Today, April 24, Smithsonian Folkways is reissuing a rare live recording that Louis Armstrong, New Orleans' favorite son, recorded just months before he died in 1972. Not only does the CD package (or digital download, your choice) contain Louis Armstrong classics like Mack the Knife and Hello Dolly, but it also includes a 16-page booklet with some of Armstrong's favorite New Orleans recipes! I got a huge kick out of reading recipes for things like "Oysters a la Gov. James Noe," "New Orleans Pussy Fingers" (catfish strips), and "Walter McIlhenny's Frogs a la Creole." These are some classic recipes that need to be read and prepared, even if altered, to keep them alive. I was most excited, though, to find the recipe for Rice Calas--deep-fried rice fritters that were commonly sold as street food in New Orleans. Served warm, with a powdered sugar sprinkle and dipped into Steen's Cane Syrup, there may be no finer breakfast. More on the callas in a minute!
Today I want to get a little personal--just a little bit. And it has to do with time, and cooking, and how there never seems to be enough food even after you spend hours cooking something that's supposed to last for days. It happens to us, our small family of two, and it happens to everyone else, I know. It also has to do with what I've chosen to post on this blog for the past few years, and why, and some possible changes ahead.
The other day, at a crawfish boil (lucky!), a neighbor of ours was saying that he checked food orleans when he was looking for something to make for dinner (that is, quick) and couldn't really find many choices. Of course, I said, "That's about right." He said, "Does it seem to you like everything on your blog takes about 3 hours to make?" I said, "[Gulp] Um...yes." And then followed with, "We usually cook those things on the weekends." Which is completely true, but for a busy dad looking for something to rustle up in a half hour, that kind of talk don't do much good.
Because New Orleans (and all of Louisiana) is such a melting pot, and because Cajun and Creole dishes often have similar roots, including French, Spanish, Italian, African, Haitian, Cuban, German, and Native American, some of the distinctions between what's Creole food and what's Cajun food can be hard to make. In his book My New Orleans, chef John Besh explains that Creole gumbo pays tribute to a "rich variety of cultures and ingredients, whereas Cajun gumbo evolved as the essence of peasant food, a way to feed a large number of people making the very best of whatever meager ingredients were at hand," and John Folse's Encyclopedia of Cajun & Creole Cuisine extolls Creole cuisine as a "more sophisticated cousin" to Cajun cooking. Explanations like these work perfectly when comparing elegant Creole dishes to rustic cast-iron Cajun stews, but the waters grow murkier near a pot of jambalaya.
Ah, September...I don't know what the weather's like where you are, but here in New Orleans, it's pretty darn wet. But once the rains of Lee move northeast, we should get some fall-like weather, topping out around 75 degrees! Practically winter. I'm always ready to do some roasting as soon as the major summer heat subsides, and I'm jumping the gun a little here, but with good reason. We're making this scrumptious jalapeno-roasted pork from Susan Spicer's wonderful cookbook, Crescent City Cooking, so we can use the leftovers in a Labor Day/Paul's Birthday jambalaya tomorrow. Hooray!
[two pork shoulders (double recipe) about to go in the oven]
I'd like to introduce you to my treasured friend Meredith Martin-Moats. If you've ever known a woman who rescued animals, built community resources, and sang high lonesome harmony with a twin at each hip, then you might know someone a bit like her. She's a superwoman, but she's also one of the most down-to-earth people you'll find. I asked her recently to share some thoughts on reducing waste in the kitchen and cooking mindfully (see Meredith's post on a great muffin recipe that uses overripe fruit). In typical Meredith fashion, her words took me back to a simpler time, yet revived my interest in learning something new:
Because wastefulness is such a part of our culture it can take lots of time and baby steps to rethink the way we function in our kitchens, and I've come to be a big believer in moving at a slow and steady pace. Taking on too much just becomes overwhelming and leads to burn out. Now, this might not work for lots of folks but for me it really does. And that's to find rewards in less. For me, reducing waste and living simply is a spiritual practice. I know that might sound weird to some people, but that holds true for me. My point here is that I think learning to reduce waste should include some deep thinking about why it matters to you in the first place. Yes it's cheaper and yes it makes sense, but it's also not the easiest way to live in our modern society and if those changes are going to really take root in your life it seems to me that a person should consider really looking at why they want to make those changes. When you find the answers to those questions then it becomes much more like a fun challenge and less like hard work.
Before the intense heat of this summer drives us all inside to eat nothing but cold sandwiches and ice cream, and before every last tomato has been incinerated by the sun, I want to share a special creation with you that we concocted at the beach: shrimp and okra stew with a secret. The secret is chipotle pepper. (Italics is the typist's whisper). Not that chipotle peppers in adobo sauce haven't been popularized in recent years--they're showing up in everything from hot wing sauce to salad dressing--but they're not indigenous to New Orleans cuisine. But they really put this shrimp and okra stew over the top, I tell you! Wowza!
Yesterday, I was inspired once again to buy local, seasonal produce and see what I could make with it. The inspiration came from this wonderful French documentary, Food Beware: The French Organic Revolution (more on that below*). When I got to the store, I wasn't set on a French menu by any means, but I just did this staring thing I've been doing lately--I stand in front of the produce wall and stare straight ahead. I soften my eyes and don't try to focus on anything, and see what colors stand out to me. This is not unlike the way I look at a painting by Monet or Renoir--there's that Frenchiness again. This time, eggplant and squash called to me. And that one plump red bell pepper, all alone. So I was struck with the solution of ratatouille, and just went all-out French and bought a whole chicken to roast. Why the heck not?
[veggies roasted and ready for layering]
Happy 2011, everyone! Carnival season is well underway. About 5 weeks left til Mardi Gras. Our garage has undergone an intense cleaning. Arcade Fire will be at Jazzfest. We're going to try a small garden. It's shaping up to be a great year.
We were in Oklahoma over New Year's, and didn't get a chance to make our standard black-eyed-pea and greens feast that we've enjoyed since moving here...but here's a simple recipe for some down-home greens 'n peas that'll fit the winter soup bill and sneak in some luck before January's out.
Red beans and rice is one of the quintessential New Orleans dishes. You eat them on Monday--every Monday, if possible--after cooking them on Sunday and soaking them on Saturday night. Monday was "wash day" in New Orleans, and became the traditional day for eating red beans because they could be cooked all day with little fuss while doing other chores. I love to make huge batches and freeze them in meal-size portions, so each Monday morning I can set one container out to thaw and dinner is planned. Make up some fresh rice, heat the beans, and get some pickled onions...oh yes, the pickled onions. More on those later.
Everybody's rainbow talkin' these days, and I have to admit I say "Double complete rainbow!" at least once every 48 hours. (If you haven't heard of the Rainbow Guy yet, watch the video at the bottom of the post.) Now I'm shamelessly stealing one of his most charming phrases for the title of a stir-fry of three proteins and three colors of vegetables. It might be cheesy, but it's exactly what I said when I was deciding what to add to the three proteins we'd purchased (catfish, shrimp, and chicken) and standard stir-fry sauce-building trinity of garlic, ginger, and scallion: "...and then if I have red bell peppers, carrots, and green onions, it'll be...it'll be like a triple complete rainbow!" And you know what came next: "All across your plate!"