Archive for the ‘New Orleans cooking’ Category

I hope it’s not too late to send out a hearty Happy Mardi Gras hug to everyone!

Tonight finds me enjoying a new New Orleans tradition my husband has just shared: Eating Zapp’s Spicy Cajun Crawtators potato chips with cream cheese.  (Hey, they don’t call it Low Fat Tuesday!)

Raising a few Abita Turbodogs. Cheers, everyone!

So in honor of the end of carnival season, tell me:
What are you dipping into tonight?

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In LITTLE GALE GUMBO, there’s a scene where Camille shows Ben how to cook gumbo. Like Ben, I learned how to make the famous New Orleans dish from a reliable source: my husband Ian, who is a native New Orleanian and an incredible cook.

I thought it would be fun to have him share a bit of his experience growing up around so much great food.

Tell us about yourself. I was born and raised in New Orleans, and my roots in Louisiana run far back on both sides of my family. My great-grandmother grew up in Houma, Louisiana and spoke only French until she was fifteen when the family moved to New Orleans. One of my favorite stories of hers was how she became Episcopalian which was very unusual for a Cajun. Her family lived so remotely that when my great-great grandfather became gravely ill, the only priest who ventured into the swamp to console him was the Episcopal priest, so when my great-great-grandfather recovered, he switched to the Episcopal Church.

Why do you think food is such a central part of New Orleans culturally? I think it’s a pervasive part of all cultures to have food at special gatherings of family and friends, so New Orleans isn’t unique that way. The difference with New Orleanians is that food is the special occasion and they don’t need the excuse of a holiday or some other big event to eat extravagantly. The vast majority of family gatherings I remember as a kid were because my grandfather got 40 pounds of crawfish or someone gave him a bunch of blue crabs or oysters or whatever was in season at the time.

What are some of your earliest memories of food? My grandparents always made huge vats of gumbo and froze it, so they would always have a bowl of gumbo waiting for me when I came to visit, chock full of blue crab bodies still in the shell.

Crawfish boils were also a big part of growing up. My grandfather would cook the crawfish in these huge tin wash bins and I have very distinct memories of watching him and being amazed at the amount of cayenne pepper and salt he would pour into these boils. Whole jars of cayenne. Then when they were done cooking, he’d dump the steaming crawfish out onto three picnic tables lined up end-to-end and my cousins and I would sit around them and it was always a race to peel the crawfish before they were all gone.

Your grandfather was a shrimper in Lake Pontchartrain for many years. Did you ever get to go with him? Lots of times. What I remember most was getting up at three in morning and getting out on the water and it would be completely dark. While we were trawling, I can remember sitting under the bulkhead and I couldn’t see anything—all I could feel was these big waves hitting the hull and I remember being certain we were going to sink. Then by the time light came, we’d be finished trawling and my job would be to pick the crabs and the fish out of the shrimp. You had to watch out for the small crabs because their pinch was the worst.

Tell us something people may not know about New Orleans food. New Orleanians are not purists when it comes to their food. I remember my grandfather started putting his etouffee over pasta instead of the traditional rice and it became quite popular among his fellow shrimpers.

What’s your favorite New Orleans dish to cook and your favorite to eat? Definitely gumbo. To me, it’s the one dish I most associate with growing up in New Orleans. But I miss those blue crabs.

* * * *

When Ian isn’t teaching his wife how to make traditional New Orleans dishes, he’s teaching Biology and Anatomy.

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It’s growing chilly here. Nights are falling to the thirties.

Bread Pudding with Chocolate and Orange Zest

Leaves are falling too–albeit often on 80 degree days, but like I said, the nights are cold–so cold we put off our camping trip for one more day when the temps will be a wee bit higher in the overnight…

So when the weather shifts and the chill grows, I yearn for bread pudding. Okay, so I yearn for it when it’s a 110 heat index, but I really crave it when it’s cold.

Maybe it’s the brandy. Maybe it’s the warm custard infused with vanilla and orange zest. Maybe it’s the brandy. Maybe it’s the melted chunks of dark chocolate on the crusty edges of the bread. Maybe it’s the raisins plumped in a 24-hour marinade of…brandy.

I know. Suddenly you’re Cookie Monster from Christmas Eve on Sesame Street and you’re ready to pluck off those little black keys on your keyboard, because they so resemble those fat, soaked raisins…aren’t you?

The recipe is relatively simple–cube a loaf of crusty white bread, soak it in a custard of half n half, heavy cream, vanilla and eggs overnight, also soak (overnight) a cup and a half of raisins in a cup and change of brandy and lots of orange

Can't I just eat it like this? Do I HAVE to cook it?

zest–mix them together with a few TBS of the brandy reserve (and keep on reserving that reserve to pour over the finished pudding…) and bake with chopped chocolate pieces over the top for 30-35 mins at 325.

Anyone else have a winter-warmer favorite?

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As you may have read in my post on my journey to publication, my husband and I left New Orleans three days after Hurricane Katrina made landfall. This coming weekend will be an emotional commemoration, especially for those of us who no longer live in New Orleans but still feel a deep affection and longing for the city that, every day, continues to rise above the challenges it has faced.

As my forthcoming novel LITTLE GALE GUMBO is in part a tribute to my love of New Orleans and its unmatched culture and history, I thought I would offer another tribute with today’s post by giving our family recipe for red beans and rice, a quintessential New Orleans dish that is traditionally made on Monday (wash-day) but can certainly be made and savored any day (or days!) of the week.

1. Soak one bag of dried beans overnight in enough water that it rises about an inch above the beans. (Don’t use canned beans–they don’t come close–you need the starch of the dried beans to thicken the sauce.)

2. Add beans and water to pot (cast iron is preferable if you have it, or something equally sturdy–we were at a friend’s house here and didn’t have our trusty pot) as well as one onion, chopped, and several cloves of crushed garlic.

3. Heat over medium/high heat until boiling; add several bay leaves, 2 tablespoons of fresh thyme (dried is fine too), salt and pepper to taste.

4. When mixture begins to boil, lower heat to simmer and cover. Leave simmering for at least two hours, stirring occasionally. Add coins of smoked sausage (such as andouille or smoked turkey sausage–it must be smoked otherwise it will fall apart on you when sliced/cooked) to the beans to warm the sausage but don’t overcook. The beans will thicken considerably.

5. Turn off heat. Serve over rice with as much hot sauce as you care for. You can serve immediately or the next day–personally, we prefer to cook it the night before and let it sit in the fridge overnight–the flavors get better with time.

Not too hard to make, very hard not to eat. Enjoy!

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In LITTLE GALE GUMBO, one of Camille Bergeron’s signature Creole treats are her creamy pralines. Pronounced Praw-leen, these pecan-laden discs are nothing short of perfection and were a source of addiction for me during the years that I lived in New Orleans.

So when my husband and I relocated/returned to Maine after Hurricane Katrina, I could think of no quicker balm to soothe my heartache than to finally try my hand at the confection that I had adored, the confection that above all others–except a Hubig’s coconut pie or a Cafe Du Monde beignet–says New Orleans to me and always will.

But with so many recipes and variations out there on the internet, who to ask for a tried and true version? I decided to consult my husband’s great-grandmother, a native Louisianan who had been making pralines for well over fifty years. Her recipe was very simple, she assured me,  explaining the short list of ingredients. It certainly sounded easy enough, so I set about getting the sugar and cream, vanilla and  pecans, and later that day, I followed her “easy” instructions.

Well. Instead of producing a dozen shiny, beautiful pralines, I ended up with piles of brown goo that eventually hardened on the bottom of our apartment’s freezer and had to be removed with a paint scraper when we finally moved. As I should have expected, like so many things, ease comes from experience. Ian’s great-grandmother knew when her praline syrup was ready simply by rolling a portion into a little ball. I would need to use a candy thermometer. At least, for a few years. Or twenty.

But this time out, I’m ready. I’ve got the scraper standing by, but I’m so confident I won’t be needing it that I haven’t cleaned it of its five layers of paint from our old house. Heck, I haven’t even made room in the freezer–how’s that for cocky? Ian assures me that just by him, a native New Orleanian, being in the same kitchen (he was absent during my first attempt) that I can’t fail this time.

So here we go. Turn up the music, brew some chicory coffee, and let’s make pralines.

What you’ll need:

pinch of salt
3/4 cup each brown and white sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup evaporated milk
1 tablespoon butter
1 cup halved pecans
a candy thermometer
and a cookie sheet lined with wax paper

1. In a good, heavy-bottomed saucepan, add sugars, salt and milk.

2. Heat on low/medium heat and stir constantly, the mixture will turn the color of caramel

3. Bring to boil and insert candy thermometer (continue stirring) and let temp. hit around 235 degrees.  At that point, take off heat.

4. Add vanilla, butter and pecans and blend gently

5. Drop onto wax paper, let cool

6. Once cooled, they should have a slight shine and peel easily off paper

7.  And, lo! Pralines!

And how are they? Not too shabby for a second attempt. They taste close to the ones I used to get in New Orleans, though they are a tad on the gritty side (maybe I let the sugar get too hot? Or let it get too cool before dropping the syrup on the sheet?) and I might chop the pecans next time into quarters rather than halves so the syrup can flatten out more (I recall pralines being thinner than mine).

Not bad at all.

But I bet they’d be even better with a cafe au lait…

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There’s a fantastic Mexican restaurant in Camden, Maine called Blue Sky Cantina. The owner Ron and his wife Jennifer make authentic Mexican dishes with a regional twist, adding local seafood to some of their dishes, such as fish tacos made with haddock that are out of this world. They own a second restaurant down the road in Rockland called Big Fish Cafe and that menu includes even more seafood-based temptations, such as Scallop-Sweet Potato Chowder and Lobster Nachos. Having written a novel about a Creole woman who opens up an authentic New Orleans cafe on an island in Maine, I appreciated hearing Ron’s story of how he and his wife came to bring authentic Mexican food from the West Coast to Maine.

If you’re ever in Midcoast Maine, stop in and feast.

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Shrimp and Andouille Gumbo

We’ve made the stock, we’ve made the roux, we’ve added the Holy Trinity to the roux, now it’s time to finish the gumbo. So feel free to pour yourself a cold beer and let’s get cooking. All ingredients are in bold.

1. Once the Holy Trinity is added to the roux, keep stirring and continue to cook on medium heat until pieces are tender (5 or so minutes)

2. Add the strained stock to the pot and mix, letting the stock warm.

3. Once the stock is heated and the Holy Trinity is incorporated, add:
1–28 oz. can of stewed tomatoes, undrained
1/2 tablespoon each of oregano, thyme, basil
3 bay leaves
3 garlic cloves, chopped
a pinch of Worcestershire sauce
then  stir, gently breaking up tomatoes with the side of your spoon:

4. Add 1 lb. of okra, chopped, and stir. Turn heat way down, let simmer for at least an hour and a half so the okra can break down and thicken the gumbo.

5. A half hour before serving, add 1 and 1/2 lb. sliced sausage (andouille, or some other spicy, smoked sausage that will keep their medallion shapes as they cook), stir in

6. A few minutes before serving, turn heat up to medium and add 2 lbs. shelled shrimp, stirring continually.

7. Stir until shrimp are cooked, then lower heat and cover.

8. Serve over white rice and with a side of french bread.

9. Enjoy, enjoy, enjoy…

Keywords: gumbo recipe andouille shrimp roux okra stock

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Many New Orleans’ dishes use what is commonly referred to as the holy trinity, which is equal parts bell pepper, onion and celery, finely chopped.

If you want a blonder roux, you might cook the holy trinity first and then make the roux with the holy trinity already in the pan to avoid the risk of burning your roux. But for this gumbo, Ian adds the holy trinity after he’s got the roux the color he wants. Traditionally, green bell pepper is most often used, but we’ve used orange and yellow pepper, to add color.

Adding the holy trinity to the roux

So, there you have it. The key pieces of a gumbo: the stock, the roux and the holy trinity.

Tomorrow, we’ll put them all together…

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Everyone has their own idea of how long to cook a roux, and depending on cooking time, your roux will have a certain color. Shorter cooking will result in a butterscotch shade, longer cooking (which is harder to achieve without burning) draws a deeper, coffee color. The roux for this gumbo should resemble the color of peanut butter.

Roux can be tricky, but they are the base of a gumbo. They require patience and total attention, and cannot be rushed. As my husband Ian says, even if your house is on fire, you cannot stop stirring the roux.

Step 1: Heat 1 cup of oil or butter in a cast iron pan until it smokes. Then  slowly add 1 cup of flour, stirring as added.

Step 2: Continue stirring in a constant motion (and stir slowly initially–the oil is hot and can burn if splashed before mixing completely with the flour). Within a few minutes of stirring, the mixture will begin to change in color…

When the roux is thickened to the color of peanut butter, it’s ready.

Keywords:  gumbo how to make a roux

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