Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Perfect Steak

For many years (42 this week) I have tried to prepare the perfect steak in my kitchen.  This year I got serious about it and decided to experiment with seasonings, cooking times and methods.  The following procedure is the result of my quest. Vegetarians beware!  This recipe is not for you. 

The Perfect Steak

First, go to a butcher you trust.  For me it's Ralph's in Baton Rouge or LeBlanc's Food Store since we moved to Zachary.  Ask to have beef filets cut to your specifications.  I always ask for a 6 oz. filet mignon that is 1 1/4 inch thick for each person.  Don't accept the ones sitting on the meat counter.  Ask for center cuts that are  similar in size and shape. Most butchers are happy to do this for you.  They like people who know a good cut!  Filet mignon is expensive, but so delicious! We don't eat it very often, so what they heck?  It's definitely a special occasion meal.

Method: 
The steak is seared on the stovetop and finished in the oven. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees before beginning. 

Sprinkle coarse black pepper and coarse sea salt in a flat dish.  Coat each side of the meat by pressing it into the salt and pepper mixture. 

Meanwhile, heat about 2 Tablespoons vegetable oil (Canola preferred) in a large cast iron skillet.  A 10 inch pan is best for two steaks.  You don't want to "crowd" the meat or it won't brown well. Use a medium high heat.  That's important.  Too low heat will not provide a browned exterior and too high heat will cause the cooking oil to disintegrate and smoke.  If cooking on an electric stove, start the heat on medium high and turn it down to medium during the last few minutes.  Gas stoves are easier to control, in my opinion. 

Next, sear the steaks in the preheated oil on the stovetop for precisely 6 minutes on each side.  Use your kitchen timer for this step. They will be browned and have a peppery crust.

After searing each side, place the skillet with the steaks still in it into the oven.  Set the kitchen timer at 5 minutes for a rare steak.  Six minutes is required for a pink center.  Seven or more minutes are required for a well done piece of meat. 

When the skillet is removed from the oven, allow the steaks to "rest" for about 3 or 4 minutes.  During the resting time, you can butter your baked potato and squeeze some lemon juice and butter on your steamed broccoli. 

Enjoy the high life of a perfectly cooked filet mignon!

Paradise Found at Victorian Inn

A recent “Weekday Rambling” found John and me in Lafitte, Louisiana which is a small fishing village about thirty minutes south of the New Orleans French Quarter. We chose the Victoria Inn and Restaurant for our stay.


The area is rich in folk stories and history. The town was named for the famed Robin Hood style pirate Jean Lafitte and his band of cronies who roamed and settled the area in the early 1800’s. It borders the Jean Lafitte National Park (http://www.nps.gov/) and  Bayou Segnette State Park(www.crt.state.la.us/parks/ibyusegne.aspx). “Water, water everywhere” is certainly the area theme. 
The Victoria Inn’s owners originally built it as a residence, but decided to expand to a bed and breakfast and restaurant when they recognized the site was such a favored destination for vacationers (especially fishermen). The West Indies style  building and beautifully landscaped grounds stand in juxtaposition to the “working” village of Lafitte. At the rear of the property is a gorgeous view of The Pen (lake) from the Victoria Inn pier. A unique attraction is the swimming pool in the pier. We chose this spot for a late afternoon beverage.  We also learned that guests can arrive via seaplane to the pier.  This option would be good for tourists with a sense of adventure.  Lafitte is a remote place and driving to it is tedious. 

A surprise highlight is certainly dinner at the Victoria Inn Restaurant. Chef Matt Regan cooks for a relatively small number of people each night (reservations recommended) and the atmosphere could best be described as casual and leisurely. There are unique culinary creations that will certainly please. Fresh seafood is available in abundance, and we recommend the Creole Bouillabaise and Bacon Wrapped Shrimp. The chef also offers to clean and prepare the fisherman’s catch for dinner. He will also pack a lunch for the fishing clients.

Area attractions include the environmental visions of classic Louisiana swamps, and the state and national parks. The Barataria Preserve was actually donated to the government by a local man who wanted to protect the area from the encroachment of civilization. Boat and hiking tours and fishing charters are available. If you decide to explore with your boat, be sure to check the weather and set your GPS. Boating and fishing options are endless! Another tip: watch out for the Intracoastal Waterway barge traffic. Upon encountering a huge barge while puttering around the bayou, we were forced to turn around for a very fast retreat!

For those who didn’t catch any, or those who didn’t even “wet a line”, be sure to bring an ice chest. The fresh “catch of the day” is available at a number of locations for a reasonable price.

If you don’t have to rise early for fishing, and don’t care to sit up in bed watching old VHS movies on the tube, late night entertainment is available after a short ride to the New Orleans French Quarter. One night we chose dinner at the Palace Café on Canal. It is a relatively new Brennan property located in the old Werleins Music Building. There are a lot of the original contents in the building and great food, beverage, and service.  http://www.palacecafe.com/ is the link for this fabulous restaurant. 

Victoria Inn’s breakfast offers options based on the client. Early rising fishermen are offered cereals, breads, and fruits, and the late morning guests are offered a hot breakfast from 8 to 10 a.m. The gusting winds and cool temperatures gave us a good excuse to sleep in and choose the later option.

The cool weather during our stay seemed to increase our appetites and we found a great lunch at Seafood Maison on Highway 45 directly across from the town’s high school. The suggested po-boy was the Crab Dressing and it was excellent. A Grilled Shrimp salad was a success as well. The portions were so generous, we decided to split. No problem there. The waitress was so pleasant and willing to accommodate us. Fresh was the word that described the menu options. With all the shrimp and fishing boats we saw that is easy to believe! If you are looking for a quiet and restful spot away from the busy city try Lafitte and the Victoria Inn.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Lobster Thermidor and Valentine Cocktails

Valentine Day turned out to be dreary in terms of the weather. Since moving out of the hubub of the city, we are less likely to drive in on rainy days.  We luckily,  however, were invited to Gretchen and Jeremy's house to enjoy Lobster Thermidor.  What a nice treat!  Gretchen and Jeremy are cooking through Julia Child's recipes and we were wondering if they could top the Christmas  Boeuf Bourguignon. They did, indeed! 

Lobster Thermidor was created in 1894 by Marie's, a Paris restaurant near the theatre Comédie Française, to honour the opening of the play Thermidor by Victorien Sardou, according to Wikipedia.  The play had to do with the overthrow of Robespierre and the end of the Reign of Terror.  The recipe was a huge success, but the play was a flop, if Wikipedia can be believed.  There are many variations of the dish, but key are chopped lobster meat, cheeses, cream, egg yolks, dry mustard and sherry or cognac. The dry mustard and alcohol give it the distinctive taste, so if you are preparing it and don't have all the ingredients on hand, you must be sure to have those two. 

 Julia Child made the recipe famous and it became one of her signature creations.  It can be found in Mastering the Art of French Cooking and also on the internet using a simple Google search.  In Baton Rouge, the key is to find lobster.  On Valentine Day this can be a real challenge, but Jeremy was not to be stifled.  Whole Foods was the source this time. His were precooked so that eliminated a step, but he did steam them for seven minutes with the suggested stock in Julia's instructions.  The trek for the seafood was very much appreciated as Lobster Thermidor is a labor of love fit for Valentine Day!   A substitution of crawfish will not do for this delicacy!

I am not going to give you this recipe, but instead direct you to this site:  http://www.oprah.com/food/Lobster-Thermidor where you can find all the details.  It seems that Oprah has many of Julia Child's recipes on her site including notes and tips of preparation.  Very impressive!  Lobster Thermidor is so rich that a simple salad and bread are all that are needed to round out the meal.

Before dinner, we decided to enjoy a variation of Cosmopolitans.  A pink cocktail seemed the perfect aperatif.  John concocted this delightful martini-like drink for us.  The technique and the ingredients are what make it a hit.  Be sure to chill the glasses, first by filling them with icy water.  A warm martini is no good!

John's Valentine Aperatif  (Makes 2 generous cocktails)

2 jiggers Grey Goose vodka
1/2 jigger Triple Sec
Juice of a  fresh lime
1 jigger of cranberry juice

Combine all in a cocktail shaker.  Shake vigorously and pour into chilled , glasses.  Can be garnished with a sliver of lime.

Jeremy and John treated Gretchen and me to one fine Valentine Dinner.  Thanks, guys!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Middle School Mardi Gras

My daughter, Gretchen, is a French teacher in a middle school.  Her 6th grade students celebrate Mardi Gras with a fete to mark the day.  Of course it is not the actual day, since that is a school holiday in Louisiana, but the last day before the four day weekend common in the state.  For those of you who don't know, Mardi Gras is a very big deal down here in the deep south.  Mardi Gras has been celebrated in New Orleans since the late 1600's, and Louisiana does it best, in my opinion. The French Settlers along the Mississippi River were the first revelers.
Mardi Gras is actually a religious holiday, but it has melded into one big party for many people.  The season begins on the Epiphany (January 6th-12th Night) each year and culminates on Fat Tuesday.  The rich French heritage in Louisiana lends to the authenticity of having a Mardi Gras fete in a middle school classroom.
The lesson plan went like this:  Each student completed a "Bellringer" exercise as the class assembled and settled into their desks.  They were asked in writing and in French:  What is the meaning of Mardi Gras?
What is the French phrase meaning King Cake?  What is a doubloon?  As an observer, I was impressed that the students could answer each of these inquiries.  I learned that Mardi Gras means "fat Tuesday" before the beginning of Lent.  Gateau de Roi is French for King Cake.  A doubloon is a coin often thrown from a parade float to those standing on the streets as the parade rolls by.  The doubloon is imprinted with the name of the Krewe hosting the parade.  It was impressive that Gretchen doesn't have to write on the chalkboard in this classroom.  The exercise was written on her computer and projected to a Promethean Board.  Very fancy new technology, I think!
The major activity of the day was for each student to craft his/her own Mask for Carnival.  A mask is part of the tradition because when wearing a mask a person can be anonymous and completely carefree.  Students were given patterns, markers, crayons, glue, craft sticks and feathers to work their artistic magic.  My role was to be the "hot glue" person.  I was able to converse with each child as he/she brought his mask for glue.  I found them charming and a pleasure to get to know.  To lend to the party atmosphere while the masks were constructed, there was Mardi Music playing in the background.
There was also King Cake that had been prepared by the school cafeteria.  Miss Gail had outdone herself with these.  They were fresh from the oven and huge.  Everyone had as much as they liked.  The cakes were cinnamon filled yeast bread topped with enormous amounts of colored frostings of gold, green and purple.  What's not to like?  Students were also treated to colorful beads which they were allowed to wear at school all day. The middle school students were very respectful and appreciative of the activities that were planned for them.  What a fun day! 
Thanks, Gretchen, for allowing me to be part of the Middle School Mardi Gras!

Friday, February 5, 2010

My Official Welcome to Zachary

About a month ago I was having coffee with my dear friend, Sue, and we were discussing the fact that my husband and I were moving to Zachary.  I had lived in Baton Rouge for most of my life and Zachary is not that far away, but it is a million miles away in terms of us knowing our way around.  I knew only 4 people in Zachary and two of those were relatives.  My question to Sue was: "How do you get to meet people in Zachary?"  That question hung in the air for a few minutes and was then forgotten.
Sue, however, did not forget.  She got busy calling a Zachary friend of hers and arranged for us to meet over lunch.  The date and place were set.  Upon my arrival at the restaurant I was in for a huge surprise.  We lunched at the Bennett House just a little east of town and there were eighteen ladies at the table.  It seems that Sue's friend, Terry, called her friends and invited them to meet me.  Another surprise was that I knew of or had mutual acquaintances with four of those in attendance.  I was able to get some advice on many aspects of the small community which will be our home for a long time.  I found out the name of someone to make draperies, a good lunch spot, some welcoming church congregations, some bridge clubs and on and on.  I am so grateful to Sue and Terry for making me feel so welcome and included. 
The Bennett House, where we lunched, is a reception center that serves lunch daily, but specializes in wedding parties and corporate dinners.  We were welcomed with iced tea and cocktails and were served a huge salad family style as we chatted before ordering our entrees.  The food was very tasty.  I had a chicken salad croissant and a cup of their shrimp and corn bisque.  The chicken salad ingredients included chopped grapes and nuts along with the chopped chicken and mayonnaise dressing.  The soup was cream based and spicy, but not too spicy hot.  Some of the ladies ordered the Fried Green Tomatoes served with Romoulade Sauce and Grill Crawfish.  This looked wonderful and I was sorry I missed seeing it on the menu.  You could also have Poboys (catfish or shrimp) or a good old-fashioned hamburger.  All of these were well received.  The Bennett House (http://www.bennetthousela.com/) is a lovely place and I hope to get back there very soon.
A wonderful memory was made today.  I feel so at home and hope to be seeing some of my new friends very soon.  Thanks, Sue and Terry!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

If it rains...may as well cook

Another rainy day in Zachary.  We are still unpacking and organizing, but I decided to make the house smell good by cooking one of my favorite recipes.  Cooking is a stay at home activity and I am not going to be out Rambling in such weather.  I have been able to locate my favorite recipe notebook from our moving boxes, so decided to prepare a Meat Pie for supper. 
This is not an original recipe.  I adapted it from the River Road Recipes cookbook that was published by the Junior League of Baton Rouge in 1959.  There are no short cuts in this concoction, but I included a few of my own with some ingredients I had on hand.  Since the oven was on I decided to bake some Louisiana sweet potatoes.  My husband found these on his last shopping expedition to Fresh Pickins Market when he ventured into Baton Rouge last weekend.  Rounding out the menu was some steamed broccoli.  I am including my Meat Pie recipe. 

Dot's Meat Pie (from Meat Pie A La Lu)

1 1/2 pounds ground beef chuck
2 cups chopped yellow onions
1 Tablespoon minced garlic
1 large carrot, grated
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 Tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
Italian seasonings mix (to taste) 
Prepared pastry*
Bread crumbs

1. Brown the beef and drain away any excess fat.
2. Add vegetables and saute until they are tender.
3. Stir in all other ingredients and pour into prepared pie shell and top with bread crumbs.
4. Bake for about 30 minutes in a 350 degree oven.
5. Let cool 10 minutes before slicing into 6 servings. 

* I have been using Pillsbury prepared pie shells for years.  I pass these off as my own, by crimping the crust and making them appear "home made"  They can be found in the refrigerated dough section near the Crescent rolls and biscuits. 

Note:  I changed the original recipe by using frozen chopped onions and minced garlic from a large jar.  The cream of mushroom soup is not one of my "cheat" ingredients.  It was part of the original recipe submitted by Mrs. James Laroche.

This recipe can be prepared early in the day and baked just before serving.  It also freezes well before or after cooking.  Rain is predicted for tomorrow, too.  Who knows what will be going on in my kitchen!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Tea Time with Jackie

My niece, Jackie, invited me to tea.  It must be said that Jackie has always been a favorite of mine.  She is my sister's daughter and is close in age to my first born, so lots of good times were shared through the years as the children grew.  The day of the party was rainy and cold and Gretchen, Carla and I braved the weather to travel to Jackie's Denham Springs home.  It was worth the trouble of the journey.  Even though Christmas was recent history, Jackie left up her decorations for us to enjoy and these were very impressive.  The tree was trimmed in white and silver in keeping with the theme she also chose for her entire home. 

The table was exquisitely set for us.  We were in for a real treat as we poured coffee and tea for ourselves.  Our place cards were hand written and china, flatware and centerpiece were carefully selected to coordinate.

Then came the food!  Jackie had prepared so many delicious goodies that we couldn't believe our appetites.  Of course each baked treat had to be tasted.  Jackie's attention to detail made for a very pleasant setting. This was going to be a very special occasion that we would all remember.

There were bonbons, cookies dipped in chocolate, cupcakes, brownies. She also served fruit so we wouldn't be so full of sugar! She is quite an accomplished pastry chef.  Not only were the delicacies beautiful to behold, but they tasted delicious.  The peanut butter bon bons were to die for!  The brownies were cut and decorated with a snowflake design.  The chocolate flavor was intense and one bite meant heaven.  The chocolate chip cookies were of two varieties: regular and mint chocolate.  These were dipped in a chocolate ganache (as if they weren't decadent enough!). 

Cupcakes have always been a favorite of mine and we were served chocolate cupcakes decorated with vanilla frosting and yellow cupcakes decorated with chocolate ganache.  At the end of the party each of us received a paper to-go box and we were allowed to select our favorites to eat later at home.  I filled mine as full as I could!

Thank you, Jackie, for a lovely afternoon and for your continued attention and love. 





Finally Home

Our move to Zachary, Louisiana is complete.  We were happy to see the Pod leave our driveway.  Our move took us almost two years.  We began in 2007 with an idea to downsize and possibly move out of state.  Three realtors and four price reductions later we sold our house and  bought a lovely new house that suits our needs perfectly.  Audubon Lakes is now our home.

The process of moving is exhausting.  We had movers and lots of helpers, but there was still a lot of hauling of boxes, unpacking boxes, moving furniture to the best spots and in some cases changing our minds and moving the furniture again.  I discovered many muscles that I forgot that I had.  My back and legs have not yet recovered.  My poor husband and son-in-law also suffered from aches and pains. 
This probably sounds like a miserable experience, but the outcome is wonderful.  We are in a lovely subdivision in a sleepy small town and live near one of our children and her husband.  Nice to have good neighbors!  Look forward to more posts as I get settled in and have time to travel and experience more of what life has to offer.  The future is bright!