Thursday, March 31, 2011

A SILK PURSE FOR SUPPER

It's so much fun to discover 'something' in a bunch of 'nothing,' isn't it?  Like,  those people you see on tv who've bought a beat up old picture at a garage sale - only to find some priceless masterpiece hidden beneath it.  Of course, stuff like that never happens to ME, so I have to create my own little "tadaaa" moments for myself.  I still find it amusing, but then, I'm easily amused.  Just ask my husband and my kids.

Anywho, our story today starts with a gift.  You like it already?  My sweet Canadian-Chinese(-French?) neighbor went to the Irish-Italian parade (yes, they indeed NEVER end) and brought me back 5 heads of cabbage.  Now, despite the fact that giving cabbage to an Irishwoman is a little like bringing sand to the beach, I was thrilled.
I immediately went to work, peeling away the 'funky' outer layers of the cabbages and then coring, slicing, and washing them thoroughly.  I wound up with a mountain 'o cabbage - as you can see....

But I'm getting ahead of myself here.  You see, when I was growing up, if you ate cabbage, it was one of two ways:  boiled with ham or smothered in bacon fat.  If it was boiled with ham, you'd get a huge pot of basically cabbage soup:  cabbage, ham chunks, potato chunks, maybe carrots and you'd sop up the juices with loaf after loaf of buttered french bread.  But, down here in New Orleans, it's grilling season - when the evenings are mild and the mosquitoes are still wintering somewhere like Cuba.  So, tonight, it's Smothered Cabbage in Bacon Fat as a side dish to some grilled pork fingers.  Oh yeah....

Looka dat bacon!  Some food is just sexy - makes me wanna crank up the Barry White while I'm cooking.  And the way it "sizzles" sounds like the symbol in a burlesque act.  Well, this is where our dish begins.

SMOTHERED CABBAGE IN BACON FAT
5 heads of cabbage
1 sliced onion
1 lb of bacon
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp of your favorite seasoning blend
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp cider vinegar
water - as needed
Core, slice and wash your cabbage and allow it to drain. Meanwhile, in a large, deep pan, fry your bacon to crisp (yeah, baby), reserving all the gorgeous fat in the bottom of the pan.  Save the bacon for later (unless you live at my house, then HIDE IT IMMEDIATELY or it will disappear).  Add the olive oil to the bacon fat over medium heat.  Now add the onion and stir a bit.  Let the onion wilt.  Now add the cabbage.  You may have to do this in steps.  Trust me, a mountain of cabbage cooks down to less than half its original bulk.  Now, you'll want to let this cook, covered, to start it wilting.  Check every 10-15 minutes and 'turn' the whole thing carefully - with two utensils - like tossing a salad.  This process will take a while but it's worth it!  This ain't fast food, y'all! 

When the cabbage has 'softened' you can continue to cook it uncovered.  You may even crank up the heat to medium-high at this point and check it more often.  You want it to start to caramelize and, remember, the more brown it gets, the sweeter it is - like dark friend onion rings, you know?  YUM!!!  At this point, you can add the brown sugar and cider vinegar - you always want balance:  sweet & sour & salt together.  That's the stuff that dreams are made of!

I served mine with lovely grilled pork and sweet potato fries that I flash-fried in some more bacon fat till they were crispy brown on the outside.  YOWZA!  That sweet and spicy cabbage with that salty pork and starchy sweet potatoes...light the candles and dust off that Donna Summer album.  On second thought, maybe you shouldn't strike a match....just sayin'.

So, you see, sometimes greatness comes from the most humble beginnings.  And, if you can get past the fact that frying cabbage smells something like "Bean Night" at the Fraternity House, you will be thrilled with the final result.  Go ahead, open the window and make a 'silk purse' to go with your pork too!

Questions?  Comments?  Please email me at aintjuliachild@gmail.com.  And please share my address with your friends:  http://www.thisaintjuliachild.com/
Please pray for our troops, the people of Japan & Haiti and for peace in the Middle East.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Presto Pesto Cream Sauce

Sometimes I even amaze myself.  Sound egotistical?  It's not.  What it means is, I SAY I'm going to do something - not remotely sure that I actually CAN do it - and then I actually pull it off.  Wow.  Who knew?


Such was the case of the Meatless Italian buffet that I promised my nearest and dearest on the occasion of my annual St. Patty's Day party.  It was pretty terrific, if I do say so.  There was my Caprice Salad/Antipasto platter, Roasted Veggies in garlic with Balsamic reduction drizzle, and, of course, Mamma's Baked Spaghetti.  That was all good but the last-minute star of the show was Crawfish Alfredo Pesto Cream sauce.  It was inspired.  In fact, it was a miracle!  Here it is:

CRAWFISH ALFREDO PESTO CREAM SAUCE
2 sticks of butter (OK, I'll give you a minute....)
1 cup all-purpose flour (added in steps)
3 quarts of half and half (OK, just breathe....and breathe....)
1 cup grated parmesan (or more, if you like)
1/2 tsp nutmeg
3/4 cup pesto sauce (homemade or jarred)
3 lbs of crawfish tails
Yeah, I know, is this a recipe or a death scentence.  Well, let's just say, you wouldn't want to eat this every day.  So, first melt the butter - careful not to burn it.  Then, add the flour - first a half cup and stir it into the butter.  Then a little at a time until it's the consistency of, say, apple sauce.  You want a creamy paste of butter and flour.  Now stir this over medium-low heat until it starts to bubble a bit.  Keep stirring.  This is great work for a 9 year old - especially one with a cute little apron on.  After about 5 minutes of bubbling, start whisking in the half and half.  It will be 'gloppy' at first but just keep whisking. (They don't teach "gloppy" at le Cordon Bleu, y'all!)  Add all 3 quarts gradually. (Did I mention that you need a big, thick-bottomed pot?  Do I have to explain that too much of this will make YOU thick-bottomed?)  Now let this go on medium heat, stirring regularly (not constantly) to check the thickness.  It will thicken as it approaches reaching a boil - but don't let it boil.  If it gets too thick, add some milk - a little at a time.  Now, add the cheese, nutmeg (trust me, will ya?) and pesto. Stir.

Sneak a taste.  Good huh? 

Keep stirring till it reaches the thickness you like.  Finally, remove the crawfish tails from the package into a saute pan.  Saute them over medium heat until they release all the extra liquid inherent in those packages.  You don't want to just add them to your cream sauce straight from the package because all that extra liquid will thin out the sauce.  After you've sauteed the tails for five or so minutes, add them to your cream sauce pot using a slotted spoon to do so.  You should wind up with a saute pan full of crawfish juice.  You can throw it away or freeze it to use later.  Now stir the tails into your cream sauce and let the whole thing heat up over medium-low heat.

Serve this over - basically - anything you'd like:  pasta, toast points, heck, an old shoe would taste good with THIS liquid gold poured over it! I served it over my mamma's baked spaghetti and it was divine! In fact, at my party, one friend was eating it like soup.  You could do that too.


And so, it was a St. Patty's Day miracle, when the Irish-Cajun girl whipped up an Italian-Cajun sauce for her French, Scottish, Polish, Irish, Italian, Chinese and Phillipino guests.  I'm feelin' all "Bennetton" all of a sudden.  C'mon, everybody sing...."We are the world....." 

Questions?  Comments?  Please write me at aintjuliachild@gmail.com.  And please share my web address:  http://www.thisaintjuliachild.com/.
Please pray for Japan, for Libya and for our troops throughout the world.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

St. Patty's Day Pasta

Did you miss me?

OK, time for true confessions.  I've been off being lazy and partying all through Mardi Gras and the parties that followed.  It all started with the bo-bo finger and just slid into all out sloth.  But, hey, it's LENT and now I'm back!  Time to fess up and get back on the 'straight and narrow' (whatever the heck that means).

So, last Sunday was one of the great events of the year in my family: the Old Metairie St. Patrick's Day parade.  We used to ride in it when I was a child with our great friends (might as well be cousins) the McGregor family.  My dad, Red Brennan, and my parran, Mr. Mac, would lead the party which usually resulted in my Dad rolling on the floor - literally - of our homemade float and all of us "rolling on the floor" laughing.  Great times.

My parents also used to have a great St. Patrick's Day party, here at the house in which I live - in which The Brennan family lived.  There would be plenty of booze and food and live Irish music by 'Nick Benninati & The Leprechauns.'  Picture Louis Prima singing "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling."  Capiche?

So, Friday, we're throwing a big "St. Patty meets St. Joseph" party over here.  It works out because Friday is actually the day AFTER St. Patrick's and the day BEFORE St. Joseph's.  It really works because Italian food is much tastier than Irish.  Oatmeal or Lasagna - you decide.

Actually, I was going to do Shepherd's Pie for the party but then my husband pointed out that it's a Friday in Lent so, no meat.  Nevermind.  So, I'm going to make my Mamma's Baked Spaghetti, a nice green salad, garlic bread and cheese pizza for the kids.  Everybody eats well, and nobody has to go to confession.

Mamma's Baked Spaghetti
1 pound of boiled spaghetti
6 eggs
Milk (or cream if you want to be decadent)
seasonings
grated cheddar cheese
My mom would make this with leftover spaghetti and it was awesome.  It's great on its own with a veggie or as a side dish to something like sliced roast beef with rich brown gravy or anything in red sauce.  Anyway, take a large oven-proof casserole (9x12 at least), spray with cooking spray.  Now put the spaghetti in and spread it out evenly.  In a bowl, crack the eggs and add milk to double the egg volume.  In other words, same amount of milk as your eggs.  Whisk that all together.  Now add your seasonings.  My mom kept it simple with salt and lots of pepper (the way I like it!). I always add a pinch or two of nutmeg - not enough to really taste but enough to give it depth. You can also add your favorite seasoning blend and/or herbs.  Dill would be delicious!  Whisk again.  Now pour that all over your spaghetti till it's almost to the top but leave some room to put a layer of cheese.  First, take a spoon and make little holes here and there throughout the dish and 'poke' some cheese down in those so you get cheese throughout.  Finally top the whole thing off with another layer of grated cheese over the top.  Bake at 350 for about 45 minutes - checking it once around 30 minutes.  You want the custard to be 'set' but not dried out.


So our party's on the 18th of March - smack in the middle of St. Patrick's Day (March 17th) and St. Joseph's Day (March 19th). It's no wonder Irish and Italians party together so much!  And it's a good match: we've got the drinking thing covered and they've got the food.

We'll think of you all on Friday night:  The McConnells, The Brennans and The McGregors - when we're singing along with Bing Crosby or Louis Prima, dressed in our finest shamrocks with a glass of green beer in one hand and red wine in the other!

Questions?  Comments?  Please email me at thisaintjuliachild@gmail.com
Please pray for the people of Japan.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

MARDI GRILL GIRL

I ran across a great deal at the grocery yesterday.  You KNOW how I love a deal!  I get that from my Mom.  How they are prepared?  I get that from my Dad.

Well, there were some thin-sliced porkchops marked down "Today Only" which means you buy them and cook them asap, right?  And, for not procrastinating, you save half off the pricier (read: fresher) chops.  Now, these are the thin kind of chops that are mighty fine when dragged through some beaten egg and then breaded with Italian breadcrumbs and fried to almost crisp.  And they usually look real pretty sitting on a plate next to some fettuccine Alfredo and maybe a Caesar salad.  Oh yeah!  And that's what I fully intended to do.

But when I woke up today Spring was outside my window and new sunlit green leaves were giggling in the breeze!  March in New Orleans is something to behold. Parade weather, y'all!  How could I possibly spend the afternoon inside my kitchen frying porkchops on the stove??  Impossible.

And so, the whole day was changed.  Immediately, I put the porkchops in a jumbo ziplock bag with some marinade.  Then, instead of running to the store for more oil, I spent the afternoon cleaning the patio - pruning and blowing away the Brown of Winter.   Then, just as the sun got heavy in the sky, it was time to fire up the grill and pour a glass of Pinot Noir.  Since these chops were so thin, they'd likely be done in one glass of wine.  Sound odd?  Let me explain.

My Father loved fire and he worked it like a Neanderthal.  Gas stoves, trash burn piles, candlelight story lighting, fireplaces and, most of all, barbecue pits were his tools.  He could cook enough barbecued chicken to feed an army in an afternoon.  And that was good because, being good Catholics, he and my mom had created an entire regimen of bottomless little Irishmen.

Dad would fire up the grill and pop open a beer.  Hey, "King Of The Grill" is a thirsty title!  He could perfectly predict how long the chicken would take to cook by how many beers he could drink by lunch.  "Oh, that looks like a Three Beer Chicken to me," he'd say.  And he was always right.  Or, maybe by then he was too buzzed and we were too hungry to care if it was really done or not.

Did I mention that I live in the house in which I was raised?  It's a rare blessing which came about after Hurricane Katrina.  We were homeless and this house was for sale.  I lost one house and got my home back.  Who needs furniture?  So blessed.  And so, now, I stand on the same patio as my Dad grilling "One Glass Of Pinot Noir Porkchops" under the same Great Oak tree that shaded him when I was a child making mudpies beneath its branches.

ONE GLASS OF PINOT NOIR PORKCHOPS
1 pack of thin-sliced pork chops
1/4 cup of Badia seasoning
1 cup of Mojo Criollo Spanish marinade
1 lime sliced
chopped cilantro
Rinse the porkchops well and place them in the plastic bag.  Add the seasoning and marinade and close the bag.  Squish it around to make sure all the goodness gets on all the porkchops.  Let this marinate in the fridge for an hour or up to overnight.  Badia and Mojo Criollo are both readily available at any good grocery store in either the seasonings or foreign food departments.  Just ask.  When time to grill, preheat the grill on HIGH.  Place chops on the grill and turn the heat to MEDIUM.  Let them get nice and seared on one side before you turn them - about 10 minutes (or half a glass of wine).  Then, flip the chops and let them cook another ten minutes until it's time for a refill!! Of course, they cook so fast because they are cut so thin - you don't want to overcook them or they'll be tough and dry.  Place the finished chops on a platter.  Drizzle them all with a light sprinkle of fresh lime juice and sprinkle chopped fresh cilantro over the top.  I served mine with leftover jambalaya and white beans on the side.  It was terrific!
Dinner.... done in less than thirty minutes!  Time to kick back in the arms of the Great Oak with a glass full of memories.

Happy Mardi Gras to all my friends all over the world!

Questions?  Comments?  Please email me at aintjuliachild@gmail.com