Crayfish Tails in Creole Sauce

Also Known as Mudbugs

A good Crayfish, like an honest man, can be hard to find. We had some decent ones from Spain, and then I was wandering through a big box store trying to find some edible seafood, and I saw a big bag of crayfish in the freezer section, festooned with a giant gold fleur-de-lis, so I thought, here are some real Louisiana crayfish. I picked up a bag, and the back had printed on it, “Product of China.” Puke. It’s been a couple of years since I’ve been there.

I finally found good pre-cooked crayfish from LA in our southern based supermarket chain. Here’s my favorite recipe.

Ingredients

12+ Crayfish Tails, shelled and de-veined

1 Tablespoon Butter

1 Tablespoon Flour

The last two are for the roux. This needs a blonde, aka un-browned, roux, so don’t cook it too long. Then add the following.

1/2 chopped Onion

1/2 chopped sweet Pepper

Saute these together. If it’s summer, add–

2 fresh Tomatoes (I mill mine)

Chicken Stock

Salt and Pepper

Cook these until they are right tasty. Then add the no longer secret ingredients

Garlic Paste

Hot Sauce (I like Tabasco Cayenne and Garlic here)

Because the tails are already cooked, they only need to be re-heated. This dish takes about as much time as it does to make the rice to go with. Naturally, we use Louisiana rice. About six mudbugs per person is a decent serving. Now if only Santa Clause can bring the Saints a spot in the Super Bowl.

Kitchen Invasion, Part Five–Parawood Jelly Cabinet

Ignore the Dirt

The takeover continues, despite constitutional promises that the Kitchen cannot over rule the entire House. In this case it is even a kitchen cabinet in the dining room, though it was not confirmed by the Senate–and it’s from Vietnam.

We were sold on this Parawood cabinet when we read that it was made from old farmed rubber trees from defunct rubber plantations. Apparently rubber trees only produce latex for seventy some odd years, at which point they are cut down and made into some quality lumber. in short, this wood supply will last as long as the rubber meets the road somewhere.

We needed the storage space.

Just the Beginning

This also brought to mind one of my favorite students, who convinced me that the Vietnam war was really about control of the world rubber supply, and all the patriotic balloon about communism was just a bunch of hoya. How did he know? He volunteered for three tours of duty in ‘Nam as a medic for the Green Berets.

He was on paid leave from the Chicago Fire Department, and the union was paying his tuition. He was a conspicuous thirty years older than any of the students at UI, and had a wicked sense of humor. One male student asked him the following:

Student: Why did you volunteer for that many tours in Vietnam?

Beret: Because it was better than Chicago.

That shut the kid up. In a later class another one really stepped in it. He asked the following:

Student: Did you learn anything in Vietnam?

Beret: Yea, I learned not to shoot into Michelin’s rubber plantations.

As a theorist that just about all imperialist wars are fought over control of commodities, I had to get in on this conversation.

Me: Explain that.

Beret: We Green Berets could do almost anything we wanted. Burn villages, shoot civilians, and kill women and children. But, one shot into a Michelin rubber plantation, and your ass sat in the brig forever. And you think the Viet Cong didn’t know that?

That really got me thinking. The Greek empire, especially Athens, controlled the wheat supply. The Romans controlled wine, olive oil, and the famous fish sauce. We are aiming for an empire of canned goods.

Ok, not much of a start on an empire. The only place we’ve invaded has been the farmer’s market.

Canning Tomatoes

Maters Ready for Inspection, Sir!

Time for the yearly canning update. Get busy! Life is short and Tomatoes are sweet, so can ye tomatoes while ye may.

First note–last year’s crop of canning lids were mediocre, so we switched from the usual hot water bath canning method, to pressure canning. Zero failures since then. If you don’t have a pressure canner, just double the time the jars of maters swim in the hot water.

If you’re lucky, somebody gave you something like this, or you know someone you can borrow one from. Ours only comes out of hibernation a few times a year.

Old School

The Mirro-matic was designed to process enough food for an entire family, and this one did–just not for our family. A former co-worker of mine had all of his children grow up, and off to college, and he just wanted to get rid of this beast. As the only farm boy he knew, I was the obvious heir apparent.

We will probably can only quart jars tomorrow, to speed up things and conserve on the number of lids we have. US made lids are just now coming back on the market, and none are available locally. There is a good deal on Amazon for some, and an order is forthcoming. It should be just enough money to get space cadet Bezos an extra 1/4 inch into outer space.

Life in a Red State

Buried Counters

There was once a common saying in Mississippi, which was a simple “The richest land, and the poorest people.” That perfectly sums up the contradictions of living in a Red State.

Barbara Kingsolver discussed this dilemma quite perfectly in her essay of the same title, “Life in a Red State.” Naturally, she started with a discussion of how her kitchen was literally covered with tomatoes. Then she expanded from there. After today, I can definitely feel her pain.

The tomatoes and peas are only a fraction of the haul I made this morning at the Festhalle. Those two combined cost us the princely sum of $26, with the maters being the majority–$20. Preserving those this weekend will be a whole lot like work.

I once worked at a Southern public University where the faculty salaries were right at the lowest in the country, and the administrative salaries among the top ten percent. There is only one solution to a problem like that–leave. All that got us is a beautiful river front house, and tomatoes up to our necks. There’s nothing to not love about that.

First New Tomatoes of the Season

We were hoping to have fresh tomatoes by Memorial Day, but tomatoes live on a schedule of their own. However, we now have three good sized tomatoes–that cutting board is 12″ by 12″. The variety is Champion, one I have never grown before.

Champion is a slicing tomato meant for sandwiches, but we eat tomato slices with just salt on them, as a dinner side dish. A sandwich without the bread, if you will.

One tomato trial found this to be the second highest yielding variety on the market, producing up to eight pounds of maters per plant. With as much rain as we have had, my hopes are raised. Essentially, 4.5″ in six days. Naturally, more is on the way for tomorrow.

As Mark Twain said, “Everybody complains about the weather, but nobody ever does anything about it.” How true.

May Day Breakfast with New Taters, Homegrown Eggs, and Leftovers

Let’s Eat!

We started off International Worker’s Day the right way, with our once every weekend Farmer’s Omelette. We had to celebrate the needs of workers to conserve every penny, so we made this partly with leftovers, although they were no ordinary leftovers. Having grown up on what we call a “dirt farm,” I know how to use a leftover.

The Base

Heaviest Skillet available

1 slice good Bacon (preferably organic)

New Taters, Precious

Just Enough Time to Wash off the Dirt

First, cook the slice of bacon. The real purpose of this is to render out the fat needed to fry the taters. I like to add some olive oil for extra flavor, if needed. These little gems didn’t need any. The Yukon Golds were so tender I didn’t even peel them. Naturally, I had planted them in composted chicken manure to begin with.

Fry the taters until practically done, and chop the bacon. Turn the oven on to 400 F. Time for the magic leftovers.

Leftovers

Grilled organic Onions

Grilled organic cherry Tomatoes

Chicken kabobs on Friday night, grilled over hardwood charcoal. It was all too good, and had those two left over. The Florida Maters were halved, and the onions diced. They just needed to be warmed, so I threw them in with the chopped bacon. Then came the money shot.

Eggs

Homegrown Eggs

Our chickens are getting fat and happy, and we had nine eggs on two days each last month–and we only have eight hens. Currently we are feeding about five families with our eggs. The birds will without doubt be demanding overtime feed soon.

Cook the eggs over-easy style in the oven, but without turning them over. Watch this like a chicken on lookout for a hawk, and take out while the yolk is still runny. This is more than enough to feed the two of us, plus a snack for our two dogs. They especially like the taters.

New Fruit Trees

Arbequina Olive

 

It’s 40 degrees F here, and spitting snow, but spring planting has already commenced. Seeds are slowly accumulating, and I have three new fruit trees which have me fired up, to go along with my accidental three avocado seedlings. These next few years could be fruity.

All these are new to me, two figs and an olive. That’s right, an olive. It will stay in a container for a few years, but I will probably plant it out eventually. This, and a couple of other varieties, are said to be fully hardy here in hardiness Zone 8a

Fig “Olympian” sounds like a winner. It was found by a retired botanist in Olympia, Washington–hence the name. It is said to have YUGE figs on it. Good, as fig preserves are my favorite.

Fig “Violette du Bordeaux” is tres French (very French.) This one has the claim of the best tasting fig in the world. As I have never had a bad tasting fig, this should be a good one. Also said to be very hardy, as my so-called black turkey figs regularly get frozen back to the ground.

Olive “Arbequina” is the last one. Having never grown olives before, this is an experiment. I am already contemplating buying more plants of these Spanish olives, as we love both olives and olive oil.

Taters, precious, go into the ground starting this week. Heirloom tomatoes go into the flats in the basement this week. I’m going to be busy. I may even have to make a list.

Turkey and Vegetable Soup Gumbo

Healthy Gumbo? Mon Dieu!

I’m a little late with my Thanksgiving leftover recipe, but any fowl will do for this recipe, or even frozen leftover turkey. It’s a simpler version of a standard gumbo, as it uses already prepared soup as the base for the gumbo.

Ingredients

1 tablespoon Bacon Fat or other Oil

1 tablespoon Flour

1 pint Vegetable Soup (preferably home made, and frozen is fine)

1 cup chopped cooked Turkey or Chicken (maybe Guinea Fowl, anyone? P-trak, p-trak)

Poultry Stock

Extra Frozen Okra

Salt and Pepper

Quick and dirty here. The only thing that requires a good deal of attention is the roux, which should be a dark brown roux, so start with the oil/fat flour combo, and stir constantly. Once that is to the as you like it stage, add the soup and the turkey. Cook until it begins to simmer, and gauge how much stock you want, or how soupy you want your Gumbo to be. The extra okra is optional, but it adds some color to my home made veg soup.

Serve over rice, or if you’re really hungry, red beans and rice. Coastal dwellers regularly add shrimp or oysters to their gumbos. The p-trak sound is the incredibly loud call of the crazed and wild guinea fowl. I want a few, as they are predator proof and require zero food. Alas, they will drive your neighbors bonkers. Maybe I should get a dozen.

Italians and Their Egg Yolk Rules

Some of These Eggs will have Orange Yolks

Italians buy their eggs according to the color of the yolks. Yellow yolked eggs are labeled giallo dell’uovo, and the prized orange yolked egg is called (actually) red yolked egg, rosso d’uovo. I’ll do chemistry first, and then the backstory.

Since Dr. Leroy Palmer first published his research in 1915, it has been known that yolk color is caused by the chicken’s diet. Different carotenoids called xanthophylls are the determinants. More recent research has narrowed down the two main chemicals to Lutein and Zeaxanthin, and one scientist has determined the first is the source of the yellow yolked egg coloring, and the latter for the orange color. That led me on the search for the second one.

Veg! Feed the birds leafy greens, corn, wheat and carrots, as all are good supplements to the diet. This supports my observation that their favorite food is Dandelion greens. I can start a chicken riot with those every time.

Now to the backstory. I was fascinated by the great food book by Bill Buford called Heat. He became so fascinated with Italian food that he goes to Italy regularly to learn from the best of the best cooks. Even though he was the fiction editor for The New Yorker magazine, he was born in Mississippi, and knows his eggs. Hence his experience with a woman who is a legendary pasta maker in Italy.

Bill describes the master of pasta, and why he went to study with her:

It was also why I’d got so interested in the egg, because on my first morning, watching Betta prepare the dough, I saw that an egg was a modern pasta’s most important ingredient, provided that it is a very good egg, which was evident (or not) the moment you cracked it open. If the white was runny, you knew the egg had come from a battery-farmed animal , cooped up in a cage, and the pasta you made from it would be sticky and difficult to work with, exactly like the unhappy batch that Betta produced one evening after Gianni fell asleep, having had too much wine at lunch, and failed to buy eggs from the good shop before it closed and had to drive to the next town to the cattivo alimentarii, the nasty store, and pick up a dozen of its mass-produced product. The yolk was also illuminating. The nasty store’s were pale yellow, like those most of us have been scrambling for our urban lives. But a proper yolk is a different color and, in Italian, is still called il rosso, the red bit …

Heat, Bill Buford

Poor urban folk, deprived of all the goodies. I have a mixture I now feed my birds. The basic bit is as follows:

16% Protein Organic Chicken Crumbles

Corn and Wheat Scratch

Black Oil Sunflower Seeds

Carrots

Various Greens in Season

Maters, Precious

Other Fruit and Veg that are left over (Squash and Pumpkin are especially good)

Ours yolks just keep getting more and more orange. I may one day even get one of the legendary red tinged yolks.

Tomato, Shallot, and Morel Omelette

If you want to make an omelette…

Though there was a small mountain of peas to shell, and a bowl of pecans to crack, nothing can stand in the way of MJ and myself enjoying a nice Sunday breakfast. As usual, we just went with the ingredients we had.

The Raw and the Cooked

Ingredients

3 medium Eggs

2 small Tomatoes, chopped

5 small dried Morels, reconstituted in hot water, chopped

1 medium Shallot

Morel soaking liquid

Grated or soft Cheese

Chopped Parsley

Salt and Pepper

This is an easy recipe, but we scored some authentic long shallots (Echalote traditionnelle longue) from France, and nothing goes together like morels, shallots and eggs.

First cook the shallots and morels together in olive oil. (It helps to have a really heavy cast iron skillet.) Add the chopped tomatoes, and simmer until softened.

Combine the eggs, cheese, and some of the morel juice, with salt and pepper.. When the veg and fungus is cooked, add the eggs to the mix. Cook on the stove top until the eggs begin to set firmly, sprinkle with chopped parsley, and pop the whole thing into a 400 degree F oven. That’s the entire whang dang doodle.

Thank you, Birds

This can also be made with some fried new potatoes as the base, in which instance it becomes a massive breakfast. The key is quality ingredients, as with all things.

The eggs were donated by our ISA Brown chicks, and the chopped parsley was harvested from a pot on our countertop. We grew one of the maters, and the other came from the Festhalle. Which reminds me that I have maters to get ready for canning.

I turned Italian, and have begun straining out my leftover morel juice for use elsewhere. There will be no flavor left behind.