Acadiana Table – Join me in exploring the Cajun Creole food culture that stirs the passion of the people of South Louisiana.

Crabbin’ Fever

Crab dip and peppers

Fresh Louisiana crabmeat in a light dip with sweet peppers. (All photos credit: George Graham)

Crabbing during the summer months is a family event in South Louisiana, and it is not uncommon to see folks dangling nets off most every bridge or canal lining the back roads of the coastal parishes.  The sweet white meat of the Louisiana blue crab is a culinary treasure that is easily accessible to most anyone.  A string and a chicken neck are pretty much all you need to fill a bushel basket in no time at all.

Colorful crab traps

Colorful crab traps line the docks of Cypremort Point.

Commercial crabbing is big business in Acadiana and all along the coast fishing families make their living during the summer crab season.  Cypremort Point is a fishing village just south of Lafayette that is headquarters for many independent crab boats that line the docks.  My friend Frank Randol buys from them as he is one of the largest processors of blue crab in South Louisiana.  His plant in Lafayette employs dozens of crab pickers that break down crabmeat into grades — claw, backfin, white and jumbo lump.   The operation serves many retail locations in Louisiana as well as the restaurant industry in Chicago.

Louisiana crabs

Louisiana crabs ready for picking.

Crabmeat isn’t cheap and the jumbo lump can go for over twenty dollars a pound which is why you see families lining the waterfront docks with their nets and crab traps.  A morning of crabbing fun can yield enough crabs for an afternoon boil as well as a few mounds of hand-picked crabmeat for some great Cajun Creole recipes.

One of my favorites is a dip that showcases the sweetness of delicate blue crabmeat.  If followed carefully, the simplicity of this recipe and the light hand on ingredients results in a dip unlike any you’ve ever tried before.  This is not a heavily spiced, beer-drinkin’ dip, but rather one that can be enjoyed with a nice glass of chilled white wine on a lazy summer evening.

Gulf Coast Crab Dip
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cooking time: 0
Serves: 4 – 6

For the best flavor, source fresh lump white crabmeat, not canned, for this recipe.  Fresh thyme (not dried) pairs perfectly with the sweet crab, so be sure to find it.  Restrain your heavy hand on the hot sauce.  I like the crunch and freshness of small sweet (not hot) peppers for dipping, but crackers or crostini will work.

6 ounces cream cheese
2 tablespoons mayonnaise, such as Blue Plate
½ cup finely diced white onion
1 cup finely diced celery
1 tablespoon diced green onion
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
2 tablespoons fresh thyme, stemmed and chopped
Juice of ½ fresh lemon
1 tablespoon medium-spice Louisiana hot sauce
1 tablespoon Cajun seasoning
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
8 ounces fresh Gulf crabmeat

In a mixing bowl, add the cream cheese and mayonnaise, and whisk until blended. Add the onion, celery and green onion, parsley, thyme, lemon, hot sauce and Cajun seasoning.  Add the crabmeat and stir to incorporate evenly.  Taste and add salt and pepper.  Taste again and adjust with more hot sauce if you like it spicy.  Cover the bowl and chill to allow the flavors to meld together.

For serving, add the dip to a bowl and surround with crackers or toasted crostini.  Optionally, serve with sweet multi-colored peppers for dipping.  A chilled glass of chardonnay will pair perfectly with this dip.

Dipping a pepper

Make plenty! This dip will go fast.

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Vintage Simplicity

Pasta salad

Chilled wine and an ice-cold pasta salad for a light Sunday evening dinner.  (All photos credit: George Graham)

Sunday nights are welcome.  Rox and I stay incredibly busy most all week long, and now and then we enjoy just kicking our feet up and relaxing on a Sunday evening.  It is those kinds of evenings that I stumble upon dishes and recipes that otherwise would not appear on my Acadiana Table.  No agenda, no planning, no problem.

To further simplify the evening, we decided there would be no mad dash to the store for last-minute ingredients, but rather, our relaxing Sunday dinner would be made exclusivity with items we had on hand.  Pasta, fresh herbs from the garden, along with a hodgepodge of ripe vegetables and fruit can sometimes come together brilliantly.

Pairing wine with food is what we do at most every meal, but this evening we switched the order of things and uncorked a spectacular 2011 Cakebread Chardonnay for inspiration.  As the bottle breathed, nestled in a cooler of ice, we thought about what food to pair this beautiful wine with.

And the research began.

Before tasting the wine, we Googled the bottle to discover the background of the vintage and conditions of its growth.  And as this bottle’s story goes:

2011 was among the coldest, wettest and latest vintages in memory.  Wet winter and spring weather extended into mid-June, delaying and disrupting budbreak, bloom and fruit set and setting the stage for a cool summer growing season that culminated in a prolonged harvest.  The cool summer weather fostered slow, even ripening and the development of optimal fruit flavors at lower-than-normal sugar levels.  This helped us craft a beautifully balanced Chardonnay with fresh acidity and classic varietal aromas and flavors.

As we delved into the nuances of this particular harvest, Roxanne was the first to key on the cool California summer and the lack of sweltering heat that naturally inhibits the formation of sugary sweet grapes.  Our food pairing should be fresh, natural with an equally light preparation that is perfect for a pasta dish sans heavy sauce of any kind.  I agreed.  We read on:

Our 2011 Napa Valley Chardonnay opens with fresh, creamy aromas of ripe pear, apple and citrus, with light butter, yeast and spicy oak tones adding complexity.  The wine’s rich, focused, green apple, melon and guava flavors are nicely balanced by fresh acidity and a piquant mineral tone.  Both mouthfilling and elegant, this quintessential Napa Valley Chardonnay is delectable now, but it will develop even greater complexity as the bottle ages.

Kinloch Pecan OIl

Kinloch Plantation in Winnsboro is home to this homegrown Louisiana pecan oil.

We decided that a simple, nutty Louisiana pecan oil spiked with a squeeze of Meyer lemon would be just the acid-laced undertone to this pasta dish as we contemplated what herbs and produce to feature.  In our garden, we have leaves of basil and mint that with a quick chiffonade will easily add a herbal counterbalance to the piquant red and yellow cherry tomatoes we found along with some fresh green asparagus in the bottom crisper.

We poured a tasting and were pleasantly surprised at the accuracy of the winery’s notes, but we detected a rich buttery and slightly oaky note that will work well with grilled boneless chicken breast.

This just might be a world-class pairing – vintage with simplicity.

Grilled Chicken Pasta Salad with Garden Herbs and Louisiana Pecan Oil Drizzle
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cooking time: 25 minutes
Serves: 2

Get creative and use what you already have.  Fresh herbs are key.  I urge you to try the pecan oil in this and other dishes, but feel free to opt for a good quality olive oil.  I love the fresh jalapeno in this dish, but leave it out if you prefer a tamer version.  Instead of chicken, make this recipe with sauteed shrimp or grilled salmon.

Pecan oil
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Creole seasoning
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 cups spaghetti noodles, cooked
2 Clementine oranges
2 tablespoons red onion, diced
2 tablespoons green onion tops, diced
1 cup red cherry tomatoes, halved
1 cup yellow cherry tomatoes, halved
1 cup green asparagus tips, blanched
½ cup green peas, cooked
1 small green jalapeno, ribs and seeds removed and diced
½ cup fresh basil, stems removed and chopped
2 sprigs of mint, stems removed and chopped
1 fresh Meyer lemon

In a heavy skillet on medium high heat, add 2 tablespoons of pecan oil.  While the oil is heating, season the chicken breasts with Creole seasoning, salt and pepper.  Once the pan is hot, add the chicken breasts and brown on both sides until completely done.  Remove to a plate, cover and refrigerate.

In a large mixing bowl, add the cooked noodles and season with salt and pepper.  Drizzle lightly with pecan oil.  Cover and refrigerate.

Peel the oranges and remove the seeds.  Slice segments of the orange being careful to remove any white pith.  Add the orange segments to the bowl of pasta.

In the large mixing bowl, add the onions, tomatoes, asparagus, peas, jalapenos and herbs.  Cut the lemon in half and squeeze 2 tablespoons of the juice over the salad being careful to remove any seeds.  Toss while drizzling lightly with pecan oil.

Remove the cooled chicken from the refrigerator and slice into strips.  Add the chicken to the bowl and toss again.  Season lightly with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

For serving, mound the cold salad mixture in the center of a plate making sure to distribute the ingredients evenly.  Drizzle lightly with more pecan oil and serve.  Pair with an ice-cold glass of Chardonnay.

Chicken Pasta salad

The perfect light pasta salad.

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Mac Attack

Mac and Cheese recipe

A crusty cheese gratin tops this casserole. (All photos credit: George Graham)

For my daughter Lauren, there is nothing more comforting than a bowl of macaroni and cheese. Juggling classes and outside activities at Louisiana State University, she rarely finds time to cook dinner, but a microwave mac and cheese is always at the ready. Spending two months at home this summer, Lauren got to kick back and relax.  I decided to indulge her mac obsession, but with a twist. No processed and packaged noodles here, I decided to up the ante with my take on a Baked Seafood Mac and Cheese Casserole.

Whoever said seafood and cheese doesn’t go together, never tasted this recipe. Blending fresh Louisiana crabmeat and shrimp with a cheesy Cheddar and Monterey Jack cream reduction sends this dish to a stellar level. Elbow macaroni brings it all together and a whimsical potato chip crust tops it all off.  Just watch your family attack this casserole as soon as it hits the table.

Serving of Mac and Cheese

Oozing with creamy cheese goodness, this seafood-infused casserole ups the ante.

Baked Seafood Mac and Cheese Casserole
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: 90 minutes
Serves: 6

I like the fun of using potato chips for my crust, but bread crumbs will work.  Seafood options are endless in this recipe so use whatever is freshest and available. 
1 pound package of small elbow macaroni
1 ½ sticks butter, divided
1 cup diced yellow onion
½ cup diced celery
½ cup diced green onion tops
2 tablespoons parsley
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
1 egg
½ cup cream cheese
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 cups grated Monterey Jack cheese
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Louisiana hot sauce
1 pound medium-size Louisiana shrimp, shelled
8 ounces white lump Gulf crabmeat
2 cups grated Cheddar cheese, divided
1 cup crumbled plain potato chips

Preheat oven to 350º F.

In a large pot of water on high heat, add salt and bring to a boil.  Add the package of macaroni and bring back to a boil.  Continue cooking until the noodles are fully cooked.  Pour off two cups of the starchy pasta water for later use.  Drain the noodles into a colander and reserve for later use.

In a large skillet on medium high heat, add 1 stick of the butter.  When the butter begins to sizzle, add the onions, celery and green onion tops.  Cook until the onions turn translucent and add the parsley.  Stir the mixture and sprinkle the flour and continue cooking to make a light blond roux.  Add the milk and stir to incorporate until the mixture thickens.  Add only enough of the macaroni noodles to evenly balance the cream mixture and reserve the rest.

In a small bowl, add the cream and the egg.  Whisk the egg into the cream and add to the pot and stir.  Add the cream cheese, Parmesan and Monterey Jack.  Stir until the cheeses begin to melt and thicken the mixture.  Season with salt, pepper and a dash of hot sauce to taste.  Add the shrimp and crabmeat and stir.

If needed, add more of the macaroni noodles.  If the mixture is too thick, add a little of the reserved pasta water until it reaches a moist thickness.  Grease a medium-size casserole dish with ½ stick butter.  Pour in the noodle mixture.  Sprinkle the top with 1 ½ cups of Cheddar cheese and spread out to cover the mixture.  Spread the crumbled potato chips evenly across the top and then sprinkle with the remaining ½ cup of Cheddar cheese.

Place the casserole on a baking sheet and move to the heated oven.  Bake for 40 minutes or until the mixture has set and the top just begins to brown.  Watch carefully in the last 10 minutes of baking and use the broiler if needed to achieve a gratin on the top.

For serving, move the casserole to the center of the table and spoon onto individual plates or bowls.  Serve with a simple side salad and garlic bread.

Plate of Mac and Cheese

Mac and cheese — Southern comfort food!

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Pompano and The Picayune

Creole Fish Recipe at Acadiana Table

Crab-Stuffed Roulade of Pompano is easy when baked in a muffin tin. (All photos credit: George Graham)

During a recent road trip to the Northshore of Lake Pontchartrain, I was poking around an antique store on the search for culinary collectibles that I use in my photography. I happened upon a two-dollar treasure trove of historical information in a small book called The Picayune Creole Cook Book. Originally published in 1901, this collection of French Creole recipes literally defines the culinary culture of New Orleans. I read it cover to cover.

On page 49 an entire section of the book talks about cooking fish and the culinary virtues of pompano. Pompano is prized by those in the know along the coast of Louisiana. I rarely see it in Acadiana, but trek over to New Orleans and it is readily available and on the menus of most of the classic Creole restaurants. Even in the pages of The Picayune reflecting the tastes of diners in the 1800s, pompano was special:

Pompano is the crowning glory of the fish of the New Orleans market. It is peculiar to the waters of the Gulf of Mexico, Mississippi Sound and the Louisiana Grand Isle shore. The word Pompano is derived from the Spanish “Pampano,” signifying a peculiar greenish-tinted plant, and the name “Pompano” was given to the fish by the early Spanish fishermen on account of the delicate greenish color which distinguishes it. Nothing to be compared with the Pompano exists in the Northern, Eastern, or Western waters, and no stranger leaves New Orleans without having tasted once of this delightful fish. The New Orleans Pompano has a world-wide fame. The Pompano used to come in the early spring and remain but a few weeks, hence the first fish that appeared in the French Market were eagerly sought after as a great luxury. Pompano is more plentiful now and are to be found in the market almost all the year round.

Creole cookbook at Acadiana Table

One of the first Louisiana cookbooks documenting the roots of Creole cooking.

For Acadiana Table, my recipe showcases the flavors of two of the most delicate Gulf seafood ingredients; pompano and blue crab. How can you go wrong by marrying these sweet flavors? And the technique I use is an especially simple one that I have applied with other delicate fish filets like speckled trout and flounder. Creating a Crab-Stuffed Roulade of Pompano sounds a bit intimidating, but when baked in a muffin tin, it is effortless.

Crab-Stuffed Roulade of Pompano
Prep time: 45 minutes
Cooking time: 30 minutes
Serves: 4 as an entrée or 8 as an appetizer

Be sure to grease the muffin tin thoroughly and run a knife around the edges before removing to prevent the fish from flaking apart.  You can use a toothpick to hold the fish together, but I’ve found that it usually isn’t necessary.  The fish will bake quickly so be careful not to overcook it.

8 fillets of pompano, trimmed and bones removed
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1 cup finely diced yellow onions
1 cup finely diced celery
½ cup diced red bell pepper
½ cup diced green bell pepper
½ cup diced green onions
1 tablespoon minced garlic
2 tablespoons fresh thyme, plus more for garnish
½ cup white wine
½ cup heavy cream
Juice of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon Creole seasoning
Dash of Louisiana hot sauce
8 ounces Louisiana fresh white crabmeat
1 cup unseasoned bread crumbs, plus more if needed

Preheat oven to 350º F.

Using paper towel, pat the fish filets dry and sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper.  Refrigerate for later use.

In a skillet on medium heat, melt 4 tablespoons of butter.  Add the onions, celery, bell peppers and green onions, and cook until the onions turn translucent.  Add the garlic, thyme, wine and cream.  Let cook until the wine and cream begin to reduce and thicken.  Season with lemon juice, Creole seasoning and hot sauce.  Remove the mixture from the stovetop.

Add the crabmeat and stir gently to incorporate.  Slowly add the breadcrumbs just until the mixture reaches a moist stuffing consistency.  Keep warm.

In a muffin tin, grease 8 holes with butter and place one of the pompano fillets in each.  Spoon a portion of the crabmeat stuffing into the circular hole of each fish fillet.  Bake until the fish is done, approximately 15 minutes.  Serve one or two of the roulades on a plate and garnish with a sprig of thyme.  Simple steamed vegetables go well with the delicate flavors of this dish.

Pompano recipe at Acadiana Table

A single portion for an appetizer or two for a heartier entrée.

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Jam Jars in July

Cherry jam dessert recipe

Sweet jars filled with freshly made black cherry jam, blueberries and cream. (All photos credit: George Graham)

These jam jars are Southern, and sweet, and so delicious.  Jam jars make me think of all the summers of my life.  Tiptoeing barefoot through my backyard with an empty quart jar in one hand and a screw-top lid in the other pursuing those big black bumblebees that buzzed around the azaleas along our fence line.  I recall punching air holes in the lid with a tenpenny nail and the heel of my sneaker.  Five in one jar was my record, and to my knowledge, still stands.  And I remember sipping sweet tea out of a Mason jar on the front steps waiting for momma to call me for supper.  And the endless row of colorful glistening jars lining the pantry shelf full of good things from the garden.  In the South, delicious things come in jam jars and this little recipe is one of them.

“Easy” understates the simplicity of this dessert.  Baking vanilla pound cake is a breeze, but even that can be store-bought if you’re not up to it.  Sourcing fresh blueberries and black cherries are key and they should be readily available from your produce market in the summer.

Make this summer dessert and put some sweet memories away in a jar.

Jam Jars
Prep time: 45 minutes
Cooking time:  90 minutes
Serves:  6

For this dessert, the perfect size is the pint (16 ounce) jars with lids.  My daughter Lauren helped by removing all the cherry seeds.  It’s easy but messy, and she suggests wearing plastic gloves to prevent staining your hands. Feel free to add a splash of dark rum to each dessert if you are in a festive mood.

Blueberry Cherry Dessert recipe at Acadiana Table

Fresh Southern ingredients for an easy summer dessert.

For the cherry jam:
3 cups ripe black cherries
2 tablespoons fresh-squeezed lemon juice
2 cups caster sugar
1 tablespoon honey
1 envelope powdered pectin

Remove 6 whole cherries with stems and place in a bowl to be used later for garnish.

With the remaining cherries, remove the stems and the seeds.  In a large saucepan on medium heat, place the stemmed and seeded cherries.  Add the lemon juice and sugar and bring to a boil.  While stirring, add the honey and the pectin and reduce the heat to simmer.  With a potato masher or the back of a spoon, mash the cherries until they break apart into rough chunks of different sizes.  Turn off the heat once the mixture thickens, about 3 minutes.  Refrigerate until ready to assemble.

For the vanilla pound cake:
4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 cups sugar
2 ½ cups softened butter
8 large eggs
2 tablespoons vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350º F.

In a large mixing bowl, sift the flour.  Add the baking powder and salt and stir to combine.

In a large mixing bowl, add the sugar and 2 cups softened butter.  With a hand mixer on medium speed, beat the mixture until combined and smooth in texture.  While continuing to mix on low speed, add the eggs and increase the speed as they incorporate.  Add the vanilla and resume beating until mixed.

Scrape the bowl down and add the dry ingredients.  On low speed, resume beating until fully combined.

With the remaining 1/2 cup of softened butter, grease the inside of two standard size loaf pans.  Pour the mixture evenly into each and place in the oven.  Lower the oven temperature to 325º F and cook for 40 minutes.  Check on the cakes and cover with foil to prevent browning, if needed.  Continue baking another 20 minutes.  After 1 hour, remove the foil and bake until completely done and a bamboo skewer comes out clean.  Remove the pans and let cool.  Once cool, carefully remove from the pans.

For the whipped cream:
4 cups heavy whipping cream, chilled
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
8 tablespoons caster sugar
1 tablespoon orange zest

Place a large stainless steel mixing bowl in the freezer for 30 minutes.

Remove the bowl and add the cream and vanilla.  With a handheld mixer on medium speed, begin beating the cream.  Once the cream begins to thicken, slowly add the sugar while continuing to mix.  As peaks begin to form, add the orange zest.  Continue mixing until fully whipped.  Cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator until ready to use.

For the assembly:
2 cups fresh blueberries
6 sprigs mint

Place six clean pint jars with lids on a large tray.  Place a tablespoon of cherry jam in the bottom of each jar.

Move the two loaves of cake to a cutting board.  Cut a 1-inch slice of cake and using one of the jar lids, press out a circle of cake.  Continue cutting out cake from both loaves until you have rounds plus additional remaining pieces.

Add a circle of cake to each of the jars on top of the cherry jam.  Top the cake with a spoonful of whipped cream and add a sprinkling of blueberries.  Add another round of cake (or cake pieces) and top with more of the cherry jam.  Add more whipped cream and blueberries.  Spoon a final topping of whipped cream garnished with a whole cherry and a sprig of mint.  Serve immediately.

Alternatively, you can make and assemble these jars stopping short of the final topping of whipped cream and garnish.  Simply screw the lids on the jars containing the unfinished desserts and refrigerate until ready to serve.  Later, remove the jars and add the final topping of whipped cream along with the cherry and mint garnish.

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Pan-Griddled Pork Chops with Goat Cheese Mashed Potatoes and Mustard Green Gravy

Griddled Pork Chop recipe at Acadiana Table

Ordinary pork chops turn extraordinary with help from a mustard green gravy. (All photos credit: George Graham)

I never met a pork chop I didn’t like.  Ok, if you’ve spent any time at my Acadiana Table you know I love pork chops, and the simpler the better.  This weekend, Roxanne decided to make my favorite pork chops and mashed potatoes for dinner, and I decided to join in and help her develop a new recipe that is simple, yet elevates the tastes in directions that are both soul satisfying and elegant.

With several of local farmer Charles Thompson’s pork chops — from heritage breed hogs — thawing out in a briny bath of salt, apple cider and water, I decided to turn my attention to the crowning glory of this dish – mashed potatoes and gravy.  I have a standard technique for perfect mashed potatoes that I will never deviate from.  I am a staunch believer in boiling my Idaho russets in salted water until just tender, not waterlogged.  Ricing potatoes in a handheld ricer is the best way to get consistency and to achieve a soft, smooth texture that creates the perfect pillowy platform for the ultimate quest – gravy.

For most, gravy is a byproduct, but to me it is the crowning glory of most any dish.  Without a good gravy, a mound of mashed potatoes is unfinished.  With it, they are magical.  The gravy I have in mind is based on a milk gravy my mom made every time she fried chicken or pork chops.  A light blond roux with lots of whole milk spiced with black pepper was the age-old method, but I plan to create new tastes.  Blending the thickened milk gravy with a touch of Dijon mustard and cooking it down with mustard greens infuses it with a contemporary twist of flavors.  Instead of black pepper I use white, and the rich, flavorful potlikker from the greens provides an added flavor boost.

With a package of my friend Wanda Barras’ fresh artisan goat cheese from St. Martin Parish, I am intensifying the mashed potatoes into a rich reservoir worthy of holding my deluge of mustard gravy – this has got to be good.  Griddled pork chops in a black iron skillet develop a browned, crusty exterior that gives just the right crunch with every bite around the bone.  Like it has for me, this recipe is sure to become one of your favorites.

Pan-Griddled Pork Chops with Goat Cheese Mashed Potatoes and Mustard Green Gravy
Prep time: 1 hour
Cooking time: 45 minutes
Serves: 2 or 4

You can easily scale this recipe up if you have more guests or bigger eaters.  This mustard green gravy could just as easily work with chicken.  

For the pork chops:
4 cups water
4 cups apple cider
1 cup salt
4 bone-in, thin-cut pork chops
1/4 cup canola oil
2 tablespoons Cajun seasoning

Brine the pork chops by mixing the water, cider and salt in a large covered container.  Add the pork chops and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight.

In a black iron skillet on medium heat, add the oil.  Remove the pork chops from the brine and pat dry removing all the salt.  Sprinkle the pork chops with Cajun seasoning.  Once the oil is hot, add them to the pan and cook until browned on both sides and fully done. Move to a paper towel-lined platter to drain.  Keep warm until serving.

For the gravy:
1/2 cup white flour
Whole milk
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 cup chopped mustard greens
1 cup reserved stock (potlikker) from the mustard greens
Kosher salt
White pepper

In the same black iron skillet on medium heat, add the flour to the remaining pan drippings. With a flat edged wooden spoon or spatula, scrape the bottom of the pan and stir the flour until it begins to cook and becomes a roux.  Once it takes on a beige color, add a little milk to the roux.  Stir until the mixture thickens and then add a little more milk.  Once you have a thickened gravy, add the mustard and the chopped mustard greens.  Continue stirring to incorporate and let the greens release their juices.  As the gravy thickens again, add some of the potlikker to loosen it to a gravy consistency that will coat the back of a spoon. Taste and season with salt and white pepper.  Move the pan off the heat and reserve until serving.

For the mustard greens:
4 strips smoked bacon
1/2 cup yellow onions, diced
1/2 cup green bell pepper, diced
1/2 cup celery, diced
2 tablespoons garlic, minced
1 bunch mustard greens, washed with stems removed and chopped
1 smoked ham hock
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

In a large pot with a heavy lid on medium heat, add the bacon and cook until crisp.  Remove the bacon to a platter and break into pieces for later use.  Add the onions, bell pepper, celery and garlic to the bacon drippings and cook until the onions turn translucent, about 5 minutes.  Add the chopped mustard greens and add water to cover the greens mixture.  Add the ham hock and season lightly with salt and pepper.  Bring the pot to a boil and then reduce to a simmer and cover tightly.  Let the greens cook for 45 minutes.

For the mashed potatoes:
4 large russet potatoes, peeled and cubed
Kosher salt
1 stick unsalted butter
1/2 cup heavy cream
4 ounces goat cheese
Freshly ground black pepper

In a large pot, add the potatoes.  Fill with water to cover the potatoes and lightly season the water with salt.  On high heat, bring the water to a boil and then reduce to a simmer.  Cook for approximately 15 minutes, until the potatoes are fork tender. Drain the water from the potatoes and using a potato ricer, process the potatoes until all lumps are gone. Return the shredded potatoes to the warm pot and add butter, heavy cream and goat cheese along with a grind of black pepper.  Using a spoon, stir lightly until mixed and the cheese is melted.  Cover the pot and keep warm.

For serving, turn the heat on the pan of gravy and bring back to a simmer.  If the gravy has thickened too much, thin it out again by adding more potlikker.

Spoon a mound of mashed potatoes in the center of a plate and add a heaping spoonful of the mustard gravy.  Top with a griddled pork chop.  Serve with a bowl of mustard greens on the side along with hot cornbread and a pitcher of sweet tea.

Pork Chop and Mustard Green Gravy recipe at Acadiana Table

Pork chop, mashed potatoes and gravy — warm comfort food.

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Crab-Stuffed Portobello


Cheesy portobello mushroom stuffed with Louisiana blue crab and fresh herbs. (All photos credit: George Graham)

The large, round portobello mushrooms were calling out to me at Fresh Pickin’s market the other day.  Just begging to be stuffed, these bowl-shaped fungi are just the right size for a creamy, cheesy seafood and herb-infused blend of flavors.

Improvising with what’s already in your fridge or garden is a fun way to cook.  No rules, no recipes, just your instincts on what tastes good.  I cook like this most of the time and once the dinner is served, I’ve usually forgotten the exact ingredients and quantities that went into the dish.  Not this time.  I decided to meticulously detail the recipe for this easy and light dinner entrée.

I don’t wash mushrooms since they seem to soak up water like a sponge.  Rather, I take a brush and gently brush the tops, and with a spoon, I remove the stem and scoop out the dark brown gills lining the inside.  I always buy one more portobello than I am stuffing, since I like to add more chopped mushroom to the stuffing.

This dish is perfect for a light lunch or an evening meal paired with a bottle of good wine.  Make this simple, yet elegant recipe part of your Acadiana table.

Crab-Stuffed Portobello
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: 45 minutes
Serves: 4

Tips:  I had a container of handpicked Gulf crabmeat in my freezer, but this recipe would be great with shrimp or crawfish.   Be sure to use fresh herbs rather than dried.

5 large portobello mushrooms
1 stick unsalted butter
½ cup yellow onions
½ cup celery
1 tablespoon minced garlic
½ cup vermouth
1 cup chopped fresh basil
Fresh thyme sprigs, divided
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Dash of Louisiana hot sauce
8 ounces Louisiana crabmeat
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup fresh unseasoned breadcrumbs
2 cups grated Monterey Jack cheese
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Preheat the oven to 350º F.

Using a scrub brush, clean the tops of the mushrooms and with a spoon, remove the stem and dark brown gills inside.  Chop 1 of the mushrooms for later use.   Move the remaining whole mushrooms to the side and reserve.

In a large skillet on medium heat, melt the butter.  Add the onions, celery and chopped mushrooms and cook until the onions turn translucent.  Add the garlic and vermouth.  Cook until the liquor begins to burn off and the vermouth reduces by half.  Add the basil and 2 tablespoons of  fresh thyme, reserving the rest of the thyme for garnish.  Turn off the heat.

Season to taste with paprika, salt and pepper along with a dash of hot sauce.  Add the crabmeat and grated Parmesan.  At this point, the mixture should have significant moisture to add the breadcrumbs.  Stir the breadcrumbs and distribute evenly throughout the mixture until absorbed.

Move the whole portobellos to a parchment-lined baking tray.  Spoon the stuffing mixture inside each mushroom.  Top with a generous sprinkling of grated Monterey Jack and a drizzle of olive oil.  Place in the oven and cook for approximately 15 minutes until the cheese begins to bubble and turn brown.  Remove and keep warm.

For serving, place one stuffed mushroom on a plate and garnish with a sprig of thyme.  Serve with a green salad lightly dressed with your choice of dressing.


Perfect portobello portion.

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Shrimp on a Roll

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Louisiana Shrimp Roll – a cool summer sandwich. (All photos credit: George Graham)

When Louisiana summer heats up, Louisiana food cools down. Seldom does gumbo appear on the home dinner table when temps approach 100ºF and the clamor to escape the stifling heat includes the menu. Ice-cold watermelon, sweet-churned ice cream, syrupy sno balls and pitchers of freshly squeezed lemonade are just a few of the warm-weather tricks that have become backyard family traditions.

One dish that I’ve perfected over the years is a cold sandwich featuring fresh Gulf shrimp. The inspiration for this dish came from my travels in New England. One summer I trekked from New York through Connecticut to Cape Cod and Boston and northward along the eastern seaboard discovering (and dining at) the unique seaside communities that dot the coastline. My culinary epiphany came with that first bite of a perfectly crafted lobster roll in the harbor town of Salem, Massachusetts. It was magical.

The underlying principal of that lobster sandwich is at the heart of this recipe for my Gulf coast version – the Louisiana Shrimp Roll. Simplicity rules – fresh seafood accented with fresh herbs and citrus combined with a light hand on spices and binders. Let the flavor of the sweet shrimp shine through. Mayonnaise is a needed ingredient, but rather than the normal canned tuna or chicken salad tendency to drown everything in a mayo mess, go easy. And watch the added heat, only a pinch of cayenne does the trick to add a bit of intrigue to this sandwich.

On the backyard deck, poolside or at a beach picnic, roll out this easy shrimp sandwich for a cool summer meal.

Louisiana Shrimp Roll
Prep time: 45 minutes
Cooking time:  15 minutes
Serves:  4

Try not to improvise with the measurements in this list of ingredients — follow closely and taste before you add.  If your shrimp are larger than bite size, feel free to cut them into smaller pieces.  Use a good quality mayonnaise or better yet, make your own.  I would not attempt this sandwich on typical po-boy French bread since the dense bread could overwhelm the lightness of the dish.  I use a soft, fresh hoagie-type roll, but a quality hot dog bun will work fine.  An optional idea for this shrimp mixture is to serve it stuffed in a cold Creole tomato.

2 fresh lemons, halved
2 pounds small, raw peeled Louisiana shrimp
½ cup mayonnaise, recommend Blue Plate
1 cup finely diced celery
½ cup finely diced green bell pepper
4 tablespoons chopped green onion tops
4 tablespoons chopped cilantro
2 tablespoons fresh thyme, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh mint leaves, chopped
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
Kosher salt, to taste
4 buns
4 red-leaf lettuce leaves

In a large pot half filled with water on high heat, add a generous handful of salt.  Squeeze the lemon halves into the water along with the lemons.  Bring to a boil and add the shrimp.  Stir the shrimp and let come to a boil.  Turn off the heat and let sit for 3 minutes.  Test one of the larger shrimp for doneness.  If fully cooked, drain the shrimp and rinse under cold water to stop the cooking.  Move the shrimp to a covered container and refrigerate.

In a large mixing bowl, add the mayonnaise.  Add the celery, bell pepper, green onion tops, cilantro, thyme and mint.  Stir to combine.  Add the cayenne, black pepper and lemon juice.  Stir to combine.  Add salt to taste.

Add the shrimp to the mixture and stir to combine thoroughly.  Taste again and adjust any ingredient to your desired taste and texture.  Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or longer.

For serving, line the four buns with a lettuce leaf and pile on a generous portion of the shrimp salad.  Serve cold with chilled white wine or a pitcher of iced tea.


Sweet Gulf shrimp and an herb-infused dressing combine for a light summer sandwich.

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Lend Me An Ear

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Spicy and cheesy, serve this Blue Plate Corn on the Cob for your Fourth of July barbecue. (All photos credit: George Graham)

In the South, sweet summer corn is a long anticipated signal that the seasons have finally shifted culinary gears. On or off the cob, not a Sunday dinner goes by that corn isn’t somewhere on the table. As a kid growing up in a family of Southern cooks, my job was shucking the corn for every backyard barbecue or evening supper. Stripping back the husks and pulling out the strands of silky golden “hair”, I would occasionally find a worm or two to torment my sister with. But, husking a couple dozen ears of yellow sweet corn was as much fun as it was to eat.

Over the years, I’ve amassed a lengthy repertoire of fresh corn dishes for my Acadiana Table. Good Southern recipes along with spicy Cajun Creole traditions elevate corn into tasty casseroles, soups, salads and side dishes of all kinds. But, there’s always been one stumbling block — corn on the cob. Everybody loves it, but nobody quite knows what to do with it except boil it and butter it. Well, hear me out and I will change that with my Cajun recipe for Blue Plate Corn on the Cob that will redefine your corn experience this July 4th holiday.

Now, I will freely admit that my inspiration for this dish came from the least likely source – a Mexican flea market. A few years ago in the outskirts of Houston, I stumbled on an outdoor fiesta featuring an interesting array of South-of-the-border goods, music and food. And it was in a mobile food truck turning out Mexican corn on the cob that I found my cornucopia of inspiration. Roasted and rolled in spicy Mexican cheese, I discovered that a simple ear of corn on a stick in the right hands could be a stick of culinary dynamite. For me, it was the taste explosion heard ‘round the world.

But, how could I improve on the Mexican version with the Cajun flavors of my Acadiana?

Listen up.  Here’s the easy recipe for my Blue Plate Corn on the Cob.  Turns out it is a simple seven-step, assembly-line process: shuck, season, boil, grill, slather, roll and sprinkle.

This is the perfect backyard side dish that will take center stage this Fourth of July.  Trust me. Your family and friends will love it.  You’ll have them grinning from ear to ear.

Blue Plate Corn on the Cob
Prep Time: 45 minutes
Cooking time: 30 minutes
Serves: 6 – 12

Tying back the husks makes both a fun presentation and an easy handle for eating. If you buy the already husked corn, then you can insert a bamboo skewer in one end for ease of handling. This corn is addictive and most guests will want at least two. This recipe is very scalable so buy plenty of corn. Use a softened butter, but not melted. I use Parkay squeeze butter that is already soft and pourable. If you do not have a gas grill then use a charcoal barbecue or feel free to hold them briefly over the gas burner of your stovetop until the kernels brown slightly. The key is to get a little char flavor of roasted corn. Once you’ve coated all the corncobs, feel free to microwave them briefly on high for 1 minute just before serving.

12 ears of fresh yellow corn, with husks
1 (3 ounce) bag of dry crab boil, recommend: Zatarain’s Crab and Shrimp Boil
1 cup salt
2 cups butter, softened
2 cups mayonnaise, recommend: Blue Plate
1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons chili powder
4 cups crumbled blue cheese
1 pound cooked crispy bacon, chopped into small pieces
½ cup Cajun Creole seasoning

On a cutting board with a sharp knife, cut the tip off the corn about 1 inch from the end. Peel back the husk and remove all of the corn silk with your fingers. Pull the husks back and tear off one of the longer green husks. Take the single husk and loop it around the rest of the husks tying it in a knot. Repeat with all the corncobs and stand them in a deep pot with corn tips down and the husks up.

Fill the pot with water just until it covers the kernels of corn on the cob. Turn the heat to high and add the crab boil seasoning and 1 cup of salt. Bring to a boil and turn off. Let the corn sit in the seasoned water for 10 minutes.

Remove the corn from the pot and drain. Using paper towels, dry the corn. On a gas grill on high, add the corncobs with the kernels over the flames and the husks off the burners. Grill the corn just until some of the corn kernels start to brown, and remove before they blacken. Place all the corn on a platter.

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Louisiana ingredients are music to these ears.

On a platter or sheet tray with a half-inch rim, add the softened butter, and using a spatula, smooth it out. Add the mayonnaise and combine. Add the cayenne and chili powder and stir to combine evenly. Set aside.

On a platter or sheet tray with a half-inch rim, add the crumbled blue cheese and the crispy bacon pieces. Combine together and break up any larger chunks of cheese or bacon. Set aside.

For assembling, position the three stages: the platter of corn, butter/mayo mixture and crumbled blue cheese/bacon. Take an ear of corn and add it to the butter/mayo mixture and slather all sides evenly. Then roll the corn in the crumbled blue cheese/bacon. Sprinkle lightly with Cajun Creole seasoning and place on a platter. Repeat with all the corncobs. Serve alongside barbecued meats or burgers for a festive Fourth of July.

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Make plenty, they’ll go fast.

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Iceberg Ahead

Iceberg wedge

A towering wedge of iceberg. (All photos credit: George Graham)

There was a time, and I remember it well, that iceberg lettuce ruled the salad world.  In those days, lettuce simply was iceberg – no options.  Today, the varieties are staggering;  mixed greens, micro-greens, arugula, frisée, romaine, endive, and on and on.  Not only are the options endless, but it seems that iceberg has gotten a bad rap of not being hip and trendy.  Imagine that, iceberg is no longer cool.

Well, call me old-fashioned, but I’ve been a closet iceberg fan all along.  Oh, I trot out the frou-frou spring mix when company comes a-callin’, but for me and me alone, a towering wedge of iceberg is the salad green of choice.

My rules for the perfect wedge salad are few, but firm.  Cold is key.  Not only do the lettuce and ingredients have to be cold, but the serving plate itself must be frosty.  In fact, a pewter plate stored in the freezer just before serving, would be ideal.  A quality blue cheese is a must, and I will gladly pay a premium price for the heady aroma and tart, pungent taste of a stellar cheese that sings the blues.  Crisp and crunch are crucial.  Any well-crafted wedge will have bacon and nuts, but my otherworldly wedge has pepper-dusted smoked bacon and spicy toasted pecans – a Cajun Creole punch.

Assembling this salad should be staged as a major construction project.  All the pieces and parts should be ready to go at the last minute.  Building the perfect iceberg wedge is a titanic undertaking well worth the effort.

Iceberg ingredients

Contrast of textures and tastes.

Iceberg Wedge Salad with Buttermilk Blue and Spiced Pecans
Prep time: 45 minutes
Cooking time: 20 minutes
Serves: 4

This salad is designed to be an entrée portion, but could just as well accompany a well-marbled steak.  Spring for the best blue cheese (I use Point Reyes) you can afford.  I like these spiked pecans, but plain salted pecans would be fine.  Timing is everything with this recipe.  Several steps can be done ahead, but be sure to have your guests seated before final assembly of this ice-cold salad.    

For the dressing:
1 cup Greek yogurt
1 cup mayonnaise (recommend: Blue Plate)
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon sugarcane vinegar (recommend: Steen’s)
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 cups blue cheese, crumbled

In a large mixing bowl, add the yogurt and whisk in the mayonnaise and buttermilk. Continue whisking while adding the lemon juice, vinegar and Worcestershire.  Whisk the mixture while drizzling the olive oil and combine.  Season lightly with salt and pepper.  With a rubber spatula, gently fold in the crumbled cheese and combine.  Cover with plastic wrap, and store in the coldest part of the refrigerator for 2 hours or overnight.

For the pecans:
2 cups whole pecan halves
1 stick butter
2 tablespoons dry Cajun Creole seasoning
Kosher salt

Preheat the oven to 300º F.

In a large heavy bottom skillet on medium heat, add the pecan halves.  Rotate the pecans as they begin to toast.  Be careful and remove them before they burn. In the same skillet, add the butter and let melt.  Add the seasoning and stir to incorporate.  Return the pecans to the seasoned butter and mix until all the nuts are coated.  Remove the pecans to a baking pan and lightly sprinkle with salt. Place the baking pan into the hot oven and let bake for 10 minutes.  Remove the pan and let the pecans come to room temperature before serving.

For the salad:
1 extra large head iceberg lettuce, cleaned
8 strips smoked bacon
2 tablespoons Cajun Creole seasoning
1 large red onion, finely diced
2 cups ripe red cherry tomato, halved
4 thick slices blue cheese
1 cup green onion tops, diced
Freshly ground black pepper
4 stalks of green onion

Select 4 large dinner plates and place them in the freezer for 1 hour before serving.

Cut the lettuce into 4 equal-sized quarters.  Position them on a platter and place in the coldest part of the refrigerator for at least 1 hour before serving.

In a large skillet on medium heat, add the bacon strips and cook until fried crispy. Sprinkle liberally with Cajun Creole seasoning.  Remove to a paper towel-lined platter to drain.  Crumble the bacon into coarse pieces and reserve in a bowl until serving.

For serving, remove the plates from the freezer and position a lettuce wedge on each.  Spoon a generous amount of dressing over one side of the wedge and let the dressing pool at the bottom of the plate. Sprinkle over the diced onion and an even distribution of tomato halves.  Stand a thick slice of Roquefort in the dressing leaning against the wedge.  Sprinkle the green onion tops and grind a generous amount of coarse black pepper over the salad.  Garnish with a stalk of green onion.  Serve the salad immediately.

Iceberg salad

Crunchy, creamy and crisp iceberg wedge salad.

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Shrimp and Artichoke Fettuccine


Fresh, creamy and smokey — seafood pasta is a Cajun favorite. (All photos credit: George Graham)

Combining fresh Louisiana seafood with pasta is a popular dish throughout Acadiana.  There are endless variations, but most favor a white sauce rather than red, and frequently have smoked meat or sausage layering flavor in the dish.  There is even a version of jambalaya called “pastalaya,” that replaces rice with pasta.

On my Acadiana Table, it is fresh Gulf shrimp and artichokes that are at the heart of my recipe.  Dried whole wheat fettuccine is my pasta of choice, but that’s only the start to this multi-layered dish.  Olives, baby portobellos and cherry tomatoes bring added complexity to the flavor profile.  Many times, I will use Andouille or smoked ham, but this time, spicy Cajun tasso ups the smokiness factor.

The key to this dish is the contrast of the crunch of lightly sautéed vegetables with the smooth cream-induced sauce coating it all.  Fresh herbs and grated cheese added at the last moment of cooking is a flavor burst that brightens the dish.

Shrimp and Artichoke Fettuccine
Prep time: 45 minutes
Cooking time: 45 minutes
Serves: 4

I use whole wheat fettuccine, but any type will work.  If you cannot find tasso, use diced smoked ham.  Try this recipe with oysters or crabmeat for a change.

1 pound package dried fettuccine noodles
4 tablespoons olive oil
Diced yellow onions
Diced celery
Diced carrots
1 cup sliced baby portobello mushrooms
1 cup smoked tasso ham
½ cup white wine
2 cups heavy whipping cream
1 14-ounce can quartered artichoke hearts, packed in water
½ cup red cherry tomatoes
½ cup yellow cherry tomatoes, halved
2 tablespoons sliced olives
2 pounds medium-sized fresh Gulf shrimp, peeled
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Louisiana hot sauce
½ cup chopped fresh basil
Grated Parmigiano Reggiano

In a large pot on high heat filled half way with water, bring to a boil.  Add a generous handful of salt and add the pasta.  Following package directions, cook just until the pasta reaches al dente.  Immediately drain the pasta into a colander and rinse with cold water.  Reserve for later use.

In a large skillet on medium heat, add the olive oil.  Add the onions, celery and carrots and cook until the onions turn translucent.  Add the mushrooms and ham.  Continue cooking for 5 minutes and add the white wine.  Cook until the wine reduces by half, about 5 minutes.  Add the cream and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat to a simmer and add the artichokes, tomatoes and olives.  Continue cooking until the cream just begins to thicken.

Add the shrimp and cook for 5 minutes.  Add the par-cooked pasta to the pan and stir to incorporate it into the hot cream mixture.  Season to taste with salt and pepper and a dash of hot sauce.  Just before serving, add the chopped basil and cheese and stir.

For serving, spoon the pasta into shallow bowls making sure to evenly distribute the shrimp.  Serve with crusty French bread.

Pasta Plate

Pasta perfection!

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Into the Lite

Cauliflower soup

Cauliflower is the new potato in this healthy soup. (All photos credit: George Graham)

Hot summer days are quickly descending upon us and experience tells us all that, from a culinary heading, we should be moving into the season of freshly prepared, lite and healthy dishes.  However, Louisiana cooks don’t seem to follow conventional wisdom. This time of year, you are just as likely to see a hearty etouffée or a platter of steak, rice and gravy on the dinner table.

Try as I might, shifting gears is not easy, but inspiration is always welcome. “Green Mom” is my wife’s tennis friend and an advocate of healthy eating.  Tanya is her real name, but her zeal for a healthy, organic lifestyle for her family and several television interviews later, she will forever carry the title of Green Mom.

The brilliance of her natural, whole foods lifestyle is in substituting ingredients that some down-home Cajun traditionalists might view as unorthodox.  She has introduced a legion of her South Louisiana converts to quinoa and couscous, brown rice and whole wheat, fiber laden replacements to the tried and true, gravy-laced Cajun recipes.

Like most everyone I know, my family loves a velvety smooth, cream-based potato soup – true comfort food.  Following the lead of Green Mom, my wife and I began a search for a lower calorie, natural version that doesn’t sacrifice taste or texture.  Green Mom had the answer – cauliflower.

The value of nutritionally dense cauliflower is that it is low in fat and carbs, but high in vitamin C and fiber.  I prefer steaming because aggressive boiling reduces the levels of these compounds by as much as 75%. As a white vegetable, I initially thought the similarities of cauliflower to starchy carb-laden potatoes pretty much start and stop right there.  But, once I steamed a large head of cauliflower and took a stick blender to it, I began to see its potential as my new “potato” soup.

Cauliflower has a distinct taste that is difficult to mask – either you love it or hate it.  While I do not mind it, I intend to elevate it in a different direction with garlic, fennel and olive oil.  The anise-flavored fennel takes on a subtle sweetness when sautéed in olive oil and a smidgen of garlic.  And with a splash of almond milk, this soup is rich and creamy but without the guilt and shame.

Finally, I’ve seen the lite.

Cream of Cauliflower, Garlic and Fennel Soup with Goat Cheese Crouton
Prep time: 45 minutes
Cooking time: 45 minutes
Serves:  4 – 6

While the chicken stock veers away from the vegetarian heading of this recipe, I like the flavor it adds.  Almond milk is a little-used ingredient that once you use in this soup will become your new secret weapon. The nutty hint of almond balances well with all of the other bold ingredients and adds that unmistakable creaminess that is needed to bring this soup together.  While the goat cheese crouton is optional, it adds a crunchy contrast.

Cauliflower soup ingredients

Natural and fresh ingredients are the key.

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 cup yellow onion, diced
1/2 cup fennel bulb, sliced thinly
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 cup onion, diced
4 cups water
2 large heads cauliflower, green leaves and stalk removed
1/2 cup chicken stock
1 cup unsweetened almond milk, plus more if needed
Sea salt
White pepper
1/2 cup creamy goat cheese
4 – 6 toasted crostini rounds
Fennel fronds, for garnish

In a skillet with on medium heat, add the olive oil.  Once the oil is hot add the onion and fennel slices.  Saute until the fennel begins to soften and the onions become translucent.  Add the garlic and continue cooking while stirring until the garlic begins to soften.  Reduce the heat if it begins to brown.  Once done, turn off the heat and move the pot to the side.

In another large pot on high heat, bring 4 cups of water to a boil.  Break the cauliflower into florets of approximate equal size so they will cook evenly and place in a steam basket.  Position the basket in the pot over the boiling water and cover. Let steam for 15 minutes until completely tender.  Remove cauliflower and drain.

Drain the water from the pot and put back on the stovetop on medium-high heat.  Add the chicken stock, cauliflower, fennel, onions and garlic.  Bring to a simmer and cook until the chicken stock has reduced by half, about 8 minutes. Add the almond milk and reduce the heat to low and cook for another 10 minutes.


Almond milk for a lighter blended soup.

With an immersion blender, blend the vegetables and liquids in the pot until thickened and all chunks become smooth.  If it becomes too thick, add additional almond milk until it is a creamy chowder-type texture. Reduce the heat to a simmer and continue cooking.

Taste the soup and finish with sea salt and white pepper to desired taste.

Spread the goat cheese liberally on top of the crostini.  Broil on high heat just until the cheese softens but not long enough to turn brown.

Ladle the soup into bowls and top each with a goat cheese crouton.  Garnish with a sprinkling of fennel fronds.  Pair with a chilled white wine.

Spoonful of soup

A spoonful of creaminess without the guilt.

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Floundering Around on a Saturday Morning


Baked Gulf flounder stuffed with shrimp and crabmeat. (All photos credit: George Graham)

To me, flounder is flat-out the most delectable of all the Gulf finfish.  And for my money, stuffing a whole flounder with Gulf shrimp and crabmeat is the ultimate dish for someone as seafood-obsessed as me.  Whenever I see it on a restaurant menu, I can’t resist.  And I couldn’t resist the flounders I recently discovered at the docks in Delcambre on a recent Saturday morning.

Buying shrimp right off the boats in the coastal village of Delcambre, just an hour south of Lafayette is one of the pleasures of living in South Louisiana.  The Delcambre Seafood and Farmers Market is held on the first Saturday during seven months out of the year and you can check the schedule by going to their website here.  It’s a good time to load up on fish, shellfish and fresh produce from area fishermen and farmers.  When given the chance, I always shop this way because buying direct ensures quality and gives maximum profitability to the hard-working families.

Fresh Flounder

Fresh-caught Gulf flounder.

Flounder is a much sought-after fish and the delicate white flesh has a subtle sweetness that makes it perfect for stuffing.  Every now and then I see the 5-pound “doormat” flounder that makes a dramatic statement on the dinner table, but a 2-pound flounder is the perfect stuffing size.  Cleaned and scaled, the flounder only needs to be cut down the backbone and the flesh peeled back to form a pocket.

Time to stuff.

Stuffed Whole Flounder
Prep time: 45 minutes
Cooking time: 45 minutes
Serves: 2

I like the combination of shrimp and crabmeat in this stuffing recipe, but crawfish or oysters would be delicious, as well.  I use white lump crabmeat, but claw meat will work.  Add only enough breadcrumbs to combine the mixture, but remain moist.

2 two-pound, whole flounders, cleaned with a large pocket cut in the center
Extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 sticks unsalted butter
1 cup diced yellow onion
1/2 cup diced green bell pepper
1/2 cup diced red bell pepper
½ cup diced celery
½ cup fresh parsley, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon grated ginger
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons vermouth
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
Dash of Louisiana hot sauce
Cajun seasoning
2 pounds medium-size Louisiana shrimp, raw and shelled
8 ounces Louisiana crabmeat
1 cup fresh unseasoned bread crumbs
1 whole lemon, sliced thin

Preheat the oven to 350º F.

Place the flounders on parchment-lined trays.  Rub the skin with olive oil and sprinkle salt and pepper in the inside of each pocket.

In a large skillet on medium heat, melt the butter.  Add the onion, bell pepper and celery.  Sauté until the onion turns translucent and then add the parsley, rosemary, garlic and ginger.  Continue cooking to combine the herbs and add lemon juice and vermouth.  Season the mixture with smoked paprika, hot sauce and a light sprinkle of Cajun seasoning.  Remove from the heat.

Place the shrimp on a cutting board.  Reserve a few of the whole shrimp to garnish the top of the stuffing on each flounder.  Chop the rest of the shrimp in smaller bite-size pieces. Add the chopped shrimp and crabmeat to the mixture stirring to combine.  Add only enough breadcrumbs a little at a time to reach the desired consistency of a moist stuffing.  Set aside to cool.

To assemble the dish, spoon the stuffing mixture into the pocket of each flounder. Place a few of the shrimp on top of the stuffing.  Season the fish with salt and freshly ground black pepper and a light sprinkle of paprika.  Add lemon slices to the top of the fish.  Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes.  Remove the foil and bake for another 15 minutes or until the thickest part of the fish easily flakes at the touch of a fork.

For serving, use two spatulas to gently move each flounder to a platter being careful not to break off the tail section.  Serve with crusty French bread.

Flounder bones

Make no bones about it, this is delicious fish!

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Savory Pain Perdu Pie

Pain Perdu Pie

Spicy, peppery and colorful — a savory breakfast pie.  (All photos credit: George Graham)

Breakfast in South Louisiana is a celebration of farm-to-table goodness.  The farming traditions of the region are rooted in a tough work ethic that is handed down through generations of French Acadian families that harvest the sugarcane, rice, sweet potatoes, soybeans and other significant crops.  Early to bed and early to rise is the routine of Cajun Creole farmers.

In the 1950s and 60s, my wife’s grandfather Clodius Fontenot was a farmer in northern Jeff Davis Parish between Jennings and Hathaway.  As was prevalent at the time, he lived on and farmed a piece of land owned by another family in a mutually beneficial exchange.  His typical day started an hour before daylight sipping a cup of deep, dark Louisiana coffee as he headed off to the fields.  Long about 8am he returned to the house with his farm hands to sit down to a hearty Cajun breakfast prepared by loving hands.  Mo Mo Eve mixed up biscuits and sweet dough breakfast pies from scratch and fried up fresh sausages and farm-raised eggs to feed the crew.  It was a major production, yet a daily ritual that the hungry men depended on.

Early life in Acadie was a matter of survival and making the most of what you had.  Those culinary traditions live on, and over the years breakfast remains an important and culturally significant meal in Acadiana.  French traditions at the hands of creative cooks have influenced a number of dishes that have become classics such as pain perdu.

Pain perdu, a simple French toast, is a prime example and has become the most famous of Cajun breakfast dishes.  With its French translation, pain perdu is “lost bread” – the tastiest way to reclaim any loaf bread lost to day-old staleness.  Over the years, this recipe has been interpreted into countless sweet, fruit-filled versions, but I set out to defy conventional wisdom and translate it into a new and savory way of looking at a tried-and-true classic.

Breakfast pie

A unique one-pot brunch.

My unique version focuses on a savory black iron breakfast dish that launches a spicy pepper punch on top of a smooth custardy foundation.  Fresh eggs are plentiful on rural farms of Acadiana, as are preserved peppers and tomatoes that line the shelves of every canning room.  Fresh chaurice sausage – a highly seasoned raw sausage – can be found more readily in the rural markets dotting the parishes surrounding Lafayette.  I love its unique peppery pork flavor, and buy it whenever I see it.  It is perfect for building an added layer of complexity for this spicy pain perdu dish.

Nothing lost here.  One bite and you’ve found a new breakfast standard.

Savory Pain Perdu Pie
Prep time: 1 hour
Cooking time:  1 hour
Serves:  4

If the only raw sausage you find is linked in the casing, not to worry — just squeeze it out.  I make homemade sugarcane vinegar-based pickled pepper sauce, but feel free to pick up a bottle – usually found on the vinegar aisle — at your grocery. I use a 10-inch black iron skillet that is 2 inches deep.  With a larger skillet, you can scale this recipe up for more servings.

Pain Perdu ingredients

Simple, yet colorful ingredients.

14 large farm-fresh eggs
1 cup half and half
4 1-inch thick slices day-old French bread
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 cup bulk chaurice sausage or any spicy bulk sausage
1 cup yellow onions, diced
2 tablespoon green onion tops, minced
1 tablespoon garlic, minced
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped
1 cup Rotel-type diced tomatoes and green peppers, diced
1 tablespoon Cajun pepper sauce
Non-stick spray
1 cup (jarred or canned) red and yellow bell peppers slices, drained
2 small red tomatoes, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons fresh cilantro
1 tablespoon fresh jalapeno, diced
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Sprig of fresh rosemary, for garnish

Preheat the oven to 350º F.

In a large mixing bowl, crack all the eggs and add the milk.  Whisk until fully combined.  Add the bread slices and let soak for one hour, making sure they are all fully immersed.

In a medium size black iron skillet, add the bulk sausage.  Render the fat out of the sausage by sautéing until browned and fully cooked.  Remove the sausage pieces to a platter.

In the same skillet, add the onions to the remaining fat and sauté the onions until they turn translucent.  Add the green onions, garlic and rosemary, and sauté for 1 minute.  Add the diced tomatoes and green chiles, as well as the pepper sauce, and turn off the heat.  Pour any excess grease from the skillet.  Add the mixture to the platter with the sausage.  Rinse the skillet and wipe dry.

Spray the cast iron skillet with non-stick spray, place the four slices of bread and pour over the egg mixture.  Spoon the vegetables and sausage mixture in and among the egg mixture and bread portions. Lay the sliced peppers and tomatoes randomly throughout the mixture.  Sprinkle the cilantro and diced jalapenos around the mixture.  Season lightly with salt and black pepper.  Place in the oven and bake for 30 – 45 minutes, or until the egg is set and the blade of a knife comes out clean.

For serving, slice the portions of seasoned egg-encrusted bread and place on a plate.  Serve it like any good Cajun farm family would, with more of the pickled pepper sauce on the side.

Pain Perdu slice

A savory and spicy slice of pie.

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The Orange Blossom Special


Havarti cheese and asparagus fill these bacon-wrapped chicken breasts. (All photos credit: George Graham)

During a recent road trip, I ran across orange blossom honey at a roadside farmer’s market in La Grange, Texas just outside of Austin.  Whenever I travel, I love to prowl through small-town groceries and markets to discover the unique local products I never see in my neck of the woods.   On this morning, it was a bottle of Burleson’s Orange Blossom honey that caught my eye.  Waxahachie-based T.W. Burleson began making honey in 1903 with the purchase of a colony of bees and honey-making equipment for $20 — a sweet investment for a company that is now one of the largest honey purveyors in the country.

But, the real reason I had to get my hands on the orange blossom honey was that it immediately reminded me of singer Johnny Cash as well as my long-time friend.  While I wasn’t much of a fan of Cash’s music at the time, my college roommate Terry was a raving fanatic.  After a year of being forced to listen to the entire Cash playlist, I was slowly converted to the “Gospel of Cash.”   To this day, when the fiddles fire up on the Orange Blossom Special,  I stand at reverent attention for the Nashville anthem.  It is sweet music for sure.

I didn’t have chicken in mind when I picked up the honey, but on the drive back I thought about sweet Southern barbecue sauces and glazes.  It just makes perfect sense to balance a salty bacon-wrapped chicken breast with a sweet, mustardy mopping sauce.  Pounded, stuffed, wrapped, skewered and brushed, this chicken dish is all rolled up in one sweet package and the orange blossom honey surely makes it special.

Grilled Bacon-Wrapped Chicken with Orange Blossom Honey Mustard Glaze 
Prep time: 40 minutes
Cooking time: 45 minutes
Serves:  4

The crispy texture of the cooked bacon contrasts sharply with the creamy, cheesy stuffing and shields the breast meat from dryness.  I like how the Grand Marnier elevates the scent and flavor of the orange, but it can easily be eliminated.  The bite of the Creole mustard is a whole grain contrast to the sweet honey, so I highly recommend going with a tart mustard versus a sweeter Dijon-style variety.  Watch your fire, and if the asparagus tips start to burn, then wrap the ends with foil while the chicken continues cooking.

Creole mustard and honey

Creole mustard and orange blossom honey make a delicious glaze.

1 cup orange blossom honey
1 tablespoon Grand Marnier orange liqueur (optional)
1/2 cup Louisiana Creole mustard
2 tablespoons fresh rosemary, chopped
4 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Cajun seasoning
12 asparagus spears, woody ends removed
1 pound Havarti cheese
1 pound smoked bacon

Preheat the outdoor gas grill on medium heat.

In a saucepan on medium heat, add the honey, Grand Marnier, mustard and rosemary.  Stir together and combine.  Cook until the honey has melted, and the mustard is thoroughly infused. Remove from the heat and let stand at room temperature.

On a cutting board lined with plastic wrap, place a chicken breast and cover with another piece of the plastic wrap.  With a meat mallet or a heavy saucepan, pound the chicken fillet until flattened out.  Repeat with all chicken breasts.

On a baking tray lined with aluminum foil, place the four flattened chicken breast filets.  Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper and a dash of the Cajun seasoning.  In the center of each breast, place three asparagus spears and top with a liberal sprinkling of the grated cheese.  Roll the fillet up and place bacon strips across each breast until covered.  Secure with toothpicks.

Move the tray to the outdoor grill.  Place on the grates and grill the chicken, rotating periodically, until the bacon is crisp and the chicken almost completely cooked, about 15 minutes.  Open the cover and brush on all sides with the honey mustard glaze.  (Note:  If the asparagus tips start to burn, this is when you should wrap the ends with foil while the chicken continues cooking.)  Turn the fire down and continue grilling for another 10 to 15 minutes until the glaze is browned and the sugars caramelized.  Be careful not to burn the glaze.

Remove from the grill and serve immediately with the remaining glaze on the side along with mashed potatoes.


Grilled Bacon-Wrapped Chicken with Orange Blossom Honey Mustard Glaze

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