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Don’t forget your Christmas Appetizers

Every family has their Christmas traditions. Of course, one of the many Centola family traditions involves food, specifically appetizers. I come from a large family, having 6 brothers and sisters. With the whole family together, it is almost the size of a small army. Opening presents can be a long drawn out affair.

To prevent hunger from altering the festive mood, every siblings family prepared an appetizer to nibble on during the gift giving. Over the years, we have eaten many different appetizers. So, I thought I would share with you 3 of the more popular recipes we have prepared; Crab Muffins, Crawfish Stuffed Eggs and Brie en Croute.

Crab Muffins could also be called Crab Pizza. The first time I tasted this recipe was one Christmas gathering. My sister-in-law, Edna, made these for the festivities. They disappeared in record time. The original recipe calls for Season-All seasoning. I like the flavor you get from substituting Creole seasoning for Season-All. Either way, your guest will quickly eat them up.

Crab Muffins

1 jar Old English Cheese
1 stick Butter
Garlic Powder
Creole Seasoning
1 pound Crabmeat, picked thru for shells
1 package English Muffins

Preheat oven to 350℉.

Cream the cheese and butter. Sprinkle with garlic powder and Creole seasoning to taste. Add crabmeat and mix. Spread mixture over English muffins. Bake for 20 minutes to melt the cheese and butter. Cut muffins into quarters before serving.

Stuffed eggs are a Southern staple. They can be made in advance and kept fresh in the refrigerator. Crawfish are starting to come into season. Their peak is in the spring. If fresh crawfish are unavailable, you can always use frozen crawfish tails. Just make sure they are Louisiana tails. Imported crawfish tails do not have the same flavor.

Crawfish Stuffed Eggs

1 dozen Hard Boiled Eggs
1 pound Crawfish Tails
1 cup Mayonnaise
2 teaspoons Creole Mustard
3 to 4 dashes Hot Sauce
1 teaspoon Creole Seasoning
Smoked Paprika for sprinkling

Cut the eggs in half lengthwise and separate the yolks from the whites. Crumble the yolks and place in a mixing bowl. Drain and squeeze the crawfish to remove as much moisture as you can. Select 24 large crawfish and set aside. Finely chop the remaining crawfish and place in the mixing bowl, along with the mayonnaise, mustard, hot sauce and Creole seasoning. Mix well. Place the mixture into the egg halves, top each with a crawfish tail and sprinkle lightly with smoked paprika.

This recipe, Brie en Croute, is in honor of my late sister-in-law, Denny. Every Christmas, this is one of the dishes that she would make. While writing my cookbook, I wanted to honor her by including her Brie recipe. However, no one was able to get it for me. Here is my version of the Christmas memory.

Brie en Croute

1 sheet frozen Puff Pastry
1 Egg, slightly beaten
1 tablespoon Water
1/4 cup toasted Pecan Pieces
1/4 cup fresh Parsley, chopped
1/2 cup Apple Jelly
1 pound Brie Cheese

Thaw pastry sheet at room temperature for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400℉.

Mix egg and water. Unfold pastry sheet on a lightly floured surface. Roll into a 14-inch square. Cut off the corners to make a circle. Sprinkle pecans and parsley n the center of the pastry. Top with apple jelly and spread evenly. Top with the Brie. Brush the edge of the pastry circle with egg mixture. Fold two opposite sides over Brie. Trim the remaining two sides to 2 inches from the edge of the Brie. Fold these two sides onto the Brie. Press edges to seal. Place seams side down on a baking sheet. Decorate the top with pastry scraps if desired. Brush with egg mixture. Bake 20 minutes or until golden brown. Let stand 1 hour. Serve with crackers.

Next time, I will share with you the New Orleans tradition of the Reveillon dinner.

Plan Christmas cookies in advance

Christmas time is quickly approaching. The hustle and bustle of the season is to be enjoyed by all. It is most people’s favorite time of the year. The celebration of Jesus’s birth, the gathering of family and friends, and the sights and sounds of the season makes adults and children alike warm and giddy.

One thing that many people do around this time a year is to participate in a cookie exchange. You gather a group of people and you make a dozen cookies for each of the people in the group. It is a wonderful way to show your Christmas spirit. So I thought I would share with you a few different cookie recipes.

I will start you off with Praline cookies. Everywhere you turn in New Orleans, you see praline flavor. Be it in ice cream, sno-balls, cheesecake, etc., praline flavor is ever present. So, it is natural to make a cookie with this flavor.

Praline Cookies

1 Egg, beaten
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons Butter, melted
1 1/4 cups light Brown Sugar, firmly packed
1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1 1/3 cups All-Purpose Flour
1/4 teaspoon Salt
1 1/2 cup Pecan Halves

Preheat oven to 350℉.

Combine the egg, butter, sugar and vanilla, stirring well. Add the flour and salt and stir to mix well. Add the pecans. Drop by tablespoons onto un-greased baking sheets. Bake for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool slightly before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

The next cookie is a Ginger cookie. Most people would call this a spice cookie. The different spices combine to give these cookies a worldly favor. The use of the cane syrup in place of granulated sugar makes this a typical Louisiana recipe.

Ginger Cookies

2 1/2 cups All-Purpose Flour
2 teaspoons Baking Soda
1 teaspoon ground Ginger
1 teaspoon ground Cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground Clove
1/2 teaspoon Salt
1 cup light Brown Sugar, firmly packed
1/2 cup Shortening
1/2 cup Cane Syrup
1 Egg
Granulated or Powdered Sugar for topping, optional

Preheat oven to 375℉.

In a small bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, cloves and salt.

In a large bowl, cream together brown sugar and shortening. Beat in cane syrup and egg. Add the dry ingredients, a little at a time, beating thoroughly between additions. The mixture will be very thick.

Form 1-inch balls and roll in granulated or powdered sugar, if desired. Place cookies 2 inches apart on an un-greased baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes.

I wanted to give you some nontraditional recipes. This one does not fall into that category. But I must included it because it is near and dear to me.

This is the very first recipe that I made by myself at 8 years old. My mom allowed me to go solo on a batch of cookies for the holidays. After making them, I was proud of what I accomplished. When everyone tasted them and told me how good they were, I was hooked. Thus began my life in the kitchen.

The recipe may look familiar. It is right of the back of the Toll House Chocolate Chip bag. Not too original, but still a crowning achievement.

Chocolate Chip Cookies

2 1/4 cups Flour
1 teaspoon Baking Soda
1 teaspoon Salt
1 cup Butter, softened
3/4 cup Granulated Sugar
3/4 cup Brown Sugar, firmly packed
1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract
2 large Eggs
2 cups Chocolate Chips

Preheat oven to 375℉.

Combine flour, baking soda and salt in a small bowl. Beat butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar and vanilla in a large mixing bowl until creamy. Add eggs, one t a time, beating well after each addition. Gradually beat in the flour mixture. Stir in chips. Drop by rounded tablespoons onto un-greased baking sheets. Bake for 9 to 11 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on baking sheets for 2 minutes, remove to wire racks to cool completely.

Optional ingredient: 1 cups chopped Nuts, added when you add the chocolate chips.

To continue with my Christmas theme, next week I will share with you some appetizers. My family tradition is to have finger food to nibble on while opening presents.

Making most of Leftovers

It’s after Thanksgiving. Black Friday shopping has been done. What to cook for dinner. Hopefully, you have turkey leftover from the big day. The easiest thing to do would be to put the leftovers on a plate, and warm them up in the microwave.But there is so much more that can be done with the leftovers, especially the turkey.

Here are two of my favorite turkey recipes that are great for around the holidays. One is from the best cook whose food I wish I was still eating, my mom. The other is a way to dress up the lefter turkey into a dish that would be welcome on many restaurant menus. Either way, you will be eating the turkey in a more favorable way than just reheating it.

This recipe is one of my mothers. It’s one that she would make to bring to covered dish or pot luck dinners. It is a twist on Thanksgiving dinner, with the turkey, stuffing and green beans. The only thing that is missing is the French Fried Onions that usually go on top Green bean casserole.It’s funny that I never seem to get my mother’s recipes to taste like they did when she cooked them. I guess she used a different kind of love when cooking them than I use.

Mona’s Turkey Casserole

2 cups Pepperidge Stuffing
1 small can French Style Green Beans
1 small can Cream of Mushroom Soup
2 cups Turkey, diced
1/2 cup Milk
2 teaspoons Butter
1/4 cup Hot Water
Salt and Pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350℉.

Arrange in a casserole dish 2/3 cup dry stuffing, green beans, diced turkey, mushroom soup and milk. Mix together. Dot with butter. Add hot water, salt and pepper. Top with the remaining 1 1/3 cups of stuffing. Bake for 25 minutes.

This dish puts a fancy twist on leftover turkey. Although the finished dish looks like you have been cooking all day, it is an easy dish to prepare. You can use white or dark meat turkey. The important part of the dish is the bacon. You want to make sure that it is crispy before you place in the oven. It adds a different texture to the dish that I think is crucial. It just does not taste as good if the bacon is less than crispy.

Turkey Poulet

8 slices of Bread, lightly toasted
24 sliced Bacon, cooked crispy
24 ounces Turkey, sliced
Double recipe of Béchamel Sauce (recipe to follow)
Freshly Grated Parmesan Cheese

Preheat oven to 350℉.

For each serving, place two pieces of toast side by side on an oven proof plate. Place 3 slices of bacon and 3 ounces of turkey on each piece of toast. Cover with sauce and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Cook for 15 minutes.

This is one of the five, if not the most important, mother sauces. It is also the easiest to make.Béchamel is the basic for many different sauces. You add cheese to Béchamel to make a Mornay sauce, which is used to make Macaroni and Cheese. Adding different herbs and seasonings makes this sauce a must know how to make.

Béchamel Sauce

2 tablespoons Butter
2 tablespoon Flour
1/4 teaspoon Salt
Dash of White Pepper
Dash of Nutmeg
1 1/2 cups Milk

In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt butter. Stir in the flour, salt, pepper and nutmeg. Cook until evenly combined. After the mixture is combined with no lumps, slowly add the milk, stirring constantly with a whisk until evenly blended. Stir the sauce over medium heat until the mixture bubbles across the entire surface. Cook and stir for a couple more minutes to completely cook the flour into the sauce.

These last few articles have been a tribute to Thanksgiving. I hope you had an enjoyable day and I look forward to sharing more holiday recipes with you in the coming weeks.

Don’t forget desserts for Thanksgiving

Every Thanksgiving feast is not complete without dessert. Often people eat seconds and thirds on Thanksgiving, making the dessert course often saved until later. I personally like to have something sweet after this large meal.

With these two desserts, I am featuring two prominent Louisiana ingredients, Pecans and Sweet Potatoes. While both of these ingredients are often found in other Thanksgiving dishes, I feel that they really shine when included in a dessert. Pecan pies are a staple in Southern homes. Often, sweet potatoes are also made into pies for the holidays, but I wanted to share two different types of desserts. Here are my suggestions for this year’s dessert table.

Pecan pie is a perfect dessert any time of the year. If I could, I would have Chef Frank Brigtsen, in New Orleans, ship me one of his pecan pies. Since he does not ship, I make my own. One year, I was looking to put a twist this classic. Since chocolate tends to dominate dessert menus, I thought I would add some to my pecan pie. The results were well received. Now, I get as many request for a chocolate pecan pie as a do a regular one.

Chocolate Pecan Pie

3 cups Sugar
Pinch of Salt
7 tablespoons Unsweetened Cocoa
4 Large Eggs
1 tablespoon Vanilla
1 (12 ounce can) Evaporated Milk
1 stick Butter, melted
1 cup Pecan Halves
2 unbaked Deep Dish Pie Shells

Preheat oven to 350℉.

In a medium bowl, mix the sugar, salt and cocoa together. In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs, vanilla and milk. Stir into the dry ingredients. Add the melted butter and stir until well blended. Sprinkle pecan halves into the pie shell, about 1/2 cup per shell. Pour the filling over the pecans. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes.

Creme Brûlée is often thought of as a fancy dessert. While it does lend itself to upscale dinners, Creme Brûlée is a great dessert anytime. This recipe is great for the holidays. Most Creme Brûlées are served individually. This one is served in a large dish, so you can eat as much or as little as you want. Since you have just eaten a large Thanksgiving meal, a small portion of dessert is a great way to end your meal.

Sweet Potato Creme Brulée

1 very large Sweet Potato, baked, peeled and mashed (1 1/4 cups)
1/4 cup packed Light Brown Sugar
1 tablespoon fresh Lemon Juice
2 cups Whipping Cream
3/4 cups Granulated Sugar
7 Egg Yolks, slightly beaten
3 teaspoons Vanilla
1/3 cup Turbinado Sugar (Sugar in the Raw)

Preheat oven to 325℉.

Butter a 10-inch quiche dish.

In a medium bowl, mix mashed sweet potatoes, brown sugar and lemon juice. Spoon mixture into quiche dish.

In a 2-quart sauce pan, stir together the whipping cream, granulated sugar, egg yolks and vanilla. Cook over medium-low heat about 15 minutes, stirring frequently, until hot (do not boil). Pour over sweet potato mixture. Place dish in shallow pan. Place pan in oven. Pour enough boiling water into pan to depth of 3/4 inch (about halfway up the side of the dish). Bake 1 hour or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out almost clean. Carefully remove the dish from the water. Cool on cooling rack. Cover; refrigerate at least 8 hours.

When ready to serve, set oven control to broil. Sprinkle custard with raw sugar. Place dish on a sheet pan. Broil with top 4 to 6 inches from heat for 3 to 5 minutes or until the sugar is melted. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.

Now that we have ended our Thanksgiving feast with something sweet, time to clean up the kitchen and put away the leftovers. My mind starts thinking what to do with the leftover turkey. Next time, I will share with you a couple of my favorite turkey recipes.

Thanksgiving Side Dishes

The holidays are quickly approaching. Thanksgiving is a few weeks away with Christmas right around the corner. These are the two largest cooking holidays on the calendar. In my family, everyone brings a couple of dishes. As large as my family is, the number of different dishes often number in the twenties.

The majority of the dishes are the sides. From Dirty Rice to Green Bean Casserole, the possibilities are endless. While there is always a new dish or two to try, a few dishes appear at every gathering. Today, I am sharing with you two recipes that are near and dear to my heart. A holiday gathering without either of these two dishes to me would be incomplete. Oyster Dressing and Dirty Rice are recipes that bring back memories of two very important ladies in my life, my mother Mona and my mother-in-law Lorraine. I cannot make these dishes without a happy thought coming to my mind and a smile being put on my face.

This recipe is a mainstay on New Orleans holiday tables. Oysters are a perfect fit to winter holiday menus. With their versatility, the sky is the limit in the ways oysters are used.

This recipe was a favorite of my mother-in-law. She used to make Oyster Dressing every Christmas. The only issue was that not many of the family ate the dish. As she got older, she stopped making it, with many other dishes to make. My second Christmas in the family, my wife asked me if I would make Oyster Dressing for her mother. Of course, I was more than happy to. Here is the recipe that I cooked that Christmas.

Oyster Dressing

2 teaspoons Butter
1 pint Oysters, reserving the liquor they come in
2 tablespoons Canola Oil
2 cups Onions, chopped
1 cup Green Bell Pepper, chopped
1 cup Celery, chopped
2 teaspoons Creole Seasoning
2 Bay Leaves
1 tablespoon Garlic, minced
1/4 cup Fresh Parsley, minced
1 cup Seafood Stock
1/4 cup Green Onions, chopped
4 cups French Bread cut into 1-inch cubes
1/3 cup Freshly grated Parmesan Cheese

Preheat oven to 375℉.

Butter a 9×13-inch baking dish with the butter. Drain the oysters, reserving the oyster liquor. In a large skillet oven medium-high heat, heat the oil. Add the onions, bell pepper, celery and Creole seasoning and sauté for 5 minutes or until soft. Add the bay leaves, garlic and parsley, and sauté for 1 minute. Add the stock and cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring constantly. Add the green onions, oyster liquor and the bread cubes. Stir to mix well and remove from the heat. In a large mixing bowl, combine the bread mixture with the oysters and cheese. Stir to mix thoroughly. Pour the mixture into the baking dish and bake for 1 hour or until bubbly and golden brown. Remove the bay leaves before serving.

This recipe is a family favorite. I make it for every holiday get together. A few years ago, my brother Ken presented me with the skillet that my mother used to make Dirty Rice among many other recipes. To this day, I will not make this dish in anything other than my mother’s skillet. For some reason, it taste better.

Dirty Rice

1 pound Ground Chuck
6 cups Cooked Rice
1/2 cup Green Onions, chopped
2 tablespoons Garlic, minced
3 tablespoons Creole Seasoning
2 cups Chicken Stock

Brown ground chuck over medium heat. Drain the fat. Add the green onions and garlic and cook until soft. Add the rice and mix well. Add the creole seasoning and mix well. Add stock and cook until it is all absorbed. Taste and adjust the seasonings before serving.

These traditional side dishes are perfect on any menu, not just for holidays. Next week, I will offer some ideas to end a Thanksgiving meal, Desserts.

Oyster dishes can be delicious, easy

Oysters are a seafood that you either love or dislike. There does not seem to be any in between. Oysters are best during the winter months. The rule to only eat oysters in the months with R’s in them dated back to times before refrigeration. Oysters do not travel well unless they are kept cool. The months with R’s in them correspond to the late fall thru spring, when the weather is cooler. Now with refrigeration being what it is today, you can eat oysters throughout the year.

However, I always stick to the months with R’s theory. During the summer months, the waters that the oysters live in are warm and not as salty. This is the time of year when the oysters reproduce. This can lead to oysters looking milky and not tasting as good.

The only way that my wife will eat oysters is if they are fried. My favorite way to eat an oyster is as soon as I have shucked it from its shell. The main issue with shucking oysters in Arkansas is being able to get them still in the shell. I am still working on a good supplier for that. Fortunately, you can buy oysters already shucked in pint containers. The following two recipes do not require you to shuck your own oysters.

Here is a wonderful Creole Italian dish. Oysters cooked in New Orleans style bordelaise sauce served over cooked pasta. Make sure that you have plenty of bread to get every drop of the sauce.

Oyster Bordelaise

2 dozen Large Fresh Oysters
1/4 cup Olive Oil
3 tablespoons Softened Butter
1/4 cup Green Onions, chopped
2 tablespoons Garlic, minced
Creole Seasoning to taste
1 pound Cooked Spaghetti
3 tablespoons fresh Parsley, chopped
Freshly grated Parmesan Cheese

In a large skillet over medium heat, heat the olive oil until it shimmers. Add the oysters, cooking them by shaking the pan and making them roll around until they plump up. Add all the other ingredients except the pasta, parsley and Parmesan and cook until the green onions have wilted, about 2 minutes. Add the cooked, drained spaghetti to the pan and toss with a large fork to distribute pan contents among the pasta. Place in bowls and top with parsley and Parmesan cheese.

With the weather starting to turn cool, soups are starting to become more relevant. In a few weeks, I will share some more soup recipes. Many New Orleans restaurants feature Oyster soup or Stew on their menu. This recipe is my favorite, from the old Brennan’s restaurant. The oyster flavor in this soup is an oyster lovers dream.

Oyster Soup

2 cups (about 48) shucked Oysters
3 quarts Cold Water
1 & 1/2 sticks Butter
1 cup Celery, minced
1 1/2 tablespoons Garlic, minced
1 cup Green Onions, minced
4 Bay Leaves
1 tablespoon dry Thyme leaves
1 cup All-Purpose Flour
1 1/2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon Salt
1 teaspoon White Pepper
1/2 cup fresh Parsley, minced

In a large saucepan, combine the oysters and 3 quarts cold water. Bring the water to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer about 5 minutes; skim any residue from the surface. Strain the oysters, reserving the stock. Dice the oysters and set aside. Melt the butter in a large pot and sauté the celery and garlic over medium heat about 5 minutes or until tender. Add the green onions, bay leaves and thyme, then stir in the flour. Cook the mixture for 5 minutes over low heat, stirring constantly. Using a whisk, blend in the oyster stock, then add the Worcestershire, salt and pepper. Cook the soup over medium heat about 20 minutes until thickened, then add the parsley and oysters. Simmer until the oysters are warmed through, about 5 minutes. Remove the bay leaves before serving.

With the holiday’s coming up, oysters are featured in some New Orleans Dishes. Next week, I will offer a traditional Oyster Dressing as part of my preparation to Thanksgiving articles.

Shortcuts, substitutions OK to use

October 12 was National Gumbo Day. I wanted to honor the day but I was feeling under the weather and did not want to stand over the stove to make a roux. Fortunately, there is a easy substitution for this. So today, I will let you in on a few of my go to shortcuts.

There are a few options for making a roux. You can buy a jar of pre-made roux or you can by a roux mix. When in a pinch, I use Tony Chachere’s Creole Instant Roux Mix. It is a foolproof way to make a roux. The best thing about the mix is that you never have to worry about burning the roux. Once a roux starts to burn, you must throw it out and start over. It is almost impossible to burn the roux mix.

Many of my recipes call for stock. A homemade stock will elevate your dish to another level. However, many people do not want to take the hours to make stock from scratch. In the soup isle of your grocery store, you will find many different brands of pre-made stock. Beef, Chicken, Seafood and Vegetable stocks are all available. I have used all of the different brands. They are all good.When I purchased the seafood stock, the cashier told me that she did not know that they made that product. It gives you a much better end result than broth.

Another decent shortcut can be found in the sauce isle. Many people are afraid of making Hollandaise and Bernaise sauce from scratch. You can buy mixes of these sauces that are good substitutions for the real thing. Again, the mix will take the guesswork out of the preparation. Many people hesitate before making hollandaise sauce because it can easily break or separate. While they are easy to fix, most people will not attempt to make the sauce again. To fix a broken hollandaise sauce, you can either slowly add hot water or an egg yolk to your hollandaise to bring it back. The same can be done with Bernaise.

If a recipe calls for fresh herbs, you can substitute dry herbs in their place. The rule of thumb is to use 1/3 dry in the place of the fresh. The flavors of the dry herbs are more concentrated than the fresh so less is more. Make sure that your dry herbs are up to date. They start to lose their freshness after 3 months.

Of course, you can purchase onions and garlic already chopped. There is one item that I will not use a shortcut for, Parmesan Cheese. I always grated fresh Parmesan from wedges that you can buy. It only takes a minute or two but you are getting a more superior product. The powdered stuff is good if you are mixing with breadcrumbs for a breading. The pre-shredded cheese I find has a waxy flavor from the preservatives that are used in it. Always grate your own.

This is a reworking of my Seafood Gumbo using shortcuts.

Seafood Gumbo
1 cup Instant Roux Mix
2 cups Water
1 tablespoon Butter
I cup Onions, chopped
1/2 cup Celery, chopped
2 tablespoons Garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon Salt
1 tablespoon Creole Seasoning
1/2 teaspoon Black Pepper
3 Bay Leaves
2 32-ounce cartons Seafood Stock
1 Pound 70-90 count Shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/2 pound Crabmeat, picked thru for shells
1/2 cup Green Onions, chopped
2 tablespoons Dry Parsley Flakes
Cooked Rice
Filé Powder

Over medium heat, whisk instant roux mix with the water. Bring to a boil. After mixture begins to thicken, remove from heat. Continue to stir until well mixed.

In a medium sauté pan over medium heat, melt butter. Sauté onions and celery until soft about 3 to 4 minutes. Add garlic and sauté one minute more. Add to the roux mixture.

Return the roux to the stove and add the seafood stock and mix well to make sure there are no lumps of roux. Add the dry seasonings and bring to a simmer. Lower heat to low. 20 minutes before serving, add the shrimp, crabmeat, green onions and parsley. Serve over cooked rice and season with Filé at the table.

Will you get a good result from using these shortcuts? Of course you will. Will it taste the same as if you made everything from scratch. In my opinion, no. But these shortcuts will get dinner on the table faster and you will have more time to spend with your loved ones.

Eggplants are Versatile

Eggplants are popular in Louisiana cuisine. It is a veritable ingredient. Although it is often served as a vegetable, it is actually a fruit. It is related to the tomato and potato.The egg-shaped, glossy, purple fruit has white flesh with a meaty texture. The cut surface of the flesh turns quickly brown when it is cut open.

Eggplant is used around the world. It’s most popular French preparation is Ratatouille. In Italy, it is fried and topped with tomato sauce and Mozzarella cheese as Eggplant Parmesan. Today, I am sharing two Louisiana dishes, Fried Eggplant Sticks and Stuffed Eggplant Pirogue Peggy.

This appetizer was one of the most popular at the last restaurant I worked at, Cannon’s. They can be prepared in advance so that all you have to do is drop them in the fryer. But don’t make them too far in advance; the breadcrumbs can become soggy. If they do, just recoat them with breadcrumbs.

Fried Eggplant Sticks

3 Eggplants, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch strips
1 cup Flour
Chicken Batter, recipe to follow
2 cups Italian Breadcrumbs
Grated Parmesan Cheese

Heat deep fryer to 350℉. Cover eggplant sticks with flour, shaking off the excess. Dip the sticks into the batter. Remove and shake off the excess. Roll sticks in breadcrumbs until fully covered. Fry from 2-4 minutes or golden brown. Drain on paper towels and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese before serving. Serve with Hollandaise sauce for dipping.

Chicken Batter
8 Eggs
1 quart Buttermilk
2 tablespoons Salt
2 tablespoons Black Pepper
2 tablespoons Cumin

Beat Eggs. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix well. Keep cold until ready to use.

This recipe is named for my wife Peggy. A pirogue is a flat bottom boat that is used to travel the shallow water in the bayous. The eggplant shell resembles a pirogue. A great way to showcase eggplant is to remove the pulp from the shell, cook it, then stuff it back into the shell.

Stuffed Eggplant Pirogue Peggy

3 medium Eggplants, cut in half lengthwise
1 tablespoon Olive Oil
1/2 cup Ham, diced small
1/3 cup Onion, chopped
1/4 cup Yellow Bell Pepper, chopped
3 cloves Garlic, chopped
1/2 cup Seafood or Chicken Stock
1/2 pound medium Shrimp, peeled, deveined and chopped
1/2 pound Lump Crabmeat, picked thru for shells
1/2 cup Italian Seasoned Breadcrumbs
6 tablespoons fresh Parmesan Cheese, grated and divided
1/4 cup Green Onion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh Basil, chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh Tarragon, chopped
1 teaspoon Lemon Zest
1 1/2 teaspoons Creole Seasoning

Preheat oven to 425℉. Score cut side of eggplant half in a crisscross pattern. Lightly coat cut sides of eggplant with cooking spray. Place eggplant halves, cut side down, on a baking sheet. Bake at 425℉ for 10 minutes. Turn the eggplant halves over and bake for an additional 10 minutes or tender. Remove from oven and let cool for 10 minutes. Remove pulp from the eggplant, leaving 1/4-inch thick shell. Place eggplant shells on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray. Chop pulp and put aside. Reduce oven to 350℉. Heat olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add ham, onion, bell pepper and garlic. Satué for 5 minutes. Add reserved eggplant pulp and stock, cooking for 10 minutes or until most of the liquid evaporates, stirring occasionally. Stir in the shrimp and crabmeat, cook 1 minute and remove from heat. Add breadcrumbs, 3 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, green onions, basil, tarragon, lemon zest and Creole seasoning, stirring gently to combine. Mound about 1/2 cup of seafood mixture into each shell. Sprinkle each with the remaining Parmesan Cheese. Bake at 350℉ for 15 minutes or until thoroughly heated and shrimp are done.

In the grocery store, you can find eggplants in the fresh vegetable section. Just remember, it’s a fruit.

The overlooked art of the PoBoy

The sandwich is often an overlooked meal. Since it is simple to put meat, cheese and condiments between two pieces of bread, sandwiches are often thought of as something people on a budget eat for lunch. However, a nice hot sandwich will make a wonderful meal.

Sandwiches come with many names, Hoagies, Subs, Grinders, etc. Of course, most people have heard of the New Orleans version, the PoBoy. The most common PoBoy is made with Fried Seafood. I have many memories of Fried Shrimp or Fried Oyster PoBoys. How did the PoBoy get its name you may ask?

The most common origin dates back to 1929. There was a four month strike of the streetcar workers. Benny and Clovis Martin, both former streetcar conductors, owned a restaurant downtown. They would feed their striking brethren with sandwiches for free. Overtime one would walk into the restaurant, the workers would say, here comes another one of those Poor Boys. Soon the sandwiches took on the name. It eventually was shortened to Po’Boy or PoBoy.

A PoBoy can be made with any meat. A popular PoBoy from days past was the French Fry PoBoy. This is made by replacing the Roast Beef with French Fries and topping it with Beef Gravy. This sandwich cannot be found these days. For some reason, none of the sandwich shops will make it.

Another popular PoBoy is the Peacemaker. This is the sandwich that one would bring home to your wife after a disagreement. The Peacemaker is a Fried Oyster PoBoy, one of the best PoBoys you can eat. You can make a Peacemaker by replacing the roast beef and gravy in the recipe below with Fried Oysters. Add ketchup and hot sauce and you have one of the best bites between two pieces of bread.

If you are in new Orleans, pick up some French Bread. The French bread there is more airy on the inside and crisper on the outside. My favorite brands of New Orleans French bread is Leidenheimers and Gambinos.

The following recipe is for a Roast Beef PoBoy. Once a week, in high school, we were served a Roast Beef PoBoy for lunch. Accompanied by a homemade cinnamon roll, it was the best lunch at the school.

2 pounds Roast Beef, sliced thin

For the Gravy
3 to 5 cups Beef Stock
1/2 cup Flour
1 tablespoon Granulated Garlic
1 tablespoon Granulated Onion
1 teaspoon Black Pepper
2 teaspoons Kosher Salt
1/4 cup Vegetable Oil
1 teaspoon Kitchen Bouquet

Bring 3 cups of the stock to a boil in a small saucepan. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, garlic, onion, pepper and salt. Whisk in the oil and kitchen bouquet. When thoroughly blended, whisk the mixture into the boiling stock, whisking together well. Bring to a boil, then reduce it to a simmer. If necessary, add more of the stock if the gravy is too thick. Let the gravy simmer for 20-30 minutes then adjust the seasoning to taste.

Preheat the oven to 350℉.

Lay the slices of beef in a 9×9-inch baking pan. Cover the beef with 2-3 cups of the gravy. Place in the oven for 45 minutes to an hour, or until the beef is falling apart tender.

Making the sandwich
4 6-inch pieces of French Bread
2 Tomatoes, sliced
2 cups Shredded Iceberg Lettuce
1 Dill Pickle Sliced
Roast Beef

Slice the bread in half lengthwise and lay both halves side by side. Slather a bunch of mayonnaise on both sides. On the top half, add pickle slices, tomato slices and lettuce. On the bottom half add 1/4 of the beef and gravy mixture. Fold the top over the side with the beef and put on a sheet pan. Place the sheet pan on the oven for 2-3 minutes to crisp and warm the bread.

The best Roast Beef PoBoys are messy to eat. Make sure you have plenty of napkins. And maybe a bib.

Take advantage of Okra Season

Walking around the farmer’s market, I noticed some wonderful looking fresh okra. With the weather starting to get cooler, my thoughts turn to making gumbo. In Africa, okra is also known as gumbo. I know that my wife is waiting for that first pot to come off the stove.

I then started thinking of other dishes that you can put okra in. I have seen it used in salads, as a side dish and included in a entrée recipe. Often, I have found a pickled okra as a garnish in a Bloody Mary, a spicy tomato juice drink made with or without alcohol. So, to take advantage of this versatile plant, here are a couple of non-gumbo dishes highlighting okra.

This dish can be served as either a side dish or as a entrée. As a side dish, there is no need for the rice. Either way, it is a tasty dish that is welcomed on my dinner table anytime.

Smothered Okra with Shrimp and Andouille

1/2 cup Vegetable Oil, divided
1 pound fresh Okra, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 cup Onion, choppednju
1/2 cup Red Bell pepper, chopped
3 tablespoons Garlic, minced
1/2 pound Andouille, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 (12 ounce) jars Roasted Red Peppers, drained and puréed
2 cups Seafood Stock
1 ( 6 ounce) can Tomato Paste
2 teaspoons Kosher Salt
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground Black Pepper
1/2 teaspoon Cayenne
1 pound medium Shrimp, peeled and deveined
6 cups cooked Rice

In a large saucepan, heat 1/4 cup of the oil over medium-high heat. Add okra, and cook until tender, 8 to 10 minutes, remove okra, and set aside. In the same pan, add remaining 1/4 cup of oil, and heat over medium-high heat. Add onion, bell pepper and garlic. Cook, stirring often, until tender, 5 to 7 minutes. Add sausage and cook until the sausage is browned. Stir in puréed peppers, stock, tomato paste, salt, pepper, and cayenne. Cook, stirring often, until the mixture boils. Stir in okra, simmer over medium heat for 20 minutes. Add shrimp and cook until pink and firm. Serve over rice.

This is a take on a classic New Orleans recipe. I think that okra and tomatoes are a match made in heaven. The addition of okra to Chicken Creole brings this dish to a whole new level in flavor.

Chicken Creole with Okra

1 stick Butter
6 Chicken Leg or Breast Quarters
1/4 cup All-Purpose Flour
1 bunch Green Onions, finely chopped (white and green parts)
1 large Onion, finely chopped
5 cloves Garlic, minced
1 (8 ounce) can Tomato Sauce
4 cups Water
2 Bay Leaves
1 teaspoon fresh Thyme, chopped
2 pounds whole fresh small Okra
Salt and Black Pepper to taste
Hot cooked Rice or Noodles for serving

Melt the butter in a Dutch oven. Add the chicken and cook over medium-high heat until golden brown on each side. Remove from the pan.

Stir the flour into the drippings over low heat. Cook for approximately 10 minutes until you have a light brown roux. Add the green onions, onion and garlic, and continue cooking over low heat until soft, about 15 minutes. Add the tomato sauce and cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently.

Add the water, bay leaves and thyme. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat so the liquid simmers. Add the chicken to the pot and simmer for 15 minutes. Lay the okra across the top of the chicken. Continue cooking for about 30 minutes, or until both the chicken and okra are tender. Stir lightly with a fork to avoid breaking the okra. Remove the bay leaves. Season with salt and pepper and serve over rice or noodles.

Okra is a wonderful addition to many dishes and remember, It’s not just for gumbo.