Monthly Archives

December 2014

New Year's, Southern, Vegetables

Cabbage or greens for NYD? Both.

The South agrees that black-eyed peas are required eating for good luck in the New Year, but there’s variation in the region about which greens are best for shoring up your chances for prosperity. Do you cook up a mess o’ collards, a pot of mustards or is cabbage front and center on your New Year’s Day plate? Louisiana leans toward cabbage – displays holding huge heads of Savoy alongside dried Camellia brand black-eyed peas and boxes of Jiffy corn bread mix are fixtures in local supermarkets. I love cabbage, and this New Year’s at our house, it takes the form of coleslaw with a homemade orange-celery seed dressing.

But my family likes other greens, too, and I can’t get away with keeping them off the January 1 menu. This year, it’s mustard greens. They’ve found their way into a variation on tomatoes Provençal. No, it’s not exactly tomato season, but I did find hothouse tomatoes from a regional farm in one of my favorite local grocery stores. Using Julia Child’s recipe as a springboard, I combined fresh white breadcrumbs with slivered and sautéed greens and a little grated Parmesan cheese. Here’s how:

New Year’s Day Tomatoes Provençal

Serves 6

1 strip bacon, diced

2 cups chopped mustard greens (wash and remove thick stems before chopping)

3 medium tomatoes

1 1/2 fresh white breadcrumbs

2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese

1/2 teaspoon salt

Olive oil for drizzling

Preheat oven to 400. Slice tomatoes in half and carefully scoop out pulp. Season inside with salt and pepper and invert to allow remaining liquid to drain. In a medium to large skillet, render bacon pieces until crisp. Remove bacon from skillet, leaving behind about 1/2 teaspoon rendered fat. Place bacon on paper towels to drain. While pan is still hot, sauté greens in fat for about three minutes. In a medium bowl, toss bread crumbs, parmesan cheese, bacon, salt and greens. Combine thoroughly, then fill each tomato half with mixture. Bake for 20 minutes or until nicely browned.

Gremolata grilled shrimp for New Year’s Eve

Local white shrimp from the Gulf have been fabulous lately, and they make a great menu item for New Year’s Eve. I’m in the camp that likes to stay home for New Year’s, avoid crowds and nosh on fancy apps, great wines and tapas-style nibbles. You may feel the same way. If so, one thing that’s easy and elegant is grilled shrimp with gremolata, served either on a big platter or in a martini glass with cocktail sauce.


The martini glass has certainly been road-tested, but who cares? It’s New Year’s Eve – that last bit of indulgence before nasty reality and restraint creep in. Gremolata is a wet rub that includes lemon peel, fresh parsley, minced garlic, salt, pepper and olive oil. It’s great during the Louisiana winter, since many of our gardens are full of fresh herbs and lemons. Prep the gremolata, then paint or spoon it on the skewered shrimp before grilling briefly. Serve immediately.

Enjoy, and Happy New Year!

Cajun, Road Food, Southern

Driving under the influence

For many of us, the holidays cue road trips to see family members reachable by car, but in Louisiana that also means entering the orbit of the dozens of Cajun meat markers that line certain stretches of road. Many of us are in the habit of pulling in on two wheels and stocking up on smokehouse pork sausage, hogshead cheese, fresh boudin, cracklins and boudin balls to take home, deliver to lucky folks or scarf down while driving.

Our routine includes stopping at Kartchner’s in Krotz Springs, Louisiana en route from Baton Rouge to Alexandria, where my husband’s family lives. A requisite order here includes three each of the boudin balls – pork, crawfish and jalapeño-cream cheese. We also nab a few ounces of cracklins, root beer all around and lots of napkins.


It’s not a road trip without a grease-stained brown paper bag.

I tend to be a purist – favoring the pork boudin balls – but I’m in the minority.


My husband and daughter like crawfish best, while my 10-year-old son is a consistent jalapeno-cream cheese guy. His obsession with them got me thinking: How long has the jalapeño-cream cheese boudin ball been part of the Cajun meat market experience, anyway? Look around the refrigerator cases at most of these roadside gems and you see jalapeño and cream cheese stuffed in all manner of items. It’s just one of many ways you can get your meat doozied up by the heavy handed Cajun butcher. Few things on the menu aren’t deep fried, seasoned to oblivion or stuffed with cheesy-fatty-spicy goodness. At some point, one of these meat masters decided to take the ingredients of the jalapeño popper and stuff them inside whatever was close by – a pork chop, a boudin ball, a butterflied shrimp – and it became standard fare.

Do you have a sense of when this started? Or do you have a favorite menu item you’d like to share? Leave a comment! I’d love to hear from you.


Fresh from the Gulf, Holiday, Hors d'oeuvres

Crabby snacks!

Need a quick hors d’oeuvres for the holiday frenzy? Cucumber cups filled with something creamy and wonderful are a great place to start. I filled these with fresh Gulf lump crabmeat blended with a little mayo, lemon juice, capers, some chopped celery and a little salt. I found Persian cucumbers at Trader Joe’s, but you can also use English cukes. The goal is to find a cucumber that’s on the thinner side. Peel it, cut it into manageable widths and scoop out the pulp gently from one side, leaving a “floor” on the other. Fill the cup with the crab mixture and place on a pretty plate. A regular cucumber also works fine. Just slice it into thin discs and serve the crab on top, as shown.

One-bite snacks like these are perfect starters for heavy Christmas day meals or with evening cocktails. Great with rosé or sparkling wine. Enjoy!

Happy Holidays to you and yours!

Fresh from the Gulf, Holiday, Soups

Soup, indeed.

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.

Citrus, Cocktails, Holiday, Local

Got citrus? Here’s to ya.

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.



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.


From Magic in a Shaker, by Marvin J. Allen

Greyhound or Salty Dog

1 ¼ oz. vodka

5 oz. fresh grapefruit juice


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.


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.


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?