What to do With Gumbo

Tales of Gumbo

by Celia Hayes

I may be defeated in my ambitions this year to have bounteous crops of tomatoes and zucchini squash … but by way of comfort, the peppers of various sorts and the okra plants are multiplying and producing like champs. The encouraging thing about the okra plants is that I have been able to grow a fair number of plants from seeds left in the pods that I let go last year … and that the darned things do grow like weeks. However, the okra pods of the variety that I have propagated do have to be harvested before they get to be about three inches long; otherwise they are tough and woody to the point of inedibility. (But still good for gleaning seeds for the next crop.) I would actually consider planting a good-sized patch of okra in the front garden, for the flowers are actually rather attractive; they look a bit like a variety of hibiscus which has pale yellow flowers with a red spot in the center. Alas, in the eyes of non-gardeners and farmers, the leaves of okra bear an unfortunate resemblance to marijuana plants, and while I would like to hope that the average neighborhood SAPD officer has enough savvy to tell the difference at a glance … I don’t want to borrow trouble.

So – okra in quantity; what to do with it? Aside from pickles, and breading and deep-frying it, my usual method for okra is to slice up the pods as I harvest them, and put them in a plastic bag in the freezer until I have enough to make a good batch of gumbo out of it. Gumbo is one of those all-purpose dishes like meatloaf or macaroni and cheese; infinite number of recipes in infinite variations, depending on what you have on hand. It all begins with a roux, of course – oil and flour stirred together, until the flour darkens to the color of a tarnished copper coin. This is what gives the gumbo broth it’s thickening substance.

This is a recipe that I like to use, raided from the internet, but with additions from one of my Cajun cookbooks and adjusted to incorporate the accumulated okra harvest.
Combine together ½ cup peanut oil and the same of flour, and simmer until darkened – but not burnt! Add in 1 chopped onion, 1 chopped green or red pepper, and 3 stalks of celery – all very finely chopped, and stir together with the roux until the vegetables are limp. Add in 3-4 minced cloves of garlic, and 1 Tbsp of Creole seasoning, like Tony Chachere’s. In another pot, heat almost to boiling, 5 cups of fish, chicken, or vegetable stock, and blend it gently into the roux-vegetable mixture, stirring constantly. Add 2 teaspoons of Worcestershire sauce and 1 to 1 ½ cups fresh or frozen okra, sliced into rounds. Cover and simmer for half an hour, and add half to 3/4ths of a pound smoked Andouille sausage, sliced into ¼ inch rounds and 1-2 lbs fresh shrimp, peeled and deveined. If the shrimp is already cooked, then just simmer the gumbo long enough to warm the sausage and shrimp through. Serve with a scoop of hot rice in the middle, and a sprinkling of sliced green onion.

The Culinary Frontier

Exploring the Culinary Frontier

by Celia Hayes

This last Friday, my daughter took it into her head to bake a deep-dish pizza for supper; she went rootling through the drawer under the oven, where the römertoph clay casseroles, the Spanish clay cazuelas and Dutch ovens are kept, looking for a cast-iron frying pan to bake pizza in – but she unearthed a particular small cooking implement, still in the original plastic wrap.

I had forgotten about it entirely, and can’t recall when or where that I bought it; a heavy and well-made Pyrolux iron pan for doing aebleskivers, which are a nice and peculiarly Danish variant on pancakes. The little leaflet with it is in four languages, so that was no clue. I knew what it was, of course. When we were children and staying with our paternal grandparents, Grannie Dodie and Grandpa Al, who lived in Camarillo, they would often take us on a drive to Solvang, which was just a hop, skip and a jump up Route 101 – a small town milking the absolute maximum touristic potential of having been founded and/or lived in by ethnic Danish. Abelskivers and sundry Scandinavian specialties were advertised everywhere. Granny Dodie and Grandpa Al never wanted to try them out – so we never ate lunch in Solvang on any of those excursions. I think they had used up their ration of daring adventure in emigrating, so there was none left over for trying out strange and interesting foods. Even in Solvang. Likely this was why I bought the aebleskiver pan – out of mild curiosity about the treats that Grannie Dodie and Grandpa Al denied us in those childhood excursions. We try and have something out of the ordinary for breakfast on weekends, so my daughter said, “Hey, instead of pancakes, let’s try it out.”

I found a recipe on line which did not call for separately beating egg whites – something elaborate for weekend breakfast ought not to involve another bowl and getting out the electric mixer. I heated up the pan on the smallest burner, daubed half a teaspoon of butter in each well, filled each almost to the top with batter, let it bake until lightly browned, and then held my breath. This was the part I was almost certain would fall apart – when you take a small thin bamboo skewer and rotate the part-baked aebelskiver a half-turn, so that the unbaked dough runs into the bottom of the depression, and then when it has “set” you give it another half-turn. Essentially it finishes as a crisp-crusted, golf-ball shaped pancake, tender and fluffy inside, not terribly sweet, and delicately crispy outside. The pan I had must have been already non-stick coated, for they turned like a dream. And the finished product was marvelous – Grandma and Grandpa never knew what they were missing.

For the pancakes, combine 1 egg, 2 tsp. sugar, 1 cup of buttermilk, ½ teasp vanilla, 2 Tbsp. canola oil. In another bowl, combine 1 cup flour, ½ teasp baking soda, 1/8 teasp each of baking powder and salt. Whisk into the liquid, and fill each hollow in the heated aebelskiver pan a little less than full. This will make at least two pans full – remember to dab a bit of butter in each hollow before starting each new batch. It is also customary sometimes to put a teaspoon of jam in the dough as you start to bake them. The jam sinks down a little, as the dough cooks, and the aebelskiver finishes already filled with jam. They are also great just plain, and sprinkled with cinnamon sugar.

Gotta Have Heart

You Gotta Have Heart!

Ah, yes – Fiesta Time is here once again; San Antonio’s very own Mardi Gras but with more couth. Or at least we like to think so. Around here, when the floats with the Fiesta female nobility pass, the crowd shouts, “Show us your shoes!” and not anything more revealing than that. Of all the scheduled events during a nearly-two-week-long city-wide block party, one of the most well-attended (to judge by the crowds every evening) is NIOSA, or Night In Old San Antonio, which features every kind of food booth imaginable in the little squares and streets of La Villita. One of the long-time favorites of NIOSA is a South American version of meat-onna-stick called ‘antichucios’, which a long-ago volunteer discovered while on an assignment in South America.

The recipe that I found calls for a marinade made by whirling 4 chopped jalapeno peppers in a blender with a little water and adding the resulting pepper slurry to 1 ½ cups red wine vinegar, 1 cup water, 1 tsp each cumin, paprika, and oregano with 2 tsp salt, ½ tsp black pepper, and a couple of crushed garlic cloves. Cut one large beef tenderloin or sirloin or top round into 1-inch cubes and marinate in the pepper/vinegar spice concoction overnight. Thread onto skewers and roast over hot coals, basting with marinade. The original version called for beef hearts – which since they are a muscle – are rather tough and need a powerful marinade. Otherwise – it’s like chewing steak-flavored rubber bands.

And I know this because – back in the day, when my parents were raising four children on a single salary, my mother joined a food co-op which offered serious bang for the food dollar. One of those bargains was beef hearts. Mom would bake it, thinly slivered in a casserole with rice, and my father would inevitably break out in song – from the musical Damn Yankees:

Damn Yankees

“You’ve gotta have heart
Miles ‘n miles n’ miles of heart
Oh, it’s fine to be a genius of course
But keep that old horse
Before the cart First you’ve gotta have heart!”

The casserole was an oblong enameled cast-iron number and very heavy; they loved each other very much, since Mom never hauled off and brained Dad with it.

Speaking of food, and saving money on it and all – the last couple of weeks of mild weather have done wonderfully for my little patch of back yard paradise. The first embryo tomatoes were spotted this morning, and the plants are simply covered in blossoms. This might be the year that I actually have enough tomatoes to think about canning and preserving them. I followed a suggestion on another blog for making raised beds – a circular construction of chicken wire, lined with weed barrier, and filled to within ten inches of the top with leaves, which gently compost as you grow stuff in the top ten inches or so of soil. It’s working pretty well so far – even better than topsy-turvey hanging planters. The raised bed full of potatoes is also thriving, and the pole beans are launching themselves up the poles with energy and enthusiasm. What a difference just over two weeks!

Oh – and if the thought of downtown Fiesta traffic gives you the willies – check out the Running of the Wiener-Dogs in Buda. This year’s poster is a wee bit of a change from the usual movie-theme. This year it’s a TV show: Yes, it’s Dog Dynasty…

MERRY CHRISTMAS and Christmas Cookies Too

Once More, Decking the Halls with Feeling

by Celia Hayes

With one thing and another, my daughter and I haven’t really felt all Christmassy the last couple of years. Well, we went though the motions, but without much enthusiasm; the wholly sudden and unexpected death of my father the day after Christmas 2010 put a pall over the holiday generally, and being close to broke as a joke usually didn’t help. One year we had all the Christmas presents boxed and ready to go – but couldn’t afford to mail them until the following year. But this year, we’re doing OK – and felt like we should uphold the honor of our street in Spring Creek Forest by putting out the strings of icicle lights on the house and a bit of the expected seasonal jazz. No, we didn’t do the Full Griswald – just a modest string of white icicle lights across the front and side … but we did get adventurous enough to decorate the bay tree.

The bay-laurel tree is a 25-foot tall, classically-shaped-like-a-Christmas-tree and evergreen specimen that I originally bought (IIRC) as a small sapling in a 4-inch pot at the San Antonio Herb Fair. It went into an increasingly larger series of pots until I finally put it into the ground at the front of my property as part of my ‘Greek Garden’ – that is, plantings that reminded me of Greece. The bay tree flourished after a year or two – ensuring that I have never actually had to purchase dried bay leaves in the supermarket, and neither have any of my neighbors who know what it is. (And I have actually had people come to my door and ask if they can take cuttings from it.) So, we strung it around with garlands, and hung it with outsized ornaments…Although the top third of it is relatively undecorated; the ground underneath the tree is uneven, and our ladder is only an 8-foot one. I did have an idea for an invention to help in moving the strings of lights and garlands up higher – a tall pole with a Y-shaped bracket on the end. I’d have a shallower bracket on the other end, to place the strings of Christmas lights around the house eaves. Some years ago we installed cup-hooks every three or four feet along the fascia board; all we needed to do to hang lights was to un-reel them and thread the string of lights through the cup-hooks. Having my pole-and-bracket invention would let us put up the lights without the need of a ladder – much safer that way.

This year we circled around to doing cookies for those friends and neighbors. Tins from the Dollar Tree, lined with waxed paper and one of our old family favorites from the 1975 edition of Joy of Cooking – Pecan Angel Slices

Pecan Angel Slices

  • Cream together until well-blended: ½ cup butter and ¼ cup sugar
  • Beat in well: 1 egg and ½ teasp vanilla
  • Combine and add to the above: 1 ¼ cup sifted flour and 1/8 teasp salt
  • Pat dough evenly into a greased 9×12 inch pan
  • Bake at 350° for fifteen minutes
  • Remove from oven.

Combine: 2 beaten eggs, 1 ½ cup brown sugar, ½ cup flaked cocoanut, 1 cup chopped pecans, 2 Tbsp. flour, ½ teasp double acting baking powder, ½ teasp salt and 1 teasp vanilla. Pour over cookie layer and return to oven for 25 minutes

Combine 1 ½ cup sifted confectioner’s sugar with sufficient lemon juice to make a smooth, runny glaze. Pour over warm cookie/pecan/coconut layer and allow to set.

When cool, cut into bars or squares. Bon appetite – and Merry Christmas!

Is Winter Ever Going to Get Here

Winter Coming – Really?

by Celia Hayes

Well, one brief brush with overnight temperatures in the thirties – we even let the ‘H’ part of the new HVAC system out for a romp for a couple of nights running – and everyone was convinced that winter in South Texas had well and truly arrived. We’ve gone off Daylight Savings Time, Thanksgiving is just around the corner, and there is just about a months worth of shopping days until Christmas – and still the afternoon highs are in the 80s? All I can think to do at this point is to ask if someone couldn’t invite Al Gore to come to town to make a speech about global warming, for unseasonable blizzards, rain and cold temperatures invariably follow him as a cloud of dirt follows the Peanuts character of Pigpen.

In an attempt to make winter really happen, I fixed one of my favorite soup recipes, which I found years ago in Nava Atlas’ Vegetariana. Adding sliced kielbasa sausage to it takes off some of the onus of being vegetarian – and anyway, it is purely delicious. One time I settled down to make it and discovered that I was out of brown rice – but not to fear, I had wheat-berries instead. So wheat berries instead of rice – and it was all good. It might also have been just as good using wild rice instead. Another time I only had Rotel tomatoes with chilies – and that substitution worked so well I have used Rote with chilies ever since when I make it at home.

Winter Lentil & Brown Rice Soup

  • Combine in a large pot:
1/2 Cup dried lentils, washed and picked over
1/3-1/2 Cup brown rice (or wheat-berries, which is just as good)
2 TBSp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 TBSp soy sauce
2 Bay leaves
3 Cups water, or which is much better, 3 Cups vegetable broth
Bring to a boil, cover, and simmer over low heat for 7 to 10 minutes. Then add:
2 additional cups water or broth
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 medium carrots, thinly sliced
1 large celery stalk, finely chopped
Handful of finely chopped celery leaves
1 14-oz can chopped tomatoes with liquid (Or Rotel tomatoes with chili peppers, which is even better!)
1/2 Cup tomato sauce or tomato juice
1/4 cup dry red wine or sherry
1 Teasp dried basil
1 Teasp paprika
1/2 Teasp dried marjoram
1/2 Teasp dried thyme
Salt and pepper to taste.
  • Cover and simmer for half an hour or so, until lentils and rice are done.

(It is especially splendid when made with the Ro-Tel tomatoes & chilis, and a rich home-made vegetable broth…. plus you can take the onus of being vegetarian off it by adding about half a pound of kielbasa or other smoked sausage, sliced into rounds, towards the end of the cooking time, and serving it with a little grated cheddar cheese on top.)

This last time, my daughter made up a batch of Red Lobster cheddar biscuits to go with – absolutely sublime, especially made with extra-sharp cheddar cheese. She bought the box of cheddar biscuit mix at Sams’ Club, but it’s available on Amazon. Is winter here yet? Anyone seen any snowflakes?

A Vegetable Medley

Vegetariana

 

by Celia Hayes

Alack and alas, the squashes which I planted in the spring, which came up, leafed out and flowered bountifully never actually produced any squash plants before they gracefully sank to the ground, withered and gave up the ghost. This has been to my complete mystification – they were provided plenty of sun, water and fertilizer, and I did not see that any of the plants were afflicted with vine borers. Well, next spring is another chance for a San Antonio home backyard garden; meanwhile I have pulled up the dead plants and harvested the small crop of red potatoes … which did thrive, although most of the resulting potatoes were the size of marbles and radishes. We have already eaten the largest of them – and tasty indeed they were, although I mourn they are not zucchini and patty-pan squash … I would have made ratatouille from the zucchini, the eggplant and the garden tomatoes. And no – ratatouille does not normally involve rats. This is a recipe that my mother loved, from Sunset’s French Cookbook 1976 edition. Just think of it as a vegetable medley – sometimes I have made it with fresh tomatoes, too.

Combine in an 3-quart ovenproof casserole:

3 TBsp olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 clove minced garlic
1 1-lb eggplant, cut into 1-inch cubes
2 medium zucchini, cut in 1-inch slices
1 1-lb can whole tomatoes and their juice, chopping tomatoes roughly with a spoon
1 tsp basil leaves
1/2 tsp salt

Cover and bake in a 400 deg. oven for about two hours, or cover and simmer gently on the stove-top, until vegetables are very soft, uncovering and stirring once or twice. Garnish with parsley and serve.

The tomatoes didn’t do well this year, either. Again, I am not certain why – except that perhaps my personal tomato curse has returned, or that it was, like previous years, just too darned hot for them by mid-spring.

However, and on the bright side – we had beans, lots of lovely green beans, and now that the first planting has given up the ghost, I have planted another round. Eggplants we have – not very many, but it’s not one of my absolute faves as a vegetable, either. But as for peppers … cayenne and bell peppers and jalapenos – all of those plants are thriving, many of them on their second or third year. Very likely I can grind up my own chili powder or cayenne pepper from that I have.

Another vegetable delight that I hope someday to make from home-grown vegetables is vegetable chili – this from Nava Atlas’s Vegeteriana

Sautee in 2 Tbsp olive oil: 1 chopped onion, 1 chopped bell pepper until the onion is limp. Then add 1 zucchini, sliced, 1 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels, 1 14-oz can whole tomatoes with their liquid, 1 6-oz tomato paste, 3 Tbsp soy sauce, 2 tsp chili powder (more or less to taste), 1 teasp ground cumin, ½ teasp each ground coriander and oregano, ¼ teasp dried thyme, dash cayenne pepper, and 2 ½ cups cooked or canned kidney beans. Simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are done, about fifteen to twenty minutes. Serve garnished with grated cheddar cheese, sour cream, pickled green chilis and warm tortillas on the side; food of the gods, vegetarian division.

 

Korean Food Can Be Spicy

Korean Delights

by Celia Hayes

So, many of the headlines this week concern themselves with Korea, a country which I have some slight connection to; that is where my father was serving a tour when I was born. And a good few decades later, I did a year-long tour there myself. About the very first thing that I realized was that Korea in the 1990s looked nothing like the TV series MASH … and only very little like what my father remembered. Dad and his platoon with their mobile radar set-up lived in several different tent encampments near the DMZ. I spent the year living at Yongsan Garrison, in the heart of a bustling and very cosmopolitan Seoul. The garrison was itself a fairly un-crowded green island in the middle of a very built-up city – rather as if there were a substantial military base set up in half of New York City’s Central Park.

I very much enjoyed the year in Seoul, by the way – and I very much liked the Koreans that I met and worked with; tough, jolly, and rather outgoing. Someone once described Koreans as the Irish of Asia, which I don’t think was too far off. Being that San Antonio is a military-oriented town, and a lot of military – especially Army – have been rotating in and out of Korea for the last sixty years, there is a nice little Korean presence here in San Antonio. I know of no less than three different Korean church congregations in my immediate neck of the woods. Then there is the little ‘TigerPop’ fast food place that my daughter and I sampled a year or so ago. And when I first came to San Antonio, someone told me that the first and best Korean restaurants were all scattered along Harry Wurzbach, Austin Highway and Rittiman Road, in proximity to Fort Sam Houston – because those first restaurants were all started by the Korean wives of retired Army NCOs. Don’t know if it is true or not; but it looks like some the most assuming places with excellent food are along those streets.

Be warned, though – Korean food can be very, very spicy, even to Texas tastes. (Not as spicy as Thai food, though.) The dish that most of us have heard of is kimchee; basically pickled Napa cabbage, but with a kick – or as one of my military friends used to call it, “sauerkraut” with an attitude.” Very closely related to Japanese sushi is the Korean kimbab; cooked rice, and other things, rolled in a sheet of seaweed nori. The difference is that in the Korean version, the contents are most often cooked. And sometimes, they are made with a sliver of Spam. No, really – Spam is enormously popular in Korea; something that I had heard, but never quite believed until I saw assortments of Spam for sale in fancy baskets in Korean specialty groceries. The other very popular Korean snack food among my friends was yakimandu – pan-friend dumplings, which were as much like Chinese pot-stickers as to have no difference at all. Many of these delights were sold from street stalls, to the horror of the military health authorities, but to the best of my knowledge, I never heard of anyone getting sick from eating them, mostly because they came right from the burner to your plate. And against the red peppers and other hot spices, disease-causing organisms never had a chance.

And now I’m hungry for yakimandu … guess a trip down to Koreana on Harry Wurzbach is in order…

 

Making Homemade Broth

Lentil and Brown Rice Compost Broth

This was one of these things that I read so long ago that I don’t remember when, or who, save that it was an interview with a rather clever and creative chef being interviewed, and just about that time I had despaired of finding any broth – canned or as a bouillon cube – at the commissary or local supermarket which wasn’t expensive, unbearably salty, or both. Now HEB, Sprouts, and Trader Joe’s all offer a nice variety of flavored and low sodium broths and I have used them for some splendid soups, especially when nothing sits very well on on a fractious stomach except chicken broth with a smidgeon of rice or fideos in it … but nothing beats home-made broth made the way that I did, following the advice of the very clever and penny-pinching chef.

What he advised was to keep a special container in the freezer, and whenever you had vegetable scraps, cut ends or clean peelings, or even whole veggies past their best-by date, to throw them into the container. Onion ends, mushroom stems, ends of celery – in fact, everything but broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower scraps could be used. Omit anything spoiled, rotten or moldy, of course. If you are not a vegan, then bones and trimmings from various meats – chicken necks and ham-bones and the like – can be added as well. When the container is completely full, empty the frozen scraps into a large stockpot, and add a handful of fresh parsley (or any other fresh herbs you have available – thyme would be fantastic), and some whole peppercorns, and fill with bottled or tap-water up almost to the top of the pot. Cover the stockpot, set it on the stove over low heat, and just let it simmer for a good few days, until all the vegetables are cooked to softness and the broth itself is a rich deep brown.

And that’s it: after a couple of days, take it off the heat, let cool, and pour the broth off. I like to run it through a fine mesh strainer, and package it in 2-cup to quart quantities for the freezer out in the garage. Nothing makes a better base for soup – and one of my very favorites to use broth for is a lentil and brown rice soup, from Nava Atlas’s Vegetariana.

Combine in a large pot:
1/2 Cup dried lentils, washed and picked over
1/3-1/2 Cup brown rice
2 TBSp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 TBSp soy sauce
2 Bay leaves
3 Cups water or vegetable broth
Bring to a boil, cover, and simmer over low heat for 7 to 10 minutes. Then add:
2 additional cups water or broth
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 medium carrots, thinly sliced
1 large celery stalk, finely chopped
Handful of finely chopped celery leaves
1 14-oz can chopped tomatoes with liquid, or Ro-Tel tomatoes with chili peppers.1/2 Cup tomato sauce or tomato juice
1/4 cup dry red wine or sherry
1 Teasp dried basil
1 Teasp paprika
1/2 Teasp dried marjoram
1/2 Teasp dried thyme
Salt and pepper to taste.

Cover and simmer for half an hour or so, until lentils and rice are done. You can take the onus of being vegetarian off it by adding about half a pound of kielbasa or other smoked sausage sliced into rounds, towards the end of the cooking time, and serving it with a little grated cheddar cheese on top. I made it once with imported green lentils from France, and people almost swooned.

Mac and Cheese

Comfort Food – Mac & Cheese

by Celia Hayes

When my younger brother and sister and I were in elementary school, my father was a grad-student in hot pursuit of a doctorate in zoology, and my mother was – in the tradition of the time – a full-time stay-at-home mom. This was in the late 1950s to early 60s, and it was the commonly accepted practice. As there were three of us (later to be four) it was really the only practical option – and one of the reasons that it worked was that Mom was a fair to middling cook, very much into the traditional D-I-Y household arts (including sewing children’s’ clothes and decorating our home with cast-off and inexpensive furniture. I would hasten to add that it was usually quality stuff; ages later, when Mom and Dad were figuring out the insurance claims after the fire that burned their retirement home in 2003, it turned out that the teak Danish Modern style dining room table and chairs were worth a bomb, although Mom had originally picked them up for next to nothing. I hated that set, by the way – the edge of the chair seat hit the back of your knees like a karate chop – and bore the loss of it cheerfully.

We almost always ate family dinners around that table, when we had guests, and at holidays, since there was an insert which enlarged it substantially – but for everyday, we ate at the table in the kitchen, and when my parents moved to their retirement home, at the table in the sunroom. Then we had plain ordinary comfort food; things like meatloaf – which in my mother’s version only contained about 50 percent actual meat – and the classic stand-by of macaroni and cheese. Mom prided herself on making it from scratch, and although I have tinkered with her basic recipe over time, I still follow many of her precepts, such as undercooking the macaroni just slightly, and making the cheese béchamel sauce slightly runny, so that it all cooks together in one delicious symphony.

Drop into a generous pot of boiling water, one half-pound (8 oz) macaroni shells or elbows, or even cavatappi pasta, and cook until almost but not quite done. Drain and reserve in a covered dish which the mac and cheese will bake. Slice up a quarter to a half-pound length of kielbasa sausage and mix with the cooked pasta. Cover and set aside.

In the pot in which the pasta cooked, melt ¼ cup butter, and blend with ¼ cup flour. Add ½ teasp dry or whole-grain mustard, a dash of pepper and a dash of paprika. If feeling really adventurous, substitute a dash of cayenne pepper for the paprika. Add 2 cups milk and blend with the flour mixture. When slightly thickened, add 2-3 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese, or a mixture of cheddar, jack or mozzarella, and stir until cheeses are melted. Pour over the pasta/kielbasa mixture, and top with 1/4 cup additional grated cheese (of any kind – Parmesan works really well) mixed with ¼ cup dried bread crumbs and 1 tbsp. butter. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes to an hour, until bubbly, and topping is browned. My father always liked his mac and cheese with a dash of tomato ketchup. When made with kielbasa, this makes a very satisfactory main dish

Authentic Foods from Spain

More Flavors of Spain

by Celia Hayes

My mother just sent us a basket of gourmet foods from Spain as a Christmas present for us again, since last year’s basket from La Tienda was such a big hit. We loved living in Spain, loved the food, adored grazing from the little plates – the tapas – invitingly set out at bars, loved the fact that a ‘bar’ in Spain was usually not just a seamy joint serving spirituous liquors to an assortment of skeevey low-lives. A bar in Spain was much more likely to be a kind of café, coffee shop and neighborhood club-house, the place housing the pay phones, ATMs, video game machines, and clean bathrooms … and oh, yes – serving snacks and alcoholic drinks of every possible description. It also mildly freaked out many Americans upon discovering that many gas stations on the highway – or autopista – also had very well-stocked bars. Make of that what you will.

Mom’s Christmas basket again revived memories of some wonderful food, although it did not, for instance, include any jamon Serrano – that dried, cured ham which was available practically anywhere, and was a component of so many dishes. It was a rare rustic restaurant which didn’t have a couple of whole curing jamons hanging from the ceiling beams, and a rare bar that didn’t have one on hand for making the little tapas snacks from, with half the flesh shaved away in tissue-paper thin slices. The Spanish equivalent of Costco or Sam’s Club had them for sale in a special section … which it must be admitted, always smelt faintly of cheesy gym socks.
But there was one dish made with jamon Serrano which I loved, and only had once, in a restaurant in Santiago de Compostela to celebrate having followed the old pilgrim road from the Rioja to Asturias – and that was a dish of baby artichokes cooked with jamon. I went looking for recipes for it, and found one which calls for one lemon cut in half, 1 and ¾ pounds tiny baby artichokes – the ones barely the size of a small egg, before the chokes inside have gotten coarse and inedible, ¼ cup of olive oil, 3 Tbsp minced fresh parsley, 8 thin slices of jamon, also chopped, and salt and pepper.

Fill a large pan with cold water, and squeeze the lemons into it, adding the squeezed lemon halves. Trim the inedible stalk and tough outer leaves from each artichoke, and cut each in half, putting them into the lemon-water immediately; this will prevent them from turning brown. When finished processing the artichokes, put the pan on the stove, bring to a boil and simmer for 5 or 6 minutes, until the artichokes are tender. Drain, discarding water and lemon halves. Pat the artichokes dry. Heat the oil in a frying pan large enough to hold the artichokes in a single layer. Arrange the artichokes cut-side-down and fry for 5 minutes. Turn them over and fry the other side for two minutes, then add the jamon Serrano and fry for another four minutes, until the jamon is crispy. Place in a serving dish and top with the parsley and ground pepper. Oh, if it were only the season now for baby artichokes, and if Mom’s gift basked had only included jamon Serrano – I would definitely fix this for our Christmas Eve tapas supper!