Saturday, January 26, 2013

Shrimp and Crab Gumbo with Black-Eyed Peas and Collard Greens

You should know what's being cooked in the kitchen otherwise you might eat a forbidden food.
- African Proverb

Patience is not my strongest virtue.  I'm fiercely loyal, honest, creative, resourceful, compassionate, cool as a cucumber but I'm just a little, wee bit impatient at times.  Don't judge me.  With that said, I thought I'd jumpstart my Black History Month series a week early (Translation: I honestly tried, but I just can't wait ALL the way until next week.  After all, the elders did always say don't put off for tomorrow what you can do today.): Exploring the African Presence in Modern American Cuisine, where I'll highlight the presence of foods and techniques of African origin in modern American cuisine.  First on deck is okra.

Okra is my favorite vegetable.  My family planted the heat-loving vegetable in our garden every summer and it was a staple in our household.  Historians have identified the plant's origin as Africa, and evidence suggests that African slaves brought it to the United States by way of New Orleans.  According to agricultural experts at Alabama Cooperative Extension:

Okra "can be traced to the Nile basin in Egypt where Egyptians have cultivated it for centuries, according to accounts of the crop in the thirteenth century.  Okra spread through North Africa from the Nile basin and on to the eastern Mediterranean, Asia Minor, and India, spreading to the New World from Brazil and Dutch Guiana."*   

To recap, African slaves brought okra to the United States by way of New Orleans, and one of the primary uses for okra in New Orleans is gumbo.  Gumbo combines ingredients and cultural influences from the French, Spanish, Germans, Choctaws, and West Africans.  There's reason to believe gumbo's etymology and preparation may have respectively derived from traditional West African languages and West African native dishes.   For a detailed history of this Louisiana dish, visit the Gumbo Wikipedia page.  For now, let's have some pot stirring fun and do the gumbo!  It doesn't matter if you're young or old.  I'm gonna show you how it goes.  Stir to the right, to the right, to the right, to the right.  Stir to the left, to the left, to the left, to the left.  Now mix, now mix, now mix, now mix.  Now, stir it by yourself.  Now, stir it by yourself.  Who said you couldn't do a cooking remix to the Cupid Shuffle?  Most definitely not me.

For this gumbo, I used renown chef Donald Link's recipe for Shredded Pork Gumbo with Black-Eyed Peas and made the following substitutions:

  1. One pound of shrimp & 1 pound of crab substituted for 1 1/2 pounds of pulled pork.  Seafood cooks rather quickly.  Do not add the shrimp and crab until the last few minutes of cooking; otherwise, it will turn rubbery and be inedible.
  2. Whole wheat flour substituted for all purpose flour
  3. One container of white button mushrooms (washed, sauteed in olive oil, set aside to cool, and then chopped) substituted for 4 pieces of bacon
  4. Two pounds of okra instead of the 1 1/2 pounds of okra called for in the original recipe
  5. I eliminated file powder from the seasoning mix since I don't like the taste of it.  Hence, more okra to thicken and flavor the gumbo since I love the taste of okra


Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Cocktail Hour: Salty Dog

Did you know one of my first jobs as a newly minted Ivy League graduate was as a bartender?  I'd spent my entire life on the grind, and I thought I would do something "fun" for a change.  My family wasn't too happy about it.  My friends thought it was bizarre.  I actually ended up finding it to be a total drag.  I mean bartending did make the list of jobs that make the world a worse place.  Ouch.  I lasted about a year before I hit the refresh button; however, I'll always be grateful for that experience.  I can make a mean cocktail, and guess who my friends and family members are always requesting to make their cocktails at reunions and social events?  You guessed it.  Me, of course.  To keep things fresh and exciting over here, I've decided to incorporate a cocktail hour series with homemade cocktails.  I'll try my best to keep them as healthy as possible by using good ingredients.

I love, love, love grapefruit juice!  Quite naturally, one of my favorite cocktails to make is a Salty Dog.  It's made with vodka and grapefruit juice and served in a rocks glass with a salted rim.  Take away the salted rim and you have a Greyhound.   For an extra special touch, use fresh squeezed grapefruit juice.


  • 1 grapefruit, sliced in half and juiced
  • 1 1/2 oz vodka (one shot)
  • 1 tbsp kosher or coarse sea salt
  • 4 to 5 ice cubes
  • 1 rocks glass


Using a citrus reamer, juice the grapefruit over a medium bowl.   Set aside.   

Pour the salt in a flat saucer.  Then, take the rocks glass and dip the rim in the grapefruit juice.  Immediately place the moist rim end of the glass in the salt and twist it around until the entire rim is coated with salt.  

Fill the glass with ice, vodka, and grapefruit.  Stir and enjoy, preferably with some Michael Buble tunes in the background. 

Monday, January 21, 2013

Egg Salad Sandwich

As a kid, I used to think protein-based salads were rather uninspiring and not fit for a proper meal.  Little did I know I would eventually become pescetarian and tuna and egg salad sandwiches would be my default options at every lunch and deli counter known to man.  At this point, I've had more than my fair share of egg salad sandwiches (some good, some bad) and picked up a few techniques along the way.  

The single most important factor determining the aesthetic and taste of an egg salad sandwich is properly cooked eggs.  If your hard-boiled eggs have green rings around the yolk, they are overcooked.  For perfectly cooked hard-boiled eggs, place the eggs in a single layer in the bottom of a pot of water and bring it to a boil.  Immediately, cover the pot and remove from heat.  Allow to sit, covered for 7 to 10 minutes for soft, slightly creamy yolks.  Allow to sit, covered for 10 to 15 minutes for hard yolks.  The other factors to consider are the quality of your mustard and mayonnaise (I recommend Duke's), consistency and your fillers.  I really like the flavor contrast that capers and Trader Joe's Veggie Sausage Patties provides so this is my go to recipe.  I hope you like it.

Egg Salad Sandwich


  • 6 soft-boiled eggs
  • 1/2 cup Duke's mayonnaise
  • 1 1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 tbsp capers, drained and chopped
  • 1 1/2 tsp lemon juice
  • 2 veggie sausage patties, cooked and chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste


Using an egg slicer, slice the eggs horizontally and vertically so they are chopped into small uniform pieces.

Mix the first five ingredients in a bowl.  Add the veggie sausage patties and stir to combine.  Add salt and pepper as needed.  

Cook's Note: Serve on a toasted grainy bread.  I used olive bread that I bought at the local Giant.  

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Orange Creamsicle Smoothie

This recipe is inspired by Orange Cow -- a smoothie that I made last week for a nutrition education class at work.  The class participants raved about it, but I thought it was just okay.  It definitely had potential, though, and I couldn't wait to get home and experiment with the recipe.

Recipes abound for Orange Creamsicle smoothies, but my recipe is extra special because it has creamy fat free frozen vanilla bean yogurt.  Best of all, it taste just like orange sherbet.  Do you remember the cooling orange sherbet push up pops from childhood?  Here's your chance to recreate memories...


  • 6 oz frozen 100% orange juice concentrate, slightly thawed
  • 1/2 cup fat free frozen vanilla bean yogurt (about 1 scoop)
  • 1 1/4 cup 2% milk
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 1 cup ice


Combine all ingredients, except ice, in a large blender and blend until smooth and creamy, making sure the sugar is well incorporated.  Add ice and blend until smooth.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Choose Your Own Adventure Creamed Spinach

Who said you couldn't make a healthy(er) creamed spinach by substituting butter with avocado and cow's milk with almond milk?  It definitely wasn't me...

So, I had this ginormous bag of spinach sitting in the 'frig, and I didn't want it to go bad because I absolutely HATE to waste food.  That's not kosher, green, or a good way to manage my resources, is it?  Nope.  Back to that bag of spinach -  every time I'd see it, I'd think how good it would be all creamy and silky, but do you know how much fat there is in butter and cow's milk?   Well, I do.  In the words of Sweet Brown, ain't nobody got time for that.

Then, it hit me like a rock, avocado (a healthier plant-based fat) and almond milk (also a healthier plant-based fat) might do the trick.  Some mushrooms would be nice, too.  So, I tried it and I like it.

So, they say you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him/her drink.  Well, folks, this is a choose your own adventure story.  If you like the fat in butter and cow's milk, follow Ree Drummond's recipe to the tee.  If the thought of consuming that extra fat will send you into a tizzy and ruin your day or something to that effect, make the following substitutions:

  • 1 stick of butter for one avocado and about 2 tbsp of olive oil
  • 2 cups of cow's milk with 2 cups of almond milk. 

The avocado and flour will clump up initially, but it will dissolve in the milk just fine.  Regardless of how your story ends, I'd suggest adding some sauteed mushrooms:

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Sudado de Pescado

Rules for Staying Young

1. Avoid fried meats which angry up the blood.
2. If your stomach disputes you, lie down and pacify it with cool thoughts.
3. Keep the juices flowing by jangling around gently as you move.
4. Go very light on the vices, such as carrying on in society--the social ramble ain't restful.
5. Avoid running at all times.
6. And don't look back--something might be gaining on you. 

Satchel Paige, American Negro League & MLB All-Star, 1906-1982

Happy New Year!  This year marks the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation and Watch Night tradition observed in many African American communities of faith, and Haiti celebrates 209 years of independence.  While New Year's Day is shrouded by the rapt history of slavery and independence, it's also a day of revelry, merriment, and superstitions.

Here are a few of my family's quirky New Year's Day superstitions: 1.) My mom never washes clothes on the last Friday of the year because she might wash someone out of the family.  2.) The first person to enter/visit the house in the new year must be a male.  In my hometown, people are actually turned away over this one, resulting in frantic phone calls to men in the community.  My dad would be out at the crack of dawn, making his round of early morning visits, and his brothers and friends of the family would stop by our house as well.  My dad, who loves hosting, would usually break out the booze (which included muscadine wine and moonshine) for the special occasion.  3.) All Christmas lights and decorations must be taken down before the new year.  Otherwise, you might as well leave them up for the rest of the year.  Mom was always pretty adamant about this one.  4.) And my personal favorite are the food superstitions.  It doesn't get any more southern than chomping on black-eyed peas for good luck and money, leafy greens to bring money (dollar bills), and cornbread for wealth.  I've also seen this simplified to the phrase "peas for pennies, greens for dollars, and cornbread for gold."

In some cultures, fish is also eaten on New Year's Day for abundance in the new year.  So, I expanded on my family's tradition and brought in the new year with black-eyed peas, kale, cornbread, and sudado (Peruvian fish stew).  I loved eating this fish stew over jasmine rice.  You will noticed that my stew is green and the one from the original recipe (see link below) is red.  That's because I used green jalapeno peppers instead of red chiles.

Get the recipe for Sudado here: