Archive for the ‘New Orleans’ 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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Just before Christmas, Ian and I made a long overdue return to New Orleans, not having been back since right after Katrina, and I am happy to report that I found my beloved city as lush and warm and deliriously enchanting as I remembered it. The Spanish moss hung from the branches of the mighty live oaks, the fine, pale-green threads swinging in the breeze like upside-down coral in a sea’s current. The shotguns and Creole cottages shone in colors so rich they could be tasted, draped in decorations that would stay festive year-round. The front porch of the Columns Hotel beamed and beckoned. Storefronts glowed, streetcars clanked, and dogs ruled the levee, running along the bank like children out of school.  It was a wonderful Christmas gift.

And though I know the city lives every day with its challenges (the Gulf hasn’t forgotten its oil drowning and neither can we) and many, many people remain hard at work trying to rebuild from Katrina’s destruction, I am grateful and so proud of those who returned to honor such a precious place. My thanks to you. It was a privilege to call New Orleans my home once upon a time.

So this year, if you’ve never been to New Orleans or if you haven’t been in a while, treat yourself. Help celebrate the rebirth and the continuing growth and preservation of this treasure.

Your heart and belly, ears, nose and soul will thank you.

Happy New Year, friends. May 2011 bring peace and goodwill. And may we all do our part to make that wish come true.

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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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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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Fountainebleau State Park, Mandeville, LA

There’s no doubt there’s a lot of think about in all our lives, every day, every  minute. For  me, my mind returns often to the continuing devastation and suffering going on along the Gulf.

I will always consider my years of living in New Orleans a joy and a privilege, a gift I will be forever grateful for.

The marshes and water of Louisiana are the backdrop of my love story. I fell in love with my husband at first sight walking the levee in the rain, then fell deeper in love with him watching herons in Jean Lafitte, riding through the bayou, and splashing with our pups along the shores of Lake Ponchartrain.

These waters and their residents will be in my thoughts always.


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In order to bring the flavors and spirit of her native New Orleans to the small island of Little Gale, Maine, Camille Melancon opens an authentic creole cafe that she calls The Little Gale Gumbo Cafe. And soon, even the most suspicious islanders can’t get enough of her traditional creole food. From shrimp etouffee to Camille’s trademark seafood gumbo, the residents of Little Gale Island quickly find themselves addicted to the wondrous tastes of creole cooking. For Camille, the cafe’s menu is her way of bringing her roots to her new home and sharing it with her new family.

What about you? If you had to design a menu to capture your history, your home, what would it include?

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