Thursday, February 23, 2012

All on Mardi Gras Day

Mardi Gras, Mardi Gras. my feelings for you can be so complex. After many under my belt, I have grown more comfortable with our relationship. Years ago, my first Mardi Gras was spent behind a chain link fence at Lee Circle with a bunch of drunk tourists. My leather jacket got stolen right off my arm. Let's just say I was underwhelmed.

It's interesting how my experience is different every year, even my attitude. Some years, I am all about the Mardi Gras. other years, it's nice to get a few extra days off and relax at home while the masses clamor for cheap beads. This year, I just did the major parades, for me anyway. Next year, I might bump Muses and go see the new all-girl krewe on Wednesday night, Nyx.

-Krewe de Vieux, I like the satire but some of the raunchy stuff this year just wasn't really funny or clever. I blame myself for standing at the uninspired corner of Elysian Fields and Royal.

-Muses. Hmm, Teresa Anderson singing in a giant floating goose was pretty cool and I always like to see the all-girl marching groups. But I think this one has gotten less amusing as well, and they're getting stingy with the throws.

-Endymion. Slightly soggy but fun anyway, we just walked over in our rain boots and hung out on our old corner. Throws were plentiful and it wasn't too crowded.

-Zulu. I actually don't care about parades, although that may not seem self-evident from what I've already written in this post. I should say, I don't care about the floats so much or the throws but I LOVE the marching bands; sadly,they always seem to take a break wherever I catch them. It's my curse. So I didn't really care to catch Zulu on Mardi Gras day, that day, for me, is reserved for walking around the Quarter/Marigny and taking in all the incredible costumes. But we ended up there anyway, we went to watch the parade on N. Robertson and Basin, in the Treme. We stood just feet away from Kermit Ruffins, who kept playing riffs on his trumpet to catch the attention of the people on the floats. Cheap trick. After the parade, we bought some gumbo and yaka mein from a woman on her front porch. Ben's gumbo kicks her ass but the yaka mein broth was stupendous. Then we walked home down and took a hammock nap together in the glorious, late afternoon sunlight.

-What I missed most about MG this year: Goddamnit, I didn't eat any fried chicken from Popeye's and everyone knows that's a Mardi Gras staple.

-New tradition for MG this year: Shrimp and grits for breakfast. That's a good way to start the day off right. Just make sure you make the grits right before you serve them so they don't harden up.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

My Kind of Valentine's Day

My sweetie had to work tonight so you know what I had for dinner? Leftover smothered turkey necks with onion gravy that I made yesterday. And it was delicious! I used John Folse's recipe, following it pretty closely. I made a delightful French 75 too so I have that recipe for you after the main event.

Smothered Turkey Necks in Onion Gravy
PREP TIME: 2 ½ Hours
SERVES: 6 - 8

Turkey neck stew or gumbo is often served at large gatherings such as Mardi Gras parties in Louisiana. The reason is simple. First, the meat is inexpensive and quite flavorful, but more important, there’s a lot of meat on those turkey necks so they’re good for a large crowd and the flavor mimics beef, veal, pork and chicken.


8 turkey necks
½ cup bacon drippings
2 cups onions, sliced
1 cup celery, diced
1 cup red bell pepper, diced
1/4 cup garlic, minced
¼ cup flour
1 ½ quarts beef or chicken stock
2 tbsps Worcestershire sauce
1 cup green onions, sliced
¼ cup parsley, chopped
salt and black pepper to taste
Louisiana Gold Pepper Sauce to taste
Turkey necks are normally available in packs of 6 in the poultry section of your supermarket. The necks are usually cut into 2 (6-inch) sections but if they are packaged whole, cut them in half for easier handling. Season turkey necks well using salt, pepper and pepper sauce. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. In a large dutch oven, heat bacon drippings over medium-high heat. Add the larger ends of the turkey necks and cook until golden brown on all sides. Regulate the heat to keep the bacon fat from burning. Continue until all the neck pieces are well browned. Remove and keep warm. In the same dutch oven add onions, celery, bell pepper and garlic. Sauté 3 – 5 minutes stirring occasionally, or until vegetables are wilted. Sprinkle in flour and blend well into the vegetables. This will help to thicken the finished sauce. Add 1 quart of the stock and Worcestershire sauce, blend well into the vegetables and bring to a rolling boil. Reduce heat to simmer and add turkey necks, making sure that the stock covers the necks by a minimum of half way. Add additional stock if necessary. Return the mixture to a rolling boil, top with green onions and parsley. Cover, place in oven and bake for 2 hours, checking for tenderness at 1 ½ hours. It is imperative that the meat is tender enough to fall from the bones. If not, allow the necks to continue baking. Serve over steamed white rice or alongside whipped potatoes.

My changes: I used 7 turkey necks (about 2 lbs) but they were pieces, cut like osso bucco, not the whole long thing. I'm not sure what he means by 8 necks but he must mean whole ones if it is supposed to feed 6-8 people! This only made one meal for two people; 3 necks for me, 4 for Ben.

I did not use bacon fat, just olive oil. I did not use stock, just water and only about 3 cups of that. I didn't have any bell pepper but I subbed a carrot. I added a bit of sherry as the onions were cooking, maybe 1/4 cup? I wish I had some dark beer instead because I think that would be fantastic but the sherry was good too. I probably added only a tablespoon or two of flour, and I left out the green onions and parsley since I also didn't have those on hand. It was still divine! Oh yes, and I baked them about 2 hours in a 325 degree oven, Folse says 400 but that sounds very high to me.

Now, for the good part. I love French 75s but I never make them at home because I don't want to open a whole bottle of champagne. So I bought a few splits for $4.99 and now I can have them on the comfort of my couch.

1 oz lemon juice
2 oz cognac
3 oz champagne or sparkling wine

Shake the lemon juice and cognac with one ice cube. Strain and top with champagne. I also like to add a cherry, not the funky maraschino but a real one, hence the pink hue to my drink. I have also made this successfully using a bit of lime and/or orange juice, any blend of citrus will be good. You're supposed to add some simple syrup but I find it unnecessary. For cognac, I use Grand Marnier.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Buyer Beware: Thatcher's Elderflower Liquor

Do you love St. Germain? Does it elevate all of your cocktails to elegant heights and make you feel as if you are sipping on pixie dew? Yes? Me too. I love it but it's pricey. So naturally when I saw this bottle of Thatcher's Eldeflower liquor at HALF the price of St. Germain, I was intrigued. Add to that the appealing label and the word "organic" and I was sold. I'm so easy sometimes.

Well, let me save you $17.95. It's disgusting. I have tried it in several different iterations of various cocktails and it ruins them all. It tastes like it was made with aspartame. If you know me, you know I hate to waste, especially booze, but I have actually pitched drinks with this in it because it is so foul. My last attempts to salvage it for future use include;
1) Throwing some cherries in there to infuse it and hopefully mask the funk.
2) Mixing it with grain alcohol and green food coloring and selling them as half-priced hand grenades to drunken tourists on Mardi Gras Day.

Short of that, I'm afraid I'll just have to pour it down the drain. I hate alcohol abuse but so it must be.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Crab and Cauliflower Bisque

I still don't know who played in the Super Bowl, nor do I care, but I did invite a few people over that Sunday. As usual, the men sat in the living room and watched football while we sat in the dining room and drank wine and ate too much cheese. Since I'm trying to lighten things up a bit, I made a bisque using cauliflower to give the bisque some heft without adding lots of cream.

I adapted this from a John Besh recipe, it was origanally a crawfish-cauliflower soup and it contained a potato and 2 cups of heavy cream. I'm sure that version is way more delicious but this is very nice too.

6 blue crabs
water to cover
bay leaf
black peppercorns
celery and onion bits and peels

2 T. olive oil
1 head cauliflower
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves of garlic
1 pinch crushed red pepper
2 T. butter
1 can of corn (yes, a can, that's what I had but use fresh or frozen if you like)
crab stock
1 T. crab boil

First, I made crab stock. I went to buy the crabs and was shocked that I paid just over $4 for SIX blue crabs! Louisiana is a wonderful place sometimes! Anyway, I cleaned them up, covered with water, added some bits of vegetables that would otherwise been composted, a few peppercorns and a bay leaf. I cooked this down for about an hour. Now if you don't live in a place where you can get blue crabs, you could probably use just some seafood stock later in the recipe and buy 8 ounces of the best crab meat you can find.

Once the crabs cooled, I spent the next hours extracting the meat. This is kind of a pain but I put on The Splendid Table and that occupied me pretty well. I finished with just over 7 ounces of meat, after some liberal nibbling of course, and about 3.5 cups of stock.

Heat the olive oil in a pot over medium heat and add cauliflower and onions. Cook until cauliflower softens slightly, about 20 minutes. Then add garlic and cook one more minute. Add the stock and red pepper and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer about 15 minutes to ensure all the vegetables are cooked through. Puree with an immersion blender or food processor. Add a bit of crab boil until the seasoning is to your taste. Do the same with the butter. I liked the soup well enough but I decided to add butter at the end to round it out a little. Add the corn and the crabmeat, sprinkle with chives or green onion to serve.

This is how Besh outlines his recipe. I think you could probably just add everything in the pot at once (except corn and crab), cover and cook until the vegetables are soft. Puree and adjust seasoning. Easy.

Monday, February 6, 2012

King Cake Showdown

Last year I made my very first king cake. It turned out well but I remember thinking it was a little dry so I wanted to try a new recipe this year. Of course, I didn't document what i did last year but I'm pretty sure it was based on Emeril's recipe so I looked elsewhere. I ended up borrowing most heavily from this blogger from Baton Rouge.

2 1/4 teaspoons yeast or 1 package instant yeast
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup butter softened (1/2 stick)
2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 egg, room temperature
1 teaspoon nutmeg
grated zest of one lemon (1 tablespoon)
2 1/2 cups flour

10 oz. cream cheese
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon vanilla

2 cups powdered sugar
2 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
colored sugars (green, purple and yellow)

It turned out really lovely, I do think it was still a bit dry for me, probably would reduce the flour by 1/4 cup next time. Other changes I made were adding cinnamon and vanilla to the dough. For the cream cheese filling, I used only about 8 ounces of cream cheese and paired it with guava jelly for a really tasty twist on a classic. I also halved the amounts for the icing, I thought that was way too much. I think the icing should just be a thin glaze. I also added some lemon juice and cinnamon to it because powdered sugar sort of tastes like chalk to me, it needs a bit of dressing up.

I'm trying to be good and stay away from sugar these days but I made this cake for a king cake competition that I ended up not attending due to a torrential downpour. So I had to eat it myself, how sad. I got lots of help from Ben and assorted friends at the Super Bowl party yesterday.