True Confessions of a Mid-Life Cook

There's a definite correlation between my profound love of music and how and what I've taught myself to cook. My favorite music to listen to and to perform is soulful, sensual, sometimes funky and always bluesy in nature . . . and that's exactly how I cook. I like to get my hands in the food. I chop, I knead, I stir with my hands. Sometimes I wear my big rimmed cowboy hat, nightie and Old Gringo boots in kitchen, sometimes a coonskin cap when the mood strikes and sometimes just an apron and a smile. Using the freshest of ingredients, I love to bringing a new spirit to old favorites. I am so to drawn dishes seeping in both Texas and Southern tradition,with a special affinity for those authentic old jewels found in South Louisiana.
Because they, too, are so powerfully soulful?

I've discovered being a good cook is a journey and not a destination. (Yes, I stole an over-used corporate slogan and made it my own--but it's still the truth) Every time we screw up, we learn. And in part, that's what this blog is about. Cooking fearlessly. With heart, with soul -- and with some damn good music to inspire. (If your three layer chocolate cake ends up looking like a Jerry Springer rerun or you cut the tip of your thumb off while making New Year's Day gumbo, WHO CARES?Proclaim Francine Reed's "I'm a Handful" your theme song. She would like that.)
We cook because we find ourselves kinda empty if we don't.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Mardi Gras at My House - YAY for Beignets!

Mardi Gras/Fat Tuesday always means crawfish beignets (ben-YAYS) wherever I may be. This is my savory take on the traditionally sweet beignets (deep fried pastry similar to donuts doused with powdered sugar) that have made places like Cafe Du Monde legendary.

Try these, damn it! Even if you haven't worked with yeast before, you've gotta start sometime? and this recipe is a good one to start with as any. I assure you, EVERYbody (kids LOVE 'em, too) will be asking for more.

Okay . . here we go:

1/4 c water
1 tsp sugar
1/2 evaporated milk
1 1/4 oz package of INSTANT RISE yeast (about 1 tablespoon)
3 to 3 1/2 cups southern wheat flour OR all purpose flour
1 egg
2 tablespoons canola oil
3 med cloves garlic
1/2 small green bell pepper, chopped (I sometimes use a combo of green, gold and red)
5 green onions, chopped
1 tsp salt, celery salt or a good Cajun seasoning
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp cayenne
1 tsp Creole mustard or any stone ground mustard
1/2 lb cooked crawfish tails (or peeled boiled shrimp)

In a med saucepan over LOW heat, combine water, sugar and evaporated milk and heat to 100-110 degrees. (NO HIGHER - will kill the yeast. NO LOWER, will not activate the yeast. If you don't have a thermometer, trust your wrist. The mixture should be nice and warm, not in the least bit hot.) Stir in yeast well and let sit for 5 to 10 minutes until foamy. (Not foamy? Either the mixture was too hot, too cold, or you are using out-of-date yeast. Throw out and start over, no big deal.)

Lightly oil a 6 qt bowl -- or something close to 6 qts. At this point you can either go to a food processor, or use your hands, but combine 3 cups of flour and all other ingredients and mix well. If you're using a food processor, it will chop your vegetables fine, and if you're not, chop them fine by hand before combining.
Dough should be smooth and non sticky. Add flour if still sticky, 1 tablespoon at a time. Process about 15 seconds to knead, or knead yourself turning about 4 times. Place the ball of dough in the oiled bowl, turning over once so it's lighted coated overall with oil.

Cover with plastic wrap and place in warm, draft free place. I usually heat my oven just a LITTLE, turn off and place bowl inside. Let rise until doubled in size, about an 1 1/2 hours. Punch down dough and turn out onto a lightly floured surface.

Roll out into rectangle until about 1/2 inch thick. Working at a diagonal to the rectangle, with a sharp knife cut dough into 2-inch-wide-strips working from left to right. Then make a second series of cuts going the opposite angle to make diamond shapes. Carefully place on baking sheets. Roll out leftover dough and repeat the process until all dough is used. Cover with plastic wrap and let dough rise about 45 min but do not allow to double in size again.

Heat 3 inches of oil in a saucepan to 350 degrees or until 1" bread cube browns in 65 seconds. Carefully slide beignets into oil, 3 or 4 at a time, DO NOT over crowd.
Fry until golden on both sides and drain on paper towels.

You, friends, family, people on the street will LOVE these little Mardi Gras jewels. If you have any questions about this recipe be sure to e-mail me @!

OPTIONAL: Easy Remoulade Sauce for beignet dipping
* 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
* 3/4 cup vegetable oil
* 1/2 cup chopped onion
* 1/2 cup chopped green onions
* 1/4 cup chopped celery
* 2 tablespoons chopped garlic
* 2 tablespoons prepared horseradish
* 3 tablespoons Creole whole-grain mustard
* 3 tablespoons prepared yellow mustard
* 3 tablespoons ketchup
* 3 tablespoons chopped parsley leaves
* 1 teaspoon salt
* 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
* 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper


Combine all ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and process for 30 seconds. Use immediately or store. Will keep for several days in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Suggested listening? "Iko Iko" by James 'Sugar Boy' Crawford and Dr. John


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