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A slightly different crab cake

I am often asked what my signature dish is. Not wanting to be pigeon-holed, it is a question I try to sidestep. The dish I am usually most proud of is the newest one I have created. That being said, let me tell you about my most published dish, crab cakes.

Crab cakes is a dish that originated in Maryland. Growing up in New Orleans, the stuffed crab was a dish most often found on seafood menus. A stuffed crab is usually 50 percent crabmeat, most often claw meat, and 50 percent breading and seasonings. When the crab cake came to New Orleans, it showcased the lump crabmeat with very little filler.

Most crab cakes are made with mayonnaise as a binder. I find that mayonnaise takes away from the flavor of the crabmeat. This recipe uses heavy cream to combine with the breadcrumbs.

You are probably wondering where this recipe has been published. In 2005, Thomas Kinkade the Painter of Light, had a contest for three recipes to be included in his wife’s upcoming cookbook. Everyone was allowed to submit three recipes. Two of my recipes were originally selected to be included in the cookbook. However, they wanted to spotlight three different contestants. They chose to publish the first recipe that they selected, my crab cakes.

The second time this recipe appeared in print was the April 2009 issue of “Louisiana Cookin’” magazine. A new publisher, Susan Ford, had taken over the magazine. One of the changes she made was to include a recipe each month from ones submitted from each month from ones submitted from her readers. So in April 2009, my crab cakes appeared as the first recipe of the magazine. She has said that she uses my recipe often when she entertains.

Susan has featured a few of my recipes in her new magazine “Louisiana Kitchen and Culture” and on the magazine’s website.

In August 2011, my cookbook was published. The day I first held my book in my hands was one of my most proudest moments. Of course, one of my wife’s favorite dishes, crab cakes, was included.

Here, published again, is my crab cake recipe. I know you will enjoy them.

Crab Cakes

Ingredients:

1 pound Jumbo Lump Crabmeat, picked thru to remove shells
1 tablespoon Butter
4 cloves of Garlic, chopped
1/3 cup Green Onions, chopped
1/4 cup fresh Parsley, chopped
1 tablespoon Old Bay with Garlic and Herb Seasoning
3/4 cup Seasoned Breadcrumbs
3/4 cup Heavy Cream
1/4 teaspoon Salt
1/4teaspoon Black Pepper
1/4 teaspoon fresh Basil, chopped

Directions:

Over medium heat, melt butter in a medium saucepan. Sauté garlic in butter until golden brown. Add green onions and cook until soft, about 2 minutes. Add parsley and cook one more minute. Add crabmeat to pan. Add Old Bay seasoning and mix thoroughly. Add heavy cream and mix well. The mixture should not be liquidly. If so, add more breadcrumbs. All mixture to cook. Form cakes in hand, making a 2 1/2-inch circle. Place on a foil-lined cookie sheet. Refrigerate for at least two hours.

You can cook them many ways.

Sauté them in an olive oil-sprayed pan over medium heat for 3 minutes a side.
Cook in a 350℉ oven for 10 minutes.
Deep fry them in a 360℉ deep fryer. Dip the crab cakes in a mixture of milk and beaten egg, then cover with breadcrumbs. Cook them for 3 minutes or until golden brown.

While the crab cakes are good by themselves, they are even better when served with a sauce, either on top or on the side. Here is on of the most versatile sauces you will find.

Hollandaise Sauce

Ingredients:

2 Egg Yolks
1 Whole Egg
2 sticks (1/2 pound) margarine
1 stick (1/4 pound) Butter
1 1/2 teaspoons Lemon Juice
1/2 teaspoon Apple Cider Vinegar
1/2 teaspoon ground White Pepper
1/4 teaspoon Cayenne Pepper.

Directions:

Melt margarine and butter over medium heat. Bring to a boil, remove from heat and allow to cool. Using a blender, blend egg yolks, egg, lemon juice, vinegar and peppers. With blender on. Pour the margarine/butter mixture lowly into the other ingredients. Blend to thisk. Keep warm until served.

Muffuletta sought-after cuisine

New Orleans cuisine is full of unique dishes. The Muffuletta (pronounced mufh-uh-let-uh) is one that most visitors to the city seek out. This sandwich is not found in the fancy restaurants, making it a dish to be enjoyed by all walks of life.

The Central Grocery, in the French Quarter, is credited with its invention. Most of the farmers in the French Market were Sicilians. They would go to the Central Grocery across the street from the market for lunch. Ordering some salami, ham, a piece of cheese, a little olive salad and some bread, the farmer proceeded to eat them separately. Salvatore Lopo, the owner of Central Grocery, suggested that they cut the bread and put everything inside and eat it like a sandwich. So they stacked the meats, cheese and olive salad inside the bread and the Muffuletta was created.

There are two main components that sets the Muffuletta apart from other sandwiches. Muffuletta bread, a round Sicilian sesame bread, was softer than an Italian twist loaf, so it was used by Central Grocery to make the sandwich. Since Muffuletta bread is impossible to find at the local stores, a French bread loaf or a round sourdough bread make good substitutions.

The other main ingredient is the olive salad. This is a mixture of olives, garlic, capers, seasonings and olive oil. This is made in advance and taste better after sitting a day.

The sandwich is usually too large for a single person to eat it in one sitting. Most restaurants sell it by the whole sandwich, half sandwich or quarter sandwich. Locally, you can find a decent example of a Muffuletta at McAlister’s Deli. However, we are roughly 500 miles away from an authentic Muffuletta.

The Olive Salad is a versatile ingredient. It is often used in making pasta dishes, as a pizza topping or as a salad ingredient. Making your own olive salad is far superior to one’s that you find pre-made in the grocery store. It keeps well in the refrigerator.

Olive Salad
2 medium Carrots, sliced into 1/4-inch thick rounds
1 cup Cauliflower Florets
1 small Red Bell Pepper
16 large Green Olives, pitted
2 cups medium Green Olives, pitted
1 cup rind-cure Black Olives, pitted
1 1/2 cups Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
1/4 cup Red Wine Vinegar
1/4 cup Brining Juice from the olive jar
6 large Garlic Cloves, chopped
4 ribs Celery, chopped
1/4 cup (a small jar) Capers
10 springs Flat-Leaf Parsley, chopped
2 teaspoons dried Oregano
1 teaspoon dried Basil
1/2 teaspoon Crushed Red Pepper Flakes

Bring a small pot of water to a boil. Boil the carrots and cauliflower until crisp-tender, about 5 minutes. Rinse with cold water, drain, and set aside. Roast the bell pepper under a broiler until the skin turns black and blistered in spots. Keep turning until the entire exterior is that way. Remove, cool, peel, and remove stem and seeds. Cut into 1/2 x 1-inch pieces and set aside. with a knife (not a food processor), coarsely chop the olives. It’s okay if some of the olives are cut into just 2 pieces or not at all. Transfer the olives to a large non-metallic bowl. Add all of the remaining olive salad ingredients and mix well. Cover and refrigerate for at least one day; a week is better.

Muffuletta Sandwich
1/2 pound lean, smoked Ham, thinly sliced
1/2 pound Genoa Salami, thinly sliced
1 pound total of at least two of these cheeses: Mozzarella, Provolone, or Swiss, thinly sliced
One loaf Muffuletta Bread

Cut loaf in half crosswise and spoon olive salad with lots of the marinating oil onto both halves. Layer slices of meats and cheeses onto the bottom half. Cover with the top half of the loaf and cut into quarters to serve.

Some people like to have their sandwich warmed. For a warmed sandwich, before combining the two halves, place them in a preheated 350 degree oven for 3 to 5 minutes. Place the two halves together and cut into quarters, then enjoy!

Bakers Non-Bakers can make King Cake

New Orleans is known for many things. Many people return every year for Mardi Gras. What most people don’t realize is that Mardi Gras is just one day. Starting 11 days before Mardi Gras, the streets of New Orleans will have carnival parades leading up to the big day.

Carnival season actually begins on January 6th. Known as King’s day, this is the day when the three wise men visited the infant Jesus. On this day, the dessert of the carnival season, the King Cake, makes its first appearance of the season.

The King Cake is a large part of the New Orleans Carnival tradition. King Cake parties bring families and communities together to celebrate the season. For many, the dessert is the main reason for the Carnival season..

In earlier times, carnival organizations used the King Cake to select their royalty. Today, the baby symbolizes luck and prosperity to whoever finds it in their slice of cake. Some bakeries now place the baby outside the cake, and leave the hiding to the purchaser. People not knowing of the tradition can be surprised when biting into the baby. King Cake parties are celebrated with the person “finding the baby,” a small plastic baby said to represent the baby Jesus, responsible for supplying the next cake. There are some people who try to hide the fact that they found the baby. However, this ruse never works.

A traditional King Cake is a twisted cinnamon roll dough topped with icing and sugar. King Cakes may also be filled with additional foodstuff, the most common being cream cheese, praline or strawberry. The three colored sugars found on the cake are purple, green and gold, the official colors of Mardi Gras. Created in 1872 by the Krewe of Rex, the colors represent purple for justice, green for faith, and gold for power.

I find that there are two types of cooks, those who love to bake and those who don’t. Here are two recipes for King Cakes, one for bakers and one for non-bakers.

Here is a traditional King Cake.

For the Cake
2 packages (1/4 ounce each) Active Dry Yeast
1/2 cup Warm Water (110 to 115 degrees)
3/4 up Sugar, divided
1/2 cup Butter, softened
1/2 cup Warm Milk (110 to 115 degrees)
2 Egg Yolks
1 1/2 teaspoon Salt
1 teaspoon grated Lemon Peel
1/4 teaspoon ground Nutmeg
4 1/4 to 3 3/4 cups All-purpose Flour
1 teaspoon ground Cinnamon
1 Egg, beaten

Glaze

2 cups Powdered Sugar, sifted
2 tablespoon. Light Corn Syrup
3 tablespoons Milk
1/4 teaspoon clear Vanilla Extract
Purple, Green and Gold colored Sugars

In a large bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water. Add 1/2 cup sugar, butter, milk, egg yolks, salt, lemon peel, nutmeg and 2 cups flour. Beat until smooth. Stir in enough remaining flour to form a soft dough (dough will be sticky).

Turn onto a floured surface; knead until smooth and elastic, about 6-8 minutes. Place in a greased bowl, turning once to grease the top. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 hour.

Punch dough down. Turn onto a lightly floured surface. Roll into a 16 inch by 10 inch rectangle. Combine cinnamon and remaining sugar; sprinkle over dough to within 1/2 inch of the edges. Roll up jelly-roll style, starting with a long side: pinch seam to seal. Place seam side down on a greased baking sheet; pinch ends together to form a ring. Cover and let rise until doubled, about 1 hour. Brush with egg.

Bake at 375 degrees for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown. Cool completely on a wire rack.

While cooling, make glaze. Whisk the powdered sugar, corn syrup, milk and vanilla together in a bowl. Mix until smooth and completely incorporated. Spread over cake. Sprinkle colored sugars in sections on top of the glaze.

One day, I wanted to surprise my wife with a King Cake. Knowing that I did not have a couple of hours to surprise her, I used a shortcut for the dough. Using a crescent dough sheet, I was able to pull off the surprise. She was amazed how authentic it tasted. This is now my go to King Cake recipe (I’m not a big baker).

For the Cake
1 can Crescent Seamless Dough Sheet
1 12-ounce container whipped Cream Cheese Spread
Cinnamon Sugar

For the glaze
2 cups Powdered Sugar, sifted
2 tablespoons Light Corn Syrup
3 tablespoons Milk
1/4 teaspoon clear Vanilla Extract

Purple, Green and Gold colored Sugars

Roll out the dough sheet and cut in half, lengthwise. Spread cream cheese over each half. Sprinkle each half with a generous amount of cinnamon sugar. Roll each half sheet by the widest part, sprinkling the cinnamon shear on the outside as you go. Place the crease where the dough ends on the bottom of a greased 13×9-inch pan. Connect the two rolled sections together to make a continuous cake. Bake in a 375 degree oven for 17-20 minutes.

While cake is cooling, make the glaze. Whisk the powdered sugar, corn syrup, milk, and vanilla together in a bowl. Mix until smooth and completely incorporated. Spread over cake. Sprinkle colored sugar in sections on top of the glaze.

Roux can make or break Gumbo

One of the first dishes you think of when someone mentions New Orleans food is Gumbo. Of course, it is the official cuisine of the state of Louisiana. No one knows for sure where the name came from. Most believe it is derived from either a word from a Bantu language for okra (ki ngombo) or the Choctaw word for filé (ground sassafras leaves). Okra and filé are used as thickeners in gumbo, usually not together. Okra is most often found in seafood gumbos.

Gumbo is an economical dish, as it can be used to feed a large group of people with a small amount of meat or seafood. It is also a versatile dish. You are able to use whatever meat or seafood you have on hand. Most gumbos are either made with meat or seafood, although you can sometimes find sausage in a seafood gumbo.

Many southern Louisiana cooking competitions revolve around gumbo. The town of Bridge City, just outside the city of New Orleans, is the self-described Gumbo Capital of the World. Locally, the Hot Springs Gumbo & Catfish Festival will be held on April 22, 2017. Also in April, West Memphis host a Gumbo festival.

To make a gumbo, first you make a roux. Many Creole and Cajun dishes are started by making a roux. A roux will make or break your dish. Roux is more than just a thickener. It also adds flavor to your gumbo and other dishes. You must be very careful with the roux. If you start smelling a burnt smell, throw it out and start over. Even if you think you got all of the brunt parts out, your finished dish will still taste burnt. You also need to make sure you do not splash any roux on you. It will leave a bad burn. Let’s get Cookin’.

Roux

Equal parts Vegetable Oil or Butter and Flour

Heat oil in a pan over moderate to low heat. Add flour and stir until smooth. Cook, stirring constantly, to the desired color. Remember, the darker the color, the less the roux will thicken the dish. Roux should be glossy in appearance. White Roux should be barely colored, or chalky. Pale or Blonde Roux should be golden straw colored, with a slight nutty aroma. Brown or Black Roux should be deep brown, with a strong nutty aroma. Add your seasonings (onions, garlic, bell peppers, etc.) before you add your liquid. Make sure your liquid is room temperature or cool. This will ensure a smooth sauce.

Seafood Gumbo

When I think of gumbo, the seafood version is what comes to mind. This is the version that I grew up on. Most dishes are made to be eaten as soon as you have finished preparing them. I find that gumbo taste better the next day, allowing the flavors to marry.

3/4 cup Canola Oil
2 cups Onion, chopped
1 cup Green Bell Pepper, seeds removed and chopped
1 cup Celery, chopped
2 tablespoons Garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon Salt
1/2 teaspoon Black Pepper
1/2 teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
5 Bay Leaves
8 cups Seafood Stock
1 pound medium Shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 pound Crabmeat, picked thru for shells
2 dozen shucked Oysters
1/4 cup Green Onions, chopped
1/4 cup fresh Parsley, chopped
Cooked Rice
Filé Powder

Combine the oil and flour in a large heavy-bottomed pot over medium-low heat. Stir slowly and constantly for 20 to 25 minutes, making a dark roux, the color of chocolate. Add the onions, bell pepper, celery, garlic, salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper and bay leaves. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes, or until the vegetables are very soft. Lower heat to low. Add stock and stir to blend. Simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally, for 1 1/2 hours. Add the shrimp and Crabmeat and cook for 15 minutes. Add the oyster, green onions and parsley and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, or until the edges of the oysters begin to curl. Remove from heat. Remove the bay leaves. Serve over rice and pass the Filé powder at the table.

Note: You can use whatever seafood you like. I know many people who don’t like oysters. They can be replaced with scallops, clams or more shrimp and crabmeat.

Good Cooking, Good Eating and Good Living!

Desire to Cook

Most chefs have a mentor that has shaped them into the cook that they have become. I may be bias, but my mentor is the best cook that has ever cooked for me. My mentor was my mom, Mona Centola.

I will never forget the joy of being 8 years old and my mom allowing me to cook the holiday chocolate chip cookies by myself. The confidence that she had in me made me realize what she taught me growing up; you can do anything you want if you work hard for it.

It was always a joy to be in the kitchen while she cooked. The aromas coming from the stove were stimulating. She made it seem like cooking for a family of nine was a simple task. Where she really shined was when she was cooking for company. She seemed to work a little bit harder when her dishes were to be eaten by someone other than our family. I guess that’s where I get my desire to cook for others comes from. Her recipes were often asked for and gladly given away. I would like to share with you two of my favorite of Mona’s recipes. Let’s get Cookin’.

The first one is Shrimp Remoulade. This is a dish that can either be served as an appetizer or a salad. This dish was often found on her table around the holidays. While there are many variations of Remoulade sauce, hers is one that is made without mayonnaise. It is a great dish for a multi dish dinner because it is made in advance. When I lived in New Orleans, the Horseradish Mustard was a hard ingredient to find. I would often have to go to at least 3 stores before i would find it. On one of my first trips to a grocery store here in Searcy, I found numerous brands without even looking for this ingredient.

4 tablespoons Horseradish Mustard
1/2 cup Tarragon Vinegar
1/2 teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
2 tablespoons Ketchup
1 clove Garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon Salt
1 tablespoon Paprika
1 cup Salad Oil
1/2cup Celery, diced
1/2 cup Green Onions, sliced
2 pounds Shrimp, medium sized, boiled and peeled
Shredded Lettuce for serving

Mix vinegar, mustard, salt, Cayenne pepper, paprika, ketchup, and garlic. Add oil, beating well. Add celery and green onions and mix well. Add shrimp and refrigerate for at least 2 hours. When serving, place shredded lettuce on a plate or bowl and top with shrimp and sauce.

This next dish is her most requested recipe, Fudge Pie. It seems like everyone who ate this dish asked for the recipe. People would always return to tell my mother that the Fudge Pie was a hit when they served it. You knew you were in for a treat when you saw her Corningware pie dish covered with aluminum foil sitting on the counter. This is another dish that often made an appearance around the holidays. It was always served right out the dish with a scoop of ice cream. It is also good to warm it up in the microwave before eating.

1 square Unsweetened Baking Chocolate
1/2 cup Margarine
1 cup Sugar
2 Eggs
1/2 cup Flour,unsifted
1 teaspoon Vanilla

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease a 9-inch pie pan. Melt chocolate in a double boiler. Cream margarine until soft. Gradually add the sugar and continue mixing until creamy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating hard after each one is added. Stir in the melted chocolate. Mix in the flour and vanilla. Pour into pie pan and bake for 30 minutes.

Good Cooking, Good Eating, and Good Living!

Introduction

I’m Tommy Centola, the Creole Cajun Chef. I was a lifelong resident of New Orleans until August 29, 2005, the day Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans. My wife Peggy and I relocated to Searcy.

As much as I loved my new hometown, something was missing. The food in the restaurants was not what I was used to eating. Having been cooking since I was 8 years old, I started looking for local sources of seafood, Andouille sausage, Zataran’s products and other New Orleans ingredients to cook at home.

Throughout the years, my new friends started to ask me for some of my recipes. In 2011, I started a web page www.creolecajunchef.com to post two weekly recipes. In August of that year, my cookbook, “You Can’t Keep New Orleans Out Of The Cook”, was published. It has been a continuing labor of love.

When the editors of The Daily Citizen asked me if I was interested in writing a column on New Orleans food, I was flattered. I am always happy to share my knowledge.

So, what is New Orleans cuisine? When I first started my blog, I was asked how do I define New Orleans cooking and the difference between Creole and Cajun cuisine. Here was my response:

When people outside of Louisiana think of New Orleans cooking, most automatically think of Cajun food. Well, they would be partially right. Creole food is typically misconstrued for Cajun fare since both come from the New Orleans area. While Cajun food is mostly found on the borders of New Orleans in the Bayou country, Creole food is normally found within the city limits. Creole cooking is the style of cooking that capitalized on the blending of recipes from the French, Spanish, African and Native American cultures.

Cajun cuisine developed out of necessity. The Acadian refugees, farmers rendered destitute by the British expulsion, had to learn to live off the land and adapted their French cuisine to local ingredients such as rice, crawfish and sugar cane.

Many households were large, consisting of eight to twelve people. Most families live on working farms. Feeding a large family, all of whose members did physical work every day, required a lot of food. Cajun cuisine grew out of supplementing rice with whatever meat, game or other proteins were available.

Some of the chefs call the aromatic vegetables bell pepper, onion and celery the Holy Trinity of Cajun cuisine. Finely diced and combined in cooking, the method is similar to the use of the Mire Prix in traditional French cooking, which blends finely diced onion, celery and carrot. Characteristic seasonings include parsley, bay leaf, “onion tops” of scallions and dried cayenne pepper. The overall feel of the cuisine is more Mediterranean than North American.

When it comes to food, Cajuns generally like their foods hot, spicy and/or blackened, whereas Creoles pride themselves on their sauces, herbs and Creole spices. Both Creoles and Cajuns have battled for centuries over the authorship of most notable dishes as filé gumbo, crawfish étouffée and jambalaya. While Cajuns specialize in the preparation of game meats such as alligator, possum, turtle and the like, Creoles have been dally in game meats too, especially turtle…as in turtle soup, however, they don’t advertise the fact.

In the last 1800s, large number of immigrants fromSicily began to settle in south Louisiana. Many stayed in New Orleans to establish businesses. With the arrival of the Italians, the Creoles cultivated a love of garlic. It’s sensuous, sultry presents is encountered just beneath the surface in many classic Creole dishes.
The most unique feature of Creole-Italian cuisine is its tomato sauce, commonly referred to as “red gravy” or “tomato gravy”. This rich sauce, used over meats and pasta, has dozens of variations from family to family. Some red gravies are based on a brown roux. Some contain eggplant. Others contain anchovies, whole boiled eggs or meat. One consistent thread in red gravy is the addition of sugar to sweeten the sauce. Creole-Italians incorporate local fish and shellfish in their cooking with delicious results in dishes such as crabmeat au gratin, shrimp pasta and many more.

Let’s get cookin’. Here are two Jambalaya recipes demonstrating the difference between Creole and Cajun cooking:

Creole Sausage Jambalaya

1 pound Smoked Sausage, cut into bite sized pieces
1/3 cup Onions, diced
1/4 cup Celery, diced
1/4 cup Green Bell Pepper, diced
1/4 cup Garlic, minced
2 tablespoons Olive Oil
1 quart Beef Stock or Broth
1 8oz. Can Tomato Sauce
4 tablespoons Creole Seasoning
2 tablespoons dried Basil
2 tablespoons dried Oregano
1 tablespoon Paprika
2 cups Rice

Directions:

In a 6 quart pot over medium heat, cook sausage, onions, celery, bell pepper and garlic in olive oil until the vegetables are soft, about 4 minutes. Add stock, tomato sauce and dry seasonings. Bring to a boil. Add rice and bring back to a boil. Cover and lower heat to low. Cook until all of the liquid is absorbed, about 20-25 minutes.

Cajun Chicken and Sausage Jambalaya

2 pounds Andouille Sausage, slice in bite size pieces
2 1/2 pounds bonelessss skinless Chicken Thighs, cut into bite sized pieces
4 cups Onions, diced
12 tablespoons Garlic, minced
1 pound Tasso, cubed
3/4 tablespoons fresh Thyme Leaves, whole
3/4 tablespoons fresh Basil, chopped
1/2 tablespoon Coarsely Ground Black Pepper
1/2 tablespoons White Pepper
1/2 tablespoon Red Pepper Flakes
5 1/3 cups chicken Stock
2 3/4 cups Long-Grain Rice
1 tablespoon fresh Parsley, chopped

Directions:

In a 2 gallon dutch oven over high heat, cook sausage, stirring constantly so the sausage does not burn. Add the chicken and brown on all sides, stirring constantly. Browning the sausage and chicken should take about 10-15 minutes. Lower the heat to medium and add the onions and garlic.; sauté for about 15 minutes or until the onions are very limp and clear. Add the Tasso, thyme, basil and peppers. Simmer over low heat for 10 minutes. Add the stock and bring to a boil. Add the rice, reduce the heat to medium and gently break up the rice. Use a spoon to stir and scrape the bottom to insure that no rice sticks to the bottom. After about 5 minutes, fold in the parsley. Continue to scrape the pot. When the jambalaya returns to a boil, reduce heat to the lowest possible setting and simmer, for at least 25 minutes.