And Mardi Gras also means gumbo

So you made your King Cake. And you’re listening to a good New Orleans playlist. Hell, maybe you’re even wearing a strand of beads and planning on drinking a few hurricanes when you get home.

But you know what you need to make this Mardi Gras perfect?

Gumbo.

Now, it must be said, what I make at home and call gumbo is nowhere near as good as proper New Orleans gumbo is. I don’t have andouille sausage. I don’t make a roux. I definitely don’t have any filé powder.

But I throw everything into my slow cooker, turn it on, and it’s good enough for me. Spicy and warm and soothing.

So call this knock-off gumbo. Imitation gumbo. Cajun-inspired stew. It’s still good enough to sit eating while watching The Big Easy.

Knock-Off Gumbo

Ingredients

The measurements are loose because it’s entirely up to you. If your slow cooker is large, add more. If it’s small, add less. If you hate okra, take it out and be ashamed of yourself.

  • Chicken breasts
  • Bell pepper
  • Onion
  • Garlic
  • Okra
  • Carrots
  • Green beans
  • Baby corn
  • Smoky/spicy sausage
  • Cajun seasoning
  • Chicken broth
  • Pepper
  • Salt
  • Handful of rice
  • Boiling water

Okra can be difficult to find in major supermarkets, but Asian/Turkish/Middle Eastern markets will have it by the handful.

Cajun seasoning can be even more difficult to find. I have a small hoard of Tony Chachere’s, but any “Cajun” seasoning will do if it can be shaken into the pot.

You can also add in shrimp or other seafood.

How-To

  1. Cut everything into small pieces
  2. Shake in as much Cajun seasoning as you want
  3. Put into the slow cooker
  4. Cook until about an hour before dinnertime
  5. Pour in the rice
  6. Eat when the rice is cooked

Mardi Gras means King Cake

It’s Mardi Gras, and there’s one thing you do for Mardi Gras.

Okay, there are a lot of things you do for Mardi Gras. You go to parades. You get beads. You have a drink or two or three. You listen to a good New Orleans playlist.

But you also always eat King Cake.

I first had this sugary cinnamony sticky mess when I moved to New Orleans for college. And between January 5th and whenever Mardi Gras is, you better believe I ate my way through many a King Cake. Sometimes I ended up with the baby, and had to buy the next one, sometimes I didn’t.

Either way, this cinnamon-dusted bread covered in a lemony-sweet icing and coloured sugar…it’s gorgeous. And ever since I moved to the UK, I’ve regularly made it for Mardi Gras.

This year, I had a bit of a problem, though. I couldn’t find the recipe I regularly use. So I tried Emeril Lagasse’s Food Network recipe, which had what looked like the right number of egg yolks, but left out the cinnamon.

I didn’t put any candied citron in, but I had my lemon zest and dusted the dough braids well with cinnamon. I put too much lemon juice in the icing for it to get that gorgeous super-thick drizzle, but it’s definitely tasty and glazed.

You will get a work-out in your arms. Along with the act of kneading the dough, there’s also creating the braids, and you’ll have to go back to your preschool Play-Doh days to get those sausages long and thin for perfect braiding.

And if you don’t have a little plastic baby, don’t worry – it’s not like anyone else is gonna make you a King Cake.

Welcome to the wonderful world of pie

I have found one of the best recipes for Impossible Pumpkin Pie.

If you haven’t heard of Impossible Pumpkin Pie, you are missing out on one of the wonders of the dessert universe. All the beautiful creamy spicy wonder of pumpkin pie, but without the stodgy and dry crust.

My grandmother would make it every year for Thanksgiving, and I would then spend the next few days sneaking out pie slices at all hours of the day – and the beauty of Impossible Pumpkin Pie is that you can just pick up a slice and carry it with you. No forks, pie crumbs, just heaven.

Most Impossible Pumpkin Pie recipes require Bisquick. This is fine, if you can get it, but I only very very rarely see Bisquick over here, and usually just around Pancake Day.

So this recipe doesn’t require Bisquick, is made with stuff you can usually find in your local supermarket, and is made in muffin tins instead of a single pie pan.

This means one thing.

BREAKFAST PIE.

The perfect size. The perfect amount. The ease of carrying and eating. I’m eating it right now, and I’m trying very hard not to just fall down in rapture.

Delicious pumpkin pie.

Look at this pie. Be jealous of me.

Are you ready for this recipe?

Irresistable Pumpkin Pie Cupcakes by the Krazy Coupon Lady.

Ignore that cupcake nonsense. This is not some stodgy piece of boring vanilla cake hiding under teeth-achingly sugary mounds of stale buttercream. This is goddamn pumpkin pie. That you can take with you.

There are substitutions that have to be made, unfortunately. But they’re pretty easy.

The recipe calls for one 15oz can of pumpkin puree. You can use a can if you can get one, but 2 cups of pumpkin puree from your jack-o-lanterns will do it just as well.

It also calls for two teaspoons of pumpkin pie spice. This one is slightly trickier, but gives you more room for customisation.

There are a lot of recipes for making your own pumpkin pie spice. But the ratios usually work out like this:

  • 9 parts cinnamon
  • 2 parts ginger
  • 2 parts nutmeg
  • 1.5 parts allspice
  • 1.5 parts cloves

That’s based on Betty Crocker’s recipe. I doubt you’ll need like 5 tablespoons of pumpkin pie spice sitting in your house, so I did the math for the ratios to make it easier for you.

But here’s what I used in last night’s pie making:

  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon cardamom

I’m going to tweak it a bit next time, maybe lowering the cardamom and upping the ginger or cloves, but this does taste really lovely.

Silicone bakeware produces the best results, and now that I know this, I’m so very tempted to get out my Star Wars Cake Pan and eat Death Star-shaped pumpkin pie for the rest of my life.

Try this recipe. Have pie for breakfast. Come on, you know you want to.

Cups, grams, spoons, and litres – Measuring in a Metric world

I still like to measure things in cups.

I could come up with some long and vaguely scientific sounding reason, something about aerating the flour or packing the sugar. Or I could come up with an aesthetic reason, like how I like scraping off the top layer so that it’s perfectly level, or how beautiful matched measuring cups are all stacked into each other.

Measuring cups

Admit it. This is sexy.

But I have to be honest.

I hate reading scales.

When I use a scale, I suddenly get obsessed with precision. I glare balefully at the scale, the little arrow wavering back and forth as I desperately try to get it to exactly 120 grams. Or whatever I’m supposed to have.

Liquids are okay – it’s still a measuring cup, and it doesn’t matter if it’s in millilitres or cups, because I’m still pouring it right into the place I know it needs to go.

But scales are horrible.

So I use cups. I convert things into cups. When I have to shrink a recipe down, down to fractions that will never have a cup size, I still use cups. That 3/8ths of a cup of sugar must exist!

I like to pretend I’m still using math skills I learned at school. I’m totally au fait with ratios and fractions. No simple decimalisation for me, no sir. I use cups.

But it can be a pain in the ass, especially when all your recipes end up metric. So here you go – a few conversion rates to help you:

American Metric
1 cup of flour 150g
1 cup of white sugar 225g
1 cup of brown sugar 175g
1 cup of butter 225g
1 cup of liquid 240ml
1 cup of anything 16 tablespoons
1 ounce 28ml
1 ounce 2 tablespoons

Now go. Make food. And feel free to use cups.

There is food heaven. There is food hell. Then there is Taco Bell.

tacobellBefore I get into my experience with the Manchester Arndale Taco Bell, let me tell a story that explains my relationship with Taco Bell.

I was at an all-day indie/punk rock gig with my husband. We had just finished seeing a band we loved, and everyone was filing out. We saw one of the singers of a band we had seen earlier, and went over to tell her how great they were.

We got to talking, and it turned out that the singer and I had grown up in the same general area – I was from North Long Beach, she was from Palos Verdes. She stopped, looked at me, and with longing in her voice, said sadly “Don’t you miss Taco Bell?”

And she was right.

It’s almost a cliché now to make fun of Taco Bell. To call it terrible, to shake your head in dismay, to describe gastrointestinal distress occurring after eating there.

But that leaves out one of the best things about Taco Bell.

It’s cheap.

When I was growing up, we didn’t have much money floating around. And Taco Bell was a treat. Whether a soft taco, a bean burrito, or even splashing out for a Mexican Pizza, Taco Bell was a cheap way to feed the family. And the smell of tortillas, the taste of refried beans and cheese…those are practically primal sensations for me, going back to virtually to the womb.

So whenever I go to Manchester, I go to the Arndale Shopping Centre. And I eat Taco Bell.

There are a small amount of Taco Bells around the UK. Two shopping centres in Essex, the one in Manchester, and there’s a new one in Sheffield. The range is limited, yes. The products are smaller. They have this habit of toasting the burritos so you have a bit of a crunch. They keep serving fries.

It never looks this good, but, oh, the taste. The taste.

It never looks this good, but, oh, the taste. The taste.

But once you bite into that bean burrito, the cheese, beans, and onions blending together, the faintest burn from the mild sauce you added – it’s like coming home. It’s the perfect combination of what you need from comfort food, all starch, fat, and warmth, wrapped up in a soothing blanket of white flour tortilla.

And it’s only 99p. Admittedly, I used to live on 59¢ bean burritos while at university, but I take my 99p value where I can find it.

The other items are lacking. My Burrito Supreme, while containing all the necessary elements, seemed to be lacking in the quantity of sour cream. And the other items didn’t seem to have the same appeal as they should. The Crunchwrap Supreme seemed badly constructed, and I still don’t get the concept of serving fries at Taco Bell.

Add in the fact that it’s a very busy food court, with several other places to eat and being the main hangout for it seems every teenager in Manchester, it can be very difficult to appreciate the Taco Bell fully.

But then you take another bite of that bean burrito. And you’re back in the zone.

It’s the not-so-great pumpkin, Charlie Brown

You don’t realise you need canned pumpkin until right before Thanksgiving. You might even visit the US at any other time of the year, go to a grocery store, spend your time buying and eating all the food you miss, but you forget about canned pumpkin.

Then Thanksgiving rolls around, and suddenly you’re craving pumpkin pie, and there’s no pumpkin to be had. Anywhere. Even Starbucks has switched to their peppermint and gingerbread coffees.

This is because you didn’t plan ahead. But you’re going to now.

It’s October. Buy pumpkins. Admittedly, they’re pumpkins bred for carving, so the flesh inside is thinner, but that also means it’s a lot easier to scrape out the seeds.

Sadly, you will not find pumpkins this large.

Sadly, you will not find pumpkins this large.

And you can carve them into awesome jack-o-lanterns. Because, come on, it’s Halloween.

After Halloween, cut them into smallish pieces. Slice off any leftover stringy residue, and slice off the thick outside rind.

You have two options now – microwave or oven. Microwave will take less time, but you’ll have to strain the pumpkin. The oven takes longer, and you’ll have to make sure you use the right kind of vegetable oil (because as much as you love pumpkin pie, you might not love olive oil and pumpkin pie), but dries the pumpkin out beautifully and gives it better colour.

It doesn’t matter too much, because it all ends up the same way – glorious pumpkin mush. Mash it up, get rid of the excess water, and pack it into your freezer.

I tend to put it into freezer bags, set out flat, holding one cup in each bag. That way, when I need pumpkin bread or pie, I can quickly pull out a bag, let it thaw, and then bake without having any pumpkin go to waste.

If you want a bit more flavour in your pumpkin, add a butternut squash into the mush. Those are definitely bred for flavour, and will give you an excellent taste in your pie or bread.

So remember – a pumpkin isn’t just for Halloween. In the freezer, it’s also for pie.

I don’t spend all my time at Poundland, but I might start now.

A bowlful of sugar delight

A bowlful of sugar delight

The Poundland on Wheeler Gate in Nottingham, aside from having piles of Reese’s Pieces, has yet again made a deal with the American devils to have single-serving bowls of delicious Lucky Charms available.

This is possibly a bad thing. This is also possibly a good thing.

This is my breakfast this morning. And everything is awesome.

I Am Curious (Cinnamon)

I was 9 when Cinnamon Toast Crunch was launched. And it seemed like magic.

Sure, we had Lucky Charms with all the delightful marshmellows. And we had Cap’n Crunch, all ready to tear your mouth to shreds. Not to mention Rice Krispies and Cheerios and Frosted Flakes and Cocoa Puffs and that brief fascination I had with Frosted Mini Wheats.

But Cinnamon Toast Crunch, that was something else. That was the perfect mix of cinnamon, sugar, and cereal, giving you the sweet taste with the crunch you wanted. We couldn’t afford it all the time, but when we did, I would eat it every day and be delighted.

Alas, I was slightly too old to get into French Toast Crunch. But I do hear that was awesome.

But I grew up, and Cinnamon Toast Crunch wasn’t in this country, and everything was a bit dull and lacking in the breakfast cereal department.

Then it happened.

Not even your terrifying tongue will stop me from eating you.

Not even your terrifying tongue will stop me from eating you.

You can find this in most large stores now. And, apparently, calling it Cinnamon Toast Crunch wouldn’t have worked in the UK, so it’s Curiously Cinnamon.

“Curiously Cinnamon” makes me think of dodgy European films from the 70s, like “I Am Curious (Cinnamon)” or something, but being able to have cinnamon-flavoured cereal in the mornings is glorious. And having it as a snack in the afternoon. And just reaching in and grabbing a handful from time to time.

You can find actually-branded Cinnamon Toast Crunch at Poundland from time to time – I’m guessing they get good deals on them – but Curiously Cinnamon is a glorious thing to find in your local shop.