Diners, corner cafes, and Mom and Pop neighborhood bars and restaurants that serve down-home meals, otherwise known as “blue plate specials” may not be as numerous as they used to be, but they are still around. Thank goodness! These institutions usually go the extra mile for their specials, giving large servings and using local ingredients. When I hear the term “blue plate specials” I conjure up such meals as meatloaf, mashed potatoes and peas, or smothered chicken with lots of gravy atop a mound of white rice, or better yet, stewed okra and tomatoes accompanied by braised round steak and onions!
When I was growing up in St. Martinville, there was a café called Hebert’s and you could tell the day of the week by the menu for the day. The specials were noted on a large chalkboard at the entrance to the establishment. On Monday, it was usually red or white beans served with rice and a link of fresh pork sausage. Tuesday’s lunch was chicken-fried steak accompanied by either macaroni and cheese or mashed potatoes (and never made from dehydrated flakes in a box). Fried chicken, potato salad, and peas and carrots was Wednesday’s offering. On Thursday it was meatballs and spaghetti or chicken stew. Friday’s special was always my favorite—fried catfish served with shrimp stew over rice, and cole slaw. Hot French bread and lots of butter was always handy, and Mrs. Hebert made some of the best pies—lemon, pecan, chocolate cream, coconut, and blackberry—I had ever tasted.
Alas, Hebert’s is gone, so I ride around looking for hole-in-the-wall places that serve up meat-and-three (meat with three sides). A place in New Iberia near the St. Peter’s Catholic church often offers the best barbecued pork ribs and pork chops served with rice dressing, baked beans, cole slaw, and bread pudding, all for less than $10.00. Another place I lunch is at a luncheon spot in my hometown that has a great Friday meal of fried catfish, shrimp and potato salad.
When cooler weather sets in (which hopefully will be soon because I’m growing tired of this hot dry weather), my husband Rock often requests a blue plate special for our Wednesday supper. Understand that these are not for the weak of heart. These recipes are what Papa would call “truck-driver” items.
Makes 4 servings
- ¼ cup plus 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- 1 pound cubed beefsteaks
- 1 large egg, lightly beaten
- 2 tablespoons plus ½ cup milk
- 1 cup saltine cracker crumbs
- Vegetable oil
- 1 ¼ cups chicken broth
- 1/8 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1/8 teaspoon hot sauce
Heat about one-half of the oil in a large skillet to about 360 degrees. Fry the steaks in the oil over medium heat until browned, turning once. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer turning occasionally, for 15 minutes. Remove the steaks and drain on paper towels.
Drain off the drippings, reserving about three tablespoons in the skillet. Add the remaining three tablespoons of the flour, stirring until smooth. Cook one minute over medium heat, stirring constantly. Gradually add the broth and the remaining one-half cup of milk. Stir constantly until the mixture is thick and bubbly. Add the Worcestershire and hot sauce, and adjust seasonings if necessary. Serve with mashed potatoes.
GOOD OLD MASHED POTATOES
Makes about 6 servings
- 8 medium-size red potatoes (about 3 ½ pounds), peeled and quartered
- ¼ cup butter, melted
- ½ cup milk
- Salt and black pepper to taste
OLD-FASHIONED MACARONI AND CHEESE
Makes about 6 servings
- 1 (8-ounce) package elbow macaroni
- 2 ½ cups (about 10 ounces) shredded Cheddar cheese
- 1 ½ cups milk
- 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/8 teaspoon white pepper
- Makes one pie to serve 6
- 1 ¾ cups sugar
- 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
- ¼ cup cocoa
- 2 cups milk
- 4 large eggs, separated
- 2 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled slightly
- 1 baked 9-inch pastry shell
- ½ teaspoon cream of tartar
Cook the mixture over medium heat, stirring constantly, until thickened and bubbly, about 10 minutes. Spoon into the pastry shell and set aside.
Beat the egg whites and the cream of tartar at high speed with an electric mixer until foamy. Gradually add the remaining one-half cup sugar, a tablespoon at a time, beating until stiff peaks form, two to four minutes.
Spread the meringue over the chocolate filling. Bake at 325 degrees until lightly golden, about 20 minutes.
Football season has arrived. It doesn’t feel like football weather, but anxious fans are eager to trek to stadiums to cheer on their favorite college team or to the Superdome to see what the Saints are going to do this season.
One of my nephews dropped by for a visit – well, what he was looking for was an idea for a tailgaiting party. He declared that the weather was just too hot to make gumbo, chili or jambalaya. Did I have an alternative idea?
This is what I suggested. Bring along a small grill and make this whopper of a hamburger. It’s easy to pull together. The sandwich, chips and pre-made brownies should satisfy his friends before they enter the stadium.
CAJUN TAILGATE BURGER
Makes 8 to 10 servings
You can dress the burger classically, with cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, mayonnaise and mustard, but use your creativity and make it your own. Dress it with cheese, jalapenos, and guacamole. Or dress it with grilled onions and blue cheese.
- 2 ½ pounds lean ground beef
- 4 pickled jalapenos, chopped
- 3 tablespoons of the liquid from the jar of jalapenos
- 1 tablespoon onion juice
- 1 tablespoon garlic juice
- 2 garlic cloves, chopped
- 2 tablespoons hot sauce
- 2 tablespoons Cajun seasoning mix
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- ½ teaspoon Liquid Smoke
- ½ cup dry fine seasoned bread crumbs
- 2 eggs
- 1 round bread, such as Vienna, muffaletto, sourdough, 10 to 12 inches in diameter, cut in half lengthwise
- 2 tablespoons butter, melted
- 6 ounces Monterrey Jack cheese, grated
- 4 large lettuce leaves
- 1 large tomato, sliced
- Grey Poupon mustard
Remove the mixture from the refrigerator and shape into a large patty, about 1 inch larger than the round bread and about 1 ½ inches thick.
Place it on the grill and close the lid. Cook for 20 minutes on one side, then turn it and cook it for another 20 minutes.
Butter each half of the bread with the butter. Place the bread halves, inside of the bread down, on the grill and toast for 3 to 4 minutes.
Remove the burger and the bread from the grill. Place the burger on the bottom half of the bread. Dress the burger with the cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, mayonnaise, and mustard.
Place the top half on top of the dressed burger and press down firmly, but gently. Cut into wedges to serve.
By Marcelle Bienvenu
A few years ago, a journalist asked me to list a few things I like about summertime in the South. I confess that the summer is my favorite season and I can never get enough of ice cold watermelon, snowballs in every flavor, boiled seafood (shrimp, crawfish, crabs) all washed down with cold beer, and wait there is more. Heading out early in the morning on Vermilion Bay to try to catch a few redfish or speckled trout is also on my list of summertime “to dos.” And I love late afternoon boat rides on Bayou Teche with my husband and observing the egrets, blue herons, and alligators along the banks. I really could go on and on, but I think you get the message. But I also love homemade ice cream and I make it as often as I can during the hot, humid days of summer. Gone are the hand-cranked ice cream makers. These days, electric ones are ideal for making a quart of deliciously smooth, creamy concoctions, sometimes including fresh berries or Louisiana peaches.
Maybe these recipes will inspire you to make some yourself. And I’ve included a recipe for sugar cookies (ti gateau sec) to pair with your yummy ice cream. Oh, here is a tip if you want to use fresh fruit in the ice cream. To prevent the fruit from freezing, soak them in a little brandy or any liqueur for a couple of hours before adding the fruit to the ice cream base.
Mama’s Ice Cream – Makes about 1 1/2 quarts
6 large eggs, lightly beaten
4 cups milk
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoons pure vanilla
2 cups chopped fresh fruit, such as strawberries, peaches or bananas *optional
In a large, nonreactive saucepan, combine the eggs, milk, sugar, and vanilla and bring to a gentle boil. Stir constantly until the mixture thickens enough to coat a wooden spoon. Remove from the heat and let cool. Pour the custard into a bowl, cover, and refrigerate until well chilled. Add the fruit, then pour into the ice cream and freezer can and freeze according to the manufacturer’s directions.
Blackberry Ice Cream – Makes about 1 1/2 quarts
For the blackberry juice:
2 quarts fresh blackberries, picked over, rinsed in cool water, and patted dry
2 cups sugar
Place the berries and sugar in a saucepan and cook slowly over medium heat. Don’t add any water, because the berries release lots of juice. Cook long enough for them to soften and create a syrup. Cool and then strain the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve, mashing the berries to release all the liquid. Set aside.
For the ice cream:
6 whole eggs beaten
4 cups whole milk
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon cornstarch
Combine the eggs and milk in a large mixing bowl. Add the sugar, vanilla, and cornstarch and mix well. Transfer the mixture to a heavy non-reactive saucepan over medium heat and cook slowly until it thickens enough to coat a wooden spoon. (Do not allow to come to a boil.) Add one cup of the berry sauce and freeze in an ice cream freezer according to manufacturer’s directions. When serving, you can add a couple of drops of creme de cassis liqueur to each serving.
Uncle Nick’s No-Cook Ice Cream
2 (14-ounce) cans sweetened condensed milk
16 ounces sour cream
1 (12-ounce) cans evaporated milk
3/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 cups chopped fruit *Optional
Combine all of the ingredients except the milk and pour into the canister of an ice cream freezer. Then pour in the milk to the line in the ice cream canister. Add the fruit if you wish. Freeze according to manufacturer’s directions.
Key Lime Ice Cream – Makes 1 quart
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
6 large egg yolks
1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
1/2 cup fresh key lime juice
1 teaspoon grated lime zest
Bring the cream to a gentle simmer in a heavy saucepan. Slowly beat the hot cream into the egg yolks in a mixing bowl. Pour the entire mixture back into the saucepan over low heat. Stir constantly with a wire whisk until the mixture thickens slightly. (Do NOT boil.) Remove from the heat and pour the custard through a strainer into a mixing bowl. Cool slightly, then stir in the condensed milk, the key lime juice and the zest. Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours. Stir the cold custard, then freeze according to the manufacturer’s directions. If you wish, you can transfer the mixture to freezer containers and freeze for 2 hours for a firmer ice cream. One of my nieces who has seven children also offered this quick method of making ice cream. Place a plastic freezer storage bag with ice cream base inside a larger bag filled with ice and rock salt. Close both bags securely and shake, shake, shake. Not only does it keep youngsters entertained, you will have great ice cream!
For lagniappe, here is another quick method of making a dessert for a picnic event: Fill a quart glass jar with cold heavy cream. You can add a little sugar if you wish. Screw on the lid and shake vigorously (have the teenagers do it) until the mixture is thick, about 3 minutes. You can serve this with fresh fruit of your choice. Sugar Cookies (“Ti Gateau Sec”) Makes 3 to 4 dozen.
1 cup sugar
1 stick butter at room temperature
2 eggs, beaten
2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon milk
½ teaspoon vanilla extract In a large mixing bowl, cream the sugar and butter until light and fluffy. Add the eggs and mix well. Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt and add to the creamed mixture. Add the milk and vanilla. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and chill for one hour. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Roll the dough out to about 1/8-inch thickness on a floured surface. Using a small cookie cutter, cut out the cookies. Place on ungreased baking sheet and bake until lightly browned, 13 to 15 minutes.
It took a while for cold weather to move through south Louisiana, but it Fall has arrived. When the first cold front blew through from the West, I headed to the nearest supermarket for a fresh, plump chicken and a pound of smoked sausage for my first gumbo of the season. It was simmering when my husband Rock arrived after work.
He went straight to the stove, lifted the lid on the pot, and mumbled something about there’s probably not a chicken to be had south of Interstate-10. He turned to me and said that as he followed a loaded sugar cane truck down the highway in the wet, cold weather, he could think of little else but a steaming bowl of gumbo.
“And just about everyone else in the area was thinking of the same thing! Through the crack in my window, I caught alternating whiffs of the sweet-sour odor emanating from the sugar mills and the unmistakable aroma of bubbling gumbo,” he laughed.
By the next evening, the rain had ended but a cold north wind shuddered through the oak and pecan trees causing acorns and pecans to ping and pong on the tin roof of my office. All afternoon I had vacillated between the idea of making either oyster soup or Welsh rarebit for supper. I ended up making both.
The next day my sister called to offer me a quart of turkey and sausage gumbo, which I promptly accepted. By the end of the week when the temperatures rose back into the 70s, I had made a pot of white bean soup and one of vegetable soup to stash in the freezer for the next cold front. Like the Boy Scouts, I am always prepared.
I also cajoled a friend, the owner of a bread machine, to make me several loaves of assorted bread to keep in the freezer to go along with my soups and gumbos.
Firewood for the fireplace is neatly stacked in the carport and I have several books at hand to get me through the long nights ahead. Let the cold wind blow!
Welsh rarebit was one of Mama’s favorite meals to serve on bitter cold evenings. She usually served it on thick slices of toasted French bread. A salad of sliced apples, raisins, chopped celery, and toasted pecans or walnuts tossed with lemon juice and mayonnaise was the usual accompaniment. The rarebit is a popular with the British who serve theirs with sliced tomatoes. The dish becomes a “golden buck” when topped with a poached egg. Yum!
Here’s Mama’s version.
- Makes about 8 servings
- 2 pounds grated American cheese
- 1 (12-ounce) can evaporated milk
- 2 cans of white asparagus (you can substitute green asparagus if you prefer), drained
- Salt, cayenne and black pepper to taste
- Toasted French bread slices
Melt the cheese in a the top of a double boiler over simmering water. Add the milk slowly, whisking until the sauce is smooth and thick. Add the asparagus and season with salt, cayenne and black pepper. Spoon the mixture over the toast and serve immediately.
Here’s another version that is purportedly a British version.
WELSH RABBIT OR RAREBIT
- Makes 4 servings
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 3 egg yolks
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 1⁄2 teaspoon beef bouillon powder
- 1 teaspoon soy sauce
- 1/8 teaspoon hoist sauce
- Pinch of ground allspice
- 3⁄4 cup beer
- 10 ounces sharp Cheddar cheese, grated (about 2 1⁄2 cups)
- 1 tablespoon heavy cream
- 1 teaspoon Scotch whiskey
- 4 slices buttered hot toast
Melt the butter in the top of a double boiler. Beat the egg yolks in a large bowl with the mustard, bouillon powder, soy sauce, hot pepper sauce, and allspice. Stir in the beer and add this to the melted butter. Stir over simmering water until hot, 5 to 6 minutes.
Add the cheese, 1⁄4 cup at a time, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon until the mixture is smooth. Stir in the cream and whiskey. Serve over the toast.
This oyster soup was favored by Papa on Sunday nights. Although we usually had a large meal at noon on Sunday, he simply couldn’t do without supper.
Makes 6 to 8 servings
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups chopped yellow onions
1 quart boiling water (or if you prefer a heartier soup substitute 1 quart warm milk)
4 dozen freshly shucked oysters, drained and oyster liquor reserved
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves
3 tablespoons butter
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Combine the oil and the flour in a large, heavy pot over medium heat. Stirring slowly and constantly, make a light brown roux. Add the onions and cook, stirring, until soft, 3 to 4 minutes. Combine the water (or milk) with the reserved oyster liquor and add slowly to the roux mixture, stirring constantly. The mixture will thicken slightly. Bring to a gentle boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 2 minutes. Add the oysters, parsley, and butter and simmer until the edges of the oysters curl. Remove from the heat. Serve warm with crackers or hot French bread.
My cousin Cooney showed me how to make this white bean soup and not only is it delicious, it can also be made in no time!
QUICK AND HEARTY WHITE BEAN SOUP
- Makes about 10 servings
- 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 cup chopped yellow onions
- 1/2 cup chopped celery
- 1/2 pound salt meat or ham pieces, chopped
- 1/2 pound smoked sausage, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch slices
- 4 slices bacon, chopped (optional)
- 3 cans white beans
- 3 cans water or chicken broth
- 1 can Ro-tel tomatoes
- Salt, black pepper, and cayenne to taste
Heat the oil in a large, heavy pot over medium heat. Add the onions, celery, salt meat or ham, sausage and bacon, if using, and cook, stirring, for about five minutes, or until the onions are soft and golden.
Add the beans, water or chicken broth, and the tomatoes. Stir to blend. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season to taste with salt, black pepper and cayenne, but be aware that the salt meat, sausage, and bacon and the tomatoes are salty and peppery. Skim off any oil that has risen to the surface then serve hot.
OLD FASHIONED VEGETABLE SOUP
- Makes about 6 quarts
- 2 pounds soup meat or brisket, cut into 2-inch cubes
- Salt, black pepper, and cayenne to taste
- 1 teaspoon dried basil leaves
- 3 bay leaves
- 3 quarts beef broth
- 1 cup chopped onions
- 2 carrots, chopped
- 2 ribs celery, chopped
- 2 cups chopped cabbage
- 1 cup cut green beans (fresh, frozen or canned)
- 1 cup baby lima beans (fresh, frozen or canned)
- 1 medium turnip, chopped
- 3 cans whole tomatoes, crushed with their liquid
- 6 ounces curly vermicelli (optional)
Season the meat generously with salt, black pepper and cayenne, Put it, the basil, bay leaves and beef broth in a large soup pot over medium heat. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer, partially covered, for about one hour, or until the meat is tender. Add the onions, carrots, celery, cabbage, beans, turnip, and tomatoes. Simmer, uncovered, for one hour. If the mixture becomes too thick, add a little more beef broth or water. Add the vermicelli if using, and cook for about five minutes. Adjust the seasonings and skim off any fat that rises to the surface. Remove the bay leaves before serving.