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Celebrations, Christmas, Citrus, Fruit, Healthy, Kumquats, Local, Louisiana, Salads, Southern, Thanksgiving

Ambrosia revisited: Southern holiday fruit salad goes all natural

November 24, 2015

For the record, I’m a big fan of the mini-marshmallow.

Big fan.

One of my greatest food memories is cozying up to a marshmallow-y fruit salad — classic Southern ambrosia – that someone brought to my maternal grandfather’s after funeral gathering. I’ll never forget the way the baby marshmallows melted into the citrus juice, creating creamy goodness and a perfect comforting texture. I couldn’t stop eating it. Years later, I similarly fell in love with something called Green Stuff, a congealed cottage cheese and marshmallow fruit salad made by an old boyfriend’s mother and always served at his family’s Thanksgiving dinner. Yum. I love a bowl of trashy.

But as much as I savor marshmallows, and as much as I bow down to tradition, this year, I wanted an all-natural version of the classic holiday side….


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Celebrations, Holiday, Thanksgiving, The Writing Life

My secret date with cornbread dressing

November 11, 2015

Ahh, the holiday rotation. Years ago, my hubby and I put a system in place that divvied up the holidays as fairly as possible among the grandparents, none of whom live here in Baton Rouge. I won’t bore you with the drama (you can probably relate), I’ll just share the result. For the last 15 years, the system has pretty much had us traveling to someone else’s house for Thanksgiving, while we host Christmas. I love planning and hosting the Christmas meal, but I have to admit, I miss the opportunity to cook — really cook — traditional Thanksgiving dinner. Sure, we bring stuff. But it’s minor. The main meal, and especially the dressing, is claimed by our family’s various Thanksgiving hosts. And you gotta respect territoriality, especially where cornbread dressing is involved.

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Fresh from the Gulf, Thanksgiving

I keep my oyster shells

November 25, 2014

One of my smarter moves as a home cook was holding on to spent oyster shells after my hubby John and I smoked several dozen with our next door neighbors one winter. We bought a sack of live oysters from Tony’s Seafood here in Baton Rouge, one of my favorite seafood purveyors, tossed the briny bivalves on the charcoal grill and waited a few minutes for them to open. Mildly sweet and smoky, they were a perfect communal snack on a still, cold night. At the time, I was playing around with the three recipes for oysters Rockefeller in River Road Recipes, one of the best selling community cookbooks of all time and published by the Junior League of Baton Rouge in 1959. I needed shells for my baked oyster experiments, and the ones from that night were perfect. I cleaned the living daylights out of them – soap, bleach, time, you name it. Health department officials may disapprove, but I keep those shells in their own plastic box and pull them out anytime I feel like making a baked oyster dish.

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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.

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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


Citrus, Kumquats, Thanksgiving

Kumquat honey sorbet

November 18, 2014

Just for kicks, what would you make for a holiday dessert if pie wasn’t an option? I threw that question out to my Facebook friends before Thanksgiving and, just to be mean, I also forbade bread pudding. Once we got past some initial protestations, a flood of interesting responses rolled in that clearly got everyone excited about the holiday table. I don’t mean to suggest you really can’t serve pie or bread pudding, but thinking beyond them is a fun way to get the creative juices flowing. Turkey and side dishes are often shackled by tradition, but the dessert course is an open playing field that begs for new additions. My friends were all over the map with suggestions like custard, pots de crème, cheesecakes (pumpkin being the frontrunner) and fruit crumbles. A hometown friend said nuts and Port, and a couple of folks tossed out sorbet. Sorbet seemed like a great place to start fiddling around, and the kumquats ripening in my backyard were perfect fodder. This is easy and you can make it ahead. Oh, and it does not require a sorbet or ice cream maker. Long live simplicity.

Kumquat Honey Sorbet

Serves 6

2 cups water

1 cup sugar

2 cups (1 pint) ripe kumquats, plus 3-4 few extra

1 tablespoon honey

Fresh mint and candied kumquats for garnish

Slice kumquats in half across the middle and remove seeds. Add to a food processor and pulse until pureed. Scrape into a medium size bowl. Add honey and simple syrup, which should be room temperature or cool. Pour mixture into an 8×8 glass pan and freeze for a few hours, until mostly firm but not quite set. Working in batches, run the nearly frozen mixture through a blender or food processor. The color will mellow and the consistency will become creamier. Spoon back into glass pan and refreeze a few hours until firm. When ready to serve, allow sorbet to sit at room temperature for about 15 minutes. Scoop into a pretty glass and serve with fresh mint and candied kumquats.

Candied Kumquats

Bring 1 cup water to boil. Turn off heat and add ½ cup sugar. Whisk vigorously. Slice the extra kumquats crosswise into thin slices – as many as you need for garnish. Remove seeds. Drop into warm simple syrup in saucepan and let steep for 10 minutes. Remove and set aside to cool. When ready, garnish sorbet.