Brinner: The Glorious Innovation of Breakfast for Dinner

Brinner.

Such a simple word, but the images it brings to mind makes the mouth salivate and all horrible thoughts melt like butter gliding over hot pancakes.

Unlike it’s high-maintenance sister, Brunch, Brinner is supposed to quick and easiest for even the least-skilled college student or young adult to master. Brinner isn’t supposed to be extravagant with whole-wheat, banana, Nutella Belgium waffles, eggs benedict and a bloody mary that doubles as shrimp cocktail. No, Brinner is pancakes and sausage, a spinach omelet with hash browns, or, what I did, bacon and eggs.

Start off your Brinner preparation with cooking the thing that takes the longest. Sometimes it’s the hash browns or other starch (pancakes, waffles), but it’s usually the protein (except for eggs, turn your back and those babies are burned). In my case, it was the bacon.

Bacon

Behold the mother of all pork products: Bacon.

The bacon I had was just your regular run-of-the-mill shrink-wrapped package of bacon. It was thick-cut, wonderfully salty and pretty fatty. Now, some people cook their bacon in the microwave (it’s messy, but super fast), others in the oven (this method lets the fat drip off and away from the bacon, but it takes forever and heats up the whole house). I used a trusty cast-iron skillet, and went low and slow on cooking the bacon.

I will never fight with someone on which type of bacon is better: crispy or chewy. Bacon is bacon, they’re both good, but crispy is definitely my “more favorite” (thank you Brian Regan for ruining my vocabulary). My personal trick to make sure the bacon is crispy is to put the bacon on a cold pan and have the heat on low. This really gets the fat to render (melt) and make the meat and fat nice and crispy.

Continue preparing the rest of your meal while the bacon is cooking, but definitely keep an eye on it. You don’t want burnt bacon.

I had a bunch of fruit in my fridge, so I tossed in some raspberries in a bowl, cut up a peach, and since I was feeling particularly lazy, cut out a hunk of watermelon for a bit of fruit to enjoy.

Next, I went out to my backyard and snipped off some herbs to fancy-up my scrambled eggs. I have a bunch of different plants, and I just grabbed a couple that sounded good to me at that instant. Those happened to be sweet basil, majoram and oregano.

Fresh Herbs

Fresh herbs from top to bottom: sweet basil, majoram, oregano.

All of the leaves were relatively small, and I was feeling REALLY lazy (see the theme here?), so I just stripped the leaves from the stems and called it good.

I then tossed the herbs into a bowl, cracked three eggs, dropped in a small drink of half-and-half and scrambled them well with a fork. I used half-and-half because it’s what was in my fridge.

Herbed Eggs

Herbed Eggs

If you have cream, use cream. If you’d rather use milk, use milk. If you don’t want to add any dairy product, more power to you. Scrambled eggs are all about doing whatever you want to them so they’re delicious. Just don’t add salt while they’re still raw–that will make your finished product rubbery. However, I like to use a bit of milk/cream/half-and-half because it just makes my eggs silky, creamy and delicious. Just be careful not to add too much, because then you’ll have eggs swimming in milk after they’re cooked, which is not at all appetizing.

I kept on draining the bacon fat from the skillet while my bacon was cooking so it wouldn’t splatter and so there was less fat to stay seeped into the strips. I know bacon isn’t incredibly healthy for you, but it’s still better to drain the fat than to just let it sit. When my bacon was crispy and delicious, I let it drain on a bunch of stacked paper towels.

I know you’re looking at the skillet and thinking, “did she cook the eggs in the same pan as the bacon, and used some of the bacon grease instead of butter or oil?”

Scrambled Herbed Eggs

Scrambled Herbed Eggs

You can bet your sweet toches I did. They tasted amazing and I only dirtied one pan (cleaning dishes are annoying, even more so when your dishwasher is your own two hands). I also dropped my whole-wheat bread in the toaster the same time I poured in the eggs, since they take about equally as long to cook.

I pushed the eggs around until they were cooked, about five minutes. I like mine pretty well-done and dry, but if you like yours a little on the runny side, pull them off earlier. I buttered my toast and liberally spread with blueberry preserves, put everything on my plate and hit my eggs with some salt and pepper.

Brinner

It’s OK if you’re jealous, you’re supposed to be.

In case you were unaware, everything was delectable. I put it all–and I mean ALL of it–in my mouth. But not at the same time. I’m a lady.

Keep coming back every Monday for more recipes, cooking tips and general food and nutrition rambles. If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, you should follow me on Twitter.

Dear Food Network, I love your PR

As many of you know, I’m a HUGE Food Network junkie. When I need background noise to clean or do homework, Food Network is turned on. If I’m sick or can’t fall asleep, Food Network’s on. If I’m bored and don’t have anything to do (which I admit is rare) and nothing good is on TV, what do I turn on? You guessed it, Food Network.

I find it a little sad that I see repeats of shows—a lot—but in case you’re unaware of the channel’s shows, because, unlike me, you don’t watch Food Network, the channel has shows that aren’t purely instructional cooking.

Most of these shows go across the country visiting “mom and pop” restaurants, which gives great publicity to every restaurant, increasing guests, sales and likelihood of that restaurant still standing and making money at the end of the day.

Michael Symon and Food Feuds

Image from FoodNetwork.com

Food Feuds

The first show on Food Network I want to talk about is Food Feuds. This show is hosted by Michael Symon, Iron Chef, Cleveland restaurateur and overall awesome.

Symon goes to various cities and decides which restaurant makes the better dish made famous by the perspective cities. In New York, it was cheesecake; in Philadelphia, it was the cheese steak, etc.

Symon visits each restaurant, sees how each dish is made, tastes them each, and makes his decision. While there is only one winner, both restaurants are highly featured.

Diners, Drive Ins and Dives

Diners, Drive Ins and Dives with Guy Fieri

Image from FoodNework.com

Hosted by Guy Fieri, diners really get their spotlight in Diners, Drive Ins and Dives. Fieri travels all over the country in his super sweet Camaro and visits local hot spots that have great food, and sometimes do things a little differently.

Fieri learns how to make a few of the diner’s most popular dishes, gets a background on the restaurants and chefs, and gets feedback from customers.

Cleveland’s own Melt Bar and Grilled was featured on an episode, and while the wait was usually around a half hour to an hour to get seated, the wait time turned into hours after the Melt episode aired.

Meat and Potatoes

Meat and Potatoes with Rahm Fama

Image from FoodNework.com

Rahm Fama, host of Meat and Potatoes, is on a mission to find America’s best meat. Fama travels across the country (seeing a trend here?) going to various restaurants to find the meatiest dishes. His episodes cover meatballs, suckling pigs, Peking Duck and everything else you can think of.

Like Diners, Drive Ins and Dives, Fama is shown how some of the most popular dishes are made and gives a background of the chefs and restaurants.

Outrageous Food

Tom Pizzica travels across the country (OK, this is getting kind of old…) to find “the most Outrageous Food.” Pizzica goes out and finds a restaurant that serves a plate of nachos that weighs seven pounds, a pancake so huge it has to be flipped with a pizza paddle and a cheeseburger that is about three feet tall.

Outrageous Food with Tom Pizzica

Image from TomPizzica.com

And of course, we’re shown how to make these incredible creations.

Man v Food

Now, Man v Food isn’t on Food Network, it’s actually on The Travel Channel, but both networks are owned by the same company—Scripps Networks.

Host Adam Richman travels, you guessed it, across the country to find the most obnoxious eating challenges. They vary from eating a pizza that weighs ten pounds to spring rolls that progressively get hotter and hotter with each new roll. And of course, the restaurant shows how each dish is made

One of the greatest things about Man v Food, is that with each episode, Richman doesn’t visit just the restaurant where he’s to take on the challenge.

The Melt Challenge

Image from MeltBarandGrilled.com

Melt Bar and Grilled was also featured on this show with The Melt Challenge—a grilled cheese with 13 different types of cheeses, fries and coleslaw. However, the Melt episode wasn’t just about Melt. Richman visited the West Side Market and Hot Sauce Williams.

And even though Melt had a huge following after the Diners, Drive Ins and Dives episode, a crazy influx of people taking on the Melt Challenge ensued after the Man v Food episode aired.

 The Best Thing I Ever Ate

Image from EatMeDaily.com

The Best Thing I Ever Ate

Now, The Best Thing I Ever Ate is a little different. Food Network show hosts talk about the best things they ever ate.

Each episode has a theme: chocolate, nutty, cheesy, pizza, cake, guilty pleasure, etc. Michael Symon is a familiar face on this show, and his one “guilty pleasure” best thing he ever ate were duck fries from The Greenhouse Tavern, just down the road on East 4th Street in Cleveland from Symon’s own restaurant, Lola.

And of course, the restaurants show how these dishes are made.

I absolutely love that Food Network and the Travel Channel does this. Chain restaurants like Applebee’s and Chili’s are taking over the world and throwing out good food and small businesspeople, chefs and restaurateurs. These shows showcase the mom and pop restaurants and diners, give them publicity and get people to change it up and eat local. I love that. Keep it up, Scripps Networks.

How to be an Iron Chef…kind of

Last week I participated in Kent State University’s Dining Services’ Iron Chef competition. And no, I didn’t win, but my team and I did win second place, when we thought we weren’t going to place at all.

The competition was pretty straightforward as far as “Iron Chef” goes; my team and I had one hour to create three dishes, and two of the three had to include the secret ingredient.

The cuisine theme was Italian, and we actually had to decide what dishes we were going to make weeks before the competition, and was told the secret ingredient right before we started cooking.

I personally thought the secret ingredient could have been a little bit more creative—it was (drum roll) freshly ground black pepper.

 

Black Pepper

Image from healthsentral.blogspot.com

I don’t exactly remember what the other six teams made, but I’m definitely going to share with you the recipes we came up with. Unfortunately, I was unable to get someone to come and take pictures, I apologize but I still hope you try what we made for the competition!

 

But first I would like to take a moment (or a few inches) to thank the other girls on the team—if it weren’t for you guys, we never would have won second place.

First, Lauren Maley. She stayed with me from day one. We lost two people from our original team and gained one person last minute, but Lauren stayed constant and worked her butt off during the competition.

Second, Lia Viola. Lia jumped into the competition quite literally the night before, and is most famous for talking on her cell phone while chopping tomatoes.

Both of these girls claim to not be good at cooking, but they kicked some serious butt out on that floor. Great job, and thanks!!

The Salad

One of the dishes we had to create was a salad, and we decided early to not do just lettuce in a bowl—we could hardly get creative with that. Instead, we created an antipasto with tri-colored rotini salad and asparagus wrapped in prosciutto.

 

Tri-colored Rotini

Image from creating-home.blogspot.com

Tri-colored rotini salad

 

4 cups of tri-colored rotini pasta, cooked and cooled

2 roma tomatoes, chopped

1 small red onion, chopped

1 ball fresh mozzarella, diced in small cubes

1 small bunch fresh basil, julienned

2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes

Olive oil

Salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Simply toss together the pasta, tomatoes, onion, mozzarella and basil.

Dress with a drizzle of olive oil and season to taste with the crushed red pepper flakes, salt and pepper.

 

Asparagus wrapped in prosciutto

Image from friendseat.com

Asparagus wrapped in prosciutto

1 large bunch of asparagus

3 tablespoons water

3 sprigs fresh mint

4 slices of prosciutto

2 tablespoons olive oil

Salt and pepper

Cut the woody ends off of the asparagus and put in a large saucepan or skillet with the simmering water and mint. Cover and let steam for 4 minutes or until soft, but not mushy.

Remove the asparagus, cool enough to handle and wrap in prosciutto. Return to a pan with the heated olive oil and sauté for 1 to 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

The Entre

I feel we set our sights too high with the entre. We planned to serve gnocchi in a fresh tomato and basil sauce with skirt steak and pesto. We just didn’t have the time, or the attention to give to the gnocchi or the tomato sauce, we barely got the steak out, but this dish would be really good given some more time and attention.

Gnocchi

Image from stevenfama.blogspot.com

Gnocchi with fresh tomato and basil sauce

For the sauce:

8 roma tomatoes, chopped

¼ cup olive oil

2 teaspoons of salt

2 cloves of garlic, minced

1 bunch fresh basil, chopped

2 tablespoons butter

Parmesan cheese

For the gnocchi:

4 russet potatoes

1 egg, beaten

¼ cup flour

Salt and pepper

Bring the tomatoes, olive oil and salt to a gentle simmer in a medium saucepan and let the sauce reduce for 20-25 minutes.

Transfer to a large sauté pan add the minced garlic, basil and butter.

Meanwhile, puncture the potatoes with a fork, wrap in a paper towel and microwave each for about 2-3 minutes, or until done. Let cool, cut in half and scoop out the baked potato into a bowl.

Mash until you reach a smooth consistency with little to no lumps. Add salt and pepper to taste, the beaten egg and enough flour to make a dough.

Knead the dough until everything has come together, divide the dough and create ropes about ½ inch thick. Cut the dough into sections about ½ inch long and drop into a pot of boiling water.

Continue to cook for about 2 more minutes after the gnocchi rise to the top. Remove the gnocchi and place into the sauté pan with the sauce and cook for 2 more minutes.

Serve with Parmesan cheese sprinkled over the top.

Skirt steak with pesto

For the steak:

2 pounds of skirt steak

½ cup olive oil

1/3 cup of red wine (for the competition we used red wine vinegar)

2 cloves minced garlic

2 teaspoons red pepper flakes

Salt and pepper

For the pesto:

3 bunches fresh basil

1/3 cup pine nuts

½ cup Parmesan cheese

Salt and pepper

½ cup olive oil

Combine the steak, olive oil, red wine, garlic, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper in a sealed plastic bag and let marinate for at least 15 minutes.

Pack the basil, pine nuts, Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper into a food processor. Pulse and slowly pour in the olive oil until desired consistency is reached. For a thicker pesto, use less olive oil, for thinner, use more olive oil.

Put the skirt steak on a hot grill, searing on both sides for about 3 minutes. Make sure the internal temperature is 135 degrees Fahrenheit for medium rare.

Pull the steak off the grill or grill pan and let sit for at least 5 minutes so the juices don’t spill out after you cut it. Slice into pieces against the grain and top with the pesto.

The Dessert

I personally think it was the dessert that helped us win second place. We made chocolate biscotti with a chocolate hazelnut ganache and a fresh cappuccino. Lia actually heard a judge’s comment about the biscotti, saying we must have gotten it from somewhere (one team just dressed up already made cannolis) and Lia made sure the judge knew that we made it from scratch.

Nutella

Image from delish.com

Chocolate hazelnut biscotti

½ cup olive oil

3 eggs

1 cup of sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 cup cocoa powder

2 cups flour

1 tablespoon of baking powder

1 cup heavy cream

1 cup Nutella

Combine the olive oil, eggs, sugar and vanilla extract until the eggs are beaten and you have a smooth, creamy mixture.

Add the baking powder, cocoa powder and the flour and mix until you have cookie dough.

Form into a 12x4x1 inch rectangle on a greased cookie sheet and cook at 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Remove, let cool for 10 minutes and slice on a diagonal. Return the biscotti to the oven and cook for 5 minutes on each side.

Bring the cream to a simmer in a small saucepan, turn off the heat and add the Nutella, constantly stirring until smooth. Drizzle the ganache onto the biscotti.

Fresh Cappuccino

4 shots espresso

3 cups milk (your choice of percentage)

Pour a shot of espresso into a cup or mug of your choice. Scald the milk in a saucepan, bring to desired temperature. Divide the milk evenly between each mug.

The best way to eat biscotti is to dip it in the cappuccino.

So, we didn’t win first place, we didn’t have time to steam our asparagus or wrap it in the prosciutto, so we sautéed it in olive oil with the mint. Our gnocchi completely fell apart and we just served the steak and pesto with some tomatoes simmered in olive oil on the side and our ganache turned out to be more of a sauce that we laid down on the plate as a garnish.

However, one judge later told me that she wanted to break the arm of the person who took her biscotti away from her.

So, what did I learn from this? Freshly cracked black pepper is a crazy easy secret ingredient and one hour isn’t just enough time to create a meal like this with limited supplies. But if you’re feeling adventurous, try and check this meal out. It’s at least second place-worthy.

BUTTER

I’d be greatly amiss as an avid Julia Child fan if I didn’t do a post about the lovely Mrs. Child’s favorite ingredient—butter.

Butter

Image from tucsoncitizen.com

I had meant to do a post about what is better for you: butter or margarine. It was a topic I set in my bank in case I couldn’t think of anything better to write about when it came to update, but my mind was changed a late night a few days ago.

I have a very unfortunate habit of turning on Food Network when I need background noise or just TV to fall asleep and take a nap to. Disclaimer, I highly suggest you do NOT do this—you will be forever hungry and want to cook and eat everything you can possibly think of.

But I digress. So, late one night I was watching the Food Network and a popular show Unwrapped was on. For those of you unfamiliar with Unwrapped, this show goes around the country and shows how popular food and other food products are made. It’s incredibly interesting.

One segment of this particular episode of Unwrapped showed how I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter is made, and from then on I decided I would never touch margarine ever again, not even with a 10-foot pole.

I always knew that margarine wasn’t that great for you, but the reason why I initially wanted to do a butter versus margarine post was when a friend once told me that it was invented on accident when someone was trying to create a new polymer synthetic material (aka, plastic). I thought this was a little sketchy, so I decided to investigate the properties of each substance:

Butter

Butter is 100 percent all natural. As most of you may know (and for those of you who don’t) butter is made from cream. When you get milk that came straight from a cow and you let that milk sit, the cream will rise to the top because the fat in the cream is lighter than the milk. This is also where “the cream of the crop” cliché comes from.

Churning Butter

Churning Butter

After the milk sits and the cream rises, the next step is to skim the cream off the top and put it in a container of some sorts. To make butter is then to churn the cream. You’ve all seen pictures of a colonial woman sitting in a chair next to a big wooden tub and is constantly pumping a long wooden stick up and down in that tub. That’s one of the oldest ways of churning cream to make butter—I made butter once by placing clean marbles in a clean mason jar and shook the jar until I got my butter.

What the churning accomplishes is it gets the fat to stick together and become a soft solid. The butter is then pulled out of the container, rinsed and packed. Sometimes it’s salted to create more flavor. What’s left over is buttermilk, highly acidic milk that creates the most delicious biscuits and fried chicken.

Margarine

After research I found that margarine was not created while trying to make plastic. According to MadSci.org, Hippolyte Mege-Mouries, a French pharmacist and chemist, created margarine in 1869 when Napoleon III offered a prize for the creation of a synthetic, edible fat.

Margarine then fell to the wayside, but became a huge butter replacement during the world wars because it was less expensive to make.

Margarine

Image from citizensincharge.org

Margarine today is created from vegetable oils—good right? Well, in theory yes, but it’s the process that says no. These oils go through a hydrogenation process, which essentially takes those vegetable oils and puts them through high heat and pressure which makes the fat denser, and therefore in the same semi-solid state as butter. Also, anything hydrogenated contains trans fats, which we all know are bad for us.

And these partially hydrogenated oils are bad for you, really, really bad for you. Stacy Rhea, a fellow public relations student, contributor to Ohio Sports and Fitness and a nutrition and exercise consultant, told me that by consuming hydrogenated products, you are consuming enough metal in a year to make a ring or a small handful of change.

Gross, right?

I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter

Now, I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter doesn’t have any trans fats because it doesn’t have any hydrogenated oils. Good right?

Wrong.

The two main ingredients in ICBINB are oil and water. Last time I checked, oil and water doesn’t mix, so they need an emulsifier. Now, you may ask, what is an emulsifier?

I Can't Believe It's Not Butter

Image from ICan'tBelieveIt'sNotButter.com

Well, what an emulsifier does, is it coats the oil molecule and then allows the oil to “dissolve” into the water. The most natural emulsifier is an egg yolk, the best example as to how egg yolks work is mayonnaise. Mayonnaise is essentially oil, vinegar and egg yolks with some spices thrown in for flavor. Blend it all together, the egg yolks coat the oil and allow it to dissolve into the vinegar and make the best condiment to put on a chicken sandwich.

Back to ICBINB. The oil and water has to mix somehow, but the company doesn’t use a natural emulsifier it instead uses a cheap, chemical one. Also, to give it that “butter flavor” that you just “can’t believe,” they throw in buttermilk powder. That’s right, powder.

Last time I checked, buttermilk was a liquid leftover from making butter, not a powdered substance. I’m not sure what has to be done to buttermilk to make it a powder, but I’m sure it isn’t good, either.

So, I have the choice of consuming a natural fat that comes from milk, a fat that has been overly processed that will slowly poison me or eat a fat that’s full of chemicals?

No thanks. I’ll take my delicious, creamy Amish butter with no rBGH growth hormones.

Baked v Fried

I’m an RA, which means I get a free room and meals for doing my job; I like to think I’m a pretty good RA. So, I decided to write this post to help educate my poor residents I ran into at one of the dining halls on campus earlier this week.

I was in line to get some mac and cheese, and I was behind a few of my residents who are juniors, so that means they’re at least 20-years-old. They were contemplating the mac and cheese and were discussing the nutritional value. The sign describing what that station was serving read “Baked Macaroni and Cheese” and one of my residents read the sign and asked her friend “it’s baked, so that means it’s better for you, right?”

Oh my poor residents! You have been so sorely led astray! Let me tell you the truth about fried and baked foods, which are better for you, some tips and recipes you can use and why baked mac and cheese isn’t that good for you.

Fried Foods

Fried foods, like chicken and french fries, are foods that have been cooked in oil. You can deep fry foods, where the food is completely submerged in hot oil, or pan fry food, where the oil comes up only halfway to the food and you have to flip.

The problem with fried foods is that while the food is cooking, it soaks up the oil you cook it in and then that extra oil goes into your body. This means a lot more fat than normal. However, fried chicken and fish aren’t as bad as french fries or fried cheese sticks. The reason why is because if the internal temperature of the chicken or fish are kept above boiling, the juices in the meat will help expel that oil that’s trying to soak its way into your meal.

The sad thing about fried foods, is that they’re so delicious. As long as you don’t eat fried food every day, you’ll be OK. Here is my favorite recipe for pan fried chicken by Alton Brown.

Baked Foods

Baked, broiled or grilled is a way of cooking without a lot of extra fat. You’ll use only a few tablespoons of oil or butter, instead of quarts of fat. So, of course baked chicken, fish, vegetables and potatoes are better for you! You’re not consuming all that fat.

The downside is, is that chicken tenders just aren’t as crispy and crunchy and delicious, and neither are those french fries. The reason is because instead of being suspended in oil, three sides are getting a lot of heat, and one side isn’t, leaving you with a soggy product.

Wire Cooling Rack

Image from Amazon.com

But, there is a trick for that! Simply place a cooling rack onto a baking sheet and place your foods on that to be cooked in the oven. This way the heat from the oven cooks all around your food evenly, giving you something nice and crispy without being soggy.

My favorite fried food is fried chicken, but Anne Burrell came up with a great recipe for chicken fingers you can bake in your oven!

She uses yogurt and mustard and saltines, wheat germ and almonds to coat her chicken and give it a crunch. I personally prefer dipping my chicken in a little egg wash and coating it in pretzels that have been turned into fine crumbs. The great thing about this, is you can change it up to your preference or whatever you have laying around in your pantry!

Just toss your chicken onto a wire rack on a baking sheet and cook for 12-15 minutes in a 425 degree oven.

Baked Mac and Cheese

Now, not all baked foods are good for you–mac and cheese is one of them. I like to make my own mac and cheese, and I make my own sauce. I first make a roux with melted butter and flour, slowly add milk and let it thicken. I then add my shredded cheese and let it melt. When it’s all melted I combine the sauce with my cooked pasta and I’m good to go.

If I were to combine my sauce with my pasta and then bake it, I would need at least 50 percent more sauce, which means more butter and more milk (most people use cream to make their sauce thick which means ever more calories, but my sauce is thick because of the roux) and more cheese because when you let the pasta bake in the oven it soaks up the sauce; so you’re going to need more cheesy, creamy, fattening sauce to keep your dish from drying out. Plus, there are buttery bread crumbs put on top.

But mac and cheese is of course delicious, I definitely enjoyed my plate of it. Everything in moderation is OK, but remember, just because something is baked, it doesn’t always mean it’s good for you.

Gumbo Night!

Cooking

I felt a little bit like a trophy wife

My boyfriend and I just reached our six-month anniversary, and I decided to don attire similar to trophy wife-dom and make a really nice dinner to celebrate–and what better way to celebrate than delicious chicken and smoked sausage Gumbo with white rice?

I didn’t take as many pictures as I would have liked, but you’ll still get to see a lot of the steps.

I got the recipe from foodnetwork.com and it was a lovely recipe for Mr. Emeril Lagasse. Check it out here. However, I didn’t follow every explicit detail; I made it a little easier on myself and I’ll walk you through the instructions to make it easier on yourself, too.

Ingredients

1 tablespoon plus 1/2 cup vegetable oil: I used butter. The reason why it called for vegetable oil is because vegetable oil is pretty much tastless–but I had this amazing Amish butter on hand that I’m in love with, and I like the taste of the butter, so that’s what I used. Feel free to use whatever fat you wish, vegetable oil, butter (you’ll get the taste of butter in the gumbo) or olive oil (you’ll get the taste of olive oil in the gumbo) or canola, etc. It just depends on how you want it to taste.

1 pound smoked sausage, such as andouille sausage or kielbasa cut crosswise 1/2-inch thick pieces: I used andouille sausage, you can easily find it at your grocery store. Andouille sausage is spicier than kielbasa so it adds a really nice kick when you take a bite with the sausage. Also, the sausage isn’t cooked at all so I found it easier to cook the sausage whole and then slice it into pieces, I’ll explain that later in the steps of the recipe.

4 pounds chicken thighs, skin removed: I used chicken breasts because my boyfriend and I prefer white meat more than dark meat. Thighs have more fat, and therefore more flavor, than white meat. You can use whatever cut of chicken you like, but be sure that the bone is in and keep the skin on–if you remove the skin the chicken has a tendency to dry out and the skin adds a lot of good flavor.

1 tablespoon Essence or Creole seasoning: This is Emeril’s special blend of seasonings he makes himself and sells in grocery stores, you can also make it yourself. This is merely used to season the chicken so I used what I had in my cupboard of the Essence mix to season the chicken. You can just use salt and pepper or chicken seasoning or whatever you like.

1 cup all-purpose flour

2 cups chopped onions

1 cup chopped celery

1 cup chopped bell peppers

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon cayenne

3 bay leaves

9 cups chicken stock or canned low-sodium chicken broth

1/2 cup chopped green onions

2 tablespoons chopped parsley leaves

1 tablespoon file powder: File powder is essentially saffron strands ground up real fine. It’s a staple in Cajun and New Orleans cooking, but it’s also very expensive. I just used a little extra cayenne and Cajun seasoning instead.

Cooking Instructions

The first step is to cook the sausage, and I couldn’t cut the raw sausage very well without it falling apart on me, so I just threw the whole one-pound link into my pot with my melted butter and let it brown on both sides. I then pulled it out according to the recipe and let it cool for a few minutes before I sliced it up. You always let meat cool for a few minutes after you take it off the heat so the juices settle and stay in the meat. Otherwise, the juices will just run out all over your cutting board and you’ll have dry meat.

I then seasoned the chicken and browned it on all sides in my big pot. Your chicken isn’t going to cook all the way through and that’s OK. You’re going to later add the pieces of chicken whole into the big pot of gumbo and let it simmer for an hour and a half and there it will be cooked all the way through and be safe and delicious to eat. But while you’re waiting, make sure you keep the chicken in the refrigerator so bacteria doesn’t start to grow.

You then need to add your 1/2 cup of fat (whether it’s butter or oil) and stir in your flour. This is making what’s called a roux, which is a mixture of fat and flour. A roux thickens whatever you’re making, but it has to be just fat and flour. If you were to have a stew or gravy and try and mix in flour when the liquid is already in, you’re going to have big flour clumps.

Make sure you constantly keep stirring your roux otherwise you’ll get clumps. You need to let it cook for about 20 minutes until it turns a dark, chocolaty brown. This is cooking the flour and give the gumbo a nice nutty flavor, which you’ll also smell. This step will seem tedious, but it’s totally worth it.

Then add your chopped onions, celery and bell peppers. I also added three small (or two large) cloves of garlic. I just love the taste of garlic and it added more depth to the gumbo. Add the vegetables and let them wilt. Then add the sausage, bay leaves, cayenne and salt and your gumbo should look like this.

Gumbo

Gumbo

Let it all cook and hang out for a few minutes, then slowly add your chicken stock–this way your roux won’t clump up. It’ll then look like this:

Gumbo

Gumbo

Bring your gumbo up to a boil, then turn the heat down and let it simmer uncovered for an hour. Make sure you visit it every 15 minutes and stir it so nothing sticks to the bottom. After an hour, pull the chicken from the refrigerator and add it to the pot. You’ll probably have to find a creative way to make sure all the chicken is covered by the broth, but it’s totally do-able. Then let that simmer for an hour and a half. Remember to visit it every 15 minutes to remove the fat from the top (it’ll come to the top in an orange skin-like form) and stir it up a little bit.

When the hour and a half is up, pull the chicken from the gumbo and let it sit for a few minutes. Then remove the skin and shred the meat from the bones. It should look like this:

Chicken for Gumbo

Chicken for Gumbo

After simmering in the pot for an hour and a half, the chicken will be so tender and full of deliciousness that it will practically shred itself. Go ahead and throw away the skin and bones and toss the chicken back into the pot. While it’s simmering away, add your chopped green onions:

Gumbo with green onions

Gumbo with green onions

and then add your parsley:

Gumbo with parsley

Gumbo with parsley

Toss in your file powder or Cajun seasoning and then, my friends, you’ll have the most AMAZING gumbo. The best way to describe the finished product is what my boyfriend said: “It looks like God threw up in our pot.”

Gumbo

Gumbo

Just serve this over white rice and you’ll be set. It isn’t a hard recipe, it just takes a lot of time to make and simmer, but it’s totally worth it and is even better the next day. Make sure you check out Emeril’s recipe on foodnetwork.com and try it for yourself!

The Corn Refiners Association PR Disaster

There is a campaign by the Corn Refiners Association in effect to rename high fructose corn syrup as corn sugar and it’s not going as well as they planned.

They’re currently petitioning the Food and Drug Administration to give HFCS a new name that doesn’t seem as daunting. However, they’re not waiting for the FDA to say yay or nay to their petition, the CRA is already calling HFCS “corn sugar” to the public.

Take a look at the video here:

What irks me the most is what the dad in the commercial, “Whether it’s corn sugar, or cane sugar, your body can’t tell the difference. Sugar is sugar.”

First of all, doesn’t the phrase “your body can’t tell the difference” sound a little shady to you? To me it feels like a guy trying to sell you pain medication he made himself in a dark alleyway. “Don’t worry about it! Your body can’t tell the difference from what you can buy at the store and what I made here!”

Secondly, HFCS is NOT sugar. It is syrup that’s been extracted from corn and gone through an industrial process to make it sweeter.

Cane sugar comes from a plant called sugar cane. The stalks are juiced and then the liquid is left alone for the water to evaporate and crystals to form. You can let HFCS sit as long as you want, and no crystallization is going to occur. Sugar (or sucrose) is made from equal parts of glucose and fructose. There is barely any glucose in HFCS, it’s mostly fructose, hence the name.

High Fructose Corn Syrup

Does this look natural to you? Image from nytimes.com

Even Michael Jacobson, the executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest says “the term ‘corn sugar may also be misleading, suggesting that the product is kind of squeezed right out of corn rather than being produced through an industrial process.”

But the CRA is getting scared. In the past two years Hunt’s Ketchup, Gatorade and Snapple switched from HFCS to using real sugar in their products.

Audrae Erickson, president of the Corn Refiners Association, told NPR that “the name has been misleading to consumers and it is confusing, which is why we petitioned the Food and Drug Administration to allow it to be called corn sugar.”

AKA, they want to rebrand their product, so it seems safer to consumers and they keep making a killing—in both profits and lives from obesity and diabetes.

Dr. Andrew Weil, founder and director for the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine said in an editorial he wrote for the Huffington Post “Putting aside my concern that HFCS may be metabolically worse than table sugar—I think the research behind that notion is debatable—my main worry is that the syrup’s cheapness, due to corn subsidies, allows manufacturers to sweeten a huge percentage of the American food supply. I believe that’s been a significant contributor to the obesity-diabetes epidemic”

The CRA has two beautiful websites, SweetSurprise.com and CornSugar.com (notice how they’re both .com websites, not .org). They’re full of beautiful quotes from studies and reports by the FDA and the American Medical Association, which are anywhere from five to 15 years old. Technology has improved; there are more studies that say HFCS is worse than sugar.

They also preach that the FDA says HFCS is OK, so of course it’s just the same as sugar!

The FDA also approved growth hormones in cows to produce more milk and that it’s OK for drug and pharmaceutical companies to advertise directly toward the end user. However, those are two controversial topics that we’re not going to get into today.

The CRA was hoping the petition for the renaming of HFCS to corn sugar would go through quietly, so no one would notice and they could continue to poison us more subtly, but I’m saying something.

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