Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Cream Scones and "Accidental" Jam

     I was making a batch of popsicles the other day. The Mr. had found strawberries and blueberries at the store, and "suggested" a frozen mixed fruit bar. Because of the abundance, I made up a double batch, and put half in the refrigerator while the first popsicles were freezing (2 1/2 cups mixed fruit puree and 1 cup simple syrup). The next day, after unmolding the pops, I pulled out the refrigerated mixture to start batch #2 and discovered it had turned into a sort of jam! Apparently, blueberries are high in natural pectin, and a puree with sugar (or in this case, simple syrup) will gel in the fridge without any other encouragement! I went ahead and froze some of the "jam" in my palettas molds as an experiment and they were quite tasty. The remainder I left as jam, and enjoyed it with fresh, warm scones.
     Scones are a delicate and delicious sort of biscuit, slightly sweet, sometimes made with currants or blueberries. They are in the "quick bread" family, using baking powder as a leavening agent, and they can be mixed and baked in about 20 minutes. Scones are part of a traditional English tea, served with lemon curd, jam, and thickened or "clotted" cream, and also make a very civilized breakfast or afternoon snack.
2 & 1/2 cups flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 & 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
6 tbsp unsalted butter, cold
2 eggs
3/4 cup heavy cream
*optional 1/4 cup currants, dried cranberries, or blueberries

Preheat oven to 425F. If you are using a baking stone, place it in the oven first. Combine dry ingredients. Cut in butter, using a pastry blender.

If you don't have a pastry blender, a fork will do. Mash the butter into the flour mixture until it is all incorporated and the mixture resembles a coarse cornmeal.

In a separate bowl, whisk eggs and cream. Stir wet and dry ingredients together, and add fruit if desired. The dough will be slightly sticky. Dust your workspace with flour, and turn out the dough. Dust the top with 1-2 tbsp flour, and pat the dough into a rough rectangle approximately 3/4 - 1 inch thick. Cut scones into circles or squares (or triangles for that matter).

 Brush the tops with egg wash (I save 1-2 tbsp from the egg/cream mixture) and sprinkle lightly with sugar. Place on a cookie sheet (or directly on the pre-heated stone) and bake until golden, 12-15 minutes. Enjoy while warm with lemon curd and jam! Makes approximately 8 scones, depending on size.


Sunday, August 19, 2018

Lemon Curd

     It's mid-August, and the grandchildren are back in school, with early mornings, brand new shoes, and sharpened pencils! 
      Almost every school morning, my Dad would walk from room to room, flipping on the lights, singing "Good morning to you!" and encouraging us with, "Rise and shine! It's another day in which to excel!"
     It was difficult for me to "rise and shine," being that I was never a morning person. I am not even a "breakfast" person. I need serious motivation to face the day. I need, well, sunshine in a jar!
     Enter Lemon Curd, a sort of lemony, creamy spread, not "curdy" at all, so I have no idea why it is called that! It is bright, tart/sweet, and smooth. I first encountered lemon curd at a traditional 3-course English tea. "Warm scones with lemon curd and clotted cream." I was frightened by the description but became instantly hooked, and not "just" with tea and scones.
     Lemon curd is delicious on warm scones, of course, but also biscuits, or toast, or to fill the thumbprint in "thumbprint cookies," or folded with whipped cream in a Graham cracker pie shell, or to spoon into plain yogurt.
     Skip the "store-bought" variety; it tastes almost medicinal. Lemon curd is easy to make, requiring only 4 basic ingredients, plus a double boiler, a whisk, and a strong arm. If you don't have a double boiler, you can use a metal mixing bowl over a 2-quart sized saucepan filled 1/3 with water, set to medium high heat.
                         Lemon Curd
3/4 cup lemon juice (about 4 lemons)
2 & 1/4 cups sugar
4 eggs, beaten
1 & 1/2 sticks (12 tbsp, or 3/4 cup) butter

In the top of a double boiler, whisk lemon juice, sugar, and eggs, stirring until thickened. Whisk in butter, 2-3 tbsp at a time until it is all incorporated. I then scrape it through a fine mesh strainer. This step is not absolutely necessary,  but I once found some bits of cooked egg white, and, well...I do have issues with texture! I pour the finished product into Mason jars and seal. Cool, then refrigerate. Makes about 3 cups.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Melon Ice pops and granitas

     Summertime in New Orleans is warm...ok, It's HOT, and humid. My hair grows in volume on most days...I call it my "Personal Hygrometer!" Offsetting the heat, or perhaps as a reward for our persistence,  snowball stands dot the city. Other cities may have "snow cones," and I have heard of but not tasted "Hawaiian Shave Ice." New Orleans Snowballs are a different thing all together, and it comes down to the ice. The New Orleans own "Sno-Wizard" is an industrial machine that churns out soft, fluffy ice perfection that cannot be duplicated.
     The local newspaper food editor a couple of years ago ranked the top snowball stands in and around the city. IMHO, the local neighborhood establishment tops them all in terms of ice quality, flavor variety, and price! There are older stands with more unusual syrup flavor combinations and "stuffing," but here's an uncompensated, no- strings-attached shout-out to Casey's of Metairie! The vanilla ice cream stuffed Orchid Creme Vanilla snowball is highly recommended!
     Snowballs cannot be made at home, related to ice requirements, but ice pops and granitas are easy and delicious. Made with fresh fruit, they are a refreshing dessert that is not terribly bad for you, either!
     Traveling with my sisters last week in Texas, we were offered a taste of Honeydew melon agua fresca, a juice made with pureed melon, agave or simple syrup, and mint. It was very sweet, and I commented that I thought it would be delicious frozen on a stick!
     I did not have ice pop molds at my sister's house...but we did have a watermelon... and herbs...and a blender. So, I pureed the watermelon with the basil and thyme, added a bit of sugar to taste, and froze it in a square glass dish, giving it a good stir every 30 minutes or so. The result was a delicious granita, tasting fresh and vibrant, not too sweet, and with a hint of the herbs to round it out.
     This week, I found a perfectly ripe honeydew melon. I have basil and tarragon in my yard, and remembering the agua fresca, I pulled out the paletas molds a niece gave me last Christmas.
     Now, you do not need fancy equipment. I found plastic molds at the dollar store. Wooden sticks are sold by the hundreds at craft shops. Paper cups can also be pressed into service. A gallon size zip top bag can be used as well to make granitas: fill the bag half way with your fruit mixture, close it up, and lay it flat in the freezer. Every 30 minutes or so, give the bag a good shake and lay it flat again to freeze some more until it reaches a servable consistency.

     Back to the honeydew: I first made simple syrup: equal amounts of water and sugar, simmered until the sugar is completely dissolved. While the syrup cooled, I pureed honeydew in two batches: one with basil, the other with tarragon (about 2 tbsp). I mixed separately 1 & 1/2 cups each type of puree with 1/2 cup syrup, gave it a good stir, checked for taste, filled the mold to within 1/4 inch to allow for expansion, and placed it in the freezer. I left it undisturbed overnight...I think it would take 4 hours to freeze completely.
     The pops were delicious! The honeydew flavor shined through in both. The basil combination was delightful, and the tarragon pop had a slight hint of anise that was very complementary.
     I encourage you to experiment. There is no limit to the different combinations you can make with seasonal fruit and herbs!

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Basil pesto

     Spring has arrived here in South Louisiana, and warmer weather plus seasonal rains are just what my herbs are needing. Basil in particular dislikes temperatures less than 68F.

      Basil is so fragrant, almost like a mild anise, and it lends itself to both sweet and savory. A Caprese salad is elegant simplicity on a plate. Also, search Basil-lime sorbet--you can thank me later.                                                              
     As with most herbs, fresh is best. Dried herbs lose flavor and aroma (I think the exception is bay leaf, which is actually better dried). 
     I love basil pesto. A spoonful transforms pasta, tomato soup, salad dressing. Add it to meatloaf or meatballs or baked chicken. It can also be used as a sandwich spread.

                               Basil Pesto
2 cups basil leaves
1/4 cup chopped onion
2 tbsp chopped garlic
2 sticks butter, softened
1 cup olive oil
1/2 cup shredded or grated parmesan cheese 
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts or walnuts
Salt and pepper to taste 
Put all ingredients into a blender and puree until smooth. Taste for balance and seasoning. Seriously,  that's as complicated as it gets. Store it in the refrigerator. I freeze it in 1/4 cup increments in a muffin tin, and keep the resulting discs frozen in a zipper bag to use as needed.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

New Orleans Pralines

     Pecans are a gift from God. Delicious, crunchy, buttery....and a good source of vitamins and minerals. One ounce contains 3 grams of protein, less than 200 calories, and 1 net carbohydrate, making them a darn good snack.
     As wholesome as pecans are right out of the shell, we tend to embellish them. The Mister makes a very good pecan pie, and one of my sisters has a wonderful recipe for toasted pecans with thyme and maple syrup. I'll ask them later if I can share. A particular favorite of the extended family, though, are pecan pralines.
     Pralines (praw-leenz): Sugar cooked in cream and butter, yielding melt-in-your-mouth bites of heaven. Really. 7 ingredients and 20 minutes of your time is all it takes.
(makes approximately 2-3 dozen depending on size)
1 & 1/2 cups granulated sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup half & half (or milk)
6 tbsp butter
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp salt
1 & 1/2 cups chopped pecans
     **My Aunt Toodie would make the pralines without pecans, but would then press a pecan half into each candy before it cooled. I like using chopped pecans. It "almost" insures a bit of pecan in every bite. That having been said, you can substitute walnuts if that's what you have on hand. I once also used toasted (shelled) pumpkin seeds for a co-worker with a nut allergy and they were a hit!**

     First, prepare a surface to receive the cooked confection and allow the pralines to cool undisturbed. My personal choice is a couple of silicone baking mats. Virtually indestructible up to 480F, they will protect your counters and your candy: Nothing sticks to them! My second choice is parchment paper.  Waxed paper is a distant third. The hot candy melts the wax to the point where it sticks to your counter as it cools and hardens. You could solve this by lining your counter with newspaper or paper towels but this is just one more thing to do.
     Combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring constantly, until it reaches "soft ball stage." This entails dropping 1/2 tsp of the candy-as-molten-lava into a cup of ice water. If the candy disintegrates, cook a bit longer. However, if you can dip your fingers into the ice water and form a cohesive soft ball out of the candy, it has cooked long enough. Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir until the candy cools slightly and you can see sugar crystals form along the side of the pot and the pecans are suspended in the candy, not just floating in top.
     Now, quickly spoon the candy out onto your prepared surface, creating individual pools approximately 1-1/2 to 2 inches in diameter. Do not be concerned about perfection in shape or neatness. Your goal is to spoon out the candy before it hardens in the pan. But...if it does, no problem. Return the pot to the heat for a minute until the praline melts again and carry on.
     Allow the candy to cool and harden completely, and then store them in an airtight container. Pralines make a perfect light dessert. Broken pieces can be sprinkled over ice cream. Around holidays, I also box up pralines as gifts for neighbors.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Barbequed Shrimp

     It's no sacrifice avoiding meat on Fridays during Lent in New Orleans. Most parishes host at least one Friday fish fry during the season, and with the Gulf of Mexico "practically" in our backyard, other seafood options are endless (a few years ago, Archbishop Aymond declared alligator an acceptable Friday meal)!
     One delicious seafood preparation is barbequed shrimp. The grill is not involved--the term "barbeque" has more to do with sauce than cooking method. I have seen this dish prepared on the stove in a cast iron pan, but I prefer the broiler. Because they are cooked head on and in their shells, their natural flavor is intensified.
     Shrimp size can range from miniscule to ginormous but they are measured in "count," meaning an average of number of shrimp per pound.  For example, "small" shrimp can run 60/70-count (averaging 60-70 shrimp per pound), medium are 40/50-count, etc. For barbequed shrimp, look for "extra jumbo," or 16/20-count. Anything smaller than a 20-count will be troublesome to peel.

                            Barbequed Shrimp
2 lbs 16/20 shrimp
1 stick melted butter
2 tbsp minced garlic
Worcestershire sauce (?1/3 cup)
1 lemon
Cajun spice blend
4 tbsp cold butter
2 tbsp chopped parsley

     Preheat the broiler to 450 degrees F. I start by melting 1 stick of butter. Stir in 2 tbsp minced garlic and set aside for now.  Take 2 pounds of 16-count shrimp and line them up in a single layer in a large rectangular baking pan (head and shells intact). Drizzle them with the melted garlic butter, and douse them with several shakes of Worcestershire sauce and the juice of 1 lemon. Sprinkle them with Cajun spice blend and run them under the broiler. Watch them carefully:  As soon as they turn orangy-pink, open the oven and, using long tongs (it's HOT!), flip the shrimp over, sprinkle with more Cajun spice blend, and return them to the broiler. Once they are pink all over and the sauce is bubbling, take them out (it's not an actual sin to overcook seafood...but it should be). Divide the shrimp into a large bowls. Whisk the sauce, adding the parsley, and the cold butter one tablespoon at a time. Taste and adjust for seasoning, and then ladle this sauce over the shrimp. The shrimp can be served as an appetizer ("You peel 'em") or they can a great addition to an entree salad. Warm French bread is the preferred vehicle to mop up the delicious sauce. Be forewarned: There won't be any leftover!

Friday, February 2, 2018

King Cake!

     It seems as though I blinked and there went January! In South Louisiana, we are now in the midst of Mardi Gras season, a time of merriment and celebration from January 6th (aka 12th Night, Feast of the Epiphany, or King Day, depending on your cultural perspective) until Lent begins Ash Wednesday. The prospect of 40 days of sack cloth and ashes is enough to encourage folks to wear costumes, parade in the streets and throw strings of plastic beads....or is this just in New Orleans?
     King Cake is an iconic part of Mardi Gras season. Traditional king cake is a sweet brioche, often with cinnamon sugar folded into the center, and braided into a ring or oval shape. Once baked, it is glazed and decorated with purple (justice), green (faith), and gold (power) colored sugar.
    When my mother was young, large, formal parties were held, during which King Cakes were served, one for the women, a second for men. Hidden in the cake was a bean or a pecan. The ones whose slice of cake held the object were declared king and queen of the ball and were obligated to host the next party.
     These days, formal carnival balls are still held but king and queen of individual organizations ("krewes") are voted by membership.  In most king cakes, a tiny plastic baby is hidden under the cake in lieu of the bean or pecan (Epiphany...searching for the baby...get it?).
     King cakes now run the gamut from simple traditional brioche to the elaborate, filled with fruit, praline, or cream cheese. There are a couple of places that sell savory versions filled with sausage or crawfish. Also, although king cake is not supposed to be served until Epiphany, some heretics sell a red and green Christmas version.
     Many of our local bakeries ship king cakes across the country, and there is at least one do-it-yourself box mix for is not difficult to make a delicious traditional-style king cake from scratch.
     My aunt Patty gave me this recipe and it is terrific! Originally created and shared by Chef John Folse, it is pillowy soft and just sweet enough. He adds cinnamon to the final glaze, but I think it unnecessary.

                     Mardi Gras King Cake

1 tbsp instant dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water
1/2 cup sugar
5 cups flour
2 tsp salt
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup milk
1 cup melted butter
1 cup warm water

Combine yeast and warm water, stir briefly, and set aside (it will begin to show signs of life and will produce small air bubbles). In a large bowl, combine dry ingredients and stir. In a second bowl, combine wet ingredients. Add wet ingredients,  including yeast, to the dry and mix thoroughly at least 8 minutes. You can also use a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook if you have one. Have additional flour available, and add a bit if the dough seems overly sticky. Cover the bowl with a damp towel and set aside in a warm place to rise 1 hour until it has doubled. Because in February, there aren't too many "warm places", I use an electric heating pad, set to low, on my kitchen counter, and I place the bowl of dough on the heating pad to facilitate the rise.

Meanwhile, have ready:
1 stick of butter, melted
Cinnamon sugar (1/2 cup sugar with 1 tsp cinnamon)
Egg wash (1/2 cup milk with 1 egg, beaten)

Once the dough has risen, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface (I use a silicone baking mat) and roll it out to a large rectangle, approximately 18" x 12". Brush the dough with melted butter and sprinkle the entire surface with cinnamon sugar. Next, cut the dough into three strips along the long axis, about 4 x 18" and fold each strip in half (now 2 x 18") to encase the cinnamon sugar. Weave the dough strips in a standard braid and join the ends to form an oval or circle. Brush the ring of dough with eggwash and set aside to rise 1 hour. I leave the pastry on the silicone mat for the entire process. The mat can be slid onto a cookie sheet and go right into the oven without deflating the risen dough.

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Bake 20-25 minutes or until golden brown.

While the cake is in the oven, prepare the glaze. Combine thoroughly:
1 lb (4 cups) powdered sugar
1 tsp almond extract
6 tbsp milk
Pinch of salt

Colored sugar sprinkles are commercially available, but if you have food coloring, you can make your own by mixing 1 cup granulated sugar and 2 drops (or so) liquid food coloring.

While the cake is still warm, drizzle with glaze and spread to cover completely. As you work, quickly sprinkle over the glaze in sections the purple, green, and gold (or yellow) sugar (as the glaze hardens and dries, the sugar sprinkles will not stick as well).
Invite friends over and enjoy! Leftovers make a great bread pudding or French toast.
              Laissez le bon temps rouler!

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Gumbo: "First you make a roux?"

      I have a culinary bay tree in my yard, grown from a cutting from my grandmother's tree. The thing is taller than my house and not terribly attractive by landscaping standards, but I would not get rid of it for the world! Bay leaf is an amazing herb! So fragrant... it adds just the right touch to simmering pots of gumbo (I was shocked several years ago to see jars of dried bay leaves for sale on the grocery spice aisle. People actually pay for bay leaf?? I have a gold mine!)!
     It's cold, at least for South Louisiana, and for me, any outside temperature below 60 degrees means gumbo weather! After Christmas and New Year's, I usually have chicken and a bit of sausage left over from the magic worked by the Mister and his smoker (his secret is pecan wood...). Chicken and sausage gumbo is my sister's favorite!
      It has been said of making gumbo, "First, you make a roux." Well, no... First, you have to chop seasoning and make stock.
      Roux ("Roo") is flour browned in oil, which acts to color, flavor, and thicken. Combined with stock or broth, it is a base for gumbo or etouffee ("A-2-fay"). Stock and broth are terms sometimes used interchangeably but they aren't precisely the same. Stock is water in which beef or chicken bones (or shrimp heads and crab shells) have been simmered (the longer the better), extracting flavor and gelatin. Broth is stock fortified by meat and additional seasoning.
      #GumboWars is trending on twitter, and some of the offerings look quite elaborate. Gumbo, however, is not "froo-froo." It is the South Louisiana equivalent of French peasant comfort food. You can start with fancy Pecan Wood Smoked Chicken but frankly, grocery store rotisserie chicken is fine, as is left-over baked or roasted poultry of any description. The Mister also eschews high-brow sausage in favor of what he finds at the warehouse club. No kidding, folks have told me, "This is the best smoked sausage I have ever tasted! What brand is it??" It's not the brand. It's whatever magic happens when it is placed in a 250 degree smoker with pecan wood "until it splits."
      I start by removing whatever large pieces of meat are left on the chicken bones. I put the bones and skin in my big stock pot, cover with water, place the lid, and set it to simmer. Meanwhile, I chop onion and celery (about 2/3 cup each), garlic (2 heaping tablespoons), fresh parsley (1/3 cup), basil (1/4 cup) and thyme (2 tsp). I know others who use chopped green pepper, but I just don't care for it. Feel free to add some if you like. Any stems or end pieces of herbs get tossed into the stock pot. Strain before use. Reserved chicken meat and sausages are cut into bite-sized pieces.
     Creole tomato season starts at the end of May. This being January, fresh tomatoes are unreliable hot house entities. Unless you "put up" tomatoes during the summer, you may get better flavor with canned. Without mentioning a specific brand, I go with a chopped tomato and green chili product. It is absolutely consistent and the heat level is perfect. I open one can and have it standing by.
     My gumbo pot is a heavy-bottom copper clad behemoth (I need a step-stool to stir efficiently). I start my roux by heating half olive oil, half butter; the amounts depend on how much stock I have: 1 tablespoon each butter and olive oil to 2 tbsp flour and 2 cups stock, but this is in theory only, depending on how thick or thin you like your finished product. Once the oil is hot, I add flour and stir with a whisk constantly until the flour is nearly chocolate brown. Do not turn your back on a roux and do not stop stirring! It will go through stages, first blonde, then resembling peanut butter, and then melted milk chocolate.

At that point, I add the chopped onion. The sugars in the onion carmelize, taking the roux one shade darker (I learned this from New Orleans foodie Poppy Tooker).
 After a minute or two, I add the chopped celery and garlic, and the canned tomatoes. Give it a good stir, and then slowly add stock and stir some more. In principle, you should be able to add 1 cup of stock per tablespoon of flour in the roux, but that can seemingly depend on relative humidity and wind, I like a nice, thick gumbo, so it's not an exact science. Once you are happy with the consistency,  add a "glug" or two of Worcestershire sauce and several shakes of a Louisiana-style hot pepper sauce. Stir and taste. You may find you need cajun seasoning, salt and pepper, but adjust to your preference. Add reserved chicken and sausage, chopped herbs, and two dried bay leaves. Simmer on low, stirring occasionally and tasting for seasoning.  If it seems to need "something," add a bit more garlic! Serve over rice, with warm french bread on the side.


Friday, December 8, 2017

Holiday Baking: The Allergy Challenge

     It's Advent, the start of the Christmas season! Such a happy time, especially if children are involved.
     Let the baking begin!
     I love sugar cookies cut into holiday shapes and decorated with that icing that dries to a smooth, shiny surface. However, the usual array of baked holiday treats contain ingredients which are known to trigger an allergic response in some people.
     Food aversions are one thing; life threatening allergies are quite another.
     A child in my granddaughter's class has severe food allergies...EpiPen level wheat, eggs, nuts, and dairy. In fact, due to the almost ubiquitous allergy in young children to nuts, all nuts are banned from the school premises. The Grandparents Club at the school hosts bake sales as fund raisers throughout the year, offering for 25 cents cookies and cupcakes. It has to be sad for kids who cannot participate with their friends in picking out homebaked treats. I know as Meme it breaks my heart. So I did something about it (I love a challenge) and baked sugar cookies without any of the usual suspects: wheat/gluten, soy, nuts, egg, and dairy. Substitutions are readily available and the results are delicious!

      FLOUR: Standard all purpose flour means wheat and gluten. There are several brands of gluten-free flour out there so there is no need to reinvent the wheel but I encourage you to read the labels! I tried one made mostly with garbanzo bean flour (who knew such a thing existed?) and my baked goods tasted like bland hummus. Also, you or your loved ones may be sensitive to one or more of the ingredients. Some baking mixes may include powdered egg, dry milk, or nut flours (my daughter is allergic to powdered egg...we found out the hard way after an encounter with a "high protein" smoothie). You may elect to mix your own flour blend.          
       Alternative flours are quirky beasts. The trick is to use a blend of flours. The idiosyncracies of one can be balanced by the attributes of another. I have to give credit where credit is due: Erika at created a perfect flour blend and she graciously shares her recipe on her site. I have substituted millet or sorghum flour in place of the brown rice and have had no problems.

     DAIRY: Allergies/intolerance to dairy includes milk as well as butter. Alternative milk products run the gamut from nuts to grain. Due to cross sensitivities, stay away from almond milk and almond extract, soy, cashew, hazelnut, and coconut milk blends. Again, read labels! Many alternative milks include carrageenan, a seaweed extract added to prevent separation and to give products a "creamy mouth feel." All well and good, but in some folks, carageenen can also cause intestinal inflammation and acute "distress." I go with rice milk. Soak 1/2 cup raw rice (brown or white, whatever is in your pantry) in enough water to cover. Refrigerate at least a couple of hours (overnight if you have the time). In a blender, combine the soaked rice and 2 cups water. Blend a couple of minutes and strain. That's it. If you plan to drink it, you may want to "doctor it up" with sweetener and perhaps vanilla, but for the purposes of baking, plain is fine. Shake or stir before use.
      Butter substitutes are also plentiful. Some recommendations are applesauce or mashed bananas, but these work better in moist "quick breads" or muffins, not so much in cookies which need to be crisp.  I really hate "margarine." Hate. However, without mentioning a specific brand, an organic buttery soy-free stick works well. I also experimented with coconut oil, which is a solid at room temperature. The cookies were crisp and delicate. The only down side was no buttery flavor.
      EGG: For cookies, I substitute the egg in my standard recipe with 1/4 cup...wait for it...canned pumpkin! It binds the other ingredients together without adding any discernable flavor, and seems to be very harmless otherwise. Pumpkin comes in 14 oz cans. With the leftovers, I measure out 1/4 cup increments into a muffin tin and freeze. Once frozen, the pumpkin nuggets can be bagged and kept frozen. Just thaw before use.

1 cup soy-free buttery sticks (softened, or at room temperature) or solid coconut oil
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup canned pumpkin
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp baking powder (read the label: some have gluten!)
3 cups gluten free flour blend

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Combine flour and baking powder. Set aside. In a large bowl, cream sugar and "butter." Beat in pumpkin and vanilla. Add flour mixture one cup at a time (dough will be very stiff). Roll out dough in a lightly "floured" surface to approximately 1/8 inch. Cut into shapes. Bake on an ungreased cookie sheet, or one lined with a silicone mat, until lightly browned 8-10 minutes. Remove from baking sheet and cool completely.

                 SUGAR COOKIE ICING
1 cup powdered sugar
2 tsp corn syrup (optional...can be omitted if corn is an issue)
2-3 tsp milk substitute.
1 tsp vanilla extract

Mix thoroughly, tint as desired. I spoon this icing glaze onto the cookies, spread to the edges and lay the cookies flat to dry. The glaze settles and dries to a hard, shiny surface. Sprinkles are optional but this icing dries fast! If you wait, the sprinkles will not stick!

Tuesday, November 14, 2017


     It's mid-November, and you know what that means: Thanksgiving is right around the corner, with Family, Food, and Football (the next day is, of course, Black Friday, with it's own "F's...").
     I am so incredibly grateful to God for everything in my life: Family and friends, a roof over my head, clothing on my back, food on the table, a good education, a decent job...not an all-inclusive list, to be sure. So many blessings!        
     Thanksgiving dinner in my family is an early afternoon affair. As a child, I went with my family to my maternal grandmother's house at 1p.m.  Maman had a prolific mirliton vine growing along her backyard fence, and the pale green "vegetable pear" she pronounced "mella-taw' was always featured on her Thanksgiving table as a casserole.
      Mirliton was one thing for which I had not been grateful. I was never a fan, mostly because it was 1. Green, and 2. Casserole. I didn't like anything I could not readily identify, and a casserole had too many components. Plus, I didn't like my food "touching." Recently, however, I have come to appreciate this Creole staple, known elsewhere as Chayote squash. Squash. Couldn't they have found a more appealing name? It sounds like it has been stepped on. Could be why I didn't willingly eat any variety until I was an adult.
     These days, I am Meme, and The Mister and I prepare the Thanksgiving meal for our family (a decidedly smaller gathering than when Maman cooked for six of her children and their 22 offspring!). Food preparation starts here around 8a.m. with The Mister getting four fryers ready for the smoker, injecting them with a garlic butter concoction and seasoning them inside and out with a cajun spice mix. He also throws into the smoker 4 pounds of sausage, and, if he is feeling generous (and he usually is), a leg of lamb. He fires up the smoker, adding pecan wood, and lets it rip 3-4 hours. The aromas are amazing!
     This year, as a side dish and an homage to Maman, I will prepare Shrimp Stuffed Mirliton.

6 Mirliton or Chayote
2 lbs shrimp (20-26 count), peeled, and seasoned with creole spice blend.
6 tbsp. Butter, divided
Onion, 1/2 cup chopped
Celery, 1/2 cup chopped
Garlic, 4 cloves minced
Fresh thyme 2 tsp, stems removed
Fresh flat leaf parsley, 1/4 cup chopped
1 egg, beaten
1 cup Italian breadcrumbs (approx)
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
Salt, pepper, and creole seasoning to taste
     Boil mirliton in a large pot of salted water until fork tender (this can take 45 minutes, depending on size). Drain, and cool until they can be easily handled. Slice each mirliton in half (along the long axis) and remove the flat seed. Scoop out the pulp with a spoon, leaving a 1/4 inch shell. Coarsely chop the pulp and set aside, with the the shells upside down so they can continue to release some of their excess moisture
     In a medium saute pan, melt 4 tbsp butter. Saute shrimp until pink. Remove shrimp, chop, and set aside. In the same pan, saute onion and celery until soft. Add garlic, parsley, thyme, chopped shrimp, and reserved chopped mirliton. Add beaten egg, stirring quickly to coat. Add enough breadcrumbs to bring it all together. Stir in cheese, and salt and pepper to taste. Mound stuffing into reserved shells, sprinkle lightly with additional breadcrumbs and dot with butter (If there isn't enough stuffing to fill all the shells--and, strangely enough, this can happen--no biggie. The extra shells can be frozen, to be filled in the future when you have extra stuffing of any description). Broil until golden brown.
*Note: It's probably some sort of heresy but I do not use green bell pepper. Mom used to say it was "indigestable," a polite term for "produces intestinal distress." She would sometimes infuse flavor by cooking with large pieces of bell pepper which she would remove before serving.  I just find the flavor too assertive, particularly for delicate seafood. If you like it, that's fine. I give you permission to add 1/4 cup chopped green pepper when you saute the other seasonings.