Sunday, November 29, 2009

Back Home in Louisiana

Last night Roger and I arrived in New Orleans for a brief stop before we head out to New Iberia and start filming on the "Ma Louisianne" project. We came in at night so I really couldn't see the bayou flanking I-10 but as soon as we hit the familiar streets the tension rolled off my shoulders.

We've been planning "Ma Louisianne" for 3 years now. It started when we ran into Chef John Besh backstage at the James Beard Awards when Spatulatta won in 2006. The amount of work leading up to this shoot is unlike any other we've done. Besides the usual ducks that must be gotten in a row there was the fundraiser last September. I haven't really had a day off since then.

So when we walked into Drago's last night and saw the happy crowd we knew we were home. I ordered a split of champagne to celebrate the fact we had arrived at last. We'd been on our cells phones in the car on the way down borrowing waders from cousins, booking hotel rooms, making contact with friends. But now we could kick back and relax.

Roger and I just looked at each other across the plates of char-broiled oysters and thanked each other for the work each of us has done to get us to this place and for the commitment to our marriage and our goals.

New Orleans seemed to rejoice with us. All the laughter of the happy holiday revelers engulfed us and welcomed us home.

Friday, November 13, 2009

It's the Nuts

I had the opportunity to test some of Fisher Nuts Culinary Touch Add-ins and Toppings and Fusion Snack Mixes. As soon as I popped open the first bag I knew I was working with a quality product, the aroma was great. I have had problems recently with walnuts from other vendors which smell old and slightly rancid when you open the bag. So I was pleased by the wholesome, fresh aroma.

I added 1/2 a cup of Fisher Culinary Touch Pecan, Cranberry, and Orange blend to give a new twist to the my favorite banana bread recipe. The additional fruit and nuts really gave the bread a wonderful range of flavors. Each bite was a surprise.

I used the rest of the bag as topping for a green salad tossing it all together with extra virgin olive oil and Lucini 10-year Gran Riserva Balsamico vinegar. Again, it was like a symphony for the tongue - a hint of orange here, a bit of tart cranberry there, then the satisfying texture of the pecans.

About that time, we where throwing a big gumbo party fundraiser for our "Ma Louisianne" project and I used the Fisher unsalted cashews as the protein in a vegan gumbo. (The recipe is posted below.) I added the nuts at the end of the cooking so they wouldn't become too mushy. They gave the gumbo an incredibly rich flavor. Chef Melissa Graham of Monogram Events, one of our guests that night, said it was her favorite gumbo out of the 4 selections. She thought I had added cashew butter but it was just the lovely cashews themselves.

The Fisher Fusions snack mixes were a bit too sweet for me. The Ice Cream Sundae mix was especially sweet. If you read the ingredients, all of the fruit was sweetened: pineapple, banana and strawberries. Those were then mixed with marshmallows and chocolate covered peanuts. Whoa! I'll stick to the nuts.

The great thing about the Fisher Culinary Touch bags is that they are small enough to put in ones' bag for a healthy snack on the go. I'd like to see Fisher go even further and make smaller size snack bags of their nut mixtures as an alternative to candy.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Gaylon's Cashew Vegan Gumbo

This is a cut-down of a recipe I put together for the "Big Easy Gumbo Party" we hosted last July as a fundraiser for our "Ma Louisianne" television project. I had a number of vegetarian guests and one vegan guest who couldn't eat the other gumbo offerings. I looked around for vegetarian gumbo recipes, but none of them had the hardy, earthy taste I wanted.

Roasted corn and smoked paprika stand in for the smoked meat and I added cashews as an homage to shrimp, another traditional gumbo ingredient. The original recipe was enough to serve 75 people using 5 pounds of okra. Here's a version for 4 to 6 servings.

2 ears of corn

1 cup oil

1 cup flour

3 stalks of celery - chopped coarsely

1 large onion - chopped coarsely

1 large green pepper - chopped coarsely

3 cloves garlic - finely chopped

3 cups vegetable broth

1.5 tablespoons of fresh thyme

1 serrano pepper - chopped finely

3 Roma tomatoes - peeled, cored and seeded, chopped coarsely

1.5 cups of sliced okra

2 tablespoons smoked paprika

1 cup raw, unsalted cashews

Salt to taste

Roast the corn on the cob ahead of time. Soak 2 ears of corn, with the husks on for 30 minutes then put them on the grill. Turn the ears as the husks began to burn. You want the kernels to darken on the edges but not burn. When the husks are blackened all over, remove the corn from the grill and let cool. Remove the husks, pull off all the hair and slice the corn away from the cob. Set aside.

Make a roux by putting 1 cup of oil and 1 cup of flour in a heat-proof bowl. Mix well. Microwave uncovered for 6 minutes. Let the roux set in the microwave for a minute or two. It will continue to cook. You're aiming for a roux the color of the the outside of a hazel nut. Whisk out any lumps and put the bowl back in the microwave for 2 minutes.

When the roux has reached the correct color, pour it into a heavy bottomed pot. Add the "holy trinity": celery, onions and green pepper. Add the thyme, garlic and hot pepper. Sauté until the vegetables are soft.

Add the vegetable stock, bring everything to a boil then simmer for 1 hour. (I made my own stock from the dozens of onion skins, parings from the peppers and celery I had after making 4 gumbos for 100 guests. I added 3 carrots, 6 bay leaves and a handful of black peppercorns. It boiled for 2 hours then I strained the vegetables out then reduced it. The stock was slightly sweet.)

The corn, tomatoes, orka and cashews go in for the last 1/2 hour of cooking. I don't like okra to get slimy and I've found that if you don't overcook it, it will retain its shape and texture.

Lastly, I added the smoked paprika and tasted. Then added the salt, a little at a time, until I hit the right flavor balance.