Monday, November 3, 2008

I made gumbo and savory bread pudding, oh and clam chowder too

and damn, it was good.

I used this recipe (Eula Mae's Seafood Gumbo) as the base but with some tweaks. I omitted oysters since I prefer mine uncooked, halved the amount of shrimp (m and I aren't huge fans), added a can of diced tomatoes and sausage and browned the roux to a milk chocolate color instead of the recommended peanut butter brown. Also, I'd meant to include some sliced okra, but forgot all about it and ended up chopping up some kale and adding that instead. Next time round, I might also add a half pound of scallops at the end.

All told, gumbo is seriously lacking in nutritional diversity. Don't get me wrong. It's darned tasty, but hardly healthy. It's just roux with some vegetables cooked down to nearly nothing and some seafood thrown in for good measure. Unless it's the gumbo that calls for game fowl plus spicy sausage. Either way, gumbo as a stand alone meal could use a side salad to help out. At least in our home.

The savory bread pudding was this recipe. Here served with clam chowder and a green salad.

I had some store bought sandwich bread that was sitting in the fridge from before we left for our trip. I knew when we left that it was going to be nice and stale by the time we got back and had some vague notion of turning it into bread pudding. But Savory bread pudding. The Mushroom and Gruyere recipe was really quite good. I mean seriously. I can't stop eating it. The only change I made was to use dried tarragon (I halved what was called for but I think it was still a bit much) instead of fresh since I couldn't find any fresh at the market.

The next time I make it (and believe me there will be many next times) I plan to make a few changes like less tarragon, maybe leeks instead of the onions it called for? I could even see studding it with some pancetta or lardons (what a dream, I haven't been able to find lardon since I lived in France). And I'll change up the construction of the pudding because the directions say to just lay the slices of bread in the baking dish and then add a layer of the mushrooms+cheese and then sandwich with another layer of bread. That was fine tastewise, but I think it could look better. So maybe I'll cut up the bread and layer everything like fallen dominoes? Something to think about.

When I was in New England, I meant to do some serious cooking. I mean the kind of complicated cooking that involves making your own stock and stuff. But we were so busy with other things the only thing I got to make was a coconut cake that was pretty good but not very pretty to look at. One thing I really wanted to make was some clam chowder with quahogs which are small clams that are tender and have a sweeter flavor and local to the area. I'd heard that these were the appropriate clams with which to make an authentic New England chowder. But of course I forgot to look for those clams while I was there. So I made do with some Manila clams at my local market. The end result was mostly just so-so.

I was working with a bunch of different recipes and trying to come up with something that I thought would give me the chowder that I imagine as being the best kind of chowder. I don't know. Maybe it was the roux. Maybe I really needed to make some fish stock after all. Maybe I should have used quahogs instead of manila clams. I definitely put in too much potatoes. The chowder was good, but it lacked something. The certain something that makes you go "mmmmm...." right after the first sip. My reaction was more like "Hmm?" I think I might have some ideas as to how to make adjustments. I'm thinking of making up some more roux with the rest of the clam cooking liquid and mixing it with the existing chowder to doctor it up a bit. Again, something to think about.

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