.

But first: get our bearings, eat some fresh local ahi tuna (ideally, pool-side), and relax.

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The Dock is the casual eatery on the upper level pools at The Grand Hyatt in Poipu on the southern coast of the island. Nothing fancy, but I have to admit, this hit the spot. No fuss. No muss. Just fresh ahi. The Kalua BBQ pork sandwich was tasty as well.

Done and done. Now nothing but sun and sun.

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After a truly praiseworthy hour with our concierge extraordinaire Maren, we took a quick hike up the cliffs on Shipwreck Beach which is conveniently located right next to the hotel. This public beach area is aptly named given the rocky cliffs and ocean-side outcroppings. Seasoned local body surfers love this spot for its breaks. Definitely not for newbs. The waves here are raucous and relentless.

The hike gave us our first taste of Kauai’s rugged natural beauty and unforgiving terrain. Even for avid hikers like us, the Garden Island will make you work for it.

We were stoked.

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Unfortunately our first dinner on the island at Tidepools was disappointing, but romantic. The restaurant seemed to float on a picturesque koi-filled lagoon in the middle of the gardens at the Grand Hyatt. But it seemed Tidepools took its popularity a bit for granted.

My local baby romaine salad was so heavily dressed, it was white, and the ahi I had was sadly overseasoned to the point of being salty. It was almost like it was seasoned twice by accident. The ingredients were top notch, too. Sigh.

Jordan’s opah was much better, but the fish still had to fight for attention alongside the strong Creole-flavored sauce and succotash of potatoes, corn, edamame, and crab. It was decent, but the dish still seemed a bit heavy-handed.

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All in all, no matter. We were in Kauai. The Garden Island awaited us tomorrow.

Our dopey smiles said it all as we drifted in a sleepy haze through sweet-smelling greenery back to beckoning crisp white pillows.

Meals from the Pantry: Sunday Chicken and Sausage Gumbo

One pot meals that get better over time are all the rage in our house lately. I’ve gotten in the habit of leisurely cooking a bit pot o’ something in my trusty Le Creuset dutch oven on Sundays, and it’s made dinners during the week (and lunches for the hubby) so convenient and stress-free.

Here’s a recipe I adapted from the iconic Uglesich’s Restaurant Cookbook for a Chicken and Sausage Gumbo. Their version takes two days, so I created my own version that still delivers the lusciousness and comfort of a traditional gumbo, while staying user- and pantry-friendly. If you want to kick it up for an occasion, use rabbit instead of chicken!

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Sunday Chicken and Sausage Gumbo
Adapted from The Uglesich’s Restaurant Cookbook

Ingredients
1/4 cup canola oil
1/2 cup flour
1 medium white onion
2 stalk celery, chopped
1/2 green bell pepper, chopped
1 bunch of scallions, chopped (white part mostly)
4 cloves of garlic, chopped
2 tbsp of parsley, chopped
1 dry bay leaf
3/4 tsp dry thyme
1/2 tsp dry marjoram
1/2 tsp dry basil
2 tbsp file powder
1 tbsp cayenne
1 tbsp Cajun spice powder (no salt version)
1 can (28 oz) crushed tomatoes
1 1/2 cartons (32 oz each) low sodium chicken broth
1/2 lb andouille sausage, sliced into about 1/2″ thick pieces
1/2 lb (half pkg) Hilshire Farm beef smoked sausage, sliced into about 1/2″ thick pieces
2 lbs chicken breast (boneless, skinless)
Worcestershire Sauce
Salt
Black pepper
Hot sauce

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The hardest part of this gumbo is the prep. And the hardest part about the prep is poaching the chicken. And the hardest part of poaching chicken is being patient and trusting it’s getting cooked in the pot even though the water is barely simmering!

Poached Chicken
Recipe adapted from About.com

Ingredients
2 lbs boneless skinless chicken breasts
4-5 cups water
1 bay leaf
5 whole black peppercorns
Pinch of salt

Cut each chicken breast in half so they are all about the same size. Place chicken breasts snugly in ideally one layer in the bottom of a heavy-bottomed pot. If you have some pieces on a second layer, I wouldn’t sweat it but just try to layer evenly. Cover chicken with water (make sure all is covered). Add bay leaf, salt, and whole black peppercorns. Stir water just to stop the herbs from floating.

Bring to a boil, then immediately reduce heat to low so that the water is barely at a simmer. Partly covered, simmer for 10-15 minutes. Turn off heat completely, and allow chicken to remain in hot water for 15-20 minutes.

Remove chicken to a bowl until it is lukewarm. Shred the chicken and set aside.

This can be prepared a day ahead. Cover and refrigerate over night.

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Now that you’ve got your chicken done, it’s time to gumbo! I highly recommend that you prep and assemble all the ingredients in a mise en place fashion so that you don’t get bogged down in chopping here and measuring there. Especially for something like a gumbo where a lot goes into a pot, not having to worry about prep while you’re cooking allows you to really focus on the flavor and seasoning which is where it’s all at anyway!

In a large pot or dutch oven, add the oil and set on medium heat.

When the oil is hot, add the flour. Try to sprinkle it evenly over the oil. You’re about to make a roux which is as traditional as traditional gets in Creole Cajun cooking! By using a whisk or a wooden spoon (I like to use both based on how things are progressing), stir the flour into the oil for about 20 to 30 minutes. You’ll see a lovely transformation take place where the flour and oil mixture transforms into a creamy base the color of peanut butter.

Add the onions, celery, green pepper, scallions, garlic and parsley. Saute until veggies soften and are mixed well with the roux.

Add the thyme, basil, bay leaf, cayenne, and about a teaspoon of salt and a half teaspoon of black pepper. Stir into veggie and roux mixture, then pour in can of crushed tomatoes.

Again continue to incorporate all ingredients well, then add the chicken broth.

Give everything a good stir and then add the shredded chicken, andouille, smoked sausage, file powder, Cajun spice powder, and some healthy dashes of both the Worcestershire sauce, and your favorite Louisiana pepper sauce or Cajun hot sauce.

Jordan being a hot sauce fanatic ensures we always have a good variety, but use what you like and how spicy you make it is up to you!

Bring the gumbo up to a boil, then turn down the heat until you have a gentle simmer.

Simmer on low partially covered for 2 to 2.5 hours, stirring occasionally.

Taste and season as needed with salt and pepper and cayenne and/or hot sauce (as desired).

Serve over cooked rice.

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This is definitely one of those dishes that gets better and better the longer it sits, but you’re going to want to treat yourself to a least a little bowl! Don’t forget you can garnish with a little chopped scallion on top too, and maybe a couple dashes of your favorite hot sauce.

Woo-eee!

Spring in NOLA: Roadfood Fest 2011

The day finally arrived for one of the key reasons we decided on March for our visit to NOLA.

New Orleans Roadfood Festival!

I felt like Adam Richman from Man Vs. Food by the end of it, but it was worth it!

Here are some of this year’s highlights!

The Court of Two Sisters
Buttery, homey, and packed with crawfish flavor, Crawfish Louise is a truly unique dish!

Turtle Soup – slightly tart, deep and intense

Creole Delicacies Catering

Andouille Jambalaya

Lasyone’s Meat Pie Restaurant

Flaky, savory, delicious Crawfish Pie

Johnson’s Boucaniere

Traditional Boudin Sandwich

Royal House Oyster Bar

Outstanding, smoky, meaty oysters!

Central BBQ

Although not a New Orleans spot, still a must-eat treat! The bark in and of itself was enough to travel to Memphis to scarf down!

Louis Mueller Barbeque

All the way from Texas, the brisket was smoked overnight in this bad boy.

And last but not least…

Dessert!

Plum St. Snoballs
The one and only Southern ice treat with flavors that this girl had never even heard of! Nectar cream, anyone?

My very first Snoball! Spearmint, Nectar Cream, and Condensed Milk (as per the nice man behind the counter’s reco)!

Sweet cherry and grape icy sugary bomb. I felt like Bart and Milhouse after the infamous Squishy “episode” they had together.

In my book, Roadfood Fest was a tasty success and some of these first-time flavors still linger with me to this day. Now, where to find nectar cream in Chicago…

Spring in NOLA: Swamps, Shells, and a Dream Come True

We started bright and early the next day and went on the Honey Island Swamp Tour. It was like we were in some untouched fantasy land full of creatures, strange plants, and adventure! These guys do a great job by the way and I highly recommend them for a small group tour.

The Original Honey Island Swamp Tour

Afterwards what better to fill our swamp bellies but with some incredibly addictive Johnny’s Po Boys. Despite how famous and touristy this place is, it’s still legit eats! Soft-shell crab for me, oyster for Jordan, and a side of their sweet jambalaya to share!

Soft-shell Crab Po’ Boy

Fried Oyster Po’ Boy

Sweet Jambalaya

The only thing more killer than these po’ boys was the mega-nap Jordan and I took after…zzz…the….zzzzzz…

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One word: Middendorf’s! Waaaay back when Jordan and I started dating, one of our first conversations about food was about his days as a child in Mississippi. He spoke with such passion and affection for a place in Manshac, Louisiana that he and his family would go to on special occasions. It lies on the isthmus between Lake Maurepas and Lake Ponchatrain, and he’d spin yarns about sucking crawfish heads and tails over cajun spice-soaked newspaper table cloths. He’d also talk of the fried platters with such gusto that the memory became a food goal for me. And guess what, check off one ticker box for this girl!

“We’re with you through Thick and Thin!” – Middendorf’s

All manner of crustacean in this gumbo!

Fresh big boiled critters!

Middendorf’s Special Fried Thin Catfish

Old School Deviled Crab

Shrimp and Catfish

This was a dream come true, and Middendorf’s remains a living legend.

If you ever get to New Orleans and want a quick fun road trip around local parts, Middendorf’s is truly worth it!

Trust me on this! Git! Git!