In my recipes, I frequently list an ingredient called Tony's. Tony Chachere's Creole Seasoning (pron: sash-er-ee) is the full name of the product and it is found in most all Louisiana kitchens. It is a mixture of commonly used seasonings in the cajun kitchen: salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, celery salt, etc.
I've lived all over the country and spent extensive time in Canada and have always been able to find Tony's in every grocery store I went to, particularly after Hurricane Katrina, when so many people from South Louisiana were dispersed throughout the nation. If you can't find it, you can ask your grocer to stock it or you can order directly from the website www.tonychachere.com. Tony's website has lots of wonderful products that you might enjoy. I particularly like the Crawfish Stuffed Chickens! Enjoy exploring Tony's website, the products and read about his history...he was a very interesting man!
CRAWFISH TAIL MEAT
If you don't live in Louisiana or have access to Louisiana Crawfish Tail Meat, Walmart carries a frozen product from China usually labeled Boudreaux's Crawfish Tail Meat. While I advocate purchasing Louisiana crawfish, I understand that it is not available in other areas of the country, hence the Chinese crawfish. Since I no longer live in Louisiana myself, that's what I'm going to be purchasing from my local Walmart. Please note that my recipes call for pounds of tail meat and the Chinese packaging is usually only 12 oz versus 1 lb, so you need to check the weight and buy accordingly. It's ok to have a little more or a little less. Additionally, shrimp may be substituted for crawfish in all of my recipes, so cook away!!!
Zatarain's is another seasoning that I use particularly for boiled seafood, whether its crawfish, crab or more often, shrimp. Which product I use depends on the quantity of the food I am boiling. If it's just a few pounds of shrimp, I solely use the liquid crab boil. However, if it's a larger quantity of anything, seafood or vegetables or a combination, I use a bag of the dry boil combined (if necessary) with some liquid boil and other seasonings. Like Tony's, Zatarain's also has other food products that are wonderful. Their dry mix products, such as Jambalaya, Dirty Rice and Red Beans and Rice are quick and easy ways to get a good cajun meal on the table and are the best around. The history of Zatarain's is also very interesting. Check out their website at www.zatarains.com!
FIRST YOU MAKE A ROUX.....
A roux (pron: Roo )is the foundation for most cajun cooking such as sauces, gravies, gumbo's, and stews. It is an equal mixture of oil and flour that provides a base and thickener. The quantities vary by recipe and if you want your recipe to be thicker or thinner. The standard norm is:
1/3 cup oil
1/3 cup flour
Add oil and flour to pot or pan and blend well. Over medium high heat, stir constantly until dark brown being careful not to burn. I cannot emphasize it enough when I say stir constantly. If it is starting to stick or thickening too fast, lower the heat a little. The roux will smoke and smell like it's burning but it's not, you want it very dark. It is burned when it is sticking to the bottom and dark pieces appear. If this happens, discard and start over. When your roux is ready, add your onion first and blend very well, then add your other vegetable ingredients. If you are making a gravy, lower the heat considerably and slowly add room tempurature broth, stirring constantly. If you add any liquid that is cold, the roux will separate.
Here are examples of the darkening process from beginning to end:
8" CHEF'S KNIFE
Out of frustration, I simplified my life and freed up a lot of space in my kitchen by getting rid of nearly all of my counter-top appliances. In doing so, I purchased a heavy weight, good handed Henckel's 8" Chef's Knife and the hand-held counter top sharpener to go with it. While expensive, this was the best kitchen purchase I ever made.
I swear, I use this knife for everything. In doing so, I paid for it many times over by selling my appliances on Ebay!!! Goodbye, Cuisinart! I am a happy little camper! I can slice, dice, chop, mince, julianne and darn near puree with this thing...remember the GuinSue commercials?
I was more than ready to make that transition and I know that most people would never give up their gadgets. However, having a good quality, heavy handed 8" Chef's knife is essential to being good and efficient in the kitchen...trust me. Forget the knife set, just get a good chef's knife.
THE CAJUN OR HOLY TRINITY
In South Louisiana cooking we have something called The Cajun or Holy Trinity or The Trinity, for short. By that, we mean: Onion, Celery and Green Bellpepper. These chopped ingredients are included in about 95% of our recipes and we are always, always chopping these same vegetables over and over again.
Once, when I spent a long weekend on a houseboat on Lake Verret in Louisiana, an old Cajun woman taught me a very efficient and valuable lesson about dealing with The Trinity. She taught me to buy in quantity, each of the three vegetables, and spend time chopping them all in one sitting. For example purchase:
4 very large onions (I prefer sweet onions)
4 bunches of green onions...yes they are onions & part of The Trinity
3 large full bunches of celery
3 large full green bellpeppers
Then put on some great music, pour a glass of wine, start chopping, relax and zone out! Chop all the sweet onion, place it in a gallon size ziplock bag and squeeze the air out before sealing it closed. Then chop the celery and do the same. Move on to the bellpepper and then the green onion. These last two should each fit in their own quart size ziplock bag.
Lay all the bags on their sides on the counter and flatten each bag out as much as possible so that they are not big round balls of veggies, then lay them on their sides flat in the freezer. By doing this, they freeze somewhat thin and flat and are easily broken up so that you can measure out the quantity you need without unthawing anything. WHA-LA! You've got vegetables at the ready and you don't have to chop all each and every time you cook a dish! Replinish when your supplies run low...that way you can plan this activity ahead of time instead of it catching you unprepared. :-)
HOW TO PEEL A TOMATO
You hear everywhere that plunging tomatoes in a bath of boiling water then cooling them in ice water is the best way to peel a tomato. WRONG! Hot water makes them mushy, ice water dilutes the flavor and it's just more unnecessary work and clean up all just to peel a silly little tomato. A properly ripe tomato shouldn't need extra help; it's skin should come off easily when pulled by the blade of a knife, however, that's not always the case. This is what I've learned:
Using a paring knife, without breaking the skin, firmly scrape the BACK (dull part) of the knife blade all over the tomato (turn the knife over; ie sharp edge facing away from you and use the thicker part of the blade pulling that edge towards you). I work in a methodical pattern so that I don't miss a spot: I go around the top circling the core until I get to the even smooth flesh, then from the outer "band" I created, I scrape the back of the blade down the sides to the bottom, overlapping my strokes. This bruises the tomato which breaks the membrane separating the skin from the meat. You'll see the slight change in color as the flesh bruises.
Core the tomato. Then using the sharp edge of the paring knife, slip the blade under the skin at the edges where the core was, grab the skin with your thumb and the blade and gently pull the skin down. It should peel very easily. This whole process only takes a minute! No extra mess, no extra work, no hassle!
Manda's Sausage, I believe, is the best and this is the sausage I use in my recipes. In addition to sausage, Manda's produces all kinds of fine quality cajun meats that can be found in the deli section of your grocer. I have found Manda's meats in other areas of the country but not very often. You can ask your grocer to stock it or you can buy it online at http://www.mandafinemeats.com/. One of their meats that I particularly like is their cajun roast beef! I make a fabulous sandwich with it, havarti cheese, Hellman's mayo and Grey Poupon mustard (with the brown husks) on whole wheat. Heat it for 15 seconds in the microwave, remove, take a bite and your eyes will roll back in your head!!!!
HOW TO OPEN A BOTTLE OF WINE WITHOUT A CORKSCREW
How many times have you needed to open a bottle of wine but didn't have a corkscrew because you either forgot it or it broke? Well, here is your solution! You don't need to know French to understand this video! Tres' Bien!
FREEZING IN ZIP-LOCK BAGS
Frequently, I've mentioned in my recipes and here in Tips and Information, that you can freeze something in a zip-lock bag, just squeeze the air out, seal it closed and flatten it out as much possible. These are the reasons behind that instruction:
1. Air, over time, causes the contents to become freezer burned. By removing the air from the bag before sealing it closed, you are retaining the moisture necessary to keep the food from drying out therefore, it remains fresh thus preserving it. The food, then, can remain frozen indefinately this way without becoming freezer burned.
2. Flattening out the contents of the bag as much as possible enables it to thaw out faster than a big round ball of stuff. With vegetables, it's easier to break them up to remove the quantity you need without thawing out the entire bag.
3. Additionally, the bag lays flat in your freezer thus helping with organization and space efficiency!
Note: Raw meat is much more susceptible to freezer burn. Therefore, when freezing any kind of meat ALWAYS wrap it tightly in plastic wrap, then you can either wrap it again in foil or put it in a ziplock bag and squeeze the air out. The plastic wrap adheres itself to the meat and keeps ALL air off of it, thus ensuring against freezer burn.
BETTER THAN BOUILLON
I've been asked by several people about the cookware I use. My grandmother and her siblings owned a department store that my great-grandfather founded in the 1920's. In addition to being an owner and corporate secretary, she was responsible for the gift and housewares department and would go all around the nation and Europe on buying trips. Descoware, from Belgium (pictured above), was the premier cookware we sold at the store.
I inherited many great pieces of Descoware from her and have filled in missing/needed items with Le Creuset. The color I have is Flame which is represented in the above picture but I also had a Le Creuset set in Dark Blue. These are the pots and pans you see in the pictures on the blog. They are enameled cast iron and are wonderful! I won't use anything else except a non-stick pan every now and then.
You can find Descoware on Ebay. Le Creuset can be found in department stores, kitchen stores, on the internet and also on Ebay.
KRAFT MEXICAN VELVEETA CHEESE