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Ooh la la!!!

Ahhh! Paris!!!

Paris is one of my absolute favorite places on the planet. I’ve been lucky enough to travel there numerous times in the last decade and can’t wait to go again.  The romance, the architecture, the art, the cafe lifestyle; all sublime. But the best part about Paris is, of course, the food. I’m already seriously researching where to eat for my next trip in May. Yes, that’s right. It’s 8 months away and I’m still spending way too much time, every day, dreaming about what I’ll eat when I get there.

One of the many things I so love about Paris is that there’s an incredible bakery on almost every corner of every neighborhood in the city. Even the mediocre, non-artisan boulangeries have goods that beat anything I can get anywhere even close to my whole town. In Paris there are warm crusty baguettes available at almost any time of day, gorgeous, elegant pastries in every imaginable (and unimaginable) flavor. And of course, buttery, flaky, croissants. Who doesn’t love to start their day with a French roasted expresso and a fresh baked croissant? Heaven! And simply not available here in my neck of the woods. Unless of course I bake them myself, which I’ve sworn more than once, I would never do. It’s way to many steps, way too much waiting around for the various rises of the dough, and way to many calories to consume if I had a whole batch coming out of my very own oven. Plus, I knew I could never make them taste anything like ones in Paris.

Breads and pastries in Paris  

Well surprise, surprise! Just as I was salivating while researching which excellent bakery will be closest to the apartment I’m renting in Paris next May, (Le Grenier a Pain) I find out that the Daring Bakers go retro this month! Thanks to one of our very talented non-blogging members, Sarah, the Daring Bakers were challenged to make Croissants using a recipe from the Queen of French Cooking, none other than Julia Child! I guess I would be attempting homemade croissants after all.

I decided that if I was to do it at all, I’d try my best to do it right. I bought hand churned organic, cultured butter that was 85% butter fat and Callibaut for the chocolate ones I’d make. I followed the steps in Julia’s recipe religiously and patiently waited for the dough to rest and rise in it’s various stages.

The first rise

Folded and twice risen

I worked the butter until it was spreadable but still cool and carefully folded, turned, rolled, folded and turned. I let it rest for 2 hours and repeated the folding, turning. rolling and folding once again. And then, after an overnight rest in the fridge, I formed the croissants.

Butter spread and ready for folding and turning

The first croissant, finally shaped!!!

Patient again, I waited for them to rise a final time before double brushing them with egg wash and popping them into the oven.

Finally ready to bake!

It took a total of twenty hours to make 4 plain croissants and 6 pains au chocolate. As expected, they were expensive, time consuming, and challenging. I won’t be making them again any time soon but the surprise was that they were every bit as good as some of the best I’ve eaten in Paris. Crisp, flaky, buttery layers of deliciousness. I put on a pot of coffee and ate most of them warm, right out of the oven. I could almost imagine I was in Paris!!!

Fresh baked croissants! YUM!!!

Pain au chocolate anyone? yes please!!

And the bonus was the outrageous bread pudding I made from the 2 day old chocolate croissants I didn’t manage to stuff down when they were fresh.

Chocolate croissant bread pudding

And now, after a weekend of consuming close to a pound of butter (not to mention the heavy cream in the bread pudding!) it’s definitely back on the diet bandwagon.

It’s that time of the month again: The Daring Bakers Challenge Post. The August 2011 Daring Bakers’ Challenge was hosted by Lisa of Parsley, Sage, Desserts and Line Drive and Mandy of What the Fruitcake?!.  These two sugar mavens challenged us to make sinfully delicious candies!  This was a special challenge for the Daring Bakers because the good folks at http://www.chocoley.com offered an amazing prize for the winner of the most creative and delicious candy!

Fortunately, I jumped right on this challenge and completed it 3 weeks ago! There’s no way I’d be making candy this weekend as we sit here waiting for hurricane Irene to hit. I’ll post soon about all the delicious things I’ve prepped for the promised power outages due to this big storm but for today, here are the sweet treats I made for this challenge.

My first ever attempt to temper chocolate. Not easy and not something I’ll be rushing to do again!

Tempered chocolate, shiny and smooth!

Making the innards of the truffles was a great deal easier and it was fun to be creative. I made an assorment and all were delicious

(From the upper left going clockwise) Mint ganache dipped in white chocolate, spiced nut bark, home made marzipan w/ dried cranberries dipped in dark chocolate, and chocolate dipped spiced carmelized nuts! Yum!

It was an interesting challenge and I’m glad I tried my hand at candy making but with a fabulous local chocolate shop close by (Munson’s) I think I’ll leave it to the experts.

When I first decided to blog about food (with an occasional rant from my soapbox about the weight struggle and the cultural craziness that drives us to be thin!) I didn’t know that #1 I’d take on both the Bakers and Cook’s challenge and #2 that I’d end up hating the WordPress blogging format. Sigh.

So let’s start with my complaints about WordPress. Sooo not user friendly! Especially when it comes to posting pictures. What good is a blog about food without fabulous food porn to make readers drool and wish they were eating what I eat? But getting my pictures inserted into my posts is an epic task and every time I sit down at my computer to share with you the delicious things I’ve eaten and carefully photographed for your enjoyment, I end up swearing my brains out and wondering why I’m bothering to do it when the enjoyment is sucked right out by the frustrations of WordPress. I keep thinking I should switch to a Google Blog, which is supposed to be easy blogging for Dummies, but then I can’t seem to find the time to make the move.

Which brings me to the Challenges. It seemed like a great idea to have something spectacular to cook and to bake each month. I love to be creative in the kitchen, right? But I’m finding that it’s almost impossible to do the Cook’s and the Baker’s challenges each month, take some decent photos of the process and then write a blog post about it.Who has that kind of time?  And then, of course, I have to eat what I’ve baked! Sometimes a whole cake, like this month!

Jana of Cherry Tea Cakes was our July Daring Bakers’ host and she challenges us to make Fresh Frasiers inspired by recipes written by Elisabeth M. Prueitt and Chad Robertson in the beautiful cookbook Tartine. Now don’t get me wrong. This challenge looked awesome and I had no doubt that I’d love to have a slice of a gorgeous, rich Fraisier, but I knew if I made one, hubby and I would be eating the whole cake ourselves. I had almost decided to skip it in lieu of fitting into my bathing suit and heading to the beach, but it was a rainy day today and I was jonesing for something sweet so I whipped up this baby using a layer of chocolate cake I made and froze last month. I threw together a quick batch of pastry
cream, folded in whipped cream and a little gelatin, added some fresh oraganic strawberries and bananas, topped with chocolate ganache and a little toasted coconut and Walla! Chocolate Fresh Fruit Fraiser!

All the ingredients

Somehow I think we’ll manageto polish the whole thing off before the weekend is over.

Chocolate Strawberry Fraiser

July has been a seriously action packed month and it’s only half over! Some of the action, like participation in a 5 day contact improvisation dance Jam,was a blast. Some, like a weekend workshop I facilitated for 25 of my favorite peopleon the topic of Ages and Stages, was a ton of work but extremely rewarding. But some of it simply sucked; dealing with a bed bug infestation and needing to replace our entire electrical circuit box! This was a month where comfort foodwas definitely in order!

Fortunately, this month’s daring cooks challenge totally fit the bill. Steph from Stephfood was our Daring Cooks’ July hostess. Steph challenged us to make homemade noodles without the help of a motorized pasta machine. She provided us with recipes for Spätzle and Fresh Egg Pasta as well as a few delicious sauces to pair our noodles with!

Making the Spätzle was a first for me and while the dough was easy enough to prepare, getting the hang of sliding them into the boiling water
took a few tries but once I got the rhythm of down, it was simple.

Soon I had a big tray of the delicious dumplings just waiting to be fried in butter and fresh bread crumbs. Yum!

The Spätzle was the perfect side dish for a juicy, rare rib-eye.

Spätzle and rib-eye. So delcious!

Then it was time for fresh pasta, my absolute favorite food in the world. Once I invested the 25 bucks in a pasta machine and began making my own pasta I realized I will never look back. With a food processor and this hand cranked pasta roller, making fresh pasta is so easy and so superior in taste to dried, that there’s no excuse to not have fresh almost every time I want the comfort that pasta always brings me.

fresh spinach tagliatelle

I made spinach tagliatelle, which I served simply with butter and fresh grated imported super sharp provolone cheese and a healthy grind of black pepper.

Fresh spinach pasta with sharp provolone

I also made fresh egg tagliatelle with a rich sour cream and chicken stock sauce with portobella mushrooms, vidalia onion and spinach. Served with crispy skinned chicken thighs, this was the ultimate comfort food!

Fresh egg pasta with mushroom, spinach and sour cream sauce

If you’ve never tried making Spätzle, I definitely recommend you give it a try. Here’s a recipe.

2 large eggs
½ cup milk (any style of milk you what, but I believe buttermilk may be traditional)
1½ cups (7½ oz) all-purpose (plain) flour (approximately – have more on hand, in case)
up to 1 tablespoon of herbs and spices (optional – I used herbes de provence)
Mix all the ingredients together, cover with plastic wrap and let rest for 15 minutes. Turn 1/3 of the dough out onto a wet wooden board and slide thin pieces of dough off inot boiling salted water. Cook for 6-7 minutes and then drain, spread flat on a baking sheet to dry before frying in butter and fresh bread crumbs.

I’ve lived within a 2 hour drive to NYC for most of my life and while all the amazing foodie destinations that the city has to offer have been calling me for years, it’s only recently that I’ve been lucky enough to have an easeful way to make a day trip New York, avoiding the exorbitant hotel costs of an overnight as well as the traffic and parking hassles inherent in any attempt to drive a car in for the day. With a dear friend offering me his unused apartment in Stamford on the weekends, I can easily drive there and take the train into the city, crashing at the apartment on either end of the trip allowing me a truly relaxed, affordable full day in fabulous New York City!

Last weekend, Paul and I took full advantage of this privilege and had a wonderful day visiting various pastry shops, seeing a number of excellent exhibits at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and finishing our day with a knock-out dinner at The Modern a fine dining restaurant located inside the Modern Museum of Art where Alsatian born chef Gabriel Kreuther is turning out some of the most gorgeous and delicious food around. I certainly found  its Michelin star and 3 stars from the NY Times, well deserved!

The view of the sculture garden from our table

We arrived a few minutes early for our 7:00 PM reservation and were at first seated at a horseshoe shaped banquette easily large enough for a party of 4. We liked the fact that we could sit right beside each other and both face out to the whole dining room but quickly discovered that in order to use the back of the built in leather seat, we would both have needed to be quite a bit stouter than we are to comfortably reach the table. Knowing that I would need to have some back support to really enjoy a long meal, we asked to be moved to one of the empty 2 tops on the other side of the room. The staff quite graciously honored our request and we were soon happily ensconced in extremely comfortable leather chairs that we could pull up as close or as far away from the table as we desired at any given moment, right beside a wall of windows that looked out onto the lovely MoMa sculpture garden.

The Modern dining room offers only a choice of a 4 course prix fixe, 3 savories and one sweet for $98 or the chef’s tasting menu for the whole table that offers 7 savory courses as well as a trio of desserts for $155. Wine pairings are offered for and additional $135. There is also a fine looking cheese cart available to add to either menu.

While everything on the tasting menu looked divine, each course from the 4 course option offers the diner 7 or 8 different choices so we decided that rather than both eat the exact same dinner, we’d each order what appealed most to us individually and share bites, a strategy that frequently employ and seems to work well for us. And this was no exception. What followed was one of the most delectable and enjoyable meals of my fine dining career and that’s saying a lot!

We began with an amuse of nettle panna cotta with a nasturtium and Riesling sauce, the peppery sauce a perfect accompaniment to the fresh spring green taste of the creamy panna cotta. Off to a fantastic start we eagerly awaited the rest of the meal, barely bothering with the bread, French and a whole grain rolls served with perfectly spreadable but slightly funky tasting butter. I was saving my stomach space for the meal and I was glad I did.

For my first course, I ordered Wagu Beef and Foie Gras “Damier” Passion Fruit Gastrique, a gorgeous presentation of a checkerboard of small squares of raw beef and smooth foie, each enhancing the rich flavor of the other and both brought to heavenly heights by the tart passion fruit sauce.

Paul’s Foie Gras Terrine with Roasted Artichokes, Green Peppercorn and Baby Turnip was also sublime, served with buttery, crisp toast points and topped with a drizzle of pure maple syrup. Smooth and rich, that little bit of maple sweetness really made the flavors pop!

For my next course, I selected the Potato Gateau, a crisp packet of thinly sliced potato filled with Benton’s country ham, pearl onions and comte cheese, topped with a few drops of pumpkin seed oil and toasted pumpkin seeds. A wonderful combination of flavors and textures, this dish brought the idea of a “hot pocket” to new heights.

Paul went with Hamachi, Sea Urchin, and Fennel Tart, an incredible taste of pure ocean floating on a mellow flavored fennel puree atop a crisp pastry round. A truly spectacular dish.

For our final savory course, I went for Organic Veal Tenderloin, Black Truffle, Asian Pear and Spinach and Fine Herbs Puree. The veal was fork tender and the flavors earthy and rich. I especially enjoyed the taste of the spinach puree with the veal.

Paul’s Long Island Duck Breast was brought out whole and sliced tableside, a production that was fun to watch but I’m not sure necessary. But the duck was tender and delicious, topped with a crust of black trumpet “marmalade” and served with a sauce made from Banyuls wine. It was all delcious but my favorite thing on the plate was a “Fleischschneke” of duck confit: a spiral of the confit rolled in a thin crepe. Yum!

After polishing off the plates, we placed our orders for dessert and eagerly awaited the treats to come. I had seen the sweets trolley making its way around the dining room and knew that some great chocolates would be enjoyed with our after dessert coffees and found myself appreciating how perfect The Modern’s portion sizes were. Each serving was enough to really enjoy and feel satisfied with all of the flavors, even sharing bites with my dining partner, but not so much that I felt stuffed before dessert was served. What a pleasure it was to be anticipating dessert without feeling as if I would bust before tasting more than a few bites!

The Top Layer of the Sweets Trolley

Desserts did not disappoint, and I happily polished off the Chocolate and Hazelnut Dacquiose, crisp and chewy, encased in a layer of buttery caramel and served with a fresh raspberry sorbet.

A decadent daquiose!

Paul’s Lemon Napolean was not quite as rich, but scrumptious as well with smooth, tart lemon curd layered between thin crisp rounds of caramelized crepes and served with finely chopped exotic fruits and a truly spectacular fromage blanc sorbet. My only complaint is my usual pet peeve of how tiny the scoops of sorbet were. I admit I could have happily polished off a pint of the fromage blanc sorbet but I’m not exaggerating to say there was less than a teaspoon on the plate with the Napolean. I never can understand why so many fine dining establishments are so stingy with the frozen accompaniments to their desserts!

Another amazing dessert, the lemon Napolean

After licking the plates clean finishing the desserts, we ordered double decafe espressos and tried to exhibit a little restraint while choosing treats from the sweet trolley. Fortunately, we were beginning to feel full by this point so while I definitely wanted 1 of everything, I limited my choices to a couple truffles, a chunk of chocolate ganache cake, and a caramel and pinapple chocolate covered “lollipop.” Paul tried the candied nuts, a chocolate chip cookie, and some nut filled truffles. A veritable feast of fudgy fantasies, perfect with the steaming hot espressos.

The second layer of the sweets trolley!

Fully satisfied, we were ready for the check but before they brought the bill, they delivered 2 miniature ice cream cones, a mix of rich vanilla bean ice cream and raspberry sorbet. A playfully sweet end to a truly spectacular meal.

Our selection of sweets

A note about the service at The Modern: They use a team approach so we didn’t have one person who was our primary waiter and we interacted equally with at least 5 different staff people over the evening. Everyone was prompt, courteous and knowledgeable but some were warmer than others. Personally, I prefer to develop a bit of a relationship with my wait person over the course of a long dinner but I still thoroughly enjoyed the evening and would go back in a heartbeat. For this kind of dining at this price point, I believe it’s one of the best to be found anywhere.

Here in New England, most of April and May felt like March; perpetually cold and rainy with an occasional snow squall and an even less occasional day of sunshine. But finally, heading into Memorial Day weekend, the weather shifted and the sun came out with a vengeance and suddenly it felt like summer. The timing couldn’t be better as far as the Daring Cooks challenge because Jami Sorrento was our June Daring Cooks hostess and she chose to challenge us to celebrate the humble spud by making a delicious and healthy potato salad. The Daring Cooks Potato Salad Challenge was sponsored by the nice people at the United States Potato Board, who awarded prizes to the top 3 most creative and healthy potato salads. A medium-size (5.3 ounce) potato has 110 calories, no fat, no cholesterol, no sodium and includes nearly half your daily value of vitamin C and has more potassium than a banana!

Potato salad is the perfect summer food, particularly good to take to a potluck or have as part of an outdoor barbeque. Fortunately, I had both on the calendar so I made two different potato salads (recipes at the end of this post) but I’m not sure I’ll be considered for the competition because my recipes aren’t particularly healthy or low fat. Sadly, I’m a firm believer that the creamier and fuller of fat something is, the better it will taste! Thus, I suppose, my constant battle with the bulge.

For a Memorial Weekend potluck, I made a creamy curried potato salad and it was a fantastic addition to a truly delicious and gorgeous meal where each dish was prepared with love and care and shared with some of my favorite people on the planet.

Curried potato salad and my sesame roasted  veggies 

It was a gorgeous potluck with yummy food and yummy people!

Awesome potluck (from left to right) black beans w/ basmati rice, sesame roasted veggies, curried potato salad, baked chicken, massaged kale salad, fresh baked bread!

The following weekend I decided to do a bacon and egg potato salad as one of the sides to go along with a whole barbequed rack of baby back ribs. What a perfect accompaniment to compliment the smoky, long cooked flavor of all that porky goodness! Asian slaw, grilled Tuscan bread and coconut chocolate mousse cake rounded out this special birthday meal for our good friend Bob.

Bacon and egg potato salad

Check out these ribs:

Dry rub on the raw ribs of paprika, ancho chili, brown sugar, salt and black pepper

They smelled amazing cooking on the grill!

Nice rack!!!

Barbequed baby back ribs ready to eat!

Dessert was great too!

Chocolate coconut mousse cake with chocolate dipped strawberries

Yum!

With summer off to a roaring good start, I’ve officially fallen off the diet band wagon and not sure I’ll be ready to climb back on any time soon. Given the choice between all the succulent tastes of summer or looking lean in my bathing suit,  it’s shaping up (or not shaping up!) to be not much of a choice. A good rich potato salad is just too good to resist and next it’s strawberry shortcake time, soon followed by native corn on the cob (of course slathered with butter) and then corn and native tomato pie and then…

Maybe I’ll skip the beach this year.

CURRIED POTATO SALAD

5 lbs red new potatoes
1 C diced celery
½ C diced red bell pepper (drain on paper towels to absorb extra moisture)
1 C chopped dried cranberries
1 ½  C mayo (I like Miracle Whip but that’s a debate for another day. Use what you like. You can use lite mayo or Miracle whip as well)
¾ C non-fat plain yogurt
½ C regular or lite (not fat free) sour cream
Juice of 1 lemon
1 C cilantro
4 scallions
2 TBSP curry powder
1 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp salt
1 tsp fresh ground pepper

Cut potatoes (with skin on) into small bite sized chunks and boil in salted water until just tender, 5-8 minutes. Drain and rinse in cold water to stop cooking. When cool and well drained, place in a large bowl with the celery, red pepper and cranberries. Puree remaining ingredients in a food processor or blender, scraping down sides, until a smooth dressing forms. Pour over the potatoes and gently stir until all the potatoes are well coated. Let rest in the refrigerator for an hour or so to let the flavors meld.

BACON AND EGG POTATO SALAD

3 lbs red new potatoes
1 C diced celery
½ C diced red bell pepper (drain on paper towels to absorb extra moisture)
½ C chopped flat leaf parsley
4 slices well cooked bacon, drained and crumbled
4 chopped hard cooked eggs
1-1 ½  C lite or regular mayo (I use Miracle whip)
Scant ¼ C bacon drippings
1 tsp salt (or to taste)
fresh ground pepper, to taste

Cut potatoes (with skin on) into small bite sized chunks and boil in salted water until just tender, 5-8 minutes. Drain and rinse in cold water to stop cooking. When cool and well drained, place in a large bowl with the celery, red pepper, parsley, and most of the bacon and eggs (save some for garnish.) Gently stir in mayo and bacon drippings. Garnish with extra bacon and eggs.

It’s that time of the month again (no, not that time!) for the Daring Cooks challenge. Our May hostess, Denise, of There’s a Newf in My Soup!, challenged The Daring Cooks to make Gumbo! She provided us with all the recipes we’d need, from creole spices, homemade stock, and Louisiana white rice, to Drew’s Chicken & Smoked Sausage Gumbo and Seafood Gumbo from My New Orleans: The Cookbook, by John Besh.

I’ve never made gumbo before, probably because I’m not a big sausage fan, nor have I ever enjoyed the slimy goo that okra seems to add to any dish. Since both are primary ingredients of most gumbo recipes, I’ve just never considered it as something I’d take the time or make the effort to cook up. But I suppose this is why it’s called a challenge, so I rose to it and decided to go all out and make a big pot to bring to a party. I’m happy to report that it was a huge success, even though I, myself, didn’t enjoy it enough to ever make it again.

Gumbo is a lot of work! It involves numerous time consuming steps, especially to do it well. Because timing is so important with gumbo, all the vegetables and the meat need to be carefully prepared ahead of time and ready to go, so this isn’t a one pot meal where you toss everything in and simply forget it for an hour or so as it cooks. You’ve got to be dedicated to the process, which means you want to love the results so that all the attention and time is worthwhile.

There are hundreds of gumbo recipes out there containing every kind of meat, sausage and seafood available. There’s even a green gumbo that’s completely vegetarian. I chose to make a chicken and sausage gumbo using my butchers store made chorizo and smoked Andouille sausage, as well as organic, air chilled chicken thighs. I made a rich, homemade chicken stock, mixed up my own Cajun spices and spent almost an hour stirring the roux as it browned, first on its own and then with the addition of the “holy trinity” of chopped onion, green pepper, and celery. And yes, I eventually added the dreaded okra, which fortunately cooked away to almost nothing and the goo simply added thickening power to the gumbo.

The Cajun food "Holy Trinity" of onions, green peppers, and celery (plus garlic and the dreaded okra!)

 

 

The roux after about 15 minutes of cooking

 

Here's the roux after adding the veggies and cooking for another half hour or so

 

Good quality, well seasoned meat is key

 

A big pot of gumbo ready for the party

 

Served over white rice it was a tremendous hit at the party but for me, the ratio of work to enjoyment simply wasn’t there. I’m glad I tried my hand at it but it’s not a recipe that I’ll be adding to my regular repertoire.

The finished gumbo, served over white Lousiana rice

MY RECIPE FOR CHICKEN AND SAUSAGE GUMBO

1 cup rendered chicken fat, duck fat, or canola oil
1 cup flour
2 large onions, diced
1 ½ lb chicken thighs, bone in
2 tablespoons Basic Creole Spices (recipe follows), or store-bought Creole spice blend
2 ½  lbs sausage, sliced ½ inch (15mm) thick
2 stalks celery, diced
2 green bell peppers (capsicum), seeded and diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
Leaves from 2 sprigs of fresh thyme
2 quarts good chicken stock (or canned chicken stock)
1 bay leaves
1 cup sliced fresh okra, ½ -inch thick slices (or frozen, if fresh is not available)
Salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Tobasco to taste

DIRECTIONS

Season the chicken pieces with about 2 tablespoons of the Creole Spices while you prepare the vegetables. Make sure all of your vegetables are cut, diced, chopped, minced and ready to go before beginning the roux. You must stand at the stove and stir the roux continuously to prevent it from burning. 

In a large cast-iron or heavy-bottomed pan, heat the chicken fat, duck fat, or canola oil over high heat. Whisk the flour into the hot oil – it will start to sizzle. Reduce the heat to moderate, and continue whisking until the roux becomes deep brown in color, about 15 minutes. Add the onions, celery, green pepper and garlic. Switch to a flay spatula and stir the vegetables into the roux. Reduce the heat to medium-low. Continue stirring, scraping the bottom of the pan until the roux becomes a glossy dark brown, about 10 minutes.  

Add the chicken to the pot; raise the heat to moderate, and cook, turning the pieces until slightly browned, about 10 minutes. Add the sliced sausage and stir for about a minute. Add the thyme, chicken stock, and bay leaves. Bring the gumbo to a boil, stirring occasionally. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, for 45 minutes. Stir occasionally, skimming off the fat from the surface of the gumbo every so often.

Add the okra. Season with salt and Tabasco, all to taste.  Simmer for another 30 minutes, continuing to skim the fat from the surface of the gumbo. Remove the bay leaves and take chicken of the bones and return meat to the pot. Serve in bowls over rice.