Friday, February 20, 2015

Cécile's Yumbo Gumbo

Super tasty, but what was it doing in a kid's cook book??

I've been dying to break this book and recipe out for months at this point, if not years. After last year's Mardi Gras post was kind of a disaster (you may remember the King Cake that never rose and then didn't bake through and just turned into a giant, sticky, inedible mess on my dining room table), I was looking for something that was hopefully simpler and wouldn't turn me off the idea of doing any New Orleans style recipes on this blog ever again. And because Cécile is actually only my second favorite awesome fictional lady from Louisiana, I knew just where to turn to.

Of course, this didn't actually get posted on Mardi Gras - I'll explain why later - and there were still quite a few road bumps a long the way because I'm still not very good at cooking dinner under a time table, but overall? I think I'm going to count this one as a win.

To say I'm a huge Disney fan is like saying that the ocean tastes a little bit salty. While I feel like I've been taking a bit of a hiatus from my extreme Disney screaming - I tend to go in cycles through fandoms - it is still more key to who I am than pretty much any of my other favorite media empires. Back when The Princess and the Frog first came out in 2009, one of the tie in products came out was a cookbook, because you really can't have a movie about a woman who loves to cook and not give you the chance to try making some of her favorite foods by yourself.

It's a very cute book, and while I'm sure it's out of print now, you can probably pick up copies of it on Amazon or through other used book sellers. Unlike most cookbooks, Tiana's Cookbook: Recipes for Kids is written not by a third party author, but is narrated by Tiana herself, who provides brief introductions to all of the recipes in the book. They vary from relatively complicated and certainly specific to New Orleans with things like this gumbo, a recipe for beignets I'd love to try when I'm feeling more up to frying something in oil and red beans and rice, and more generic, kid friendly things like mac and cheese, a basic sugar cookie recipe, and a cake you can make in the shape of an alligator.

I like the dual nature of the recipes, even if I kind of question a young kid's ability to reproduce some of these - or most of them, honestly - without parental assistance. Some of the more inspired versus period accurate, authentic recipes remind me of some of the movie character inspired recipes from a Disney party book my mom used to use in planning birthday parties for my sister and I, and it was nice to see that kids could make alligator cakes or swamp water smoothies the same way we got to have 101 Dalmatians or Peter Pan themed cakes and treats. I loved the added bonus of having the book written by Tiana, and know I would have thought that was super cool as a kid. Honesty, I still think it's super cool!

One of the most iconic dishes featured in the film is Tiana's gumbo, or more accurately, her father's gumbo recipe, so that made this the obvious recipe to try out first. It's definitely on the ambitious side for an aspiring chef, and I think it's less a "recipe for kids" and more a "make your parents do this for you", but I figured I could handle it.

And I probably could have... if I hadn't been working under a time crunch and gotten a little distracted.

To start, you need to brown one cup of flour and spices (this recipe had salt, Old Bay seasoning, paprika, black pepper and cayenne pepper for a spice profile) in the oven at 350 degrees for however long it takes to brown. The recipe doesn't give any time estimates for this particular part of the process, which I always find a little nerve wracking.

Having never done this before, and not wanting to it burn, I was a little uncertain of how to proceed, which meant a lot of pulling it out of the oven, stirring it and trying to judge if it was any darker. It took a while - maybe half an hour or forty five minutes? - but finally it started to look the right shade and I decided I'd give it a shot. Adding the cup of water and mixing it into a paste really gave it the right color for a gumbo broth and I was pretty pleasantly surprised.

While I kept popping that in and out of the oven, I chopped up green peppers, onions and celery to go into a pot with chicken stock. These three vegetables are known as the Holy Trinity, and can be found in just about every dish from this part of the world, forming a very distinct base for flavor and texture. The recipe did give specific amounts, but honestly, I like just chopping up a whole onion, whole pepper, and a couple stalks of celery to make sure the whole thing gets used instead of sitting around in my fridge.

The vegetables need to cook in 2 quarts of chicken stock with chopped up sausage for about 15 minutes. I used andouille sausage because it's delicious and says New Orleans like no other kind of sausage does. I also just chopped up a full package of the sausage for more or less the same reason... and also because the andouille sausage is always my favorite part of dishes like this.

(This is the part where things went bad for me originally, because I dumped all of my meat into the pot instead of waiting for the next step. I had to hand fish it out - using clean hands! - and set everything aside, lengthening an already lengthy cooking process by a good twenty minutes. It was hard getting all the pieces out and making sure none were hiding at the bottom of the pan!)

Once this is done and you have your paste ready to go, add the paste to the pot and make sure to stir constantly while doing so. The paste can and will clump up and get weird and chunky in the broth if you don't, and trust me, biting into it is unpleasant. Once that's done, you add in a pound of boneless chicken breast, chopped, four all beef weiners, chopped and a pound of cleaned shrimp. I pulled the tails off mine too, but you don't have to.

This all gets cooked together on the stove for about 15 minutes. I stirred mine throughout to try and make sure the flour and spice paste didn't get all gummy and gross at the bottom of the pan, or throughout the rest of the dish.

Once the meat is all cooked, serve it over rice and you're good to go!

This takes a deceptively long time to make. Prepping your vegetables and meat takes more time than you'd like it to, and if you're like me and completely mess up a step, you're going to be stuck redoing a lot of it because you're rushing to get it on the table for dinner quickly. But despite all my frustration and time wasted rushing through the recipe, the resulting product was actually really good. My mom even went as far to say that this was better than some gumbo she's had in restaurants that are supposed to specialize in making it, which might not sound like unbiased, high praise because you know, she's my mom, but my family members have all been pretty honest with me when they haven't liked something I've made, or just thought it was okay.

I will say, it was definitely yummy and that kind of helped make up for how much time I killed trying to fix my stupid mistake. It was pleasantly spicy - although I did up the amount of cayenne I was supposed to use, half by accident - and gumbo is always fun because there are so many different things in it. Gumbo, like New Orleans itself, is very representative of a mixed and diverse culture. Although it can trace its origins pretty concretely to the late 18th and early 19th centuries, various scholars have said the French, African and Native population of Louisiana are to thank for this dish, along with German settlers who introduced sausage. There are literally hundreds if not thousands of recipes for gumbo out there, all of them a little different, and this one was definitely worth trying out.

I will say my one real complaint was that there was no mention of adding a shot of Tabasco sauce to it! It's mentioned enough in the film that I expected to see it at least referenced at the end of the recipe, but it wasn't. Ah well. One other thing to note is that the recipe claims it only makes enough servings for four people, but I had enough for probably six or seven, maybe more. We've still got some in the freezer!

Moral of the story, I need to learn to be more patient while cooking for a crowd, this is a very cute book with surprisingly grown up recipes in it and I would consider it a must have for any Princess and the Frog fan. Mardi Gras still might not be my favorite holiday, but I'm coming around on doing more with recipes from this part of the world.

I'm already looking forward to digging out the leftovers...


  1. I own this book! I got it right after the movie came out, because I own so much Tiana stuff. (At some point I'll have to get Shanna to cosplay Tiana.) There's a few recipes I can't use, but the beignet one is good. (I also make bengnets with canned biscuits and Cafe du Monde mix.) I think some of the harder recipes can be done alone, if the kid is taught how to be safe. Kids can be surprisingly adept at cooking if they're given a chance to risk it.

    1. I don't know, the way the book is designed makes me think this would be something a younger kid (5 years or so) would find appealing on the shelf because it looks more like a picture book than a book for an 8+ year old kid, and I personally wouldn't be comfortable letting my less than 8 year old kid do most of these recipes without my supervision unless they'd already proved they knew what they were doing. This isn't really a beginner cookbook even though that's what it's marketed as, whereas I'd say most of the AG recipes are something a younger kid could be trusted to do, or at least are better about emphasizing this is when you should ask your parent for help.

      It's still a good book! But I don't think I'd be comfortable handing it to a young kid and saying have fun I'll be in the other room.

    2. Right, I wouldn't let anyone under 8 do things alone. But even a 5 year old could help with things with major supervision.

  2. This soup looks yummy and spicy. I can't believe there's no splash of tabasco!! I wonder if our Library has this book my girls would love to try the beignet recipe.

    1. I would too! I wish I was braver about frying things though, I always manage to make a mess and burn myself.