2018 Recipe of the Year: Gumbo!

We have a thing with Cajun food. And by we, I mostly mean Mike. A couple of years ago, he invested in a 60-quart pot so we could host our own shrimp and crawfish boils for the masses. Nearly every Friday, he asks to pick up none other than Cajun food for dinner on his way home from work. And, just when I think we’ve exhausted every video in the Viet-Cajun genre on YouTube, I am again proven wrong.

When I step back and think about it, it’s not surprising that Mike has fallen in love with Cajun food. Yes, it’s delicious, super flavorful and unique. But more than that, it brings people together. Whether over a bowl of gumbo or jambalaya, or a table covered in newspaper and strewn with shellfish, potatoes and corn, Cajun food is a connector of people.

And so it happened that this year, Mike’s brother Jim has started joining us for family dinners on Sunday nights. One Sunday, Mike made the recipe below, and our lives were forever changed. Never before had we experienced a gumbo so rich, smoky, and deeply full of flavor and soul.

Thank you America’s Test Kitchen for bringing this recipe into the world.

Until We Eat Again,

Two Happy Cooks

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America’s Test Kitchen Gumbo

Note – we also recommend adding shrimp to this… game changer.

Ingredients

1 cup (5 ounces) all-purpose flour

tablespoon vegetable oil

onion, chopped fine

green bell pepper, chopped fine

celery ribs, chopped fine

tablespoon minced fresh thyme

garlic cloves, minced

teaspoon paprika

bay leaves

½ teaspoon cayenne pepper

Salt and pepper

cups chicken broth, room temperature

pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed

ounces andouille sausage, halved and sliced 1/4 inch thick

scallions, sliced thin

teaspoon distilled white vinegar

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 425 degrees. Place flour in 12-inch skillet and bake, stirring occasionally, until color of ground cinnamon, 40 to 55 minutes. (As flour approaches desired color, it will take on very nutty aroma that will smell faintly of burnt popcorn, and it will need to be stirred more frequently.) Transfer flour to medium bowl and let cool. (Toasted flour can be stored in airtight container in cool, dark place for up to 6 months.)

2. Heat oil in Dutch oven over medium heat until shimmering. Add onion, bell pepper, and celery and cook, stirring frequently, until softened, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in thyme, garlic, paprika, bay leaves, cayenne, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in 2 cups broth. Add chicken in single layer (chicken will not be completely submerged in liquid) and bring to simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until chicken is fork-tender, 15 to 17 minutes. Transfer chicken to plate.

3. Slowly whisk remaining 2 cups broth in small increments into toasted flour until thick, smooth, batter-like paste forms. Increase heat to medium and slowly whisk paste into gumbo, making sure each addition is incorporated before adding next. Stir in andouille. Simmer, uncovered, until gumbo thickens slightly, 20 to 25 minutes.

4. Once cool enough to handle, shred chicken into bite-size pieces. Stir chicken and scallions into gumbo. Remove pot from heat, stir in vinegar, and season with salt to taste. Discard bay leaves. Serve, passing hot sauce separately.

Potty Training and a Tapas Party

This was a big weekend for the Hearne household. Feeling ambitious, we attempted potty training and hosting a multi-course Spanish meal in the same weekend. The only casualties were a batch of overcooked garlic and a few pairs of underwear.

Yes, Sam took the plunge and wore big boy briefs for the first time. I’d call it a moderate success – there were lots of celebratory, proud moments along with a handful of accidents. The main piece of wisdom I have to impart as it relates to this rite of passage: Don’t pretend to be a grizzly bear on the first day of potty training.

One of Sam’s favorite games is to hide in a room or closet while Mike or I come in and pretend to be a big bad wolf, or monster, or grizzly bear. Per usual, Sam, Hannah and I huddled together in the dark closet while Mike came in roaring and bellowing in his best grizzly bear voice. Apparently it was a little too convincing because Sam got scared and it didn’t end well for that particular pair of undies.

It happens to the best of us.

In spite of potty breaks every 20 minutes, we also somehow managed to host Mike’s parents and brother for a tapas party in honor of Mike’s mom Leanne’s birthday. This was an especially fun meal to make as Mike and I relived our semester abroad in Barcelona. I was reminded that all things Spanish are doused in olive oil and garlic. And, I learned that Smoked Paprika is a magical elixir that makes everything deeply smoky, sweet and enticing.

Without further ado… El Menu:

Apps: Manchego, Olives, Cured Meat (to our dismay, Jamon Iberico was nowhere to be found near Plymouth, MN)

Tapas: Gambas al Ajillo (Garlic Shrimp); Pinxtos Marunos (Pork Tenderloin Bites); Patatas Bravas (‘Fierce’ Potatoes), Ensalada Mixta courtesy of Leanne

Dessert: It was Leanne’s birthday, after all, and birthdays require cake. So, we deviated from the Spanish theme and made Amy Sedaris’s Cupcakes with Buttercream Frosting and homemade vanilla ice cream on the Chef’N Sweet Spot instant ice cream maker. I’d tell you that the ice cream was delicious and fun to make, but the portions were small and not fully frozen.

All in all, I feel like we really achieved something and leveled up on both parenting and hosting by attempting and not totally failing at both of these endeavors in the same weekend. I’ll count it as a win on both accounts.

Until We Eat Again,

Two Happy Cooks

Big Weekend in the Mini Donut

This weekend, my Mom and Dad visited from Kansas City and we lived the Bold North Minnesotan dream. On Saturday, we ventured out in below zero temperatures for a visit to the St. Paul Children’s Museum and the legendary Cecil’s deli. Not to be deterred by the snow, we piled in the car in search of lunch and shopping on Sunday. And, we watched the Vikings come back against all odds to beat the Saints in the game that for one shining moment, made everyone (even me!) into a football fan.

I’m always looking for an excuse to bake, and I wanted to make a Minnesota-inspired treat for the family to enjoy this weekend. I settled on mini donuts for reasons that are obvious to no one.

On our way home from Florida this Christmas, Mike and I pulled out our best Mom and Dad jokes and told Sam we were heading to home to Minnesnowta. Sam added his own twist and decided we live in the “mini donut.” From then on, Sam has continued to refer to Minnesota as the mini donut.

One of my most memorable mini donut experiences was at Cafe Lurcat on my General Mills recruitment trip to Minneapolis before I moved here. I remember thinking… mini donuts? For dessert? Turns out they knew what they were doing. Ten years later, hot mini donuts are an annual state fair favorite for me and many others, and in my opinion, a true Minnesotan experience.

And so, I invested in a pair of mini donut pans. I researched recipes and toppings. And Saturday at 7:30 AM after watching the entire Lion King movie for the 5th time in five days, Sam and I whipped up a batch of these baked mini donuts from Baker Bettie

These donuts were perfection and made us all very happy. They’re mini. They’re soft and cake-y. And they’re covered in cinnamon sugar or sprinkles… what’s not to like?

In celebration of all things Minnesotan, maybe I’ll remake these with yellow and purple sprinkles if the Vikings defy all odds and go to to the Superbowl. But even if not, these little guys will be making many appearances at brunches in the next year. 

Until We Eat Again,

Two Happy Cooks 

Homemade S’more Bar

Happy 2018, friends! We rang in the new year Sunday at 4:30 PM with close friends, a throng of toddlers and the output of a 24-hour baking frenzy.

Say hello to the Homemade S’more Bar.

The Graham

Approximately 50% of Sam’s diet consists of graham crackers. And what is a graham cracker, exactly? Best as I can tell it’s a cookie that includes just enough whole wheat Graham flour to allow it to pass as a “cracker.” I was thrilled to receive the Dori’s Cookies cookbook from the revered Dori Greenspan as a gift from the Hearnes. I was even more excited to see the recipe for graham crackers and to finally make them for myself.

The hardest part of making graham crackers was assembling the food processor. They turned out slightly thicker and less sweet than the store-bought kind. Ultimately, we liked them and I’m glad I made them. Given the massive quantity of graham crackers we consume, we’ll be sticking to Costco for the bulk of our graham cracker supply.

The Mallow

The next component of homemade s’mores were Ina Garten’s Homemade Marshmallows. These. Were. Epic. And totally worth the time and effort – they took 20 minutes and required no baking. A homemade marshmallow doesn’t even compare to store bought – these were so much more flavorful and delicious. I made vanilla but next time want to experiment with other flavors like caramel, Kaluha, Bourbon, Crème de Menthe, and whatever else I dream up.

As any S’more maker knows, the marshmallows are significantly better warmed up. Pop your s’more in the microwave until the marshmallow just starts to puff up and you will be rewarded.

The Extras

I felt the need to make additional s’more components, and what better than chocolate chip cookies as an alternative to graham crackers. I made half with chocolate and half with white chocolate chips. Key learnings – you can’t go wrong with a chocolate chip cookie as part of a s’more, and toddlers love white chocolate chips.

I didn’t tackle making my own chocolate for this project… maybe next time. Instead, we bought a variety of chocolate bars, and some Nutella and Biscoff Cookie Spread to slather on the grahams.

All in all, I would call the S’more bar a success. I think it works well for parties of any sort, summer or winter.

Until We Eat Again,

Two Happy Cooks

The Great Big Challah Bake

Last night, I was one of 400 lucky ladies who gathered for Minneapolis’s Great Big Challah Bake.

For starters, I think we broke a record for the most Jewish people ever to assemble in Medina, Minn. Yes, 400 women arrived at the Medina Ballroom around 7:00 and each one walked out two hours later with two ready-to-bake, beautifully braided challahs. The logistics of this alone are mind boggling – the ingredients were meticulously pre-measured, the tables were set and the event organizers anticipated every possible baking need. A demonstrator showed each step on stage but “challah doctors” roamed the scene to help with any dough maladies that arose. Pun intended.

What struck me most about the event was the incredible diversity of women present. It was mostly a Jewish event, but I was reminded that this can mean so many things. There were girls as young as ten, grandmothers, and everyone in between. Some women were raised in other religions, while others wore wigs and skirts in keeping with Orthodox Jewish law. Over the course of the event, I heard women speaking in Spanish, Russian and Hebrew.

The Great Big Challah Event is part of an international movement called The Shabbos Project. Their mission is to inspire people around the world to celebrate a compete Shabbat, or sabbath, and connect with their families, communities and themselves. In 2016, people in 85 countries and more than 1,000 cities participated in Shabbos project events and I’ve seen Challah Bake pictures this year from Silicon Valley, Buenos Aires, Johannesburg, Paris and more.

What I loved about this event was a) delicious challah, b) spending time with friends new and old, and c) feeling part of something bigger. I believe that people have more similarities than differences, and I loved getting together with a diverse group of people around a common purpose.

Footnote – my challah braids looked pretty great when I left the event, but between the car ride, Saran Wrap and a night in the fridge, they came out looking a little like Jabba the Hut. They are truly delicious though – better tasting than my first challah attempt last month.

Until We Eat Again,

Two Happy Cooks 

Challah Flow

Challah is a special, magical bread. It’s soft, sweet, golden and eggy… completely addictive and drop dead gorgeous. I’ve witnessed, participated in and enjoyed the benefits of others’ challah making in the past, but never attempted do it beginning to end all by myself. This weekend, that changed, and I think I fell in love.

Have you ever heard of Flow – the state of being totally engrossed in and energized by something? Apparently that’s me when I’m making challah. 

Round braided challahs started silently invading my carb-heavy Instagram feed last week, and I could not get them out of my head. The circular variety is traditional for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New year, which is coming up this Wednesday. That seemed like a great excuse to give it a go.

Bread making and anything yeast-related typically intimidates me, but this time, I decided, would be different. I used Smitten Kitchen’s recipe and meticulously measured the water temperature and weighed all of my ingredients out on the scale. I let the dough rise in our garage, much warmer than our over air conditioned house. And best of all, I braided. 

I found this whole process to be deeply satisfying.

The challahs turned out pretty great… but I want to raise the bar. I want them to be sweeter and eggier. I want to try new types of braids. And I want to try to make challah baking into something of a ritual. Weekly is aggressive, but even every couple of months might be a good place to start. 

Have any good tips or recipes? Send them my way!

Until We Eat Again,

Two Happy Cooks

The World Series of BBQ

This weekend, Mike, my brother Jeff and the rest of the Smokin’ Bunz BBQ team competed in the American Royal in Kansas City.

They don’t call it The World Series of BBQ for nothing… the American Royal surpassed all my expectations about what a BBQ competition would be like. Think of it as tailgating on steroids minus the sports. It’s held over three days inside the track at the Kansas Speedway; you could not have found a more appropriate venue than this 75,000-capacity NASCAR stadium for an event filled with other great American dude pastimes like meat, smoke and booze. And apparently bacon pants.


More than 400 teams from near and far competed for ultimate BBQ glory. Near the Smokin’ Bunz tent alone, we met the Japan BBQ Shogun Society, Craft & Cleaver from the UK, as well as teams from Germany, South Korea, Quebec and more. There were plenty of local entries with magnificent names and logos I could devote an entire post to like Overland Pork BBQ, Redneck Scientific, Inhognito, Grills Gone Wild, Pork Illustrated, Pig Newton and the Dead Poultry Society.

The Smokin’ Bunz team moved into their tent at the Speedway around dawn on Saturday and began smoking the first round of meat for the party Saturday night. I don’t know if it was the intense smell of smoke, crowding around standing tables with the whole family or just darn good food, but this was a spectacular meal. We feasted on brisket, chicken wings, ribs and assorted other pork parts complemented by a massive tray of coleslaw my mom whipped up. Because, vegetables.


When we left around 9:30 Saturday evening, the Smokin’ Bunz team was just getting started. They spent Saturday night at the Speedway prepping for their Sunday “Turn In,” or official entry of chicken, ribs, pork, brisket and sausage. Mike and Jeff came back home Sunday late afternoon exhausted, smelling of smoke and anxious to hear their scores.


And now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for… the results.

Smokin’ Bunz came in #247 out of 407 teams overall for the open competition. They ranked 53rd for chicken, 250th for ribs, 249th for pork, 341st for brisket and 189th out of 197 for sausage. I am super impressed and am grateful to have gotten to help consume some of that sweet, sweet meat.


Having only experienced this as a guest and not a competitor, I think I learned that the beauty of the American Royal and BBQ in general is about slowing down. In a world where faster is better, smoking meat is a process that cannot be rushed. We should all be so lucky as to have such a passion for something and people we like enough that we want to spend two days with them just chewing the fat. So to speak.


Until We Eat Again,

Two Happy Cooks