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135. Café Du Monde: Fried Dough at its Finest

6 Dec

cafe du mondeOh, Top Chef New Orleans, you’re killing me. When you edit in a shot of a certain green and white striped awning, Café Du Monde calls to me. And I think, “Yes, Billie Holiday and Louis Armstrong, indeed I DO know what it means to miss New Orleans.”

What do I miss most about Café Du Monde? Two words: fried dough. Also, powdered sugar. Heaps of powdered sugar. Most of which will land on your blouse, pants, skirt, dress, suit jacket, tie, whatever. Maybe even your socks. It’s impossible to eat at Café Du Monde without making a mess of yourself. But that’s part of its charm.

Heaven on a plate...

Heaven on a plate…

You may be thinking “Perhaps I would order something other than beignets, then I wouldn’t get messy.” You also wouldn’t get fed, seeing as there is exactly one food item on the menu.

You might recall this excerpt from The Pelican Brief:

She bought a Post and a Times-Picayune from a sidewalk vendor and found a table in a deserted corner of Café Du Monde…A waiter finally made it by, and she ordered coffee and a plain bagel.

John Grisham might ought to have added that she (Darby) waited there till three days after the world ended and never did get served. There are no bagels, plain or otherwise, at Café Du Monde. And if “deserted corners” exist there, I’ve never seen them. But perhaps the crowds thin out at some point in the 24 hours they’re open each day.

I remember the first time I visited the Original French Market Coffee Stand. This was during the World’s Fair in 1984, when I sported one of my worst self-inflicted hairstyles. (I’d cropped my hair closely on both sides, leaving the bangs and back long–sort of a cross between a mullet and a mohawk. A mulhawk.)

Anyhoo, I sat at a hard-to-come-by table with various members of my family and was amazed that our waitress felt no need to write down the order. Later I realized this wasn’t such a miraculous feat given the limited menu options.

After a few minutes wait, we were presented with a pile of deep-fried dough covered under a mountain of powdered sugar. “This,” I thought, “is where I want to go when I die.” Which if I had the chance to eat there every day would happen sooner rather than later.

On the way out, one of us spotted a yellow box of beignet mix. Hallelujah! No longer would I be satisfied with makeshift donuts made from canned biscuit dough. Not when I could recreate the Café Du Monde experience at home.

Sadly, eating “homemade” beignets isn’t nearly as much fun because A. No cooks or waitresses and B. People-watching opportunities are limited. Besides which, deep frying dough requires a certain patience and skill that I lack. I probably still have a long-since expired box of beignet mix hiding in one of my kitchen cabinets.

Yes, y'all, they also sell coffee.

Yes, y’all, they also sell coffee.

Folks who’ve frequented Café Du Monde might be thinking, “What about the COFFEE? Get to the chicory coffee already!!”

Ok, so. I’ve heard tell that they make a mighty fine cup of Joe. I will take y’all’s word for it. Even after a decade in Seattle, I’m still not a coffee drinker.

But maybe that’s because I haven’t tried Café Du Monde’s legendary café au lait, half coffee and half hot milk. According to their website, the chicory softens the bitter edge of the dark roasted coffee, adding an almost chocolate flavor.

Sounds sort of like hot chocolate with extra caffeine. I will order a cup next time I’m there and report back.

beignet mixCDM coffeeIn the meantime, if you can’t get to the New Orleans area in the foreseeable future, don’t despair. On second thought, go ahead and despair. But know that you can order cans of chicory coffee and boxes of beignet mix direct from Café Du Monde here. The prices are quite reasonable, until you get to the shipping charges. Consider yourself warned.

What’s your fondest Café Du Monde memory? How many beignets can you eat in one sitting? And is chicory coffee really tastier than the regular stuff?

Photo Credits from Flickr Creative Commons: Cafe Du Monde exterior by praline3001; Plate ‘o Beignets by Tammy Camp and Café au Lait by Gwen Harlow.

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133. Cornbread Dressing, Because Stuffing is for the Birds

26 Nov

One of Southern Living's "83 Spectacular Thanksgiving Sides" Click for recipes.

One of Southern Living’s “83 Spectacular Thanksgiving Sides” Click for recipes.

First off, I must clarify that we’re not talking about stuffing. Most Southerners can’t be bothered to actually stuff a turkey; we’re far too busy stuffing ourselves. Besides which, everybody knows the turkey cannot possibly hold enough stuffing to go around. Unless said turkey were roughly the size of one of those balloons at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. And then it wouldn’t fit in the oven.

The major difference between dressing and stuffing is the main ingredient. One features crumbled cornbread, the other cubed white bread. Also, dressing tends to be moist and delicious, whereas stuffing is less so. Plus, stuffing has been known to contain all manner of non-essential add ins: Dried fruit, fresh fruit, nuts, mushrooms, root vegetables, and even kale.

The list of ingredients for cornbread dressing is blessedly short: cornbread, eggs, stock, onions (and maybe celery), and salt and pepper. Some folks add in sage, but my mom hated it nearly as much as All Things Tacky, so our dressing was always sans sage.

Southerners along the Gulf Coast often add oysters in the mix. I’m not sure how my Delta-raised mother latched on to this tradition, but for years she made half and half oyster and regular. Which would have been fine if half the family liked oyster dressing. Alas, only two out of eight or so did.

gobble gobble napkinsBut then Hallelujah! My sister-in-law Kay took over the dressing one year and introduced us to duck, which upped the deliciousness factor by roughly 1000%. Nary an oyster ever darkened our dressing again.

I should warn y’all that dealing with duck can be a pain in the ass, not to mention the fingers (from trying to pull hot duck off the bone due to a failure to plan ahead). The depth of flavor and level of moistness the bird adds is worth the extra effort. Especially if you’re not actually participating in the preparation.

Since I spend most Thanksgivings in Seattle, I have resigned myself to eating stuffing. Folks here don’t understand the true nature of cornbread. If they attempted to make dressing with sugary Yankee pone, they’d end up with dessert. Which, now that I think about it, might not be such a terrible idea. Especially if they threw in the fruit and nuts.

Several years ago, I rejoiced upon learning that an expat Southern couple would be providing the dressing for a Thanksgiving gathering. Between the creamy mashed potatoes and the authentic cornbread dressing, Chad and Leah made me think for just a moment that I was home for the holidays. Alas, they’ve moved to Asheville, and I’ve been stuck with stuffing ever since.

give thanksIn case you are wondering why I don’t volunteer to bring the dressing, it’s because I made the mistake of introducing Seattle folks to green bean bundles. Now they’ve become my price of admission to all Thanksgiving gatherings. These fussy sweet and savory bundles are only slightly less challenging than dealing with duck. If I tried to make both dishes, I’d never have the energy for shopping on Black Friday.

As the holiday approaches, I’m thankful to be part of a family whose love eclipses distance and time zones, and for my “family” here who make Seattle home.

Also, I’m thankful to Kay Holloway for sharing her recipe so I can pass it along to y’all.

Kay’s Duckalicious Cornbread Dressing

Not to be confused with cornbread mix.

Not to be confused with cornbread mix.

For the cornbread:
1 1/2 cups cornmeal mix
1/2 cup flour self rising
2 eggs well beaten
Enough buttermilk to pour it in the skillet
Pinch of salt
Tablespoon of sugar
Finely choped onions (don’t tell Jenna)
Finely chopped celery

Add some butter to a baking dish and preheat in a 400-degree oven. Mix all of the above ingredients, pour into heated pan and bake till golden brown (25 minutes?).

For the dressing:
One duck, thawed
A few boiled eggs, chopped
Lots of butter
Seasonings to taste

Boil Duck, debone, and save broth. When cornbread is cool, add duck meat, chopped boiled eggs, pinch of sage, and salt and pepper to taste. Crumble well with hands, add duck broth and stir until well mixed. Put pats of butter at intervals and bake @ 350 till browned. Add duck broth if it gets too dry and stir. (Lots of real butter and greasy duck broth.) My note: If you’re making a pre-smoked Butterball as I am wont to do, cook the bird on top of the dressing, so the juices seep into it. Also, I had no idea Kay added a pinch of sage to the dressing. Thankfully, Mom never noticed.

Kay says: I usually make 2 or 3 containers of the cornbread to have plenty for the dressing. Never had too much, of course Mike and the kids would pass through the kitchen and nibble on it. It’s actually good with the tiny celery and onions in it! Comfort food tastes way better when someone you care about “fixes” it!

What’s your favorite holiday comfort food? And what do you like in your dressing? Please do tell.

Photo Credits: Cornbread dressing and 82 other recipes from Southern Living; Gobble Gobble Napkins available from WhiteTulipEmbroidery at Etsy; and Give Thanks Pumpkins from SkyeArt at Etsy.

132. Sweet Potato Casserole: Dessert in Disguise

21 Nov

sweet potato casseroleSome Southerners are partial to the pie, but I prefer my sweet potatoes in a casserole. Mainly because it allows me to fool myself into thinking that what I’m eating is a vegetable, not dessert.

I’m not sure how I got elected for the job, but I’m the official Holloway sweet potato casserole queen. (Not to be confused with an actual Sweet Potato Queen.) Every Christmas, I whip up a big dish of the delectable stuff, but not before arguing with my sister about how much to make. She pushes me to triple the recipe, but I stand firm at double, seeing as we always end up with way too many leftovers. Even a die-hard sweet potato fan gets a little queasy at the thought of eating reheated casserole more than three days in a row.

Back in the days before we switched from canned to fresh sweet potatoes, I had a whole other argument with my Mom each year. She tried to convince me that I should include the liquid from the can, when clearly draining is the only way to go. Unless you want sweet potato soup. Which I don’t.

For Southerners, sweet potato casseroles fall into two distinct camps: marshmallow topping or pecan/brown sugar crumble. The Holloways are nut people. That’s not to say I’d abstain from eating the marshmallow variety. Quite the contrary. I run across sweet potato casserole about as frequently as Baptists enter dance halls by the front door so I take what I can get. But given my druthers, I’ll opt for pecans.

BC sweet potato casseroleA while back I was browsing Grocery Outlet, where one can find an array of interesting products not seen in major chains. I’m talking Kellogg’s Chocolate Peanut Butter Corn Pops, Lil’ Joey Pancake Pockets, and Spam Singles. Imagine my shock and horror when I happened upon Betty Crocker’s Sweet Potato Casserole mix. Why, Betty? Why?

Sweet potato casserole isn’t hard to make. Especially when one is left alone in the kitchen. Sure, it always takes about twice as long as I think it will. And peeling sweet potatoes is a pain in the ass. But I’d never resort to serving “casserole” made with a blend of reconstituted sweet and russet (WTF?) potatoes. Prior to the zombie apocalypse, anyway.

Some of my family’s best loved dishes are related to us by marriage. I’m sure we’d have adored my sister-in-law Karen even if she’d come with an empty recipe box. Thankfully, we’ll never have to find out.

Karen Holloway’s Sweet Potato Casserole
3 cups sweet potatoes (drained)
1/2 cup butter (melted)
1 t vanilla
1 cup sugar
2 eggs beaten
1/3 cup milk

Boil sweet potatoes over medium high heat till tender. Drain and mash. In a large bowl, mix potatoes with all other ingredients and pour into a buttered baking dish.

Top with the following mixture:
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup flour
1/3 cup butter (melted)
1 cup chopped pecans

Bake at 350 for 15 to 20 minutes or until top is browned

Notes: I’m not sure how many sweet potatoes equal three cups. I usually peel and cut up a few and add them to a 4-cup measuring cup. I fill the cup to the top to compensate for the gaps around the pieces. I tend to err on the side of too much potato. If anybody has a better way of guestimating three cups of potatoes, please enlighten me.

When doubling the recipe, I usually just use one and a half times the topping. When tripling the recipe…oh right, I don’t.

The size of baking dish wasn’t specified. Similar recipes call for 1 1/2 to 2 qt. casserole dishes. I usually opt for a 9 X 13 dish, unless I’m doubling in which case I use the biggest dish I can find.

The recipe calls for 20 minutes bake time, but I’d allow at least 40. You want the top to be good and crunchy.

What’s your pleasure: Nuts or marshmallows? Have you ever done both?

Photo credit: Sweet potato casserole by bengarland, Flickr Creative Commons.

Rerun 68: Funeral Food–Love in a Casserole Dish

10 Jul

mikeWhen I packed up my car and moved away from the South nearly 20 years ago, my brother said “Don’t forget your raisings!” And thanks in part to his constant reminders, I haven’t. A month ago today, Mike Holloway passed away in his sleep. I’m sharing this post in honor of him.

Most Southern ladies of a certain age keep at least one casserole in the deep freeze at all times. You never know when somebody will up and die, so it’s best to be prepared. However, if you’re momentarily casserole-less, not to worry: grieving Southerners always welcome fried chicken, even if it’s store-bought. I’d like to put in a plug for one (or more) of those chicken nugget platters from Chick-fil-A (unless somebody dies on Sunday, when all the Chick-fil-As are closed). I’m still grateful to the kind soul who delivered one of those when my mom died.

Photo by softestthing
Flickr Creative Commons

I should mention that funeral food isn’t actually served at the funeral. You bring it to the home of the deceased so the grieving family members and the people who drop by to pay their respects have something to eat. When Southerners lose a loved one, they rarely lose their appetite, but almost always lose the desire to cook.

Of course, you needn’t only bring savory sustenance. Sweets are an essential part of a Southern mourner’s diet. And for the love of all that’s holy, do not make funeral sweets with Splenda, people! Grief and dieting go together like…like…ok, they just don’t go together AT ALL.

Photo by Chris and Jenni
Flickr Creative Commons

If you want to bring over some meat-flavored vegetables, that’s great. But a salad probably isn’t your best bet. No, not even a congealed “salad.” Especially if the recently departed had been hospitalized for any length of time before their departure. Nobody wants to be reminded of institutional gelatin, even in the best of times.

In case you’re in a quandary about what to bring, consult this handy guide:

Banana pudding: YES!
Photo by Jason Meredith
Flickr Creative Commons

Great Southern Funeral Food:
Casseroles (anything made with cream of something soup is most welcome)
Deep fried anything
Chicken ‘n dumplings
BBQ
Lasagna
Potatoes (preferably mashed or au gratin)
Homemade mac ‘n cheese
Bread
Ham (spiral sliced preferred, but not required)
Chili or hearty soup (Not chicken noodle; no one’s getting better anytime soon…)
Deviled eggs
Homemade sweets of any kind (remember, no Splenda!)

Suitable Southern Funeral Food
Cold cuts and sandwich fixings
Egg/potato/chicken/pasta salad
Store-bought sweets (think Sara Lee, not Little Debbie)
Ice cream

Crudité: NO! P.S. Where's the dip??
Photo by Robyn Lee
Flickr Creative Commons

Ill-advised Southern Funeral Food
Green salad
Crudité platter
Fruit basket
Low-cal frozen entreés
Tofu of any variety
Chewing gum

If you can’t get over to the home of the deceased right away, don’t despair. In fact, I’d recommend avoiding the rush and swinging by with snacks a few days later. Trust me, the bereaved will appreciate a fresh supply of comfort food.

When my mom died, I can’t remember eating much else but cold fried chicken and some kind of cake (caramel, maybe?). But I do remember my relief at not having to think about fixing something to eat. While food isn’t a panacea for grief, it does serve as a small island of pleasure in an ocean of pain.

What’s your all-time favorite funeral food? And do you have a casserole in your freezer right now?

Rerun: 16. Catfish (The “Deep-Fried” is Implied)

25 Jun

In an effort to be timely, I’m offering this rerun in honor of National Catfish Day (which I’d never heard of till I checked my Twitter feed this morning).

Ok, a lot of these posts feature food (or drink), and I reckon you can guess why: We Southerners loves us some food. Hey, Mississippi didn’t get to be the fattest state in the US for nothing!

So while folks here in Seattle are swooning over salmon, my peeps back home are loyal to the good old-fashioned fried catfish. With hushpuppies (which one of my Seattle friends mistakenly called “puff daddies.” Of course, the name stuck).

Though I now regularly buy organic produce and “hippie eggs,” I’m still of the opinion that farm-raised catfish is the way to go. Sure, maybe wild catfish live happier lives, but they are notorious bottom feeders. For me, eating free-range catfish would be akin to munching on a fried vulture. Ick. As an aside, when I lived in LA, I was extolling the virtues of farm-raised catfish to a work friend who said, “Farm-raised? I thought it was a fish!”

There’s a reason I’m writing this blog, people.

Now if you happen to be in the South and are itching to try some catfish, I recommend Jerry’s in Florence, MS. Not necessarily because it’s the best, but because it may be the one and only place you’ll eat catfish in an igloo. Yes, I said igloo.

Jerry's Fish House, Florence, MS

It’s been a long time since I’ve been there, and I can’t really remember whether the catfish or hushpuppies are anything special. But it’s one of few places where I, an avowed fish hater, will actually eat fish.

What’s your favorite catfish joint?

Update: I’ve since learned that my local organic grocery store, PCC Natural Markets (which may stand for Politically Correct Cooking) endorses farm-raised catfish. They pass out a pocket-size Seafood Watch guide that lists the most sustainable choices for fish-loving folks. In case you’re interested, click for additional reading on why farm-raised catfish (but not salmon!) is best.

Rerun–43. Cracker Barrel: Putting the Kitsch in Kitchen

10 May

2658965445_b485f917caSo, the evening after I revisited Stuckey’s, Cracker Barrel lured me in with their ever-present billboards. I think it was the one about “homemade dumplings” that won me over. Wish I’d reread this post before eating there:

You’d think the novelty of nostalgia would have worn off by now, but judging from the ever-crowded parking lot, I reckon not. But then Cracker Barrel combines two of Southern women’s greatest loves: eating and shopping. Also, you can get in quite a bit of gossiping, too, depending on who you run into and how long you have to wait for a table.

I’m not going to extol the virtues of Cracker Barrel’s food, because I fail to see any. Ok, I’ll admit, they do have some good pecan pancakes that come with wee bottles of maple syrup. I know this because whenever I’d come home to visit, Mom would wake me up WAAAAY early the next day (like around 9:00) to go get some pancakes.

What Cracker Barrel lacks in culinary skills, they make up for in kitsch. Where else are you going to find cornbread pans, patriotic clocks, wooden toys, and old-timey candy all in one place? Ok, maybe your grandmother’s house. But the candy will likely be not so much old-timey as just plain old.IMG_0241

There’s plenty to look at while you wait, and the fun doesn’t stop after you’re seated. Who’s up for a challenging round of the peg game? You know the one with a triangle-shaped piece of wood featuring pegs filled with golf tees? The object is to “jump” and remove the other tees, leaving only one tee standing. It sounds more exciting than it is. But then, maybe I’m just bitter because I’ve yet to win.

I’ve only ever been to Cracker Barrel for breakfast because from what I hear, that’s the only meal worth eating. However, I can’t imagine the food would be any worse than the short-lived “Po Folks” that we used to patronize frequently in college. Because, hey, we WERE po folks, and most anything beats Kraft Macaroni and Cheese.

Though I do enjoy poking around in the general store, I haven’t eaten at Cracker Barrel in the last three years. My mom loved those pancakes enough to endure breakfast with a grumpy, jetlagged daughter, and it wouldn’t feel right eating them without her.

What’s your favorite part of the Cracker Barrel experience?

pancakesUpdate: Last year, I went with my sister and dad to have the pecan pancakes again and they did not disappoint. Wish I could say the same about my meal last week. I had the frequently touted chicken and dumplings and they were just sad, y’all. Not as sad as the straight-from-the-can, lukewarm niblets, but almost. Of the fried okra, I will not even speak. In their defense, the biscuit was edible.

What puzzles me is that in my infinite quest to find a go-to chicken and dumplings recipe, I keep running across ones that claim to taste “Just Like Cracker Barrel,” as if it were a good thing. Huh?

So after a spectacularly underwhelming supper, I decided to go back for breakfast. Thought maybe I could drown the bad memories with a little bottle of maple-esque syrup. Low and behold, it worked. Note: Notions like this hardly ever work, but never underestimate the power of pecan pancakes.

Photo credits: Cracker Barrel exterior by Keith Lam, Flickr Creative Commons; pics with bad lighting by yours truly.

128. Krystal–It’s Hip to be Square.

10 Apr

2926707617_c888f07a59_mWhen White Castle burgers made their debut on grocery store shelves a couple of decades back, this Mississippi girl was perplexed. The label said “White Castle” but I’d always known the wee burgers by another name, Krystal. These so-called White Castles featured the same sliver of meat sandwiched between a spongy square bun, complete with the diced onions and dill pickle slices.

White Castle and Krystal. Separated at birth?

White Castle and Krystal. Separated at birth?

Imagine my surprise when I learned that Krystal–a Southern staple since 1932–was a late-blooming imitator of America’s first fast-food burger chain. Apparently, everybody in the Northeast grew up eating White Castles, while those in the South ate Krystals. (I believe folks on the West coast learned about square hamburgers toward the end of the 20th century when they started appearing on appetizer menus as “sliders.” I should mention that this unfortunate name also originated at White Castle.)

My apologies to White Castle fans (who go by the name “cravers”), but my first-hand knowledge about The Original Slider® is limited to the frozen variety I last tasted back in the 90s. Krystals, however, hold a special place in my heart, much like an old friend with whom I cross paths a couple of times a decade.

My first memory of Krystal comes from the 70s when an elderly family friend (whose name I have forgotten) would occasionally pile a bunch of kids in the car and take us for burgers after church. On those days, I felt like I’d won the lottery (although I should substitute the word “bingo” seeing as Baptists consider gambling a sin). Not only did I get to skip out on eating yet another detestable Sunday pot roast, I got stickers! Note to kids today: Back then stickers were as rare as cassettes are today. (Let’s have a moment of silence to mourn the passing of mix tapes.)

70's Krystal stickers=swoon!!

70’s Krystal stickers=swoon!!

Sometime during the 70’s Krystal decided to branch out into fried chicken, but it never really caught on, seeing as the logistics were far too complicated. If you wanted bird, you had to go to an annex around back for it. Not really worth the bother. Before I graduated high school, they’d abandoned this practice and now you can get fried chicken as part of the regular menu. Sort of. They’ve taken away the bone and added a bun. Plus, it’s called “chik’n,” which seems a bit dubious to me, but I’m nothing if not skeptical.

The late 80’s/early 90’s were my peak Krystal-loving years, seeing as I was a college student and Krystal was A. cheap and B. open after the bars close. I must confess, I still believe those to be Krystal’s key selling points.

College kids' dining budget...

College kids’ dining budget…

So how does Krystal’s food taste? I hoped you’d never ask.

For tastebuds influenced by nostalgia and/or alcohol, Krystal burgers can be quite satisfying. The steamed buns offer the ideal pairing of spongy white bread and beef fat. The sliver of meat provides a canvas for Pollack-style spattering of diced onions and mustard embellished with a pickle chip. A slice of American cheese served slightly askew can be had for just a few nickels and dimes more.

Hot-off-the-grill Krystal burgers are best when eaten immediately. Like before your car pulls away from the drive thru. Seriously. If you must wait till you get home, I beseech you to treat the burgers to a quick trip in the microwave. To quote an old friend and Krystal-eating companion, “A cold Krystal is DEATH.”

The only way to eat a Krystal...

The only way to eat a Krystal…

I have fond memories of Krystal’s lemon pie, but they can’t be trusted, seeing as they were formed before I properly developed my dessert palate. It’s not that I’ve become a dessert snob so much as…Ok, yes it is.

Had I not been indoctrinated into Krystal eating as a child, I’m not sure what my opinion of the burgers would be. Certainly, I’ve had better tasting sliders, but they’re just not Krystal’s. The restaurant’s latest slogan sums it up: “Krystal®–Nothin’ Like It.” Unless you count White Castle.

Have you eaten at Krystal? White Castle? Both? How do they compare?

Photo Credits: Krystal Restaurant by Scott Beale, Flickr Creative Commons; Loose Change by Rich Renomeron, Flickr Creative Commons; Hot sign by Jonathon Coleman, Flickr Creative Commons.