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JANUARY / FEBRUARY 2014

Rolling into Carnival Season

By Marcelle Bienvenu


Here in Louisiana, we barely have time to take down the red and green Christmas decorations before putting up the purple, green and gold colors of Carnival season. On January 12 (otherwise known as Twelfth Night), just about everyone is lining up to purchase their King Cakes. Rather than queuing up, I find it much easier to order my King Cakes online at cajungrocer.com where they come in a varied assortment of flavors. Not only should you order one or more for your festivities, but you should also order some to send to your friends. Make your list NOW!


LOUISIANA OYSTERS


Ah, what can be better on a cold, blustery winter’s day but oysters, those salty, delectable bivalves that are a favorite treat in south Louisiana? During the cold months of winter, oyster luggers cruise the jagged shoreline of the Gulf of Mexico and the neighboring bays, harvesting the oyster beds.


When I see a bumper stick declaring “Eat Louisiana oysters and love longer,” I run straight to the nearest oyster bar. When I lived in New Orleans, there weren’t too many Fridays that didn’t find me bellying up, standing elbow to elbow with my fellow diners, at the marble counters behind which shuckers pried open countless numbers of oysters to fill the orders during the lunch hour. I had a favorite shucker who knew that I preferred the small ones and would not stop my line up of them until I finally gave him a nod when I had my fill.


I often watched purists slurp the oysters straight out of the shell with no adornments. Others, myself included, preferred to douse them in a custom-made sauce of ketchup, hot sauce, a splash of olive oil and a hefty dab of horseradish. Then there are those who like to squeeze lemon juice over their oysters, and crackers, more often than a cocktail fork, are the vehicles by which oysters get from the tray to mouth.


Nothing but cold beer will do to wash it all down.


I remember too, even further back in my life, when on Friday afternoons, Papa would visit his old friend, Frank “Banane” Foti who had a stand in St. Martinville where one could get roasted peanuts, fresh vegetables and freshly shucked oysters. Mr. Banane packed the oysters in small white cardboard boxes with wire handles, which Papa would then store in the refrigerator for a Friday night feast after the local high school football game. Papa, and usually a couple of uncles, would gather around the kitchen table. I was allowed to put my stool next to Papa and watch the ritual of the men mixing up their cocktail sauce in little paper cups. The white containers of cold oysters were passed around and around as the men jabbed the oysters, dipped them in sauce, and threw them down their throats. I watched in amazement, but then I was not quite ready to put the gray, slimy mollusks in my mouth. I did, from time to time, dip a couple of crackers in Papa’s cup of sauce into which he poured a little oyster juice.


But it wasn’t until I was well out of college and residing in the Crescent City did I experience a host of other oyster dishes at Antoine’s, Brennan’s, and Arnaud’s. And possibly, one of the greatest oyster experiences was when a neighbor invited me to a family gathering where they were prepared to open a sack of oysters and prepare them in a variety of delectable dishes. This repertoire should satisfy the craving of even the most insatiable oyster lover.


OYSTER AND ARTICHOKE CASSEROLE
Makes 12 appetizer servings

  • 6 whole fresh artichokes
  • 1 stick (1/4 pound) butter or margarine
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 2/3 cups finely chopped green onions
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped parsley
  • 1 pint oyster liquor
  • Pinch each of ground thyme, ground oregano and marjoram
  • Salt and cayenne to taste
  • 6 dozen freshly shucked oysters
  • Thinly sliced lemons sprinkled with paprika for garnish

Boil the artichokes in unsalted water until tender. Cool. Scrape the tender pulp from the leaves. Clean the hearts and mash together with the pulp. In a skillet, melt the butter or margarine and stir in the flour slowly and constantly until smooth and well blended. Add the green onions and garlic and cook until slightly wilted. Add the oyster liquor, thyme, oregano, marjoram, parsley, salt and cayenne. Simmer for 15 minutes. Add the oysters and cook slowly until the edges of the oysters curl. Add the artichoke mash and blend into the mixture. Spoon the mixture into individual casserole cups or scallop shells. Garnish with lemon slices and serve. This filling can also be put into small pastry shells, heated and served as hors d’ouevres.


There are several versions of Oysters Casino around. Some make it with a tomato-based sauce. This one was created by a chef friend and it has not a bit of tomato in it, but it is a superb dish that can be served as an elegant appetizer or as a late Sunday afternoon supper. Be sure to have crusty French bread to accompany it.


OYSTERS CASINO
Makes 4 appetizer portions, or 2 main course servings

  • 1/3 pound Italian sausage, removed from the casing and crumbled
  • 1 cup finely chopped green bell peppers
  • 1 cup finely chopped onions
  • 1/2 cup chopped pimiento
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 cup cream sherry
  • 1 cup half-and-half
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1 cup melted butter
  • 1 pound grated sharp Cheddar cheese
  • Salt and cayenne to taste
  • 1 dozen freshly shucked oysters
  • 4 slices cooked bacon

In a large skillet over medium heat, sauté the sausage, bell peppers, onions, pimiento, and garlic in the olive oil until the sausage has browned completely and the vegetables are soft. Add the sherry and half-and-half. Cook over medium-low heat for about 10 minutes, stirring constantly. Dissolve the flour in the melted butter and add to the skillet. Stir until mixture has thickened. Add the cheese and mix well with the mixture. Season with salt and cayenne to taste. Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature, then chill in the refrigerator until firm.


When ready to serve, place three oysters on a scallop shell or in a ramekin and bake in a 350 F. oven for about 5 minutes, or until the edges of the oysters curl. Top the oysters with the chilled sauce and a half slice of cooked bacon. Return to the oven and bake until sauce bubbles, or about 15 minutes.


Everyone has probably heard of and had Oysters Rockefeller, the famous dish created at Antoine’s in New Orleans and named after one of the wealthiest men in the United States, John D. Rockfeller. Antoine’s recipe has never been disclosed, but there are many versions served in and around the city. Here’s a rich soup I think you’ll enjoy on a cold night.


OYSTER ROCKEFELLER SOUP
Makes 8 servings

  • 1 cup minced onions
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1/2 cup minced celery
  • 3 cups chicken broth, in all
  • 2 cups cooked and drained spinach, pureed in a food processor
  • 2 pints oysters and their liquor
  • 2 pints half-and-half
  • 3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/3 cup cornstarch dissolved in 1/2 cup Pernod
  • Salt and cayenne to taste
  • 1 tablespoon anise seeds
  • Lemon slices for garnish

Cook the onion, garlic and celery in one cup of the chicken broth for about 10 minutes, or until slightly soft. Add the pureed spinach and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the remaining chicken broth and the liquor from the oysters. Slowly add the half-and-half and blend well. Simmer over medium heat for about 10 minutes, stirring constantly. Add the cheese, whisking well. Thicken the mixture with the cornstarch dissolved in the Pernod.


When the soup is thick and hot, remove from heat and add the drained oysters. Season to taste with salt and cayenne. Add the anise seeds. Let stand for about 5 to 6 minutes before serving. Serve in soup cups or bowls and garnish with lemon slices.



When I was a child, Sunday dinner was served at noon, after everyone returned from church. After a meal of baked chicken, roast beef, rice dressing, sweet potatoes, green beans and pecan pie, everyone agreed they would never eat again. But surely as the sun sets, we would all be hungry again by the evening. Mama often made this quick soup, which we ate with crackers or toasted French bread.


OYSTER SOUP
Makes 6 servings

  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 3 tablespoon flour
  • 1 cup chopped onions
  • 2 tablespoons minced parsley
  • 4 dozen freshly shucked oysters and their liquor
  • 1 quart boiling water or warm milk
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped green onions
  • Make a blond roux by combining the butter and flour in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir constantly for several minutes. Add the onions and parsley and continue stirring for two to three minutes. Strain the oyster liquor from the oysters and add this liquor to a quart of boiling water or the warm milk. Pour this mixture into the roux slowly, stirring constantly. When it begins to come to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer. Add the oysters and the butter. Cook until the edges of the oysters begin to curl. Season to taste with salt and cayenne. Add the green onions and serve immediately



DECEMBER 2013 / JANUARY 2014

GUMBO FOR COLD WEATHER

By Marcelle Bienvenu


Just about everyone I ran into the past few days is gathering the fixings for gumbo to enjoy on cold wet evenings during the holidays. Some families adhere to a tradition of having gumbo PLUS all the other goodies—like fried turkey, pork roast, rice dressing, sweet potatoes, cakes, pies and fudge. I took a poll as to what kinds of gumbos were simmering on the stove, and in my area chicken/andouille won hands down. I’m waiting for my duck-hunting friends to bring me a few mallards, teals or pintails with which to make Papa’s favorite—duck and oyster gumbo. It was Papa’s ritual to stop on his way back from his duck camp in Gueydan, Louisiana, (his cleaned ducks in the ice chest) to pick up freshly-shucked oysters in Abbeville. While he tended to the gumbo, I sometimes stole a few of the salty, cold oysters to slurp down with a dab of cocktail sauce. Sometimes I was allowed to sip on his cold beer. Ah, what flavors and memories!!!!


DUCK, OYSTER AND ANDOUILLE GUMBO
Makes 6 to 8 servings

  • 2 mallards (or 4 teal), dressed, and cut into serving pieces
  • Salt, black pepper and cayenne
  • 1 ¼ cups vegetable oil
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 medium-size yellow onions, chopped
  • 2 medium-size green bell peppers, chopped
  • 8 cups (about) water or chicken stock
  • 2 pounds andouille sausage, cut crosswise into ¼-inch slices
  • 2 dozen oysters with their liquor
  • ¼ cup chopped green onions (green part only)

Season the duck generously with salt, black pepper and cayenne. Set aside. Heat ¼ cup of the oil in a large, heavy pot (preferably black iron) over a medium-hot fire. Brown the duck pieces evenly in the oil, then remove and set aside. Drain off the oil in the pot. In the same pot, over medium heat, combine the remaining 1 cup oil and the flour, and stirring slowly and constantly, make a dark brown roux. Add the onions and bell peppers and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are soft and golden, 8 to 10 minutes.


Return the ducks to the pot and slowly add enough warm water or stock to cover the ducks completely. Add the andouille and reduce the heat to medium-low. Simmer, uncovered, until the ducks are tender, about 2 hours.


Add the oysters and their liquor, and the green onions and cook until the edges of the oysters curl slightly, about 5 minutes. Serve hot over rice. To go with this hearty gumbo, I offer both potato salad (made with homemade mayonnaise) and baked sweet potatoes. Some chose to plop the potato salad or the sweet potato right into their bowl of gumbo while others serve either alongside the gumbo. Your choice!


SOUTH LOUISIANA NEW YEAR’S FEAST


I rarely choose to diverge from the traditional dishes—cabbage (a symbol of prosperity) and black-eyed peas (said to bring one good luck)—for my New Year’s buffet. Since there are those who declare they don’t like the taste or smell of cabbage, I usually offer a couple of cabbage dishes in hopes that I can please even the choosiest of dinner guests since I don’t want any of my friends to go without.


Let me begin with steamed cabbage for the purists.


STEAMED CABBAGE
Makes 6 servings

  • 4 cups shredded cabbage, tightly packed
  • 4 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Put the cabbage in the top of a steamer and steam over boiling water until it is just tender, eight to 10 minutes. Transfer to a serving dish and toss with the butter and oil. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Serve warm.


This next recipe is a Cajun favorite.


CABBAGE CASSEROLE
Makes 8 to 10 servings

  • 1 pound lean ground pork
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 ½ cups thinly sliced yellow onions
  • 1 (10-ounce) can tomatoes with green chilies
  • 2 large heads cabbage, cored and coarsely chopped
  • Salt, black pepper and cayenne, to taste
  • ½ pound sharp Cheddar cheese, grated

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.


Brown the pork in the oil over medium-high heat in a large saucepan. Add the onions and tomatoes with chilies, and cook, stirring often, for 10 minutes. Add the cabbage and season with salt, black pepper and cayenne. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, covered, until the cabbage is tender, about 20 minutes.


Transfer to a casserole dish and top with the cheese. Bake until the cheese is melted and bubbly, about 15 minutes.


Rather than cooking the peas and rice separate, combine them to make a jambalaya—easy!


BLACK-EYED PEA JAMBALAYA
Makes 10 to 12 servings

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 pound smoked sausage, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch slices
  • 1/2 pound cubed ham
  • 1 cup chopped onions
  • 1/2 cup chopped green bell peppers
  • 2 (15-ounce) can black-eyed peas with jalapenos
  • 1 (14-ounce) can beef broth
  • Salt and cayenne to taste
  • 8 cups cooked rice
  • ¼ cup chopped green onions

Heat the oil in a large, heavy pot over medium heat. Add the sausage, ham, onions, and bell peppers. Cook, stirring, until the vegetables are golden, about 8 minutes.


Add the peas and beef broth and reduce the heat to medium-low. Season with salt and cayenne. Simmer, stirring occasionally, for 1 hour.


Add the rice, a little at a time, and gently stir to mix. The mixture should be moist but not soggy. Season with salt and pepper.


Baked ham or baked brisket is a good choice to serve with the cabbage and peas. I recommend getting an untrimmed brisket as the fat will keep the meat moist while it bakes. Once it’s cooked, you can remove the excess fat before slicing to serve.


BAKED BRISKET
Makes 10 to 12 servings

  • 1 brisket, about 10 pounds, untrimmed
  • Olive oil
  • Salt, cayenne and black pepper
  • ¼ cup soy sauce
  • 1 (12-ounce) bottle of beer

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking pan, large enough to accommodate the brisket, with heavy-duty aluminum foil.


Place the brisket in the prepared pan and rub generously with olive oil. Season generously with salt, cayenne and black pepper. Pour the soy sauce over the brisket. Bake until the brisket brown evenly, about 30 minutes.


Carefully pour in the beer. Reduce the heat to 250 degrees and cover securely with another sheet of heavy-duty aluminum foil. Bake until fork-tender, 4 to 5 hours.


Be careful when removing the pan from the oven as there will be a lot of fat and liquid. Let the brisket rest for about 20 minutes before slicing.


And don’t forget the cornbread!


CHEDDAR CHEESE CORNBREAD
Makes 6 to 8 servings

  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1/3 cup corn oil
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 ½ cups white cornmeal
  • 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 (12-ounce) can whole kernel corn, drained
  • 3 tablespoons half-and-half
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 small red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Butter a 9-inch square baking pan. Mix together the first three ingredients in a large bowl.


Combine the cornmeal, baking powder, salt, and baking soda and add to the buttermilk mixture. Stir together the corn and half-and-half and add to the batter. Mix in the onion, bell pepper and sugar. Pour half of the batter into the baking pan. Top with the cheese. Pour in the remaining batter. Bake until browned and springy to the touch, about 40 minutes.


NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2013

TURDUCKEN TIME!!!

If you haven’t ordered your turducken, then you had better get to it! Your holiday table won’t be complete without one or two! I also highly recommend the qua–duc-ant (quail/duck/pheasant). AND if you have any leftover (which you probably won’t), it can be used to make a gumbo. The combination of the quail, duck and pheasant makes an incredible gumbo – simply use your chicken and sausage gumbo recipe and add chunks of the qua-duc-ant! Better order two or three to stash in your freezer for the upcoming holidays. Also the qua-duc-ant can be sliced to make a magnificent poorboy slathered with Creole mustard.

HOLIDAY DESSERTS – SOMETHING FOR EVERYONE
By Marcelle Bienvenu

Mama loved to end her meal with something sweet, whether it was a simple sugar cookie or a couple of chocolate Kisses. Papa, on the other hand, could gorge himself on an entire box of Heavenly Hash. Sister Edna likes cakes. She will bake one at the drop of a hat and snack on it all day. Brother Henri Clay adores sweets. He never seems to get enough cakes, pies, cookies, candies, ice cream, or whatever sweet concoction anyone comes up with, and for holidays, he relishes in all the desserts. Baby Brother Bruce favors lemon pie and homemade ice cream.

I, thank goodness, rarely crave sweets. When I do, a couple of Oreos, a scoop of vanilla ice cream, or a small Butterfinger will do the trick.

When it comes to holiday feasts, we really blow it out. Henri says to bring it all on, so there is always a great variety.

For years, our Aunt Eva, who was not a terribly good cook but a terrific baker, supplied a four-layered coconut cake that was outstanding for the Thanksgiving feast. Aunt Claudia, the family pie-maker, produced the best-ever apple pie and a pecan pie that was stupendous. Aunt Taye was the candy-maker and her divinity fudge was unsurpassable.

But Aunt Eva has passed on, and we haven’t tasted any of Aunt Claudia’s pies or Aunt Taye’s candies in years, so it’s my generation’s turn to walk in their shoes.



SWEET POTATO PIE
Makes 1 pie to serve 8

This sweet potato pie is usually my offering for the holidays. I ate so many sweet potatoes as a child, I was nicknamed “Patate Douce.”
  • 3 medium-size sweet potatoes (about 1 ¼ pounds)
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • ½ cup (packed) light brown sugar
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • ½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground mace
  • Pinch of salt
  • ½ cup evaporated milk
  • Flaky Pie Crust (recipe follows), unbaked
  • Whipped cream
In a medium-size saucepan of boiling water, cook the sweet potatoes until tender, about 30 minutes. Drain, let cool, then peel and mash. You should have about 3 cups.

the oven to 350 degrees. In a medium-size bowl, beat together the butter and brown sugar until creamy. Add the eggs, vanilla, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, nutmeg, allspice, mace and salt. Stir in the mashed sweet potatoes and add the evaporated milk. Beat with an electric mixer until smooth.

Pour the filling into the unbaked pie shell and bake on the bottom rack of the oven until the center is firm, 50 to 60 minutes. Remove and serve warm or at room temperature. Garnish with a dollop of whipped cream.



CRANBERRY CRUMB TART
Makes 1 tart to serve 10

This cranberry tart is also from my repertoire of holiday desserts. I never did like cranberry sauce, but for the past several years, I’ve experimented with fresh cranberries and like the flavor and texture in a dessert such as this one.
  • 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 ½ cups to 3 cups sugar
  • 1 ½ sticks cold unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 6 cups fresh cranberries, rinsed, drained and picked over (about two 12-ounce bags)
  • Prebaked Tart Shell (recipe follows)
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. In a large bowl, combine the flour and 1 ¾ cups of the sugar. Cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Continue cutting until the mixture forms nickel-size clumps that crumb easily.

In a medium-size bowl, combine the remaining ¾ cup sugar (or more if you want it sweeter) with the salt. Add the cranberries and toss to coat well.

Spoon the cranberries into the prebaked tart shell, mounding them slightly in the center. Using your fingers, lightly squeeze pieces of the crumb topping and drop them gently over the berries. Do not press the topping into the fruit.

Bake until the toping is golden brown and the fruit is bubbling around the edges, about 40 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool on a rack. Unmold the tart and place on a serving platter. Serve at room temperature.



PREBAKED TART SHELL
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 stick cold unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch pieces
  • 1 ½ teaspoons sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
Place the flour in a medium-size bowl. Cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse meal. In a small bowl, dissolve the sugar and salt in ¼ cup cold water. Sprinkle over the flour mixture, tossing the mixture until the dough begins to come together.

Turn the dough out onto a flour surface and form it into a ball. Flatten the dough into a disk, wrap it in plastic and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough into a large round, 1/8 to ¼ inch thick. Trim to a 13-inch circle. Dust the dough lightly with flour and fold into quarters. Place it with the point in the center, in a 9 ½ to 10-inch tart pan, about one inch deep, with a removable bottom. Open up the pastry and fit it into the pan, folding in the excess to reinforce the sides. Press the pastry against the fluted sides of the pan and trim off any excess dough. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour or overnight.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line the pastry with foil and fill with pie weights or dried beans. Bake until the pastry is almost dry 20 to 25 minutes. Remove the foil and weights, prick the bottom and sides all over with a fork, and continue to bake until the crust is golden brown, 5 to 8 minutes.



OLD-FASHIONED APPLE PIE
Makes 1 pie to serve 8

I’m not sure how Aunt Claudia made her apple pies, but this one comes mighty close to what I remember.

Pastry:
  • 1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1/3 cup vegetable shortening, cut into small pieces
  • 6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons ice water
Filling:
  • 3 pounds tart apples, peeled, cored and cut into ½-inch slices
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ½ cup heavy cream
To make the crust, place the flour, sugar, and salt in a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Add the shortening and butter and process until the mixture resembles coarse meal. With the machine running, add enough of the ice water through the feed tube for the dough to gather into a ball. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for one hour.

To make the filling, toss the apples, sugar, lemon juice, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cream together.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Divide the dough in half. Roll out one piece to an 11-inch circle on a lightly floured surface. Line a 9-inch pie plate with the dough, leaving the edge untrimmed.

Spoon the apple filling into the pie shell. Roll out the remaining dough into another 11-inch circle. Carefully place over the top of the pie. Trim and crimp the edges. Any excess dough can be used for decorating the top of the pie if you wish.

Cut four steam vents in the top of the pie.

Bake for 20 minutes. Reduce the heat to 375 degrees and bake for 40 minutes more. Serve warm or at room temperature.



FLAKY PIE CRUST
  • 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup vegetable shortening
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons ice water
In a mediums-size bowl, mix the flour and salt together. Cut in the shortening until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Add three tablespoons water, one tablespoon at a time, stirring lightly with a fork after each addition. Add one more tablespoon of water, if needed, so that the dough holds together. Gather into a bowl and flatten slightly.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough until it is about 1/8-inch thick. Transfer the dough to a 9-inch pie pan and fit it against the bottom and sides without stretching. Trim to ½ inch of the edge, fold the extra dough under and crimp decoratively.


MAY/JUNE 2013

HERBS – A BOUQUET OF IDEAS

My first encounter with fresh herbs was years ago when my Tante Belle showed me her crop of peppermint that grew profusely under the faucet that protruded from her screen porch. During the summer months when it was almost too hot too move, she would make a huge pitcher of homemade lemonade.

As far as I was concerned it was extra special, made so by the addition of fresh mint sprigs that were stirred in right before serving. I also remember her hacking out a big chunk of ice from the big block that was wrapped in a sack and stored in her old-time ice box. Then with her trusty red-handled ice pick, she would splinter the ice into smaller pieces which were then wrapped in a clean kitchen towel. That’s when I would step in, and with a hammer pound the ice into finely crushed crystals which was added to the lemonade. Armed with a tray loaded with the lemonade and big tall glasses, we would head out to a great old swing hanging from a massive oak tree in her back yard to sit until the cool of the evening set in. I’ll never forget the scent and taste of that mint in the lemonade.

Another herb I grew accustomed to was parsley.

Tante Bell’s sister Tante May was fond of fresh parsley and always had a plot of it near the door to her kitchen. Nary a pot of gumbo or soup, or a plate of food, went unadorned by a few sprigs of the bright green herb. She often put a few leaves in her mouth while she cooked, saying it rejuvenated her taste buds.

Lemon verbena was a favorite of Aunt Grace, who had several shrubs growing near her old cistern. Most of her crop was hung to dry in her potting shed, then was crushed and put into small muslin bags to stash in her linen closet. However, I do remember her stuffing a handful or two into the cavity of a roasting hen. Ah, the fragrance was delightful.

Through the years I have come to love many fresh herbs and the foods they enhance. During the summer I enjoy slivers of fresh basil leaves sprinkled on slices of Creole tomatoes. Practically all year round, I love to add several sprigs of rosemary to a pot of pork or veal. Cilantro (also known as coriander or Chinese parsley) goes well with tomatoes too, and I also like to add some leaves to green salads or to sprinkle some on baked fish.

There’s so many things to do with herbs; remember a chef telling me that herbs can change a dish from a $1.00 dish to a $10.00 dish. These days, many supermarkets carry a fairly good assortment so you have no excuse for not trying some out. And many herbs can be easily grown in pots on a sunny window sill. Right now, during the warmer months, is an ideal time to do some experimenting. Team them with fresh garden vegetables, or use them when grilling meats and fowl. Toss fresh thyme leaves in olive oil and pour over steaks, pork chops or sausage before grilling. Come on, there are really no hard and fast rules about what goes with what. That’s the fun of it.


This tangy and refreshing Middle Eastern cracked wheat salad makes a light summer meal or served with grilled chicken or kabobs.

TABBOULEH

Makes 6 to 8 servings
  • 1 1/4 bulgur
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons whole coriander seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon whole allspice
  • 2 tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 cucumber, peeled, seeded and chopped
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 small red onion, chopped
  • 1/3 cup chopped green onions
  • 2 cups finely chopped fresh parsley leaves, tightly packed
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh mint leaves, tightly packed
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • Romaine leaves, cleaned and patted dry
Rinse the bulgur and place in a bowl covered by one inch of water. Allow to soak for one hour.

In a hot, ungreased skillet, carefully toast the coriander and allspice. Then remove and cool. Grind with a pestle and mortar or in a small food processor. Set aside.

Sprinkle the tomatoes and cucumbers with salt and allow to drain in a colander. Set aside for about 15 minutes.

When the bulgur has absorbed the water, drain in a colander, then squeeze out any remaining moisture with your hands to prevent sogginess. Transfer to a large bowl. Add the garlic, onions, parsley, mint, crush pepper, and the coriander and allspice. Season with salt and pepper. Drizzle with the lemon juice and olive oil and toss to mix well. Cover and refrigerate for several hours.

Allow to come to room temperature before serving. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Arrange the tabbouleh on the Romaine leaves to serve.


This herb-flavored butter is great to spread on corn-on-the-cob, or tossed with fresh green beans that have been blanched in boiling water for several minutes, or tossed with pasta.

BASIL-GARLIC BUTTER
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup freshly chopped basil leaves
  • 3 tablespoons lightly toasted pine nuts
  • 1 tablespoon white wine
  • 2 tablespoon freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
Combine all of the ingredients and stir to mix well. Can be refrigerated or served at room temperature.


If you’re successful with growing mint, it can sometimes get out of hand, but there are many things to do with mint. This mint sauce can be drizzled on lamb chops or grilled chicken breasts, or cooked carrots.

SUMMER MINT SAUCE

Makes 1 cup
  • 1/2 cup white wine vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons light brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 1/3 cup chopped fresh mint leaves
Combine the vinegar and sugar in a small saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring constantly to dissolve the sugar. Reduce the heat to medium-low and add the water and the mint leaves. Remove from the heat and let stand for at least one.

If you wish, you can strain the syrup, but I rather like the mint leaves in the sauce. It makes it more intense. It can be served warm or at room temperature.

Order some of our frozen tails on our website and plan to celebrate that it’s summertime and the living is easy!

This is a sinfully good and easy way to prepare lobster tails. Defrost the lobsters, then split the shell lengthwise (use kitchen shears) and gently remove the meat. (Allow one tail per person.) On low heat, melt enough butter in which to submerge the lobster tail. Here’s where you can get creative – add a little mashed fresh garlic, fresh lemon juice, a pinch or two of hot sauce, maybe a pinch or two of fresh dill, salt and freshly ground black pepper. On low heat, allow the lobster tails to poach in the mixture – it shouldn’t take longer than 8 to 10 minutes – depending on the size of the lobster tails. Serve the warm, buttery lobster tails on a bed of linguini tossed with garlic and good olive oil, or simply serve them with toasted French bread and thick slices of tomatoes garnished with fresh basil leaves.


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