Stuffed Artichokes

Another recipe that your grandmaw knew how to make. My mother still waxes poetically about my grandmother’s stuffed artichokes, I remember her raving about them when I was a kid. I was far too young to fully appreciate them then, but now I understand completely. I did however love scraping the individual stuffed leaves across my front teeth. Here in California, we get some great baby artichokes which happen to be the perfect size for this recipe.

Stuffed Artichokes

6 small artichokes
1/3 cup olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
3 tablespoons chopped parsley
2 cups French bread crumbs
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/8 teaspoon hot sauce

Trim stem of each artichoke, leaving 1/2 inch. Remove any damaged or tough lower leaves and trim off upper edges of remaining leaves. With palm of hand, gently press down on artichoke to open up or separate leaves. Wash artichokes in cold running water. Heat oil over medium heat; add garlic and cook 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat; stir in crumbs, cheese, parsley, salt, pepper and hot sauce. Stuff each leaf with crumb-cheese mixture. Place artichokes in large saucepan and steam in 2 inches water over low heat 1 hour or until leaves can be removed easily. During steaming period, occasionally baste artichokes with additional olive oil.

NOTE: If you use seasoned bread crumbs, you will want to omit the parsley and parmesan cheese.

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Dirty Rice

The first time G tried this, I asked “Do you want to know what makes the rice ‘dirty’?” The response was that he probably didn’t want to know. Growing up with creole/New Orleans food, it rarely occurred to me that something in a dish might be “weird”, now of course I often take great glee in that knowledge. While in New Orleans for the first time, G’s response to the food was: “It looks repulsive, but tastes divine” which if you’ve ever seen a “Pink Lady” sno-ball you would know where that statement came from.

What makes the rice “dirty” is chicken parts… not thighs or legs, but gizzards and livers finely diced until they “disappear” in the mix. Well made dirty rice is a classic creole dish that you probably ate at your grandmaw’s house as a kid if, like me, you grew up in New Orleans… and your grandmaw probably knew how to make it. I remember when Popeye’s was all the rage in the city during the 70’s and my grandparents complained about how nasty the dirty rice (now Cajun Rice) was… it had no flavah. If you spend the time to dice your vegetables and chicken parts fine; I promise, this will have flavah.

Dirty Rice

1 1/2 cups water
2 ounces chicken livers, trimmed
2 ounces chicken gizzards
1 pound ground beef or turkey
1/2 cup onion, finely diced
1/4 cup celery, finely diced
1/4 cup bell pepper, finely diced
1 1/2 teaspoons garlic, finely diced
1 tablespoon Kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon Creole seasoning
6 cups cooked rice
1 cup minced green onion

In a saucepan combine livers, gizzards and water and bring to boil then simmer 15 minutes or until livers are no longer pink on the inside. Drain livers and gizzards in colander set over a bowl, reserving cooking liquid. Finely dice livers and gizzards. In large skillet cook ground meat over moderate heat until it is nicely browned. Add onion, celery, bell pepper and garlic. Cook mixture, stirring, until vegetables are softened and the onions are translucent. Add salt, black pepper, creole seasoning, and reserved cooking liquid. Simmer mixture, stirring, until liquid is reduced to about 3/4 cup. In a large pot, add cooked rice to the meat/vegetable/broth mixture, chopped livers and gizzards, and green onions. Stir over low heat until liquid is absorbed. Like most creole dishes, I think this even better the next day.

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Fried Grits

Grits is a common dish in the cuisine of the Southern United States and it shares many characteristics with the foodie favorite, polenta. The primary difference is that grits are made from coarsely ground hominy which is corn that has had the hull from the kernel of the corn removed before grinding (called Nixtamalization, protecting us from developing pellagra) and polenta is essentially yellow corn meal. When properly cooked, grits and polenta have similarly smooth textures, “grit” referring to the texture of the dried corn before cooking. This recipe will transform a food with “low class” connotations into one with world-class expectations. Serve anytime you might have polenta.

Fried Grits

2 cups cooked grits (preferably leftover and refrigerated)
2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon of Kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper (white, if you want to be extra fancy)
2 tablespoons olive oil

Heat olive oil over medium-low heat in a skillet. Roll cold grits into a large log and cut the grits into 1/4 to 1/2-inch slices. Beat eggs with your salt and pepper. Dip the slices of grits into the egg wash and brown each side in the oil, 5 minutes on each side.

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Creole Style Moussaka

Now that we made all these sauces mères last week, let’s make something with one of them. Moussaka is a traditional Greek casserole typically made with eggplant, lamb and potato and is covered by a creamy Béchamel sauce. I love it, it’s one of my favorite dishes of all time (and I HATE eggplant). To make it a Louisiana Creole dish, I essentially combined the ingredients from my grandmother’s mirliton casserole and added Béchamel and some “typically Greek” spices like cinnamon and nutmeg.

Creole Style Moussaka

For the filling:
1/2 lb chopped shrimp
1/2 lb lump crabmeat
1 yellow onion, diced
1 bell pepper, diced
1 can diced tomatoes
1/2 cup seasoned bread crumbs
1 tablespoon tomato puree
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
3 toes garlic, peeled and crushed

For the cheese sauce:
Refer to Béchamel recipe (quick and dirty version will be fine) and halve it
4 oz white cheddar cheese or parmesan, grated

Additional ingredients:
2 good-sized eggplants
4 mirlitons
Kosher salt
Olive oil

Pre-heat oven to 350 °. Peel the mirlitons and slice each lengthwise in half and remove the seed. Using a sharp knife, slice each half into 1/2“ slices. Cut the ends off the eggplants, and slice into 1/2” slices from top to bottom. Place eggplants and mirlitons in separate baking or roasting trays – salt the mirlitons, and drizzle both liberally with oil. Place in the oven – cook mirlitons for 35 minutes or until soft like baked potato, and eggplants for 15-20 or until fairly limp. Remove from oven and allow to cool, covered.

While doing this, in a large non-stick saucepan heat about 2 tablespoons of olive oil and sauté the onion until translucent. Add garlic, tomatoes, puree, wine and remaining spices and condiments. Add the chopped shrimp and once they turn pink, cover and cook on a low heat for 20 minutes. When done, place filling in a separate mixing bowl, add in bread crumbs and fold in crab meat, being careful not to break lumps.

In a separate pan, melt the butter over a medium heat and mix in the flour until you get a blond roux. Reduce the heat and slowly stir in the milk, adding a little at a time as the sauce thickens consistently. Do not allow the sauce to become too thick or the roux to become too dark, as this can lead to lumps. When the milk is all used, sprinkle the cheese into the pan and stir well. You just made a Mornay sauce.

Take a large, square, oven-proof casserole dish. At the very bottom, lay half of the mirliton slices (covering the bottom evenly) then half the eggplant, covering the mirliton. Add half the filling and spread over the vegetables. Repeat with the remaining mirliton, eggplant and sauce, and then cover with the Mornay sauce, smoothing over the top layer of meat with a spatula to ensure that all of the filling is coated. Bake in the oven for 45 minutes, and serve.

Optional: You could substitute diced ham for the crab.

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Tomato Sauce or Red Sauce

Tomatoes were introduced to Europe from the New World by explorers in the 16th century and were dismissed as food originally because they were considered toxic. They were grown as “botanical curiosities” for their flowers, not as food. The climates of Spain and Italy and were good for tomato growing and when they were discovered to be tasty, and not killers, they were widely used in Southern European dishes by the 17th century.

The final and (IMHO) the best sauce mère is tomato or red sauce. I think it’s the best because it has the best and richest flavor, is easy to make, it’s versatile and freezes well. For this post, I will just repost the red gravy recipe from a few months ago here. I also happen to really like tomato sauces.
This sauce is more than just “spaghetti sauce”. Its flexibility allows us to cook roundeye steaks in it or to use it on top of meatloaves, pannéed meats, po-boy, fish, sausage and, yes, even pasta. In fact, I make this for pasta sauce instead of plain marinara, I find its richness to be beyond compare.

Red Gravy

1/2 cup olive oil
1 whole bulb of garlic, with each toe sliced in half lengthwise
3 bay leaves
1 bell pepper, diced fine
1 cup onion, diced fine
3 cups vegetable stock
3 cups canned tomato purée
6 ounces tomato paste
1-2 tablespoons minced fresh garlic
2 teaspoons Kosher salt
2 teaspoons creole seasoning
1-2 tablespoons minced fresh basil (Italian or sweet)
1-2 tablespoons minced fresh thyme

In a 2-quart saucepan or stockpot, heat the olive oil, sliced garlic cloves, and 2 of the bay leaves. Cook garlic slices to achieve browning on both sides (over medium heat), cooking for about 2 to 3 minutes and stirring often. Remove garlic from pan, you can toss this. Turn down heat to medium-low and add the onions to the pan and sautee until edges start to brown, about 6 to 8 minutes and stirring constantly.

Add the tomato paste and cook with the onions until the color deepens to a red mahogany color; it gets somewhat sticky, it will build up your forearm muscles. This step is important, so be patient! You want to carmelize the entire mixture; this is where almost all of the flavor for the sauce will come from. When done, add the third bay leaf and remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer; here is where you will adjust your seasonings… I like mine on the spicier side so I actually add 2 tablespoons of creole seasoning rather than 2 teaspoons. Maintain a very low simmer and cook for about three hours and stirring frequently. The whole house will smell delicious for days after making this. Makes 6 cups and freezes well.

To make a Bolognese type sauce: add 2 lbs. cooked and drained ground meat of your choice… the most common seems to be half ground beef/half ground pork or ground italian sausage. My grandmother would make meatballs bigger than your head from a ground meat/seasoned bread crumb mixture, cook those and then add them to the finished sauce.

A few of the children of your basic red sauce are Creole Sauce , Barbecue sauce and Salsa.

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Hollandaise and Béarnaise sauces

Notoriously rich and difficult to keep from “breaking”, both Hollandaise and Béarnaise sauces are emulsion sauces; meaning that they consist of droplets of fat suspended in water which are (semi) stabilized by egg protein (lecithin). Hollandaise is considered by many to be one of the finest sauces of western cooking. Many European cooks consider Béarnaise sauce a mother sauce unto its own; but in the US, cooks start by making Hollandaise and finishing the sauce with tarragon, vinegar and shallots to make their Béarnaise. Hollandaise is good on egg dishes, vegetables and fish. Béarnaise, with its stronger flavor, is great on broiled meats, salmon and steaks. The following Hollandaise recipe is not too hard to complete and should be fairly fool-proof, you may want to use it immediately for this sauce is hard to hold to long (more than 2 hours) and will separate into an oily mess. But if it fails I will add instructions on how to fix a “turned” sauce.

Hollandaise Sauce

3 egg yolks
1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, divided
1 1/4 stick melted unsalted butter
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Whisk the egg yolks in your saucepan for a minute or so until they become thicker and turn a pale yellow. Add lemon juice and whisk. Add 2 tablespoons of the cold butter before placing on heat. While this butter melts, it should help to keep the eggs from curdling. Set the pan over low heat and whisk. Keep an eye on your mixture. As the eggs thicken, you should be able to see more and more of the bottom of the pan. Remove from the heat and whisk in remaining cold butter a tablespoon at a time. This will stop the yolks from cooking any further.

Add the warm melted butter in slowly and by slow I mean drizzle! Whisk to make a thick sauce. Whisk in seasonings and a little more lemon juice if you feel it needs it.

For a sauce that refuses to thicken, is too thin or has curdled: Take a tablespoon of the turned sauce and place in a separate mixing bowl. Whisk it with a tablespoon of lemon juice until it thickens. Drizzle in bits the turned sauce into THIS mixture slowly and whisk… let each addition of turned sauce thicken before adding more.

Béarnaise Sauce

A reduction of:
1/4 cup vinegar
1/4 dry vermouth
1 tablespoon shallot, minced fine
1/2 teaspoon dried tarragon
1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

3 egg yolks
4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, divided
1 1/4 stick melted unsalted butter

Combine vinegar, vermouth, shallots, tarragon, salt and pepper and boil down mixture until it reduces to about 2 tablespoons. Strain mixture into another saucepan. Substitute this reduction for the lemon juice in the previous recipe.

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Béchamel Sauce

Béchamel sauce is the other white sauce mère. It is made by mixing a white roux with milk, très simple. With a Béchamel, you can make a variety of dishes including staples like macaroni and cheese, chicken and dumplings and more complex dishes like moussaka and lasagne. The sauce for the Creole Tuna Noodle Casserole recipe on this blog starts with Béchamel (technically it’s a Mornay sauce since it incoporates cheese). Béchamel sauce’s “children” include Sauce Aurore, Chantilly sauce, Mornay sauce and about 50 other sauces.

Béchamel sauce – Quick and Dirty

4 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 tablespoons AP flour
2 cups cold milk, preferably whole milk
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon white pepper
optional: dash of nutmeg or cayenne pepper
optional: 1 bay leaf

Start by making a white roux: Use a heavy bottomed saucepan that distributes heat evenly. Put the pan over medium-low heat and add the butter and melt the butter. When the foam subsides take the pan off the heat. Using a flat whisk or wooden spatula, rapidly stir in the flour. Return the pot and stirring every couple of minutes, cook until the flour is a straw color. Whisk in the cold milk, salt, pepper and any optional spices. Turn heat to low and continuing to stir, cook for 20-45 minutes until thickened and smooth. The longer you cook it, the smoother and less grainy it will become.

Be sure to fish out your bay leaf at the end of cooking if you’ve added it to the sauce.

Béchamel sauce – The More Traditional Approach

1 small yellow onion, peeled and diced
1 small carrot, peeled and diced
1/3 celery rib, diced
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/3 cup AP flour
4 1/2 cups milk
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
dash of nutmeg
bouquet garni

First, scald the milk. Remove from heat and set aside. Melt the butter in a small saucepan until the foam stops, then add the diced vegetables and sauté until the onions are translucent. Take the pan off the heat and stir in the flour. Put the pan back on the heat and cook about 5 to 7 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove the pan from the heat and slowly whisk in the scalded milk. Return to heat and bring up to a boil, stirring constantly. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Add the bouquet garni, lower heat and simmer for 30-35 minutes. Remove and strain the sauce, without pushing on the vegetables.

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