Monday, June 28, 2010

I beg your pardon, I never promised you an herb garden...


It would appear that I have one anyway. My darling boyfriend (who is the most amazing man in the universe; ask anyone) stopped by a stand run by this old guy outside of David's Market last week and on a whim picked up four Genovese Basil plants. He came home and told me about it, and suggested that we go back the following weekend and I could pick out some others.

Now, for those of you who know me know that I have the WORST black thumb. Seriously. Anything that I've ever tried to plant or cultivate has died a slow, painful death right before my eyes. The only exception is the lucky bamboo that was a birthday present from my siblings. I've had that thing for probably 7 years, and it's only JUST now starting to look a little sickly. I found out that the average lifespan for this particular type of bamboo is only 2 years, so I must've been doing something right. :)

My mother has her own herb garden, and on occasion has saved me some dried sprigs of basil, oregano, rosemary, and even shared her tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers when they were in season. I'm always been grateful, and because of her I'd also learned that home grown herbs are the absolute BEST to cook with, bar none. That being said, I've never seriously considered growing my own simply because I didn't want to waste the money or the time to wind up killing something that could very easily be used by someone else.

Well, last weekend that decision had been made for me. And to top it off, he also harvested some leaves from a couple of the plants and left the cuttings in water on the counter. Right where I prepare all of my food. I started trying to think of various ways I could incorporate the fresh basil into whatever I was making Every Single Time I was in the kitchen. Finally, after two days I'd cracked. I chopped up the fresh basil and sprinkled it over a tossed salad.

Oh. My. Gawd. The flavor completely permeated the salad. You could even taste it through the dressing! It wasn't overwhelming, but you could definitely tell it was there.

Then, yesterday morning, amidst no small amount of discomfort, I tagged along for another trip to the herb stand. I was completely blown away at the different varieties of plants that were on display! Not thinking, I left my darling at the table and went to the far end to read the labels on different pots.

Lemongrass: used in a variety of Thai cuisine; has cancer combative properties; wonderful in soups, stews, teas and to give any and all of your meats that subtle citrus flavor.

Chives: a memeber of the onion family; just cut some sprigs up and sprinkle on potatoes, mix with sour cream or anything else that would benefit from the sweet onioney taste.

Cilantro: also known as Chinese parsley; used in a variety of Mediterranean and Mexican food; the seeds are called Coriander and when ground to a powder it is called Cumin, the predominant seasoning in taco mixes; the leaves are the main herb used to give salsas their flavor.

Aloe Vera: the only naturally occurring source of vitamin B12; the gel has antibacterial and antifungal properties; used to treat a multitude of mild inflammations including burns, scrapes, cuts, sore throat, toothaches, intestinal inflammations and the like; also has moisturizing and healing properties good for a variety of skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis and sun damage.

Where I'd acquired this information I couldn't tell you. But with each and every plant I had pointed out, as soon as my back was turned it was being loaded into our bag. It felt like Christmas!

Not long after we got home, he left again saying he had to pick up a few things for work. I laid down for a nap. When I woke up, he was just coming home and had bought a flower box to plant my herbs on the porch, along with 2 more pots for the lemongrass and the aloe vera plant.

Now I'm finding excuses to to go outside and look at my pretty herbs. And fight the fear that they'll be dead in a week.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Update -- It was awesome (of course)

However, after all of that blustering I did previously about seasoning mixes and how "careful" I usually am, I did the unthinkable. Normally I create my own cajun/creole seasoning -- Thank you, Emeril! -- however I didn't have the allotted amount of one ingredient. Rather than mixing it up with what I DID have, I cheated and grabbed a premade mix hiding in the back of the spice rack.

You see where this is going, right?

Today I feel like I've been hit by a truck. :(

Not all companies list gluten ingredients on their labels, but I should've known better regardless. I'm SO pissed at myself today.

Now I've got this big batch of red beans and rice that's too hot for my roommate to eat, apparently has gluten so I can't eat it, and JP isn't a fan of beans. *sigh*

I'm going to play it safe with something simple like Pigs in a Blanket tonight.

And no, I don't mean hot dogs wrapped in dough. Obviously I can't eat dough or even most brands of hot dogs. I didn't know that the rest of the country called those hot dog thingies Pigs in a Blanket until I was in my early 20's. For the life of me I don't understand why anyone would go to the trouble. Isn't that what the bun is for? But I digress....

The Pigs in a Blanket that I'm referring to is the Hungarian style of stuffed cabbage rolls. God bless my very European family. We are a bunch of crackers. :) Of course, I'm a gluten free cracker! Ha!

Basically this is just ground meat mixed with rice (I usually add onions and peppers too) wrapped in cabbage leaves and braised in tomato sauce. Super easy, and VERY gluten free.

I don't know how much I'll feel like eating it, but at least it'll be there should the urge strike.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Today's forecast is sunny and hot, with a side of food coma....

I absolutely LOVE toiling over my food.

90% of the meals I create are something that takes all day (or several days) to prepare. And I don't think I'm giving myself too much credit by saying that most of my food winds up tasting as good as, if not better than anything you could order in a restaurant.

Sometimes I think I actually like preparing the food better than eating it. In fact, it's not unusual for me to be so busy in the kitchen cooking that I forget to eat. I honestly suspect that I'm the only person on the planet who has that issue.....

Back when I could still eat wheat I would make my own pasta from scratch while my homemade spaghetti sauce (fresh roma tomatoes, y'all!) would simmer in the crock pot. I might be a food geek. :)

One of my favorite things to cook involves complex varieties of meats, beans and vegetables.

Tonight I'm making Cajun red beans and rice.

Now, most people would see the title and think that beans and rice are a relatively simple mix, and they would be correct. But add in a little imagination and an infinite amount of inspiration (thank you, internet) and you have the makings of culinary genius.

First, I have the beans which usually require soaking for a few days. Since I slacked off on the soaking regime earlier this week, I "quick soaked" them in my crock pot for about 2 hours. Genuine Louisiana red beans are a different variety of beans than your average kidney beans. I just had to use what I have on hand, which are the kidneys. The beauty of beans is their ability to be substituted. Ah, how I love beans!

Then it's time to scour the cupboards and the fridge for the vegetables to enhance the beans. I used celery, onion, bell pepper and garlic. (Some recipes call for carrots, but I'm not a fan so I left them out.)

Most beans credit a lot of their flavor and texture from some kind of fat, and my favorite thing to use is pork, either bacon and/or sausage. This time I used half a pound of bacon and half a pound of andouille sausage. (For those of you that don't know, andouille sausage is a spicy Cajun sausage that's a staple for Louisiana cooking.) I'm a nut for sausage. I absolutely love sausage and can't ever get enough of it. Beef sausage, chicken or turkey sausage, pork sausage, sweet, mild or spicy, smoked or flavored sausages with sun dried tomatoes and sweet basil; you name it.

Next I'll scour recipes to get an idea of what seasonings I'll want to use. I don't ever follow recipes because I'm a control freak and when it comes to seasonings and spices I like to "follow my nose" rather than someone else's. Also, I abhor measuring and only do it when absolutely necessary (ratios of water to rice, for example.) I have a few favorites that I like to have in bulk. Fresh garlic is a must, and most of the time if I cook with garlic I'll use it towards the end of cooking because it retains its *bite.* If I want something to have a garlic flavor during cooking, I'll use garlic powder to start, and finish with fresh minced garlic. Garlic never goes bad in my house because I used it for just about everything.

Cajun seasoning is also a "must have" for any Louisiana soul food cooking, but a lot of pre-made seasoning blends contain gluten as an anti-caking agent, so I need to be careful. Also some cheaper sausages contain gluten as a filler, so reading labels has become second nature to me. When in doubt, I consult Emeril. :)

Into the pot I have bacon, andouille sausage, bay leaves, oregano, garlic powder, Cajun seasoning, Celtic sea salt, black pepper, white wine, cider vinegar and a few shakes of tobasco sauce. I might cut up some tomatoes later on to throw in just for the heck of it. We'll see... :)

The mouthwatering aromas are already wafting throughout the entire house, and I have at least another 6-8 hours to go before I'll be ready to serve.

Let the suffering commence....