Jan Norris: Food and Florida

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Mardi Gras: Eat — and Let the Good Times Roll!

February 24th, 2009 · 4 Comments

I have a strong connection to New Orleans: My late husband Tom spent his teen years in the Crescent City, and directly after our marriage, I had a ton of family recipes to learn. First and foremost was red beans and rice (Monday’s washday food) since it was a favorite from his mother’s kitchen. She died when he was only 14, so I never got the benefit of learning her private recipes, but Tommy, always complimentary about my cooking, said mine were great.

He’d also talk about the oyster po’boys, too — with meaty Gulf oysters as big as your fist, he’d say. There was something about that bread and melted butter. The oysters were a dime or nickel each on the half shell when he lived there, and he and his dad could eat their weight in them for little of nothing at the many oyster bars around the French Quarter. He’d tell me about the shuckers — burly Cajuns with fat, scarred hands, deft as bomb defusers.

Oysters are the first thing I went for when I finally got to visit the city — during a trip with other food editors. I had a chowder at a hotel dining room that will stay in my palate memory forever, though I know it was no more special than most. Creamy and chock full of oysters, but New Orleans was the backdrop, and that fixes it forever.

Big celebs

Paul Prudhomme made a skillet as big around as he was full of jambalaya for us on a steamboat while we cruised the Mississippi. (The big perk of being a food editor: people like Prudhomme show up to cook for you. That same trip, incidentally, had us at a jazz brunch at Commander’s Palace, where Ella Brennan had just hired a new young chef named Emeril Lagasse.)

Of course, I had to have beignets. Tom’s father used to get coffee and beignets at the Morning Call — a cafe which preceded the Quarter’s Cafe du Monde oby decades. The Call in the French Quarter is now only a memory for old-timers (a modern Morning Call coffee shop is in Metarie), but I have an old postcard photo of it I cherish.

His dad also mentioned Corinne Dunbar’s — a antebellum home turned dining room, where the genteel went to dine, all at one prescribed hour and from one menu item, each night — a kind of paid dinner party where the guests passed the serving dishes. Dunbar was an upper-class Creole woman and ran a first-class dining room. It closed under her ownership in the mid ’50s, and I don’t believe Tom’s father ate there after that.

Recipes

But you’re waiting for recipes. Start with an hors d’ouevre of oyster-artichoke casserole, then make a pot of jambalaya, and finish it all off with a bread pudding — another classic.

Here’s an oyster and artichoke casserole, a favorite of esteemed New Orleans food expert, Marcelle Bienvenu. It was her mother’s version. Stretch the casserole by filling small pastry cups with it as an hors d’oeuvre.

Oyster-artichoke casserole

  • 6 whole artichokes
  • 1/2 cup butter or margarine
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2/3 cup finely chopped green onions (white and green parts)
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 2 cups oyster liquor
  • pinch of dried thyme
  • pinch of dried oregano
  • pinch of dried marjoram
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
  • salt and pepper
  • 6 dozen oysters, drained and cut into smaller pieces if large
  • thin slices of lemon, and paprika, for garnish (optional)

In a large soup pot, cover the artichokes with water and bring to a boil. Lower the heat slightly and boil the artichokes until tender. Drain and let cool. When cool enough to handle, scrape the tender pulp from the leaves into a medium bowl. Clean the hearts and mash them together with the pulp.

Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat and stir in the flour slowly and constantly until smooth and well blended. Add the green onions and garlic and cook until the green onions are slightly wilted. Add the oyster liquor, herbs and the salt and pepper to taste.

Add the oysters and cook slowly until the edges curl. Add the mashed artichokes and blend into the mixture. Spoon the mixture into individual 4-ounce casserole cups or small pastry shells. Garnish with lemon slices sprinkled with paprika.

Makes 4 to 6 entree servings, or 12 appetizer servings.

(From Cooking up a Storm by Marcelle Bienvenu and Judy Walker. I’ve reviewed this terrific post-Katrina cookbook here.)

Jambalaya – the red version

Another recipe from Marcelle Bienvenu in the aforementioned Cooking up a Storm. The red version of the dish has tomatoes — favored by those in New Orleans, where a large Italian immigrant population still lives. The brown version is more popular across the river.

  • 6 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 cup chopped green onions (white and green parts)
  • 1/2 cup chopped yellow onions
  • 1 large green bell pepper, julienned
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped celery
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1/2 pound medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 1/2 pound cubed boiled ham (or Tasso, a ham prevalent in New Orleans, if you can find it)
  • 1/2 pound smoked sausage such as andouille (could use kielbasa), sliced into 1/4-inch rounds
  • 1 16-ounce can whole tomatoes, crushed with their juices
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • salt
  • cayenne pepper
  • 2 bay  leaves
  • 1 cup long-grain rice
  • hot sauce for serving

Melt the butter in a large heavy pot over medium heat. Add the green onions, yellow onions, bell peppers, celery and garlic. Cook, stirring, until they are soft and pale gold, 6 to 8 minutes. Add the shrimp, ham and sausage. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes or until the shrimp turn pink. Stir in the tomatoes and chicken broth. Season to taste with salt and cayenne. Add the bay leaves and rice. Cover and reduce heat to medium-low. Cook until the rice is tender and all the liquid is absorbed, about 25 minutes.

Remove the bay leaves and serve. Pass the hot sauce!

Note: chicken, turkey, duck, pork — anything you can think of can be thrown into this pot; it’s a one-pot supper intended for the use of leftovers.

(From Cooking up a Storm.)

New Orleans Bread Pudding with Bourbon Sauce

  • 1 large loaf French bread
    4 cups milk
    3 eggs, lightly beaten
    2 cups sugar
    2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract
    1/4 teaspoon allspice
    1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
    1 cup raisins
    3 tablespoons butter, melted
    Bourbon Sauce (see recipe below)

Tear or cut French bread into 1-inch pieces (about 6 to 7 cups); place in a large bowl. Add milk and let bread pieces soak; crush with your hands until well mixed. In another bowl, whisk together eggs, sugar, vanilla extract, allspice, and cinnamon until smooth; stir in raisins. Stir into the bread/milk mixture. Let the mixture sit for 2 hours, stirring occasionally.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. When ready to bake, pour melted butter into a 13×9-inch baking pan or dish. Coat the bottom and the sides of the pan well with the butter. Pour bread pudding mixture into prepared pan or dish. Bake, uncovered, approximately 45 to 50 minutes, until set in the center, and the edges start getting a bit brown and pull away from the edge of the pan. Remove from oven and let cool on a wire rack.

To serve, cut into squares and put into individual serving dishes. Serve with warm Bourbon Sauce. NOTE: Best fresh and eaten the day it is made.

Makes 8 to 10 servings.

  • Bourbon Sauce
    1/2 cup butter
    1 cup sugar
    1 egg, lightly beaten
    2 tablespoons bourbon (whiskey) or to your taste

In a medium-size saucepan over low heat, melt butter; add sugar and beaten egg, whisking to blend well. Cook, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens. Remove from heat and whisk in bourbon to taste; let cool. Whisk and reheat before serving. The sauce should be soft, creamy, and smooth.

(This recipe is from Linda Stradley’s web site and book by the same name: What’s Cooking America — recommended for some great regional recipes and a host of other food and cooking topics. There are photos of this dish being made on her site.)

Now get in the kitchen, and “Laissez les bon temps roulez!”

Tags: Recipes: What's Cooking! · Southern Roots Run Deep · Today in the World of Food

4 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Lurch // Feb 24, 2009 at 11:46 am

    Eons ago I dated a wonderful woman from Baton Rouge who gave me my first taste of Cajun cooking. (She was SHOCKED that I had no Tabasco in my pantry, a problem that was quickly corrected).

    I haven’t seen or heard from her in years, but I treasure the fact that she turned me on to one of my all-time favorite dishes: Jambalaya

  • 2 ksteinhoff // Feb 24, 2009 at 4:25 pm

    I remember your friend Mary well. She and I covered Hurricane Kate together.

    I saw some folks standing in a second-story window of a motel watching the storm and stopped to talk with them. While we were standing there, I asked the folks, “Do you know what that sound is? That’s the sound of nails pulling out of wood. Has it been going on long?”

    About that time, the ceiling tiles dropped in on us and we were deluged with water. I suggested that it might be a good idea to go to the first floor to continue our conversation.

    Just as we left the room, the whole roof lifted off and deposited itself in the parking lot.

    We were invited in by a crew of utility workers who were waiting for the storm to die down so they could go to work on cleanup.

    One of them asked Mary if she’d like a drink of Jack Daniels, handing her a glass. “I don’t need a glass,” she said, grabbing the bottle out of his hand and taking a serious slug.

    I don’t know if she could cook, but she was great company on the road and someone who could do some serious drinking with the proper encouragement from a hurricane.

  • 3 Ben // Apr 29, 2009 at 8:03 pm

    Nawlins’ is one of my favorite cities… I eat non stop!

    Every trip to the Crescent City includes at least one meal at Commander’s Palace. Their bread pudding souffle is THE BEST that I have ever eaten. I was honored several times to actually meet Ella, Lally and Ti Brennan.

    The Brennan family opened a “Commander’s Palace West” in Las Vegas about eight or nine years ago and I would entertain donors/clients there when in town. Everyone loved it and always enjoyed the Southern experience. I would always time our dinner around the strolling band that would lead with “When the Saints go Marchin’ In”. What a fun time!

  • 4 Anneliese Boga // Feb 3, 2011 at 3:50 am

    You have inspired me, I have to write something about it.

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