Kitchen Vacation: Gumbo Z’herbes

In but a few short months, it will be spring in Chicago (no I am not kidding with that). Time to start thinking about how big your ass has gotten over the winter and maybe dream about a place that is actually warm at this time of year. So we’re going to New Orleans for some gumbo. I know, gumbo doesn’t normally strike one as being healthy, but despite the butter this one comes in at around 300 calories a serving. And it’s delicious.

I put chicken thighs in pretty much everything I cook, so if you want the original, vegetarian recipe, head over to Chow. Also I have issues with green peppers so I use red, but you can pick your own poison there. A nice scoop of rice on top is heavenly but completely optional.

Gumbo Z’herbes

  • 1/3 cup butter

  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour

  • 1 medium onion, chopped

  • 1 red peppers, chopped

  • 3 ribs celery, chopped

  • 3 cloves garlic

  • 1 lb chicken thighs

  • 1 large bunch of kale, chopped

  • 1 package frozen spinach (10 oz)

  • 1.5 tablespoons Cajun seasoning, OR

    • .5 tablespoon paprika

    • .5 teaspoons black pepper

    • .5 teaspoons white pepper

    • .75 teaspoons garlic powder

    • .75 teaspoons onion powder

    • pinch teaspoon thyme

    • cayenne to taste

  1. Melt butter in a thick-bottomed pot and add flour to form a roux. Stir until darkened, about the color of peanut butter. Don’t leave this unattended or you will be sorry.

  2. Add the onions, peppers, and celery. Cook until vegetables begin to soften. Add garlic and spices and cook an additional few minutes. I usually give the onions a head start because I cannot abide the slightest bit of crunch in an onion.

  3. Add chicken and 2 cups water. Add the kale a handful at a time, waiting until the last handful wilts down to add more. Depending on how cooked you want your kale to be, cook the chicken for an hour before adding the kale.

  4. Simmer until the chicken starts to fall apart, about 2 hours. Stir spinach in before serving. Add salt to taste (premixed Cajun seasoning will contain salt).

Serves 4-5, appox. 300 calories per serving.

Adapted from Chow, also seen on Vintage Kitchen.


Kitchen Vacation: Norwegian Cloud Cake

[This is no April Fools’ joke. Mom in chief Julie Podulka has returned to tell you about a different–tastier–kind of souvenir.]

Souvenirs do not have to be hung on a wall or stashed in a curio cabinet. One of my favorite souvenirs lies quietly within a plastic pocket protector snuggled in the dark recesses of my recipe binder. The Norwegians call it “The World’s Best Cake,” but that name always struck me as rather pedestrian for something born in this otherworldly place. So I renamed it “Norwegian Cloud Cake.” Here is the story.

One evening while in Balestrand, Norway, on the shores of the Sognefjord, my husband and I wandered into a little family restaurant and bakery off the dock.

We had a traditional Norwegian meal of potatoes, carrots, and gravy smothered meatballs.  But I had spotted something on the dessert menu called “The World’s Best Cake.” Well, I mean! Who could resist something with a name like that? So, we ordered a piece, ate it, and yup. They weren’t kidding. It was the world’s best cake. So I chatted with the baker, and when I got home I jumped online just to check ingredients and measurements, and voila! The recipe for this unusual meringue, cake, and pastry cream dessert is now mine for the making. And when I take that first forkful of moist and creamy crunchy goodness and close my eyes, there I am, back on the dock looking out at the dolphins flashing in and out of the still, dark water of the fjord, soaking in the golden twilight that will never really turn to night this far north. Yes, a little piece of cake can indeed be a treasured travel touchstone.

Kvaefjord Cake or World’s Best Cake or (according to Julie) Norwegian Cloud Cake

Step 1 – First layer of base

5½ ounces butter
¾ cup sugar
6 egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
6 tablespoons milk
1 cup all-purpose flour
1½ teaspoons baking powder

Whisk the sugar and butter until smooth and pale. Fold in the other ingredients. Mix well. Spread on a 14 x 17 inch baking pan lined with baking/greaseproof paper.

Step 2 – Second layer of base (meringue)
6 egg whites
1 cup sugar

4 oz. sliced almonds

½ tsp. cream of tartar

1 tsp. cornstarch

Make sure eggs are fresh and eggs and bowl are at room temperature. Whisk egg whites and slowly add sugar over 2 minutes, adding cream of tartar and cornstarch until stiff peaks form (meringue). Spread evenly over base made in step 1. Sprinkle 4 ounces sliced almonds on top of the meringue. Bake the two layers together at 350 degrees Fahrenheit in lower part of the oven, for 25-30 minutes.

Step 3 – Filling
1 package instant vanilla pudding mix
1 cup heavy cream

To make filling, whip the cream and make the vanilla pudding separately. Then mix the cream and vanilla pudding gently together, and refrigerate until cold and firm.

Let the cake cool down after removing it from the oven. Cut it in half. Flip half of the cake meringue side down on a serving plate and spread the filling on top of one half, and cover with the other half of the cake. (Begin meringue side down and end meringue side up). Serve immediately upon constructing otherwise the pastry cream just gets sucked up by the cake and the meringue begins to deflate.

Kitchen Vacation: Ottoman Chicken

As I explained yesterday, one of the things I brought back from Istanbul was a baggie of Ottoman spice. I don’t know precisely what’s in it, but my guess is: cumin, paprika, cayenne pepper, garlic, and thyme. Heavier on cumin and paprika, lighter on the rest. That’s about as precise as the rest of this recipe is going to be.

Ottoman spice in its natural habitat

Ottoman spice in its natural habitat

Ottoman chicken was a recipe I invented to make for a rather gourmet camping trip I took with a few friends last summer. I made the marinade and kept it in a tupperware, and I packed the chicken separately, still frozen, and then I let the chicken thaw, cut it up, and combined it with the marinade on the second day of our trip. No one died of salmonella, but I can’t guarantee you’ll get the same results, so maybe you want to make this in your home kitchen, with access to a refrigerator, and not over a campfire.

I have no idea about measurements for this recipe. When not baking, I tend to eyeball everything. Make enough marinade to cover the amount of chicken you want to serve.

Ottoman Chicken

  • Boneless chicken breast (although I’m sure this would be delicious on thighs as well), cubed
  • Ottoman spice (as above)
  • Lemon
  • Olive oil
  • Skewers (if grilling)
  1. If you don’t have pre-mixed Ottoman spice, mix up a batch.
  2. Combine olive oil and lemon in approximately 2:1 ratio.
  3. Mix in enough Ottoman spice to make it look orangey and taste zingy. (That’s scientific, right?)
  4. Add the cubed chicken to the marinade, cover, and let it sit in a refrigerator (or in a cooler in the back of someone’s car if you’re camping) for several hours.
  5. If you’re campfire-ing it: skewer the chicken and grill until nicely browned and cooked through. If you’re doing it on a stovetop, saute until similarly browned and safe.

We ate these on pita with some hummus and grilled veggies alongside. Worked pretty nicely. It didn’t exactly taste like anything I ate in Istanbul, but it did taste pretty darn good.

Kitchen Vacation: Apple Bread

Thanksgiving is the big holiday for my family. It’s not religious, it doesn’t involve giving presents, and it centers on food, which comes a close second to travel as “things the Podulka family cares about.” We have a menu for the feast that varies little year to year, including a concoction known only as “pink salad” that my mom got off the back of a marshmallow package when she was a newly minted housewife. And while I have fond, saliva-inducing feelings about many of these dishes, one of them in particular reminds me of a specific place. My great-aunt Elva’s apple bread is an old recipe (I’ll say it’s 100 years old, which might be either far too young or old–I have no idea) that, to me, is the essence of Northern Michigan, where my mother’s family is from. I almost want to say, “where my mother’s family is of,” because that place, the hills and the river and the woods, feels like part of their DNA, as if they grew up out of the earth there like the pines. This recipe is simple and sweet and warm and filling, and I can think of no other recipe that takes me up north like this one.

Apple Bread


  • 1/2 c. butter
  • 1/2 c. flour
  • 1/2 c. sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp cinnamon

Combine and set aside.


  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 c. sour cream
  • 1/2 c. butter
  • 2 beaten eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 c. flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 1/2 c. diced macintosh apples
  1. Dissolve baking soda in sour cream in a small bowl.
  2. In a larger bowl, cream butter and sugar.
  3. Beat in eggs.
  4. Alternately add sour cream and flour/powder/salt to creamed mixture.
  5. Add vanilla.
  6. Fold in apples.
  7. Pour into 2 greased bread tins.
  8. Sprinkle on topping.
  9. Bake at 350 for 1 hour.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Kitchen Vacation: Pimm’s Cups

Summer is coming to a close. Say goodbye with the most delicious and refreshing drink that also sounds like something out of medieval times: the Pimm’s cup.

Pimm’s #1, the foundation upon which the Pimm’s cup is constructed, is a British thing. It’s a summer cooler, meant, I assume, to keep one quite comfortable whilst watching cricket. Or something. I don’t entirely understand the British. Hell, I don’t really understand Pimm’s #1, to be honest. There are a lot of varieties of Pimm’s based on different liquors (a little Googling indicates that there have been up to six varieties, but they’re not all produced currently, and the “others” aren’t made in large amounts), but I don’t know anyone who uses anything except #1 (gin). It doesn’t take like gin, though. It tastes like Pimm’s #1. And I don’t think it has any use besides a Pimm’s cup. A dear friend of mine had a bottle of Pimm’s kicking around and tried it with some other mixers with no success at all.

This seems like an elaborate and strange combination, but trust me, it’s worth it. The balance is a delicate one, and one that every recipe will play differently. This recipe is what I like best. For me, the essential element is the spiciest ginger beer you can find. But after you’ve made it once, do a little fiddling around to make it your way. Some folks use “lemonade” (British for Sprite) instead of ginger beer. Once, we were out of lemons so we used limes, and that was quite tasty. Maybe try basil or thyme instead of or in addition to the mint? Whatever, you’re creative, use your noggin.

Pimm’s Cups

  • Mint
  • Lemon
  • Strawberries
  • Cucumber (preferably seedless or little Persian ones if you can find them)
  • Pimm’s #1
  • Ginger beer (I love Sioux City’s)
  1. Muddle the mint in the bottom of a small glass. (I guess these should be served in Collins glasses? But I only have small and large glasses, so I went with small.)
  2. Add a few ice cubes.
  3. Add one slice of lemon, two slices of strawberry, and two thin slices of cucumber to the glass.
  4. Pour in one shot of Pimm’s. Top off with ginger beer. Stir.

If you want to get fancy by garnishing with another slice of fruit or a spring of mint on top, I’m not going to stop you, but for me, this recipe is enough work already, in that it is more challenging than just cracking open a beer.

Kitchen Vacation: Sopa de Tomate

It’s August, and that means you likely have hundred of pounds of tomatoes in your kitchen, either from your own garden or from the garden of that well-meaning coworker of yours who keeps bringing you presents. You’ve made BLTs and tomato salad and grilled-cheese-and-tomato sandwiches and you’re looking for something new.

It’s August, and that also means you wish you were on vacation, except you’re no longer a student, which means that August isn’t automatically vacation time. Instead, maybe you’ve just started a new job, and you’re staring at the next few months on the calendar, knowing that you have, at most, a three-day weekend in your future. No time for a real trip.

Making sopa de tomate at Cook & Taste, Barcelona, 2009

Put these two together, and you’re in need of some sopa de tomate, which takes advantage of the fresh deliciousness of ripe summer tomatoes and adds a little Spanish flair. I adapted this recipe from one I learned at Cook & Taste in Barcelona, which I can’t recommend highly enough: the instructor is fun and friendly, the classes are small so everyone can participate, and the food is all very tasty. Plus: lots of wine! Next time you’re lucky enough to be in Barcelona, make time for this cooking class, and be sure to take the pre-class tour of la Boqueria, a huge market near the cooking school. The tour provides more information about typical Spanish and Catalan ingredients and is a unique view into day-to-day life that you might not otherwise get on your trip.

Sopa de Tomate (4 “shots”–actually bigger than shots, but can be served in glasses)

  • 4 tomatoes
  • 1/4 c. grated Manchego cheese
  • 1/4 c. aioli
  • 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1 clove of garlic, peeled
  • 1/4 c. walnuts
  • 1/4 c. hazelnuts
  • 2 tbsp parsley (I am completely guessing on this measurement, as the original just says “parsley” and I don’t remember how much I used the last time. Guess I need to make it again!)
  • olive oil
  • salt
  1. Peel the tomatoes, seed them, and blend them together with the vinegar and a pinch of salt. Any seed or peel here will mess with the texture, so take the time to be careful.
  2. In a mortar, pound the garlic, parsley, and nuts. Emulsify with a little olive oil.
  3. Serve in a glass and garnish with a teaspoon of the garlic/parsley/nut mixture, a teaspoon of aioli, and some grated cheese.

¡Buen provecho! Or maybe, Bon profit!