Red Beans, my mom’s way

This is essentially the same recipe as the Creole style beans but uses more of a country flair that folks in Southern Mississippi or Bogalousa might take. This recipe is good if you are using older beans, the marrow from the bones helps thicken your sauce. The smoked ham also adds a flavor that is rich and complex that you won’t get out of a bottle of liquid smoke. It takes a bit longer if you try to do it all in one day, but you can make the ham stock in advance and refrigerate or freeze it for later use. G. said this recipe reminds him of the beans at Mother’s on Poydras and Tchoupitoulas.

Red Beans, my mom’s way

1 lb. red kidney beans (again, see if you can find Camellia beans)
2 quarts ham stock (see below)
1 large yellow onion
1 bell pepper, seeded and diced
3 bay leaves
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme (1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme)
2 toes garlic, minced
Kosher salt to taste
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon creole seasoning or to taste
1 teaspoon worchestershire sauce
Hot sauce (Crystal is best) to taste

Soak beans overnight in a large pot and use enough water to ensure the beans remain covered in water. Rinse beans and pick through them for rocks and dirt. Put beans back into pot along with ham stock. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Continue to simmer for one hour. After the beans have simmered for one hour, add vegetables, ham (picked from the ham shanks… you can throw the bones in there, too. Just be sure to pick them out when the beans are done.), bay leaves, and seasonings. Bring back up to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Simmer for 2 more hours or until beans have become tender and made their own thick sauce. Stir occasionally to prevent bottom from scorching. Adjust seasoning as you go. You may need to smash about a cup of the beans along the side of the pot and stir that in to make a thicker sauce, sometimes if the beans are not so fresh they won’t cream up as well… that’s why you need to get Camellia beans.

Serve over hot white rice, use at least one cup cooked rice per serving.

Serves 6

Ham Stock

4 quarts cold water
2 lbs smoked ham shanks or hocks (hocks are fattier but have more flavor, if you want more meat use shanks)
1 large onion cut up
1 large bell pepper cut up
3 stalks celery cut up
small handful black peppercorns
3 bay leaves

Place all your ingredients in a large stock pot and pour your water over everything. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer for 3 hours. Occasionally skim the fat and protein scum off the top. After 3 hours pour through a fine sieve into a large pot and skim off the excess fat. Reserve the liquid and pick through the ham bones for any meat you’d like to reserve, you may toss the rest. You may use this immediately for your red beans or refrigerate it for later use. Refrigerating the stock will also allow you to get any extra fat you may have missed by skimming.

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Mellytawn (Mirliton) Casserole

There are some dishes that are quintessentially New Orleanian, dishes that you won’t find an equivalent taste anywhere else, this is one such dish. I don’t know if it’s the ham/shrimp blend, the bread crumbs, the mirliton or the combination of all these elements put together, but this tastes like my grandmother’s kitchen to me… my comfort food.

Mirliton is the word for chayote squash in Louisiana, and they are coming into season here and they are large, cheap and plentiful. This is but one of many dishes you can make with this delicious squash.

This is what mirlitons look like:
Mirlitons (Chayote Squash)

Finished casserole:
Mirliton Casserole

Mellytawn (Mirliton) Casserole

6 medium mirlitons, boiled, peeled, and diced
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 medium yellow onion, diced
1/2 green bell pepper, diced
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
2 ribs celery, diced
6 toes garlic, minced
2 lbs. shrimp, peeled and chopped
1 lb. ham, small diced
1-14 oz. can diced tomato (you can substitute 1 large fresh tomato if you have some)
1 cup mushrooms, roughly chopped
1/4 cup parsley, minced
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon Creole seasoning
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
4 cups seasoned bread crumbs
1 egg, well beaten
1/2 cup buttered corn flakes, crumbled

optional:
1 can chicken broth
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

First, take your mirlitons and boil them whole in lightly salted water until you can pierce them all the way through without using excessive pressure. Then remove them from the pot and set them aside to cool.
In a large saucepan, melt your butter over medium heat and sauté the trinity until slightly wilted. Add garlic and mushrooms and sauté until everything is soft and tender. Slice the cooked mirlitons in half lengthwise, remove the center seedpods, and throw them away. Then take a paring knife and carefully peel the outer skin away from the pulp. Once the skin is removed, dice the pulp into small pieces and set it aside as well.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Add the shrimp and the chopped ham to your sautéed vegetables and turn heat to medium-high. Within 2 to 4 minutes time, the shrimp will turn pink and the ham will brown slightly around the edges. Add to the mixture the mirliton pulp and the diced tomato. Then stir the pot constantly for 15-20 minutes, cooking the pulp and the vegetables together over medium-high heat until a chunky paste forms. Add the spices and herbs and be sure to fold them well into the mirliton, shrimp, and ham blend.

Begin working in bread crumbs into the casserole mixture (this is best done a little at a time). When all the crumbs are added, you should end up with a somewhat dry paste that sticks to the spoon. If it is still too moist, add a few extra bread crumbs, if the mixture it too wet it will run during the baking process. If your stuffing mix turns out too dry, moisten it with a little canned chicken broth. Then when you’re satisfied with the final consistency, quickly stir in the egg to bind everything together (be sure to temper it!).

Finally, transfer the mixture to a large casserole dish. Then liberally top the casserole with the buttered cornflake crumbs, put the dish into the oven on the center rack, and bake it uncovered for about 25 to 30 minutes or until the topping turns a toasty brown. For a little extra, liberally sprinkle the casserole with shredded Parmesan cheese when it has 10 minutes left to bake in the oven. This will form a nice crusty topping on the dish.

Variation: instead of ham, try 1 lb. cleaned crab meat.

This feeds a lot of people! I should have halved the recipe, we wound up with two casseroles. Before we ate I said “I hope you like it, we’re going to be eating it for awhile.”

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Creole-Style Boiled Rice

I hate making rice. I mean, how can something so seemingly simple, be so temperamental? It either comes out too dry with a hard crunch to each grain or it comes out a huge mass of gelatinous, white nastiness that just sits on the plate daring you to put something on it. Good white rice should spread out on the plate, not sit there taunting you. On my last trip to New Orleans, I was thrilled to finally be able to eat rice the way I remember it, separate grains and with a slight tooth, al dente if you will. Not mushy. Not sticky. Just good old plain rice.

I own a rice cooker and, I admit, it makes decent rice for red beans and gumbo. But often the bottom becomes crusty or the rice might come out a little too mushy for my taste and, quite honestly, the results are always a little disappointing. But, thanks to Danno over at Nolacuisine.com and the folks at Commander’s Palacerestaurant in New Orleans I have it… the golden chalice… perfect white rice. The key is to boil the rice like pasta until it is tender and then drain it. You can also dry the grains in an oven if need be, but when I make it (so far) it comes out perfect! “Why vinegar?” you may ask. It serves two purposes: one, the acid helps tighten up the grains of rice and prevent it from getting mushy and two, it helps make it very white. Recipe modified from Commander’s Palace cookbook:

Creole-Style Boiled Rice

1 cup long-grain rice, Basmati is good… I use Mahatama
1 quart water
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon white vinegar
2 bay leaves (the recipe calls for fresh if you have access to it)
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Bring the water, salt, and vinegar to a rolling boil in a large pot that has a lid, add the rice and bay leaves, and stir occasionally and gently with wooden spoon until the water returns to a boil. Stirring will release the starch, so avoid overstirring, and, when boiling, do not stir at all. The boiling prevents the rice from sticking. Cover the pot but with the lid slightly ajar to let steam out. Continue boiling for about 12 minutes or until the grains soften and water appears to dissipate. The grains will swell and become tender to the touch. Drain the rice by creating a small opening between the cover and the pot or use a colander. Season with additional salt and pepper.

Makes approximately 2 cups of cooked rice.

Fig Ice Cream

Got lots of figs? Make…

Fig Ice Cream

3 cups peeled, fresh figs
4 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 1/2 cup sugar, divided
1 1/4 cups whole milk
2 3/4 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

In a small bowl, combine the figs with the lemon juice and 3/4 cup of the sugar. Stir gently and allow the figs to macerate in the juices for 2 hours. Strain the fruit, reserving juices. Mash half the figs. In a medium mixing bowl, use a hand mixer on low speed to combine the milk and remaining granulated sugar until the sugar is dissolved (if the figs are very ripe, don’t add the extra sugar, the ice cream will be too sweet.), about 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in the heavy cream, reserved juice, mashed figs, and vanilla. Turn the machine on; pour the mixture into freezer bowl, and let mix until thickened, about 20 to 25 minutes. Five minutes before mixing is completed, add the reserved mashed figs and let mix in completely. The ice cream will have a soft, creamy texture. If a firmer consistency is desired, transfer the ice cream to an airtight container and place in freezer for about 2 hours. Remove from freezer about 15 minutes before serving.

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Italian Fig Cookies (Cuchidahti or Cucidate)

My grandparents had a large fig tree at the back end of their yard in Gentilly. Each summer, when the fruit would be almost ripe, we’d go back there and pick loads of them. We could never get them all and most of them would just fall to the ground and rot in the hot New Orleans’ sun. What a smell! But I loved those figs and it seemed like everyone the neighborhood had one of these trees. The little old ladies would made jams, preserves, cakes and these cookies from them.

These cookies are like hard Fig Newtons. They come in bags of maybe 5 or 6 large planks, are usually iced different pastel colors, have sprinkles and can be found at most grocery stores in the GNO. G. and I had some on St. Joseph’s day this past Spring bought at Breaux Mart on Severn Ave. in Metairie (followed later that evening by a Hubig’s pie and half a piece of Russian Cake). Heaven.

Italian Fig Cookies

Filling:
1 lb. dried figs
1/2 lb pitted dates
rind from 1/2 orange
1 cup glazed fruit
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 cup brandy
1/2 cup dark raisins
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup water

Dough:
4 1/4 cups AP flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1 1/4 cups butter
1/2 cup plus 5 tablespoons cold water

Icing:
3 cups sifted confectioner’s sugar
1/4 cup milk
1/2 tsp. anise flavoring
Dash of salt

Remove hard stems from figs. Soak them in warm water for 20 minutes. Grind your figs, dates, orange rind, raisins and glazed fruit in a food processor. Add all filling ingredients into a large saucepan and heat thoroughly, you want everything to be incorporated well. Remove from heat and set aside.

Sift dry ingredients into a large bowl. Add butter and cut in with a pastry cutter or knife until crumbly. Sprinkle the cold water in and toss lightly with a fork until mixed. Add remaining water, a tablespoon at a time, mixing until dough is smooth. Heat oven to 275 degrees and take half the dough on a lightly floured surface, roll it out into a 12 x 18 inch rectangle (it should be about 1/8“ thick). Cut into 3” wide strips and spread 4 tablespoons of filling down the center of each strip, leave about 1“ on either side. Moisten the bare sides with water, fold over and press lightly with a fork to seal. Cut each strip into 6-2” cookies, cut and slit in the fold side of each cookie, almost like giving it gills. Place on an ungreased cookie sheet, bending each cookie into a slight curve. Bake about 20 minutes until bottoms are brown. While cookies are baking sift confectioner’s sugar into a mixing bowl, add milk, salt and anise flavor and beat until smooth. This is a runny icing that will dry hard. When done baking, remove from each cookie from cookie sheet and cool them on a wire rack, then ice. Repeat with remaining half of dough and filling.

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