Saturday, November 20, 2010

Sweet Potato Casserole

One cool, crisp fall day, when I was in college, I was at a friend’s in-law’s farm out in the country and we were playing around with the “toys”. At this particular time, it was 4-wheelers (quads) and we were just running around on them or racing/chasing each other with engines wide open enjoying the beauty of the day and the clean fresh air blowing in our faces and through our hair.

Nearby was a man-made lake with a high levee surrounding it and the boys started running their 4-wheelers up, down and all round the top of the levee. However, being the girl I am, I was scared to do what they were doing. So, my friend’s husband jumped on the back of my bike to “show” me how it’s done.

With his coaching, I turned away from the levee for a distance, then followed his instruction to go head-on, straight up the levee then cut right. Against my better judgment I did so. Ok, fine so far…or so I thought….NOT!!! He yelled that I needed to give it more gas, so I did….but not to his satisfaction. He put his hand over mine and pushed my thumb down on the accelerator, HARD, and gunned it. Big mistake.

Before I realized it, he had gunned that damned bike straight up the levee and straight into the air like a rocket with only the two rear wheels on the ground and it was starting to flip over backwards! Holy Sh*t!!! I yanked my hand out from under his thus moving his hand off the accelerator just in the nick of time. Together, we fell off the back of the bike and landed on our backs, me on top of him. Next thing I knew, I was flipped over with my face down in the dirt when he jumped up and went after the bike.

By the time I got myself up and to the top of the levee, the bike was submerged in the lake and my friend’s husband was slogging waist deep after the bike! *SNAP* (conjure a little sassy neck movement here) Serves his a$$ right! He yelled at me to come help him get the bike out before the engine got wet, so there I am pulling on him with him pulling on the bike. He lost his grip and there we go, on our backs, this time he was on me, in the mud and water!

His weight pressed me down into the soft mud, my head went in too, and I had to work against some serious suction to get up and out!! Not pretty! I was madder than a wet cat…I WAS A WET CAT! I evacuated myself from the bowels of hell and with the last shred of dignity that I could muster and a withering glare at anyone who dared to find amusement at my predicament, I stomped off to the main house only to be met by a cold hose bath before I could get within 10 feet of the door. Baptism by frigid water.

Anyway, it was my friend who gave me the following recipe for Christmas one year. It was wonderful and I’ve been making it ever since. The orange juice and raisins offer a unique twist to an old classic.

3 lbs sweet potatoes
3/4 cup orange juice
2 large eggs
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 stick butter, melted
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 cup white raisins

1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 stick butter, melted
1/2 cup coarsely chopped pecans

Scrub sweet potatoes, cut in half and boil until tender. Allow to cool then slip the skins off and mash well. Add orange juice, eggs, raisins, vanilla, melted butter, sugar, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. Stir until sweet potatoes are smooth and well blended. Spoon potatoes into buttered 2 quart baking dish.

Combine flour, brown sugar, cinnamon in medium bowl. Add butter and pecans, stir well. Sprinkle pecan mixture on top of sweet potatoes. Bake at 350 for 35-45 minutes.

***Note: This can be prepared ahead of time and refrigerated until ready to cook.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Spinach Madeline

This post originally appeared in July, 2010 but is being reposted for the holidays.

A Southern Holiday favorite for Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's, Easter or any special occasion, this versatile dish is excellent year round. It compliments any type of entree: roast beef or steaks, turkey or cornish hens, baked ham and fish. It can also be served as a dip with melba toast as is or by adding lump crabmeat or steamed shrimp. I sometimes make it just because!

Spinach Madeline is particularly good when served at Thanksgiving or Christmas with Turkey, South Louisiana Cornbread Dressing and Giblet Gravy. This recipe is easily doubled, tripled and quadrupled depending on how many people you will be serving. It also freezes very well so it can be made ahead of time. One trick I do is multiply the recipe 6 times, divide that and freeze half for Thanksgiving and half for Christmas. It's such a hit with my family and friends that we all want leftovers to take home hence the large quantity!

2 packages chopped spinach, frozen
4 tbsps butter
2 tbsps flour
2 tbsps chopped onions
1/2 cup evaporated milk
1/2 cup reserved spinach liquor
1/2 tsp black pepper
3/4 tsp celery salt
3/4 tsp garlic salt
6 ounces Velveeta Mexican cheese, cubed
salt and red pepper to taste
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
Italian Bread Crumbs

Cook spinach according to directions on package. Drain and reserve liquid. In a medium saucepan, melt butter over low heat. Add flour, stirring until blended and smooth, but not brown. Add onions and sauté 3-5 minutes or until wilted. Add evaporated milk, spinach liquor and Worcestershire sauce slowly, stirring constantly to avoid lumps. Cook mixture until smooth and thick, stirring constantly. Add seasonings and cubed cheese. Stir until melted and combine with cooked spinach. This may be served immediately or put into a casserole and topped with Italian bread crumbs. The flavor is improved if the latter is done and kept in refrigerator overnight. Bake at 350.

***Note: see Tips and Information on Velveeta Mexican Cheese

Chicken Gumbo

Gumbo is an original creation and is a staple in South Louisiana cooking. The word "gumbo" comes from the Congo "quin-gombo" which means okra which is a thickening agent. While classified as a soup it really is more like a stew in taste and texture. Additionally, gumbo is served over rice, whereas, soup is not.

There are many different types of gumbo from chicken to wild game to seafood and the recipes vary somewhat. The gumbo we make most often in our house, simply for ease, economics and availability, is Chicken Gumbo. I have to admit, my favorite is Seafood gumbo but it gets really expensive to make if you don't live in South Louisiana! Here is a basic Chicken Gumbo recipe that you can start with and add other types of meat such as sausage, venison, duck or seafood. Have fun experimenting!

3 tbl Oil
3 tbl Flour
1 pkg Boneless Chicken breasts
1 pkg boneless chicken thighs
1 med onion, chopped
4 stalks celery, chopped
1/2 bell pepper, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 can diced tomatoes
1 10 oz pkg frozen sliced okra
Tony’s, salt and pepper
Parboiled rice

In large pot, brown chicken in oil. Remove from pot when thoroughly browned on both sides. Add oil and flour and make a dark brown roux. Add onion and stir well; then add okra and blend well. Add all other vegetables except tomato and allow to cook down, cover if necessary to retain moisture. Cut up chicken into large bite size pieces. Add about 4 cups of water, tomato, and seasonings; blend well. Add chicken and stir. Cook down for about an hour adding more water if necessary. Recheck seasonings. Serve over rice.

***Note: If you will be making Giblet Gravy for the holidays, now would be the time to cook it as you need pan drippings and a little meat, not to mention that it can be frozen ahead of time. Add some extra chicken when making your gumbo then set aside some of it and all of the pan drippings from when you brown the chicken as stated above, then make your gravy while your gumbo cooks! This way, you can make the gravy ahead of time without having to do any extra work to obtain the two aforementioned ingredients.

Giblet Gravy

One Christmas, I must have been about 6 or 7, my great uncle gave me a HUGE candy cane as his present to me. Everything seems so much bigger when you are little but I swear, that thing must have been about 18 inches long and 3 inches in diameter! It was gigantic!

After Christmas dinner, one of my cousins kept teasing and tormenting me relentlessly and we started squabbling. My mother made me come inside and I was furious. My uncle took me aside and privately whispered to me that if my cousin bothered me again, I was to take that candy cane he gave me and whack my cousin with it! He wasn’t serious, but being a little kid, I took what he said seriously.

So, when my cousin started tormenting me again, I grabbed my candy cane weapon, swung it like a bat and {{{{CRACK}}}}, whacked him in the head with it! He let out a blood curdling scream. All the parents came running outside and there I was standing over him, holding my broken, shattered candy cane with a very satisfied smile on my face!

This is the Giblet gravy recipe that goes with my South Louisiana Cornbread Dressing. These are dishes that we serve at both Thanksgiving and Christmas unless we do a Cajun Christmas meal. I used to make Giblet gravy exactly the way my grandmother made it…with the actual Turkey Giblets. But after she passed away and in response to several requests, I stopped doing that and have since been using either breast or thigh meat.

Since this can be made ahead of time and frozen, I usually bake some chicken or make some Chicken Gumbo the week or two before. Then I use a little of the meat and the all of the pan drippings from it and make the gravy then, freezing it for later. Additionally, I usually double the recipe, then when it's cool, divide it in half and freeze both separately: one batch for Thanksgiving and one for Christmas!

3 tablespoons oil
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 can chicken broth
Garlic powder, Onion powder, Celery salt and Tonys, to taste
1 to 1-1/2 cups Chicken breast or thigh meat, chopped fine***
Pan drippings

Over medium-low heat, combine the oil and flour in a large saucepan and make a dark roux. Slowly stir in the chicken broth, and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the gravy is smooth and thickened. Add pan drippings and allow to thicken again.

Reduce heat to low, add seasonings and the giblets. Simmer for about 10 minutes. Recheck seasonings, adding more if necessary. This gravy can be made ahead of time and frozen or refrigerated until needed.

My grandmother's way of making it is as follows:

In a medium sauce pot, boil 1 stalk of celery and 1/2 a medium onion along with the turkey neck and giblets. Season water with salt, pepper, cayenne pepper and garlic powder. Cook until done. Discard celery and onion. Remove neck and giblets and allow to cool. Make a dark brown roux and add the pan drippings and the seasoned broth you just made (refer to recipe above for instructions). When neck and giblets are cool, remove meat from neck bone, finely chop it and the giblets. Stir that into your gravy. Recheck seasonings and serve.

***Note: I usually bake some chicken for dinner or make a pot of Gumbo the week before, separate enough chicken and the pan drippings and make my gravy at the same time. Then I freeze the gravy and later thaw it out in the refrigerator the day before I need it.

*** When I make chicken salad, I freeze my broth and use that when I make my gravy instead of using canned broth. See Gourmet Chicken Salad recipe.

***See Tips and Information for making a roux and for Tony's.

South Louisiana Cornbread Dressing

My grandparents used to own a cemetery in Louisiana. I was six and my sister was three when late one Thanksgiving afternoon, after we had all eaten, my oldest cousin snuck away to set up a prank on all of us younger cousins, 6 of us to be exact with the 4 oldest being boys (Seven with the oldest prankster). He then came inside, got us and took us up to the only above ground mausoleum in the cemetery, telling us we just "HAD" to come and see.

Once we got close, he told us the ghosts were trying to get out and were coming to get us and kill us! He had wedged a turkey thigh bone into the crack around the perimeter of the door and poured ketchup all over it to make it look like blood! When we got really close to look, he shoved us towards the door and screamed, "THEY'RE GETTING OUT" and ran down the hill and left us all there!

We were screaming and crying and trying to run away, bumping into each other and grabbing onto each other while still trying to escape (envision The Keystone Kops). All of my cousins older than myself and my sister were able to run but we, being the youngest, were so terrified and crying, we couldn't see and we stumbled around, running and falling until we made it down the hill and back home. My sister and I were traumatized about that for years to come!

Needless to say, our "old prankster" got the stick and we got the laugh! We sought revenge later in the weekend by luring him into the basement and later into the cemetery barn and scaring the bejeezus outta him both times by making ghost sounds and bumping around! Revenge is a dish best served COLD!

At any rate, my grandmother made the best cornbread dressing and it has been our family tradition to have it with Giblet gravy since long before I was born. She passed her recipes on to me and I took over some of the holiday cooking duties in my mid 20’s. Later I introduced Spinach Madeline (see recipe in another post) and that has now become our other traditional favorite dish along with Sweet Potato Casserole.

The Cornbread:
3 tablespoons bacon drippings or butter
2 large eggs
1-1/2 cups corn meal
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1-1/4 cups buttermilk

Preheat oven to 450°F. Put the bacon drippings/butter in a 9x13-inch baking dish and put it in the oven while it is preheating. It will melt while you're mixing up the batter.

Beat the eggs in a medium bowl until frothy. Add the corn meal, salt, baking soda and baking powder, and stir to combine. Add the buttermilk and stir well. Remove the hot dish from the oven. Swirl the dish to coat it with melted bacon drippings/butter then pour it into the batter and stir to combine. Pour the batter into the pan, and bake 20 to 25 minutes. The cornbread will begin to pull away from the sides of the pan. Make the cornbread a day before you intend to make your dressing. Leave it out, uncovered, overnight.

The Dressing:
1 9x13-inch pan of cornbread, crumbled
10 pieces white or whole wheat bread, heels are good (left out overnight)
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 large stalks celery, chopped
1 large onion, chopped (2-1/2 to 3 cups)
1 large green pepper, chopped
3/4 cup butter (1-1/2 sticks)
4 cups chicken broth, canned or homemade
3 large eggs, slightly beaten
2 tsp poultry seasoning
1/2 tsp rubbed sage

Preheat oven to 375°F. Crumble the cornbread and white bread into a very large baking dish or pan (This is the pan you will cook your dressing in, and you need room to stir it while it's cooking). Combine the vegetables with the bread crumbs and mix well. Melt the butter and add it and the beaten eggs, chicken broth and stir. (You may need a little more chicken broth – its better if it's too moist than too dry; the uncooked dressing should be a little on the slushy side.) Add poultry seasoning, rubbed sage, black pepper, and mix thoroughly.

Bake 15 minutes then stir dressing from the sides of the pan into the rest so that it cooks uniformly. Recheck the seasonings, adding more if necessary. Bake until browning on sides and top and center has set.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Holiday Pecan Snack

There are all kinds of pecan snacks that we make during the holiday season: from my grandmother's special recipe of sandwiching a small ball of a butter, sugar and cream cheese mixture between two pecan halves to my other grandmother's recipe of toasting pecans in butter, salt and both onion and garlic powder and all other recipes in between. However, I found something new a few years ago that I love more than other mixtures even though they are beloved childhood snacks. This one is salty and sweet at the same time while combining fruit. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have! Happy Holidays!

2 lbs Pecan halves
1 stick Butter
1 cup Brown Sugar
1 bag Dried Cranberries
1/2 container Orange Zest or 1/2 cup fresh
1 tsp Pepper
1 tsp Salt

Melt butter in microwave. Line a large cookie sheet with waxed paper. Place pecans, cranberries, orange zest, brown sugar, salt and pepper in large mixing bowl. Pour in melted butter and stir until mixed well. Taste to check seasonings adding more if necessary. Stir again. Pour mixture out onto lined cookie sheet and spread out so that pecans are all in a single layer. Use another cookie sheet if necessary. Bake at 350 until slightly toasted, about 15 minutes. Peel off cookie sheet and break everything apart. Store in a zip-lock bag.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Pot Roast

Pot Roast is a very popular dish in South Louisiana cooking. It involves the French technique of braising or pot roasting which comes from the French word “braiser”. The meat is seared at a high temperature, then finished in a covered pot with liquid, resulting in a succulent, flavorful meat and gravy. Coq au Vin is a well known French dish in which the braising technique is used.

History aside, it’s one of my favorite wintertime dishes as it fills the house with a wonderful aroma and is a hearty, warming, filling dish for a cold winter night. It’s one of those things where you sit on the couch under a heavy afghan in your warm fisherman’s sweater eating a big bowl of pot roast while watching your favorite movie or football team with your family. And then you fall asleep, warm and happy. Hmmmm.

When I was in Junior High, we lived on a corner; our side yard was very large and a long rectangular shape, completely unimpeded by shrubbery. It was the perfect place to play football and all the neighborhood boys and school friends would come play ball at my house in the fall during football season.

We would play no matter how cold it was and continue until it was so dark that we couldn't see anymore. By the time we quit and I went inside I was chilled to the bone, shivering badly and hungry as a bear. My mother usually had something cooking that was good and hot and she would hold up dinner until everyone went home and I came in. But what I loved and remembered about those meals was Pot Roast! By the time I changed clothes, she had dinner served. I would grab a bowl, go sit next to the fire and watch whatever my father had on TV and eat that wonderful incredible food. The warmth it brought would slowly spread through my cold body all the way to my finger tips and toes and leave me in a satisfied bliss.

POT ROAST (requires a large oven safe pot or roasting pan)

2 large chuck roasts
1 large onion chopped
5 stalks celery chopped
1 medium bellpepper chopped
8 large cloves garlic, minced
1 large bag baby carrots
5 large Red or 10 new potatoes, cubed (skin on)
Beef bouillion (I use Better Than Bouillion paste)

Salt, pepper and flour roasts, then brown both sides in oil. When browned, remove from pot. Add onion, celery, bellpepper and garlic and sauté, scraping the residue and drippings from the bottom of the pot. When vegetables are sauted well, push them to one side (or remove them entirely) and place roasts in bottom of pot. Place vegetables around the roasts; add potatoes and carrots and mix them with the sauted vegetables. In a large container, add 4 cups water and 3 tablespoons of bouillion (or 6 cubes) and dissolve. Pour into pot and add enough water to cover 1” over the top of the roasts and vegetables. Season with Tony’s and stir. Cover and bake in oven at 350 degrees (or cover and slowly simmer it on the stove) until roast is fork tender. Serve over rice.


See Tips and Information on Better Than Bouillion paste.

When browning floured meat, leave it alone and don't move it for a few minutes (the residual flour around it will brown), then you can turn it. Otherwise the floured crust will come off and stick to the bottom of the pot and burn.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Fleur De Lis Round The World Pizza

I've travelled all over the country and Canada for business. As a result, I've eaten pizza at all kinds of different locale's including Chicago and NYC, however, the best pizza I've ever had is Fleur de Lis in my home town of Baton Rouge. Fleur De Lis was an existing cocktail lounge out of the city limits on a gravel road, back in 1946, when Mama & Papa Guercio bought it. Mama Guercio decided to make a small pizza as an appetizer for the lounge customers and her pizza was enjoyed so much that she begin to sell them. She originally made the pizza in small pie pans she brought from home. When she realized they needed a larger size, she used a rectangular cookie sheet and the "square" pizza Fleur De Lis is famous for was born.

If you haven't been to Baton Rouge and have the opportunity or if you live there and haven't had a pizza from Fleur De Lis, you need to go! However, if you don't live there anymore and are missing some Fleur De Lis pizza, you are going to love me! I've figured out the Round The World recipe!!! Yep, I finally did it. I don't live in Louisiana and haven't for years so I can't get home to get my fix anymore. I've been craving it therefore, through trial and error, I finally came up with the recipe. It still needs a little tweaking here and there but you would be hard pressed to tell the difference. At any rate this is still a darn good pizza recipe!

Fleur De Lis - Round The World Pizza

Smallest pkg lean ground meat (I prefer lean ground chuck)
1 pkg Mild Italian sausage, removed from casing
1 sm yellow Onion, halved then sliced thin
1-1/2 tsp Fennel
1-1/2 tsp Italian seasoning
1 sm can sliced Black olives, drained
1 sm can sliced Mushrooms, drained
1 sm can Tomato paste
4 tbl Olive oil
Garlic to taste (fresh minced or powdered)
½ tsp Salt
½ tsp pepper
1 tsp Tony’s
Canadian Bacon (if large round slices, cut into quarters)
3 pkgs sliced Provolone (shredded is better but I couldn’t find it)
3 pizza crusts (I used Boboli store bought or you can prepare your own)
Ground Romano cheese optional

In medium to large skillet, brown ground meat and Italian sausage (removed from casing). As the meat is cooking keep breaking it up so, when it is done, it is ground and not lumpy. Add onion, mushrooms, fennel, Italian seasoning, garlic, olives, tomato paste, olive oil, salt, pepper, Tony's and saute until everything is browned and cooked thoroughly. Taste and adjust seasonings, if necessary.

Alternately place pepperoni and salami on pizza crust and spread cooked meat mixture on top. Make sure to spread it so that it is about a half inch thick, any thicker and the crust will get soggy. Generously top with provolone cheese, one layer of sliced isn’t thick enough so I used two layers. Bake at 425 degrees until cheese is mostly browning on top.
The quantity of pizza mixture is sufficient for 3 round pizza crusts. I used Boboli but in the future, I am going to make the following Bisquick recipe and press it into a rectangular cookie sheet. A good crust makes all the difference in the world and is crucial to a good pizza. Any leftover meat mixture can be frozen for future use.

2 cups Bisquick
1/2 cup hot water
1 tablespoon olive oil

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. In medium bowl, combine baking mix, water, and olive oil and beat hard until a dough forms. Press dough into a greased pan, dipping your fingers in flour to prevent sticking. Prepare pizza as indicated above.