Can you describe New Orleans in a word or two? It’s impossible. The city has more identities, more nicknames than any other place….The Big Easy, Crescent City, The City That Care Forgot. NOLA, N’Awlins. Say, “Throw me something, mister” or “Laissez les bons temps rouler” and we immediately know what you’re talking about.
The city’s not normal…statistically-speaking, I mean.
New Orleans gives us Mardi Gras and Bourbon Street, jazz, beignets and riverboats. It’s voodoo, the Caribbean, France and Spain. But it’s also Southern hospitality, magnolias and Carnival balls. It’s the seediest and the most genteel. The smelliest and the sweetest.
A complicated, complex city, it offers a 4-D, 5 sense experience at both ends of the bell curve. The drinks start earlier and the bands play later. The porches are deeper, air softer, seafood fresher and the history richer than anywhere else. (Yeah, Boston, I’ll stand by that statement.) Even their hurricanes -both drinks and weather- are epic. It’s a city of extremes.
To me, the epicenter of New Orleans runs from the Garden District up to River Bend. It’s the rattle of the street car, white-columned mansions on St. Charles, and broken sidewalks. It’s live oaks, Rex flags and overgrown vines -mysterious and beautiful, the whole place a little old, rundown and in need of a coat of paint.
And it always comes back to the food. As Jessalyn says when we visit, “Let’s layer in more meals.” Which is the perfect reason to stop by Camellia Grill! Enjoy an old-fashioned grilled burger or omelette, maybe a chocolate freeze, but absolutely, definitely order a slice of warm pecan pie a la mode.
Wednesday evening we got the last three seats at the counter and sat down. “G’me some love,” the waiter grinned and put his hand over the counter for a fist bump.
We looked at each in surprise, realizing it was part performance, part schtick, part tradition and said with an undertone of fake-ness, But the waiter also welcomed us with genuine good humor, honesty… and he made us smile. Just like New Orleans.
Camellia Grill’s pecan pie has been our “go to” recipe for Thanksgiving and Christmas since we found it in Southern Living decades ago. Here Lizzy updated the pie and added chocolate. Of course, it’s best served just like at Camellia Grill- warm with a scoop of Blue Bell Homemade Vanilla on top:
Oh, lordy… this may be the best margarita recipe ever!
John and I have tasted our fair share of New Mexico margaritas through the years. The Shed, Coyote Cafe, Inn of the Anasazi, Casa Sena, Bishop’s Lodge— just about ANY place in Santa Fe or Taos has a better version than the watered-down, syrupy or bottled-mix margaritas we get at home. We always throw up our hands in disbelief. Why can’t anyone outside of New Mexico get it right?
In Taos this summer, we needed some late-afternoon refreshment and I’d heard good things about the Cowboy Buddha margarita at the Taos Inn, a rambling old adobe building right on the main drag. Luckily we snagged a table on the patio which overlooks the busy Paseo del Pueblo Norte and has the best people-watching in town.
The waitress brought us two tall, frosty glasses of the smoothest, freshest, most perfectly balanced margaritas. Oh yeah, they were strong, too! We sat there sipping them, the sun on our faces, watching the eclectic mix around us- grey-haired hippies (Is there any other kind?), Taoseños sharing gossip, French tourists and two friendly dogs. Sigh…Not bad for an August afternoon.
But the news gets better. The Taos Inn lists its margarita ingredients on the menu, so it didn’t take us long to recreate the drink at home. The secret? Simplicity. Just tequila, Cointreau and lime juice. But what makes our recipe different- and maybe, MAYBE even better than the Taos version, is the chile-salt which rims the glass. Yes, you should use New Mexico chile powder! We always have a bag from the Chile Shop on hand, but in a pinch any chipotle or even cayenne powder would do.
Here’s a delicious recipe inspired by the spring flavors of Sicily -fava beans, wild greens and mint all of which thrive on this rocky, rugged island. Can’t find favas? No problem, just substitute baby lima beans.
16 ounces tiny fresh fava beans, shelled (may substitute baby lima beans, fresh or frozen)
12 ounces dandelion greens, coarse lower stems removed and leaves cut diagonally into 3 inch pieces
⅔ cup fresh mint, finely chopped
1 cup pistachios
Strips of fresh Parmesan cheese for garnish
Freshly ground pepper
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Spread pistachios on a cookie sheet and cook until fragrant and lightly browned, about 8-10 minutes, Remove from oven, cool, then coarsely chop.
In a food processor, mince the cloves of garlic, then add the lemon juice and salt. With the processor running, pour the olive oil into the bowl in a steady stream until all ingredients are blended.
Heat two large pots with heavily salted water to boiling, one for the beans and dandelions and one for the pasta,.
In the first pot of boiling water, blanch favas until just tender, 4-5 minutes. (Reserve the water to cook the dandelions.) With a slotted spoon, remove the favas, draining the beans as much as possilbe, and then place them in the bowl of the food processor with the olive oil mixture.
Return the water to a boil, then add add the dandelions. Cook uncovered for 10 minutes until the stems are tender. Remove from the water, drain in a colander, then rinse with cold water to stop cooking. Gently press out the excess water.
In the second pot, cook the spaghetti according to directions, around 10 minutes. Drain well.
Return the drained spaghetti to the emptied pot. Add the olive oil/fava bean mixture, lemon zest and mint to the spaghetti and toss well. Taste for seasoning.
Spoon the tossed spaghetti and fava beans into 6 large bowls or plates and place the the cooked dandelions on top. Sprinkle with chopped pistachios, slices of fresh parmesan cheese and freshly ground pepper.
We’ve made this granita with both honeydew and watermelon. Both were equally good, so we recommend using whichever melon is your favorite. Our version, made with basil and a strong, wild honey, tastes like a summer afternoon and makes a silky, smooth, ice-cold dessert. Glad we made a double recipe and froze the rest. In mid-January, it’ll be a nice reminder of hot August days.
6 cups honeydew or watermelon, cut into 1 inch chunks
1 cup good honey
4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons minced fresh basil
In a small saucepan, make a simple syrup, by heating the water and sugar and stirring until the sugar is completely dissolved. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature. When room temperature, place the syrup in the fridge until it's thoroughly chilled, at least 3-4 hours.
Put 2 9 by 13 inch metal pans in the freezer until well-chilled, at least an hour.
Combine all the ingredients, including the simple syrup, in a food processor and process until smooth. Depending on the size of your processor, you may need to do this in two batches.
Pour the melon mixture equally into the two pans and place in the freezer. After 30 minutes, using a fork, scrape the ice crystals away from the sides of the pans and then stir the mixture thoroughly and place it back in the freezer. Repeat this process every 30 minutes until the granita is completely frozen.
Spoon the granita into a plastic container with a tight-fitting lid and freeze until you serve it.
Who knew the Pacific Northwest had so much in common with southern France? By that I mean, only a few miles from glaciers, mountains and marmots:
You can find acres and acres of lavender:
In fact, Sequim, Washington, on the road between Port Townsend and Olympic National Park, calls itself “The Lavender Capital of North America.” And we stumbled upon their annual Festival. We bought all kinds of lavender “stuff,” potpourri, sachets, oil and even coffee which was delicious.
It’s waaayy too hot for coffee right now, but a tall, cold glass of lavender iced tea? That sounds perfect.
Watermelon doesn’t have to be boring. Or sticky. Or even involve seeds. In this recipe, watermelon provides a cool, refreshing base that lets the Mediterranean flavors of fresh mint (or basil), feta and pine nuts shine.
Do you know about ricotta salata? It’s not plain ricotta, but is aged and has a firmer texture.Ricotta salata can be difficult to find, especially if you’re in a town without a specialty grocery store. Greek feta makes a perfect substitute.
This brothy soup hails from the sunny, tiny and WARM Aegean island of Sifnos. (While the rest of us are shivering, it had a high of 60 degrees today.) Located southeast of Athens, Sifnos is known for its white-washed buildings which hang off rocky mountainsides, an abundance of blue-domed churches and earthenware pottery. And also chickpeas. In fact, the island’s most famous dishes, revithada and mastello, call for simmering either chickpeas or lamb in earthenware pots for hours and hours in a wood stove.
At Cookbook Club everybody loved this chickpea soup because of its fragrant, rich broth. Nancy actually made it the traditional way: in a clay pot, sealed with dough and baked overnight.
Not having any earthenware in my kitchen, much less the patience to make homemade dough, I used an ovenproof metal pot and aluminum foil to seal in this recipe’s flavors of rosemary, honey and orange. (Psssst…Don’t you dare tell anyone from Sifnos, but it turned out as delicious as Nancy’s.)
And even though we haven’t tried it, we bet it would be just as good substituting pinto beans for chick peas and/or cooking it in a crockpot.
One pound dried chickpeas, picked over, rinsed and soaked overnight (Or you may place the beans in a large saucepan, cover with water and bring to a boil. After boiling for a couple of minutes, turn off the heat and let the beans soak for an hour before draining.)
2 large red onions, coarsely chopped
3 sprigs fresh rosemary
9 garlic cloves, crushed
Juice of 1 orange, strained
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 cup canned chopped tomatoes
¾ cup olive oil
46 ounces low-sodium chicken broth, more or less
Salt and pepper, to taste
Aluminum foil for sealing the pot
Put the chickpeas in a large ovenproof pot which has a well-fitting lid.
Add the onions, rosemary sprigs, orange juice, honey, vinegar, tomatoes and olive oil,1 tablespoon salt and enough broth to cover by 3 inches. (Not enough broth? Supplement it with water.)
Using long strips of aluminum foil, seal the lid so that as little steam as possible will escape.
Put the pot into a cold oven and heat to 275 degrees.
Bake the chickpeas for 8 hours. (About halfway through you can check that the liquid hasn't evaporated too much.)
After 8 hours, take the pot out of the oven, remove the woody stems of the rosemary, season with more salt and pepper, if desired, and serve.
This hearty recipe hails from Epirus in rocky, mountainous northwestern Greece. I can’t find proof, but suspect it owes its cinnamon, allspice and cloves to the Ottomans who ruled Epirus for more than 400 years. Like most Epirote cuisine, it is a simple dish with few ingredients, but somehow they all meld into one big, delicious, warming bowl of comfort food. Serve over rice on a cold, snowy night. Add more broth and you’ve got soup for the next evening, too.
One 2½ - 3 pound chicken, cut into serving pieces and skin removed, if desired
Salt and pepper
⅓ cup flour
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 large yellow onions, halved and sliced
6 cloves garlic, minced
3 large green bell peppers, cut into ½ inch rings
½ teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon ground cloves
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 small dried hot peppers (I used Thai chile peppers)
1½ cup canned chopped tomatoes
32 ounces low sodium chicken broth, more or less
Season the chicken with salt and pepper, then dredge it lightly in the flour which has been placed in a shallow dish. Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a large pan or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Sear the chicken in batches, if necessary, until lightly browned, 7-8 minutes. Remove from the pot and set aside.
Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in the pot and cook the onions, garlic and green peppers until wilted, about 8 minutes.
Return the chicken to the pot and add the spices and tomatoes. Add enough chicken broth to the pan, plus water if necessary, to just reach the top of the ingredients. Bring to a boil and slowly simmer, uncovered, until the chicken is tender and the sauce is thick, about 1½ hours.
If the chicken is so tender it is falling off the bone, you may remove the bones, leaving just the pieces of meat which creates a more soup-like dish.
Before serving, stir in the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter.
Hello, fellow Fresh Approach Gluten Free Cookbook Club members!
Don’t know about you Thursday people, but on Wednesday we had a delicious meal. Not one “strike out” on the entire menu and several “home run” recipes. We were batting 1000! My personal favorite was the ooey, gooey cinnamon rolls. Actually that’s their name, “Ooey Gooey Cinnamon Rolls.” They were served hot out of the oven, slathered in a sweet, rich icing. Don’t think twice. Try them this weekend!
Miscellaneous Grocery Store “Finds” and Other Information
Ellen, Brooke and Ginny started the conversation by telling their favorite grocery store gluten free brands: Pamela’s Biscuit and Scone Mix, King Arthur Gluten Free Muffin Mix, Chebe Bread Mix (for Brazilian-type cheese bread made from tapioca flour), Live Love Pop with Truffle Salt (popcorn). Also, kelp noodles (delicious as topping on soups and salads or in stir-fry), Rao’s Tomato Sauce (you can buy it at almost any grocery store).
Ginny told us to watch out for hidden, vaguely-written ingredients. If you can’t identify an ingredient, then don’t assume there’s no gluten! Also, know that regular buttermilk typically contains glutens, but organic buttermilk does not.
Dishes Made in February With Comments from the Cooks
Beverages and Appetizers
Austin Eastcider Original Dry Cider– This hard cider which Ginny brought is a light, gluten free alcoholic beverage option available at Central Market.
Crab Dip with Homemade Garlic and Parmesan Crackers, p. 32– Brooke served this appetizer which is delicious both cold and hot. Don’t be deterred by the amount of cayenne. It wasn’t too spicy and…the dip is good even without the crab! Also, the crackers are a good gluten free choice and Brooke added rosemary for extra flavor.
Cucumber and Smoked Salad Rolls with Chive Cream, p. 52– Buffy couldn’t get the cucumbers to stay rolled, so she suggests cutting them paper thin, maybe even using a mandolin. Also, she thinks it would be a great idea to let the cucumbers drain overnight to eliminate excess moisture.
Easy Chicken Satay Skewers, p. 46– Ann made these as an appetizer and they were tasty! She used less garlic than was called for and substituted chicken breasts for tenders. Interesting fact: chicken tenders are the little pieces of meat that hang off a chicken breast.
Soups and Salads
Kale Salad (Recipe Below)-Emily created a version of Central Market’s kale salad. Her secret to eating raw kale? Massage the leaves to make them more tender. Yes, massage! This dish can be made up to a day ahead of time, so is a great choice for entertaining.
Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto Pasta Salad, p. 148 – Ann Stuart brought this beautiful and hearty salad that could also be a main dish if you add protein.
Minestrone Soup a la Venus de Milo, p. 118– As a quick and easy option, Jeanne suggests making this delicious soup using frozen vegetables. It had a surprisingly sweet taste! Remember that Jeanne ordered gluten free orzo from Amazon which is hard to find locally.
Home Style Chili with Gluten Free Beer, p. 211- This was an easy recipe which Melanie served with sour cream, cheese, Fritos. But of course, Fritos are gluten free!
Emeril’s Pork Medallions with Cabbage and Apples, p. 242– Betty cooked the pork tenderloin whole rather than as medallions. It would be easy to make ahead and is a good wintertime main course.
Jamaican Jerk Chicken with Rice and Peas, p. 235– Silky loves Jamaican jerk chicken,so was excited to try this recipe. Next time she’d be sure to use peas, rather than kidney beans, for a more authentic dish.
Roasted Brussels Sprouts in Spicy Mustard Sauce, p. 166– Ellen says don’t worry about boiling these first as the instructions say. Just roast them in the oven and serve up with the yummy mustard sauce.
Green Bean Casserole with Crispy Onions, p. 170– Sally made this casserole topped with HOMEMADE onion rings! The only changes she made? She used 2% milk and cooked it a little longer.
Grandpa Kief’s Pork, Apple and Sage Stuffing, p. 185– Nancy made several versions of this stuffing using different types of gluten free bread. She brought two of these versions: One used gluten free bread crumbs from Whole Foods and the other used a baguette made by Against The Grain (a tapioca based bread purchased at Whole Foods). She recommends the latter option to achieve the correct flavor and consistency. Also, she added extra salt and cut the pepper by half.
Roasted Sweet Potatoes and Squash, p. 179– Ann Stuart thought these were “super easy.”
Breads and Desserts
Perfect Blueberry Muffins, p. 81– These mini-muffins were chockfull of blueberry flavor and had a fine (not coarse) consistency. A winner made by Kathy!
Meyer Lemon Meringue Icebox Pie, p. 286– With its tall meringue and lemony filling, this was a show-stopping dessert made by Silky. Perfect for a dinner party!
Sugar Cookie Jam Thumbprints, p. 305– Laurie was surprised these cookies doubled in size and had a cake-like, rather than shortbread, texture. She’s not sure if they were supposed to turn out like that. In any case, they were delicious! FYI, Laurie added a little extra salt, more vanilla and dusted them with sugar before baking.
Ooey Gooey Cinnamon Rolls, p. 86– These cinnamon rolls passed the “kid test,” with Meredith‘s children wanting them “a lot!” Meredith said they weren’t difficult to make, just time-consuming. They sure were good.
Okay, Cookbook Club members, what was your favorite dish this month? Thursday group, let us know what happened with you! You don’t have to sign up, just continue “anonymously” as a guest.
Kale Cranberry Pepita Salad (Inspired By Central Market's Kale Salad)