Wednesday, November 16, 2022

A Big Pot of Louisiana Cuisine

Halloween has come and gone, and the dentists’ offices are making appointments by the boatload.  All those sugary treats definitely played tricks on the teeth of many.  The next autumn holiday, sorry, yes, we are still, technically, in the fall season, is Thanksgiving.  Typically, we will begin seeing recipes on turkey, green bean casserole, stuffing/dressing, sweet potatoes and pumpkin pie.  We have our family favorites; we do the traditional Thanksgiving array. So, I am going down the road less traveled once again, and giving you something completely different.

Creole Cuisine originated in Louisiana, primarily in the New Orleans area; it is a melting pot of various cuisines: French, Portuguese, Spanish, Canadian (the Acadians, known for “Cajun” cuisine), Caribbean, Italian, Greek, Southern USA Native American, West Indies and African. These cultures were able to come together due to the various slave trade routes; the enslaved people brought, not just their cultures to the United States, but their cuisines.

A basic ingredient for many Creole dishes is a roux. A roux, French for “brown sauce,” is a base used for gravies and sauces in Creole cuisine.  When making a roux, using a saucepan or a skillet is dependent upon what recipe is being made, and how much is needed. It begins with equal parts of a fat (oil, butter, lard, etc.) and flour; the fat is heated on medium heat. The flour is stirred in until well incorporated and the mixture is smooth. The color of the roux is dependent upon the flavor desired for the recipe, so can be lightly browned to dark brown; this can take 15-30 minutes. The mixture must be continually stirred and watched; if any black flakes appear, it has burned and must be started over. Once the desired color is achieved, additional ingredients can then be added such as broth (stock), milk, cream, herbs, seasonings, etc.

Jambalaya is a Louisiana classic which can be claimed by the Creoles when it has tomatoes in it, or the Cajuns when it does not. Either way, jambalaya consists of rice that has been cooked with shrimp, oysters, spicy sausage, ham, or chicken; seasoned with spices and herbs.  It is similar to Spanish paella, popular at fairs and social events, and can be easily made in large quantities. It can be also equated to the children's story, "Stone Soup" where a little bit of this and that added to a large pot makes a wonderful meal for all. Any way you want to look at jambalaya, it is a classic feast that pleases everyone.

 


Jambalaya

 Ingredients:

4 Tbsp. peanut oil

½ lb. spicy sausage (Chorizo, Andouille or hot Italian), cut into ½ pieces

½ lb. boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into ½” pieces

½ cup each of diced celery, onion, red bell pepper

1 Tbsp. minced garlic

1 Tbsp. each minced fresh leaves of sage, thyme and parsley

1 (28 oz.) can diced tomatoes

1 (6 oz.) can tomato paste

2 diced jalapeno peppers

2 cups chicken broth

1 cup long grain rice

½ lb. large shrimp, shelled and deveined

¼ cup diced green onion

Preparation:

In a large, deep skillet; heat oil on medium-high heat; brown sausage and chicken pieces; about 7 minutes. Mix in celery, onion, bell pepper, garlic and herbs; let cook for 5 minutes.

Mix in tomatoes, paste, jalapenos, broth and rice; bring to a boil. Stir together, cover and reduce heat to low; let cook for 30 minutes. Add in shrimp and cook additional 5 minutes. Garnish with diced green onion.

Makes 6 servings.

Now, since jambalaya can be either Creole or Cajun influenced, here is something simply Creole, again, easy to create, and so very delicious in texture and flavor.  First things first, the seasoning mixture to make it all come together.

Creole Seasoning Mix

While salt is usually part of this mix; it is up to the person making it to decide how much to put in. If you like it salty, start with two tablespoons and add more if desired; or add less, or leave it out altogether; the cook is the boss.

Ingredients:

2 Tbsp. each of onion powder, garlic powder, dried oregano and dried basil

1 Tbsp. each of dried thyme, black and white peppercorns, dried cayenne pepper and celery seed

5 Tbsp. paprika

Preparation:

Using a blender, food processor, mortar and pestle or coffee grinder (labelled for herbs and spices only); grind all the ingredients together till well blended. Store in an air tight container. Makes 1 cup.

 


Shrimp Creole

This dish is often served over rice, but can be served over grits, polenta or mashed potatoes.

Ingredients:

3 Tbsp. olive oil

½ cup each of diced green bell peppers, onions and celery

1 Tbsp. minced garlic

3 Tbsp. flour

1 (14 oz) can diced tomatoes

1 (14 oz) can crushed tomatoes

1 Tbsp. hot sauce (add more if more heat desired)

1 Tbsp. Creole Seasoning Mix (add more if more spice desired)

2 lbs. medium shrimp, peeled and deveined (Yes!  Chicken can be used instead)

Preparation:

In a large skillet, on medium heat, heat oil; add in peppers, onions, celery and garlic; sauté for 10 minutes. Add in flour and stir till well incorporated.

Add in tomatoes and hot sauce; reduce heat to low and cover; cook for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add in seasoning mix and shrimp; cook an additional 5 minutes (shrimp will turn pink and be opaque inside).

Makes 8 servings.

The other cuisine, that is a staple of Louisiana, is Cajun. While Creole is a hodgepodge of different backgrounds, Cajuns hail from their Canadian ancestors, the Acadians.

I was introduced to Cajun cuisine by a former neighbor of mine, David Prudhomme, who happens to be a nephew of the famous chef, Paul Prudhomme. David, and his wife Sharon, owned The Lost Cajun Kitchen, once located in Columbia, PA. They have since retired, sold the restaurant, but still cook up homemade Cajun dishes.  Their restaurant is where I first tried a dish that I never thought I would ever have, alligator. Alligator, if cooked properly, is tender, and I believe it tastes like shrimp.  

Here is my take on a Cajun dish, Etouffee, which means "smothered. Normally is it made with crawfish, but good luck finding them, so I used shrimp instead.

 


Etouffee

(A Cajun dish normally done with crawfish, but works well with shrimp, scallops, langoustines or lobster; only one type of shellfish or scallops should be used for this dish.)

Ingredients:

8 Tbsp. butter

½ cup each diced green bell pepper and onion

¼ cup diced green onions, including tops

5 Tbsp. flour

1 Tbsp. paprika

1/8 tsp. ground cayenne pepper (add more if more heat desired)

¼ tsp. each salt, ground black pepper, dried oregano and thyme

2 cups hot water

2 Tbsp. chopped parsley

2 Tbsp. minced garlic

1 lb. of shellfish (peeled and deveined) or scallops (foot removed)

Preparation:

Melt butter, over medium-high heat, in a large skillet; sauté bell pepper and onions until peppers are soft and onions translucent, about 10 minutes.

While vegetables are sautéing, in a small bowl mix together flour, paprika, cayenne, salt, black pepper, oregano and thyme. Stir this mixture into the skillet and continue to stir as it bubbles to keep from clumping or burning.

Add one cup of water and mix thoroughly; repeat with 2nd cup of water. Stir in parsley and garlic; bring to boil. Reduce heat to low, add in seafood, cover and let cook for 7-10 minutes, depending on seafood used.  Serve over rice.

Makes 4 servings.

Mary Cokenour

 

 

 

Sunday, November 13, 2022

French Toast and Onion Rings - A Love Story.

 In October, Roy and I celebrated 19 years of togetherness, and that anniversary day began in an interesting way.  In desperation, a coworker had texted him about not understanding some duties of the third shift.  After coming home, from helping his coworker, well the dogs had to make the huge announcement, and I was dragged, kicking and screaming, out of a lovely dream.  6am, on a Saturday morning, but it was our anniversary, and the Fates had a plan.

We suddenly began to reminisce about the third shift jobs we had back in Pennsylvania.  While we enjoyed working by ourselves, or we only another coworker present, it was a difficult life at times.  While the world outside was in full swing during the daylight hours, we were sleeping it all away.  Our next-door neighbor, retired, would wake us at 2pm daily, using a leaf blower to clean his driveway which was across from our bedroom. Oh yes, we spoke to him about it, but even though he, himself, had been a third shift worker, he was retired, and, “no one can tell me what to do anymore”. 

There was one thing though, that made our lives a bit special, every Saturday morning, between the hours of 2am-4am, a meal at Jennie’s Diner.  It was located on Highway 30, open 24/7, considered a dive by tourists, but loved by all locals.  The waitresses were sassy, yet sweet; the food was comforting and better than any a five-star restaurant could serve.  Some dinner items were still available, and the breakfast menu was full of the most delicious choices and combos.  Lancaster County was still farming country, at that time, so a full, hearty, yet heart stopping meal, was still looked forward to.

Saturday mornings, at these ungodly hours, were the time for the third shifters, long haul truckers, and Friday night (oh, so drunk party goers) to get together.  Each booth had a small jukebox, songs were a quarter each, or 5 for a buck; and the Saturday morning crowd had favorites.  Everyone, and I mean even the police that came in for their meal breaks, sang along!  “She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy” was a personal favorite, but when Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” came on, oh, the place erupted loudly in song.  It was not unusual to see someone get up, walk up and down the aisle, leading us like a symphony conductor.  Surprisingly, we were all in tune, and cheered when the song ended.  Talk about, “it was the best of times”! (Please, someone get the A Tale of Two Cities reference)

 

So, while reminiscing, Roy remembered that once, he had ordered French toast and onion rings; and a man sitting at another booth exclaimed, “Hey, just hearing that order is giving me a heart attack”.  Technically, it was our dinner time, but, again, only a few dinner items were available, the rest was from the breakfast menu.  Then it dawned on both of us, didn’t we have a bag of frozen onion rings in the freezer?  Oh yes, we did, and I had just purchased a loaf of Sara Lee’s Artesano Brioche bread, eggs and milk from the local market the day before.  It was our anniversary, and we were going to recreate that French toast and onion rings meal.  I guess this is where, those previous references to French toast, were all leading towards.

After cooking, eating and cleanup, and yes, we sang “Sweet Caroline” in tune, we both agreed that this was the start of the best anniversary day ever!  Later on, we took the drive up, the only paved road, up into the mountains, down Harts Draw Road, along Route 211.  Of course, many stops were made for photography, or to just take in the most beautiful scenery.  That night, pizza, chips and onion dip were enjoyed during our usual Saturday night anime marathon.  Yeppers, best anniversary day ever!

 


Being together, for 19 years now, we have realized that memories, making wonderful memories together, is what keeps our togetherness alive.  Of course, there have been bad times, no relationship is 100% perfect; well, maybe except for Barbie and Ken’s, but they’re an inanimate couple anyway.  We are grateful for each other; we cherish each day we were given, to be together; and now we wake up each day, and wonder what year number 20 will throw at us.

French Toast

Ingredients:

2 cups milk

4 eggs

1 Tbsp. pure vanilla extract (not needed if brioche or challah bread is being used)

6 slices thick style bread

Cinnamon

Butter

Syrup

Preparation:

In a wide, one-inch deep, bowl, whisk together milk and eggs (and vanilla if needed).  Place two slices of bread into bowl.  At this time, place stove top griddle pan on medium-high heat; or turn on electric flat top griddle to 350F.

Flip over bread in bowl, sprinkle cinnamon on top; place bread on griddle, cinnamon side down, and sprinkle more cinnamon on top side.  Griddles are usually non-stick, but if not, melt two teaspoons of butter, and spread across griddle before placing bread on top.  Cook for 5 minutes, flip, and cook another 5 minutes.  While doing the 2nd-5 minutes, I usually place a half teaspoon, of butter, on top, and just let it melt into the browned side of the French toast.

Also, begin prepping the next two slices of bread; remove finished slices, add more butter to griddle, if needed, and begin cooking the new slices.  Repeat instructions for first two slices till done with all. Pour syrup over, and enjoy!

Makes 2 or 3 servings, depending on how many slices you consider a serving to be.

Mary Cokenour

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Bacon, it's "What's for Dessert?"

 Bacon, whether it is flavored with maple or honey, seasoned with hickory or apple wood, bacon is yummy goodness and ups the ante on taste for anything it is included in, even dessert. That's right, I said bacon for dessert; even I had my doubts about trying out dessert recipes with bacon in it, but had to try nonetheless. After seeing bacon cupcakes on a few cooking shows, I was curious to how they actually tasted.   I cannot believe how many hundreds of bacon dessert recipes were found on the internet! Which one to choose was a total mystery, so printed out a few, compared notes, and came up with my own concoctions.

Now Roy was not happy about the whole experiment thing at all.  Bacon is bacon and should not be made into candy, or added to cake. He still does not like the idea of it at all, but he did have to agree that my recipes came out pretty well, and he was impressed at my accomplishments. I likened the taste to French toast in syrup, but without the bread; and it was the perfect garnish for the cupcakes.

Hmm, first my Monte Cristo Sandwich mentioned French toast, now this article.  Seems to be a theme developing for a future article on, what else, French toast! 

 


Candied Bacon

Ingredients:

1 lb. regular bacon

½ cup sugar

1 Tbsp. vanilla extract

1 Tbsp. ground cinnamon

Preparation:

In a large nonstick skillet, on high heat, cook the bacon until it is darkened in color, but still flexible; drain on paper towels.

Drain grease from skillet, set heat on low; place bacon, in one layer, into skillet. First sprinkle sugar over the bacon, then the vanilla and finally the cinnamon. Let the bacon cook for 10 minutes before turning over and let cook an additional 5 minutes.

Remove the bacon to a wire rack (paper towels under the rack to catch drippings) and let it air cool for 30 minutes before snacking on, or using for garnish on baked goods.

Alternative: instead of ground cinnamon, use ½ Tbsp. of ground chipotle powder.

Then came the cupcakes, the fat from the bacon gives the cake a moister and richer consistency. The meat of the bacon does cook during the baking process, and it is like a little chewy surprise within the cake...think bacon gummy bears! There is not an overpowering taste of bacon, you know it is there, but it all comes together well.

 


Chocolate Bacon Cupcakes

Ingredients:

1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour

¼ tsp. baking soda

2 tsp. baking powder

3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1/8 tsp. salt

3 Tbsp. unsalted butter, softened

1 ½ cups sugar

6 egg yolks

1 cup milk

½ lb. regular uncooked bacon, chopped

Preparation:

Preheat oven to 350F; line muffin tins with paper liners.

In a large bowl, sift together flour, baking soda and powder, cocoa powder and salt; set aside.

In another bowl, cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy; beat in the egg yolks one at a time. Mix in half the dry ingredients with half the milk; when well incorporated, repeat with remaining dry ingredients and milk.

Add in the bacon and mix well with spoon, not a mixer. Fill each paper liner 2/3 with the batter; bake for 20-25 minutes; check for doneness by inserting toothpick in center; cupcakes are done if it comes out clean. Let cupcakes cool before removing from tins and frosting.

Makes 16 cupcakes.

 


Alternative: divide batter in half between 2–8-inch cake pans which were sprayed with nonstick baking spray. Bake time will be the same as for the cupcakes.

Topping: Vanilla frosting works best with a garnish of candied bacon.

 Vanilla Frosting

 Ingredients:

1/3 cup unsalted butter, softened

3 ½ cups confectioners’ sugar

2 tsp. vanilla extract

2 Tbsp. cold milk

Preparation:

In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar together until fluffy; add in extract and milk, continue to beat until smooth and spreadable.

Makes enough for 12 - 16 cupcakes depending upon how much is spread on each cupcake. To make enough to cover the top, sides and in-between 2–8-inch cakes, double the recipe.

Dead set on not transforming bacon into a candy, but still curious on the concept?  There is more to Mr. or Ms. Piggy than bacon, let’s make “other white meat candy”!  Candied bacon becomes a hardened food product that can be eaten as a snack, or used as a garnish on a dessert. This main dish recipe I am giving you is a pork dish with a sauce as sweet as candy, and a perfect enhancement for the meat itself.

"Candied Pork Chops"   Yes, I admit it, I ended up licking any excess sauce off my plate; and while it is probably good for rice or noodles, we much prefer mashed potatoes with this dish. Another point is, while the recipe calls for pork chops, boneless ribs, roast or tenderloin would work very well also.   Hmmm, I wonder how it would be as a glaze and sauce for barbecued ribs?  Looks like another adventure in the making.  Also, this is a great dish for a potluck meal, and with holiday events being planned out, you might be seeing this sometime sooner, than later.


Candied Pork Chops

Ingredients:

6 bone- in pork chops.

1 cup milk

1 large egg

½ cup all-purpose flour

½ cup Italian seasoned dried bread crumbs

1 tsp. garlic salt

1 tsp. onion powder

1 cup canola (my preference) for frying

Sauce

Ingredients:

2 cups brown sugar

1 and ½ cups ketchup

2 cups water

Preparation:

In a wide bowl, whisk together milk and egg; in a separate bowl, whisk together flour, bread crumbs, garlic salt and onion powder. Submerse each chop in liquid, then coat sides and edges, of each chop with dry mixture.  Set onto a plate to rest before frying.  

On medium-high heat, fry coated chops five minutes on each side.  They will not be cooked all the way through, but will finish up in the oven.  Drain on paper towels and place into a 9x13 baking pan, or casserole dish.  Preheat oven to 375F.

In a large bowl, whisk together brown sugar, ketchup, and water. Pour sauce over the chops; bake 30 minutes, uncovered.

Makes 6 servings. 

Mary Cokenour

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

Alexandre Dumas’ Count Becomes a Sandwich.

Ah, reading; a combination of eye stimulation leading upwards to the synapses of the brain, and creating, not just pleasure, but knowledge.  In my humble opinion, cellphones, tablets and computers should no longer be allowed for school usage.  Instead, let the children go back to using paper, pencils, notebooks and books, and do actual manual homework.  Let us bring back stimulation to the senses, and development of the synapses and nerve network of the brain.  Lecture over.

A classic in literature is The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas (he also wrote The Three Musketeers).  Basic synopsis, Dantes (main character) is imprisoned on the island of Chateau d'If for 13 years, where he plots revenge against those who betrayed him. With help from another prisoner, he escapes the island and proceeds to transform himself into the wealthy Count of Monte Cristo as part of his plan to exact revenge.  There are elements of betrayal, mystery, suspense, vengeance, love, relief and justice; a constant barrage hitting the reader throughout the story.

There has been remake after remake of this novel in film; the best depends upon style, adherence to the story, actors/actresses, musical score and many other features.  Like The Three Musketeers, this novel is a popular classic.

So, how did it become a sandwich?  Around 1910, a popular sandwich, served in Parisian cafes, was called Croque Monsieur, a grilled cheese sandwich containing Gruyere cheese and lean ham, between two slices of crust-less bread, and fried in clarified butter.  In 1912, the first silent film of The Count of Monte Cristo came out.  What better way to honor a French classic (the novel), then to rename another French classic (the sandwich) after it? 

Of course, after the film came to the United States, cookbooks began featuring the sandwich, and chefs played with the ingredient content.  In the 1950s, the inclusion of sliced turkey made an appearance.  It was in 1966 that the Monte Cristo sandwich made its appearance, on the menus, at the Blue Bayou and Tahitian Terrace restaurants, in the New Orleans’s Square, of California’s Disneyland.

When explaining what the sandwich is, I usually say, “Think of it as a grilled cheese sandwich, loaded with meat, and cooked up like French toast.”  It is often served with a dusting of powdered sugar, plus a side of a berry jam, or maple syrup.  The bread often used is brioche or challah which are rich in butter, and have a sweet flavor.  Personally, I opt out of powdered sugar, jam and syrup, as the sandwich is buttery sweet as is; that does not mean you should not adventure with it yourself!

Make the sandwich, curl up with a copy of the novel, and give your senses, and brain, pure enjoyment.


Monte Cristo Sandwich

Ingredients:

(brand names in parentheses are simply personal favorites)

2 eggs

1/4 cup whole milk or half n ’half

1/8 tsp. salt (optional – really don’t notice if it’s not added)

4 slices bread (brioche or challah are best, but Sara Lee Butter Bread is a good option)

2 Tbsp. mayonnaise

4 slices Swiss cheese (Sargento Ultra-Thin)

4 slices deli turkey (Hillshire Farms Oven Roasted Turkey Breast)

4 slices deli ham (Hillshire Farms Black Forest Ham)

2 Tbsp. butter

Powdered sugar (optional)

Berry jam such as strawberry, raspberry or currant (optional)

Maple syrup (optional)

 

Preparation:

In a wide bowl, 1-2 inches depth, whisk eggs, milk, and salt together.

Spread mayonnaise on one side of each slice of bread.  Place one slice of Swiss Cheese on each slice of bread.  Layer two slice of bread with 2 slices ham and 2 slices turkey; place other two slices of bread (Swiss cheese side down) on top to form two complete sandwiches.  Press down slightly to make sandwiches more compact.

 



Melt butter in a large skillet over medium low heat.  Dip each sandwich in the egg mixture; turning to coat both sides.  Add the sandwiches to the hot skillet and cook until golden brown on both sides.  Place lid on skillet, for one minute, to ensure cheese melts and any egg mixture cooks thoroughly.

 


Optional: sprinkle with powdered sugar and serve with a side of berry jam, or maple syrup.

Makes 2 sandwiches.

Mary Cokenour