Saturday, January 24, 2015

"Colorful Louisiana Cuisine in Black and White" - Shortnin' Bread and Turkey Gumbo - for MLK, Jr. Day

Date I made this recipe:  January 19, 2015

Colorful Louisiana Cuisine in Black and White by Bibby Tate and Ethel Dixon
Published by:  Pelican Publishing Company
© 1988; Third printing  July 1990
Purchased at Bonnie Slotnick's Cookbooks, NYC
Recipes:  Shortnin' Bread (B) – p. 19 and Turkey Gumbo (W) – p. 37

This is one of my more unique cookbooks and entirely fitting for Martin Luther King Day as it combines recipes of two women, one black and one white.  Bibby Tate (whose recipes are denoted with a "W" for white), was a descendent of a Louisiana plantation family who owned slaves.  Ethel Dixon (whose recipes are denoted with a "B" for black), descended from slaves.  Together, they published this book, filled with tons of recipes that will make you hungry.  Really hungry.

The timing for me using this book could not be better as one of the big films of the year – and an Oscar contender for Best Picture – is "Selma," that tells the story of how Martin Luther King, Jr. organized a march from Montgomery, AL to Selma, AL, 50 years ago this year, in an attempt to secure voting rights for all blacks in the state of Louisiana and beyond.  And although the vast majority of marchers were black, many from the white community risked life and limb to join in the fight for equality. 

Normally, I limit myself to one recipe per cookbook but seeing as how people of all color joined the march, I thought I would make two dishes, one of Ethel's and one of Bibby's.  Although a few recipes in this book gave me pause ("Smothered Sqirrel???"), there are 338 pages of glorious recipes sure to please.

And so there I was, all of 19 pages in, when I found my first recipe:  Shortnin' Bread.  Many of you who are my age might remember singing that song, Shortnin' Bread as kids, but the real reason I had to make this recipe – just had to – was all because of one woman and one woman only:  "Ethel Mae Potter (We Never Forgot Her)."

Ethel Mae Potter was TV character Ethel Mertz's maiden name on the show, I Love Lucy.  Actually, Ethel was given a couple of different middle names and maiden names over the course of the show but this one was most memorable.

In season four, Lucy, Ricky, Fred and Ethel motored to LA so that Ricky could be in a movie.  Along the way, they stopped in Albuquerque, NM, so that Ethel could visit her hometown.  This episode remains one of my favorites.  Turns out Ethel told a teeny lie to her dad and hometown neighbors, alluding to the fact that she, not Ricky, was the big star.  And as it also turns out, the entire town always thought that she was destined for greatness as well.  As Ethel's father, Will, explained in a hilarious moment, the local theater marquee now reads "Ethel Mae Potter, We Never Forgot Her."   When daddy explained "Ethel Mae's very big in Albuquerque," Ethel's husband Fred, always the fast one with the quip said "She's big everywhere!"  Love me that Fred Mertz.

So of course, with Ethel Mae now back home (in triumph), she was asked to perform as the headliner for a variety show.  And one of the two numbers she sang is – wait for it – "Shortnin' Bread." 

And this is how I came to select one of today's recipes.  Thank you, Ethel Mae!

I don't know as I've ever had shortnin' bread so I wasn't sure what to expect when I made this recipe but what you get is a rather dense cake that doesn't rise much (and it wouldn't since it doesn't contain baking powder) and is not very sweet.  It reminded me of cornbread which, unless you add sugar to it, is pretty bland (in my northern opinion).  Not in a bad way "bland," just bland!

Since there are only two of us, I decided to make just half a recipe which was fine and I somehow knew that the baking time needed to be adjusted from 60 minutes to about 30.  But I lost track of time and so the bread ended up being a little bit more golden than I would have liked.  Still good, but very golden.  The instructions say to serve with jam or jelly but I used honey instead to combat the aforementioned "blandness."  (It's the word of the day.)

Turning our attention to turkey...for the first time ever, I happened to have a turkey breast carcass in the refrigerator, left over from my New Year's Eve dinner.  So last week, I made up the gumbo base, sans the shrimp, and put it in my freezer.  I can promise you that this combination of "recipe calling for turkey carcass" + my having a carcass on hand = not likely to be seen again until asteroids pound the earth, destroying civilization.  Well, maybe.

But lo, though I had the main ingredient, once again the making of this gumbo was fraught with peril.  As you will see, this recipe doesn't give ingredient amounts, leaving me to guess at the right combinations.  There are several other gumbo recipes in this book but each one is so different, using different ingredients, and that made it hard for me to determine whether or not I could "borrow" ingredient amounts and instructions.  Further, a bona fide roux usually involves fat, flour and liquid but this instruction said to use flour and liquid only.  Soooo...fat, no fat?  I decided to use the flour and liquid as directed and hope for the best.

As to the spices, I started with ¼ teaspoon of each, then tasted, then added another ¼ teaspoon more.  And I added the entire can of Rotel tomatoes without draining them  - in other words, I was living life on the edge!

All in all, this recipe turned out okay and the flavors were good and yet, this recipe also tasted a little bland.  You can adjust that by just adding a bit of salt and pepper to taste before serving.

The bigger problem though, was that I thought this was a bit watery and the only way to solve that – I think – was to either add more okra (which is often used as a thickener), which I did not have on hand, or to add more roux.  But since I didn't know what to do with my roux in the first place, I'm not sure adding more would have made a difference.  Hopefully, some great southern cook is reading this and will let me know just where this thing went south, pun intended.  It was a tasty dish but I felt it was missing a little je ne sais quoi.

As suggested, I added shrimp and the shrimp was okay (actually, some of it was freezer-burned even though I had just purchased it the day before) but I think it would have been even better with pieces of leftover turkey.  Next time.

Turkey Gumbo – Serving size not given - *You'll need a leftover turkey carcass for this!
1 turkey carcass
Flour (Ann's Note:  about 1 tablespoon)
1 chopped bell pepper
1 can Rotel [tomatoes – traditional mixture]
Basil (Ann's Note:  about ½ teaspoon or more)
Thyme (Ann's Note:  about ½ teaspoon or more)
Rosemary (Ann's Note:  about ½ teaspoon or more)
Okra (Ann's Note:  amount not given, instructions not given so I used 4 small diced okra)
Salt and pepper to taste

Ann's Note:  As I explained in my narrative above, exact amounts were not given so season this mixture to taste.  As to the Rotel, all the recipe said was "Rotel" and like many things, there are several varieties of these canned tomatoes.  Use the "traditional" mix.  I also added the can without draining it and have no idea if that is correct or not!

This bears repeating:  Unclear instructions annoy me!

Put whole carcass in big stewing pot and boil in water with chopped onion until meat falls off bones.  (Ann's Note:  I almost boiled away my broth so keep an eye on this pot.  I think I reduced my stock to about half and that actually seemed about right but again, who knows?)

Remove the bones and make a roux by taking some of your seasoned water and mixing with flour, or use one of the prepared roux like "Iron Pot."  (Ann's Notes:  Okay, folks, traditional roux is fat + flour + liquid but do you see a mention of fat here?  No, you do not.) So I followed the directions and mixed flour and liquid until I felt the mixture looked like a roux; not that I know what a roux looks like. 

Return mixture to the pot and add chopped bell pepper, a can of Rotel, chopped basil, thyme, okra, rosemary, salt and pepper.  Cover and let simmer at least an hour.  Add crab meat, fresh or frozen, and shrimp that has not been cooked before.  You may also add gumbo, crabs, and oysters.  Cook till shrimp are done and serve over rice.

Shortnin' Bread – makes a 9 x 12 loaf pan
2 cups flour
2 ½ tsps baking soda
1 pinch salt
1 stick butter
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup sweet milk

Cream eggs and butter.  Add remaining ingredients.  Oil and flour a 9 x 12 loaf pan.  Pour batter in pan.  Bake in 350 oven for about 1 hour.  Let cook.  Cut and serve with jam or jelly.


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