Tag Archives: Louisiana

MARDI GRAS KING CAKE

It’s Carol’s turn with our Sunday family dinner. As a nod to Mardi Gras this next week, she plans to make jambalaya. I am looking forward to that. Since Carol is cooking, that means that I am up for dessert. There are lots of Louisiana desserts that would go with jambalaya, but King Cake seemed to be the most appropriate. King cake is a tradition in many parts of the world, but in Louisiana it is served across the state, starting on Epiphany (January 6th) and ending on Mardi Gras (this year, February 13). There are many versions of king cake. Some folks make rings of filled cream puffs; others make baked meringues, etc., etc. The most common version is a brioche-like sweet bread, often filled with raisins or other dried fruit. The cake is topped with icing and sprinkled sugars in the traditional Mardi Gras colors of green, yellow, and purple.  I couldn’t find purple-colored sugar sprinkles, so I made do with red. I hope no one will notice. You can go all-out and fashion a “crown” of a circle of candied or maraschino cherries. The best part of the tradition, though, is finding the baby. A small plastic baby is hidden in the cake before it is baked. In the absence of the baby, a black bean will do. The person who gets the slice of cake with the baby (or bean) is supposed to have good luck. A less recognized part of the tradition is that the person is also supposed to bring the next king cake for the next celebration.

Interestingly, none of our many cookbooks from Louisiana contain a recipe for king cake. The recipe I have used is from King Arthur Flour. Laissez les bon temps rouler.

RECIPE

Mardi Gras King Cake

Ingredients

  • ½ cup unsalted butter, melted
  • ¾ cup lukewarm milk
  • 2 large eggs + 1 large yolk, white reserved
  • 3½ cups all-purpose flour
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 1¼ teaspoons salt
  • 1 package (2½ teaspoons) fast rising yeast
  • ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest

Filling

  • 8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/8 teaspoon almond extract

Icing

  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • pinch salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2½ tablespoons milk

Garnish

  • sparkling sugars – green, yellow, purple

Method

  1. Add all of the dough ingredients to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. Mix on low speed until a soft, silky, but sticky dough is formed. Cover the bowl and let the dough rise in a warm place for 1 hour.
  2. Transfer the risen dough to a lightly oiled work surface. Shape the dough into a 24 inch x 6 inch rectangle. Let rest while you prepare the filling.
  3. In a medium bowl, beat together the cream cheese, sugar, and flour until smooth. Add the egg, vanilla, and almond extract and continue to beat until smooth.
  4. Transfer the filling to the middle of the rectangle of dough, leaving enough of the dough bare so that it can be pulled up around the filling and pinched closed. Before sealing the filling, position the baby or black bean in the filling.
  5. Transfer the filled and sealed dough rectangle to a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment. Shape the dough into a circle, sealing the ends together. Cover with a clean cloth and let rise for 1 hour.
  6. Bake in the middle on an oven preheated to 350°F for 20 minutes. Then cover loosely with aluminum foil and bake for an additional 30 minutes. Remove the cake from the oven and let it firm up for 15 minutes before transferring it to a baking rack to cool completely.
  7. Beat together the icing ingredients. Pour or drizzle the icing over the completely cooled cake. Sprinkle the colored sugars in bands over the icing. Make a ring on top with the optional cherries if desired.
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SHRIMP-STUFFED ROASTED ARTICHOKE

Before we left for our child-tending excursion in San Francisco, I bought two beautiful artichokes at the grocery store. They were on special for Mothers Day. We wound up eating out a lot during the week, and so the artichokes languished in the refrigerator. When we returned home, I was worried that the artichokes might have spoiled. They had not, so I was confronted with what to do with them. Usually I boil them and serve them with Hollandaise, but I wanted to do something a little different. I remembered a wonderful dinner that we enjoyed many years ago in Ruston, Louisiana. Our host had gone to enormous trouble to wedge a bit of spicy shrimp into every space between the leaves. Such a dish is a traditional Louisiana favorite, but it is usually reserved for special dinners because it takes so much effort. I thought that maybe I could make something that approximated that long-ago creation with not so much work. It turns out that this version is really easy if you have a food processor. Probably a Vita-Mix would work, too.

RECIPE

Shrimp-Stuffed Roasted Artichoke

Ingredients

  • 2 large artichokes
  • 2 slices good quality French bread
  • leaves from 6 stems of parsley
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped coarsely
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil + more to drizzle on the tops of the stuffed artichokes
  • ¼ teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • Tabasco sauce to taste (optional)
  • 1 cup ready-cooked salad shrimp, thawed
  • ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese

Method

  1. Prepare the artichokes by trimming the stem and the tips of the leaves. Cut off the top of the artichoke and remove the inner leaves to reveal the choke. Using a spoon, scrape out the fuzzy bits of the choke.
  2. Cut the bread into cubes and place in a food processor. Process until the bread forms coarse crumbs. Add the parsley leaves, chopped garlic, lemon juice, and olive oil and process until well combined but not puréed. Add the Old Bay, salt and pepper, optional Tabasco sauce, shrimp and grated Parmesan and process for just a few seconds until the shrimp are finely chopped but not puréed.
  3. Fill the center of each artichoke with the shrimp mixture and then spread the remainder over the tops of the artichokes. pressing down to force some of the mixture between the leaves.
  4. Place the stuffed artichokes in an oven-proof pan filled with about 1½ inches of water. Drizzle the tops with olive oil. Cover the pan with heavy aluminum foil, and poke four holes in the foil. Place in the middle of an oven preheated to 375°F. Roast for 1 hour covered, then remove the foil and roast, uncovered, for another 15 minutes. NOTE: Be very careful when you remove the foil, as steam may rush out and burn your fingers.
  5. Transfer the roasted artichokes to plates and serve with Hollandaise. I used Julia Child’s never-fail quick blender sauce.

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SHRIMP AND RIGATONI

As we continue our efforts to downsize and declutter, I am working on clearing out the freezer. I found a pound of shrimp that needed to be used, but I was at a loss for a recipe. With shrimp, I often make some of our Louisiana favorites like shrimp creole or seafood gumbo. Barbecued shrimp in the style of the famous New Orleans restaurant, Pascal’s Manale, also sounded like an option, but that recipe calls for really large and really fresh shrimp – and a bit more trouble than I wanted. Shrimp and pasta was another choice, but to tell the truth I am a bit tired of tomato sauces, and somehow the combination didn’t seem quite right. I thought of paella, one of my favorites, but maybe substituting pasta for rice would make a good alternative. All of those ruminations made me think of this combination of shrimp and rigatoni without tomatoes and without saffron. My other goal was to make it a truly one-dish meal. For that, I boiled the pasta in fish sauce in the same cast iron pan where the rest of the ingredients would be added. No pasta-boiling pot to clean up. I topped the finished dish with Parmesan – I know, I know, shellfish and cheese are not supposed to go together. Just try it.

So here’s the recipe.

RECIPE

Shrimp and Rigatoni

Ingredients

  • 2 cups fish stock
  • 2 cups dry rigatoni
  • water
  • 4 scallions, sliced diagonally
  • 6 snacking peppers, seeded and sliced into rings
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • ½ teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • ½ cup frozen peas
  • 1 pound large shrimp, cleaned and peeled
  • ¼ cup chopped parsley
  • Parmesan cheese, grated

Method

  1. In a large sauté pan, bring the fish stock to a boil. Add the rigatoni and just enough water to cover the pasta. Boil for about 10 minutes until the pasta is al dente, adding more water as needed.
  2. Stir in the scallions, peppers, paprika and seasonings and cook at a simmer for about 5 minutes until the peppers are soft. Add the frozen peas.
  3. Stir in the shrimp and cook until the shrimp have become pink and have lost their translucency. Adjust the seasoning, stir in the chopped parsley,  top with grated Parmesan, and serve immediately in bowls.

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…A JUG OF WINE, A LOAF OF BREAD, AND…

When I was in college, many of my friends memorized lines from Omar Khayyam’s Rubaiyat so that they could impress their true loves. Most of the swains used the quote in the title of this piece, but they probably had not read much else. I think that the book has virtually disappeared from today’s college campuses.

We went on a picnic recently that made me think of the quote. Since our first year of marriage, Susan and I have had an autumn tradition whenever we lived near mountains. We would pack a picnic lunch or evening meal and drive into the mountains to take a walk among the beauty and to sit under the beautiful golden quaking aspens. Of course, the children came along when they were younger. We followed the ritual even when we lived in Louisiana because the Arkansas mountains were not far away; and even though there were no aspens, the colors were spectacular. Only when we lived in Texas,  too far from mountains, did we forego the experience. In most Texas places where we lived, the leaves, except for the beautiful gums, just turned a dull brown and fell off the trees around Thanksgiving.

This year the aspens put on an especially good show, and so we packed up a simple lunch and headed up Hyde Park Road to the ski basin. By now, our hikes have gotten shorter and our drives a little longer. This time, except for about a half-hour walk, it was mostly driving. We were surprised to see the crowds, even in the middle of the week. Aspen Vista, where the entire mountainside is laid out in front of you and the trail is flat, was a huge traffic jam. All of our favorite picnic spots had already been occupied.

Fortunately, we ventured up the road in the state park with its assessment of a $5 day-use fee. There was no one around, and we easily found a table under some beautiful autumn colors.

A lovely spot for a picnic

A lovely spot for a picnic

We unpacked our simple lunch: a nice bottle of Cotes du Rhone, a fresh baguette, a roll of hard Italian salami, a wedge of Manchego, a slab of Havarti, and some chocolate. We feasted under the shimmering aspen leaves and thought back on similar days over the decades. It could not have been a more perfect meal or better afternoon. You see why I thought of Omar Khayyam.

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LEEK AND MUSHROOM SALAD IN THE STYLE OF THE CAMBRIDGE CLUB

Many years ago I did a lot of executive recruiting for my organization in Shreveport, Louisiana. Whenever someone –  especially a recruit– comes to Louisiana, he or she expects to eat well. Shreveport, like most cities in Louisiana, has a number of excellent restaurants specializing in a variety of cuisines, many with a Southern or Creole emphasis.

In my recruiting days, the Cambridge Club was the best of the best. It was actually a private dinner club run by two cousins from Italy, Vincent Campanella  ran the front of the house, and Giuseppe Brucia commanded (my choice of words) the kitchen. They were both trained at a famous Swiss hotel and restaurant school in Lucerne. How they got to Shreveport was anyone’s guess, but nobody cared because the setting, service, and food were so good.

On special occasions like birthdays, anniversaries, and celebrations I would take the family to dinner. They loved to go, first stopping at the front door of a beautiful house that evoked the Cotswolds to be greeted by a doorman who came out of a bright red English telephone booth and then escorted into a candlelit room with attentive waiters and delicious food.

Unfortunately, the Cambridge Club is long gone. Vincent retired years ago and Giuseppe opened his own place with a gigantic kitchen and dining rooms filled with patrons wolfing down huge plates of spaghetti and meatballs. Vincent and Giuseppe sold the Cambridge Club, and after only a few years it folded. That seems to be the story of so many legendary restaurants.

One of our family favorites on the Cambridge Club menu was a mushroom salad topped with a dab of red caviar. We talked Chef Brucia into giving us the recipe, and it was copied into our family recipe file in the teenage hand of our older daughter. Susan’s favorite salad was a leek and mushroom salad, but since our daughter runs from anything that remotely smells or tastes like an Allium, she did not copy that recipe.

What follows is a synthesis of the two recipes, minus the red caviar. But you should feel free to add that if you wish. The only other guidance is that the mushrooms absolutely must be peeled, not washed. That is much easier than it sounds. Just place the sharp point of a paring knife under the edge of the mushroom cap next to the gills, lift up and the thin covering strips away. Continue around the edge of the mushroom until it is completely peeled. That should take much less than a minute.  It is amazing how much more delicate peeled mushrooms become, how thin you can slice them, and how much more receptive they are to fresh lemon juice and the best EVOO (That’s what Sarah, Evan, and their cooks call extra virgin olive oil.)

RECIPE

Leek and Mushroom Salad in the Style of the Cambridge Club

Ingredients

  • white part of 1-2 large leeks
  • 2-3 large white mushrooms per serving
  • mesclun
  • juice of ½ lemon for each serving
  • 3 tablespoons of the best extra virgin olive oil for each serving
  • Parmigiano-Reggiano or Asiago of good quality
  • red caviar (optional)

Method

  1. With a very sharp knife, slice the leeks crosswise as thinly as possible. Rinse in a colander to remove any bits of sand and dirt. Refrigerate in ice water until ready to use.
  2. With a paring knife, peel the mushrooms. Slice crosswise as thinly as possible. Save the peelings for vegetable stock if you wish.
  3. Assemble the salad by placing a nest of mesclun on individual serving plates.  Drain the leeks. Divide the sliced leeks and mushrooms among the plates.
  4. Dress each plate with lemon juice and olive oil. Use salt and pepper if needed
  5. Top with slivers of Parmigiano-Reggiano or Asiago shaved as thinly as possible with a vegetable peeler.
  6. If you are feeling flush, add a dab of red caviar to the top of each serving. Remember, this is purely optional.

 

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BOUILLI (BOILED BEEF)

When I wrote recently about Julia Child’s recipe for ratatouille, I reported that she suggested serving it with pot au feu. I was looking for something simple, but the recipe in Mastering the Art of French Cooking served twelve to sixteen people and called for 4 pounds of beef, 4 pounds of pork, 4 pounds of chicken, 2 pounds of sausage, and vegetables. That was more than I wanted to tackle.

I had more in mind boiled beef, which sounded fairly simple and something that would not overpower the ratatouille. There is a traditional Creole dish, known as bouilli. It has been served for decades in most of the old-line restaurants of New Orleans. Perhaps the best known version is served at Tujague’s, which was established in 1856 and claims to be the second oldest restaurant in New Orleans. (The famous Antoine’s Restaurant dates to 1840.) Tujague’s sits on Decatur at the corner of Madison, a block from Jackson Square. Like the rest of the French Quarter, the restaurant survived Hurricane Katrina. It is still serving bouilli. I first enjoyed it in 1962. At the time, I thought it was pretty ordinary – stringy beef served in a watery broth. Since then, I guess my taste buds have matured, or at least changed.  Bouilli was exactly what I was looking for to serve with ratatouille.

This is not Tujague’s authentic version of boiled beef. For one thing, theirs is made with brisket. I am also certain that they use some secret herbs and spices that I don’t know about. Still, I think that my version makes a good, if a bit bland, foil for the Mediterranean flavors of ratatouille.

Beef and vegetables in broth starting the slow boil

Beef and vegetables in broth starting the slow boil

Bouilli with vegetables and ratatouille

Bouilli with vegetables and ratatouille

RECIPE

Bouilli (Boiled Beef)

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds beef pot roast (chuck or round)
  • 1 quart beef stock
  • water as needed
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and cut in half crosswise
  • 2 ribs celery cut in thirds
  • 1 medium onion, peeled and quartered
  • 2 medium turnips, peeled and quartered
  • bouquet garni of whole cloves, parsley, bay leaf, fresh thyme, garlic
  • 12 whole black peppercorns
  • salt to taste

Method

  1. Place beef in a soup pot and add broth and enough water to cover the meat.
  2. Add the remaining ingredients and bring to the boil. Cover and reduce to the simmer for 3 to 4 hours or until the beef is tender.
  3. Remove the beef rom the broth, slice, and serve with some of the broth and the vegetables, if desired. Serve horseradish on the side.
  4. Strain and reserve, chilled, remaining broth for other uses.

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CRAB-STUFFED ARTICHOKES

A while back I wrote about a classic oyster and artichoke soup from New Orleans. Artichokes are among the  favorite ingredients for Louisiana cooks, both professionals and amateurs. It goes without saying that crab, along with shrimp and crawfish, is another favorite Louisiana ingredient. Combining the two is the basis for another popular Louisiana dish. I first enjoyed it many years ago when Susan and I were dinner guests of a great home cook in Ruston, Louisiana. Globe artichokes stuffed with a savory dressing is a welcome alternative to the usual artichoke bracts (leaves) dipped in aioli or Hollandaise.

Some Louisiana food authorities assert that stuffed artichokes – plain only or with shellfish – had their origin in Italian restaurants throughout the state and then became widely popular. That seems likely, because cultivated artichokes apparently had their origins in Sicily, and Italian cookbooks usually have many recipes using artichokes.  At the same time, I have only been able to find one recipe for stuffed artichokes – that by Giuliano Bugialli in the classic The Fine Art of Italian Cooking, first published in 1977. He stuffed his artichokes with pancetta or prosciutto.

In the USA, Castroville, California, seems to be the epicenter of the artichoke crop. The town dubs itself “Artichoke Capital of the World”, and you can see miles and miles of artichoke fields along the highway or through the windows of the train. Roadside stands abound.

The Louisiana crop is more modest, but it seems to meet the local need. We are nearing the end of the usual season, but with our present world-wide commerce, artichokes are available year around.

Whatever the origin of the recipe or the source of the vegetable, it is easy to see why stuffed artichokes are so popular. This recipe combines crab and Romano cheese, not considered by some to be a good combination. For me, it works.

 

RECIPE

Crab-Stuffed Artichokes

Ingredients

  • 2 large artichokes
  • 1 lemon, halved
  • 8 ounces crab meat, picked over for shells and cartilage
  • ½ cup dry bread crumbs + more for topping
  • ½ cup fresh Romano cheese, grated + more for topping
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • ½ teaspoon Creole seasoning or Old Bay
  • salt and pepper
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Method

  1. In a stock pot boil enough water to submerge the artichokes. Squeeze the juice of the lemon into the boiling water and add the rinds. Add the artichokes, cover and boil slowly for 30 – 40 minutes or until an outer leaf is soft and can be removed easily. Drain and cool the artichokes.
  2. Prepare the artichokes for stuffing by cutting off the stem so that the artichoke can sit squarely on the work surface. Using scissors and starting up about 1/3 from the base, cut off the pointed ends of the outer leaves, working around the choke, trimming all the leaves until you come to the pink-hued inner leaves. Remove those leaves to expose the choke (also called the chaff). With a teaspoon, remove the fibrous chaff until the base of the artichoke is exposed and smooth. Set aside.
  3. Prepare the stuffing by combining the crab, bread crumbs, Romano, beaten egg, and seasonings in a small bowl.
  4. Working from the outer leaves inward and using a spoon, place a good teaspoon of the filling in the hollow of each leaf, reserving enough of the stuffing to fill the central hollow.
  5. Sprinkle the tops of the stuffed artichokes with additional bread crumbs and grated cheese. Drizzle the tops with melted butter and place the stuffed artichokes in the middle of an oven preheated to 400°F for 40 minutes. Serve while still warm. Eat by pulling off the bracts, one by one. Take a bite of stuffing and scrape the soft artichoke flesh off the bract between your teeth. Keep on working toward the center. Cut the center into bite-sized pieces.

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