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March / April 2014

Blue Plate Specials

by Marcelle Bienvenu


Diners, corner cafes, and Mom and Pop neighborhood bars and restaurants that serve down-home meals, otherwise known as “blue plate specials” may not be as numerous as they used to be, but they are still around. Thank goodness! These institutions usually go the extra mile for their specials, giving large servings and using local ingredients. When I hear the term “blue plate specials” I conjure up such meals as meatloaf, mashed potatoes and peas, or smothered chicken with lots of gravy atop a mound of white rice, or better yet, stewed okra and tomatoes accompanied by browned round steak and onions!


When I was growing up in St. Martinville, there was a café called Hebert’s and you could tell the day of the week by the menu for the day. The specials were noted on a large chalkboard at the entrance to the establishment. On Monday, it was usually red or white beans served with rice and a link of fresh pork sausage. Tuesday’s lunch was chicken-fried steak accompanied by either macaroni and cheese or mashed potatoes (and never made from dehydrated flakes in a box). Fried chicken, potato salad, and peas and carrots was Wednesday’s offering. On Thursday it was meatballs and spaghetti or chicken stew. Friday’s special was always my favorite—fried catfish served with shrimp stew over rice, and cole slaw. Hot French bread and lots of butter was always handy, and Mrs. Hebert made some of the best pies—lemon, pecan, chocolate cream, coconut, and blackberry—I had ever tasted.


Alas, Hebert’s is gone and now I find myself finding about such places by word of mouth, but sometimes I make my own blue plate specials once or twice a month. My husband LOVES these meals but sometimes I have to rein him in because of the richness of these dishes. Remember, moderation in everything!


ROUND STEAK AND ONIONS

Makes 4 to 6 servings

  • 1 1/2 pounds top round steak, about 1/4 inch thick
  • ½ cup all-purpose flour
  • Salt and cayenne to taste
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 cups beef broth water, or more as needed
  • 4 medium-size yellow onions, thinly sliced
  • 1 large green bell pepper, chopped * optional
  • 4 to 5 cups cooked long-grain white rice

Cut the steak into 3-inch squares. Combine the flour, salt and cayenne in a small bowl and blend. Lightly flour each piece of the roux steak. Heat the oil in a large, heavy pot over medium-high heat. Add the meat and brown, cooking on each side for 4 to 5 minutes. Add 1 cup of the beef broth and scrape the bottom of the pan to loosen any browned particles.


Reduce the heat to medium and cook for 3 to 4 minutes. Add the onions and bell peppers. Season with salt and cayenne. Cook, stirring often, for about 15 minutes, or until the vegetables are wilted and golden. Add the remaining 1/2 cup water if the mixture has become dry. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, for 30 to 40 minutes or until the meat is tender and the onions are very soft. Serve over the rice.


BEST EVER MEATLOAF

Makes about 6 servings

  • 2 pounds ground beef
  • 1 1/2 pounds ground pork
  • 1 pound ground veal
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 2 small carrots, grated
  • 2 ribs celery, finely chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
  • 2/3 cup breadcrumbs
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3 tablespoons ketchup

Combine the meat, onion, carrots, celery, garlic, mustard, parsley, breadcrumbs, salt and pepper in a large mixing bowl. With your hands, mix until well blended. (Remove one-fourth of the mixture and seal in a plastic storage bag. I’ll tell you how to get another meal with this.)


Add the eggs to the larger mixture and blend well. Press the mixture firmly into a loaf and refrigerate for one hour.


Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the meat loaf in a roasting pan and spread the ketchup all over the top. Bake for 1 1/2 hours. Serve with peas and cheesy mashed potatoes.


SPAGHETTI WITH BOLOGNESE SAUCE

Makes 4 servings

The reserved mixture from above can be stored in a airtight container in the refrigerator for 2 days or frozen for 2 weeks.

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • The reserved meatloaf mixture
  • 1 cup dry red wine
  • 3/4 cup whole milk
  • 2 cups canned chopped tomatoes
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
  • 1 pound spaghetti
  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the meatloaf mixture and cook, stirring to break up the meat, until well browned and most of the liquid is absorbed, 5 to 7 minutes.


Add the red wine and let reduce until almost dry, 4 to 6 minutes. Add the milk, tomatoes, salt, and pepper and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer on low for 13 to 15 minutes. Add the parsley and adjust seasonings with salt and pepper.


Meanwhile bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add the spaghetti and cook according to package directions. Drain and toss with the sauce. When serving, sprinkle with the Parmesan cheese.


CHICKEN AUX GROS OIGNONS

Makes 6 to 8 servings

It’s best to use a roasting chicken for this as young fryers will cook too quickly and become stringy.

  • 1 roasting chicken, about 5 pounds, cut into serving pieces
  • Salt and cayenne
  • All-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 3 large onions, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup chopped bell peppers
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup whole kernel corn (optional)
  • 1 cup young peas (optional)
  • 1/2 pound fresh mushrooms, sliced (optional)
  • 3 tablespoons chopped parsley

Season the chicken generously with salt and cayenne. Lightly dust the chicken with flour. Heat the oil in a large heavy pot over medium heat. Add the chicken. Cook, stirring often, until browned evenly. about 10 minutes Scrape the bottom of the pot to loosen any browned particles. Add the onions and bell peppers. Stir for about 15 minutes, scraping the bottom of the pan to loosen any browned particles. The onions should be soft and golden.


Add the water and stir to mix well. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, partially covered for one hour, or until the chicken is tender. Stir occasionally. If you wish to add the corn, peas and/or mushrooms, add them now and cook for about 15 minutes, or until all is heated through. Adjust seasonings. Add the parsley and serve immediately over rice.


Save room for dessert.


LEMON MERINGUE PIE

Makes 6 to 8 servings

  • 1 cup plus 6 tablespoons sugar
  • ¼ cup cornstarch
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 ½ cups boiling water
  • 2 teaspoons grated lemon rind
  • 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 3 large eggs, separated
  • 2 tablespoons butter

Pie shell


Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.


In a medium-size, heavy saucepan, combine 1 cup of the sugar, the cornstarch, and salt and mix till well blended. Gradually add the boiling water, stirring constantly and cook over medium heat till the mixture thickens, stirring. Add the lemon rind and juice and stir.


In a small bowl, beat the egg yolks till foamy, add a small amount of the hot lemon mixture to them, stirring constantly, and then pour the egg mixture into the lemon mixture in the saucepan, stirring. Add the butter and continue cooking, stirring, till the mixture is very thick. Pour into the baked pie shell.


In a medium-size mixing bowl, beat the egg whites with an electric mixer till thickened. Gradually add the 6 tablespoons sugar and beat till stiff peaks form. With a rubber spatula, cover the pie with the meringue, being careful to seal the edges. With a spoon, make a few peaks in the meringue. Bake just till the top has browned slightly, about 10 minutes. Cool before serving.





February / March 2014

Carnival Season

By Marcelle Bienvenu


Everyone in south Louisiana is up in arms during this long Carnival season. This winter’s cold weather blasts have sent our little delectable crawfish deep into the mud to keep warm. Plus it’s much too cold for the crawfishermen to get out on the ponds to pick up their nets! What a calamity! But have no fear, the weather in Louisiana changes in the blink of an eye. According to the weathermen, we will have days of balmy 65-degree weather in between the cold weather.


I’m just as anxious as the next person to have my first taste of crawfish, whether it be at a crawfish boil or an etouffee, and a myriad dishes made with our freshwater crustaceans. While I’m waiting for the warm weather to slide in, I’ve made my list of dishes I hope to prepare when I get my hands on fresh Louisiana crawfish tails.


CRAWFISH CORNBREAD


Makes 8 to 10 servings

  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup chopped yellow onions
  • ½ cup vegetable oil
  • 1 cup yellow cornmeal
  • 1 cup shredded mild Cheddar cheese
  • ¼ cup chopped pickled jalapenos
  • 1 cup cream-style corn
  • 1 pound peeled crawfish tails, coarsely chopped

Preheat the oven to 370 degrees. Lightly grease a baking pan.


Combine all the ingredients together in a large bowl. Pour into the prepared pan and bake until lightly browned, about 30 minutes.


Remove from the oven and let sit for several minutes before cutting into squares to serve.


CRAWFISH FRITTERS


Makes about 2 dozen

  • 1 medium eggplant, peeled and chopped
  • 1 ½ teaspoons salt
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • ½ cup chopped yellow onions
  • ½ pound peeled crawfish tails
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 1 ½ cups whole milk
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • 4 cups solid vegetable shortening for frying

Seasoning mix (combination of 1/8 each of salt, cayenne, black pepper and garlic powder)


Season the eggplant with 1/2 teaspoon of the salt and 1/4 teaspoon of the cayenne. Heat the two tablespoons of vegetable oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the eggplant and cook, stirring, until slightly soft, 2 or 3 minutes.


Add the onions and cook stirring, until soft, 3 or 4 minutes. Add the crawfish and cook, stirring, until they throw off some of their liquid, about 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool.


In medium mixing bowl, combine the eggs, milk, baking powder, and the remaining 1 teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon cayenne in a mixing bowl. Add the flour, ¼ cup at a time, beating until the batter is smooth. Add the eggplant and crawfish mixture, and fold to mix.


Heat about 4 fingers of the shortening in a deep pot or electric fryer to 360˚F. Drop the batter, a heaping tablespoon at a time, into the hot oil. When the beignets pop to the surface, roll them around in the oil to brown them evenly. Drain on paper towels. Sprinkle with the seasoning mix and serve immediately with the remoulade sauce for dipping.


Remoulade sauce


Makes about 2 cups

  • ¼ cup Creole mustard
  • 2 tablespoons sweet paprika
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup cider vinegar
  • Dash of hot sauce
  • ½ cup finely chopped celery
  • ½ cup finely chopped parsley
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • ¼ cup ketchup
  • ¼ cup prepared yellow mustard
  • 3 eggs, at room temperature
  • 1-1/3 cups vegetable oil

Put all the ingredients except the oil in an electric blender or food processor. Cover and blend at low speed for 30 seconds. With the motor running, gradually pour in the oil in a steady stream. Sauce will thicken. Store in airtight container in the refrigerator until ready to serve.


* Since the mayonnaise is made with a raw egg, it’s best to use within 24 hours


CRAWFISH STUFFED BELL PEPPERS


Makes 8 to 10 servings

  • 1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 2 cups chopped yellow onions
  • 1 cup chopped green bell peppers
  • 1/2 cup chopped celery
  • 1 pound peeled crawfish tails plus
  • 2 cups crawfish puree
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour dissolved in 1/2 cup water
  • Salt and cayenne to taste
  • 2 tablespoon chopped green onions
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley leaves

Cooked long-grain rice


Heat the butter over medium heat in a large, heavy pot. Add the onions, bell peppers, and celery, and cook, stirring, until soft and lightly golden, 6 to 8 minutes. Add the crawfish and cook, stirring occasionally, until they begin to throw off a little liquid, about 5 minutes. Add the cornstarch mixture, reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture thickens, 3 to 4 minutes. Season with salt and cayenne. Remove from the heat. Add the green onions and parsley.


Combine the mixture with 3 to 4 cups cooked rice.


For the stuffed peppers:


Cut red and/or green bell peppers in half lengthwise. Remove the seeds. Put the peppers in a shallow baking pan with about ¼ inch water or chicken broth and bake in a 350-degree oven until the peppers are slightly soft. Drain off the liquid in the pan. Spoon the crawfish/rice mixture into the peppers, sprinkle with bread crumbs and return to the oven. Bake until heated through, about 20 minutes. Serve warm.


* You can also bind the crawfish mixture (without the rice) with bread crumbs and use it to stuff flounder.


KING CAKES

I’m usually a traditionalist when it comes to King Cakes, which means I like the old-fashion kind that was made with rich, buttery brioche dough topped with the purple, green and gold colored sugar toppings. But this year I’ve made a list of some of the newer flavors to try this year. For example, on cajungrocer.com I spotted the Cajun Kringle king cake that features praline filling topped with caramel icing and pecans. Wow! There is also one with chocolate and cream cheese filling. OMG!


I also spotted one recently that was labeled “bananas Foster” and I brought that home and ate it all by myself.


If you really want to do something over the top – do as my sister does. When there are pieces of leftover king cake, she stores them in airtight containers in the freezer, then when she has enough to measure about 4 cups (cut into small cubes), she makes a king cake bread pudding! Use your favorite bread pudding recipe and simply substitute the bread with the king cake.





JANUARY / FEBRUARY 2014

Rolling into Carnival Season

By Marcelle Bienvenu


Here in Louisiana, we barely have time to take down the red and green Christmas decorations before putting up the purple, green and gold colors of Carnival season. On January 12 (otherwise known as Twelfth Night), just about everyone is lining up to purchase their King Cakes. Rather than queuing up, I find it much easier to order my King Cakes online at cajungrocer.com where they come in a varied assortment of flavors. Not only should you order one or more for your festivities, but you should also order some to send to your friends. Make your list NOW!


LOUISIANA OYSTERS


Ah, what can be better on a cold, blustery winter’s day but oysters, those salty, delectable bivalves that are a favorite treat in south Louisiana? During the cold months of winter, oyster luggers cruise the jagged shoreline of the Gulf of Mexico and the neighboring bays, harvesting the oyster beds.


When I see a bumper stick declaring “Eat Louisiana oysters and love longer,” I run straight to the nearest oyster bar. When I lived in New Orleans, there weren’t too many Fridays that didn’t find me bellying up, standing elbow to elbow with my fellow diners, at the marble counters behind which shuckers pried open countless numbers of oysters to fill the orders during the lunch hour. I had a favorite shucker who knew that I preferred the small ones and would not stop my line up of them until I finally gave him a nod when I had my fill.


I often watched purists slurp the oysters straight out of the shell with no adornments. Others, myself included, preferred to douse them in a custom-made sauce of ketchup, hot sauce, a splash of olive oil and a hefty dab of horseradish. Then there are those who like to squeeze lemon juice over their oysters, and crackers, more often than a cocktail fork, are the vehicles by which oysters get from the tray to mouth.


Nothing but cold beer will do to wash it all down.


I remember too, even further back in my life, when on Friday afternoons, Papa would visit his old friend, Frank “Banane” Foti who had a stand in St. Martinville where one could get roasted peanuts, fresh vegetables and freshly shucked oysters. Mr. Banane packed the oysters in small white cardboard boxes with wire handles, which Papa would then store in the refrigerator for a Friday night feast after the local high school football game. Papa, and usually a couple of uncles, would gather around the kitchen table. I was allowed to put my stool next to Papa and watch the ritual of the men mixing up their cocktail sauce in little paper cups. The white containers of cold oysters were passed around and around as the men jabbed the oysters, dipped them in sauce, and threw them down their throats. I watched in amazement, but then I was not quite ready to put the gray, slimy mollusks in my mouth. I did, from time to time, dip a couple of crackers in Papa’s cup of sauce into which he poured a little oyster juice.


But it wasn’t until I was well out of college and residing in the Crescent City did I experience a host of other oyster dishes at Antoine’s, Brennan’s, and Arnaud’s. And possibly, one of the greatest oyster experiences was when a neighbor invited me to a family gathering where they were prepared to open a sack of oysters and prepare them in a variety of delectable dishes. This repertoire should satisfy the craving of even the most insatiable oyster lover.


OYSTER AND ARTICHOKE CASSEROLE
Makes 12 appetizer servings

  • 6 whole fresh artichokes
  • 1 stick (1/4 pound) butter or margarine
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 2/3 cups finely chopped green onions
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped parsley
  • 1 pint oyster liquor
  • Pinch each of ground thyme, ground oregano and marjoram
  • Salt and cayenne to taste
  • 6 dozen freshly shucked oysters
  • Thinly sliced lemons sprinkled with paprika for garnish

Boil the artichokes in unsalted water until tender. Cool. Scrape the tender pulp from the leaves. Clean the hearts and mash together with the pulp. In a skillet, melt the butter or margarine and stir in the flour slowly and constantly until smooth and well blended. Add the green onions and garlic and cook until slightly wilted. Add the oyster liquor, thyme, oregano, marjoram, parsley, salt and cayenne. Simmer for 15 minutes. Add the oysters and cook slowly until the edges of the oysters curl. Add the artichoke mash and blend into the mixture. Spoon the mixture into individual casserole cups or scallop shells. Garnish with lemon slices and serve. This filling can also be put into small pastry shells, heated and served as hors d’ouevres.


There are several versions of Oysters Casino around. Some make it with a tomato-based sauce. This one was created by a chef friend and it has not a bit of tomato in it, but it is a superb dish that can be served as an elegant appetizer or as a late Sunday afternoon supper. Be sure to have crusty French bread to accompany it.


OYSTERS CASINO
Makes 4 appetizer portions, or 2 main course servings

  • 1/3 pound Italian sausage, removed from the casing and crumbled
  • 1 cup finely chopped green bell peppers
  • 1 cup finely chopped onions
  • 1/2 cup chopped pimiento
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 cup cream sherry
  • 1 cup half-and-half
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1 cup melted butter
  • 1 pound grated sharp Cheddar cheese
  • Salt and cayenne to taste
  • 1 dozen freshly shucked oysters
  • 4 slices cooked bacon

In a large skillet over medium heat, sauté the sausage, bell peppers, onions, pimiento, and garlic in the olive oil until the sausage has browned completely and the vegetables are soft. Add the sherry and half-and-half. Cook over medium-low heat for about 10 minutes, stirring constantly. Dissolve the flour in the melted butter and add to the skillet. Stir until mixture has thickened. Add the cheese and mix well with the mixture. Season with salt and cayenne to taste. Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature, then chill in the refrigerator until firm.


When ready to serve, place three oysters on a scallop shell or in a ramekin and bake in a 350 F. oven for about 5 minutes, or until the edges of the oysters curl. Top the oysters with the chilled sauce and a half slice of cooked bacon. Return to the oven and bake until sauce bubbles, or about 15 minutes.


Everyone has probably heard of and had Oysters Rockefeller, the famous dish created at Antoine’s in New Orleans and named after one of the wealthiest men in the United States, John D. Rockfeller. Antoine’s recipe has never been disclosed, but there are many versions served in and around the city. Here’s a rich soup I think you’ll enjoy on a cold night.


OYSTER ROCKEFELLER SOUP
Makes 8 servings

  • 1 cup minced onions
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1/2 cup minced celery
  • 3 cups chicken broth, in all
  • 2 cups cooked and drained spinach, pureed in a food processor
  • 2 pints oysters and their liquor
  • 2 pints half-and-half
  • 3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/3 cup cornstarch dissolved in 1/2 cup Pernod
  • Salt and cayenne to taste
  • 1 tablespoon anise seeds
  • Lemon slices for garnish

Cook the onion, garlic and celery in one cup of the chicken broth for about 10 minutes, or until slightly soft. Add the pureed spinach and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the remaining chicken broth and the liquor from the oysters. Slowly add the half-and-half and blend well. Simmer over medium heat for about 10 minutes, stirring constantly. Add the cheese, whisking well. Thicken the mixture with the cornstarch dissolved in the Pernod.


When the soup is thick and hot, remove from heat and add the drained oysters. Season to taste with salt and cayenne. Add the anise seeds. Let stand for about 5 to 6 minutes before serving. Serve in soup cups or bowls and garnish with lemon slices.



When I was a child, Sunday dinner was served at noon, after everyone returned from church. After a meal of baked chicken, roast beef, rice dressing, sweet potatoes, green beans and pecan pie, everyone agreed they would never eat again. But surely as the sun sets, we would all be hungry again by the evening. Mama often made this quick soup, which we ate with crackers or toasted French bread.


OYSTER SOUP
Makes 6 servings

  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 3 tablespoon flour
  • 1 cup chopped onions
  • 2 tablespoons minced parsley
  • 4 dozen freshly shucked oysters and their liquor
  • 1 quart boiling water or warm milk
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped green onions
  • Make a blond roux by combining the butter and flour in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir constantly for several minutes. Add the onions and parsley and continue stirring for two to three minutes. Strain the oyster liquor from the oysters and add this liquor to a quart of boiling water or the warm milk. Pour this mixture into the roux slowly, stirring constantly. When it begins to come to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer. Add the oysters and the butter. Cook until the edges of the oysters begin to curl. Season to taste with salt and cayenne. Add the green onions and serve immediately



DECEMBER 2013 / JANUARY 2014

GUMBO FOR COLD WEATHER

By Marcelle Bienvenu


Just about everyone I ran into the past few days is gathering the fixings for gumbo to enjoy on cold wet evenings during the holidays. Some families adhere to a tradition of having gumbo PLUS all the other goodies—like fried turkey, pork roast, rice dressing, sweet potatoes, cakes, pies and fudge. I took a poll as to what kinds of gumbos were simmering on the stove, and in my area chicken/andouille won hands down. I’m waiting for my duck-hunting friends to bring me a few mallards, teals or pintails with which to make Papa’s favorite—duck and oyster gumbo. It was Papa’s ritual to stop on his way back from his duck camp in Gueydan, Louisiana, (his cleaned ducks in the ice chest) to pick up freshly-shucked oysters in Abbeville. While he tended to the gumbo, I sometimes stole a few of the salty, cold oysters to slurp down with a dab of cocktail sauce. Sometimes I was allowed to sip on his cold beer. Ah, what flavors and memories!!!!


DUCK, OYSTER AND ANDOUILLE GUMBO
Makes 6 to 8 servings

  • 2 mallards (or 4 teal), dressed, and cut into serving pieces
  • Salt, black pepper and cayenne
  • 1 ¼ cups vegetable oil
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 medium-size yellow onions, chopped
  • 2 medium-size green bell peppers, chopped
  • 8 cups (about) water or chicken stock
  • 2 pounds andouille sausage, cut crosswise into ¼-inch slices
  • 2 dozen oysters with their liquor
  • ¼ cup chopped green onions (green part only)

Season the duck generously with salt, black pepper and cayenne. Set aside. Heat ¼ cup of the oil in a large, heavy pot (preferably black iron) over a medium-hot fire. Brown the duck pieces evenly in the oil, then remove and set aside. Drain off the oil in the pot. In the same pot, over medium heat, combine the remaining 1 cup oil and the flour, and stirring slowly and constantly, make a dark brown roux. Add the onions and bell peppers and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are soft and golden, 8 to 10 minutes.


Return the ducks to the pot and slowly add enough warm water or stock to cover the ducks completely. Add the andouille and reduce the heat to medium-low. Simmer, uncovered, until the ducks are tender, about 2 hours.


Add the oysters and their liquor, and the green onions and cook until the edges of the oysters curl slightly, about 5 minutes. Serve hot over rice. To go with this hearty gumbo, I offer both potato salad (made with homemade mayonnaise) and baked sweet potatoes. Some chose to plop the potato salad or the sweet potato right into their bowl of gumbo while others serve either alongside the gumbo. Your choice!


SOUTH LOUISIANA NEW YEAR’S FEAST


I rarely choose to diverge from the traditional dishes—cabbage (a symbol of prosperity) and black-eyed peas (said to bring one good luck)—for my New Year’s buffet. Since there are those who declare they don’t like the taste or smell of cabbage, I usually offer a couple of cabbage dishes in hopes that I can please even the choosiest of dinner guests since I don’t want any of my friends to go without.


Let me begin with steamed cabbage for the purists.


STEAMED CABBAGE
Makes 6 servings

  • 4 cups shredded cabbage, tightly packed
  • 4 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Put the cabbage in the top of a steamer and steam over boiling water until it is just tender, eight to 10 minutes. Transfer to a serving dish and toss with the butter and oil. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Serve warm.


This next recipe is a Cajun favorite.


CABBAGE CASSEROLE
Makes 8 to 10 servings

  • 1 pound lean ground pork
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 ½ cups thinly sliced yellow onions
  • 1 (10-ounce) can tomatoes with green chilies
  • 2 large heads cabbage, cored and coarsely chopped
  • Salt, black pepper and cayenne, to taste
  • ½ pound sharp Cheddar cheese, grated

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.


Brown the pork in the oil over medium-high heat in a large saucepan. Add the onions and tomatoes with chilies, and cook, stirring often, for 10 minutes. Add the cabbage and season with salt, black pepper and cayenne. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, covered, until the cabbage is tender, about 20 minutes.


Transfer to a casserole dish and top with the cheese. Bake until the cheese is melted and bubbly, about 15 minutes.


Rather than cooking the peas and rice separate, combine them to make a jambalaya—easy!


BLACK-EYED PEA JAMBALAYA
Makes 10 to 12 servings

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 pound smoked sausage, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch slices
  • 1/2 pound cubed ham
  • 1 cup chopped onions
  • 1/2 cup chopped green bell peppers
  • 2 (15-ounce) can black-eyed peas with jalapenos
  • 1 (14-ounce) can beef broth
  • Salt and cayenne to taste
  • 8 cups cooked rice
  • ¼ cup chopped green onions

Heat the oil in a large, heavy pot over medium heat. Add the sausage, ham, onions, and bell peppers. Cook, stirring, until the vegetables are golden, about 8 minutes.


Add the peas and beef broth and reduce the heat to medium-low. Season with salt and cayenne. Simmer, stirring occasionally, for 1 hour.


Add the rice, a little at a time, and gently stir to mix. The mixture should be moist but not soggy. Season with salt and pepper.


Baked ham or baked brisket is a good choice to serve with the cabbage and peas. I recommend getting an untrimmed brisket as the fat will keep the meat moist while it bakes. Once it’s cooked, you can remove the excess fat before slicing to serve.


BAKED BRISKET
Makes 10 to 12 servings

  • 1 brisket, about 10 pounds, untrimmed
  • Olive oil
  • Salt, cayenne and black pepper
  • ¼ cup soy sauce
  • 1 (12-ounce) bottle of beer

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking pan, large enough to accommodate the brisket, with heavy-duty aluminum foil.


Place the brisket in the prepared pan and rub generously with olive oil. Season generously with salt, cayenne and black pepper. Pour the soy sauce over the brisket. Bake until the brisket brown evenly, about 30 minutes.


Carefully pour in the beer. Reduce the heat to 250 degrees and cover securely with another sheet of heavy-duty aluminum foil. Bake until fork-tender, 4 to 5 hours.


Be careful when removing the pan from the oven as there will be a lot of fat and liquid. Let the brisket rest for about 20 minutes before slicing.


And don’t forget the cornbread!


CHEDDAR CHEESE CORNBREAD
Makes 6 to 8 servings

  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1/3 cup corn oil
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 ½ cups white cornmeal
  • 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 (12-ounce) can whole kernel corn, drained
  • 3 tablespoons half-and-half
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 small red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Butter a 9-inch square baking pan. Mix together the first three ingredients in a large bowl.


Combine the cornmeal, baking powder, salt, and baking soda and add to the buttermilk mixture. Stir together the corn and half-and-half and add to the batter. Mix in the onion, bell pepper and sugar. Pour half of the batter into the baking pan. Top with the cheese. Pour in the remaining batter. Bake until browned and springy to the touch, about 40 minutes.


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