Browsing Category

Holiday

Celebrations, Christmas, Fresh from the Gulf, Holiday, Seafood, Soups

Soup, indeed.

December 22, 2014

Shrimp and corn. Artichoke and oyster. Gumbos of all sorts. Cozy soups with memorable ingredients add so much to get-togethers with friends and family this time of year. From casual family suppers to Christmas day lunch to New Year’s Eve dinner, holiday meals invite something luscious and warm.

I love soups right now for so many reasons, not least of which is that there are great seasonal raw materials to work with, including game, fresh seafood, root vegetables and leafy greens. But what I also love about soups is their spontaneity. More often than not, home cooks aren’t following instructions by the book when they get out their stockpots. They’re discerning what ingredients to include and what to leave out, and they’re tasting, adjusting and correcting by feel and by gut. Many are mimicking the soup styles of their forbears, while others are diverging in inventive directions. Whatever the case, soup is one of those from-the-heart dishes meant to inspire and soothe. Now is the perfect time to make some for your friends, family and for yourself.

Here’s an easy version of shrimp and corn.

Shrimp and Corn Soup

Serves 6

¼ cup olive oil

1 medium onion, chopped

5 stalks celery with leaves, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

¼ cup light roux

2 cups homemade shellfish stock, or one 15 oz. can good quality seafood or shellfish stock

2 bay leaves

1 16 oz. package frozen white corn

¼ cup heavy cream

1 ½ cups skim milk

1 pound large headless shrimp, peeled and deveined

Salt and pepper to taste

Fresh chopped parsley for garnish

In a Dutch oven, sauté onion, celery and garlic in olive oil until soft. Whisk in roux, then add stock and bay leaves and bring to a boil. Continue to whisk until roux is thoroughly incorporated. Add corn and simmer for about 2-3 minutes. Add cream and milk and return to simmer. Add shrimp to hot liquid and watch carefully, ensuring they poach, but do not overcook. This should take about 2 minutes. Remove from heat.

When ready to serve, garnish soup with fresh parsley and serve with warm, crusty French bread.

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?

 

Celebrations, Desserts, Holiday, Local, Restaurants, Sandwiches

End-of-semester cravings!

December 16, 2014

Remember exams? And that delicious feeling of finally being unshackled? It always made me want to dive into something indulgent. For my middle schooler – who is in the process of picking off exams one-by-one this week – it means two things: having lunch at Inga’s Subs and Salads – a longtime LSU campus sandwich shop – and savoring a few (or several) cake balls from Brew Ha Ha, a funky, MidCity Baton Rouge coffee shop.

Here’s the Cuban I had for lunch with her today at Inga’s. Normally, I’m a sucker for an accompanying bag of Zapp’s, but instead I went for Inga’s warm potato salad – homey with mustard and relish and just like I like it. This place succeeds despite being surrounded by sandwich mega-chains. I love the pressed texture and simplicity of the subs here.

IngasCuban1IngasPotSal

Now for dessert: Tender, pop-in-your-mouth cake balls from Brew Ha-Ha, a coffee shop with real character in a very cool part of Baton Rouge. I had a meeting there this morning with the new editor of 225 Magazine, where I contribute regularly as a freelancer, and I took the opportunity to nab some cake balls. The spice cake ones are perfect this time of year.

For my daughter, it was two exams down, three more to go, and a ritual of good eats to ease the pain.

CakeBallsColor

When you celebrate an accomplishment, what’s your food ritual?

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, 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…