Let the good times roll

Adrienne Freeman Published February 27, 2014 at 12:00 a.m.
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Adrienne Freeman

Bananas Foster — sweet fresh bananas simmered in delicious brown sugar, butter and rum sauce with savory spices of nutmeg and allspice — is served over ice cream. Traditionally prepared tableside and served flambe (with flame!), the traditional Cajun dessert is just as delicious prepared safely on the stovetop and served with or without the alcohol or flame.

One of the most famous “food” cities, New Orleans, is right in our backyard. On Tuesday, New Orleans hosts one of the most famous holidays in the world, the American version of Mardi Gras. A day with deep religious ties, Mardi Gras is French for Fat Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. Fat Tuesday is the popular name that refers to the practice of eating all the rich, fatty foods in the house that would have to be forsaken for the fasting Lenten period that begins the next day.

Although originally a time predominately observed by the Catholic faith, the Mardi Gras celebration in New Orleans has grown to the point that it is synonymous with the city in most people’s minds and is a major draw for tourism. The official slogan for the city is “Laissez les bons temps rouler” — “Let the good times roll.”

Cajun-style cooking is rich with taste and tradition. The cuisine is rustic, a combination of French and Louisiana Creole food. It is the predominant style of cooking in south Louisiana, and along with the raucous parades, the food is the star of the festival. Ingredients such as the plentiful fresh seafood — shrimp, oysters and crawfish — are prepared simply with local spices and vegetables. Traditional dishes often start with the “trinity” — a mixture of bell pepper, onion and celery — seasoned with aromatic spices such as cayenne, garlic, black pepper, bay leaf, parsley and green onions.

Your kitchen can become your own Big Easy. Creating a Mardi Gras celebration at home is simple and fun. If fresh seafood isn’t available, frozen can be easily substituted. All other ingredients are readily available in the supermarket. Let the good times roll!

OYSTERS BIENVILLE

(adapted from Emeril Lagasse)

Ingredients:

Rock salt, for baking

2 strips bacon, finely chopped

1/2 cup chopped yellow onion

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon cayenne

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1/2 cup whole milk

1/4 cup dry white wine

1/4 cup finely chopped white button mushrooms

1/4 pound medium-size shrimp, peeled, deveined and chopped

2 tablespoons finely grated Parmesan

2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

2 tablespoons chopped green onions (green parts only)

2 teaspoons finely chopped parsley leaves

1 large egg yolk, lightly beaten

1 dozen freshly shucked oysters

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Spread a 1/2-inch thick layer of rock salt on a large baking sheet. Set aside.

Fry the bacon until just crisp in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onions, salt and cayenne, and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add the garlic and butter, and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes or until the butter melts. Whisk in the flour, stirring slowly and constantly; cook for 2 minutes. Add the milk and wine, and stir to blend.

Reduce the heat to medium; then add the mushrooms and shrimp. Stir and fold to mix, and cook until the mixture is thick, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the Parmesan, lemon juice, green onions and parsley, and stir to blend.

Remove from the heat, add the egg yolk, and blend well. Let cool to room temperature.

Arrange the reserved oyster shells on the prepared baking sheet. Put 1 oyster in each shell and top with about 1 1/2 tablespoons sauce, spreading it evenly out to the edges of the shell to completely cover the oyster. Bake until the sauce is lightly browned and the oysters begin to curl around the edges, about 20 minutes.

Serve immediately.

Cook’s note: If you can’t get freshly shucked oysters with the shell, don’t worry. A quick solution is to go to a restaurant that serves them and ask for several dozen shells. (They are thrown away anyway.) They can be kept for years — I sterilize mine in the dishwasher after use and store them in a box between paper towels. Shucked oysters in plastic tubs are widely available in the seafood department of many supermarkets.

CRAWFISH ETOUFEE

(Recipe courtesy of Doug Stelly, Who Dat’s Restaurant in Bald Knob)

Ingredients:

1 stick butter

2 tablespoons flour

1 large onion, chopped, approximately 1 cup

1/2 cup chopped celery

1/2 cup chopped green pepper

1/4 cup chopped green onions

1 pound peeled crawfish tails, fresh or frozen

2 teaspoons minced garlic

2 bay leaves

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

2 tablespoons dry sherry, if desired

1 1/2 cup shrimp stock or plain water

1 pound crawfish tails, fresh or frozen

2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves

Cooked rice

Directions:

In a large pot or skillet, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Whisk in the butter to make a light roux. Add the onions, celery, bell peppers, green onions, garlic, bay leaves, salt and pepper. Cook until the vegetables are soft, about 5 minutes.

Add the sherry, if using, and cook 2 to 3 minutes. Add the stock and crawfish tails, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, and simmer until thickened, approximately 8 to 10 more minutes. Add the lemon juice.

Stir in the parsley, and remove from heat.

Adjust the seasoning to taste. Serve over hot rice.

BANANAS FOSTER

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/4 cup dark-brown sugar

1/4 teaspoon ground allspice

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg

1 tablespoon banana liqueur

2 underripe bananas, sliced in half lengthwise

1/4 cup dark rum

1/2 teaspoon finely grated orange zest

Directions:

Melt butter in a 10-inch heavy skillet over low heat. Add brown sugar, allspice and nutmeg, and stir until sugar dissolves. Add banana liqueur, and bring sauce to simmer. Add bananas, and cook for 1 minute on each side, carefully spooning sauce over bananas as they are cooking. Remove bananas from pan to a serving dish.

Bring sauce to a simmer, and carefully add the rum. If the sauce is very hot, the alcohol will flame on its own. If not, using stick flame, carefully ignite and continue cooking until the flame dies out, approximately 1 to 2 minutes. If sauce is too thin, cook for 1 to 2 minutes until it is syrupy in consistency. Add orange zest, and stir to combine.

Immediately spoon the sauce over bananas and serve. Serve with crepes or ice cream.

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