Fall's Best Stew: Homemade Gumbo

With cooler weather and autumnal coziness setting in, what could be a better dinner on Halloween night than a rich, comforting pot of gumbo? Made with delicate aromatics, savory shellfish, and hearty sausage, this stew will satisfy ghouls of all ages. It may seem time intensive, but the results are absolutely worth it. Adapted from my great grandmother's recipe with some modern twists to suit my taste, this dish will take at least three hours to prepare but will absolutely provide a return on investment. One of the best parts of this recipe is how adaptable it is--you can really use any protein you have on hand, or omit protein and add more vegetables or grilled tofu for a vegetarian option.

The most important aspect of this recipe is to make it with love. As I stir the roux, I think about my great grandmother preparing this for her family. I think about my partner and our children, and how my efforts will nourish them. I think about how fortunate I am to have such lovely, fine ingredients and a safe home to cook in. I like to believe that this love, gratitude, and compassion somehow infuses the gumbo with an unnamable flavor, something you can't find in a spice store, and something so distinct that when people ask you for the recipe, you'll just smile and say it's a family secret.

To buy:
-Bottled water (its weird, but this is important. Tap water really super affects the taste!)
-Chicken stock
-Worcestershire sauce
-Bay leaves (if you're out)
-Green bell pepper
-One sweet onion (yellow)
-Can of stewed diced tomatoes
-Can of tomato sauce or paste
-Crab, shrimp, andouille sausage, whatever meat/seafood you want to put in
-Butter (or bacon fat)
-Flour (if you're out)

Chop all the veggies into small pieces.

Make your roux.
-In your deep skillet, start with a stick of butter (or a heap of bacon fat) and add about a cup or so of flour. Stir. Keep stirring. You want this to be the texture of Alfredo sauce and the color of butterscotch. It'll start as the texture of cookie dough, so keep adding fat until it smoothes out. You will have to keep adding flour and butter in stages to achieve that consistency, but you'll get the hang of it. Don't let it burn (once you see little black bits in it, its burned.) This should take about 45--55 minutes, but doing this right is the KEY to excellent gumbo. Don't take any shortcuts, just do this shit right.

Start the gumbo
-In your soup pan, dump the chicken stock and bay leaves. Put on low heat.

-Add the chopped veggies and minced garlic to your roux. Let them marry for about 15 minutes, adding salt and pepper. Once the roux/veggies are a nice, delicious mass, start adding the entire mixture to the stock.

-Once the veggies/roux have blended into the stock, add your first round of spices. This means a few dashes of hot sauce, Creole seasoning (it's in your cabinet, I left it behind for you), garlic salt, chili powder, a bit of brown sugar, salt and pepper. Leave this on low heat while you prep the meat.

-In another skillet, dump your crab meat and shrimp. Add 6-7 dashes of Worcestershire sauce, salt, pepper and lemon juice. Put them on low heat and stir.

--Add another round of spices (Creole seasoning, chili powder, salt, pepper, garlic salt, brown sugar, pepper) and hot sauce. Then toss the seafood in. Stir well.

-Add the cans of tomatoes.

-Add about a 1/4 teaspoon file powder. This is going to thicken the gumbo, but what your goal is now is to thicken it up and lock in the sweet seafood flavors. Add the file, let it thicken/sit for about 5 minutes, and then add bottled water to dilute it to a good gumbo texture.

-Add another round of spices and sample At this point, all the flavors should be there, but a little on the thin side. You're going to let this baby sit on low heat, stirring regularly (remember to scrape the bottom) for about 15-20 minutes, but the longer the better.

-Too spicy/vinegary? Add a little bit of brown sugar.
-Taste too thin/not deep? Add a few dashes of Worcestershire and chili (or smoked salt)
-Taste too green/gluey? Add hot sauce, brown sugar and Creole seasoning.
-Taste too sweet? Add Worcestershire and Creole seasoning.

Serve over white rice or with crusty French bread. Tastes even better the second and third day.


Apple Sponge Pudding

Apple Sponge Pudding

To prepare a delicious apple sponge pudding recipe start heating the oven to 180°C (160°C in a fan oven), gas 5, and grease four oven-proof pudding basins.

Mix together the apples, lemon juice, almonds, cinnamon, rum and 2 tbsp sugar.

Beat the egg whites until stiff.

Mix the remaining sugar with the butter until creamy and then add the egg yolks one by one.

Alternately add flour and then milk and then finally fold in the egg whites.

Stir in the apple mixture and fill the mixture into the pudding basins.

Bake the apple sponge pudding for 35-40 until golden brown.


Vegan Celeriac and Spinach Soup

Vegan Celeriac and Spinach Soup

To prepare the vegan spinach soup recipe start preaheating the oven to 180°C (160°fan)| gas mark 4.

Spread the kale out on a baking tray and season with salt and pepper.

Bake for 12 - 15 minutes until dry and crisp at the edges. Remove to a wire rack to cool.

Heat the oil in a large saucepan set over a medium heat until hot.

Add the garlic, onionceleriac and fry for 3 minutes, stirring frequently.

Add the stock, stir well, and cook until simmering.

Simmer for 8 - 10 minutes until the celeriac is very tender.

Stir in the spinach and yogurt, and then blend in a food processor until smooth.

Return the soup to the saucepan and warm over a low heat.

Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Cut half the lemon into slices and reserve the other half.

Ladle the vegan spinach soup into bowls and top with kale chips, lemon slices, and a squeeze of lemon juice.


Get Ready For Holiday Parties With These Make Ahead Appetizers

As we launch into fall, the party invitations start rolling in. From Halloween gatherings, to Thanksgiving and Friendsgiving, to the inevitable December holiday parties, our calendars are already filling up with fun get togethers. But like any good guest, we know that we can't show up empty handed--so how can you get your stuff together now to make it easier to arrive with a tempting treat?

We pulled some of our favorite make-in-advance ideas that you can prep now and keep yourself on the must-invite guest list all through the rest of the year. And don't worry, you don't have to be a kitchen genius or a domestic deity to pull these off, they are all as easy as pie--and in fact, pie is on the list!

1. Spice Blends

One of our favorite kitchen hacks involves a jar of mixed spices, a stick of butter, and a few sleeves of plain old saltine crackers. It's a great way to use up spices that are just about empty, too! Grab your favorite spices and blend them into a clean, dry, empty jar. Some of our favorite blends are thyme, marjoram, celery seed, lemon pepper, and dried parsley. When you're ready, line a cookie sheet in wax paper and top with rows of saltine crackers. Brush them with melted butter and top with the spice mix. Bake at 325 for about six minutes and behold, you've magically transformed ordinary crackers into herbed delicacies that are delicious on their own or liven up a tub of humus. Allow them to cool and then bag--they'll be fine in your cupboard for up to two weeks. Get creative with spice blends and try a mix of sweet and savory, like sesame seeds, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger!

2. Ready to Bake Pie Fillings

How impressive does it look to show up with a pipping hot fresh pie and a quart of ice cream? Be a party hero with an easy to make pie filling, spiked with your favorite liqueur. I always keep a can of apple and cherry on hand, which are shelf-stable for up to a year. Simply pop the can open and stir over medium heat, adding two shots of your favorite liqueur and spices for an unforgettable dessert. We love adding two shots of good bourbon, a teaspoon of cinnamon, and a dash of vanilla extract to cherry pie filling for a rich, heady pie. Once it's warmed, spoon into a pre-made pie crust (or mini-crusts in a muffin tin) and bake as directed. If apple is more your speed, add two shots of Butterscotch Schnapps, a touch of smoked salt, and a dash of nutmeg for a unique take on an American classic.

3. Cookie Dough To Go

Did you know that cookie dough is easily freezable? One of our favorite time saving hacks is making double batches of sugar cookie dough and freezing one, tightly wrapped in plastic and freezer bagged for a future baking session. This versatile dough can transform into so many delicious treats, from cookie ice cream sandwiches to chocolate dipped delights. Simply thaw, modify, and bake as you normally would. One of our favorite takes is defrosting the cookie dough, rolling into balls, tossing in cinnamon and sugar, and baking for a hybrid between a cookie and a donut hole. Bring along some caramel sauce for dipping and you've upped your party game! Other doughs, such as chocolate chip, pumpkin spice, and dutch cocoa also freeze beautifully and can make an eye catching cookie platter suitable for any gathering.

4. Meatball Free For All

This requires just a touch of prep, but can leave you set up for parties for at least a month. We love blending 2 pounds of quality hamburger with Worcestershire, dried onions, garlic, smoked salt, black pepper, and celery salt, rolling into meatballs, and baking at 350 for fifteen to twenty minutes. Allow them to cool and then wrap in plastic and place into a freezer bag--they'll keep for at least a month and can be defrosted for meatball biscuits (with ready made dough), meatball appetizers in barbecue sauce, a delicious topping for a pre-made pizza, or even as a quick and easy sub sandwich filling. They're so versatile and delicious that you'll never want your freezer to be without at least one batch!

5. Just Wing It

Like the meatballs, chicken wings can be marinated, cooked, and frozen for at least a month and make your hosts think you slaved away all day. Grab a few pounds of chicken wings and marinate in a variety of sauces. We love honey mustard, sweet and sour, and Szechuan barbecue, all of which can be made in five minutes or less. This gives you a variety of flavors to keep things exciting, and allows you to pair with different sides, like celery, peanut sauce, or Thai noodles. Simply defrost frozen wings and reheat in the oven, brushing with a bit more sauce to keep them moist.


Pumpkin Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

Pumpkin Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

For the pumpkin cupcakes

To prepare the pumpkin cupcakes with cream cheese frosting, start heating the oven to 180°C (160° fan) gas 4.

Place paper cases in 24 mini muffin tins.

Sift the flour, bicarbonate of soda, baking powder, spice and salt into a mixing bowl.

Whisk together the butter and both sugars until combined.

Add the eggs, pumpkin puree and ale to the butter/sugar mixture and mix well.

Gently fold into the flour mixture with the pumpkin seeds.

Spoon into the paper cases and bake for 10-15 minutes until golden and risen.

Cool in the tins for 5 minutes then place on a wire rack to cool completely.

For the cream cheese frosting

Beat the cream cheese and butter until softened.

Gradually sift in the icing sugar and beat until smooth.

Beat in the maple syrup.

Spoon on top of the pumpkin cupcakes and sprinkle with pumpkin seeds.