Traditional Louisiana Fare

cane_syrupMy mom is Canadian. So I grew up with Maple syrup — over pancakes, on oatmeal, poured over snow and in sugar candy. South Louisianans have cane syrup.

I was first introduced to cane syrup by one of my students. Her family makes cane syrup the old fashioned way . . . cutting it by hand, grinding it, boiling it down and bottling it in small batches in Gray.

She also taught me about how Cajuns use cane syrup in everything from pecan pie, to cakes and cookies and even savory dishes — anything that needs a little sweet. And theirs, Baudoin Creations' Sweet Memories Old-Fashioned Cane Syrup, is super smooth and light . . . and local and lacking the chemicals of mass production.

sweet_memoriesThe Thibodaux-based Donner-Peltier Distillers uses Sweet Memories in their products and you can find it in drinks at several New Orleans' restaurants and bars. Or you can buy your own at the Laurel Valley Plantation Store.

I personally just like it over biscuits . . . like my mother-in-law taught me . . . like she learned from her French grandfather from Port Allen. She said she'll crave biscuits with cane syrup, just like he would always eat — I think it's the taste . . . but mostly I think it's a way to connect to someone she loves that is long gone.

Sweet memories.

gray_la_heartGRAY

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eggplant_soupThibodaux Service League, a local volunteer organization, published and sells a cookbook of Louisiana recipes called Louisiana Legacy to help raise money for the community as well as preserve local recipes — totally cool and up my alley.

And . . . I admit, I'm in Service League . . . and I'm actually on the executive board . . . and I write a food blog . . . and the cookbook's been out since the '80s and I just bought a copy . . . embarrassing, I know.

Anyway, I've now got my copy all bookmarked up just waiting to try some of these local recipes. I know I'm not a native, but I'm proud of the Louisiana food traditions and thankful to all those before me who kept this cuisine alive. And thankful for the Service League members who thought to collect, test and put their heritage in print. That's a beautiful thing.

So first up for me was cream of eggplant soup. And as it says at the bottom of the recipe, "This is a luxurious and different approach to soups, and certainly a 'what to do with all those eggplants?' when they are plentiful!"

And, as a matter of fact, I am overrun with eggplants . . . and have been for a month or so, but, as I mentioned in my last post, one of our air conditioners died and our house was hot for two weeks . . . and I wasn't adding any heat by lighting fires in my kitchen. But now it's fixed, the house is cool and we had soup for dinner.

Cream of Eggplant Soup
Serves 8
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Ingredients
  1. 4 tbsp butter
  2. 1 1/2 cups finely chopped onion
  3. 1 1/2 cups finely chopped celery
  4. 1 1/2 cups diced potatoes
  5. 2 small eggplants, peeled and diced
  6. 1 pinch of thyme
  7. 1 pinch of basil
  8. 1 tsp curry powder
  9. 1 1/2 qt chicken stock (or vegetable)
  10. 2 cups heavy cream
  11. salt and pepper to taste
Instructions
  1. In a 5 quart saucepan or Dutch oven, sauté vegetables in melted butter until soft. Add seasonings. Cool until potatoes are done and ingredients begin to stick to the pan. Cool vegetables enough to be liquefied in a blender or food processor.* Blend to creamy consistency. Return mixture to saucepan. Add stock and simmer about 45 minutes until soup thickens. Remove from heat; stir in cream. Serve immediately.
Notes
  1. *I cooked the unprocessed vegetables in the stock for the 45 minutes and then used an immersion blender at the end before the cream.
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Also, Service League still sells this cookbook at local retailers and through the league to support community causes like the Juvenile Justice Center and needy families. So pick one up or message me and I'd be happy to get a copy for you!

thib_la_heartTHIBODAUX

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salad copyThis summer has been psycho busy. What was supposed to be a peaceful summer turned into freelance-work hell (pardon my explicit, though accurate term), some add-on (though lovely) trips and 2-weeks with a broken air conditioner (Louisiana is spelled j-u-n-g-l-e).  

We just got back from a weeklong trip to the beach, we have a new air conditioner and I've made big progress on most of my freelance projects. So in an attempt to foster the peace, my husband took me to one of my favorite out-of-the-way places — Nottoway Plantation — for a date the other night.

The first time my husband took me there, I sort of thought we weren't ever coming back . . . it's that in the middle of nowhere. But I know why they built there in the 1850s, it's serene and beautiful on the banks of the Mississippi. And The Mansion Restaurant, with over-sized windows overlooking lawns with sweeping Oaks, has delicious food.

As with all restaurants that I love, their menu features local Louisiana foods. And as the waiter went through their daily specials he said they had a duck special. My husband loves duck. Duck with Swiss chard and wild rice in a fig and raspberry reduction . . . totally what my husband would love. And then the waiter said it.

duck_pie copy"And it's really delicious. It's Mallard."

I'm not sure what I thought my husband was eating when he ate duck . . . but I never envisioned it was one of the cute, green-headed kinds. I suddenly had visions of a limp, iridescent green head lying on his plate. The waiter actually laughed out loud at my wide-eyed stare. There's a reason I'm mostly a vegetarian.

Anyway, I usually get the Louisiana strawberry salad, but this time I tried and loved their house salad with almond brittle and Louisiana cane vinaigrette. And even with the duck trauma, I took a vegetarian break and had an amazing chicken breast over mini-cubed potatoes tied together with a savory, full-bodied sauce. I guess chickens don't make me feel as bad because they're ugly?! But in the end, both the chicken and the duck looked remarkably similar . . . and the fig and raspberry sauce on the chard was divine.

And date night is always a dessert night. I'm funny about sugar, I'll only eat it if it's made with really good ingredients and worth it. And the bourbon pecan pie was worth it. . . which reminded me why I get pecan pie in the South and not in New York City (like I did for Thanksgiving last year and couldn't even finish one bite).

And for a minute, just before the school crazy begins, the summer was peaceful and I was on a hot date.

wc_la_heartWHITE CASTLE

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tomato_swiss_chardI love spring/early summer produce and eating foods that highlight that fresh flavor. And my kids love noodles . . . . and couldn't possibly care less what season it is.

So here's an easy roasted tomato pasta sauce I made recently for my family that's got a little kick for you Cajuns, but features the acidic richness and sweetness of fresh tomatoes. AND can be put over any shape pasta for rascally kids (you may also want to decrease the red pepper flakes and cayenne for sensitive little ones and adults).

And did I mention it was ridiculously easy and only dirties a cookie sheet and one bowl (I hate recipes that require every dish/pot/utensil in my kitchen to make . . . because I hate doing dishes)?

swiss_chard_smallAnd that's fresh Swiss chard and onions from my bundle on the side just sautéed in butter with a little garlic and salt. . . oh, and Chachere's. For those non South Louisianans . . . . that's Tony Chachere's (saa-sha-rees) seasoning that really isn't just a tourist thing you buy at the airport. It's pretty much amazing on most anything you want to add salt to, adding a little kick, a little salt . . . . and a little Cajun.

And I just want to add that not only did my 8 year old and husband like the green blob of Swiss chard (yes, they were skeptical at first . . . .I got a little stank eye), but it's packed with Vitamins K, A and C and magnesium, iron, and I could just go on and on. Basically it's one of those green leafies that is absolutely AMAZING for you. So eat it.

Roasted Tomatoes
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Ingredients
  1. 3 pints (2 lbs) cherry tomatoes, halved
  2. 1/8 cup+ olive oil
  3. Salt & pepper
  4. 1/4t red pepper flakes
  5. 1/8t cayenne
  6. 1 1/2t sugar, or to taste
  7. 3 large garlic cloves, sliced thin
  8. 1T balsamic vinegar
  9. 1 medium shallot, sliced thin
Instructions
  1. Mix everything but the vinegar in a large bowl. Spread on cookie sheet. Sprinkle vinegar on top of tomato mixture on cookie sheet. Bake at 350F for 35-40 minutes. Cool 5-10 minutes.
  2. Serve over pasta or eat alone.
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thib_la_heartTHIBODAUX

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m_andersons2Every time we go to Baton Rouge, my husband tries to talk me into eating at Mike Anderson's Seafood . . . he says it's an institution there. Problem is, I hate fish and anything that comes from the sea. And he knows it.

But, I guess I was feeling giving . . . maybe it was the Easter break . . . and I went to make him happy . . . and hopefully to get him to stop suggesting it. Anyway, the obvious part is that there was basically nothing on the menu without some kind of seafood in it.

Except one: the fried green tomato poboy.

I don't do fried very often, but this was delicious and so worth it — a fun take on two Southern specialties: fried green tomatoes and poboys. On the side I got the sweet potato fries. I was a little on fried-food overload, so I chose the baked option, which makes for a soft textured and rich flavored fry . . . I guess without being fried it's then just a slice/wedge/chunk?

Anyway, there may only be one thing on the menu I like, but it's good enough that I don't think I'll mind when he suggests this again. And I did have fish . . . . just as my plate 🙂

br_la_heartBATON ROUGE

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strawberriesThe first signs of strawberry season in Louisiana are here! I got a package of strawberries in my CSA bundle and I'm seeing Louisiana strawberries from lots of different farms in all the stores.

Louisiana grows some amazing berries. Harvests roll in from mid-March through mid-May. And lucky for us, strawberry plants are tough and, according to the experts at LSU's AgCenter, weather freezing temperatures like this winter well. Matter of fact, they like cold much better than super wet seasons like last winter.

And strawberries not only taste good, but they are high in Vitamin C, folate and a good source of potassium. I was suprised to find that ounce for ounce, strawberries are higher in Vitamin C than citrus.

If you don't have strawberries in your backyard and you like to pick your own . . . several farms allow you to pick your fruit. Mrs. Heather's Strawberry Farm in Albany lets you pick your own every day. Liuzza Produce Farm in Tickfaw also lets you come pick strawberries and other produce. Blahut Strawberry Farm in Springfield has a u-pick family day scheduled for Saturday, April 19.

So whether you buy, pick or grow them yourself . . . toss them in a smoothie, feature them in a spinach and blue cheese salad or eat them fresh by themselves and enjoy this sweet season.

hs_la_heart

HUNGARIAN SETTLEMENT

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king_cakeIt's Fat Tuesday and we're ready to party! . . . oh wait, it's 35 degrees and raining. Hard-core revelers are still out at the parades this last day of the Mardi Gras season. We are not that. So we watched the local coverage of the New Orleans' parades and celebrated inside with a traditional king cake.

I love the tradition of this Mardi Gras cake because you can only get it (well, mostly) during Mardi Gras season. For my Yankee friends . . . and, according to South Louisianans, that includes East Tennessee. . . .that's between Twelfth Night, Jan. 6, and Fat Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday. Another part of the tradition is the baby. It used to be baked inside the cake and whoever got the baby had to buy the next cake. Now, I'm sure to keep people from choking and suing, the baby sits in the middle. Either way, my boys fight over the baby.

King cake can have lots of variations and fillings, but, after lots of taste testing, I prefer the basic king cake — a cinnamon-roll type cake that has loads of white icing and then covered in loads of purple, green and yellow sugar. And, I know it's crazy, but my favorite is from the Thibodaux-based grocery chain, Rouses. I've tried all the fancier kinds, but, I'm a journalist at heart, and I like to KISS (keep it simple stupid).

So I know this isn't a healthy post, but it's Mardi Gras, it's cold and I'm sober. I'm having cake.

thib_la_heartTHIBODAUX

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