Sunday, February 21, 2010

Who Knew Jambalaya Could Take All Weekend to Prepare

Whew. I had an awesome weekend of purchasing, chopping, and researching how to cook Jambalaya. Who knew Jambalaya could talk all weekend to prepare? I chose this recipe as the first of the Commanding Journey for a couple reasons. The main reason being it was a safe call. However, walking on the safe side has its trade-offs. It all started Friday night with purchasing my very first stock pot at Bed Bath & Beyond after dinner. Now, that's a date night.

New stock pot with fancy insert strainer.

If we want to be technical, which I prefer to be, I prepared a total of five recipes. So much for taking it slowly. To my defense, the Jambalaya called for three and suggested a fourth recipe - Chicken Stock and  Clarified Butter in the Lagniappe section, suggestion of serving Creole Sauce from Shrimp Creole Recipe over the Jambalaya, and then the Jambalaya.

Let's start with the Chicken Stock. The recipe called for one cup of chicken stock which is one of the recipes. I've got to cook it sometime, so let's go ahead and get a stash built up. Gag, gag, and gag. Have you ever stopped and wondered how the chicken broth gets in the the cans on the store shelves or even better yet those extra nice new boxes it comes in? Well, if you don't have a tough stomach and if working with boneless chicken breasts gets you queasy, then don't think about how the chicken stock is made...and skip to the next paragraph because I'm going to tell you. First of all, stock gets it's flavor from the bones of a chicken. After reading the recipe calls for four chicken carcasses, I realized how crazy I was going to sound at the grocery store saying, "Um, hi. Aah yeah, do you have any extra chicken carcasses in the back that I can purchase? See, I'm cooking my way through a cook book...." Thankfully, the butcher at our wonderful neighborhood High Point Market remembered me and the Beouf Bourguignon. Hook line and sinker, I got him. Unfortunately, he doesn't have full carcasses but he saved me a stash of chicken backs. I'm not sure if it was necessary but I felt the need to remove the excess fat and meat from the backs. On Saturday morning, I had, oh, about forty-five minutes to gag a few times, think about the poor chickens, then tell myself how I was doing a good thing because their backs would never be used if it wasn't for me, and then gag a little more. About half way through the four pounds, I think a primal instinct took over. By now, I was convinced that I could make it in on Survivor, not in the wilderness, but Survivor. That only lasted a few minutes then I was grossed out again. Finally, time to make the stock. From there, it's easy peasy. So easy, the Big Guy volunteered to man the stock making while I focused on shopping for the Jambalaya ingredients. I love him for helping me.

Here it is...The makings of Chicken Stock.

Finished product

To prepare the Jambalaya and Creole Sauce in advance as much as possible, I chopped the vegetables, took the tails off the shrimp, sliced the sausage, and measured out the seasonings last night while watching the Olympics here and there. By the way, there are about a thousand ingredients in Jambalaya. I had time to think about restaurants and always have Commander's kitchen in mind. I mainly thought about how locally owned restaurants, whether it be casual or fine dining, deserves every single penny they charge. This is manual labor. I'm talking, of course, about truly great restaurants who do everything from scratch. Anyone can buy vegetables already pre cut and stock in a box, but it's those restaurants who have their staff put time and effort into it that I respect so much. I thought I couldn't possibly cut another onion when I was done and had the smell of onion engrained in my nostrils when I laid down last night. How must the staff in restaurants feel after a day of chopping vegetables. We should write a note to include them in the tip also.

Shrimp Creole Ingredients

Jambalaya Ingredients minus the canned tomatoes - I forgot to place them in picture.

So this afternoon, all I really had to do was combine everything following the mostly clear directions of the Creole Sauce and Jambalaya recipes. The Creole Sauce was a breeze and gratifying to create. Brad expected more heat to it but it's not spicy at all. The Jambalaya was easy except for one ingredient -  Clarified/Drawn Butter. To saute the vegetables you're only supposed to use clarified butter. I haven't had a chance to research why, but who am I to second guess Dick & Ella Brennan? The recipe says to melt the butter in a saucepan and skim the foamy white part off the top. Well, how might one go about skimming this off the top? Your guess is as good as mine. First I tried straining it. That was not the way, so I put it back in the pan, got out a spoon and dragged it across the top of the melted butter.

Before Clarifying

Semi- Clarified

As I scooped the spoon across the butter, I smiled to myself because at this moment I couldn't be farther from resembling Julia Child who inspired me to do embark on this Commanding Journey. She would know exactly how to do this, know why she was doing it, and have her pearls on while doing so. I on the other hand had on p-jankers, pony tail, apron (beautiful toile, so that earns a couple points), and snaggle tooth. Yes, snaggle tooth. My $1,000 porcelain crown came out last night before the chopping commenced. I bet Brad had to tie himself down to the recliner to avoid coming in that kitchen and scooping me up!

Sexy or not, I prepared the Big Guy a down home meal from scratch that will keep on giving for longer than we will ever want to eat Jambalaya. The recipe says it prepares for six servings. I don't know how many cups a serving is in Louisiana, but after three bowls tonight there are 16 more cups of Jambalaya. I'm keeping some but sharing the rest with family and friends. Who's hungry?

Finished products

Total prep time took a couple hours, excluding chicken broth, and cook time was approximately an hour. I thought the consistency would be thicker but am just fine with it as is. I rate it a 7 and Brad rates is 6.5 (again because it isn't spicy) out of 10. Maybe we're not Jambalaya lovers or I didn't do something right or the recipe is just ok.

To cap off the night, Brad and I toasted with the fifth recipe, Brandy Flip cocktail. I had some Brandy that I use for cooking, thus very inexpensive, so I thought it would be nice to toast with a Commander's cocktail. The drink is brandy, simple syrup, and a raw egg! Brad took one drink and I took three. It was a mix between a White Russian and spiked Egg Nog with cheap liquor. I could have finished, but the raw egg was messing with my mind each time I took a drink.

Cheers to the Commanding Journey

To sum up my Chicken Stock, Creole Sauce, Jambalaya, and Brandy Flip experience, I can only think of one way I would rather have spent this weekend, and that is do it with a group of friends or family.

Tata for now.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Guidelines of My Commanding Journey

Here ye, here ye. It is time to outline the guidelines of my Commanding Journey - how I now refer to the project.

But first, let me share with you something the journey has already brought to me - an opportunity to bond with my my best friend's brand spanking new husband. He enjoys cooking and watching the Food Network like me. Everyone wants to be like us. He and I haven't had a true bonding opportunity yet but we're going to cook together soon! Haley - if you haven't informed Trent yet, you might want to since I'm sharing with all the world....ok, more like 6 people. I'd hate for him to find out from someone else. And Brad - if you're reading and I haven't already told you - we're going to spend time with Haley and Trent in the next couple months. How great will it be for all of us to share time together, cook, and eat. Very special people and three of my favorite things all at one time.

Ooh look, Brennan's restaurant in New Orleans is on TV advertising Community Coffee. Maybe the chef channeled some culinary excellence my way.

Ok, back to the guidelines.
Here ye, here ye. I hereby proclaim the most relaxed and flexible guidelines I've ever put together for a project.


This will be fun, without stress or too much internal pressure. Why get stressed over cooking a pigeon which just happens to be one of the dirtiest birds ever, at least so I've heard. Instead, this is an opportunity to stretch myself into a new heavenly realm of cooking. Those of you who know me, realize I am likely to experience stress just thinking about not stressing.

Turn my tears of self pity into laughter when I royally screw up some of this...and we all know it's going to happen. I have an innate ability to cry on demand that rivals all others who have this ability/curse. It's a wonder, I didn't tear up while typing the last sentence. I promise to air all crying turned to laughter episodes...regarding the Commanding Journey...not all of them.

I did minimal research by reading through the ingredient lists of each recipe to identify items not easily available in Memphis and quickly browsed through some of the recipes to get an idea of how intense some are. Let's just say, it's gonna take deep breaths to get through this. Taking these factors in consideration, my goal is at least one recipe per week. But remember this will be stress free, so I reserve the right to skip a week if necessary for personal or professional reasons.

Sharing is a majore part of this project. The obvious is sharing with you all through this forum, but I want to share the food with some of you....get ready ALSAC Event & Patient Liaison team. And better yet, I want to experience actually cooking in person with you. So, if there is something you're craving, a special occasion you're not afraid to risk on me, or just dying to spend time with moi, let me know and let's whip something up together.

I will begin at the front of the cookbook, because goodness knows we've got to start this off with a toast, and cook one recipe from each section then repeat over and over and over until all have been created. I reserve the right to change this pattern due to seasonal ingredients, special occasions or cravings. Matter of fact, I'm going to break this right out of the gate. I have two options in mind and neither are in the first couple sections. Remember, part of the rules is the ability to change them.

I reserve the right to scale the recipes. This will save money, waste, and the guilt I would feel about uselessly taking the lives of 36 snails for a pasta dish we are very likely to not enjoy.

No deadline. I always confine myself with deadlines, and my work as an event planner is partly defined by deadlines. The real test will be if I can finish this without one. Whether it is a year or three when I finish this, I will finish. And I will finish in a beautiful way. Just read, watch, and taste.

My Commanding Journey first recipe commencement ceremony (reference likely came to mind since the Winter Olympics ceremony was three days ago) to take place next Sunday, the twenty-first day of February, Two thousand and ten. I'm ready to stop chatting about it and get this party started. Tata for now.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Special Delivery

"The Commander's Palace New Orleans Cookbook" was tucked nicely in the front door frame waiting on me when I got home this evening. I didn't open it immediately because there was a good chance my crunchy gordita from Taco Bell was getting soggy....and I was kinda scared of the book. After eating my polar opposite dinner entree, I stood over the large cardboard envelope and stared at it with hesitation.

I had a rushing "Oh my. What have I done?" moment last night while reading all the reviews of the book on Amazaon. I flipped back through the previewed Index and my chest got a tinsy bit tight - kinda like now - when I realized I must prepare escargot.

The envelope was calling my name, I opened it slowly, as will most likely be the pace of this journey, and started reading out loud.


As I read the Introduction, I had a sense of comfort which is exactly why this is the only suitable book to have selected. I love the Brennan family. Don't know them and probably won't ever meet them; however, these are my favorite kind of folks. Well-rounded, self-educated, hard-working, down-to-earth, Southernly good people. Here's my favorite part of the Introduction -

"The ambience we try to create at Commander's is one of causal elegance on an intimate scale. Visitors receive all the courtesies they would in our home. This is part of the Southern tradition of hospitality, and the way we were brought up to entertain."  - Ella Brennan & Dick Brennan (brother & sister)

(Insert disclaimer here to all authentic Creole & Cajuns, as I may have interpreted something incorrectly)
Commander's has implemented "Haute Creole" on their menu, and a majority of the recipes we will experience are categorized as such. I just had my second educational conversation of history and differences of Creole and Cajun (The first was by Nick Speyrer, true LA man/husband of Abby, one of my best friends/Kate's, one of the most beautiful baby girls, dad.). How amazing is it that Cajun and Creole cooking has influences from France, Spain, West Indies, Cuba, Mexico, Louisiana region, and Choctaw Indians! It's half the world mixed in one cuisine.

Now, there is one final decision to make before announcing my culinary manifesto - How should I go about it? Should I cook one chapter at a time? Or should I skip around? There are a few things I must research that will dictate some recipes such as oyster season, finding good duck in Memphis (if this is possible), turtle and escargot. All four readers, including Brad who has yet to realize I am serious, that I think are out following, tell me what you think. Darn, that means we need a fifth reader to vote as tie breaker.

To make an educated decision, here is the breakdown of chapters -
  • 14 Cocktails
  • 36 Appetizers & Soups (fyi - 8 oyster and 2 escargot)
  • 17 Salads
  • 14 Egg Dishes
  • 32 Seafood (fyi - lots of crab, redfish, 2 oyster, and 2 crawfish)
  • 14 Chicken & Game (fyi - 5 duck, 1 quail, and 1 Pigeon...really!)
  • 17 Beef & Veal
  • 31 Desserts & Coffees
  • 17 Stocks & Sauces
  • Total of 192 recipes
Now, I'm going to sleep to dream about this fine sir shaking up a delightful concoction for me at Commander's in NOLA.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Bon a Petit

Everyone who's watched the movie Julie and Julia raise your hand. Well, I finally got to see it today. God blessed us Memphis folk with a surprise winter wonderland today. Since us southerners tremble with fear of driving in snow, the office was closed. Thus, a perfect day for girlie movie watching.

I love to cook and remember watching Julia Child on television as a young child. Even though I had never heard of most recipes she cooked, I enjoyed watching the process and listened in amazement to her distinct voice. So, I really wanted to see this movie.

Thirty minutes into it, I loved it. An hour into it, it was officially on my favorite movies list. I could relate to both Julia and Julie. Julia loved to cook, was an American fascinated with Europe, felt fortunate to have a great husband, and set her mind to proving others wrong when it came to her success. As for Julie, she was hitting her 30 year milestone in life, had a great relationship with her husband, and enjoyed cooking as an outlet to relieve stress.

Now, I just turned 30, love to cook, joke around about owning a bakery or catering business one day, deeply in love with my husband, and all alone on a snowy day. Mix all this together and bake for about another hour of the movie and what do you have? Christie inspired to cook her way through something and see if she enjoys it enough to convince her husband she could do this for a living one day.

After brainstorming with one of my most realistic and dearest friends I've made since college via Blackberry messenger, it came together. Here's the abbreviated version: Can't cook through Julia's book because that is not original enough (I'm already copying Julie, so I needed my own hook); I must be passionate about it or this will be another fad; Recipes must be a challenge or I'll be bored and Brad must be able to eat them; Hmmm, we had the opportunity to eat at Commander's Palace in New Orleans with wonderful friends and both agree it is the crème de la crème of all restaurants; There is a cookbook from 1984 that has more than 175 recipes served at the restaurant at some point. Done. Cook book ordered and will arrive Wednesday.

In honor of Julia Child and appreciation for the inspiration I received from Julie Powell, I kicked off my adventure with cooking Julia's famous Boeuf Bourguignon. It was a delight to cook and eat, even if all by my lonesome tonight. To sum it up, the French know how to make a fancy pot roast. It was actually a mix between a labor of love pot roast and gourmet beef stew. Julia's recipe and pictures from the process are below.

As for what I expect to get out of this, I have some ideas but don't think I will know until I get well into this journey.

FYI - I don't think all posts will be this long, so if you're bored don't give up on me. You just needed an overview to enjoy the upcoming pickings.

Bon a Petit!! (Imagine Julia Child saying it.)

Boeuf Bourguignon Ingredients

Simmering Bacon. Whoever heard of such?

The recipe says to slice onion and carrot. 
Normally, I would slice in circles but did it like Julie's looked in the movie.

Browning cubes of stew meat on all sides. 

Stew beef and bacon browned.

Browned beef, wine, beef stock, onions, carrots, 
and herbs combined and simmering.

Brown-Braised Onions cooking while casserole simmered in oven.

Voila! Boeuf Bourguignon and Old French style potatoes 
served on pieces received as gifts from friends throughout the years.

What a great dinner for a snowy night.

Julia Child's Boeuf Bourguignon

By Judy Walker,

August 20, 2009, 4:55AM
Julia Child's famous Boeuf Bourguignon is depicted twice in the movie "Julie and Julia," once when her editor, Judith Jones, makes it to sample the recipes in the manuscript, and once, less successfully, when Julie Powell falls asleep while preparing it for Judith Jones to come to dinner. It is also the first dish that Child demonstrated on television.
From "Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol. 1" (Knopf, 1961)
As is the case with most famous dishes, there are more ways than one to arrive at a good boeuf bourguignon. Carefully done, and perfectly flavored, it is certainly one of the most delicious beef dishes concocted by man, and can well be the main course for a buffet dinner. Fortunately you can prepare it completely ahead, even a day in advance, and it only gains in flavor when reheated.
Vegetable and Wine Suggestions
Boiled potatoes are traditionally served with this dish. Buttered noodles or steamed rice may be substituted. If you also wish a green vegetable, buttered peas would be your best choice. Serve with the beef a fairly full-bodied, young red wine, such as Beaujolais, Cotes du Rhone, Bordeaux-St. Emilion, or Burgundy.
Serves 6
Kitchen Supplies:

9- to 10-inch, fireproof casserole dish, 3 inches deep
Slotted spoon
Boeuf Bourguignon:
6 ounces bacon
1 tablespoon olive oil or cooking oil
3 pounds lean stewing beef, cut into 2-inch cubes
1 sliced carrot
1 sliced onion
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons flour
3 cups full-bodied, young red wine, such as a Chianti
2 to 3 cups brown beef stock or canned beef bouillon
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 cloves mashed garlic
1/2 teaspoon thyme
Crumbled bay leaf
Blanched bacon rind
18 to 24 small white onions, brown-braised in stock (recipe follows)
1 pound quartered fresh mushrooms , sauteed in butter
Parsley sprigs
Remove rind from bacon, and cut bacon into lardons (sticks, 1/4 inch thick and 1 1/2 inches long). Simmer rind and bacon for 10 minutes in 1 1/2 quarts of water. Drain and dry.
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
Saute the bacon in the oil over moderate heat for 2 to 3 minutes to brown lightly. Remove to a side dish with a slotted spoon. Set casserole aside. Reheat until fat is almost smoking before you saute the beef.
Dry the stewing beef in paper towels; it will not brown if it is damp. Saute it, a few pieces at a time, in the hot oil and bacon fat until nicely browned on all sides. Add it to the bacon.
In the same fat, brown the sliced vegetables. Pour out the sauteing fat.
Return the beef and bacon to the casserole and toss with the salt and pepper. Then sprinkle on the flour and toss again to coat the beef lightly with the flour. Set casserole uncovered in middle position of preheated oven for 4 minutes. Toss the meat and return to oven for 4 minutes more. (This browns the flour and covers the meat with a light crust.) Remove casserole, and turn oven down to 325 degrees.
Stir in the wine, and enough stock or bouillon so that the meat is barely covered. Add the tomato paste, garlic, herbs, and bacon rind. Bring to simmer on top of the stove. Then cover the casserole and set in lower third of preheated oven. Regulate heat so liquid simmers
very slowly for 2 1/2 to 3 hours. The meat is done when a fork pierces it easily.
While the beef is cooking, prepare the onions and mushrooms. Set them aside until needed.
When the melt is tender, pour the contents of the casserole into a sieve set over a saucepan. Wash out the casserole and return the beef and bacon to it. Distribute the cooked onions and mushrooms over the meat.
Skim fat off the sauce. Simmer sauce for a minute or two, skimming off additional fat as it rises. You should have about 2 1/2 cups of sauce thick enough to coat a spoon lightly. If too thin, boil it down rapidly. If too thick, mix in a few tablespoons of stock or canned bouillon. Taste carefully for seasoning. Pour the sauce over the meat and vegetables. Recipe may be completed in advance to this point.
For immediate serving: Covet the casserole and simmer for 2 to 3 minutes, basting the meat and vegetables with the sauce several times. Serve in its casserole, or arrange the stew on a platter surrounded with potatoes, noodles, or rice, and decorated with parsley.
For later serving: When cold, cover and refrigerate. About 15 to 20 minutes before serving, bring to the simmer, cover, and simmer very slowly for 10 minutes, occasionally basting the meat and vegetables with the sauce.
Brown-Braised Onions
9-10-inch enameled skillet
18-24 peeled white onions about 1-inch in diameter
1 1/2 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 tablespoons oil
1/2 cup of brown stock or red wine
Salt and pepper to taste
Medium herb bouqet: 4 parsley sprigs, 1/2 bay leaf and 1/4 teaspoon thyme tied in cheesecloth
When the butter and oil are bubbling in the skillet, add the onions and saute over moderate heat for about 10 minutes, rolling the onions about so they will brown as evenly as possible. Be careful not to break their skins; you cannot expect to brown uniformly.
Pour in the liquid, season to taste, and add herb bouquet. Cover and simmer slowly for 40-50 minutes, until the onions are perfectly tender, but retain their shape, and the liquid has evaporated. Remove herb bouquet.

Ponte Vecchio

Ponte Vecchio
Brad and me in Florence, Italy