Archive for the ‘recipes’ Category

‘Tis the season for some of my very favorite favorites: egg nog and spiced pecans. Now for those of you who’ve never had homemade egg nog, it’s well worth the effort (and the calories). Ditto for the spiced pecans.

Both are family recipes and reside in the well-worn, flour-dusted, sauce-stained pages of my precious homemade cookbook, so allow me to brush off the flour and wipe off the tomato chunks and share them.

Egg Nog:

1. Separate 6 eggs (save the egg whites for later) and beat the yolks
2. Gradually beat in 1 cup of sugar
3. Gradually beat in: 3 cups of milk, 1 cup of heavy cream, 1 cup of brandy and 3/4 ts salt

4. Beat egg whites until stiff; serve egg nog and top with a scoop of the egg whites, sprinkle with nutmeg, if desired.

Spiced Pecans:

1. Melt 8 tbs butter in a bowl
2. Add to melted butter: 8 tsps soy sauce, 10 shakes of Tabasco
3. Add 1 lb of pecans to mixture, stir to coat, then spread on a cookie sheet

4. Roast at 325 degrees for 20 to 30 minutes
5. Let cool thoroughly and sprinkle with 1 tsp of salt

What recipes come out of your cookbook this time of year and this time of year only?

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Who says you need a Thanksgiving turkey to have leftovers?

We roasted a wee chicken (thank you, dear bird) and enjoyed both of the fixings that I’d been looking forward to. Cranberry-pear salsa…

…and mirliton dressing…

which is easy enough to make for any meal:

1. Shell 1/2 lb. uncooked, large domestic shrimp (the Gulf fishermen and the environment will thank you!), save shells and make a stock with them.

2. Boil 2 mirliton in water until tender (you can poke a knife through them), then remove center and cut into cubes.

3. When stock is done, drain and remove from heat, then put uncooked shrimp in stock to semi-cook as the stock cools.

4. Sautee a chopped onion, one bell pepper, three cloves of garlic (minced), a bag of frozen artichoke hearts, salt and pepper, and a cup of chopped celery–when everything is finished cooking, add shrimp and a splash of the stock (so shrimp won’t burn) to allow shrimp to finish cooking (you may want to halve the shrimp since they are the large ones–or just buy medium-sized shrimp).

5. Blend the sautee mix into a casserole dish with remainder of stock (about a cup) then add 1 to 1 1/2 cups of bread crumbs until all the liquid is absorbed. Once it’s at the consistency you want, drizzle olive oil over the top (2 tables.).

6. Bake uncovered at 350 for at least a 1/2 hour until it’s hot all the way through.


But this post isn’t only about food leftovers…

 Lately, I’ve been collecting leftover words, too. In fact, I am becoming an official word-hoarder. When I am editing my WIP, I cut my words (I know they need to go, I do) but I can’t seem to bring myself to erase them FOREVER, so I store them in an ever-growing ADD file, and I’m beginning to wonder if I don’t have a serious problem.

How is it that I can be the queen of the throw-out, avoiding closet clutter and feeling great relief when possessions are whittled down from four boxes into one? No “Hoarders” here. Or so I thought.

So why not let go of the words, Erika? What are you so afraid of? Sure there are some very special lines, ones for the books (yes, pun intended), lines to tell the grandkids about! But if they don’t work (much like the shoes that don’t fit anymore) then WHY KEEP THEM?

Leftovers: Use ’em or lose ’em.

Yay or nay, friends?

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Seafood paella, any way you want it.

When my husband and I decided to make paella this weekend, we went in search of the definitive recipe.

Well. It turns out there isn’t a definitive recipe for paella–so far as we could tell. Some use artichoke hearts, others use green beans; some say steam the mussels before the end, others say wait; some use white wine, others don’t.

This isn’t surprising. Much like gumbo, there are as many different recipes as there are people making it. That’s part of what makes the dish so much fun. There isn’t a right way or a wrong way. Except for one: it tastes good or it doesn’t. The only true test of what is right and wrong is the end result.

Which got me thinking about how we all plot our stories. We’ve all heard the cry of the storytelling cynic who insists there are only a handful of plots in the world and that every story is essentially a version of one of those few templates.  For some reason, this theory instills despair in lots of writers, but I don’t think it should.

Look at fashion. Clothing can be divided into essentially four main pieces: pants, dresses, shirts and skirts. Yet as far as I can tell, we never feel limited in those selections, simply because within those few basic components are an endless array of choices to make them unique. Fabric choices (cotton, wool, silk…), styles (bootleg, short-sleeve, turtleneck, pencil…), colors (red, emerald, black…) You get the picture.

So what if you happen to glance through the weekend book reviews or PM deals and you read about “the book you are already writing!” Well, here’s the thing: At this very minute, lots and lots of people are writing stories, and chances are someone is writing one very close to the one you’re writing.

I say, so what.

Just as there are many ways to make a good paella or a good gumbo, there are many ways to write the same story as Joan is writing, or Peter, or Frank. What matters isn’t that you invent the entrée, but that you make it so tasty your diner wants a second bowl. It will be your ingredients and your cooking that will make it your own dish.

In other words, don’t worry if someone else writes your story before you get to it.  As our mothers used to say: Don’t worry about what everyone else is doing.

Write your story and write it well.

And second helpings will follow.

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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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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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