It’s not February and Mardi Gras, but this Cajun Chicken and Sausage Gumbo will transport you to the Big Easy nonetheless.
Alicia Schmiesing said this summer she received her master’s degree from Loyola University in New Orleans, and since she couldn’t attend graduation in person, she celebrated at home with Gumbo and Bananas Foster.
“To me, these foods are a celebration of that time and all I accomplished,” she said.
Schmiesing said she mostly followed the recipe that she pulled from blog off Pinterest, except she used smoked sausage rather than andouille sausage in order to keep the spice level down.
While she mostly followed the recipe for the gumbo, that doesn’t carry over into the rest of her cooking.
“I stopped following recipes about three years ago. Before that, it was whatever it says, that’s what I’m going to do.”
Now, Schmiesing will mostly follow a recipe until it is time to taste it, then she will add what she feels is missing.
She doesn’t write down any changes she makes, so it may turn out good, bad or ugly, she said with a laugh.
Schmiesing also coordinates the Thou Shall Chow program at St. Thomas More University Parish.
“It’s the 11th Commandment: Everybody has to eat,” she said.
The meals are primarily for Bowling Green State University students, but a handful of parishioners do attend regularly.
When she started working at St Tom’s six years ago, the weekly meals were part of her job. Every Sunday they did a spaghetti dinner, which she participated in as a student.
“So for four years, I ate spaghetti every Sunday, and I was very sick of spaghetti after four years.”
Schmiesing graduated in 2014 and when she became a parish missionary, she talked to her coworkers about expanding the Sunday meal.
She drew on the experience of her parents, who did the meals at their church in Columbus Grove.
Also, her dad was one of 12 children, so at the holidays there were well over 100 people at gatherings. Consequently, Schmiesing knows how to cook for a lot of people.
Both of her parents cooked all the time when she was growing up, and she learned to cook through them. The family also put together a cookbook five years ago as a fundraiser for the American Cancer Society.
“Being an adult, I like to try foods from other cultures and food from other places,” she said. “It’s been fun trying some of these new things.”
Schmiesing has cooked the expected Mexican and Italian dishes, plus Spanish and Chinese but not much French. She enjoys cooking Indian the most, because of the reaction it gets from people, she said.
BGSU students love it as does her boyfriend’s family, which loves to cook, too. Boyfriend James Weinandy helped put together the gumbo, which she suggested refrigerating overnight to allow the flavors to meld.
This gumbo was served straight from the stovetop and had a variety of flavors from the sausage, bell peppers, tomatoes, paprika and celery.
The Bananas Foster Schmiesing served for dessert was decadent.
Schmiesing said she also draws from the Food Network and cooking shows, but that AllRecipes.com is her go-to.
Although she has a major sweet tooth, she said she doesn’t bake very much.
“I just think that in some ways, with baking you have to be so precise with it and follow the recipe,” Schmiesing said. “With cooking, you can taste it … and put my own little spin on it. Whatever I have in the fridge sometimes end up in the pot.”
The Thou Shall Chow meals are served every other Sunday after the 5 p.m. Mass and include macaroni and cheese, baked potato and taco bars, French bread pizza, chicken tikka masala, soups and casseroles.
They still do spaghetti once a year “just because it’s simple.”
Some weeks they served as few as 40 and some upwards of 50, she said. At the beginning of the campus semester, meals were served outside. As it got colder, they were grab and go.
Leftovers are taken to the Labre Program in Toledo, where on Monday St. John’s Jesuit and St. Ursula’s Academy students take food to the homeless in Toledo.
In the past, she has served 130 meals the Sunday prior to Thanksgiving. This year, that did not happen. But Schmiesing told the students if the pandemic improves by spring, she will serve a Thanksgiving dinner in March.
It’s the experience of sharing food with someone else that she really enjoys.
“It’s really anything that makes someone smile,” she said. “That’s why I cook.”