recipes

Belle Annee: After the Crawfish Boil

From the beginning of February until the beginning of June, New Orleanians go into a festive frenzy.  It begins with Mardi Gras, then the first warm weekend that falls, followed by St. Patrick’s Day, St. Joseph’s Day, Easter, French Quarter Fest, Jazz Fest and then end of school and start of summer vacations.  The frenzy is not this collection of special events but rather the accessory to all of it:   The frenzy is Crawfish Season.  

The big plastic letters outside of Big Fisherman on Magazine Street or KJeans in Mid City  spell out the magic words “Hot Boiled Crawfish Today” and those signs remain until the beginning of summer.  During that time the seafood departments of grocery stores smell differently, weekends are planned differently, we look at draft beer with more affinity, and our Mardi Gras cups get used with more frequency.

Crawfish boils are comprised of collecting newspapers, setting up plastic tables, ordering kegs of beer, purging the crawfish, chopping the veggies, getting the seasoning juuuust so and then, finally, boiling the crawfish.   Friends and family tear into the steaming red trough of crustaceans, picking their favorite accoutrements along the way – potatoes, corn, mushrooms, sausage, and maybe artichokes and garlic.  Everyone comments on the size of the crawfish, the seasoning and the weather and they stand shoulder to shoulder pinching the tails, sucking the heads and enjoying their part in this Southern Louisiana ritual.

There is a a backside to all of this for the host though.  When the friends have gone, when the tables are folded up, and when the garbage has been relocated to black contractor bags for pick up early Monday morning, there is usually – almost always – a leftover pile of crawfish that did not get eaten.  So much work goes into the boil that it is disproportionately painful to discard anything uneaten, but what are you really going to do with any leftovers?  There is not enough to make Crawfish Étouffée or or Crawfish Bisque and too many to just quickly peel them and pop them into your mouth.

I pondered this while eating my very own pile of crawfish at a friend’s boil recently.  I looked around and realized the key to a good leftover recipe is finding a use not just for the crawfish but for the veggies and extras also.  That’s how you differentiate it from just a plain crawfish recipe.  And that is where Sunday Morning Crawfish Crepes come in.

Embrace the Saturday-afternoon crawfish boil as your first step toward Sunday brunch.  With advance planning you have a great use not just for your leftover crawfish but for any of the “extras” you can snag including corn, garlic, mushrooms, sausage and just about anything else.  The key to this being a success is to split up the work making the crepes on Friday, grabbing your leftover crawfish on Saturday and then mixing everything together on Sunday.

The recipe is really simple.  The basic idea is to peel your crawfish, cut up your veggies and add them to a spicy béchamel .  Then ladle that into and over crepes with asparagus.  The asparagus aren’t really that crawfish boil-y but they do look nice and the fresh green crunch adds to an otherwise rich filling.

So fold up the plastic tables and break out the wine glasses and silverware: Brunch is served!

Click here for the recipe!

For more from Jessica Bride, visit www.belleannee.com.

Belle Annee on Brandy Milk Punch

New Orleans is full of rituals. There is early morning at Cafe Du Monde when the French Quarter businesses and residents are hosing off their sidewalks, washing down the sins from the night before and steadying themselves for a new batch of visitors. All Saints Day at the cemetery where you cut down, clean up and tidy around the ancient stone monuments to loved ones since passed. Thanksgiving at "The Track" when you wear a silly hat or posh fascinator purchased at Fleur de Paris, long drunken Friday lunches at Galatoire's, only ordering fish on Fridays and always having your red beans and rice on Mondays. And always, always, WWOZ on the radio.

 

Photo by Gabrielle Geiselman // www.gabriellegeiselman.com.

Then there are drinks. Drinks are a bit of a rite of passage. Hurricanes and Hand Grenades are the beverage of choice in college when you can miraculously survive the onslaught of cheep booze and bright artificial colors. Spicy Bloody Marys call Sunday home as you say goodbye to the weekend and prepare for the business ahead. Pimm's are very best in the heat of summer when the fruits that adorn them are at their ripest and juiciest. Sazaracs become the aperitif of choice once you establish an appreciation for whiskey and then, one day, you are turned onto the best daytime cocktail ever. Ever. The Brandy Milk Punch.

Like so many things in New Orleans the origins of Brandy Milk Punch were likely beyond the shores of America but it was the restaurateurs of the city that gave the drink a rebirth as the preemenint Brunch cocktail. Today's version is a combination of brandy (sometimes bourbon), milk, simple syrup and vanilla. It goes down smoothly and is appreciated by spirited young men, elegant elderly women and just about everyone in between.

The very best way to make Brandy Milk Punch is by the jar. My friend Julie does that and it has become her hostess gift when invited to dinner parties. You have never seen someone invited to as many dinner parties as Julie. If you are going to make it by the batch, like Julie, my favorite bottle is this one because it looks really nice and pours easily. You just need a funnel to fill it. You can also make it in Mason jars - easier to mix but not as neat to pour. Life is a trade off, ya know?

This is a fantastic cocktail for this time of year, when it's a little cold, a little wet, a little rainy and you just want to start your Sunday brunch a little later and enjoy it a little more.

Brandy Milk Punch By The Glass:

2 ounces Brandy

1 ounce simple syrup (if you are anywhere near New Orleans try to find Locally Preserved cane simple syrup - it is a little richer in flavor than regular simple syrup)

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

1 ounce milk

1/2 ounce whipping cream

fresh nutmeg

Put all ingredients into a cocktail shaker and add a cup of ice. Shake it until your arms hurt, then strain into a champagne coupe or strain over a fresh whiskey glass of ice. Top with fresh grated nutmeg.

 

Brandy Milk Punch By the 24-oz Bottle:

10 ounces Brandy

5 ounces simple syrup

2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

7 ounces milk

2 1/2 ounces whipping cream

Add ingredients into the bottle through a funnel. Give it a good shake and then put it in the freezer for one to two hours. Take it out, give it another shake and then show up at the dinner party of your choosing. Invited or not. It won't matter.

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For more from Jessica Bride, visit www.belleannee.comPhotos by Gabrielle Geiselman // www.gabriellegeiselman.com.

FOOD & WINE FEATURE: CHEF JOHN BESH'S NEW ORLEANS CHRISTMAS

Looking for some recipe inspiration for the upcoming holidays? Look no further! Whether you’re looking for more traditional items or want to try a new tradition for the holidays, this is the perfect place to start. As featured on Food and Wine, here are some of John’s favorite holiday recipes. Try his Horseradish and Herb Crusted Beef Rib Roast, and for a savory dessert that everyone will enjoy, try his Poached Pear and Brown Butter Tart. Or for those of you looking for a more southern or New Orleans flare, try his Oyster Dressing “Grand-Mere.” This perfectly represents New Orleans flavor, and is one of Chef’s favorite dishes to make for both Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Belle Année on Assembling a Cheeseboard

Once a month, the Chef John Besh blog will feature a guest blog post from one of Chef Besh’s closest friends, Jessica Bride. This New Orleans native is an amazing wife, mother of three, avid traveler, soon-to-be cookbook author, and she co-founded the John Besh & Bride Mayor Chefs Move! Scholarship

There were two unmistakable signs in my life that I had reached adulthood.  The first was that I started keeping scissors in my kitchen accepting that, for the rest of my life, I would need to be able to cut open bags of frozen peas and the plastic bag inside of cereal boxes and that there was a better method than using my teeth.

The second was when I learned how to assemble a cheeseboard.  I was 25 and living on my own in NYC.  It was empowering to know that for a small amount of money and a little bit of effort I could invite people over for a wine and cheese gathering.  Pretentious too.  Empowering and Pretentious. Jackpot.

The problem with cheese, like Google, is that the more you learn the more you realize there is to know.  Before you know it you too are sending pictures of cats singing Christmas carols.  At some point you have to just declare, “Enough!”  There is a middle ground between tossing Nacho Cheese Flavored Doritos into a basket and being shunned from dinner parties for accurately pronouncing the Sternschnuppe that you had a friendly German goat herder you befriended on SnapChat mail to you.

Once you recognize this middle-ground it only makes sense to be able to put it together to create a winning cheeseboard.   And this, along with scissors, propels you into bona fide adulthood.  At any age.

The secret to a winning cheeseboard is finding cheeses and accompaniments that go well together and that appeal to your guests.  Once you invite someone over, this is no longer about you.   You want to create something that is enticing and gorgeous…and that says, “I did this for you!”

Logically, the first thing you need is a tray or plate to serve the cheese on.   You want this to be flat, large and rustic.  It looks way better to serve cheese on something that may have been collected from a building site than on your grandmother’s best china.  One of my secrets is, actually, using building materials.  You can pick up 18-inch-square paving slates or marble tile samples for $5- $10 from Home Depot or a tile showroom.   Alternatively use your darkest wood cutting board.  Remember to consider the size – you want your platter to look full but not crowded.

The next thing you need is a different knife for each cheese and a small spoon for any gooey cheeses.

After that you need a baguette and plain water crackers.  For a baguette you are looking for something long and thin that you can slice into pieces just thinner than your pinky finger.  For crackers your best bet is your favorite variety of Carr’s Water Biscuits.

Now, you have your serving platter, your knives and your bread.  Let’s add the cheese!

 

For the beginner:

It is important to remember your audience.   If your guest of honor is Aunt Myrtle and she thinks the McRib is exotic, don’t  make her uncomfortable with a  bunch of retched dairy products.  You can show off your expertise by making your cheeseboard simple and beautiful…and perfectly pitched.

For the beginner cheese board, select one cheese in each of these three categories:

Hard:

One year aged Manchego.  (Spain)
Midnight Moon (Holland)
One year aged Gouda (Holland)
Cabot Creamery Clothbound Cheddar (USA)
Cave Aged Gruyere (Switzerland)

Soft:

Saint Andre (France)
Vermont Creamery Cremont (USA)

Stinky:

Gorganzola Mountain (Italy)
Epoisses (France)
Cambozola (Germany)

And add a few extras:

1 bunch of sweet red grapes, washed, dried and portioned into small bunches of 5-10 grapes each.

 

Intermediate:

Here you are putting together a cheeseboard for a group of friends or coworkers with generous dining-out allowances from their work, spouses or trust funds.  These are people who you know love wine and cheese and who will appreciate the extra effort you make.  These are cheeses that are a little more intense in flavor and might need to be located at a store with a specialty cheese section. 

Pick one cheese in each of these four categories: 

Hard:

Aged Manchego (Spain)
Aged Gouda (Dutch)
Cabot Creamery Clothbound Cheddar (USA)
Comte (France)
Roth Kase Roth Granqueso (USA)

Soft:

Saint Andre  (French)
Vermont Creamery Cremont (USA)
La Tur (French)
Explorateur (French)

Stinky:

Epoisses (French)
Morbier (French)
Stinking Bishop (England)

Blue:

Gorganzola Mountain (Italy)
Stilton (England)
Bay Blue, Point Reyes (USA)
Roaring Forties (Australia)

And add a few extras:

1 bunch of sweet red grapes, washed and portioned into small bits
A piece of spicy dried salami, partially sliced (leaving some for your guests to slice)
Quince paste or fig jam

 

Advanced:

Now, you are ready to show off.  Trainspotters only on this one.  These cheeses are mostly the same as intermediate but you are going to add a cheese category and let your cheeses tell a story.  Select all cheeses typical for their country of origin for instance or all cheeses from one country and get people to guess the country.  Also consider serving a sweet wine – such as a vintage port no younger than 25 years old or a Sauternes, a sweet white wine from France.  Also you are going to up your game on the accompaniments including paring special oatcakes with blue cheese instead of just crackers.  This one is going to cost a little more money and will be a centerpiece for a cocktail evening or a very special dessert for a large dinner party.

Hard:

Aged Manchego (Spain)
Aged Gouda (Holland)
Parmesean (Italy) served with a Parmesean knife
Pecorino Romano (Italy)

Soft:

Brie de Meaux (France)
La Tur (French)
Delice de Bourgogne (France)
Brillat-Savarin (France)
Explorateur (France)
Robiola Piemonte (Italy)

Stinky:

Epoisses (France)
Morbier (France)
Vacherin Mont D’Or (Switzerland)
Jasper Hill Farm Winnimere (USA)
Fontina d'Aosta (Italy)

Blue:

Gorganzola Mountain (Italy)
Stilton (England)
Roaring Forties (Australia)
Dolcelatte (Italy)
Bay Blue, Point Reyes (USA)

Goat:

Humbolt Fog (USA)
Valencay (France)
Vermont Creamery Coupole (USA)

And add a few extras:

1 bunch of sweet red grapes, washed and portioned into small bits
A piece of spicy dried salami, partially sliced (leaving some for your guests to slice)
Quince paste or fig jam
1 box of oatcake crackers to pair with the blue cheese in addition to the other crackers and baguette
6oz thinly sliced Brasaola (air dried beef)
A handful of pickled vegetables
A handful of olives with seeds

(Nothing says sophistication like serving olives with pits and watching your guests hold intelligent conversation while trying to suavely discard an olive pit from their mouths.   Don’t forget the little cup to catch all the disgustingly chewed up remains set near, but not on, the cheeseboard)

Final notes:

Plan on 3-5 oz of cheese per person depending on whether it is a dessert course (less needed) or a stand alone party tray (more needed)

Make an effort to remember the names of the cheeses and their countries of origin.  If you have a terrible memory then just write them down as you unwrap and discard the labels.   If all goes well you will, most certainly, be asked to write them down for an adoring fan.

And very lastly, cheese is about a million times better if it is served at room temperature – especially really ooey gooey stinky cheeses.  Take them out several hours in advance and let them come to room temperature.  For ooey gooey cheeses (like Epoisses) put them in a warm spot for a few hours.  Maybe  a location that catches the sun for an hour, or on the counter near you oven.

And that’s it!  Piece of cake.  Cheesecake of course.

For more from Jessica Bride, visit www.belleannee.com

Belle Année on Champagne Cocktails

Jessica Bride is an amazing wife, mother of three, avid traveler, soon-to-be cookbook author, and she co-founded the John Besh & Bride Mayor Chefs Move! Scholarship

There are tons of things I didn’t know about British people before I married one. For  starters, they are incredibly funny. Not just the odd one here or there, but all of them. As  a breed. Just funny. They also invented the stiff upper lip. And whatever the opposite of exaggeration is. When my husband has an absolutely horrible day and his clients quit  and his boss hates him and his ideas stink and he steps in dog poop and scratches the side of his new car he freaks out with something like, “That’s not the best day I’ve ever had.”  It’s like they carry the loss of the Empire with them on a daily basis and nothing, nothing, seems bad after that.

But here was my favorite discovery: They love Champagne. Like the way you love that Call Me Maybe song even though you pretend you don’t. Like southerners love college football. The way Millennials love positive feedback. All the time. No special event required.

Nick, my aforementioned British husband, even has friends whose black and white spaniel recognizes the shape of a Champagne bottle and goes crazy when one is pulled out until someone shoots the cork out of the top so he can chase and retrieve it. Sticks? Not interested. A ball? Save your time. Champagne cork? Barney is all over it.

I, like the rest of the world not speaking The Queen’s English, used to think of Champagne as a special event drink but I’ve enjoyed getting used to it as an every day thing. Right now (this may get embarrassing) I have two magnums of Veuve Cliquot and several bottles of Billecart-Salmon Brut Rose in our garage refrigerator, three bottles of Prosecco in the wine refrigerator, a bottle of Gruet and two bottles each of Pol Roger and Nicholas Feuillatte calling my name from their cozy little nook under the stairs. Of course Champagne may best be served ice cold and in perfect crystal Champagne flutes but with all of these bottles knocking around the place, and with my propensity to take anything simple and overcomplicate it, it was inevitable that I would eventually tackle champagne cocktails. Fortunately this is the perfect time of year because Halloween is just around the corner and after that, like dominos, comes Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hannakuh, Festivus, New Year’s Eve, Valentines Day and Monday.

So stick the bubbly in the fridge and polish up the Champagne flutes. There is no time like the present to try your hand at discovering or perfecting a signature cocktail for the season.

 

 

Grand Champagne Cocktail

Sugar cube
Angostura Bitters
¾ oz Grand Marnier
Sparkling Wine

Soak a sugar cube with 3 dashes of Angostura bitters and place in the bottom of a champagne flute. Add a half jigger (3/4 ounce) of Grand Marnier. Fill with very, very
cold sparkling wine and top with a lemon twist.

BEST MADE WITH

a dry domestic version: Gruet, Ceja, Jordan

Champagne & Chambord

¾ oz Chambord
Champagne
Raspberry

In a champagne coupe add ½ jigger (3/4 oz) Chambord and fill with cold Champagne. Top with a fresh raspberry.

BEST MADE WITH

French Champagne or sparkling wine or Prosecco.

Champagne Mojito 

Sugar cube
½ ounce white rum
4 mint leaves
1 lime wedge
club soda
Sparkling wine

Place a sugar cube in the bottom of stemmed glass. Add ½ jigger (3/4 oz) white rum, 3 mint leaves and the juice of a lime wedge. Add a splash of club soda and stir. Fill to the very, very top with ice and then top with Champagne. Garnish with a lime and mint leaf.

BEST MADE WITH

Prosecco or American sparkling wine

St. Germain Cocktail

½ ounce Hendricks Gin
½ ounce St. Germain Elderflower liqueur
Champagne
Lemon and/or cucumber

In a Champagne coupe add ½ ounce Hendricks Gin and ½ ounce Elderflower liqueur. Pour in a very cold sparkling wine, preferably Champagne. Garnish with either a lemon twist or a cucumber.

BEST MADE WITH

French or American sparkling wine

St. Germain Spritzer

For a lighter alcohol version of the St. Germain Cocktail, fill a Champagne flute with one part elderflower soda and 3 parts Champagne. Garnish with a lemon twist.

BEST MADE WITH

French or American sparkling wine

And there is no way a round up of cocktails from a writer in New Orleans is complete without the French 75.

French 75

Most places make this classic, lemony cocktail with gin but of course, in New Orleans, it is done differently. We use Cognac.

1 oz Cognac
½ oz fresh lemon juice
¼ oz simple syrup
Champagne
Lemon peel

Combine Cognac, lemon juice and simple syrup in a champagne glass. Top with Champagne and serve with a lemon peel.

BEST MADE WITH

French or American sparkling wine

***

For more from Jessica Bride, visit www.belleannee.com

TWO STORIES. ONE CHALLAH.

Each year, Domenica celebrates the birth of a new year and new life during the Jewish holiday Rosh Hashanah. One of the more important food traditions associated with this holiday is Challah, a soft, delicious loaf of bread that is shared with the whole table. We asked Chef Lisa White, our pastry chef at Domenica and also the creator of the Domenica Challah, and Chef Alon Shaya, Executive Chef of Domenica Restaurant and Co-Owner of PIZZA domenica for their perspectives on this special braided bread.

Challah by Chef Lisa White

When I was nine, my Mom married a Jewish man from Long Island, New York. We were from California, and yes, the Valley... all I can say is “like” Long Island was “totally” different.

The adventure into a new land and new family was exciting, scary, loud and fun. Prior to moving to New York we were a very, very small family with a working Mom that celebrated the big three holidays: Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter. My mom had made the deliberate decision to make holidays for her girls about magic & believing, which I truly treasure to this day. I mean I remember seeing bunny footprints through the house. Pure magic.

Our new life in New York brought holidays of remembrance and holidays that centered around the family table. Some of my fondest memories of my youth in New York were the times spent at this new family table… it meant we were going to dinner at Uncle Irwin & Aunt Rochelles house.  If we were going to Uncle Irwin & Aunt Rochelles house that meant the whole family was getting together grandparents, cousins, family friends... everyone. Easily over 25 people. It was a party!

Often times the food was new and strange to a 10-year-old California kid. You are not going to tell me that Gefilte Fish out of that Manischewitz glass jar with its jellied broth is not a strange new food to a kid that ate tacos and carrots out of her back yard.  I don’t want to give the impression that I didn’t like anything though. I still to this day remember Aunt Diane’s corn pudding which was for a specific holiday that I can no longer remember, but I remember that pudding. If I remember correctly it was Grandpa Joe that gave me a bite of my first NYC Knish with mustard of course. Everything was just new.

Often times I remember sitting and watching to see what my new cool older cousins ate in order to learn how to navigate this new family table. There was always one thing that was familiar: bread. Although the bread had a new name, it was soft and sweet and comforting and way better than Branola (the “bread” my mom made us eat with our school lunches).

This new bread was called Challah. It makes me smile now thinking of it.  When everything else was just too new or different, I would take a bite of that bread that I never seemed to pronounce correctly, and feel at home.

Chef Lisa can be reached at lwhite@chefjohnbesh.com.

Challah by Chef Alon Shaya

Challah has played an important role in my life. One of my first food memories is devouring a bowl of matzoh ball soup with a generous hunk of challah at the kitchen table. It has grown to mean much to me over the years. 

I was born in Israel, and moved to Pennsylvania at a young age. As a Jewish family, we upheld our traditions and held Shabbat dinner every Friday night. And every Friday night, there was challah. I looked forward to the beautiful display of glowing candles, china and platters of amazing food reserved for Shabbat. My mother, grandmother, and aunt spent all day preparing the food for dinner. If I was well behaved, they let me help cook the meal. No Shabbat dinner was complete without a loaf of fresh challah. I remember my grandfather stealing me from the work in the kitchen to go with him to his favorite bakery and help pick out the challah we would enjoy that night. He was adamant that theirs was the best. But everyone had an opinion on the matter; and this would often become a heated topic of conversation during Shabbat dinner. Before we lifted our forks to eat, we recited the Ha-Motzi blessing over the challah. We performed this prayer not only on Shabbat, but also at almost every other religious ceremony that my family observed.

I grew a respect for this holy bread. I admire the connection between spirituality and the sharing of a meal that the tradition of eating challah represents. I still feel a tie to a force more powerful than just a dedicated baker every time I tear into a loaf.

I always look forward to Rosh Hashanah for the round challah specifically baked for the holiday. Rather than the typical braided challah, the round challah baked for Rosh Hashana symbolizes the cycle of life and the New Year. I am proud to serve challah at Domenica during this holiday. Chef Lisa White is baking challah that would make any Jewish Grandmother jealous! We are serving it with local Tupelo honey, candied walnuts, and my grandmother’s recipe for Lutenitsa: a Bulgarian spread of roasted eggplant, tomato, and pepper. I hope you will come partake in one of my favorite dining traditions —even if you are just on the prowl for some delicious bread!

Chef Alon can be reached at ashaya@chefjohnbesh.com.

For reservations at Domenica, please visit www.domenicarestaurant.com or call 504.648.6020.

RIPE FOR THE PICKIN'

BY CHEF JOHN BESH

Summer is in full swing and the delicious local produce reflects it. Trips to the local markets produce delicious, ripe figs, juicy peaches, watermelon, sweet blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, and strawberries.

The fresh summer fruit reminds me of my maternal grandparents, Grace and Mitchell Walters. They came from warm, happy-go-lucky Irish stock, and their house in Mississippi became my place of refuge, where I was treated to much love and affection, not to mention the best food I’ve ever eaten.

Granddaddy had fig trees, pear, plum, and quince trees, and scuppernong and muscadine vines. Peaches we would buy from a nearby farm, and we’d pick blackberries and huckleberries, which would make their way into a jar or two. since we could not possibly eat it all, preserving was the best way to hold on to the essence of the fruit. In his heart of hearts, my grandfather believed cooking should be left to the women, but preserving was the man’s job. he wouldn’t let just anybody learn the process with him. If you committed to making preserves, it was not a 30-minute affair. You had to pick the fruit, clean it, cook it, and strain it and sterilize the jars, the lids. For me, even though it took way too long on the structured part to get to the eating part, preserving meant working with Granddaddy for the whole day, and that was the great thing.

Why not preserve the summer for use all year long? Here are some of my favorite recipes. Turn canning into a family activity to make create some great memories.

 

Old-Fashioned Fig Preserves

I love using my granddaddy’s favorite Celeste figs, the most common in our neck of the woods, for my Old-Fashioned Fig Preserves but just about any fig will work in these preserves. Larger figs should be quartered before the sugar is added.

 

Sugar Plums in Syrup

This recipe for Sugar Plums in Syrup is a very easy way to preserve sweet plums and then use them in many ways: I serve the tiny plums with everything from charcuterie to cheese and desserts, and I use the the syrup in a vinegar-based fruit reductions as a sauce for poultry.

 

Watermelon Pickles

Get a giant watermelon from the market and have no idea what to do with the rind? Don't throw it away! Turn it into Watermelon Pickles. Between the dark green skin  and its pinky flesh lies an often discarded, pale green rind that’s full of possibilities. Seasoned by aromatic spices in a quick boil, these pickles can be served the same way as other pickles, but they are especially fine with pork recipes.

In the Black Forest of Germany, this preserve, Berries Preserved in Red Wine, is commonly made with cherries and red fruit and called Rote Grütze. I’ve made this idea work with our delicious strawberries, blueberries and blackberries of South Louisiana. Wash but don’t peel or core the apples; the apples are where the pectin is, and you’ll need it to thicken this jam.

 

Preserved Meyer Lemons

Yes, you can use regular lemons for this Preserved Meyer Lemons recipe, but Meyer lemons are so much more fragrant. Preserved lemons can spark up roast chicken, fish, crab salad, stews, and any light meat such as baby goat, veal, and rabbit.

Our Louisiana mayhaws don’t have much juice, and so it takes an awful lot of them to make this Mayhaw Jelly. (Crabapples are a good substitute.) If you squeeze the fruit juices through the jelly bag or cheese- cloth you’ll have better yield, but the juice will be cloudy. Either way it’ll taste great. Cooking pears are those hard varieties that are better cooked than raw.

 

Peach Jam

Louisiana peaches are a sweet treat. To enjoy them year-round, my boys and I make this Peach Jam and slather it on French toast or roll it up inside a warm crêpe. Using liquid or powdered pectin is an effective shortcut.

 

Recipes are from “My New Orleans: The Cookbook”  by John Besh / Andrews McMeel Publishing, LLC. To purchase this cookbook or any others, visit http://shop.chefjohnbesh.com.

 

CALL IT CREOLE AND IT'LL SELL

BY CHEF JOHN BESH

It's Creole tomato season, and boy are they delicious!

The Creoles of my childhood were ugly and deformed, split to the point of bursting. Picked the day they went to market or set on the windowsill to wait for whichever meal came next — that’s what these tomatoes were good at. Creole tomatoes should be eaten warm, right off the plant, a thing I still look forward to like a child. I’m not saying that I don’t love herbs and fancy cheeses, but a good ol’ ripe Creole doesn’t need any help; it just needs to be eaten.

The Creoles of my childhood were all grown in the St. Bernard or Plaquemines parishes, which flank the Mississippi south of New Orleans pretty much all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. That fertile farmland was formed by hundreds of years of rich silt deposits that the mighty Mississippi brought downstream. Cattle, a gift from the king of Spain, and brought here in 1779 by the Isleños, or Canary Islanders, once grazed on these same lands. Descendants of the Isleños still grow many of our Creoles today. This rich soil, with its low acidity, makes our tomatoes particularly sweet tasting; our moderate climate gives us a gloriously long growing season.

Much mystique surrounds the identity of the famed Creole tomato. Turns out it is not so much a variety as an idea of a tomato, evoking a memory of the field-picked, just-ripe tomatoes of our childhood, before hybrids and industrial farming took the flavor away. Experts say the definition comes down to geography: any red, ripe tomato grown in
the state of Louisiana, but most often in the southeast in the parishes along the Mississippi, can be deemed a Creole. It can be grown from any seed variety, such as the Celebrity, favored by Jim Core, or those newer, hardier varieties, like Amelia and Christa. Historically, St. Bernard and Plaquemines parishes were tomato central, but following Hurricane Katrina the area shrank to the upper Plaquemines.

Today, more than 250 growers cultivate the almost 500 acres of Louisiana that are dedicated to this buxom fruit so fundamental to Creole cooking. The crops are mostly sold locally at wholesale warehouses, farmers’ markets, roadside stands, and supermarkets, and there is rarely enough of a surplus to cause a Creole ever to head out of state. Nowadays, some of us feel that the Creole is looking a little too pretty and uniform, but in general locals will tell you with pride that a Creole tastes the way a real tomato should.

Here are some of my favorite tomato recipes. As always, if you don't have access to Creoles, you can use any other ripe tomato; they're all bound to be beautiful this time of year. Click the name of the dish for a link to the recipe.

 

Eggplant, Summer Squash & Tomato Tian

The key to this Eggplant, Summer Squash & Tomato Tian is to precook the eggplant to remove any bitterness before assembling the tian. The proportions of the vegetables don’t matter much, though I love to mix the summer colors of zucchini, tomato, and golden summer squash. I make this tian when garden vegetables are at their peak ripeness.

 

Salad of Heirloom Tomatoes, Cheese, and Country Ham

When shopping for this Salad of Heirloom Tomatoes, Cheese, and Country Ham, don’t worry about finding the exact varieties I list here; just use the ripest local tomatoes you can find. For the most beautiful salad, look for a range of colors, shapes, and sizes. I love paper-thin slices of country ham, but prosciutto, jamón Serrano, or your favorite salami will work equally well.

 

Crabmeat-Stuffed Tomatoes

If you don’t have the time or the inclination to peel the tomatoes for these Crabmeat-Stuffed Tomatoes, use the juiciest tomatoes you can find, slice and season them, top with the crabmeat and basil, and enjoy.

 

Terrine of Cherokee Purple Tomatoes

This Terrine of Cherokee Purple Tomatoes might seem somewhat involved, but it’s not much more difficult than those old-fashioned tomato molds that used tomato juice and gelatin. Here, we’re dehydrating the tomatoes slightly to intensify their flavor, then binding them together in a terrine — just an update on an old-time idea.

 

Shrimp Creole

Traditionally a roux-and-tomato-based dish, Shrimp Creole in my new version has Vietnamese influences; it’s spicy and sweet, full of herbs and flavor. Any ultra-ripe tomatoes will work. The amounts given feed a typical Sunday supper at my house; for six to eight, halve the ingredients, but don’t worry too much: there’s a lot of forgiveness.

 

Chilled Tomato Soup with Tapenade

This Chilled Tomato Soup with Tapenade is the place to use the finest aged sherry vinegar to brighten the flavor of the ripest tomatoes. I love using old vinegar because its acids have mellowed and truly complement the tomatoes’ natural sweetness.

 

Recipes from "My New Orleans: The Cookbook" and "Cooking from the Heart: My Favorite Lessons Learned Along the Way," by John Besh / Andrews McMeel Publishing, LLC

THE WAY TO A MAN'S HEART

BY CHEF JOHN BESH

Looking to impress that special dad, grandfather or great-grandfather in your life? Instead of going out this Father's Day, why not make him a special meal in your own kitchen.

Here are just a few recipes I suggest making for this Sunday's celebration. Click on the name of the dish, drink, or side for a link to the recipe. Some of my suggestions use fresh, local,  in-season ingredients such as Creole tomatoes, Louisiana oysters, and crabmeat.

  • Garlicky Baked Oysters The presentation alone of these baked oysters on the half shell makes a great statement on a buffet table. Or you can use freshly shucked oysters sold by the pint or quart, and assemble them in a large baking dish or in individual ramekins. Either way, be sure to get the flavorful oyster liquor. You can make the sauce and topping ahead and combine them at the last minute.

 

  • Trout Amandine In New Orleans we prefer the skinless trout filet. Properly browning the butter makes all the difference. Don't rush it; take your time swirling the butter in the pan so that the milk solids brown and give off the signature, nutty aroma that is heightened once you add the almonds. Add the lemon juice and serve while the sauce is still foamy. We love it that speckled trout are fished recreationally, never commercially. Pan-frying one of these boys is the perfect finale to a day well spent fishing.

 

  • Crown Roast of Pork with Dirty Rice Dressing It is made with two racks of lamb, veal, or pork, tied together to form a circle. Ask your butcher to prepare and tie the pork racks for you, planning on one rib per person. Then assemble the stuffing, bake, and serve it forth! I just love rice dressing (“stuffing” to some of you) as it so reminds me of my childhood, its flavor reminiscent of our boudin sausages. As the pork roast renders and browns, the dressing will absorb all of its wonderful flavors.

 

  • Provençal Stuffed Tomatoes Beautiful Louisiana Creole tomatoes are currently in season, but any type of tomato will work for this recipe. Medium or large, red, yellow, or orange, it makes no difference as long as they’re fresh and flavorful.

 

  • Basic Cornbread Most self-respecting Southerners wouldn’t admit to adding sugar to corn bread, but it’s both acceptable and good in New Orleans. Grand-daddy never put sugar in his, but I find that I can omit the sugar and still have it taste right only when I use a fine-ground white organic cornmeal such as that milled by my friends at McEwen’s in Wilsonville, Alabama. Make sure the skillet is so hot that the batter begins to fry when you pour it into the pan. And don’t fret about the calories. Corn bread is about love – you can diet tomorrow.

 

 

  • String Beans with Garlic I make sure to have a serving bowl ready with paper-thin sliced garlic and butter just waiting for the hot string beans to arrive. Then all I have to do is boil the beans, toss, and serve. The residual heat from the beans will warm the garlic and melt the butter. I like to salt the water for the beans to the point where it tastes like the sea.

 

  • Perfect Mashed Potatoes If you don’t already own a good old-fashioned food mill, now’s the time to go get one. Potato ricers wok fine, but it takes so long to refill the potatoes, the mixture cools down so much that you’re liable to overwork the potatoes as you add the butter. A food mill makes mashed potatoes a cinch and is indispensable for making tomato sauce. Good butter matters here!

 

  • Sazerac It may or may not be America’s first cocktail, but it is one of my favorite drinks. Famously made in the Sazerac Bar at the Roosevelt Hotel (which is now home to our Italian restaurant, Domenica), my version has Herbsaint, the anise-flavored liqueur invented in New Orleans when absinthe was banned in the 1930s.

 

  • Brown Butter Fig Tart There are few fruits more fascinating than the fig, and in Louisiana we are spoiled, as they weigh down the trees in backyards all over the state, where they thrive on our abundant sunshine and temperate winters. The ones we grow the most in Louisiana are the Celeste (which my granddaddy knew and loved), a small but resilient fruit with a purplish-brown skin and a reddish-pink flesh, and the larger and ruddier Southeastern Brown Turkey.

 

I hope you enjoy my suggestions! Happy Father's Day to all you dads out there.

TOP 10: LENTEN RECIPES

BY CHEF JOHN BESH: Often, in the first week after Mardi Gras, we have the compulsion to suddenly review our New Years Resolutions: get back on that diet, remember to exercise, give up something, be it sweets, alcohol, or caffeine. Despite its Catholic roots, our culture still associates Lent with a time to better to ourselves and spend more quality time appreciating our family and friends. Take that appreciation to a new level this Lenten season! You can achieve all your goals with some of my favorite Lent-friendly recipes below - healthy, family-friendly, and fun to gather around the table to share!

  1. Fried Catfish

  2. Crawfish Boil

  3. Besh Barbecue Shrimp

  4. Strawberry Ravioli with Meyer Lemons and Pistachios

  5. Stuffed Artichokes with Crabmeat and Shrimp

  6. Belle River Crawfish Pie

  7. Oyster and Artichoke Soup

  8. Grilled Oysters with Spicy Garlic Butter

  9. Olive Oil Roasted Cauliflower

  10. Jenifer’s Cucumber and Tomato Salad

 

Chef John Besh can be reached at johnbesh@chefjohnbesh.com.