Sunday, December 27, 2009

New Year's Eve at Our House

Many years ago when we were young and our children were small, we began a New Year's Eve tradition of eating a fancy dinner at home.  Budget constraints, the hassle of hiring a babysitter and fighting crowds had no small part in the decision to celebrate "in."  I created a recipe that was a blend of several favorite seafood ideas that I had tried previously and called the new creation:  New Year's Eve Shrimp.

No expense was spared in selecting the freshest and finest shrimp available.  After all, we were saving by staying home.  I spent the afternoon taking off the shrimp shells, chopping onions, measuring spices, squeezing lemons, and setting the table for the night.  The mise en place technique would ensure that I could enjoy the meal with my husband.  The actual cooking time is very short.

New Year's Eve Shrimp is always  served on my best china.  The sterling silver flatware and crystal stems also make an appearance.  The candle wicks are trimmed and lighted and real (as opposed to paper) napkins and tablecloths are laid out. This year we will repeat our tradition though not with the fancy tablesetting as we are moving in a week or so and all our good stuff is packed and sitting in the POD on our front driveway.

The menu consists of a salad, the shrimp over pasta, warm rolls and pecan pie.  The white wine used as an ingredient in the Shrimp dish doubles as our accompaniment beverage.  At midnight we open a bottle of  Freixenet sparkling wine as this was in our budget when the tradition began. This year we will substitute a bottle of Colli Trevigiani Prosecco that was a Christmas gift from a dear brother and sister-in-law.  Can't wait.  I have it chilling already. 

Last year, I submitted the New Year's Eve Shrimp recipe to Louisiana Cookin' magazine.  They published it in the December 2008 edition.  The picture here is their rendition of the delicacy. Of course, I have framed the page and have proudly hung it in my kitchen.  I have also shared the recipe with my son, the gourmet cook, and he has prepared it many times for his friends in Boston .  I am sharing it here with you.  I am also including my Famous Pecan Pie Recipe.  Happy New Year to each of you!

New Year's Eve Shrimp

2 pounds fresh large shrimp, peeled and deveined
4 cloves finely minced garlic
1 bunch green onion, washed and chopped
½ cup salted butter *
2 (or more) tablespoons dry white wine
1 teaspoon dill weed
Juice of one lemon
½ teaspoon white pepper
Salt to taste
Cooked angel hair pasta (for 4)

1. Saute’, in a large skillet, garlic and green onions in melted butter until slightly tender.
2. Keep the heat on low and add shrimp and other ingredients (except the pasta.) and stir gently.
3. Cook only until the shrimp are pink and tender.
4. Serve over pasta. Makes a meal with a salad, bread and the rest of the white wine.

Dot's Famous Pecan Pie

3 eggs
1/3 cup butter, melted
½ cup sugar
1 cup Dark Karo syrup
pinch salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup pecan halves

1. Blend first six ingredients with a wire wisk.
2. Stir in pecans and pour into a 9 inch pie shell.
3. Tent the edges of the pie shell with aluminum foil to prevent it from getting too brown.
4. Bake pie in center of oven at 375 degrees for about 45 minutes or until center is set. Remove the foil      “tent” after the first 30 minutes of baking.

Christmas in the Back Yard

The Christmas Cactus plants bloomed today!  When my mom downsized her life and abode I inherited the huge plant from her former home.  As the recipient of this prized specimen I was determined to keep it alive in hopes of the promised annual blossoms.  That was five years ago.  The plant has been separated many times by my husband who has the "green thumb" of the family.  We now have eight pots of the hearty bush on our patio. 



Internet research reveals that the Christmas Cactus is not really a cactus, but a succulent requiring a dry soil, moderate temperatures and blooms in late November and early December. It got its name from the flat stems that have a slight sticker on the end of each frond.   Supposedly the species was discovered by a 19th century Frenchman who was visiting Brazil.  The scientific name is Schlumbergera bridesii.  Legend has it that since traditional Christmas trees such as spruce and fir do not grow well in tropical climates, that people began to decorate this plant at Christmas time instead of purchasing an imported tree.  This plant is a real champ.  We rarely water the pots, and each segment can be separated and stuck into the ground where it will grow and thrive into blossoms.  It's almost magical to see the progress through the year. 

Some years the plant blossoms in time for Thanksgiving, but this year it was Christmas day for the first blossoms.  The cacti have become a prized possession.  I hope to hand them down from person to person like a valued  family heirloom.

Outside in the yard is another surprise.  The Camellia Japonica (scientific name) is in full bloom.  We planted this shrubbery about 10 years ago and have watched it grow from a 12 inch tall plant into a bush about 6 feet tall.  This year we were treated to full bloom of the delicate flowers. 



Camellias are used for hedges in the South, since they are evergreen in subtropical climates.  Some bloom with the first cold snap.  This year ours waited until the week before Christmas to show their blossoms.  Camellias were named to honor George Kamel, a Jesuit missionary, who studied and propagated them in the Phillipines and southern parts of Asia.  Some people take great joy in grafting different varieties to produce unusual colors and patterns in the blossoms.  There is actually a Camellia Club in Baton Rouge where growers showcase the most beautiful ones they have grown.  As for us, we ignore ours totally and they bloom in profusion each year.  We consider them a gift that pleases and surprises us in our own backyard.  Enjoy the photos.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Julia Child Christmas

This was their first year in their new house!  Gretchen and Jeremy invited us share Christmas Eve with them, so we packed ourselves up, took the short drive to Zachary and went to Fort Hurst for the celebration. (Fort Hurst is what I call their home because when they first moved in they were the only house on the street.  When the six foot privacy fence went up, it appeared they had a fort in the wilderness, thus I christened it: Fort Hurst!)

 It was to be a Julia Child Christmas complete with the traditional Boeuf Bourguignon. Our family developed an interest in French cooking this summer. Gretchen and I read Julia and her nephew's book, My Life in France. We also read the book and saw the movie, Julie and Julia. Gretchen even purchased her own copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Gretchen was a French major in college and is now a French language teacher, so the natural progression to learn all things French. We have always loved cooking and my son is an excellent chef, but now Gretchen and I are channeling Julia by wearing our pearls when we prepare food. It's a civilized thing to do!


Son-in-law, Jeremy, was the chef and he took the cloak of responsibility seriously.  The food gathering process was intense.  Only the finest ingredients would be used.  A trek to Whole Food ensured the freshest and finest of beef, mushrooms and pearl onions.  We were in for a taste treat!  He labored over the recipe and interpreted Julia's often vague instructions to create the finest result!  Julia didn't believe in fast food and Jeremy stayed up until all hours to get it right, and it was superb!  Such care is taken with each step of the preparation. Thanks, Jeremy! 

When Julia and Paul Child had dinner parties guests often wore a paper badge of sorts keeping in theme with the occasion.  There is a famous photograph of them at Valentine's Day wearing paper hearts pinned to their lapels.  For our party we each wore a paper Christmas tree complete with a shiny ribbon.  What a festive idea!  Smiles were all around the table.  Thanks, Julia for that idea!


Our menu was rounded out with potatoes and  crusty bread.  Of course we also had some family holiday favorites of Spinach Madeleine and Christmas Salad.  Aunt Donna contributed   Blueberry topped Cheesecake and Lemon Meringue Pie which added to the decadence of the feast.  The lemons for the pie came from the tree in Donna and David's back yard.  How special is that?  Gretchen also served her Gingerbread Men and Frosted Sugar Cookies...another labor of love.

After a couple of cups of coffee, we moved on to the presents.  When the children were small, their PopPop often teased them with a story of a fictitious Mary to whom he had given all their presents.  Of course, he was teasing, but our little ones, Greg included, believed that Mary was there and had indeed taken the gifts.  To this day, we tease that Mary will make an appearance to claim her gifts.

Granny and PopPop are sorely missed at this time of year.  Christmas was their favorite time of year and they were so lavish with their gift giving that they often made Santa look like a grinch.  We continue the tradition of sharing gifts with each other.  We have one grandparent left, my mom.  She made the trip to Zachary with us and we were blessed to have her with us for this very special evening.  Even though we are small in number, the gift to person ratio is large.  The sheer pleasure of watching someone you love opening a package that was selected with love is heartwarming.  Each gift symbolizes family love and dedication.  We are lucky to have both.  We missed Greg this year, but are hoping for a wonderful celebration with him in January. 

I am including the Spinach Madeleine recipe that is a Baton Rouge favorite. The original recipe called for Kraft jalapeno cheese (you know the kind that comes in roll) but this cheese is no longer available.  There was actually a consumer revolt in Baton Rouge when this product was discontinued.  But being Southerners, we adapted with some other flavors.  I'll also provide you with the Christmas Salad recipe.  A sorority sister of mine shared this recipe and you will enjoy it since the dressing can be made ahead and kept until serving time. The sugar combined with the balsamic vinegar gives it a kick!   I believe that Julia would approve!

Spinach Madeleine

2 (10 oz) packages frozen chopped spinach
4 T. butter
2 T. flour
2 T. chopped onions
1/2 cup evaporated milk
1/2 cup reserved spinach liquor
½ tsp black pepper
1/2  t. celery salt
1/2  t. garlic salt
6 ounces Velveeta cheese or Kraft Garlic cheese, cut into ¼-inch cubes
Chopped jalapeno peppers (2 T or so)
1 T. Worcestershire sauce

1. Cook spinach according to directions on package. Drain well and reserve 1/2 cup of the liquid.
2. 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.
3. Add evaporated milk, spinach liquor and Worcestershire sauce slowly, stirring constantly to avoid lumps. Cook mixture until smooth and thick, stirring constantly.
4. Add seasonings , jalapenos and cubed cheese. Stir until melted and combine with cooked spinach.
5. This may be served immediately or put into a casserole and topped with buttered bread crumbs. The flavor is improved if the latter is done and kept in refrigerator overnight. Reheat in oven on moderate temperature.

Cindy's Christmas Salad

Dressing:
1/4 cup good quality Balsamic vinegar
2 T. minced garlic
3 T. sugar
1/2 cup olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Combine all and whisk together. 

Salad:  Romaine lettuce, Spinach leaves, rings of purple onion, dried cranberies, walnuts, chopped Granny Smith apple, crumbled feta cheese.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Grand Dame of the Great River Road


My friend, Sandra,  invited Candy, Beverly and me to join her for a day at Oak Alley Plantation in Vacherie, Louisiana.  It has rained for 6 days, but today we were blessed to have a beautiful, cold, crisp day for our outing.  Sandra's van was filled with chattering ladies for the 30 minute drive necessary to reach the other side of the Mississippi and River Road. We continued to talk and laugh the way women do when out for a day of fun, until we reached our destination. As we approached and saw the beautiful grounds framing the old house we became speechless. It was a beautiful site and we had to stop and take in the grandeur we were about to explore.


Oak Alley is a magnificent example of the antebellum Greek Revial architecture made famous in the South.  The name comes from the 1/4 mile long corrider of majestic live oaks that shade the front lawn.  The oaks are thought to be about 300 years old.  The house was constructed in 1837 by the creole Roman family from New Orleans.   It's about 30 miles from Baton Rouge and about the same distance from New Orleans.
 
In 1850 it is said that two thirds of the nation's millionaires lived in the plantation homes along the Mississippi.  Cotton and sugar were the main crops grown with the aid of slave labor.  It was truly a time of grandeur if you were not a slave.  Much has been written and said about the effects of slavery in our country, but the tour guide at Oak Alley insists that the slaves were well treated there. (I am not sure if that is accurate since slavery was not moral!) .  There were hundreds of plantations dotting both sides of the river.  Only a few remain, most having been taken by fire, neglect or demolition during and since the Civil War. 

Oak Alley came into disrepair after the Civil War when the family became unable to keep it running as a productive sugar plantation.  Creditors sold the building and all the contents at auction.  Only one piece of furniture was salvaged because it was being used by a relative at the time of the auction.  That piece, an intricately carved cradle, has since been returned to the site. 

Several families eventually lived there and in 1925 Oak Alley was purchased by the Andrew Stewart Family. They installed electricity and bathrooms and  family members lived in it until 1972 when the 93 year old Josephine Stewart died there.  In her will, Josephine  created the Oak Alley Foundation to ensure that the 25 acre site would be cared for and visited by generations of tourists.  Mrs. Stewart's great nephew is the head of the foundation that runs the business today.  The home has been furnished with replicas of furniture that may have been part of the original decor.  Some of the original cypress and marble remain.  Photography is not allowed inside the home, but there are some excellent photos of the interior at the official web site: http://www.oakalleyplantation.com/

There is a restaurant on the grounds and we sampled the gumbo, potato salad and some delicious Pecan Praline Coffee.  There were two types of gumbo.  The one I had was made with shrimp, smothered okra and tomatoes in a light roux.  The others had the chicken and andouille sausage variety.  Both were delicious.  Since it is a Creole tradition to eat a side of mayonnaise potato salad with gumbo, we tried that as well.  It was a very traditional rendition and pretty good!  The pecan praline coffee was a cappuccino topped with whipped cream and was a superb dessert.  There were also po-boys and fried seafood on the menu.  Fried alligator could be ordered, but that is not a traditional food for plantation life, so we passed on that. 

We also spent a good bit of time in the gift shop.  There we found a nice collection of antique glassware including Fenton, Carnival glass, and vintage china serving pieces.  Some estate and vintage jewelry as well as modern pieces, graced the  sales counter in the center of the store.  Pecan pralines and mint syrup (for making mint juleps) are culinary delights they have for sale. (had to have some of each!  Yum!)

You can also purchase a fly-catcher of the type that was used on plantation dinner tables to attract insects and prevent them from biting the diners!  You must remember that in antebellum times there were no air conditioners and no screens on the windows, so flies and other insects came in at will.  A "courting candlestick" is also a unique item that can be purchased in the gift shop. This piece was a twisted piece of metal that wrapped around a candle.  When the candle burned to the level of the first twist, it was time for a courting lad to leave!  A good selection of books about the South and regional cook books rounded out the offerings.

Oak Alley has been featured in many movies and television shows.  I can still remember that Hope and Beau from "Days of Our Lives" soap opera were married there.  The movie, Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte was filmed there.  If you don't remember that one, it's worth renting. Bette Davis, Olivia de Havilland and Joseph Cotten star and it will scare the daylights out of you!  More recently, Interview with a Vampire and Beyoncé's "Déjà Vu" Music Video were filmed there.  My favorite, of the films made there, is The Long Hot Summer with Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward.  It's classic Paul Newman.  (Weekday Rambler swoons)

Today Oak Alley was decorated in period style for Christmas.  The abundance of cedar garlands and cinnamon scented candles made it feel like the holidays.  Our tour guide was well versed and gave us an enormous amount of information on the house, its inhabitants and the history of the time.  We found out that she was also from Baton Rouge and had gone to the same high school as Sandra, Candy and Beverly.  I have stated in an earlier post that our world is very small and this just proves it!  Who would have thought of all the tour guides, that we would get one who was an alum of Redemptorist High School in Baton Rouge!!

As we returned to Baton Rouge after our lovely day, I couldn't help but be very thankful that I was invited to share the experience with friends.  I felt so blessed to be included.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Fresina's Will Bring Italy to You


I went to Fresina's Italian Specialties  today for some Christmas gifts.  I always have those on my list for whom gifting is a near impossible task.  You know the type.  They either have everything and/or buy everything they want for themselves ,or you don't know them well enough to buy something for them.  We all have those people in our lives.  So, I went to Fresinas. 

Fresina's  is locally owned by Frank and Linda Fresina.  Frank is a direct descendant of the original Sicilian owners and Linda graduated from high school with me.  (Baton Rouge is a very, very small place!) The family has been making pasta since 1926 with its beginning in New Orleans as the Fresina Macaroni Manufacturing Company. Chef John Folse, a widely known celebrity chef and author has featured Frank's mother on his  cooking shows produced by Louisiana Public Broadcasting for national distribution. Mama Fresina, as she is known, still participates in the pasta making and her homemade lasagna is renowned.  Fresina's has also been featured in Paula Deen's Taste of the South magazine.  There is a five page spread on the store, the Fresinas and some of their wonderful recipes.  Recently they had a visit from a food writer of the New York Times who is interested in including them in her new book about food from around the 50 states. 

The shop specialty is homemade pasta. Boxes of it cover one entire wall. The pasta comes in all shapes and is made in the traditional way with no preservatives, no additives and no artificial coloring.  When I saw the purple and gold rotini (for Mardi Gras and LSU Tiger Fans) I questioned the color statement, but after investigation found they use dehydrated beet powder for the beautiful purple hue. Frank is quoted as saying: "It's simply the finest pasta made on earth. You have my name on it."  You can watch a video of the pasta making process on their web site http://www.fresinas.com/  The web site mentions that the public can come and observe the process.  I would like to do that.

They also have signature sauces that  have been made with recipes passed down by several generations of cooking experts.  There's Levigato (smooth), Pezzo (chunky), Pepato (spicy) and Sano (heart healthy).  Another Signature  sauce is called Pasta Dressing.  It's a cross between Alfredo and Salad Dressing and can be served hot or cold.  It can stand alone on pasta or used in dips or as a salad dressing.  Yum!

To please those seeking an authentic Italian shopping experience, they stock numerous imported items. Of note are the fresh cheeses they have in the shop.  Someone came in to get Parmesan while I was there and it was to die for!  Not too many places in Baton Rouge have the real thing, so I was very impressed.
The balsamic vinegar I purchased for someone on my list is aged 7 years and the Fresinas are the exclusive distributors in Louisiana. "Casa Rinaldi BalsamicVinegar infused with Wild Forest Berries" was taste tested and Linda even gave me a recipe for its use. I am sure that my recipient will appreciate the uniqueness of the gift!   I was also able to find Baci chocolates for my daughter who fell in love with this candy when she went to Italy.  I had to have the Panettone that I tried on my own trip to the boot shaped country. I discovered last year that left over Panettone makes the best bread pudding.


Foods are not the only products sold in the shop.  They also have a cookbook with Mama Fresina's secrets and olive oil based soaps and skin care products.  In fact, this blog would be too long if I tried to mention all the products they carry.  You can shop online and see everything for yourself or get in your car and drive over for a pleasant interlude in a busy day.  Linda and Frank will make you feel like you are part of the family!  They are willing to ship your purchases and also to help you carry your shopping bags to your car.  Now that's personal service in the highest form!

The Fresinas have a long range plan to open a reception/party/educational center in the outskirts of town just off I-10.  They want to bring Italy to our fair city with traditional celebrations and cooking demonstrations.   The convention and visitors center has shown some interest and it may happen soon.  I think it's a wonderful idea. 

I noted that each customer is encouraged to visit Fresina's web site to shop and  to check out Fresina's Mountain Cabin Rentals.  Frank and Linda  own two cabins near Chattanooga, Tennessee and the web site pics make them seem very appealing.  Frank told me that they give special rates to their customers.  I hope to be included in that category. 

As I was leaving after purchasing several gift items and a few things for myself, I felt that I had not only supported a local business, but had been transported to another place and time.  A slice of Italy right in my own backyard!  Gustare!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Gray Days and Comfort Foods

I have no idea why, but when it's nasty outside, I go into the kitchen and cook.  Must be something about the warmth of food on the stove that appeals to my inner soul.  Physcially, the house is warmer and smells better when something is simmering.  The feeling of satisfaction that comes from knowing that supper will be there when we are ready for it is also appealing.  Nothing worse than having to trek out in bad weather to a restaurant  for sustenance.  And then there's that sodium thing.  Older folks such as we, need to watch our sodium levels.  When you don't cook it yourself, you just never know that salt content.  It's a control thing.
Yesterday and today I have busied myself with creating some menu items that can be eaten in a bowl and savored all day through the process of getting them ready to eat. 


Another reason that I love this type of food preparation is that I can go to my pantry and find ingredients that can be mixed and matched into one-pot dinners.  I normally have canned tomatoes, chicken broth,  onions and garlic.  In the freezer there is usually some kind of meat or seafood and large poly bags of cut up onions , bell peppers and vegetables.  Garlic is also a staple...fresh or minced from a jar.   That's pretty typical for a kitchen in south Louisiana.

Yesterday it was Chili. I have a couple of good recipes for chili, but rarely are they followed.  Chili is that kind of dish that can be different each time.  I normally use beef, but have prepared it with chicken, too.  We prefer beef: ground or sliced. I found the history of chili posted at http://www.socastee.com/.  According to the site Chili was first prepared by the poorest of people.  It was a way to stretch the meat purchased for the family.  The spicy chilis were used to add flavor to the broth and to encourage eating less.  I suppose some are put off by the "hot" flavor.  Now that I have thought about it both are good arguments for using meat in a chili pot.  At our house we do not follow this logic since we use lots of spice and consume large bowls topped with sour cream, chopped green onions and grated cheddar cheese.  It's a delicacy for us.

Today, there is Shrimp and Corn soup on my stove.  Again, I went to the pantry and opened the freezer.  I feel sorry for those who do not have a way to store large amounts of ingredients.  I have always been blessed with being able to do this.  Semi-monthly trips to Sam's are part of my husband's routine even though I am cooking for only two people.  It's cliche, but true, that old habits die hard. He often purchases some surprise items. (The scallops he brought home last time were excellent!) In retirement, I should be buying less and cooking less, but when I cook...I like to cooks lots of stuff.  Sometimes my leftovers end up lost in the back of the freezer and freezer burnt beyond recognition.  That's a problem that I "fixed" by labeling and dating the Tupperware as it is filled with my gourmet leftovers.  Things still get freezer burnt, but at least we know what they are or better yet, were.  So there! 

I have digressed....back to the Shrimp and Corn Soup.This recipe is also a melding of flavors that can only happen in a large dutch oven over a period of several hours.  Canned shrimp can be used if fresh or frozen is not available, but be sure to drain and rinse them before adding to your mixture.  If you are lucky enough to have fresh shrimp, you could boil the shells to prepare a seafood stock to substitute for the chicken broth.  But...that's a lot of trouble!  If you search the internet, you will find many variations of Shrimp and Corn Soup and I have tried many of them.  It can be cream or tomato based, but both versions start with butter and flour.  I am including my own tomato based rendition of this Southern Classic.

By the way,  grease up your iron skillet and make a pan of hot corn bread to go with the Chili and the Shrimp and Corn Soup.  Nothing better on a cold, gray day.  I am sharing my recipes with you below. I am also including my recipe for corn bread.  It's a staple at our house.  When I was a child, my mom made corn bread every day, so naturally I am really fond of this humble quick bread.   Generally follow the recipes, but add your own variations. Except for the corn bread, the amounts are approximations. Careful measuring is not necessary for the Chili nor the soup. To quote my husband:  "I wonder what the poor people are eating tonight."

Chili by Dot
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 pound beef (ground or bite size pieces of top round)
2 cups chopped onion, bell pepper mixture (fresh or frozen)
4 cloves minced garlic
1 (16 oz,) can diced tomatoes (no salt added)
1 (10 oz) can condensed tomato soup
1 Tablespoon sugar
1 Tablespoon white vinegar
2 Tablespoons chili powder (or to taste)
2 to 3 cups water (or beef broth)
dash of Kitchen Bouquet browning liquid
Salt, pepper and hot sauce to taste

1.  Brown the beef in hot oil in a dutch oven on top of the stove. If you have used a low fat beef, then no need to drain fat away.
2.  Stir in the onion, bell pepper, and garlic.  Saute until tender.
3.  Add tomatoes, soup, sugar, white vinegar, chili powder and water.
4.  Simmer uncovered for a couple of hours.  Add water as needed.  Stir occasionally to prevent sticking.
5.  Before serving, stir in the Kitchen Bouquet.  This can be omitted, but gives a rich color to the finished product. 
6.  Season to taste.

Garnish individual servings with dollops of sour cream, chopped green onions and grated cheddar cheese.
Freezes well, but be sure to label the container!

Shrimp and Corn Soup
1/2 stick butter
3 Tablespoons flour
2 cups chopped onions, bell peppers
minced garlic to taste
3 or 4 cups chicken broth (I use Swanson's low sodium)
1 (16 oz.) can stewed tomatoes
1 pound peeled shrimp (cut if large size is used)
1 pound frozen yellow corn kernels (if using canned, drain first)
Salt, white pepper, cajun seasonings to taste (I use Tony Chachere's)
Green onions, chopped

1. Melt the butter in a large dutch oven on top of the stove and stir in the flour.  Stir and cook until a very light roux is formed. 
2. Add and saute the vegetables in the roux.  Vegetables should be translucent.
3. Add tomatoes and broth, stirring well to incorporate the roux.  Simmer mixture for a couple of hours, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking.
4. Use an immersion blender to puree the mixture.  (If you don't have this blender, then skip this step.  Your soup will be chunkier and that's fine.)
5.  Add shrimp and corn about 20 minutes before serving.  (these should not be overcooked)
6.  Garnish individual servings with chopped green onions.

Dot's Corn Bread
1/2 cup cornmeal (yellow preferred)
3/4 cup all purpose flour
2 Tablespoons sugar (optional.  It's more "savory" if this is left out)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup milk ( I use skim)
1 egg
2 Tablespoon vegetable oil (or melted butter, or bacon grease, etc.)

1.  Pour a small amount of oil in a 7" or 8" cast iron skillet.  Place the skillet in the oven while it is preheating to 400 degrees F. 
2.  Meanwhile, combine dry ingredients in a mixing bowl.
3.  Combine the liquid ingredients and pour these into the dry ingredients. 
4.  When the oven is ready, remove the skillet and pour the corn bread mixture into the hot skillet.  It should sizzle and this helps make a crispy crust on the finished product.
5.  Bake for 15 to 20 minutes until brown.  Turn the corn bread out on a plate when you take it out of the oven.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Red Stick at the Strands Cafe

One bite of the Red Stick sweet treat and it was heaven! I read about Strands Café newest signature confection when reading the latest issue of  225 Baton Rouge magazine. Rachael Upton wrote a short review that aroused my curiosity and my taste buds.  My friend and I made the trek to the downtown location for a quick lunch and to try it for ourselves.

Strands Café is the entrepreneurial success of cousins Linelle Mon, who grew up in Baton Rouge, and Lilita Blanchard who hails from Honolulu. Both studied at Le Cordon Bleu Australia in Sydney. They chose Baton Rouge as the place they wanted to set up shop and our city is lucky to have them. Their pastries, coffees and candies are fabulous!

All the food, according to Linelle, is made from scratch. They are closed on Mondays to make chocolates. They bake their pastries daily.  Everything is very fresh and the display case was filled with tempting treats.  The aroma from the kitchen made my mouth water. This is no ordinary café. They even grind their own gourmet coffees.

It was lunch time, so we ordered the quiche made with goat cheese. It was light and well seasoned with a tender pastry crust. It was accompanied by fresh fruit. We also had some hot tea. The tea service included sugar, honey and cream. After enjoying the quiche and the tea it was time for the main purpose of the visit: Chocolate. It did not disappoint.


The Red Stick is part of the Louisiana Collection of hand crafted chocolates offered by Linelle and Lilita. They describe it as a “tribute to our beloved city.” Each stick is a milk chocolate shell painted with red cocoa butter and filled with a pocket of dark chocolate ganache, a pocket of Madagascar butterscotch and a pocket of white chocolate ganache. The creators say it represents unity within the city of Baton Rouge aka The Red Stick. It was certainly a taste treat and was pretty to look at as well.


I asked for a full listing of the chocolate menu items and they graciously sent all the information to me so I could share with you.

Rounding out the Louisiana Collection are Acadie (café au lait filled milk chocolate created in honor of the beauty and bravery of the Acadian people) and the Crescent City (Milk chocolate pecan praline with a dark chocolate crescent as an elegant representation of our sister city. But it doesn’t stop there.

There is also the Tesoro Heart that is basically a butterscotch filled milk chocolate heart. The Pomegranate Heart is pomegranate caramel topped with green tea milk chocolate ganache inside a chocolate shell. Tiger Eye features honey butter caramel inside chocolate with purple and gold decorations. (It has to be a tribute to the LSU Tigers whose colors are purple and gold!)


There are other tempting flavors on the menu such as Siam, Tierra Caliente and Emerald City. Next time I am going to try the Figaro. This one is a dried Grecian fig filled with marzipan and dipped in dark chocolate.
Linelle told me that they use cinnamon, chili, lemongrass, tea, peppermint, vanilla and other unique flavors when preparing the chocolates. No wonder the place smells so good.

Strands Café is located at 226 Laurel Street in downtown Baton Rouge, Louisiana. You can park on the street if you are lucky enough to get a metered space, and there is a pay lot close by. It’s worth feeding a meter and staying a while to enjoy the ambience and delicious pastries, chocolates, coffee and tea. I was told that special orders must be placed at least a week in advance. I have encouraged them to offer shipping so my out of town blog readers can have some sent to their homes. If you do happen to visit Baton Rouge, you have to try Strands Café.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Snow, Louisiana Style


The weather forecaster mentioned the possibility of snow. The mention of the “s” word was met with much skepticism since the current temperature was 65 degrees F and there were no clouds in the sky. It was a sunny, cool, crisp morning. The daily news emails also mentioned the possibility, but no one took it seriously. The morning of the so called “snow day” the city parish government postponed the lighting of Christmas lights in the downtown area. Businesses closed early to get folks off the road. The sky began to blacken and low and behold, it began to rain.

I had decided to spend the afternoon shopping at the mall. Not unlike the Post Office, the snow would not dampen or thwart my plans. Those forecasters, in my opinion were way off base. Boy, was I wrong!

Exhausted from an afternoon of shopping, I left the mall loaded down with packages and unaware of the emergency situation caused by the possibility of bad weather. I was in denial.  I still didn’t believe the forecast. Baton Rouge did have one day of snow last year in December, but that was viewed as a phenomenon that would not repeat. For those of you who are not from the South, I must point out that snow brings on panic in otherwise normal, calm Southerners. There are traffic snarls and parents pick their kids up early from school. Everyone is on the road at the same time. Grocery stores become populated by those who are afraid that the bad weather will knock out power and are stocking up on food that doesn’t need cooking. We are survivors of hurricanes and we know what to do! We get our junk food and hunker down for the worst. Then once home in the safety of our own dwellings, we wait.

The six o’clock news was still forecasting snow…not one flake had been spotted. The temperature had dropped to freezing and it was really nasty outside. I kept going in and out of the house to assess the situation. You may think this is bizarre behavior since most would try to stay in and keep warm, but I didn’t want to miss any of the small beautiful flakes that were promised. My FB friends were writing on their status updates that it was snowing at their houses. I was jealous.

Finally at 9:30 pm, as from the den we were watching our patio, we saw the miraculous frozen precipitation. It snowed for about an hour. Of course we were out taking snapshots to capture the moment. I don’t know if I was trying to prove that it really happened or to make a memory. Both, I suppose.

The photo of the fountain is mine and the others are  by Jeanne Webre Lamy, who has a talent for such. Thanks, Jeanne, for getting these great shots of our once a year snow and for allowing me to post them!

Monday, December 7, 2009

A Bright Idea


     We had this bright idea of selling our house and moving ourselves and our dog, Dexter, to Tennessee to live on the banks of Lake Tellico. The retirement community we visited was so appealing and since we have lived in the same city for virtually all of our lives, we thought it was about time for a change. To the shock and dismay of our relatives and friends we nailed up a For Sale sign and began to plan. That was two years ago.
     Time dragged on and I got sick of straightening the house and making the bed every day for fear that we would have the anxiously awaited “showing.” Actually we got pretty efficient at getting ready for the quick exit to allow buyers to peruse our dwelling. I was always in charge of bathroom pick up, dusting and bed making. My husband took over the heavy duties of vacuuming, trash collection and hosing the screened porch. He also became quite accomplished at making the countertop granite shine. Even though the house has lots of storage we became adept at stashing stuff out of sight. To date the house has “eaten” one pair of evening shoes, a sterling silver ring, some books, the dog door cover and a few critical pieces of mail. Hopefully when we are packing to move, these things will surface. I can’t imagine what happened to the shoes!!! Who could lose their fancy evening shoes???

     To add to our misery (yes, it is miserable to try to sell a house) it was a pain to try to travel while juggling our schedules and making sure the house was ready to show even in our absence. I have called in many favors by asking folks to watch our dog, Dexter, and keep the mail collected. Luckily I have close relatives who have dog sat for us. They have graciously stepped in to help us. Gotta love your family and friends! There were also the unending questions from well wishing friends who wanted to know if we had sold our house. It was disheartening to say, “no, not yet.” The “yet” indicated we retained some hope. They always smiled, but were probably thinking we were foolish to keep trying after so long.

     It was also excruciating to hear the feedback from prospective buyers. We thought our house was lovely and had been told so, but the comments were brutal. Some examples are: The kitchen is too small, we don’t like the flooring, the den is too large, the den is too small, the bedrooms are too large, the bedrooms are too small, the yard has too much vegetation, the yard needs more flowers, etc, etc. My favorite feedback statement was: “House is great and we love it, but it would take too much to make it our own.” We were told not to take any of the criticism personally but it was difficult to hear the negatives. Not very much positive feedback was conveyed. The entire process has a way of making you dislike your own abode!
     The big dream of moving out of state turned into one of hoping to buy a vacation home on Lake Tellico when the economy recovers. We are now considering downsizing within our area and moving close to family members. The two year journey of trying to relocate made us aware of the value of keeping with your roots. We have one child in Boston aka "the frozen north" and one in Zachary, Louisiana. While the idea of living in a big northern city is intriguing, the reality of retirees such as we making such a drastic change is not very practical, so… we are considering a move to a small nearby community of Zachary near our daughter and her husband.
     Over the past two years we had three realtors, one failed FSBO, four price reductions, over 100 showings, three offers and one almost offer. Every time the phone rang I was hoping that we had the offer that would get us out of this house. Just when we least expected it, we got the call. Finally, we had a sale!

     The phone rang early Saturday morning. Our realtor, Linda Gaspard (www.lindagaspard.com) woke us up with the good news that we indeed had a sale and that we would finally end our seller’s journey. At first the feeling was one of disbelief and even cynicism that it was true, but it finally sank in that we had SOLD OUR HOUSE. Can’t wait to see that SOLD sign in our yard!
    Now another journey begins…packing up 15 years of memories and belongings and moving 25 miles away to a brand new home and closer to contentment. We are ready for the challenge. Audubon Lakes, here we come!

Friday, December 4, 2009

The Northshore Visit


     The area we visited this time is called "The Northshore" because of the
proximity to  Lake Pontchartrain and New Orleans.  The Weekday Rambler and her husband ventured to Covington, Louisiana and the Blue Willow Bed and Breakfast. On this one we made a reservation a week in advance via the internet and some telephone calls. We discovered the Blue Willow (http://www.bluewillowbandb.com/)  by perusing its rather extensive website and it proved to be as charming and inviting as the internet pictures had shown.
     We arrived on a Tuesday. The Blue Willow is located in old downtown Covington one block south of the main drag of Business 190 a.k.a. E. Boston Street. Nearby are other “be & bees,” quaint shops, art galleries, and restaurants.
     The gardens and ambience of the historic district of downtown Covington give it the feel of times past. Maureen and Tom Chambless are the proprietors of the Blue Willow and their personal touches were evident in the design and décor. It was apparent that much hard work and love went into creating this special place.
     We were assigned to the Orleans suite and upon entering were greeted with soft and romantic Rod Stewart music playing on a CD player. Our lodging included a king sized four poster bed, a kitchenette, a sitting area, a porch balcony and a bathroom complete with a whirlpool tub and separate shower.
     Upon getting settled, one thing that stood out was the fact that the entire suite was well lit. Ceiling fans and wall sconces added to the charm of the spaces. There was enough lighting in the bathroom so that you could actually see your face when getting dressed in the morning! (Ladies will appreciate that!)

     The remote control fireplace was a surprise and added to the romance of the sitting area. Above the fireplace were shutters that when opened revealed a television/DVD. There was even a selection of old movies to watch if one so desired. Who wouldn’t enjoy Hepburn/Grant in “Charades” again!
     The Chamblesses thought of lots of extras to make us feel welcome. Maureen is an accomplished baker and the coffee cakes and muffins were delicious. We think they were supposed to be eaten for breakfast, but we made some coffee, sat on the porch and enjoyed pound cake and croissants in the afternoon. In addition there was fresh fruit, juices, milk, cereal, coffee, chocolate and popcorn. There is no reason to go hungry at the Blue Willow. There was a small placard that warned that “diets are for home” and that guests should enjoy the food that was placed there.

    As mentioned, within walking distance of the Blue Willow are numerous shops and restaurants. Some of the restaurants have been opened within the last couple of years by chefs who made their reputations in preKatrina New Orleans. Being able to walk to a restaurant is a treat, since parking is not an issue. Grocery/spirits shopping is nearby for dine-in supplies or a late afternoon chardonnay enjoyed on the porch back at the Blue Willow.


     At sunset we strolled to Del Porto Ristorante (northern Italian cuisine) for dinner.  Del Porto has been named by NOLA as one of the top ten restaurants in the New Orleans/North Shore area of Louisiana.  The food was divine and the service was top rate!  Covington shopping ranges from boutiques, antiques and art galleries. The “old tyme” hardware store, guns and knives and wood carving shops are appealing to the guys. People watching is fun with the mixture of friendly locals and transplanted “Y’ats.” 

     Since Covington is only a few miles from Mandeville, Madisonville and Abita Springs we spent one afternoon exploring these as well.  We enjoyed A Broken Egg in Mandeville for breakfast.  Lunch was in Madisonville on the banks of the Tchefuncte (che-funk-cha) River at  Friends Coastal Restaurant (http://www.friendscoastal.com/) The menu boasts fresh seafood and we tried the Shrimp Ceviche.  It was the best rendition of this dish that I have ever tasted.  The presentation in a large martini glass was impressive because the colors of the ingredients could show through.  Abita Springs is the home of the beer that is famous for its flavored varieties using Louisiana ingredients. A well known brand is Purple Haze.  Mandeville is a very old town (dates to 1834) that was once a steamboat port for travel across Lake Pontchartrain  to New Orleans. Each of these destinations has its own unique history and selections of good food, scenery, boating and fishing and golf courses...but that’s another story.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

My Three Best Travel Secrets

I was surprised that I was tagged in this travel meme going around the internet.  I felt I had arrived (pardon the pun) when Shannon Lane (http://www.shannonlane.com/ ) mentioned Weekday Rambler blog on her website.  The challenge:  Share your three best travel secrets. 

My first secret is not a place.  It's a tip for you to search local publications that list attractions or special events in your area.  Many times there are short trips worth taking that involve little planning and expense.  Sometimes they involve a museum exhibit, a new restaurant, or simply an interesting historic area.  Be open to new ideas.  A vacation doesn't have to take several days or involve an airline.  Keep your eyes and ears open for opportunities near, rather than far


If your travels do find you in a new city, seek out locally owned restaurants to sample the cuisine of the area.  Avoid chains at all costs.  An example would be this:  When traveling I-49 north in Louisiana there is a little town named, Lecompte.(pronounced lacount)  The exit sign boasts a BK and Lea's Lunchroom.  The smart traveler will select Lea's and order their famous ham sandwich and some homemade pie.  My favorite is Coconut Cream. You can even order whole pies to go. Now, you can't get that at BK!  Lea's was established in 1928 and has been visited by folks from all over the world.  Each year Lecompte hosts a Pie Festival.  Of course, Lea's pies are featured. Find out more at http://www.leaslunchroom.com/  and remember to eat local.  That's my second travel secret.

My third secret is Hymel's Seafood Restaurant on Highway 44 near Convent, Louisiana.  Baton Rouge folks have been going there for many years just for the boiled and fried seafoods.  If you are looking for fancy, this is not the place.  I think they used to sell gas for your car there in addition to serving food.  The restaurant's ambience will not impress you.  They put newspaper down on the tables instead of tablecloths.

The best time of the year to go to Hymel's in when crabs are in season. Yes...there is a season for some tyypes of seafood and spring and summer are the best times for Louisiana crabs.  Warning:  Don't order boiled crabs if you are trying impress someone on a first date.  This is serious messy eating.  You will get a tool to crack the crabs and some butter for dipping the meat, but no silverware.  You will get a roll of paper towels and I advise using one as a bib.  Be sure to wear some washable clothing as the juice goes everywhere.  Hymel's does not have a website, but they are in the phone book.  If you get near Convent while following the Mississippi River southward, ask and anyone can tell you where to find Hymel's. 

There you have it:  My Three Best Travel Secrets.  Did you notice that two of the three have to do with eating??? I would love for you to share your travel secrets in the comment section below.

Now I am tagging Citrus Quark to share his travel secrets  http://citrusquark.blogspot.com/