Portuguese Kale and White Bean Soup…Cajun Style!

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After coming home from the Hub City Farmer’s Market this past Saturday morning, looking at the beautiful “3 Kale Mix” from Gotreaux’s Family Farm, I knew instantly what I wanted to do…cool January Day and a quiet house – Soup Day!!!  Not just any soup – the Portuguese Kale and White Bean Soup that I have made a couple of times before…yes,  I had just the recipe.

Robert, my husband, just happened to have cooked a big pot of white beans on Thursday, so I knew they would be great with the Kale…and I always keep a package of Savoies Pork Sausage in my fridge (what good Cajun girl doesn’t?)!  Fresh tomatoes from my “front porch garden” – thought that they would never turn red!  But, they did…and I  just had to use those precious “3” in something that would really be wonderful – If you ever watched “3” (yes, only 3!) tomatoes slowly grow, and slowly turn light pink, then red…and then your plant is done – you know what I mean!!!  To top off all of these ingredients – my herbs are still doing great and thriving on the porch – and those fresh herbs are sooo important in the flavor of this soup.  But, don’t ever not cook this soup if you don’t have fresh herbs…you can, now, buy them at almost every market or use dry herbs.

Looked like I had all of the ingredients for this wonderful special soup…

Ingredients:

Kale – 1 bunch chopped

3 fresh tomatoes – chopped or 1 can of whole tomatoes chopped

(Just look at those precious tomatoes!)

1 package of dried white beans – cooked or 2 cans of cannellini or any type of canned white beans

2 quarts of homemade chicken stock or 2 quarts of chicken stock made from dry or concentrated chicken stock

1 pound of Savoies Smoked Pork Sausage or any other type of smoked sausage you can find – chopped into bite size, small pieces

3 medium potatoes – chopped into small pieces

2 Onions – finely chopped

1 Bell Pepper – finely chopped

3 cloves garlic – chopped

Bouquet Garni – 6 stems of fresh parsley, 6 stems of fresh lemon thyme and 4 fresh sage leaves tied together and removed after soup in cooked or use 1 tsp of each herb dried

2 Tbsp Olive Oil

1 tsp black pepper

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Heat olive oil in medium size soup pot or dutch oven on medium heat

Add chopped sausage and stir frequently until browned

Add kale, onions and bell peppers and continue to cook on a medium low heat until all veggies are soft

Stir in tomatoes and potatoes – cook for 15 minutes, stirring often

Add chicken stock and white beans –  blend all ingredients well

Stir in Bouquet Garni or dried herbs and pepper – you shouldn’t need any additional salt, because the sausage contains a lot of salt

Bring to a boil, then simmer for an additional 30 minutes

Turn off heat and let soup sit for at least 30 more minutes

Serve with any good fresh “crusty” bread…enjoy!!!!

My oldest daughter, Kimberly, came by and loved it so much, that she took some home for supper and asked if I could freeze some for nights when she wanted something warm to eat…which, of course, I was thrilled to do!! Then, brought some to my precious Anne Marie, who just had her first baby (and I miss her like crazy, at work!).  I even had enough to freeze a few containers to keep…Imagine!

So, if you want to know if a Cajun girl can cook a “Portuguese Soup”…of course we can!!!  Works for everyone I know!

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Cabbage Rolls – Bring in the New Year….Every Year!

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Cabbage Rolls have been a traditional New Year’s Day meal in our family, for as long as I can remember…can I say – a long time!!! My mother learned to make these delicious little bundles from my grandmother (her mother-in-law) in the 1960’s and they have been a family tradition ever since! At some point in time, I sat by my mother and made her measure everything so that we would not lose this great treasure….The recipe comes out perfect every time – Just as it was written!!!

So what happens when my husband and I decide (for the first time ever!) to go out-of-town for the whole New Year holiday? Meaning that I won’t be home to make the “Annual Cabbage Roll Feast”… (This always consists of cabbage rolls, black-eyed peas, potato salad and a Honey Ham.)

Well, after my children all decide that I need to either stay home or make the cabbage rolls ahead of time (which I didn’t have the time to do)….. My oldest daughter, Kimberly, painfully pulls out the recipe that I had given to her years ago and decides that maybe it is time for her to give it a try… Many phone calls later, I am thrilled to report that she was successful with her very first attempt! She just didn’t know what to do with all of the rolls….the recipe makes about 100! She ran out of cabbage and saved the leftover meat mixture for me…I was sooo happy, because I just had to make – even the smallest of batches for my year to get off to the right start! Not just ready to pass the torch on making the “family cabbage rolls”, just yet….but it sure feels good to have a “back up”!

Ingredients:

4 lbs. ground beef
4 large onions chopped finely
1 1/2 cans whole tomatoes – cut up with juice
2 cans tomato soup
3 cups raw rice
1 can Rotel tomatoes
1 tbsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp chili powder
2 cups shredded par-boiled cabbage (use the center portions of the whole head of cabbage after removing the leaves that you will use for the rolls)
5 heads of cabbage

In a large pot, fill with water and bring to a boil;
Have a large cookie sheet or some other shallow pan near the stove to put the leaves of cabbage on;

Remove a few of the tough outer leaves off of each head of cabbage and lin the bottom and sides of a large pot that you will be cooking the rolls in;

Remove center core of cabbage, and drop the whole head into boiling water;

After a few minutes start to remove the outer leaves with tongs and place leaves on pan;


Continue removing until the leaves begin to get too small to use;
Remove the par-boiled center and use for shredding into meat mixture;

Mix all ingredients in a very large bowl;

Place an ice cream scoop full on each leaf and roll ends in, then roll from the sides;
Start  layering your Dutch oven or large pan with cabbage rolls until it is full or you run out of the mixture or cabbage leaves;

Once the pot is full of rolls, add water to cover about 1/2 way up to the top of the rolls;


Place in 350 degree oven for about 1 1/2 hours. Take one out to test for doneness (rice should be done). If rice is still a little crunchy, let cook for another 30 minutes.

Remove pot from oven, take lid off so that they will stop cooking and drain any of the liquid remaining in pot. Or, once they have cooled enough to be handled, you could carefully remove cabbage rolls from pot and place in another large container or in containers to be given to a few close friends and family….I can assure you they will be thrilled!

The last time I made cabbage rolls with my grandmother, she was 95…Still living in her home, doing quite well for herself – but wanted “her” cabbage rolls – and it is quite an undertaking, needless to say!  She knew that I made them just like she did, so she called me and asked me to come over to help her….I prepared all of the cabbage and mixture – as she looked on,  telling me..”yea, that’s how you do it”!  Then, finally came her favorite part…the rolling.  Now, she was a tiny woman and wanted to do this part of the process at her kitchen bar area…To get up, I had to give her a little “boost” up so that she could sit on one of her bar stools to roll with me.  We sat at that counter in her kitchen, laughing and telling stories as we rolled 96 of these precious cabbage rolls (and yes, she counted!).  When they were done, she ate a few, put some in the refrigerator for later, let me take home about a dozen…then carefully wrapped the rest separately in saran wrap, to put in zip locks, in her freezer for God only knows how long!  All I know, is that she wasn’t sharing with anyone…she was stashing them away for when she had that “envie” for one of “her” cabbage rolls.

I cherish the memories of that particular day with her – always will…

Cabbage Rolls have been working in my family for a long time – New Year’s Day or any old day!!!

New and “Haunting” Places – Sylvain in New Orleans

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Every time Robert and I plan a trip to New Orleans, I almost “lose my mind” over planning our meals…I want to make sure that I get in as many different restaurants as possible~! It doesn’t matter what the occasion might be – for me, the main event will be the food. But, the most difficult part is trying to balance wanting to return to our old favorites and wanting to try all of the new and some “not so new” that we haven’t been to yet. What a problem to have, right?!!!

So, starts the mad googling…reading what Tom Fitzmorris has to say about where he has been lately, looking at menus, reading online reviews (which I don’t put too much stock in, since a lot look like angry people who had a bad night!)… then talking to people who have the same expectations as you do – that is the real clincher! Then, I just go with what feels right….

This particular weekend, we had the good fortune of being in New Orleans for 2 nights! This is what it came down to:

Friday, late lunch: Sylvain – Opened in 2010 – New one for us…but, one of our daughter’s friends (Charlie) had been a waitress there before moving to Dallas and they all loved it – a bonus: she would be with us for lunch!

Friday night dinner: We had already planned to attend Tom Fitzmorris’s Fabulous Eat Club Annual Gala at Le Foret! How could we go wrong? This would be wonderful…

Saturday lunch: We love the Saturday “Light Lunch” at Bayona – so that was a must!

Saturday night dinner: The Pelican Club – new to us, but have been hearing nothing but rave reviews! and…..

Sunday before going west down I-10: The Royal House – our old favorite for raw oysters and very casual dining – This is the place where we spent 10 hours for Super Bowl Sunday (to watch the Saints) in 2010!  Maybe, a repeat in 2012???? (We can hope!)

5 different restaurants! Perfect combination – if only we could sneak in a little John Besh or Galatoires!!! Next time… We had a great fun time and sooo enjoyed all of places that we went….Sounds like 5 different posts to me!

Starting with Friday late lunch at Sylvain wwwsylvainnola.com:  Called a “Gastropub” by new foodie groups, but I am really not sure what that means!  To me, it is a really cool, somewhat informal little restaurant that has kept that old feel of New Orleans, while updating their menu to include current trends of unique and really delicious food and isn’t a tourist trap yet…that is what I like!

The building was built in 1796, where Jean-Francois-Marmontel and Andre Getry’s one-act comic opera Sylvain was performed in New Orleans.

Since then, the building has been owned by numerous New Orleans dignitaries and characters, including notorious French Quarter Madame Aunt Rose Arnold who presided over her own Storyville brothel and lived at 625 Chartres during the 1920s. Standing over six feet tall, Aunt Rose was an imposing figure and friend of many of the neighborhood’s bohemians as well as friend of famous authors; Sherwood Anderson who wrote of her in “A Meeting South” and Faulkner is also believed to have used her as his muse, patterning his character “Miss Reba” after her in “Sanctuary” and “The Reivers.”

In fall of 2010, Sylvain opened at the very site of Mr. Almonaster’s Chartres Street carriage house. (They even leave a cocktail out every night for Miss Reba, who supposedly still wanders her old home and creates havoc at times!)

As soon as we walked in – through the long old bricked walkway leading to the open courtyard and were seated in the intimate historic dining room – that has doors opened onto Chartres Street…we knew that this place was special – and, of course with our daughter and 3 of her old friends in tow…it was!!!

Our wonderful, bright and knowledgable waitress told us all about their very unique and delicious Bloody Marys (served with a shot of Schlitz Beer, in honor of Chef Alex Harrell’s father’s favorite beer!)…we were sold!  We are always game to try anything with a story – and we love Bloody Mary’s….

Then, I just had to meet this Chef that I was hearing so much about…that’s where Charlie (our daughter’s friend) took control!  She was showing me around and told me a few “choice” stories, then introduced me to the man behind all of this wonderful creative food…

Not only is he one talented chef…but gracious (and good-looking) to boot!!! So, we wandered back to our table to start our tasting or “grazing”…

For starters we had to try several:

Roasted Beet Bruschetta with Goat’s Milk Cheese, and Sherry-Walnut Vinaigrette:

If you like beets, and even if you don’t…you will love this combination of the smooth mild goat cheese spread on the wonderful thin toasted slices of bread topped with the roasted beets and sweetened nutty vinaigrette – Even my daughter (who doesn’t eat much in the way of veggies, loves this!!)

Chicken Liver Crostini with Martas Farm’s Sprouts and Dandelion Vinegar:

Perfect smooth Chicken Liver Pate slathered on a crisp crotini….topped with fresh bright sprouts and “dandelion” vinegar…who could have ever imagined such a blast of flavor on a plate?  Chef Harrell – fantastic!

Then on to a salad…that the girls said we had to try…

Shaved Brussels Sprouts with Apples, Pecorino Romano and Hazelnuts:

Get the idea of what you know about brussels sprouts out of your head!  This salad really can change anyone’s opinion of this veggie that is usually roasted or boiled…It is prepared by shaving the fresh brussels sprouts very, very finely – then tossing them with chopped apples and hazelnuts…then topping all of this wonderful mixture with a finely grated, delicious pecorino romano cheese!  A salad that was a table pleaser….everyone enjoyed it!

On to Entrees…

Slow Cooked Pork Sandwich with Pickled Collards, roasted Garlic and Chili, Served on Wildflour Bread:

If you worked at Sylvain and this is your choice…(yes, Charlie’s lunch!) then you know it has to be good…It was delicious – she insisted that we all taste and that slow cooked pork, was so tender!!!

Grilled Italian Sausage with Louisiana Polenta, Stewed Eggplant and Balsamic Syrup:

Our daughter’s roommate’s favorite…and I know why now!  The subtle flavor  of the fennel in the sausage was incredible..and the tender eggplant blended with the sweet sauce was to die for!  Sitting on a bed of local polenta…well, fantastic!

“Chick-Syl-vain” Sandwich – Buttermilk Fried Chicken breast with House-Made Pickles:

Any chicken fried in buttermilk would steal my heart…but this was exceptional – yes, we all had a bite of this “Grand Sandwich”. Another crowd pleaser!

Braised Beef Cheeks with Potato Puree, Sweet Onions, Field Peas and Natural Jus:

I couldn’t believe it…this is my daughter’s favorite!  New Orleans has definitely opened up her palate for a broader variety of foods and flavors…it is sooo much fun to watch her grow and bloom!   After sharing this beautiful dish with us…I know why it is her favorite.  The beef cheeks were so tender (melt in your mouth tender!) and full of rich deep flavor in its natural jus…and the plating with the potato puree, sweet onions and field peas was just beautiful – and fabulous!  Maybe, my favorite too!

Gulf Shrimp and Littleneck Clams with Spanish Chorizo, Tomato-Fennel Broth and Smoked Paprika:

This is what Robert decided on….Just look at this bowl of deliciousness!   I would call it Sylvain’s version of a bouillabaisse. The freshness of those gorgeous Jumbo Gulf Shrimp and wonderful Littleneck Clams…with the mild smokiness of the chorizo and faint hint of fennel and smoked paprika bathing in the rich tomato based broth – Oh my gosh!!! It was wonderful…and yes, I tasted this too – I just had to!

Now, we just couldn’t pass up a “tasting” of dessert…we decided to order 2 desserts for the table…and ended up with a little “lagniappe” from wonderful Chef Harrell!

Chocolate Pot au Creme:

Rich, silky deep chocolate creme topped with fresh whipped cream and rasberries…”according to Charlie” – this was one of the local favorites when she worked here!  It was the last one that they had that day…she was just so happy to have it!

Local Honey Panna Cotta with Almond Brittle:

Fresh, smooth and fantastic Panna Cotta…and that wonderful Almond Brittle was just a perfect partner for this dessert – needless to say, we all loved it!

And the Lagniappe…

Bete Noire with Toasted Hazelnuts and Double Cream:

A fabulous version of the classic flourless chocolate cake…”The Black Beast” – Dense rich chocolate with a great side of crunchy hazelnuts, cream and a little slice of sweet local grapefruit…just when we thought we couldn’t eat another bite!  It was devoured – quickly!

Needless to say, we are sold on Sylvain!  A unique and fun place to have a great meal in New Orleans…you know that it has to be good (and consistent) if it has become a “local” favorite! (Throw in a little story about the haunting of Mrs. Reba’s ghost and her nightly cocktail) And to top it all off… my daughter is now enjoying beets, beef cheeks and brussels sprouts!?  Now, that is what I call Food that Works…

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup and Christmas Eve

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Every year I struggle with what soup or gumbo to prepare for Christmas Eve…always hoping for a cold front to make it the “perfect” weather for a bowl of “something warm”.  And, believe me…I have run the gambit – every kind of gumbo known to man, turtle soup, mock turtle soup, oyster and artichoke soup, corn and crab bisque…you name it and I have cooked it!

But this year, after enjoying the Roasted Butternut Squash Soup at The French Press in Lafayette and Le Foret in New Orleans – I knew that I wanted to try my hand with this wonderfully rich soup…So, there you go!

My version of what I remembered from each of the soups I had tasted…

Ingredients:

4 large butternut squash – whole
3 medium onions diced
2 stalks celery diced
2 large carrots diced
2 apples chopped
2 quarts chicken stock
1 pint heavy cream or half and half
1/8 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp grated nutmeg
1/8 tsp allspice
Salt
Grated black pepper
Marscapone cheese (for garnish)
1/2 pound bacon
Pumpkin seed oil for garnish (optional, but wonderful addition)

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Heat oven to 350 degrees and place butternut squash on cookie sheet (whole) for about 1 hour or until they are tender

Remove and let cool

Cut each squash lengthwise and scoop out seeds – discard

Scoop out all of the remaining flesh, cut into small pieces and place into a large bowl;

In a skillet, cook bacon until very crisp

Remove and crumble bacon (set aside for garnish)

Pour bacon drippings and 1/4 olive oil into Dutch oven

Add onions, celery, apples and carrots

Cook until veggies are soft, but not brown

Add squash, combine well and cook (stirring often) for about 30 minutes

Pour in chicken stock, spices, salt and pepper to taste

Stir to combine and simmer for an additional 45 minutes

Puree’ the soup mixture in a food processor or blender, in small batches;
(I poured the pureed mixture into a large bowl, then returned it to the dutch oven)

Adjust your seasonings and thickness – add more chicken broth or cream if needed – to create the consistency that you would like;

When you are ready to serve, ladle into cups or bowls, add a small dollop of marscapone cheese, a little of the bacon bits and a very light “swirl” of pumpkin seed oil!

This was a huge hit with my family…even those that are not big vegetable lovers! The one thing that made this soup really easy, was the roasting of the squash “whole”….those big old winter squash are really hard to cut when they are raw – roasting whole made it a breeze!

Now, you can substitute any winter squash with this recipe… acorn squash or any of the different types of pumpkins would be great.  And, if you really want to “outdo” yourself – top off this soup with a little jumbo lump crabmeat!

Not often do I make a soup that all of my family loves – but this rich creamy roasted butternut squash soup really worked some kind of “Christmas Magic”…that would work all winter long!

Daube Glace’ – A Perfect Holiday Hor d’oeuvre…

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As I found myself making my list of different dishes to serve, for my little 3 days of celebrating Christmas with our families, I came across something that I had not made in “eons”…Daube Glace!  A wonderful combination of tender Roast Beef, vegetables and seasonings molded together with gelatin creating a beautiful delicious hor d’oeuvre for the holidays or any special occasion.

In South Louisiana, the first thing that everyone thinks is…Hogs Head Cheese (which a lot of people love, but not everyone!) – so it takes a little explaining to get a few squeamish people to try it.  But once they do – they are sold!!  Serve it on toasted baguettes or crackers with Dijon Mustard…wonderful….

I was so busy (and my stove top and oven were full) with all of the other creations that I wanted to serve, that I decided to cook my big old sirloin tip roast in my slow cooker…yes, you can cook a fabulous roast in a slow cooker – with one golden rule…you have to season and brown it really well “before” putting it in the slow cooker and pour all of those wonderful juices on top of it!  And it has to be cooked with a lot of onions, celery and carrots…

Ingredients:

Large Sirloin Tip Roast (Chuck Roast or Rump Roast)

3 medium onions quartered

2 stalks of celery cut into large pieces

4 large carrots cut into large pieces

5 cloves of garlic

1/4 cup canola oil

Creole seasoning

1/2 cup of dry red wine

1/4 cup water

3 bay leaves

3 sprigs of fresh thyme

2 envelopes plain gelatin

Olives

Medium size mold – any shape will do…depends of the holiday, of course!

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Place onions, celery and carrots in the bottom on a slow cooker – sprinkle with creole seasoning;

Make slits in roast and stuff with garlic cloves – season roast really well with creole seasoning.  (literally covering it on all sides!)

Heat oil in heavy pot and brown roast on all sides;

(It really is darker than it looks in the pic!)

Remove roast and place on top of veggies in slow cooker;

Add red wine to pot, de-glaze – scraping bottom and sides of pot to make sure that you get all of the wonderful flavors of the roast combined;

Pour sauce onto roast and veggies – add 1/4 cup water to cooker;

Add bay leaves and thyme;

Cover and set slow cooker on low for 10 hours – never remove lid!!

When cooked, remove roast and chop into bite size pieces;

Remove veggies with a slotted spoon – make sure that you keep all of the liquid in the pot…

Cut a few pieces of carrots and onions into rectangular pieces for the top of the mold;

Add gelatin to liquid in cooker and stir to dissolve;

Oil mold well;

Carefully place olives, carrot and onion pieces into bottom (which will be the top!) of the mold and add just enough of the roast gravy with gelatin to cover – place in fridge until it sets;

Add chopped roast on top of the veggies and pour gravy/gelatin mixture to fill mold;

Place back in the fridge for at least 8 hours or longer;

To remove mold, carefully run a sharp knife along edges of mold (around the outside and inside;

Place platter on top of mold and turn over and shake slowly;

Slice and serve with toasted baguettes or crackers and Dijon mustard;

This was a huge hit at Christmas and would be great for New Year’s or any special occasion…you just have to keep explaining that it isn’t Hog’s Head Cheese!!! Not from South Louisiana – then you won’t have any explaining to do!  It is gorgeous and delicious…

Just to let you know, I am a recent convert for putting a beautiful roast in a slow -cooker…my sister-in-law convinced me to try it and I am glad that she did!  If your family is having an envie for a roast, rice and gravy and you know that you don’t time after work (or in my case…the oven and stove is “full”) then try cooking it this way – cooks while you are at work or doing other things and is fabulous!  Works…really works…I promise!

For anyone who is interested in knowing more about a little more about Daube Glace’ – I have added what “Wikipedia” has to say about it.  Interesting – at least, I think so!

Daube is a classic Provencal (or more broadly, French) stew made with inexpensive beef braised in wine, vegetables, garlic, and herbes de Provence, and traditionally cooked in a daubière, a braising pan. The meat used in daube is cut from the shoulder and back of the bull, though some suggest they should be made from three cuts of meat: the “gelatinous shin for body, short ribs for flavor, and chuck for firmness.” Although most modern recipes call for red wine, a minority call for white, as do the earliest recorded daube recipes.

A daubière.

Variations also call for olives, prunes, and flavoring with duck fat, vinegar, brandy, lavender, nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, juniper berries, or orange peel. For best flavor, it is cooked in several stages, and cooled for a day after each stage to allow the flavors to meld together. In the Camargue and Béarn area of France, bulls killed in bullfighting festivals are often used for daube.

Traditionally, it should be cooked for a long-time and prepared the night before it is served.

Daube with lamb is traditionally made with white wine.

Tasting Menus in Lafayette? The French Press!

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Three times a charm!  Each of the three evenings that my husband and I have been downtown, to The French Press, www.thefrenchpresslafayette.com we have absolutely loved Chef Justin Girouard’s fresh and original “Tasting Menu”…Always different, creative and delicious!!!  Throw in the great atmosphere, that takes you back in time – as you look around and realize that you are dining in the old Tribune Printing Building (yes, where they printed all of our old yearbooks and much more!)  You look around and notice that they kept remnants of the building intack…just love it!

Atmosphere…yes!  Then you are greeted by wait staff that is absolutely wonderful – and, it does matter… I always say that they can make or break your evening.  These guys and gals really make a difference – well spoken, tastefully available and knowledgable about the menu and wines.  I don’t think that they ever receive enough acknowledgment for the service that they provide…can you tell that I love good servers?  I do!  From the hostess to the bus boy…if they are doing a good job – let them know (and leave a generous tip)!  If not, give them a break (and whisper in their ear – they just might pay attention) everyone has a bad day!

On to the food…

1st Course

Butternut Squash Soup with Bacon, Scallions and Pumpkin Seed Oil –  Sooo delicious and the perfect balance of sweet and savory!  The toppings of the fresh crisp bacon and scallions with the swirl of the light fresh pumpkin seed oil sitting on top of this deep rich winter soup was just perfect…left you wanting more!

2nd Course

Potato and Parmesan Gnocchi with Truffle Oil and Louisiana Crab – I can really appreciate good gnocchi, now that I have conquered my fear of making these wonderful little fluffy nuggets…and these were fantastic!  There is just something  about these special little potato “dumplings/pasta” dreams that I can’t get enough of.  Then combine them with a sauce of rich cream, parmesan, crabmeat and just a hint of truffle oil – to die for!  Or maybe the top of my list for “last suppers”!

3rd Course

Louisiana Blue Crab Salad with Basil Israeli Couscous, Louisiana Satsuma Vinaigrette and Radish – The perfect bright and refreshing taste that you need after the delicious richness of the first 2 courses…Plated as a beautiful round mold of fresh crabmeat, tiny bits of locally grown sweet satsumas and little pearls of couscous sitting in the center of a spiral of finely sliced fresh radishes and additional bits of satsuma – all lightly topped with a fresh satsuma vinaigrette – wonderful!

4th Course

Prime Filet Mignon with Blue Cheese, Carmelized Purple Onion, Crisp Potato Cakes, and Cognac Demi – Oh my goodness!  Just when you think it can’t get any better than the first 3 courses, out comes the “grand-daddy” of the night!  A perfectly prepared beautiful filet with a tiny bit of blue cheese – just enough to get the flavor but not overpowering…nestled on top of sweet carmelized onions and the best thinly grated crispy potato cake that I have ever eaten!  Then top it all off with a rich cognac demi-glace sauce – Like I said, “Oh my goodness”!

5th Course

Szechuan Shortbread with Ice Cream and Berry-Champagne Compote – Thinking that you really can’t do that last course, you see this beautiful fresh plate sitting in front of you…ok, maybe one more “bite”!  I just love shortbread because of its salty/sweet flavor, then topped with the sweet house made vanilla ice cream and . of the berry-champagne compote – it was the perfect end to a wonderful meal!

As we were eating our 4th Course,  Manager (and wife of Chef Justin Girouard) Margaret Girouard came by our table to introduce herself and make sure that we were enjoying everything (which, of course, we were!!!) Margaret seems to make it a point to visit all of the tables for a short time during the evening to introduce herself and check on the quality of your experience…great touch, Margaret!  We loved visiting with you…Chef Justin is lucky to have you in front, taking care of the dining guests!!!

The French Press is also open Wednesday – Friday for breakfast and lunch 7 am – 2 pm and on Saturday and Sunday from 9 am – 2 pm. It is a “happening” place for both services…and breakfast really slides right into lunch, so it is one continuous serve. Fine Dining along with their Tasting Menu is available on Friday and Saturday Nights from 5:30 pm – 9:30 pm (It’s always best to make a reservation, so you won’t be disappointed!)

The only thing that I am sorry about is that I had left my camera at home and only had my iPhone to take pictures…they came out terrible!  Actually, too dark to use in this post…would have been an injustice to these beautifully plated courses.  But, trust me – it is all fabulous!

As we were walking out of this old and very well renovated building (stuffed to the gill!) and getting into our car, my husband said…”This is food to write about…talk about food that works!”  So, here you are, Robert!

The French Press – if you haven’t tried it yet…please do….

I just love tasting menus, and always order them (when available) because you get to taste so many of the chef’s specialties in small portions ….literally a “taste” or a small plate of each item.  Works perfectly for Robert and I!  Looking for a Tasting Menu in Lafayette?  Try The French Press…you won’t be disappointed!  Congratulations and thank you to Chef Justin Girouard and your gracious wife Margaret for creating such a warm inviting environment that serves “cutting” edge dishes, but still manages to maintain the integrity of our South Louisiana Culture in every single dish that you serve – that is what I call success in my book!

 

Pecan Picking, Peeling and Pralines!

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If you are lucky enough to have pecan trees in your yard, you know what a thrill it is when, early in November, the pecans start hitting the ground!  Ever since I was a little girl, I have been a “Pecan Picker”!  We lived next door to my grandparents, who planted and nurtured many pecan trees…thus we picked and picked!  It always seemed like so much fun to me, sort of like a continuous Easter Egg Hunt.  I just loved walking with my grandfather (Paw-Paw) through the yard, behind houses, under houses, in the streets – picking every last pecan that fell.   Oh, how I loved Paw-Paw and all of the times that we spent together.  I would have followed him anywhere…

It is from Paw-Paw that I learned all the skills needed to be a vigilant “Pecan Picker”…

Be territorial!  This is very important…you better watch your turf or someone else will be picking your pecans!  And you can’t be shy about it…you have to be direct and almost rude if another picker is trying to pick your pecans – and they will, believe me! It is an unwritten rule that you never, ever go near another person’s yard to pick pecans, unless they tell you to…even in the street alongside their yard is questionable!  It makes me crazy when I see someone picking the pecans in “my” street…

That leads to the next strategy – you have to get up really early during pecan season to pick before the other pecan pickers come by…or when you wake up and look outside, the streets are bare – they beat you to it!!  But, if your yard is bare – you know that it wasn’t your neighbor or anyone else that plays by “the rules”…it was “outsiders” – those people who come from other areas of town to pick everyone’s pecans.  I can’t even give them the credit of being called a “pecan picker” because they really are thieves!  Sounds harsh and crazy, but true…I have found them all over my yard, sticking their arms through my gates, moving my trash cans and in my bushes looking for pecans.  You can run them off, but they will be back…

“Pecan Pickers” are a very particular (peculiar too!) group of people…and as years go by, it seems like this unique little group is slowly either dying out or tiring out – maybe a little of both.   But, not in my little world!  My children did not pick up this “skill”, but I am trying my best to “train” my grandchildren…seems to be working, because they love to walk with me and pick those wonderful golden nuggets!

After all of the pecans have been picked, you need to get to work – cracking and shelling or “peeling” them…that’s what Paw-Paw always called it – “Peeling Pecans”!  I always have my husband bring our pecans to Chastant Brother’s Feed Store to have them cracked (for a very small fee) them we shell them…makes things sooo much easier!

Then, you can put them in Zip Lock bags and store in the freezer until next pecan season…

Even though I picked and have enough pecans for a while, it wasn’t really a very good season…Not nearly the amount of pecans that we usually have.  But, not to worry!  I have plenty for the holidays – starting with Pecan Pralines….

This recipe is from my grandmother or “Maw-Maw”…The traditional “Cajun” or South Louisiana Praline seems to be more of a sugary – crunchy praline, different from the chewy – creamy pralines of the New Orleans area.  Now, I like and make both versions – but today, since I was thinking of Paw-Paw and his pecan picking, I also was thinking of Maw-Maw’s great pralines…

Ingredients:

1 cup of brown sugar

1 cup white sugar

5 tbsp water

1 tbsp butter

1 1/2 cup whole pecans

1 tsp vanilla

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In a heavy sauce pot, heat brown and white sugar and water over medium fire; Stir constantly until it comes to a boil.

Attach candy thermometer to side of pot and cook until temp reaches soft boil, stirring often.  (Whatever you do – DO NOT taste, like I did today!  I now have a giant blister on my upper lip from the boiling sugar…Lord!)

Add pecans and mix well.

Remove from heat and add butter and vanilla.

Drop by spoonfuls onto wax paper and let cool.

Pralines just say, “Merry Christmas” in our house!!

What a great way to end the 2011 Pecan Season…From Picking, Peeling to Pralines – Worked years ago for Maw-Maw and Paw-Paw – works for me today!  So much more to do…

Old Favorite – Poor Boy’s Riverside Inn

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The week before Thanksgiving… before the marathon of turkey, dressings and “the works” started to take over our home – we decided to have a final regular lunch at one of our old favorite restaurants, Poor Boys Riverside Inn.  www.poorboysriversideinn.com.  I love returning to restaurants that hold sweet memories of our past – nothing is better than walking through a door and immediately having those old familiar scenes and aromas flood your head and heart. 

Maybe it even gets more pronounced with age, but I almost melt like “butter” when I walk up the old ramp, through the door and see the same sights and sounds that have been there since 1977 (when they moved to their “new location!”)  Before that, they were located on the Vermilion River where the Hilton is now located.  That is where it all started for me! 

A little bit of history…“Poor Boy’s”  (the nick name of the founder, Hulo “Poor Boy” Landry) first moved to the the original location on the banks of the Vermilion River in 1939.  The restaurant was completely destroyed by the Flood of 1940, but reopened just 3 months later! In 1946, Poor Boy’s Riverside Inn became the first completely air-conditioned restaurant in Lafayette.  From 1946 until 1977, when they moved to their current location on Tubing Road, memories and traditions were created for most families in Lafayette…

In the early 1970’s (college days) my favorite dish was the Lobster Thermador – especially on a Friday evening, after a long afternoon “social”!  About 20 of my “closest friends” and I would descend upon Riverside Inn for a big meal!  (What a sight we must have been!) I always ordered the same thing…Lobster Thermador and a loaded baked potato.  It has been a long, long time since this has been on their menu, but I still remember this wonderfully rich deeply flavored dish every single time I return.

A few of my other favorites include their fabulous creamy Crabmeat Imperial, and all of their complete dinners – Shrimp Dinner, Crawfish Dinner, Crab Dinner and on this particular day…The Oyster Dinner was what I had an “envie” for.

Since it is “oyster season” in Louisiana, I just had to have this feast of oysters!

You are first served with a cup of oyster gumbo –  plump juicy oysters, swimming in their famous dark roux gumbo is just to die for! 

Then, you are served an oyster shooter – several salty/sweet freshly shucked oysters sitting in a small cup covered with a delicious spicy horseradish based cocktail sauce…sets you up to want a couple of dozen!!! (But you know that you need to save room for the “main event”!)

You are then brought a wonderfully fresh green salad with your favorite house made salad dressing…a perfect refreshing little break before “the feast”!

The Main Event!  Now this is what I call a Feast…Oyster Rockefeller, Oyster Bienville, Oyster Pie, Fried Oysters, Oyster Jambalaya and Oyster en Brochette !  The best of the best…I have to tell you, that it is sooo delicious – just writing about it and seeing the pictures again, makes me want a re-run!

Now, what would a visit to Riverside be without their famous, melt-in-your-mouth homemade dinner rolls?! Just look at these things!  In love…

The view from our table…beautiful!

Besides the fantastic food and atmosphere, the waitresses and waiters (that really know the menu and all about the food!) are warm, friendly,  and just plain ole “down home” kind of wonderful!  These are the people that make or break your dining experience…and we have always had great servers at Riverside.

I wonder how many birthdays, anniversaries, business meetings, pre-holiday celebrations and just plain old “happy” lunches and dinners we have enjoyed at this landmark…(or maybe the number would be scary!?)  All I know, is that we will be back for plenty more – one of our old favorites that always works!!! 

Scalloped Oysters…How Could I Forget!

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How could I forget to list oysters on my menu?

Thanksgiving without an oyster dish would be….well, just sad for a few people in my family!  It doesn’t matter what oyster dish I name – when I say “oyster”… faces brighten up, eyes close, this funny looking smile comes across their faces and they rub their stomachs!  Oyster “anything” satisfies a real oyster lover, but scalloped oysters work particularly well on Thanksgiving…

Ingredients

2 pints fresh oysters, with liquid

2 cups whipping cream

1/4 cup butter, melted

1/4 tsp Louisiana Hot Sauce or Tabasco

1 (10-oz) package oyster crackers or  crackers, crushed

1 cup regular breadcrumbs (or try panko bread crumbs for a little more texture!)

1 small onion, chopped finely

3 garlic cloves, chopped finely

3 bacon slices, cooked and crumbled

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp black pepper

1/8 tsp cayenne pepper

To Prepare:

Drain oysters, reserving 1/2 cup liquid.

Stir together oyster liquid, whipping cream, melted butter, and hot sauce.

Mix cracker crumbs and next 6 ingredients in a separate bowl.

Place 3 cups cracker mixture on bottom of a buttered 13 x 9 inch baking dish.

Top with half of drained oysters and half of cream mixture.

Repeat with remaining cracker mixture, oysters, and cream mixture.

Top with Bread Crumbs

Bake at 375° for 45 minutes or until bubbly and lightly brown;

Sweet creamy Scalloped Oysters…how could I forget!  If you love oysters, you will start making this recipe a regular…I promise!!! 

Now, time to get back to cooking…

Thanksgiving – Let The Cooking Begin!!!

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Thanksgiving just happens to be one of my favorite holidays of the year. A holiday that is not overshadowed by gifts, costumes, eggs, beads, fireworks…not that I don’t love all of those things! Ok, the truth is that I really love all celebrations and all of the “thraka” that comes with each one (just give me a reason to put on a costume or a sparkly holiday shirt!)…but Thanksgiving is different, except for the Thanksgiving vest with a giant turkey on the back that I have had for 20 years!

Thanksgiving…a holiday that is centered around family, friends…and yes, food! Giving thanks for all that we have in our own little world – a whole day where everyone’s glass should be “half full”. Not that I haven’t had my share of “not so perfect” Thanksgivings! But, I quickly forget and start planning for the next year… always picturing that perfect Thanksgiving Day…

So, here we are – the Tuesday night before Thanksgiving…that is when my cooking begins! I create the menu, go shopping, then bring out the pots…whatever can be prepared ahead of time, gets done tonight and tomorrow night. It is really nice to just have to roast your turkey and prepare those last-minute dishes that just can’t be done early. It is always my goal – to be able to relax and leave plenty of time to enjoy the day…not always accomplished, but I try!

My menu doesn’t vary much because everyone (including myself) wants their favorites…you know, those dishes that scream “Thanksgiving”!

This year’s menu:

Roasted Turkey

Cornbread Dressing:

Ingredients:

1 lb ground beef

1 lb ground pork

1 onion – chopped

1 bell pepper – chopped

2 stalks celery – chopped

1 Tbsp dark roux

2 small containers of Dressing Mix (preferably Harold’s, but I have a hard time finding this brand, so I use Richard’s or Savoie’s)

1 cup chicken stock

2 boxes Jiffy Cornbread

1 can cream of mushroom soup

1/2 cup green onions – chopped

To prepare:

Cook cornbread as directed on box and set aside;

Brown ground beef and pork;

Add chopped veggies and cook until soft and tender;

Stir in roux and chicken broth over medium heat; Once the roux has dissolved, simmer on low for about 30 minutes;

Add defrosted dressing mix and cook for another 10 minutes;

Stir in cream of mushroom soup until well blended;

Crumble in cornbread and mix well – add additional chicken broth, if needed. This dressing should not be too dry – sort of “wet” without being soggy…don’t let the cornbread overtake the meat mixture! Add salt and pepper to taste.

I make the dressing mixture ahead of time – then heat and add the cornbread and up to 1 cup of chicken stock while the turkey is cooking.

Sprinkle in green onions before serving.

This was my mother’s recipe and I can assure you that everyone loves and asks for every year!

Broccoli Rice Casserole

Macaroni and Cheese

Glazed Carrots

Sweet Potato Orange Cups (Topped with Marshmellows)

Buttered Petit Pois

Cranberry Relish

Rice and Turkey Gravy

Homemade Bread

Mexican Pasta Salad

Desserts:

3 Layer Delight

Mincemeat Pie

Homemade Chocolate Chip Cookies

Gosh, I love Thanksgiving! Three days of preparing – for one glorious meal, followed by football, movies or naps…works for my family, always has!

Happy Thanksgiving…let the cooking begin!

(Pictures coming!)