Tag Archives: Louisiana

Chef John Besh Visits Fairhope, Alabama to Promote New Cookbook, “My Family Table”

10 Dec

Chef John Besh has made quite a name for himself here along the Gulf Coast. His culinary empire is based out of New Orleans, yet he is truly all over the globe these days. One day you see him as a judge on Top Chef, the next you might spot him on Food Network’s The Best Thing I Ever Ate, then you see him whipping up something tasty on NBC’s Today Show. When not appearing on TV or running his nine (yes, NINE!) acclaimed restaurants, Besh somehow finds time to re-connect with his family and knock out a few cookbooks. They may have successfully cloned this guy — I can’t be sure.  

Besh’s latest cookbook project is a marriage of his love for food and family. It’s titled “My Family Table … A Passionate Plea for Home Cooking.” We can totally relate to this sentiment around our household. Sure, we still love to dine out. But it is increasingly difficult to find a quality meal at a fair price. A meal out for a family of 4 can put a pretty sizeable dent in the old family grocery budget.

This “coffee table” book is well-over 250 pages and features some truly beautiful photography. The publisher (Andrews McMeel) should be quite pleased with the end result. It is a terrific collection of recipes and a fine Christmas gift for that hard-to-buy-for foodie on your shopping list. The book retails for $35.

We recently met Chef Besh and his wife at Page & Palette in our current hometown of Fairhope, AL. He was kind enough to sign our copy, which will surely become a staple in our already massive home collection of Southern-themed cookbooks. Besh, a former US Marine, reveals some of his favorite Louisiana products/ingredients. No secrets here, friends. He loves Steen’s 100% Cane Syrup, but who doesn’t? Some more surprising items found in his home pantry include Virgin Pecan Oil, Hoisin Sauce, Coconut Milk, and Sambal Paste. Yup, his kitchen mastery and tastes certainly extend beyond the bayous of his beloved home state of Louisiana.

The 140 recipes included here, much like Besh himself, bounce all over the map. Risotto, Fruit Crumble,  Couscous, Pork Shoulder, Ratatouille, Coq Au Vin, Corn Pudding, Chili, and Beef Noodle Bowls. Dishes sampled at the book signing were a Cauliflower Mac and Cheese, Jambalaya, and a Seafood Dressing. The Bird’s Nest Potatoes look simple, but delicious. Let’s call the overall theme of this volume Cajun/Asian with the common denominators being big flavor with a little bit of heat. The Creamy Lentil Soup (laced with diced bacon) would surely hit the spot on a cold winter’s day.

There are desserts too. Don’t miss the Lemon-Blackberry Cheesecake. The full page, full color image of this creation will have you drooling, for sure. The Bananas Flambe, an obvious nod to his love of New Orleans, is fueled with dark rum and accented with orange zest, cinnamon, and a sprinkle of fresh ground nutmeg. The execution of this dish is not for amateurs, but it will surely draw oooo’s and ahhhh’s at your next dinner party.

John Besh and his wife Jenifer love Fairhope. They made that clear during our brief but enjoyable chat. We, in turn, appreciate them making time to slow down and enjoy our little piece of heaven. Talk radio host Glenn Beck recently said visiting Fairhope was a little like being on the set of “It’s a Wonderful Life.” It is indeed a life full of wonder. And John Besh wants you to make it even more wonderful by focusing on family and hearty home cooked meals. And, as Paul McCartney once sang, “What’s wrong with that?”

www.chefjohnbesh.com

www.andrewsmcmeel.com

Divine Bakery Treats in the Heart of Cajun Country

17 Nov

Keller’s Bakery is a morning “must-do” in downtown Lafayette, LA.

Even the paper bags are old school at Keller’s Bakery.

Keller’s shows their support for the UL-L Ragin’ Cajuns football team.

These unique Walnut Macaroons immediately caught my eye. Deee-lish!

Nothing like a nutty macaroon and a cup o’ cafe chaud!

LeJeune’s Bakery (circa 1884) is a landmark in Jeanerette.

LeJeune supplies much of the bread for the surrounding community.

The Jeanerette locals like to meet and eat at The Yellow Bowl.

Bread pudding is a popular treat at eateries throughout the region.  

Told ya they were a historic landmark!

The most exquisite pastries were found at Lafayette’s Poupart’s Bakery.

http://www.poupartsbakery.com/

A Backup Muffaletta Plan in New Orleans’ French Quarter

15 Nov

In the past, I had always headed straight for Central Grocery when I was craving a muffaletta in New Orleans. Their overstuffed sandwich is mighty, meaty, and legendary. Frank’s Restaurant is located just a couple doors down — in the shadows of the old French Market and Cafe Du Monde. Central Grocery, our old standby, happened to be closed the day we stopped by. Bummer! Undeterred, we plowed ahead towards Frank’s place. I had seen them recently on a Food Network feature, so I knew the muffaletta would get the job done — and it did.  

A rainy morning had given way to a muggy afternoon in The Big Easy.

A close-up look at Frank’s Muffaletta (above) – it’s a thing of beauty that feeds a family of 4 or two hungry adults  for about $12. My son Travis (a true gourmet at the ripe old age of 14) commented that Frank’s meat/bread ratio was slightly bread heavy compared to Central Grocery. You know something? He was right on the money.  However, Frank’s makes a pretty darn good Italian sandwich and I was just happy to get my fix of deli meats, crusty bread and pickled olive salad that late Sunday afternoon.

The hometown Saints were on the tube above the bar and things were not exactly going well. The manager bellowed “Your Daddy’s Saints are back, y’all” as the Super Bowl champs went down in flames to the lowly Cleveland Browns. The full house of diners at Frank’s seemed distraught, yet how upset could I get with a belly full of muffaletta?

We even picked up a large (32 oz.) jar of Frank’s olive spread to take home with us. Our waitress gestured towards a small dining table near the door as we made our exit. I discretely glanced over and spotted none other than Joseph Gannoscoli, who played Vito Spatofore in the HBO series, “The Soprano’s.” Pretty cool, huh? 

Touring the Tabasco Hot Sauce Factory and Scenic Avery Island, Louisiana

15 Nov

Entry to the world famous Tabasco Plant on sleepy Avery Island, Louisiana.

Some of the stunning scenery we enjoyed on our recent visit to Avery Island.

The brick facade of the Tabasco plant — looks a bit like a military stockade.

We toured on a Saturday afternoon, so the bottling plant was not in operation.

Eileen and the boys enjoying the tour & learning more about Scoville Units.

The company store truly does offer all things Tabasco — bring lots of $$$!

These former oak bourbon barrels are used to age the spicy red pepper mash.

Interesting choice of bait, huh?

You can even try Tabasco ice cream — sweet & smooth with a fiery finish!

Avery Island is home to a massive salt dome — first discovered back in 1862.

www.tabasco.com

Another interesting tour nearby is the Konriko Rice Mill …

The Koriko (Conrad Rice Company) mill is technically in New Iberia, LA.

Konriko’s rice (stored in the above silo) has a fresh, nutty taste.

These rustic sacks of Konriko pecan rice make for great take-home gifts.

www.konriko.com

Louisiana’s Sugar Cane Country

15 Nov

 Louisiana is home to Cajuns, Gators, Saints and … SUGAR CANE!!!

Fields of sugar cane are a frequent sight in these parts.

A sugar cane processing plant we happened upon near Jeanerette, LA.

Spent sugar cane stalks are seen spilling out just to the right of the red truck.

Truck beds loaded with spent cane stalks preparing to head out.

Steen’s makes perhaps the best — and best known —100% LA Cane Syrup.

Steen’s bottling plant in Abbeville is a surprisingly small operation.

This is where all the magic happens – Steen’s is simply the best!

www.steensyrup.com

Abbeville is also famous for oysters – Dupuy’s is a pretty popular spot.

Our favorite Abbeville bivalve slurping spot is Black’s Oyster Bar.

Fresh Topless Salty Oysters – need I say more???

Majestic Oak Alley Plantation on Louisiana’s Historic River Road

15 Nov

Majestic oaks at the entry to magnificent Oak Alley Plantation (circa 1839). Many classic Hollywood films have been shot on the property. Those films include Anne Rice’s INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE and the creepy Bette Davis vehicle HUSH HUSH SWEET CHARLOTTE.

The front facade at Oak Alley is quite impressive — and ominous!

Looking back at the rows of giant oaks from the mansion’s veranda.

Me and my well-traveled boys, Austin (l) and Travis (r).

Looking back at the mansion from the banks of the mighty Mississippi River.

A full family shot — thanks to some friendly tourists from the UK.

The finely manicured grounds at Oak Alley were splendid.

Another view of the stunning landscaping work at Oak Alley Plantation.

Our tour guide was a young woman with a very strong New Orleans accent.

Sturdy white columns outline the mansion’s veranda at Oak Alley.

These antique metallic vessels were once used for boiling pure cane syrup.

www.oakalleyplantation.com

Another massive estate (Nottoway) along the fabled Louisiana River Road.

http://www.nps.gov/nr/travel/louisiana/riverroad.htm

Donald Link’s “Real Cajun” Cooking

15 Aug

real cajun

We recently enjoyed dinner at Donald Link’s Cochon restaurant in the Warehouse District of New Orleans. Honestly, we had never heard of the place and were not planning on hitting it during our brief eating tour of the Big Easy. But our friend Sara Roahen suggested we should give it a try and this gal really knows her stuff when it comes to Crescent City dining.

I contacted Asst. GM Tomy (pronounced Tommy) Lagneaux and he set us up with a 6:30 dinner reservation and a place at their Chef’s Counter, where diners can watch the chefs in action. We arrived to find that Tomy wasn’t working that night and no one seemed to know a thing about us or our planned visit and review. Bummer. The hostess was cute, but really didn’t seem to care that we were in the process of being stiffed. Thankfully, a manager jumped in and scored us a booth in the back of the clean yet rustic looking dining room.

cochon 

To be concise, the food was pretty good (some of it really good) but the portions were on the smallish side and the prices weren’t exactly cheap. Example: $4 for a small bottle of Mexican Coca Cola, $5 for a bottle of Cheerwine. I do applaud the uniqueness of their beverage selections, but come on folks. Seriously!

The rolls served before dinner were OK — nothing special about them. My hen and andouille gumbo was superb … easily the best we had on this trip (or any trip for that matter). Dark and rich with a nice little afterburn. Good job, y’all. The macaroni and cheese was pretty amazing – the wife and kids scarfed their’s up in record time, although I did manage to steal one decadent taste before it all disappeared.  

I really would have loved to have sampled more food that night. Especially a variety of meats and sausages that Cochon has made it’s name on. But Tomy’s dropping the ball and the rather proud pricing at Cochon prohibited that from happening — at least on this journey.

I would like to score some of their recipes to try at home, so I may see about getting a review copy of Link’s recent cookbook, “Real Cajun.” A guy named Link making world class sausage??? Sounds like it was written in the stars on some starry Bayou night long ago.  

From Publishers Weekly
If bacon does not immediately come to mind as an essential ingredient of Cajun cooking, then clearly you have been missing Link, the chef-owner of two New Orleans restaurants, Herbsaint and Cochon. He not only begins his premiere cookbook with instructions on making four pounds of homemade bacon, he includes such tempting items as a fried oyster and bacon sandwich, tomato and bacon pie, and catfish fried in bacon fat. Even in his vegetarian twice-baked potatoes, he cannot help mentioning, Normally I like crisp bits of bacon in stuffed potatoes. And where bacon leads, the rest of the pig is sure to follow. A classic boudin recipe is rich in pork liver and shoulder; deer sausage combines venison with pork butt; and a hearty/scary breakfast dish, oreilles de cochon (pig ears), is boudin-stuffed beignets. There is also plenty of crawfish, be it in a crawfish pie, a traditional boil or in a boulette (deep fried balls of crawfish meat and stuffing). A bourbon cherry lemonade or a plate of fresh peach buckle would cleanse the palate nicely, Eighty color photos enhance Link’s efforts, as do his brief meditations on crawfish farming, family gatherings and the joys of making a perfect roux. (Apr.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Review
“Donald Link’s book simply makes me hungry the way I used to be around my grandmother’s kitchen down on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. He is more than a chef. He is a southern artist using tradition as a canvas and acquired culinary magic as his box of paints, with which he brings to life masterpieces of southern cuisine that ignite our taste buds as well as reminding us of who we are and where we come from.”
—Jimmy Buffett

“Donald Link’s childhood in Cajun Country taught him that cooking is all about family, local ingredients, and, most important, taste. There’s no blackened redfish here, just delicious recipes (think Crispy Softshell Crab with Chili Glaze or Satsuma Buttermilk Pie) and great memories, informed by his wry sense of humor and passion for food and place. Real Cajun is the real deal and proves, once again, that Link is not only the soul of New Orleans but also one of the most talented chefs in the country.”
—Julia Reed

“Donald Link is rediscovering traditional Cajun food in all of its diversity and simplicity. His flavors come from backyard organic vegetables, local fish, and heritage breed pork. The essence of Cochon’s cooking is beautifully revealed in this inviting book.”
—Alice Waters


“Donald Link’s cooking embodies the very best–the heart and soul–of New Orleans cuisine; there’s no one in the business with more credibility. Real Cajun captures the straight-up, un-cut, raw, and wonderful rustic classics in all their unvarnished, unprettified glory.”
—Anthony Bourdain


“Real Cajun tells Donald Link’s captivating story of growing up in southwest Louisiana and shares with us the incredible no-holds-barred type of cooking and eating that Cajuns live for. With great traditions, vivid tales, and passionate cooking from a real Cajun chef, this cookbook will be a treasure for all who turn its pages.”
—Frank Stitt


“Real Cajun is honest, gutsy, and proudly provincial. Read this book and you’ll want to mainline shrimp and crab gumbo. Cook from this book and you’ll rationalize an all boudin diet.”
—John T. Edge, general editor of Cornbread Nation

Zapp’s and Dale’s – Two Southern Essentials

26 Jul

zapps

Just wanted to update everyone on some Southern food products we are currently excited about. I was cruising my neighborhood Publix yesterday and saw that Zapp’s is now making a Sweet Potato Chip. If it’s half as good as the Sweet Taters made by Virginia’s Route 11, they are in business! Looking forward to trying them soon. www.zapps.com

dales

We had lunch at Panini Pete’s in Fairhope, AL yesterday. My son had the most delicious hamburger. I took a taste and honestly couldn’t explain why it tasted so good — and different. I asked our waitress and she revealed the secret … they marinate the burgers in Dale’s Seasoning. I immediately rushed out and picked up a bottle. It will surely be the star of my next home cookout. www.dalesseasoning.com

palmettocheeselogo

Another new product we spied recently is a gourmet pimento cheese made in Pawley’s Island, SC. And I thought they only made hammocks there! It really looks chunky and homemade, but be forewarned that it costs about double the price of other brands like Mrs Stratton’s. Hope it’s worth it — we’ll see! www.palmettocheese.com (EDITOR’S NOTE: Tried it — and it’s totally worth the extra money. Special ingredients include cream cheese, sharp cheddar, onions, and a nice black pepper after bite.)  

gourmet

The line of products you see above are made by the Gourmet Warehouse in Hilton Head, SC. Guess the folks in the SC Lowcountry have been busy lately.

I am most anxious to try their Key Lime and Lowcountry marinades. Think I will jot them a quick note to see if they can ship some samples our way. Stay tuned for more information – coming soon! Learn more at www.hiltonheadgourmet.com

Cajun Power’s Sloppy Boudreaux Mix

5 Jul

sloppy

I made some sandwiches for the kids with this store bought sauce.

Really good — nice n’ tangy and loaded with chopped onions.

I also love their Cajun Power Garlic Sauce. Awesome!

Just add some lean ground turkey to the Sloppy Boudreaux sauce and you are in “bidness.” It makes for an easy but satisfying family meal. I can also tell you that this brand contains very few artificial ingredients. Compares favorably to the more readily available MANWICH brand.

Learn more about the makers at www.cajunpowersauce.com

USA Crawfish Tails – There is a BIG Difference

5 Apr

cajun-grocer

Our good friends at CajunGrocer.com recently sent us a couple pounds of cleaned crawfish tails. Unlike a lot of the crawfish tails currently sold in the USA, these babies were actually farm raised in Louisiana (not in Vietnam or Taiwan) by C.J.’s Seafood in Breaux Bridge. They were also professionally purged of all that nasty grayish brown poop that often accompanies the Asian varieties. Now I must admit that, in a pinch, we have occasionally purchased imported crawfish tails from Asia. In all honesty, sometimes that is all you can find here in SW FL.  

But please don’t let anyone tell you that there is no noticeable difference between LA and foreign raised crawfish. The tails we sampled from the Cajun Grocer were super plump, meaty, a pleasing white in color, and fresh tasting without a hint of fishiness. In comparison, most of the Asian tails we have tried were smaller, slightly grey in hue, and, well, a little gamey tasting at times. We would strongly encourage you to seek out crawfish raised right here in the good old USA. Sure, a little extra effort may be required. But you will be rewarded with a truly delicious dining experience.

Ask your local grocer to offer crawfish raised here in this country. If that doesn’t work, order some online at CajunGrocer.com. It’s easy and much cheaper than you might think. And don’t forget to try the award-winning recipe for Mike’s Crawfish Etoufee. It appears on each frozen 16 oz. packet of cleaned crawfish tails from C.J.’s.  Cleaning (aka purging) makes big difference — trust us! www.cajungrocer.com

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