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.
For many years our family’s Thanksgiving dinner was somewhat of a moveable feast. The reason being is that the men in our family were such avid sportsmen that duck-hunting season ruled the day and time at which we sat down to give thanks.
Many times we gathered on the Wednesday night before Turkey Day since Papa and my brothers headed out in the wee hours the next morning to get to the blinds before the sun came up. The feast sometimes was baked turkey with all the trimmings, but it was also at times a simple, but delicious, gumbo of chicken, sausage and oysters followed by pecan pie.
Then there were occasions that, if the ducks were flying, Papa and the boys didn’t return until Friday or Saturday when another feast, if they had a good hunt, was celebrated with another repast, this one of baked duck, preceded by a course of freshly shucked oysters that they picked up in Abbeville on their way home from Pecan Island.
One year when the men were absent from the table on Thanksgiving Day, Mama emptied the freezer and we girls dined on baked redfish stuffed with a goodly amount of crabmeat and shrimp accompanied by one of our favorites, potatoes au gratin and finished off the meal with a rich lemon icebox pie made with condensed milk. Divine!
Not being a great lover of turkey, I was rarely disappointed that the old bird did not grace our holiday table. In fact, as we grew older Mama made it a point not to have Tom Turkey for Turkey Day. For three years running, she baked Cornish hens covered in a citrus glaze. There was also a period that she forsook all choice of birds, which my aunts said was almost blasphemous, and prepared things like grilled steaks, hamburgers, and yes, even shrimp poorboys! It was fun and it was, believe it or not, a welcome change from the ubiquitous rice dressing, baked sweet potatoes swathed in syrup and topped with marshmallows, and pies of pumpkin or mincemeat. There was always the inevitable Christmas feast to look forward to when we would have more than enough to fill our tummies—roast pork, baked ham, a turkey, roasted ducks, oyster patties, several vegetable dishes and of course, desserts of all kinds, pralines and fudge.
The reason for all this narrative is merely to prove my point that Thanksgiving can just as well be celebrated and enjoyed without turkey. But hey, if you like baked turkey, go ahead and have Tom Turkey for dinner. (My sister Edna loves baked turkey so much she cooks one at least once a week. At Thanksgiving, she takes a break and has seafood gumbo!)
Come on, try something different. I promise nothing bad will happen except you won’t have that turkey carcass with which to make a gumbo the following day.
Here are some ideas. Of course, it may not be for everyone. Certainly, I encourage families to gather together for a day of thanks, but if you can’t make it home this year, you might want to invite some friends who are in the same situation to share a meal together. Or, if you’re parents who are experiencing the empty-nest syndrome and the children aren’t coming home for dinner, take the opportunity to enjoy some time with your spouse and a few close friends rather than spending hours, even days, preparing a five-course meal for a cast of thousands.
For starters, why not boil a couple of pounds of shrimp, peel them, then serve them with this curry dip.
NICK’S CURRY DIP
- Makes about 1 cup
- 1 cup mayonnaise
- 1 tablespoon minced onions
- 1 teaspoon curry powder
- 1 teaspoon dry mustard
- 1 teaspoon tarragon vinegar
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Whisk all the ingredients together in a small bowl. Chill for at least one hour before serving.
Rather than the same old, same old tossed green salad, I suggest this one of pears (you can substitute apples if you wish), baby greens, blue cheese, and walnuts. The recipe can be easily doubled if you need to serve more.
PEAR, GREENS AND BLUE CHEESE SALAD
- Makes about 6 servings
- 2 ripe pears, peeled, cored and coarsely chopped
- 2 teaspoons plus 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 1/2 cup walnut oil or olive oil
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 1 tablespoon chopped shallots
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 6 cups baby salad greens (available in bags at many supermarkets)
- 1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese
- 1/2 cup walnut pieces, toasted
- Toss the pears with two teaspoons of the lemon juice and set aside.
In a small clean jar, combine the remaining two tablespoons lemon juice, the oil, the mustard, and the shallots. Fit the jar with a lid and shake to blend. Season with salt and pepper. Shake again and set aside. When ready to serve, put the salad greens in a large bowl, add the pears, the cheese and the walnuts. Pour in the dressing and toss to coat evenly. Serve immediately.
Instead of fowl, why not opt for a beef tenderloin or a pork loin. Check your specialty kitchen shop for the combination of black and white peppercorns. They are sold separately or sometimes combined in one package.
BEEF TENDERLOIN WITH PEPPERCORNS
- Makes 10 to 12 servings
- 1 (5 to 6 pound) beef tenderloin, trimmed
- 3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
- 1 1/2 tablespoons black peppercorns, coarsely ground
- 1 1/2 tablespoons white peppercorns, coarsely ground
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- Salt to taste
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Cut the tenderloin lengthwise to within 1/2 inch of one long edge, leaving edge intact. Open the tenderloin out flat. Place a large piece of heavy-duty plastic wrap over the tenderloin and pound to flatten slightly. Remove the wrap. Spread the meat evenly with the mustard. Sprinkle evenly with half of the black and white peppercorns. Fold one side of the tenderloin back over and tie securely with kitchen twine at three-inch intervals.
Rub the tenderloin with the oil and the remaining peppercorns. Place the tenderloin on a rack in a roasting pan. Insert a meat thermometer in the thickest part of the tenderloin. Roast for 30 to 40 minutes or until the thermometer registers 135 to 140 degrees for medium-rare; 45 to 50 minutes or until the thermometer registers 145 to 150 degrees for medium. Remove from the oven and let stand for about 10 minutes before slicing to serve.
Sprinkle with salt to taste.
A pork loin when trimmed of fat is lean and mean. This recipe takes a little time and effort, but you will be justly rewarded.
PORK LOIN WITH APPLES, CIDER AND CALVADOS
- Makes 8 to 10 servings
- 1 (4 1/2 to 5 pound) pork loin, trimmed
- 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
- 1/8 teaspoon cayenne
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 2 teaspoons finely chopped rosemary
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 3 medium yellow onions, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, chopped
- 5 firm apples, cored and quartered
- 1/2 cup hard cider
- 1/4 cup Calvados (apple brandy)
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Tie the pork loin at two-inch intervals with kitchen twine to hold its shape. In a small bowl, combine the flour, cayenne, salt and pepper and the rosemary. Rub this mixture evenly all over the loin. Heat two tablespoons of the butter in a large heavy skillet and sear the meat over high heat, turning often until evenly browned. Transfer the loin, with the pan juices to a large baking pan. Scatter the onions and garlic around the roast. Cut up the remaining butter and distribute evenly over the vegetables. Cover with foil and place in the oven.
Cook for 45 minutes, then add the apples and the cider to the pan. Baste everything with the pan juices. Cover and cook for 30 minutes more. Raise the oven temperature to 400 degrees and remove the boil. Baste and cook for another 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and transfer the loin to a cutting board. Carefully remove the twine and let stand for ten minute.
Meanwhile, transfer the onions and apples to a platter. On top of the stove, reduce the pan juices by half. Warm the Calvados and CAREFULLY pour into the pan. It should flame, then die down. Keep a pan lid nearby in case the Calvados flares up. Simmer the sauce while you slice the pork loin. Arrange the meat over the apples and onions and serve with the sauce.
These potatoes can accompany either meat dishes.
SCALLOPED POTATOES WITH PARMESAN CHEESE
- Makes 8 to 10 servings
- 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
- 1/4 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
- 4 large baking potatoes (about 3 pounds), peeled and thinly sliced
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 1/2 cup water
- 2 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley leaves
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
Combine 1/2 cup of the cheese, the salt, garlic powder, nutmeg, and the pepper in a small bowl and set aside. Layer one-third of the potatoes in a lightly greased 12x8x2-inch baking dish. Sprinkle half of the seasoning mixture over the potatoes. Repeat layers with potatoes and seasoning mix, ending with potatoes. Sprinkle evenly with the remaining two tablespoons cheese. Combine the cream and the water and pour over the potatoes. Cover with foil and bake for about one hour, or until the potatoes are tender. Uncover and bake for 10 to 15 minutes or until the top is lightly browned.
Remove and cool a few minutes before serving.
Since the potatoes are rich, I suggest something simple for another side dish.
DILLED GREEN BEANS
- Makes about 10 servings
- 3 pounds fresh green beans, trimmed and rinsed in cool water
- 3 cups water
- Salt to taste
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed
- 1 teaspoon dried dill
- Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Put the water in a large saucepan over medium-high heat and add salt. Bring to a boil, add the beans, reduce the heat to medium. Cook for about eight minutes, or just until beans are slightly tender. Drain, then plunge into ice water to stop cooking. Drain again.
Heat the oil in a large skillet, add the garlic and beans and toss to coat. Cook for one to two minute just to heat through. Add the dill and season with salt and pepper. Toss again and serve. Serve French bread, dinner rolls, or biscuits with the meal.
And now for dessert. Holidays, after all, are for splurging!
If you have a favorite dessert recipe, by all means make it, or have your friendly baker do the honors and order something sinfully rich. My choice is a praline parfait, the recipe for which I pinched from Commander’s Palace.
- Makes about 12 servings
- 1 1/2 cups light corn syrup
- 1 1/2 cups dark corn syrup
- 1 1/2 cups chopped roasted pecans
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Dash of grated nutmeg
- Dash of ground cinnamon
- French vanilla ice cream
- 1 cup heavy cream, whipped
- Chocolate shavings for garnish (optional)
Mix together the corn syrups, pecans, vanilla, nutmeg and cinnamon. Put two tablespoons of the praline sauce in the bottom of 12 parfait (or large wine) glasses. Put two scoops of ice cream on top of the sauce, then top with a generous amount of the sauce. Put a dollop of whipped cream on top and garnish with chocolate shavings.
Have a great Thanksgiving and don’t forget to give thanks!