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Christmas

Christmas, Citrus, Cocktails, Holiday, Local

Got citrus? Here’s to ya.

December 18, 2014

There’s a lot of local citrus emerging now here in South Louisiana, and one of its best uses is in cocktails. ‘Tis the season, after all! Fresh orange and grapefruit juice are key components in loads of classic and modern cocktails, and the fresher the juice, the better the drink. Marvin J. Allen, the longtime bartender of the Carousel Bar at the Hotel Monteleone in New Orleans argues this very point in his new cocktail book, Magic in a Shaker (Pelican Press, 2014). Here’s my copy — already stuffed full of Post-It Notes bookmarks. And that’s my bar juicer next to it.

 

MagicinaShaker

Allen writes,“So why are there so few who can create and make great cocktails? First, people fail to realize the importance of using the finest and freshest ingredients.”

Well, then. A fleeting opportunity is before us, my friends. It’s time to create some really memorable cocktails with all that gorgeous fruit now being harvested in backyards and on farms across South Louisiana and in other spots across the country. With access to the grapefruit tree that hangs over my fence (an agreement with my neighbor), I opted first for a Salty Dog, and I turned to Allen’s recipe as a starting point. It’s a timeless drink that combines vodka — or sometimes gin — with grapefruit juice, and it’s served on the rocks in a glass rimmed with salt. Its salt-less counterpart, of course, is the Greyhound. Here’s the fresh fruit still on the tree….and about to be juiced, followed by the recipe.

FreshGrapefruitonthetreeGrapefruitPink

From Magic in a Shaker, by Marvin J. Allen

Greyhound or Salty Dog

1 ¼ oz. vodka

5 oz. fresh grapefruit juice

Ice

Salt (optional)

Pour vodka and juice over ice a rocks glass. For a Salty Dog, first rim the glass with salt, then build as above.

As for salt, I rimmed my glasses with two of the salts I keep on hand from Red Stick Spice Co., Murray River Flake Salt and Madagascar Vanilla Salt. Owner Anne Milneck said that other good choices for cocktails are black Hawaiian salt, great with milky-chocolate-caramel martinis, and red Hawaiian salt, which looks really pretty with citrus cocktails. Nice salts are a fun way to doozy up your drink.

SaltyDogSalt

Now, this post wouldn’t be complete without a mention of that quintessential holiday morning beverage, the Mimosa. It’s required drinking for anyone with an orange tree. I’m in this group – our urban orchard features 3, including this luscious hairy beast  — and I’ll be using Allen’s recipe Christmas morning.

orangetree

Here it is:

Grand Mimosa

¼ oz. orange liqueur (such as Ferrand Dry Curacao)

1 oz. fresh orange juice

5 oz. Champagne or sparkling wine

Pour liqueur and juice into a Champagne flute. Top with sparkling wine. Sip and have a grand time.

This only scratches the surface on the subject of citrus cocktail. Tell me what you think!

What drinks will you make with fresh citrus?

 

Christmas, Desserts, Holiday, Local, Southern, Vegetables

Squash cake gets an update

December 11, 2014

Family recipes get passed down because they’re meaningful and taste good, but sometimes they include ingredients you’re embarrassed to admit. Especially today, the convenience items that once peppered dinner tables and cookbooks can feel like dorky unwelcomed guests. “It’s got that in it?,” you can just hear your snooty food friends say. New Yorker writer Calvin Trillin has a great reference to this phenomenon in his famed 2002 dispatch, “Missing Links,”—one of several that document the writer’s enthusiasm for Louisiana food. In it, he mentions the secret, anti-gourmet ingredient in the crawfish étouffée recipe of his New Iberia friend James Edmunds: a can of cream of mushroom soup. Delicious nevertheless, but mentioned on the down low.

I have always loved my husband’s family’s squash cake, a sheet cake made with roasted butternut squash that his great aunt “Titta-Lee” was famous for bringing to funeral gatherings. But it, too, includes an in-the-closet ingredient: a box of Jello coconut cream instant pudding and pie mix. Shortly after we got married in 2000, by which time I’d had the cake numerous times, she wrote it down for us.

ButternutSquash2squashcakerecipe

 

I was eager to find a more natural approach. And also, the cake was really too sweet, and I believed with a little tinkering I could create version that still said ‘dessert’ while letting the butternut squash shine through. There remains a whole cup of sugar in the adjusted recipe, so fear not, Sweet Tooths, this is no “lite” version.

The result is a really versatile cake that is perfect for the season. It goes well with fresh citrus fruit, dark chocolate and strong cup of coffee. If you’re not a fan of coconut, no worries. Simply substitute almond extract for the coconut and instead of topping the cake with coconut shreds, just shave a little dark chocolate.

As for the squash, if you run short on time, here’s a product I like, which I usually grab at Whole Foods Market.

ButternutSquash1

 

Recipe

Butternut Squash Cake

Serves 8-10

1 ¾ cup self rising flour

1 cup sugar

3 eggs

½ cup canola oil

½ cup sour cream

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon coconut or almond extract

1 cup butternut squash, roasted and beaten slightly until fairly smooth

Cream cheese icing (recipe follows)

Coconut or chocolate shavings for garnish

Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease and flour a 9×13 pan. Mix flour and sugar in a medium bowl. Beat eggs slightly in a large bowl. Add oil and sour cream. Add dry ingredients to wet batter and blend slightly. A wooden spoon should work fine. Add extracts and squash and blend until smooth. Pour batter in pan and bake for 30 minutes. Place on rack to cool and ice immediately with cream cheese frosting and garnish with fresh coconut.

Cream Cheese Frosting

Makes enough for one cake

3 oz. softened cream cheese

2 tablespoons softened butter

1/3 cup confectioner’s sugar

1-2 tablespoons whipping cream

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Blend well cream cheese and butter with a hand mixer or standing mixer. Carefully add sugar. Add whipping cream and vanilla extract and blend for a minute or two until you reach desired consistency.

 SquashCake

Enjoy!

Christmas, Herbs

It’s all about that bay

December 9, 2014

Bay is a big part of Louisiana cuisine. You could make an argument it’s even more significant than cayenne pepper in terms of creating round, full flavor in so many of our emblematic dishes. Bay is what gives gumbo, jambalaya, red beans, countless soups and so many other one-pot dishes an herbaceous, sweet note. It plays well with everything from meats to vegetables to seafood. Fail to put it in certain dishes and something seems really amiss.

I have a very mature bay plant in my herb garden – it’s now more like a tree – and I frequently lop off the top growth. With our subtropical weather in South Louisiana, it grows fast enough for me to have to trim it twice a year. Here it is now – in December – with its little buddy lemon grass to the right.

BaySwag2

After I trimmed it in September, I hung the fresh branches, laden with large, green leaves, in my outdoor washroom where it didn’t take long for them to dry. It’s pretty cool and dry out there. Commercial bay is dried flat, but I let mine dry the way it wants to. Sometimes that means curly and unruly.

BayTree

Within a few days, I bring one branch into the kitchen, slide it into a tall vase and place the vase in the kitchen window. Several times a week, I reach up and snap off a few dried leaves and toss them in everything from butter beans to pot roast to spaghetti sauce. This week, it was homemade vegetable soup, heavy on the veggies, as you can see. Look how big those leaves get!

photo 2

And jars of dried bay make great gifts!

photo 3

Christmas, Holiday, Thanksgiving, Vegetables

Sweet potatoes in fresh orange cups

November 21, 2014

We eat a ton of fresh Louisiana sweet potatoes around my house. My mother-in-law just dropped off a box she’d procured from a farmer near the Avoyelles Parish town of Hessmer and it came with the same edict it does every time she brings us a batch. “Leave them dirty. Don’t wash them until you cook them.” It’s a sacred procedure among many in the Bayou State. More about that here.

On busy weeknights, I often cube sweet potatoes, toss them in olive oil and chopped rosemary and roast them on a cookie sheet. But during holidays my favorite version involves a simple mash of sweet potatoes blended with just a few ingredients and baked in a fresh orange shell.

Continue Reading…

Christmas, Local, Thanksgiving, Vegetables

Casserole conflict? The green bean solution.

November 21, 2014

How to serve green beans is one of the more hotly debated holiday meal topics, with some cooks sticking with the classic gooey casserole formula and others going minimalist. It’s not unusual for families to be divided along these lines (mine sure has been) with die-hards staying loyal to that homespun pan of creamy indulgence and the texture-conscious going for beans sautéed quickly and perhaps set off by lemons or almonds. Well, here’s a way to make both extremes happy. Cook your green beans simply, but serve them with a topping bar that will allow guests to get as straightforward or saucy as they like. Green beans, God bless ‘em, pair well with a wide range of flavors and textures. A day or two before the holiday, trim and blanch the green beans, then reserve them in a food storage bag until you’re ready to cook. Saute at the last minute in olive oil, butter and minced garlic. Then let your guests have their way with toppings like these:

  • Roasted cashews with fresh rosemary
  • Creamy mushroom sauce with splash of sherry
  • Sauteed pine nuts with lemon peel
  • Toasted almonds
  • Hollandaise sauce
  • Curls of fresh parmesan
  • Mornay sauce (Bechamel sauce with added grated cheese, usually Swiss)
  • Caramelized onions or shallots
  • Diced avocado, fresh tomato and lime (you can still find Louisiana tomatoes at the farmers market into November)
  • Local Meyer lemon wedges
  • Peanut or satay sauce (Amazing with green beans! Really.)
  • Crumbled bacon
  • Homemade chow chow
  • Chutney
  • Toasted pumpkin seeds
  • And yes, even canned French fried onions