Friday, April 23, 2010

It's Like Christmas Everyday!

Yesterday we decided to go to town and have some lunch at a favorite spot, Parrain's, on Perkins Road.  There was nothing special about yesterday except that it was Earth Day and folks were celebrating around the world and finding a way to make the earth greener.

 I had spent much of the morning reading some online news sites and vacillating between pessimism and optimism for the fate of our planet.  I have spent a lot of time recently recycling my stuff as we moved into new surroundings, so I feel that I have participated in earth friendly activities.  I have found new uses for old things and refurbished some old items to make them more efficient.  We have discussed buying a greener refrigerator, but what can one do with an old one that doesn't involve putting a perfectly good appliance in the dump?  I am sure there are some ways to recycle old refrigerators and maybe when I have an extra one thousand dollars to buy a new one, I will investigate those recycling methods.  For now, it makes sense to save the earth by not acquiring more stuff for which to be responsible.  I have also taken to bringing my own sacks with me when shopping.  I have just about trained the checkers at the grocery to use them instead of using so many plastic bags.  It's also frugal in these times to use what you have.

It seemed fitting to celebrate our own little piece of the earth, by repotting some plants that amazingly survived our recent move and the extremely cold winter.  My husband has the greener thumb between us, so I was "helping" by sitting on the swing and "supervising" him.  He is too nice to complain when that happens.  At lunch time we decided to rambler over to Parrain's to get some lunch.

The weather was beautiful so we chose to sit on the patio.  We had brought our dog, Dexter,  along and  we were able to see him in the truck from the outdoor seating area.  Parrain's is right under an exit of I-10, so there was some shade for him.  He seems to prefer patiently waiting in the car instead of waiting at home by himself when we go somewhere.  We figured this out when we noticed the gifts he leaves us when we leave him at home.

Parrain's is owned by the same folks that own The Chimes Restaurant in Baton Rouge.  They pride themselves in serving only Gulf Coast seafood.  They also serve chicken and beef, but most go there for the seafood. My favorite thing about Parrain's is that each weekday two lunch specials are offered Both include a salad and bread and you can eat lunch there for around $10. They lunch crowd is huge and working folks can expect to eat and pay the check in under an hour.  When I worked at Louisiana Public Broadcasting, I spent many lunch hours there.

We ordered a salad and a poboy for our celebratory meal.  Earth Day is a special occasion after all.  John had a Caesar Salad topped with the biggest fried oysters I have seen in a while.  Oysters are tricky, and there is an adage that one should eat them only in months of the year that have an "r" in them.  If you consider the spelling of the months of the year you will see that the ones without an "r" have hot weather.  The thinking is that oysters spoil easily in hot weather.  With modern refrigeration, this is probably not necessary, but old habits are hard to break.  April oysters are fine!

The breading on Parrain's oysters is thick enough to satisfy the crunch, but not so spicy as to hide the taste of the seafood.  The servings are huge as can be seen from the photo I managed to sneak before John dug in.  I had a hankering for a sandwich, so ordered an off-the-menu item: Grilled Catfish Poboy.  I knew it would be grilled to perfection and extremely fresh tasting and I was not disappointed.  I ordered it "fully dressed" so it arrived with real mayonnaise, catsup, lettuce, tomatoes, and pickle.  The bread was excellent.  Crusty on the outside and soft on the inside. You can order your poboy with fries, salad, or coleslaw with peanuts stirred in.  I chose the decadent fries.  A glass of chardonnay was the perfect accompaniment.  Other menu favorites of ours are the Grilled Fresh Fish of the Day which is sometimes lemon fish.  It's prepared with an herb butter sauce and served with broccoli.  How healthy is that?  We also adore the Ahi Tuna atop a salad of romaine with the house dressing.  The house dressing is something to brag about.  It's a hot pepper jelly vinaigrette and I have in the past purchased a pint to take home. (www.parrains.com)

As we were enjoying our meal, we noted that there were several groups of retired people who were also enjoying the patio.  It was a rather late lunch and I think sitting on the patio of an April afternoon is a perfectly lovely way to enjoy living.  Later in the day, while pondering how good life is, I commented that I was a very lucky and happy person in retirement.  My husband commented:  "It's like Christmas everyday!" Indeed.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Easter Cooking Frenzy

The end of Lent is marked by an Easter feast at our house.  This was our first holiday in our new house, so I wanted to do it up right.  The food gathering and preparation took the better part of Holy Week.  It started with the gift of a flat of Louisiana strawberries.   The berries came from Liuzza Farms in nearby Hammond, Louisiana.  All during the year one can purchase Californian and Mexican berries, but the Louisiana ones are only found in the spring. Having 12 pints at my disposal at one time launched the cooking frenzy that followed. We ate the ruby colored gems in salads, shortcakes and pies. The berries were ripe and sweet and made me feel that spring was here at last.

Gretchen and I spent the better part of another day preparing 8 dozen meat pies.  Last year we took a  class from Kay Ewing's Everyday Gourmet Cooking School, and developed the skills we needed to prepare the pies with a flaky homemade pastry. The food processor makes the pastry preparation a snap. Kay has a collection of cookbooks and this recipe can be found in one of them.  http://www.kayewing.com/ is her website and information on her classes and books are located there.  We prepared a double batch and froze them before cooking.  We then placed them in ziploc bags and can now take out as many (or few) as we need for appetizers or main dish.  Kay also has a recipe for a salsa to accompany the meat pies, but we used jarred salsa that we had in the pantry.  We served some for our Easter Feast on Sunday. I must confess that I have been heating up a couple each morning this week for breakfast.  The beef and sausage filling is irrestible and the pastry has a teaspoon of sugar in the dough, so it has a tantalizing and addictive flavor.  The salty/sweet combination keeps you going back for more.  I can't post the recipe here so you have to take a class from Kay or purchase her cookbook for the secret.  I recommend both.

The highlight of our Sunday meal was a Honeybaked Ham.  This is a special delicacy for us and even these can be purchased all year round, I normally wait for holidays to fetch one from the store.  On past visits to get my holiday ham, I have noticed that many people had coupons of some sort when checking out.  This time I did my homework and printed a coupon from an internet download, so that I could get that discount, too!  Nothing better than enjoying Honeybaked Ham at a discount! 

Aunt Donna contributed "Aunt Dot's Coleslaw" to our feast.  I wish I were the Aunt Dot in the recipe, but it's not me.  Aunt Dot was not really Uncle David's aunt, but a neighbor of his real aunt.  It's a complicated story, but boy could she make a great coleslaw!  Donna has shared this recipe and it is posted here. 

An Easter meal would not be complete without Ambrosia Salad and Green Beans and New Potatoes.  The salad is a mixture of coconut, toasted pecans, maraschino cherries, mandarin oranges, pineapple chunks, bananas, fresh sliced Bosch pear, apple, strawberries and a cup of sour cream.  Once my mother in law made a similar salad for a holiday meal, but it spilled on the floor of her car when she was transporting it to our house.  We called it "Floorboard Salad" and didn't mind picking out the strands of carpet as we ate it! My version for this meal didn't contain any carpet and had not been spilled, but we still call it "Floorboard Salad" in honor of the jovial, yet careless cook that Granny was.  The green beans and potatoes were so fresh and beautiful that I took a picture of them before cooking.  I couldn't help thinking springtime as I prepared them for the pot.  I prepared them with a little chopped onion, bacon pieces, tablespoon of butter and chicken broth.  They were all eaten, so they must have been tasty to everyone at the table. 

The strawberries made another appearance at dessert.  I made a pie with fresh berries in a gelatin coating in a baked pie shell.  The topping was whipped cream from a can.  By the time I got to the dessert, I was too tired and too full to whip cream, so I cheated with the canned stuff.  No one seemed to mind. 

After lunch we went for a walk around the neighborhood.  This made us feel that we were walking off some of the calories, but our pace was slow and we had to keep up with three dogs who accompanied us on our ramble.  The Children's Miracle Mansion is located on the next street, so we wanted to take a look at the progress of the project.  There will be open houses for the Mansion during the month of May and you can buy a ticket for a chance to win it.  Tickets are $100 each and they proceeds benefit Our Lady of the Lake Children's Hospital in Baton Rouge.  We are proud that this is happening in our subdivision.  Pictures of the mansion and ticket information is found at http://www.ololfoundation.org/.  If you get to Zachary to tour the mansion, be sure to stop by.  We live around the block and would love to see you. 

Aunt Dot's Cole Slaw

1. Shred 1 large firm head of cabbage or use three bags of prepared slaw mix. In a large flat bowl, make two layers of shredded cabbage, thinly sliced red and green bell peppers and onions.
2. Sprinkle 1 cup of sugar over top of the layered vegetables.
3. Mix and bring to boil 1 tsp. mustard seed, 1 tsp. celery seed 1 cup regular wesson vegetable oil and 1 cup white vinegar.
4. Cool a little but while still hot, pour over top of layered slaw and sugar. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

Fresh Strawberry Pie
 
Two baked pie crusts.  (I use Pillsbury Refrigerated pie crusts)
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 cup sugar
2 cups water
1 four serving size package strawberry gelatin
1 quart strawberries, sliced or whole with stems removed
 
1. Prepare the pie crusts. Make them appear homemade by crimping the edges before baking. (no one will suspect that these are not homemade!)
2. In a medium saucepan, combine the cornstarch and sugar.  Add the water and cook, stirring constantly,  over medium heat until the mixture becomes thick and almost transparent.  This takes less than 10 minutes. Remove from heat, stir in the gelatin and cool slightly.
3. Arrange berries in the prepared crusts and pour gelatin mixture over them. 
4. Refrigerate the pies.  The gelatin will become firm.  Serve with whipped cream. 
 
The lunch had a nostalgic note since I used the ceramic eggs made by Granny many years ago.  I also pulled out the ceramic bunnies she had made for each grandchild.   I arranged them for a low profile centerpiece. I also want to share with you the beautiful bouquet of roses which graced our dining room.  I found the roses at Sam's and felt they were a real bargain.  Arranging them in my container was easy. They were lovely and smelled so good.  I hope that you and yours had a blessed Easter. 
 

Easter Week Lafayette Road Trip

Last week I went with Donna and Gretchen on a road trip.They are both teachers, so they have vacation for the Easter holiday. I was a teacher once-upon-a-time and I remember how I loved those school vacations. We wanted to take full advantage of the time so we headed to Lafayette and The Village of River Ranch. River Ranch is a traditional neighborhood development and is a mixture of residential and retail blended with recreational areas accented with beautiful landscaping. It’s a town within the town of Lafayette located in the middle of Acadiana. The area has huge mansions, “regular” homes, garden homes, condominiums and apartments. There are also restaurants and shops all within walking distance of each other. There is a huge “City Club” that is for the use of the residents. The City Club offers a fitness center, a spa, and recreation for the kids, too.

The weather was beautiful on the day of our visit and people were swimming, biking, and otherwise walking around. Cars are allowed on the streets, but most of these were parked and people were on foot. Such a refreshing idea! TND’s are becoming more popular and Baton Rouge has a couple, but none quite so developed and successful as River Ranch. I took pictures of a couple of the Mansion size houses under construction and was amazed at the opulence. The garden homes were most appealing to me. They were two story New Orleans style with lush landscaping in the small green areas in front. The town square was the focal point of all the residential areas and was large enough for mingling and celebrating. I have an idea that they celebrate the holidays in style in River Ranch. http://www.riverranchdevelopment.com/

We chose to have lunch outside of River Ranch at Chris PoBoys. Upon entering we saw that it is obviously patronized by many of the Lafayette locals. We did not have to wait for a table because we were early, but as we left the restaurant was close to full. Chris is not a fancy place, but there is table service and the waitress was friendly and patient as we could not decide what we wanted to eat. Everything looked good. We must have been hungry because we ordered too much food. Donna had been there before and she recommended the gumbo and potato salad which we all tried. The gumbo had a medium roux base and was chocked full of shrimp, oysters and crabmeat. It was well seasoned without being spicy hot. In my opinion, a restaurant that tries to be “Cajun” by loading up on the cayenne pepper is not a very good way to represent the cuisine. Chris did not do this. The flavor of the seafood stood on its own in the roux. Perfect Gumbo!! The potato salad was creamy and contained celery, pickle relish and yellow mustard along with obligatory mayonnaise dressing. Yum! The potato salad and gumbo combination is a Cajun staple. Some people like to spoon the salad right into the full bowl of gumbo and eat them together. I prefer mine separate, but the texture and flavors are great together.

Between the three of us we also sampled a couple of Poboys. Ham with Swiss and turkey did not disappoint. The meats and cheeses were tasty, but it was the bread that was the star of the sandwiches. It had a crispy crust, but a soft inside. Pure Poboy heaven can be found at Chris. If I had been on my own, I wouldn’t have selected Chris for our lady lunch, because of its unpretentious fa├žade and casual nature, but Donna’s past experience there allowed us to partake of this delightful spot! There are three locations in Lafayette, but we went to the one on West Pinhook.  I will go back there as it was inexpensive and authentic. http://www.chrispoboys.com/ is the website.  Your mouth will water when you view the online menu posted there. 

After our lunch we walked next door to Poupart’s Bakery. Poupart has been baking bread in Lafayette since 1967 and touts that it is the only authentic French bakery in Acadiana. We were very impressed by the cases of pastries, cakes and pies. I almost tripped over something in the parking lot. I looked down to find a wad of money on the pavement. I looked around and saw no one who could have dropped it, so decided to keep it. It was enough for us each to have a treat from the pastry cases and a loaf of basil bread to take home. I felt guilty that I was enjoying the sweets with someone else’s money, but also fortunate for the windfall. We could have eaten lunch at Pouparts. We found out that they offer a plate lunch daily. The menus are posted on their website. http://www.poupartsbakery.com/ has many snapshots of the bakery specialties.  Again, prepare for some serious mouthwatering viewing if you visit their website.

There were some older gentlemen sitting in the bakery enjoying a coffee and they were having a conversation in French. They were probably saying: “Look at those women stuffing themselves with sugar!"  We sampled strawberry Napoleons, Cannolis, and an Easter Mouse! The “mouse” was actually a gooey pastry shaped in an oval. It was filled with nougat and iced in a pastel color. It had sugar decorations that made it look like a little mouse. I got the feeling that this treat was unique to Pouparts. Talk about sugar overload!

The shopping took second chair to the eating of the day, but we did manage a little retail therapy before heading home. It was a perfect day spent with some of my favorite folks. As we drove home over the Atchafalaya Spillway we discussed our next trip. Look for a report of that trip in a future story.