RECIPES: Red Beans and Rice, Beignets, Pain Perdu, Baked Cajun Shrimp, Shrimp Étoufée, Bayou Stew with Chicken, Sausage and Rice, Shrimp Rémoulade, Lemon Ice Box Pie, Croissant Bread Pudding with Bon Ton Sauce, Bananas Foster, Banana Pudding, Southern Pecan Pie
I admit – I’m not a football fan and Super Bowl Sunday has always had little meaning to me. However, this year the New Orleans Saints were playing and if there was ever a city that needed a victory, this was it. My husband enticed me further with, “Hey, The Who will be playing at half time!” (Ugh – what a painful reality check — who, indeed, were those old guys? I immediately felt ancient myself.) He watched the rest of the game, with intermittent loud shouts and cheers.
From the kitchen I could tell the game was going well for the Saints, and it made me feel good. From the storm-ravaged devastation of post Katrina to winning the Super Bowl – New Orleans deserved this moment of glory. It delighted me to see the after-game news clips showing the French Quarter teeming with people and celebrating, as only New Orleans can! Winning the Super Bowl was much more than a football game: it seemed to represent healing and closure to a painful past. And, to that, I salute New Orleans with a hearty laissez les bon temps roulez!
New Orleans has always been a favorite city of mine, rich in Spanish-French history, mystery and even a little Haitian voodoo — and is a place that I’ve returned to many times. I spent most of my time in the Vieux Carré, but not stumbling around on the infamous Bourbon Street. I had a more serious agenda than drinking sickeningly sweet Hurricanes or hanging out half the night in seedy bars with the tourists. My love of New Orleans was fueled by a passion for Creole cuisine and the grand, old restaurants, some well over 150 years old, including Antoine’s, Galatoire’s, Arnaud's, Brennan’s, Tujaque’s, and the beautiful Commander’s Palace. And, of course, there were my morning walks down to the French Market to Café du Monde for chicory-laced coffee and beignets.
I also discovered hole-in-the-wall joints in neighborhood side streets (complete with rickety wood screen doors that slapped closed after I entered) for deep fried shrimp or oyster po-boys and another place frequented by the locals that served the best lemon ice box pie in the city. And, I knew the mom-and-pop market that made the best muffulatta, thanks to a friend who lived there and clued me in about where the locals ate.
I always came home with a cookbook – sometimes it was the latest Junior League cookbook or one written and printed by a local parish church. (If you want great recipes from a Southern town, buy a cookbook from the local church ladies!) But, the best book of all was written by a husband-wife team, Rima and Richard Collin: The New Orleans Cookbook. I picked up my original copy, published in 1975 – and I’m glad to see there is newly revised edition with “5-star” reviews. If you’re serious about learning how to cook authentic Creole or Cajun food, this book is for you. Even the locals agree: it's the food bible.
It had been awhile since I’d pulled out my coveted stash of NOLA cookbooks, but a spicy Cajun meal seemed in order to celebrate the Saints winning the Super Bowl. Baked Cajun Shrimp with a pot of rice sounded good. As I peeled the shrimp, I felt smug knowing I could assemble an étoufée, a pot of red beans and rice, or a shrimp rémoulade just like any native N’awlin’s cook. The only thing missing was a bottle of Jax beer.
With Mardi Gras around the corner, be sure to try some of these delicious recipes and you'll feast like a native. If you've never had the pleasure of savoring sugar-dusted beignets at Café du Monde, try making a batch for brunch. Some of New Orlean’s most beloved desserts include croissant bread pudding, bananas foster, pecan pie, lemon ice box pie, and the familiar homey and humble banana pudding. Make some spicy Cajun Shrimp, grab a freshly baked French roll to dab up the juices, and you’ll be in heaven. Red beans and rice or a piquant shrimp stew are great any time of year. From gumbos to oysters Rockefeller, there's not any other cuisine that compares to the excitement of Creole cooking.