Julie & Julia Round 2: Spicy California Gumbo

From time to time, I'm likeThe Beatles - I get by with a little help from my friends.

This past week has been a bit crazy (tornados in California?! That's why I left Kansas), so, since I was busy scouring LA for a basement to seek tornado refuge, I summoned the assistance of fellow Christopher Rancher, Justin Guibert (pictured above), to assist in my quest to cook through The Garlic Lovers’ Cookbooks.

There's no "I" in this here team blog effort.

And, I must say - I was quite impressed by his ability to so effortlessly whip up a little Spicy California Gumbo, without even breaking a sweat. Perhaps Julie, Julia & Justin is a better fit?

So, without further delay, here's Justin:

Well, I’m a fan of Creole cooking, but I’ve never attempted to prepare anything. However, I had a layover in New Orleans during a recent trip to the South and - while waiting - enjoyed the Big Easy Sampler. I never knew airport food could be so mouthwatering. The sampler featured sultry red beans and rice, spicy sausage and zesty gumbo and - was so life changing - it inspired me to take my own walk on the wild Cajun side.

With the stormy winter weather whipping the West Coast again this week, it seemed like the perfect time to test my kitchen abilities.

So, I donned my apron, poured a glass of Chardonnay, put on some inspirational Louis Armstrong - and got to work.

Spicy California Gumbo (as modified by Justin)

Serves 6

Ingredients:

- ¼-cup butter

- ½-lb. fresh okra

- 1 large onion: chopped

- 1 ½ celery stalks: sliced

- ½-cup green pepper: chopped

- 5 cloves fresh California heirloom garlic: minced

- 2-3-tbsp. flour

- 1 jar medium sized oysters: diced

- 2-cups chicken broth

- 1 ½ large tomatoes: chopped

- 6 sprigs parsley: minced

- Pinch of thyme

- Salt and pepper to taste

- Tabasco sauce (use to your liking)

- ½-lb. ham: diced

- ¾-lb. shrimp: shelled and deveined

- Cooked brown rice/quinoa: about 1-2 cups

- Pinch or two of file powder or Cajun black seasoning

- Water (if necessary)

Preparation:

Melt butter in a large sauce pan. Add okra, onion, celery, green pepper and garlic, and cook until okra ceases to “rope.” I couldn’t figure out what “roping” was all about, and my grocer didn’t have okra, anyways, so I skipped and doubled the celery.

Add flour, and cook for 2-3 minutes.

Drain the liquid from the oysters, and add oysters, along with chicken broth, tomatoes, parsley, bay leaves, thyme, salt, pepper and Tabasco. (I went heavy on the Tabasco to bring the heat, but if you don’t want to sweat or prefer a different hot sauce, adjust accordingly). Simmer about 1 hour (may need to add a little water), before adding ham and simmering another 20 minutes.

Add shrimp and oysters, and simmer for 10-15 minutes.

Disclaimer: I have to admit, I wasn’t about to wait 1 hour and 35 minutes for all the ingredients to simmer; 1 hour was a better fit for my hunger. Therefore, I simmered the vegetables in the broth for only 30 min., added the proteins to simmer for another 30 minutes and called it a day.

Turned out just fine for my taste. Either way you prepare, make sure you remove bay leaves before serving, place a scoop of rice - or quinoa - in a soup bowl, and ladle a generous amount of gumbo. Sprinkle with a little file powder, and enjoy this Cajun delight.

You can almost taste Mardi Gras.

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