Monthly Archives: June 2014

TOMATO-CLAM COCKTAIL ASPIC WITH SHRIMP

The other day my wife and I had a conversation about foods from the 50s. So many of them were essentials, and they now have fallen off the radar. I guess we were thinking of wedge salad. You know, a wedge of iceberg lettuce topped with thousand island dressing. I haven’t seen that in a restaurant for years, but every single place in Shreveport had its own version on the menu.

Probably more ubiquitous in those ancient days were gelled salads. I am certain they were inspired not only by the public information officers of the Jello company, but also by early editions of The Joy of Cooking which included them in its long list of open-a-can recipes. There are several recipes in our family cook book including my mother-in-law’s lime Jello and cottage cheese, my mother’s strawberry Jello with canned fruit cocktail, and the festive holiday special, wild cherry Jello with Coca Cola, cream cheese, and pecans. Unfortunately, tomato aspic was lumped in this category of salads, and it also fell out of flavor.

Inspired by the conversation, I decided that a tomato aspic was just the thing for a hot summer evening. Then it occurred to me that variation might be better. A few weeks ago, one of my El Paso friends and fellow blogger (Jim Hastings, The Gringo Gourmet) had written about a Border classic,  Mexican shrimp cóctel, made with tiny shrimp, other seafood, crunchy vegetables, and tomato-clam juice.

If you have ever lived on the US-Mexico Border you know that there are two sure-fire cures for hangover, menudo and tomato-clam juice, so some of the popularity of the cóctel might be explained by its restorative powers. Whatever, it seemed like a good jumping-off place for a refreshing summer aspic.  You can make the aspic as festive as you would like. If you are really feeling up to it, you can set it into a party centerpiece. Gel the mixture in an ornate mold or individual molds to be unmolded and ceremoniously brought to the table. I chose the more pedestrian approach of letting it gel in the bowl I used to mix it in. Also, you can decorate it with avocado or greens, and top it with mayonnaise or aioli. Honestly, I like it just plain with a little avocado on the side.

Here’s the recipe.

 RECIPE

Tomato-Clam Cocktail Aspic with Shrimp

Ingredients

  • ½ cup cold water
  • 2 envelopes unflavored gelatin
  • about 4 cups tomato-clam cocktail juice (Clamato is a popular brand)
  • juice of 1 lime
  • (1 teaspoon Chalulu or other hot sauce, more or less to taste – optional)
  • salt and pepper
  • ½ pound peeled and cooked salad shrimp (350-500/pound. Sold as “Oregon shrimp” at our market)
  • ½ medium red onion, diced
  • ½ cup green bell pepper, diced
  • ½ cup celery, diced (about 1 rib)
  • 1 medium carrot, peeled and grated
  • ½ cup thinly sliced radishes (Use a mandolin if you have one)
  • ½ cup sliced black olives
  • avocado
  • cilantro leaves
  • lettuce leaves
  • mayonnaise

Method

  1. Pour the water into a large mixing bowl. Sprinkle the powdered gelatin onto the surface of the water and allow it to “bloom” for about 5 minutes. It will not fully soften with a shorter time, and it becomes hard to dissolve with alonger time.
  2. Meanwhile heat 2 cups of the tomato-clam cocktail juice to boiling.
  3. When the gelatin is fully bloomed, pour in the hot juice and stir continuously until the gelatin is completely dissolved. This is a critical step because if the gelatin is not completely dissolved it will form tough lumps in your finished aspic.
  4. Add the lime juice to a 2-cup measuring cup and add enough tomato-clam juice to make two cups. Stir this into the gelatin-juice mixture until it is completely incorporated. Let the mixture cool for 5 minutes on the counter top. Then cover tightly with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator. In about 1 to 1½ hours, the mixture will begin to set up. It should have the consistency of thick cream. It should be thick enough that the foods you add will not float to the top, but not so thick that you cannot incorporate them evenly into the mixture.
  5. Stir in the shrimp and vegetables, making certain that they are evenly distributed. Cover again with plastic wrap and return to the refrigerator. Chill for at least another 2-3 hours.
  6. If you have decided on the fancy approach, remove from the refrigerator when you are ready to unmold. Place the mold or molds in a sink of hot water for no more than 15 seconds, being careful not to get water on the surface of the aspic. Have a plate or plates ready for the unmolding.
  7. Place the plate on top of the aspic mold and invert everything, mold, plate, and all. The aspic should fall gracefully onto the awaiting plate. If not, heat the mold for another few seconds and try again
  8. Serve with cilantro leaves and sliced avocado or on a bed of lettuce. Add a dollop of mayonnaise if you like.
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BAKED STUFFED TOMATOES: STOPPING BY A TEXAS FRUITSTAND

We are back home after a very long two weeks in Shreveport, Louisiana. We had a good time and enjoyed seeing old friends, but taking care of two young children is not in the usual job description for folks as old as my wife and me.

Susan had driven her car all the way from Santa Fe, so we knew that we had a long drive back. We decided we were not going through the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex even though it was probably the shortest and fastest return. There is too much traffic; we have been there before many, many times; and the cityscape is, well frankly, boring.

Instead, we left the interstate at Tyler and headed up to Sherman, the home  of a beautiful small liberal arts college, Austin College. The road was like so many country roads in Louisiana and Texas: well paved, not much traffic, and lines with farms and big stands of pines and hardwoods. The further west we got, the smaller the trees became. There were several towns along the way, but most were no bigger that a few hundred people. Every town, though, had an enormous high school and an even bigger football stadium. Every town also had several churches. Some had tall spires while others looked like they were just hanging on.

Still steeped in farm-to-table enthusiasm, we stopped at a small roadside stand several miles from any town. They were advertising fresh homemade ice cream along with fresh produce. We certainly helped their cash-flow that day. Susan bought several jars of homemade preserves, honey, pinto and Anasazi beans, sweet potatoes, cantaloupes, watermelon, sweet cherries, fresh peaches, and bright red tomatoes.  We had to re-arrange our already crowded back seat to make room for everything.

We resumed our travel, stopping in Amarillo overnight (That is another story, but probably not appropriate for a blog) and then got back on the interstate to complete our trip home.

Since then, we have been enjoying all of the fruits and vegetables from Shreveport along with more from the fruit stand. We’ve had fresh tomatoes sliced, in a salad, and along with avocado so it occurred to me that a tasty meal might include mashed sweet potatoes, a big slice of ham from the store, and baked tomatoes.  That’s what we had last night.

RECIPE

Baked Stuffed Tomatoes

Ingredients

  • 2 large ripe tomatoes
  • 3 crimini mushrooms, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil + more to drizzle on top of the tomatoes
  • 3 scallions including green tops, chopped finely
  • ½ cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • ½ cup panko
  • ½ teaspoon Italian seasoning
  • 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
  • salt and pepper
  • ½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Method

  1. Cut off the stem ends of the tomatoes. If needed, cut a very thin slice off the blossom end so that the tomato will sit flat. With a grapefruit knife or grapefruit spoon, remove the pulp from the tomatoes, leaving a rim of about ¼ inch of the flesh. Rinse, drain, and set aside.
  2. Rinse any seeds from the pulp, sprinkle with salt, chop finely, and set aside to drain any excess water.
  3. In a small pan, heat the olive oil and sauté the mushrooms until they have given up their liquid and it has evaporated, about three minutes. Set aside.
  4. In a small bowl, combine the mushrooms with their cooking oil, scallions, parsley, panko, Italian seasoning, and vinegar. Blot the chopped tomato pulp dry with paper towels and add it to the mixture.
  5. Correct the seasoning with salt and pepper.
  6. Stuff the tomato shells with the mixture, packing it firmly. Top with the Parmesan cheese, drizzle with olive oil, and place in the middle of an oven preheated to 350° F. Bake for 30 minutes. Using a spatula, transfer the tomatoes to plates and serve immediately.

 

 

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LETTER FROM UNSCENE SHREVEPORT: THE LAST HURRAH

This will be my last post from Unscene Shreveport. Actually, I am already home, but I wanted to describe the final event for Sarah and Evan. Now, after two weeks of looking after a three-year-old and a three-month-old, my wife and I plan to rest.

On Saturday night, the Shreveport Municipal Auditorium became the focus of the food week. There was a small farmers market set up in the lobby, and fifteen local chefs joined Sarah and Evan to prepare an amazing array of dishes that were supposed to focus on the farm-to-table concept. Most, although not all, used products from the farmers market as the main ingredients in their foods.

As well, one local artist was assigned to each of the chefs to capture the food in images. Then there was music, bright lights, colored lights, and wine to establish a party atmosphere. And it was a party – about 600 people showed up.

The Municipal Auditorium is a classic Art Deco building that was completed in the late 1920s or early 1930s. For many years it served as the home of the Louisiana Hayride, a strong radio competitor with the Grand Ole Opry. Many of the greats of country music performed at the Hayride, including Hank Williams and even Elvis Presley. In fact, the street in front of the building has been renamed Elvis Presley Avenue. After the Hayride shuttered its doors, the auditorium fell on hard times. Paint peeled, plaster became loose, and windows got broken. Except for high school graduations, the space was on its way to becoming derelict. In recent years, however, the buildings around have been cleaned up or knocked down, and the Municipal Auditorium has had lots of love and care to restore it to its original grandeur.

Here is the menu for the evening:

  • Sarah, Evan, and their Shreveport host, Chef Jason Brady served pork panzanella using the hog that they had butchered on Thursday.
  • Chef Carolyn Manning of Blue served goat’s milk grits
  • Chef Pansou served creole maux chow
  • Chef Hardette Harris made a green garden salad
  • Chef  Charlie Reed from Superior’s Steakhouse prepared Toulouse beef striploin canapés, duck, and gravlax
  • Chef Giuseppe Brucia of Giuseppe’s made cheese ravioli
  • Chef Jason Reynolds of Zocolo prepared a chilled field pea salad
  • Chef Tootie Morrison of Abby Singer’s Bistro served gumbo balls
  • Chef Cedric Williams made chicken meatballs
  • Chef Kevin Bourg from Wine Country Bistro had a refreshing chilled cucumber soup
  • Tina Palmesano of Jester’s Catering served fresh shrimp tamales
  • Chef Conrad Patterson provided individual pecan pies
  • Chef Andrew Parsons of Lagniappe Foods made crostini topped with fig jam and pork liver paté
  • Chef Eddie Mars from the Petroleum Club served pork cheek bahn day
  • Chefs Lisa and TK Tike of Lilah’s made tres leches cake
  • Chefs Scott Roebuck and Liz Bowen of Serendipity served veggie sliders

After all of that, there was no reason that anyone should go away hungry, but there was one more opportunity for food. Sarah and Evan served their gourmet popcorn to those who wanted to stay for a showing of the movie, Ratatouille.

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LETTER FROM UNSCENE SHREVEPORT: EATIN’ REAL CAJUN

Louisiana is culturally divided into the north and south. Shreveport was the jumping off place for the Texas Trail, pioneers coming up the Red River and then driving wagons into Texas. So the culture is much like the rest of the South. On the other hand, French colonists were resettled from Acadia in Canada (Remember Longfellow’s poem, Evangeline?) Acadians became known as Cajuns and much of their culture has persisted, modified by the difficult living conditions and rich food bounty of the swamps.

Over the years, Cajun traditions have spread norh, but it is sometimes hard to find authentic Cajun food nearby. My friend, Reggie Graves, who grew up in East Texas but has lived in Louisiana for many years, told me about a fairly new place near where we are staying. Bergeron’s of Shreveport (Bergeron is one of the common Cajun surnames, so it must be the real thing.)  One reason Reggie suggested the place is that they make delicious meat pies.

I drove down the road to find Bergeron’s and pulled in to a shady parking spot under a huge live oak. The store is reminiscent of the country stores you see in Cajun Country, and the inside was also similar. No place to sit and eat, but cases of food are lined up along the walls and in front of a counter and cash register. There was a big tub of cracklins against the back wall. They sell fresh, cooked, and frozen meats, boudin, soups, and prepared items.

Earlier in the week I had bought frozen tamales at the farmers market from a man who had driven up from Zwolle (zwa-lee), famous for its tamales and its tamale festival. The town is in the Piney Woods, just at the edge of Cajun Country, and it is filled with lumberjacks working in the timber industry

Zwolle tamales

Zwolle tamales

.

Bergeron’s had more than enough to add to the menu for our dinner menu I had planned that evening.

I bought boudin balls – balls of rice-based boudin sausage coated with spicy bread crumbs and deep fried.

Boudin balls

Boudin balls

Next was crawfish pistolles. For these you take brown-and-serve French rolls, hollow them out, stuff them with a spicy crawfish mixture, and then deep fry them. I am not making this up.

Crawfish pistolles

Crawfish pistolles

Then there were chicken patties made of spiced, chopped chicken stuffed with cream cheese and jalapenos, and, of course deep fried.

Cream cheese and jalapeno stuffed chicken pattie

Cream cheese and jalapeno stuffed chicken pattie

Finally, I got some meat pies. The originals are from a quaint town south of Shreveport, Natchitoches (nack-a-tish) and they are called Natchitoches meat pies – really like a highly seasoned empanada containing a rich beef and pork farce.

Meat pies

Meat pies

No one is exactly sure of the origins of Zwolle tamales and Natchitoches meat pies. My thought is that both are very old towns and right on the border between the old French and Spanish empires of the region. Borders shifted constantly, and I am certain that settlers did as well.

The food all turned out to be delicious, but my one piece of advice is to be sure to take your Lipitor, and have a big bottle of Tums at your bedside.

A plateful of Louisiana goodness

A plateful of Louisiana goodness

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LETTER FROM UNSCENE SHREVEPORT: BUTCHERING A PIG

Trigger warning: this post is not for vegetarians.

As part of their residency in Shreveport, Sarah and Evan were asked to demonstrate how to butcher a  whole hog. The program was designed for professionals so that they would consider buying whole animals or primal cuts instead of just ordering chops or steaks from the restaurant food supply company. In that way, they could use everything, both as a cost-saving measure and as a way to think of new uses for meat cuts that they had never tried before.

No, Sarah did not slaughter the pig, but it came close: the animal was bled, skinned, and cleaned of offal, but otherwise it came snout to tail with suggestions on how to use every part.

Sarah’s tools included knives that she spent all morning sharpening, a big cleaver, and a hack saw that she bought from the hardware store.

The audience included restaurant professionals, enthusiastic amateurs, old folks who recalled butchering a hog on their grandparents’ farm, farmers from the farmers market who were interested in sustainable farming, and students from the local culinary training program who mostly slept in the back of the hall.

Evan talked while Sarah talked and demonstrated how to separate the various cuts of meat.  She carved out the tenderloin, chops, roasts, hams, and pork belly. She showed how to trim excess fat, and how to remove silver skin for a more tender cut of meat.

In the end, she demonstrated how to get hog cheeks – a delicacy – and what to do with the whole head. Several older people were very interested in that because they remembered making souse and head cheese when they were younger.

In the end, it turned out not to be a beautiful or tasty demonstration, but one that everyone found interesting – except the culinary students.

 

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LETTER FROM UNSCENE SHREVEPORT: PURPLE HULL PEAS, TASSO AND COLLARDS

Last night we ate at our apartment after Sarah, Evan, and Van went fishing with Jason Brady and his family. It seemed like a perfect time to cook up some purple hull peas I had bought at the farmers market.  I went to the grocery store to get some salt pork and tasso, but I probably could have found those at the farmers market, too.

You can’t have peas, tasso, and collards without some cornbread to sop up all of the juices, but none of us was in the mood to bake cornbread in our understocked apartment kitchen. Fortunately we had  some leftover corn muffins that had been served with our chicken fried steak at Strawn’s for lunch. The muffins were sweet (Yankee cornbread in Louisiana!?) but they would have to do.

I cooked the meal while the fisher persons were out on the lake.

RECIPE

Cookin'

Cookin’

Purple Hull Peas, Tasso and Collards

Ingredients

  •  2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 8 ounces salt pork, cut into a large dice
  • enough water to cover the salt pork in a small saucepan
  • 32 ounces chicken stock
  • 1 quart shelled purple hull peas, fresh or frozen
  • 1 large green bell pepper, seeded, deveined, and chopped
  • 14 1/2 ounces canned, diced tomatoes (fresh tomatoes would be great, but I forgot to buy them at the farmers market)
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons vinegar or lemon juice
  • salt and pepper
  • 8 ounces Cajun-style tasso ham, cut into bite-sized chunks
  • 1 large bunch fresh collard greens, washed, trimmed, and cut into a coarse chiffonade
  • Louisiana Hot Sauce to taste (optional)

Method

  1. In a large, covered pot heat the oil over medium-low heat. Add the onions, cover, and sweat until the onions are soft and translucent. Transfer to a bowl.
  2. Bring water to a boil in a small saucepan and add the salt pork. Return to the boil and boil for 5 minutes to remove any excess salt.. Drain and transfer to the large pot over medium heat. Stir frequently to allow light browning.
  3. Return the onions to the pot. Add chicken stock and bring to the boil. Stir in the peas, bell pepper, and garlic. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Return  to a boil and then adjust the heat to a simmer. Simmer, covered for 1 hour or until the peas are soft.
  4. Stir in the tasso and simmer for another 30 minutes.
  5. Add the collard greens and simmer for another 30 minutes or until the greens are thoroughly cooked but not limp. Adjust the seasoning. Be sure to use hot sauce if you like it.
  6. Serve in large soup bowls.

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LETTER FROM UNSCENE SHREVEPORT: TOMATO AND SQUASH SHOWDOWN

Today is the day of the amateur cook-off. The contestants have had the weekend to think about what they would cook, using either tomatoes or squash. There have been over seventy entrants, more than twice as many as anyone thought. Even at that, there were several who chose not to enter because they couldn’t think of anything to make with tomatoes or squash. One woman asked what the ingredients were. She declined tomato. When she found out the other choice was squash, she said, “I don’t do vegetables,” and left. So much for the farm-to-table movement.

Our guess was that there would be a lot of stewed tomatoes and okra (This is Louisiana, after all.) There would also be a lot of zucchini bread. We’ll see. Turn in time was 5 PM and at 3PM entries were already starting to arrive.

On the way to the place where the contest was to be held, we stopped for barbecue. Big D’s Barbecue has been smokin’ for over 30 years. It is quintessential Louisiana barbecue although too much ketchup for my taste. Still, it is worth the trip. I’ve included an image of their smoker and outdoor dining area (if you can stand the heat) along with their delivery vehicle.

Sarah and Evan’s menu included:

  • Sliced tomatoes with grilled corn, popped sorghum, and white chocolate
  • Green bean salad with raw pecans, coffee vinaigrette, and green-bean chimichirri
  • Honey-roasted potatoes with sunflowers
  • Plum-glazed pork roast

The contest turned out to be an exciting event. Over 70 cooks along with families showed up, so there were nearly 300 people jammed into the hall. The contestants were intense and clearly there to win. Contrary to our expectations, there was not a single serving of tomatoes and okra or zucchini bread, although a 10-year old girl made an elegant squash cake with an elaborate squash glaze. Choosing winners turned out to be more difficult than anyone had thought, but among the winners were a fancy pizza with lots of toppings, a tomato pie, and a squash appetizer. After the judges – Sarah, Evan, and Jason – had sampled everything. (Yes, you read that right.) everyone in the audience stormed the tables to get their own taste of the various entries.

Following the announcement of the winners, Sarah and Evan’s dinner was served, and folks were still hungry! Then there was a lively panel of local food experts talking about the next steps toward getting Shreveport more farm-to-table friendly.

A long evening, but everyone went home well-fed and happy.

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