Friday, January 25, 2013

One Pot Chicken with savory herbs

Although it is one of the main staples in our kitchen, it is safe to say that chicken can be a little on the dull side sometimes.  According to government statistics, Americans eat 17.25mil tons of chicken every year.   I can only imagine how much we spend each year on cookbooks with the singular goal of making our favorite bird a little more interesting.   
This recipe came to me in attempt to escape the monotony of another roasted chicken.  It dawned on me that using a Dutch Oven would deliciously trap the moisture of the bird while cooking down some delicious winter vegetables.  Add a couple sprigs of rosemary, a ½ cup of chardonnay and a little lemon juice and you got yourself a wonderful “one pot” meal.
There is something magical about the relationship between a Cajun chef and his Dutch Oven.  I’m usually a stainless steel type of guy but it is hard to refute the taste a good seasoned cast iron pot brings to the preparation of a dish. Here is how to add a little magic to a weeknight chicken recipe.
1 Whole fryer chicken (about 3 pounds)
1 large onion chopped
3 celery stalks chopped
6 cloves of garlic (whole)
1 large carrot chopped
1 dozen small red potatoes (halved)
1 turnip (peeled and chopped)
½ cup Chardonnay
Juice of 1 lemon
3 sprigs of rosemary (leave whole)
3 pinches of herb de Provence
Salt, pepper paprika

Heat Dutch oven to Medium high heat.  Add a few tablespoons of olive oil and sear the whole chicken on both sides subsequent to seasoning the skin with salt, pepper and paprika.  This should take about 3 minutes per side.  Remove chicken and add chopped onions, celery, carrots and garlic and sauté for 6 to 7 minutes until onions become translucent.  Place chicken back in the pot (breast side down) and squeeze the juice of a lemon on top of the chicken along with the herbs.    Close the lid of the Dutch Oven Firmly and place in a 375 degree oven for 45 minutes.   Remove from oven.  Add ½ cup of chardonnay, halved red potatoes, and chopped turnips to the pot.  Replace lid and return to the oven for another 30 minutes or so until the potatoes and turnips are soft and chicken is cooked properly.  Remove and serve. 


Thursday, January 10, 2013

Tomato Basil Soup

So we entertained a couple Vegans on New Year’s Eve.  Doesn’t this sound like the start of a Curb Your Enthusiasm or Seinfeld episode?  While most of the world’s Gourmets were preparing a celebration dinner high in calories, fat grams and all things that make life worth living, I was keeping watch over a simmering soup pot.   The result was actually a very tasty Tomato Basil Soup, which we enjoyed as we said goodbye to 2012.  As we start thinking about our 2013 resolutions maybe we can all learn a little from Vegans.   It is for these reasons that I decided to follow up last week’s low fat Butternut Squash soup with another soup this week: Tomato Basil.       
No, I am not trying to become the Low Fat Soup Nazi, nor am I pitching some new soup crash diet.  Truth is, I believe we can all use a little more soup in our lives.  It is amazing how much flavor you can render from a low fat soup when you give the dish time to develop. 
The preparation of the soup is very similar to the Butternut Squash soup blogged last week.  The foundation is a nice helping of roasted garlic and caramelized mirepoix.  I used canned whole tomatoes in this recipe.  However, be sure to use fresh Basil as it gives the soup a nice “spring” of flavor.  I grow Basil but due to the recent frost had to purchase fresh basil at the store.  The main key to a rich flavor in this dish is time as I simmered this soup for over 4 hours.
Olive oil
3 medium cans of whole tomatoes (about 1.4lbs each)
8 cloves of garlic peeled (enough to fill the bottom of a ramekin)
1 large onion chopped
2 celery stalks diced
2 carrots diced
32 ounces of good quality Chicken Broth
Fresh Basil (about 16 to 20 leaves)
Salt, pepper, herbs, etc

Peel garlic cloves and place them in a ramekin with a teaspoon of olive oil covered in foil.  These should roast for about 45 minutes.  You probably will want to stir these 3 or 4 times to ensure the cloves don’t burn.  Remove and set aside when done.
In a large stockpot, caramelize onions, celery and carrots including a tablespoon or two of olive oil until slightly browned.  This should take approximately ten minutes over medium high heat.  Add 1/2 of the chicken broth to deglaze the bottom of the pot.  Reduce heat.
Add tomatoes to the pot squeezing each tomato by hand slightly crushing the fruit.  Add remaining chicken broth along with a couple pinches of Herb de Provence, thyme salt and pepper.  Add roasted garlic, stir gently bringing the mixture to a nice simmer.  I would allow the soup to simmer for at least an hour and a half at low heat to allow the flavors to properly combine prior to blending.  Add a nice handful of chopped fresh basil about 20 minutes prior to blending.
Puree the soup in “batches” using a blender.  Set aside blended soup in a large bowl.  Return pureed soup to the pot.  Add additional broth if the soup appears to be too thick.  Taste and tweak your seasoning at this point.  Slow simmer the soup for at least an hour.  I find the longer you simmer the deeper the flavor. 
Serve by itself or along with a good grill cheese sandwich. 
Happy Soup month!  Bon Appetit!

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

When the temperature drops in Louisiana, my wife begins to drop not so subliminal hints for her favorite cold weather treat… Butternut Squash Soup.  Although my wife’s culinary skills top out at chicken nugget preparation and scrambled eggs, she has a very sophisticated palate.  She often has great suggestions for new recipes and unique flavor combinations.  Our love of GOOD food and wine has been a great part of our relationship and makes for many fun evenings of cooking and drinking at home.  Many weekend nights could easily be stuck in the “takeout food doldrums” given the fact that we are raising three kids 6 and under.

Butternut Squash soup is an easy recipe.  The recipe below is a low-fat version as it omits cream; however, you will quickly see that there is no sacrifice on flavor.  My version of this soup has a nice backbone of roasted garlic and mirepoix.  Think of this recipe as a canvas where you can add your own flavor tweaks.  A few variations include adding: chipotle, apples, fall spices, etc.  I like to keep this recipe simple and add a dash of habanero sauce for an extra kick after the soup has been served.

As suggested in previous recipes, be sure to use quality ingredients, especially when choosing a chicken broth.


4 medium size butternut squash (these measured around 7 lbs) for this version

6 garlic cloves

1 large + 1 small onion (diced)

2 celery stalks (diced)

1 large carrot (diced in small pieces)

64 ounces low sodium Chicken Broth (approximate)

1 dozen fresh sage leaves (finely chopped)

1 pinch of Herb de Provence

Salt and Pepper to taste


Remove skin of squash with a vegetable peeler.  Cut squash in half (lengthwise) and clean the seeds out.  Cube and place on a cookie sheet.  Don’t worry if the cubes are stacked on each other.  Place in a 375 degree oven for 45 minutes.

While squash is in the oven, roast your garlic simultaneously.  To accomplish this, peel garlic cloves and place them in a ramekin with a teaspoon of olive oil covered in foil.  These should roast for about 45 minutes as well.  You probably will want to stir these 3 or 4 times to ensure the cloves don’t burn.  Remove and set aside when done.

In a large stockpot, caramelize onions, celery and carrots including a tablespoon or two of olive oil.  This should take approximately ten minutes over medium high heat.  Add 1/2 of the chicken broth to deglaze the bottom of the pot.  Add remaining ingredients (roasted squash, roasted garlic, sage, herbs, the remaining chicken broth (save a cup or so) and salt/pepper).  Bring the mixture to a hard simmer.  Simmer until the squash is very soft (allow at least 30 minutes to allow flavors to soak into squash).

Puree the soup in “batches” using a blender.  Set aside blended soup in a large bowl.  Return pureed soup to the pot.  Add additional broth if the soup appears to be too thick.  Serve in a nice shallow bowl.  As previously mentioned, you can finish this with a little hot sauce or a couple shavings of Asiago cheese.

Stay warm and enjoy!!!

Happy New Year from Gourmet BaBs!!!!


Sunday, December 23, 2012

A few of my favorite cookbooks

If you are anything like me, you will be spending the nextfew days wandering through the mall trying to find the perfect last minutegift.  Cookbooks can be a perfect giftfor that foodie on your list.  I personallyuse cookbooks as inspiration for home meals as well as a tool to learn culinaryfundamentals.  Here are a few of myfavorite cookbooks from two Chefs/authors that have provided me with GREATinspiration over the last few years.

Thomas Keller

Thomas Keller is the Executive Chef/Owner of the famous FrenchLaundry restaurant located in Napa Valley.  His bistro, (Bouchon) and his family style restaurant (AD Hoc) have alsowon him critical acclaim.  The FrenchLaundry cookbook is made up of many dishes that are much too difficult toattempt at home.  However, the recipesare written in such detail that one cannot help but learn the basic buildingblocks of flavor and technique.  Thegreatest lesson in Keller’s original cookbook is having respect foringredients.  We are talking about a guywho has his fish shipped to him upright as if they are still swimming.  I would say that is R E S P E C T! 

Keller has two additional books that are much more userfriendly.  Bouchon is a study ofclassic French Bistro cooking.  Writtenin the same detail, one can learn a great deal from Keller’s techniques.  For example, four pages are dedicated toroasting chicken.  Once you taste theresult, you will appreciate the length. Ad Hoc is Keller’s family stylerestaurant.  This book, named after theeatery, contains great recipes fit for family gatherings or week night menus.

John Besh

John Besh has taken New Orleans by storm with his Armada ofquality restaurants.  In a town thattakes food more seriously than most, Besh has the touch of King Midas. 

I have to admit that when I first received a copy of MyNew Orleans, I assumed it would be like any other  New Orleans cookbook that has been re-written  and renamed a 1,000 times.  Much to my surprise, Besh takes the reader ona wonderful journey through the many cultures and customs that makes the cityof New Orleans so unique.  The recipesare written in great detail. For the amateur chef, it is a great guide topreparing some the best dishes our region has to offer.   

Besh’s follow-up effort was named My Family Table.  This is Besh’s foray into the world ofeveryday cooking with tips from everything from menu planning, to what shouldbe included as a staple item in your pantry,  to stretching leftovers.  This is a must have for the home gourmet.  Not only does it contain great Louisianarecipes but it also teaches us a great lesson of the importance of homenutrition and sharing food as a family.

Happy shopping!   I wish you , your family and friends a Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Oh My....what should I do with all of these Meyer Lemons?-Lemon Curd

This week I faced the age-old question that every home Meyer lemon grower ponders each year: What the heck am I going to do with all of these lemons?  This year’s bumper crop has inspired this week’s post as Gourmet BaBs dives into preparing a classic Lemon Curd.
Years ago, my Mother in Law purchased a Meyer Lemon tree for me as a birthday gift.  It has held a prominent spot in the 40 square feet of inner city “terra firma” that I like to refer to as “Babin Farms.”  After years of yielding no fruit, I had decided that it was time to replace my little tree with a decorative varietal.  As I stood ready with my shovel to unearth my barren shrub, almost magically, I spotted a few buds.  After a few days, the tree was covered with fragrant little flowers and the hope of a surplus crop.  
Our kids enjoyed tracking the progress of the lemons over the summer and fall of this year.  Like all good farmers, I put the kids to work harvesting lemons to make lemonade and the like.  My oldest son Miles (6) is already working up his business plan for his Lemonade stand next year. 
The Meyer Lemon grows well in South Louisiana and is noted for its large size and slightly floral taste.  One lemon can yield almost at ½ cup of juice.  I could think of no better recipe to showcase the Meyer than a classic Lemon Curd.  Lemon Curd is a recipe that dates back to at least the 1700’s.
I used Ina Garten’s basic recipe here with a few minor changes.  I was disappointed that none of her eccentric friends from the Hamptons showed up after the dish was prepared.  Not even Jeffrey??  Go figure.  Here are a couple tidbits from Gourmet Babs: 
·         I simply use a microplane to zest the lemon rather than carrot peeler (the zest is where your flavor really comes from on this dish). 
·         Be sure to avoid using the white pith of the peel.
·         Be sure to select premium eggs and use quality-unsalted butter. 

3 lemons
1 ½ cups of sugar
¼ pound unsalted butter, room temperature
4 extra large eggs
1/2 cup lemon juice
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
Using a carrot peeler, remove the zest of 3 lemons, being careful to avoid the white pith. Put the zest in a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Add the sugar and pulse until the zest is very finely minced into the sugar.
Cream the butter and beat in the sugar and lemon mixture. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, and then add the lemon juice and salt. Mix until combined.
Pour the mixture into a 2 quart  saucepan and cook over low heat until thickened (about 10 minutes), stirring constantly. The lemond curd will thicken at about 170 degrees F, or just below simmer. Remove from the heat and cool or refrigerate.
Recipe can be found in: 1999, The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook, All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Turkey Gumbo

The period between Thanksgiving and Christmas is a bustling one in the River Parishes. When the rest of the world turns their attention to Black Friday and Cyber Monday, the boys of St. John and St. James Parishes turn their attention to the levee to begin erecting the bonfires that will illuminate the way for Papa Noel on Christmas Eve. It is a tradition that dates back to the 1800’s, and one that makes our little corner of the world unique.

It is a common sight in Reserve or Gramercy to see a truck dragging a 22ft tree trunk through town. Townspeople give these trucks the right of way, as the tree will serve as the center or side pole of the bonfires that warm the River Parishes with Christmas Spirit. Families and friends gather on the levee on Christmas Eve to enjoy each other’s company and enjoy a few cocktails. It is truly a sight to behold!

From a culinary perspective, this time of year means one thing... IT’S GUMBO WEATHER! There is a paradox when we think of Gumbo in Louisiana. As cohesive as families and ancestry is down here our gumbos are all very diverse. Not only do the ingredients differ but also so does the consistency and color of the dish. I have always contended that roux gets darker as you move west throughout the state. Most gumbos in the River Parishes have a thinner consistency (a broth style gumbo) and are often made of poultry and our wonderful smoked sausages. Creole style gumbos use more seafood and use okra as a thickener rather than the file traditionally used on poultry gumbos.

No matter what your favorite style may be.... It always hard to bet against your mama’s gumbo!

For this recipe, I tried to emulate a gumbo you expect at a higher end Louisiana restaurant (a thicker consistency). I used my trusty 7qt Cast Iron Dutch oven and a leftover smoked turkey. This recipe would work just as well with chicken or a baked turkey. For a thinner result, you can simply use a bigger pot and add more water or stock. You can also achieve this by backing off the quantity of roux.

For the Turkey Stock

Cover the bones of a turkey (preferably smoked) with water in a stockpot. You add a handful of onions, carrots, celery, garlic and peppercorns for additional flavor. Allow the stock to simmer for at least 4 hours. Strain stock and store the liquid aside for future use. If you have extra, this freezes well. You can always skip this step and use store bought broth.

For the Gumbo

1-‐cup vegetable oil
1 heaping cup of flour (I always like to use a little more flour than oil) 4 small/medium onions finely chopped
4 celery stalks
2 green bell peppers
6 cloves of garlic

10-‐12 cups turkey stock
1 lb smoked sausage (sliced)
1⁄4 lb. andouille sausage (cubed into small pieces)
6 cups cooked turkey meat (dark meat works better) pulled from bone
1 bay leaf
Salt, black pepper and cayenne pepper to taste (add after the sausage has had a chance to cook for

a while as you will gain a little heat from the sausage).

Practice the mise-‐en-‐place concept here (i.e., chop you ingredients ahead of time). Once your roux is complete this preparation moves very fast.

Heat oil over medium heat for 3 or 4 minutes. Add flour and stir constantly (using a wooden spoon), ensure the roux does not burn. I would recommend starting at a lower heat until you get the hang of preparing a roux. For this version, I let the roux get to a color of a dark chocolate. You can tweak this depending on your own preference.

Once the roux has reached the desired color, immediately drop in chopped onions and stir vigorously. Let the onions sauté for about a minute and then drop in the remaining vegetables and garlic. Add a few cups of broth to the roux mixture to deglaze the pot (gently scrape the bottom of the pot to free up any roux that may be “stuck”). Add turkey, andouille and sausage and stir to incorporate. Add remaining stock to the pot and bring to a quick boil. Reduce heat to a nice slow simmer and cover with a slight crack. At this point, it is time to sit back and let the ingredients work their magic. I cooked this for about four hours. You will want to skim any grease off the top of the gumbo every 30 minutes or so. Gently stir the mixture at this point. For additional flavor and or thickening I recommend adding a few teaspoons of powdered file to your gumbo. However, do not bring the mixture to a boil once the file has been added as it has a tendency to get a bit “stringy.”

Serve over rice.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Classic New Orleans Oyster Dressing

It always fascinates me how passionate folks are about their favorite Thanksgiving dish.  Whether that dish is dressing, cranberry sauce or your crazy Aunt’s pumpkin pie there is always a dish that makes us think of Thanksgiving.  In the case of my wife’s family, no holiday is complete without a classic New Orleans Oyster Dressing.  What appears on the surface as an odd combination of ingredients (ground meat, chicken livers, bread, seasoning, and oysters) results in a wonderful combination of flavor and the briny goodness of plump Louisiana oysters.
My wife’s family dressing was historically overseen by her Grandfather, Pa Poo.  Pa Poo was born and raised in New Orleans and his parties reflected this zeal for life.  With PaPoo in charge no glass ever went dry and the meal was often an afterthought ( you would wouldn’t worry about food either if you drank Australian Martinis like PaPoo).
Growing up during the depression, Pa Poo was always conscious of the family budget.  This spilled over to the preparation of the dressing where he carefully added the oysters at the last possible minute to get a beautiful plump result and optimal flavor.  “These things aren’t cheap” he always used to remind us!  My wife’s Aunt Pat, a foodie in her own right, will carry this year’s oyster dressing “torch.”  Although PaPoo left us a few years ago, he will always be remembered at holidays with this delicious dressing recipe and a stiff cocktail.  Cheers Pops!  This one is for you!
Classic Oyster Dressing
In classic New Orleans style… measurements may not be exact.
4.5 lbs Ground Chuck
4tbsp butter
24ozs of pre-chopped seasoning
(basically a mixture of Onions, Bell Pepper, Celery, and Garlic…  you can chop your own here)
1 small container of chicken livers  (about a cup cleaned)
Salt, pepper and red pepper to taste (be careful not to over salt as the oysters will be salty)
½ loaf of “day old” French bread
1.5 quarts of Oysters (I think PaPoo used to skim about a half a quart for himself)

In a Dutch Oven, brown ground chuck over medium heat.  Remove when brown. 
Add seasoning blend and sauté with butter until veggies are translucent.  Remove veggies and combine with the chuck.
Add chicken livers to the pot and cook for 3 to 4 minutes chopping the livers into small pieces with the end of your spoon.  Combine the previous ingredients and stir thoroughly to combine.  Reduce heat to low and add the oyster juice to the mixture.  Crumble French bread into the mixture and stir to incorporate.  Cook over low/medium heat until you have reached a desired consistency.
If you are ready to serve the dish, carefully fold the oysters into the dressing being careful not to break.  The dish is complete when the oysters “plump” (about 4 minutes). Add broth if the mixture is too dry.  Enjoy!     

And as a bonus…….
“The Australian”
2 part Vodka
1 part Gin
1 dash of scotch whisky
Shake over ice and serve in a cold Martini glass.
What this has to do with Australia I’ll never know… sometimes you just have to go with the flow….