A Moveable Feast

Ann Deseran Issue: Section:

For a born and bred Coloradoan, the move to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, 35 years ago was nothing short of terrifying. The summer nights with 90+ degree temperatures, the clothes-drenching humidity, the stinging caterpillars, the frequent typhoon-like downpours, the 2"sized cockroaches scurrying through the house, and the incredible cultural differences made me want nothing more than a return ticket to the West.

And the words and phrases coming at me on a daily basis were enough alone to make me feel like a stranger in a strange land: café au lait and lagniappe and boudin and “suckin’ the heads” and the Atchafalaya and bayous and beignets.

But time changes all things, and it wasn’t long before I was enjoying our new Southern life, with our close ties to the LSU community, including dear friends, theater performances at the Union Theater and later at the fun and funky Swine Palace, basketball games with the iconic Dale Brown at the helm, and the LSU Newcomers Gourmet Club. Though we didn’t often do Cajun/Creole food at those dinners, we developed a great fondness for cooking, good meals,
and nice wine.

As my interest in Louisiana food expanded, I started collecting recipes and cookbooks, including the must-have River Road Recipes put out by the Junior League of Baton Rouge and Cane River Cuisine from the Service League of Natchitoches, LA, and The New Orleans Cookbook by Rima and Richard Collin.

And I started collecting recipes from all the born and bred Southerners who knew so much more about crawfish etoufee, and red beans and rice, and pralines, and roux than I did.

In 2001 we left Baton Rouge to return to the West and our roots. But as the holiday season approaches each year, I find myself practically waxing poetic about all things Southern - well, all things about Southern food. I’ve sent a shopping list to my good Baton Rouge friend Katie begging for her to restock my larder with those Southern necessities. I need Bergeron pecans from New Roads, cayenne pepper from Zatarains, LSU Beauregard yams, file powder, Tony Chachere’s Creole seasonings, and some real andouille sausage, preferably from LaPlace, Louisiana. (culinary note: the Beauregard yam is actually a sweet potato)

With all that in hand I’m ready to do my holiday cooking, which will include a left-over turkey gumbo, simple baked yams (or sweet potatoes - unless you’re from Louisiana; if you’re now thoroughly confused, a great read is You Say Potato, I Say Yam from the NYTimes) slathered with butter, and a bread pudding, sometimes with chocolate and sometimes with a whiskey sauce. I may still be a born and bred Westerner, but I’m a Westerner with lagniappe

Turkey Bone Gumbo (adapted from Cane River Cuisine)

Leftover turkey bones and skin
3 quarts water - or enough to barely cover the bones
1 T Creole/Cajun seasoning, such as Tony Chachere’s, if you can find it or substitute 1 T salt
½ c oil
½ c flour
2 onions chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 bell pepper, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
2 bay leaves
1 tsp dried basil
½ c chopped parsley
2 c chopped leftover turkey
1 lb andouille - or “Creole” - sausage, chopped. Use diced ham, if you can’t find the sausage
Green onion tops
File powder (may be omitted)

Put the turkey bones and skin into a large pot and add the water and the Creole seasoning (or salt).  Bring to a boil and simmer, with no lid, for about 1 ½ hrs.
Warm the oil in a frying pan, then add the flour and stir over low heat until it’s medium brown (hazelnut colored).  Add the onions, garlic, bell pepper, and celery and cook until wilted.    Remove the turkey bones from the broth and slowly whisk the broth into the vegetable/roux mix.  Add salt and pepper to taste, a dash of Tabasco, the bay leaves, basil and parsley.  Simmer uncovered for 1 hour.  If using sausage, fry it in oil until lightly browned in order to remove a little of the fat, then add the chopped turkey and sausage (or ham) to the gumbo and simmer 15 minutes longer.  Add the green onions and cook a few minutes.  Serve the gumbo over cooked rice and add a dash of file to each dish.

Chocolate Bread Pudding provided by a LSU Sociology grad student in the 1980's
Note: I usually double this, since it’s a big dinner party hit.

2 ½ milk, scalded and slightly cooled
3 c french bread, dried and cut into 1"-2" (or so) cubes
1 oz unsweetened chocolate, melted
1 ½ c sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla
1 c pecans (optional)
½ tsp nutmeg
2 eggs, slightly beaten

Mix milk, bread cubes, melted chocolate, sugar, baking powder, vanilla, pecans, nutmeg, and eggs in a 1 ½ qt ungreased baking dish. Blend well, being sure the baking powder is distributed well.

Bake at 350 degrees for approximately 1 hour.
If you’re lucky, you’ll have some nice strong Community Coffee on hand to drink with it. Mmmmmm.

the unofficial urban campfire glossary

Atchafalaya: the Atchafalaya River
bayou:   a creek or small river that is a tributary of a larger body of water; or a  sluggish stream that meanders through lowlands, marshes, or plantation grounds.
beignet: a square doughnut with no hole (see beignet)
boudin:  Cajun blood sausage
café au lait:  coffee served with an equal part hot milk (delicious with a beignet)
crawfish:  also "mudblood" or crayfish (but still pronounced with the "aw"), a small cousin of a lobster living in the mud of  streams or lakes; called a crawdad in other parts of the country
etoufee:   a Creole dish typically served with shellfish or chicken over rice
lagniappe:  a little something extra, as a gift a store or restaurant owner might offer with a purchase
 “suckin’ the heads”: eating crawfish

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