I'm P.C., and I have studied food and cooking around the world, mostly by eating, but also through serious study. Coursework at Le Cordon Bleu London and intensive courses in Morocco, Thailand and France have broadened my culinary skill and palate. But my kitchen of choice is at home, cooking like most people, experimenting with unique but practical ideas.

I live, mostly in my kitchen, in my hometown of Memphis, Tennessee.

Tasso Gravy and How to Use It

After the rush and food extravaganza of Thanksgiving, Christmas and the New Year, there is always a quiet little lull in my kitchen. I tend then to simple soups, braises and stews. I work on my baking skills a little, and delve into the freezer for some of my put-up summer produce. Then I realize Mardi Gras is coming, and I get back to full throttle, cooking up favorite Cajun and Creole dishes full of verve and spice. Red Beans and Rice, Shrimp Creole, Grillades and Grits – I can’t get enough. I track down tasso ham from a local butcher and stock up on andouille sausage and make sure I have the trinity in my fridge – celery, onions and green bell peppers. This kind of food is perfect for serving to family and friends, or keeps me contentedly well fed.

Tasso gravy is a versatile, mutable classic with all sort of creative uses. Creamy with a little spice (you can up it with hot sauce or more creole seasoning), it’s a perfect foil for simple grits or rice. I particularly like it over plain rice, where the rich gravy really shines, but cheese grits make a perfect bed for the gravy for an extra layer of flavor. Add some shrimp or crawfish tail meat or red beans, or spoon it over biscuits or pork chops. Whip up some Café Brulot Brownies or King Cake Bars for a real Mardi Gras celebrations.

Tasso Gravy and How to Use It
Serves 6
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Ingredients
  1. Tasso Gravy and How to Use It
  2. 1 cup finely diced onion
  3. ½ cup finely diced celery
  4. ½ cup finely diced green bell pepper
  5. ½ cup vegetable oil
  6. ½ cup all-purpose flour
  7. 1 teaspoon creole seasoning
  8. 4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  9. 8 ounces tasso ham, diced
  10. 6 ounces andouille sausage, cut into half and thin into thin half moons
Instructions
  1. Mix the diced vegetable together in a bowl and keep them close to the stove. Now we are going to make a roux. In a large (4 -5 quart) heavy pan (I like enameled cast iron), heat the oil over medium high heat. Add the flour and stir until smooth and lump-free. Cook the roux, stirring frequently, until the color begins to darken. As it deepens, stir more frequently, then constantly, scraping the bottom and sides of the pan. As it darkens, it can burn quickly so pay attention. I use a heatproof spatula or a wooden spoon for my roux, because it is very hot. When the roux has turned a deep brown, between the color of sweet tea and a good bourbon, after about 15 minutes, add the chopped onion, celery and bell pepper and stir well. The roux will seize up and cling to the vegetables, that’s what you want. Cook until the vegetables are soft, about 5 minutes. Add the creole seasoning and stir well. Now slowly pour in 2 cups of the chicken broth, stirring constantly, until the gravy is thick. Stir in the tasso, then the andouille until combined, then pour in the remaining broth, stirring constantly. Bring the gravy to a bubble and cook, stirring frequently, until thickened and rich.
How to use the gravy
  1. Tasso Gravy is delicious served over grits or white rice. Try cheese grits made with smoked gouda or smoked cheddar.
  2. It’s also great over biscuits for a Louisiana twist to biscuits and gravy. Add a poached egg on top for a jazzy benedict.
  3. Throw in a pound of peeled, deveined shrimp into the hot gravy and cook just until the shrimp are pink, curled and cooked through. Spoon over grits or cheese grits.
  4. Rinse, drain and pat dry some crawfish tail meat and cook until heated through.
  5. For a full pork experience, spoon the gravy over cooked thick pork chops, with mashed potatoes on the side.
  6. Add cooked red beans (or canned, rinsed and drained) and heat through. Serve over rice for an interesting twist to red beans and rice.
The Runaway Spoon http://therunawayspoon.com/blog/

Mardi Gras Potato Salad

Mardi Gras Potato Salad

I recently made a batch of Debris Po’ Boys to photograph and served them to family for dinner. I needed a nice side dish, and though my first thought was New Orleans made spicy potato chips, I happened to be in the produce department and came across bags of little purple and gold mixed potatoes. With Mardi Gras on my mind, I decided I just had to make a thematic potato salad. Okay, it’s a little silly, making a side dish in the purple, green and gold colors traditional in Mardi Gras celebrations, but it was a fun conversation piece as we served ourselves supper. And these roasted potatoes tossed with the trinity of Cajun cooking – onions, green peppers and celery – coated in a tangy creole mustard vinaigrette also happens to be very good.

Purple and yellow potatoes are pretty easy to find in groceries this day, particularly gourmet or natural food markets. If you don’t find the little golf ball sized miniature version, just cut whole potatoes into bite-sized chunks.

Mardi Gras Potato Salad
Serves 6
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Ingredients
  1. ½ pound small purple potatoes
  2. ½ pound small yellow potatoes
  3. 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  4. salt and pepper
  5. 3 Tablespoons Creole mustard
  6. 2 Tablespoons white wine vinegar
  7. ½ teaspoon hot sauce (I like Crystal)
  8. 4 green onions, white and some green parts, finely chopped
  9. ½ cup olive oil
  10. 1 stalks celery
  11. 1 green bell pepper
  12. chopped fresh parsley to garnish
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 425°.
  2. Cut the potatoes into bite sized pieces (quarters or eighths, depending on size). Spread the potatoes out on a rimmed baking sheet and drizzle over the tablespoon of olive oil and sprinkle with salt and some black pepper. Roast the potatoes until a knife inserted in the center of a piece meets no resistance, about 25 minutes. When the potatoes are cooked, transfer them to a large bowl.
  3. While the potatoes are cooking, mix the mustard, vinegar, hot sauce and green onions in a mason jar and shake to combine. Add the olive oil and a dash of salt and pepper and shake until fully combined. As soon as you put the hot potatoes in the bowl, pour over the vinaigrette and stir to coat. Leave to cool to room temperature, stirring a few times to distribute the dressing.
  4. Chop the celery into a small dice, then seed and chop the pepper into a small dice. When the potatoes are cool, add the celery and pepper to the bowl and stir to distribute evenly. Waiting until the potatoes have cooled keeps the celery and pepper crisp. Taste and add salt as needed. Cover and refrigerate for several hours or overnight.
  5. Remove from the fridge about 30 minutes before you want to serve. Sprinkle over some chopped parsley and serve.
The Runaway Spoon http://therunawayspoon.com/blog/

Debris Po’ Boys

Debris Po BoyMardi Gras is almost upon us, so it’s time to talk Po’ Boys. Traditionally, the story goes, the Debris po’ boy (pronounced DAY-bree in this case) was made from the leftover bits and pieces left behind from carving a roast, soaked in the gravy and meat juices. But I don’t generally have enough leftover roast beef to serve a crowd, and besides, debris is just too good to wait for leftovers. So I make this version in the slow cooker, to get the slow roasted flavor and lots of juices to turn into gravy. It is a very fun celebratory meal, letting everyone assemble their own po boy.

The bread for a po’ boy is obviously a key part of the overall experience. In New Orleans, po’ boy bread is a thing unto itself – made by local bakeries it is soft in the center with a crust that is not overly hard or chewy. Outside Louisiana, it’s a little hard to find real po’ boy bread, so you have to do you’re best. I find typical French bread too chewy so I tend to go for a hoagie roll or Mexican bollilo rolls. If you have a bakery in the area that supplies rolls for a Vietnamese bahn mi place or a Vietnamese grocery, that version of French bread is pretty close. Split the rolls or loaves and lightly toast.

Debris Po Boys
Serves 8
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Ingredients
  1. 4 stalks celery
  2. 3 carrots
  3. 2 onions
  4. 1 green bell pepper
  5. 10 cloves garlic
  6. 3 bay leaves
  7. 3 sprigs thyme
  8. 5 pounds bottom round beef roast (in two pieces is fine)
  9. Creole seasoning (I like Tony Chachere’s)
  10. 1 (12-ounce) bottle dark beer (I use Abita Turbo Dog)
  11. 1 cup beef broth
  12. 1 teaspoon corn starch
  13. Creole Spread
  14. ¾ cup mayonnaise
  15. ¼ cup Creole mustard (I like Zatarain’s)
  16. 2 teaspoons honey
  17. 1 teaspoon hot sauce (I like Crystal)
  18. 6 French bread rolls or hoagie rolls
  19. provolone cheese
  20. shredded lettuce
Instructions
  1. Place the celery, carrots and onions in the bottom of an 8-quart slow cooker. Stem and seed the bell pepper and add it to the crock with the garlic, bay leaves and thyme. Generously coat both sides of the beef roast with creole seasoning, rubbing it into the meat. Place the meat on top of the vegetables in the slow cooker.
  2. Pour in the beer and beef broth, cover and cook over low heat for eight hours. Remove the meat from the slow cooker to a deep rimmed platter or bowl. Pour the liquid from the slow cooker through a strainer into a large saucepan. Discard the solids. Let the juices settle, then skim off the fat. Bring the liquid to a boil and boil for about 5 minutes, until it is slightly reduced.
  3. While the liquid is boiling, shred the beef. Cut away any fat or gristle, then use two forks to pull the meat into shreds.
  4. Put the cornstarch onto a small bow and whisk in a few tablespoons of cooking liquid and whisk until completely smooth. Whisk the cornstarch mixture back into the juices and continue cooking for 2 -3 more minutes.
  5. Rinse out the slow cooker crock and return the meat to it. Pour over the juices and keep warm until ready to serve.
For the Creole Spread
  1. Whisk together the mayo, mustard, honey and hot sauce. This can be done up to a day ahead, covered and kept in the fridge.
  2. To serve, split the rolls and lightly toast on a cookie sheet in the oven. Spread on side of the bread with the creole spread. Use tongs to pile the beef onto the bread, then top the hot meat with a slice of cheese, then layer with shredded lettuce.
The Runaway Spoon http://therunawayspoon.com/blog/

Gumbo Z’Herbes

Gumbo Z'Herbes

Gumbo Z’Herbes, or green gumbo, is a very traditional Creole dish that you do not find all that often. The magnificent Leah Chase at Dooky Chase’s Restaurant is famous for hers, and she serves it primarily the traditional way – on Holy Thursday (before Good Friday). Gumbo Z’herbes is said to bring luck and strengthen the body, and that for each type of green you put in the pot, you will make one new friend in the coming year. The traditional number seems to be nine, with eleven greens being a real bonus, and odd numbers are said to bring even more luck.

I have only had professionally made Gumbo Z’Herbes once in new Orleans, but it is a tradition and a dish that has always intrigued me, so I set out to do some research. I read recipes I found in some old Louisiana cookbooks and online. And the variations are endless. So I took all that information onboard and created this recipe. I generally don’t use as many as nine greens, because I can’t usually track that many down. And some of the recipes used very regional ingredients like pickled pork that I just don’t have access to. Some versions take all day to prepare and cook, some take shortcuts. Some have up to seven different kinds of meat, from pork shoulder to boudin while some insist this should be a vegetarian dish for lent. I am not claiming this is the definitive version of Gumbo Z’Herbes, but it’s mine.

Though traditionally a dish for Lent, I think it is perfect for New Years Day, when eating greens is said to bring prosperity and eating pork is said to be a symbol of progress in the New Year. I say the more greens and pork the better!

Gumbo Z'Herbes
Serves 6
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Ingredients
  1. 3 pounds of mixed greens: Mustard greens, collard greens, turnip greens, kale, spinach, flat leaf parsley, watercress, chard, dandelion (see note)
  2. 1 cup vegetable oil
  3. 1 cup all-purpose flour
  4. 2 cups finely diced yellow onion (about 1 onion)
  5. 1 cup finely diced green bell pepper (about 1 pepper)
  6. 1 cup finely diced celery (about 2 stalks)
  7. 1 Tablespoon cajun seasoning (I use Tony Chachere’s)
  8. 1 ham hock
  9. 10 cups hot water
  10. 1 pound Andouille sausage
Instructions
  1. Strip any thick stalks from the greens (particularly collards, mustard, turnip and kale) and place all the greens in a sink or large bowl full of water. Swish them around a couple of times and let them soak about 5 minutes. Lift the greens out of the water into a large colander. Dirt and silt from the greens will settle at the bottom of the sink, so gently lift them out to prevent the dirt getting back on the greens. Shake the greens to drain. Chop piles of the greens into bite size pieces and return them to the colander.
  2. Now we are going to make a roux. In a large (at least 7 quart) heavy pan (I like cast iron or enameled cast iron), heat the oil over medium high heat. Add the flour and stir until smooth and lump-free. Cook the roux, stirring frequently, until the color begins to darken. As it deepens, stir more frequently, then constantly, scraping the bottom and sides of the pan. As it darkens, it can burn quickly so pay attention. I use a heatproof spatula or a wooden spoon for my roux. When the roux has turned a deep brown, between the color of sweet tea and a good bourbon, after about 15 minutes, add the chopped onion, celery and bell pepper and stir well. Cook until the vegetables are soft, about 5 minutes. Add the creole seasoning. Now slowly pour in the hot water (hottest from the tap is fine, or bring some to a simmer in a pot), stirring constantly. The roux may appear to curdle or seize, but keep stirring, it will smooth out. Add the ham hock, then all the greens, a handful at a time, stirring them down to fit in the pot. Reduce the heat to medium low, cover the pot and simmer the gumbo for 1 ½ hours.
  3. Scoop about a third of the greens into a food processor or blender with a nice dose of potlikker, at least a cup, and puree until smooth. Return the pureed greens to the pot. Remove the ham hock and carefully pull the meat of the bones. If needed, chop it into bite-sized pieces and add back to the gumbo. Slice the andouille into thin half moons about 1/8 inch thick and add to the pot. Simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes more.
  4. Serve in big bowls. The gumbo on its own is a little soupy. Serve it over rice to soak up some of that potlikker if you’d like, or with nice hunks of French bread or cornbread to sop it up.
Notes
  1. Head to a good Southern market, farmers market or an Asian grocery to track down all the greens. Many recipes use carrot tops as one of the greens, so if you can find those. Same goes for beet tops and radish tops. Green chard, cabbage, arugula and romaine will also work. Just weigh out 3 pounds.
The Runaway Spoon http://therunawayspoon.com/blog/

Café Brûlot Brownies

Café Brulot Brownies

Café Brûlot is one of the spectacular presentation dishes of New Orleans fine dining. It requires a special brûlot bowl and ladle and a lot of skill and daring. Coffee is mixed with brandy, orange liqueur, orange and lemon peels and spices and lit afire. In the traditional restaurants of New Orleans, the whole lot is rolled out on a cart and an expert waiter makes a big show of mixing and lighting the concoction. In a serious Café Brûlot show, the flaming brew is ladled down long strips of orange peel, creating a rather spectacular blue flame.

All this is quite a lot of work, as you can imagine, and as I have neither the equipment not the fearlessness to do it myself, I took the flavors of café brûlot and incorporated them into a deep, chocolate-y brownie that makes a perfect Mardi Gras treat.

Café Brûlot Brownies
Yields 24
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For the Brownies
  1. 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
  2. 2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
  3. 1 cup cocoa powder
  4. 4 teaspoons instant coffee powder (dark roast or espresso)
  5. ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  6. ¼ teaspoon cloves
  7. 2 cups granulated sugar
  8. 4 large eggs
  9. 2 teaspoons vanilla
  10. 1 cup all-purpose flour
  11. ½ teaspoon salt
  12. ¼ cup brandy
For the topping
  1. ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened, plus 4 Tablespoons
  2. 2 cups powdered sugar
  3. 3 Tablespoons orange liqueur
  4. 2 teaspoons grated orange zest
  5. 6 ounces semisweet chocolate
For the brownies
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°. Line a 9 by 13 brownie pan with non-stick foil or foil sprayed with cooing spray, leaving a nice overhang to lift the brownies out.
  2. Melt the butter in a large bowl in the microwave or a large pot on the stove. Stir in the lemon zest, then stir in the cocoa powder, coffee powder, cinnamon and cloves. Stir in the sugar until well combined. Stir the eggs into the batter, beating well after each addition. Add the vanilla, then stir in the flour and salt until the batter is completely mixed and smooth. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean, about 20 – 25 minutes. Sprinkle the brandy evenly over the top of the brownies and leave to cool.
For the topping
  1. When the brownies are cool, beat the stick of butter, powdered sugar, liqueur and orange zest together until completely smooth. I prefer to use an electric mixer for this. Spread the topping over the cooled brownies. Chill the brownies for about an hour in the fridge.
  2. Melt the 4 Tablespoons of butter and the chocolate in a small bowl or measuring jug in the microwave or in a bowl over simmering water. Spread the melted chocolate in a thin layer over the brownies. I like to grate a little more orange zest over the chocolate for decorative effect
The Runaway Spoon http://therunawayspoon.com/blog/

Mardi Gras Slaw

Mardi Gras Slaw

Mardi Gras is a fun season for food.  Not only can you draw from the great canon of Louisiana cooking, you can play with the bright signature colors of purple, green and gold and be a little silly.  This slaw is simple but the multi-colored vegetables and the tangy dressing make it a special dish.  It is beautiful served beside or on top of a po’ boy, but is also a great starter or side with other favorites like Shrimp Creole or Red Beans and Rice or Grillades and Grits. But this slaw is also beautiful at a summer barbecue or picnic, long after Mardi Gras season has passed.

Mardi Gras Slaw

For the dressing:

1/3 cup creole mustard (I use Zatarain’s)

1/3 cup apple cider vinegar

1/3 cup white sugar

1/3 cup vegetable oil

a couple of dashes of hot sauce

For the slaw:

½ head purple cabbage

½ head green cabbage

2 yellow bell peppers

For the dressing:

Blend all the ingredients together in a blender or in a small bowl with a whisk until the sugar is dissolved and the dressing is creamy.

For the Slaw:

Cut out the core of each cabbage half.  Slice the cabbage with the slicing blade of a food processor.  You’ll need to do this in batches.  Transfer the sliced cabbage to a very big bowl.  Remove the ribs and seeds from the peppers and finely dice.  Add to the cabbage in the bowl.  Use you clean hands to toss everything around until evenly distributed.  Discard any large cabbage pieces or remnants of hard core.

Give the dressing a last whisk to make sure it is creamy and pour it over the slaw.  Stir and toss to coat everything well.  I like to do this with clean hands as well.  Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours to allow the flavors to blend.  This is best served soon after it is made, but will keep for up to a day.

Serve 10 – 12

Upside Down Pizza Pie Bake

Upside Down Pizza Pie Bake

An easy weeknight treat is a great recipe to have on hand. I love this version of a a classic pizza casserole, updated my way with no jarred sauces or chemical laden boxed mixes.  This is a real family pleaser, better than greasy delivery and easier than making or rolling out dough.  A mix of beef and Italian sausage with fun bites of pepperoni up the pizza factor.

If your dinners will stand it, you can sauté some shredded carrots, bell peppers and onion with the meat to add a little touch of vegetables.  Or sprinkle a little red pepper in with the filling if you like spice.  You could even use ground turkey and turkey or chicken Italian sausage.

Upside Down Pizza Pie Bake

½ pound ground beef

½ pound bulk Italian sausage (or links with casing removed)

2 cloves minced garlic

1 Tablespoon chopped fresh oregano

1 (15-ounce) can tomato sauce

½ cup diced pepperoni*

1 cup plus 2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour

2 cups grated mozzarella cheese

2 large eggs

1 cup whole milk

1 Tablespoon olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

½ cup shredded parmesan cheese

Break the beef and sausage into a large skillet and cook until browned and no longer pink, breaking up into small pieces as you go.   When the meat is cooked, stir in the garlic and the oregano and stir to combine. Stir in the pepperoni.  Add the tomato sauce and 2 Tablespoons flour and stir until thoroughly combined and thick.

Spread the meat mixture a well-greased 8-inch square baking dish.  Leave to cool slightly, then spread the mozzarella cheese evenly over the top.

Preheat the oven to 350°.  Beat the eggs, milk and olive oil together in a small bowl, then add the flour and whisk until smooth.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Pour the batter over the top of the meat and cheese and spread to cover the top completely.  Sprinkle over the parmesan cheese.

Bake the pizza for 35 – 40 minutes until puffy, golden and the cheese has melted. Let the dish sit for 5 minutes. Loosen the sides of the pizza with a thin knife, then invert it onto a platter.  Cut into squares and serve immediately.

Serves 4

* The last time I made this, I found some “mini” pepperoni rounds at the grocery.  They are perfect for this recipe, and cute to boot!

Crawfish Cornbread

Crawfish Cornbread

It’s Mardi Gras time, and so it’s time for crawfish. Crawfish Cornbread is a recipe I have seen in many Louisiana community cookbooks over the years, and I’ve whipped up a batch or two in my time. I have no idea if this is a traditional Cajun recipe, or started it’s life on the back of corn bread mix box, but that doesn’t matter to me, because it is a sound idea that results in a delicious dish.

I’ve altered my version so it is packed with crawfish and has a nice level of spice. I use frozen crawfish tail meat, which is easy to find around here, but if you happen to have some fresh daddies around and want to pull out all that juicy flesh, please do so. This cornbread is lovely beside a bowl of Red Beans and Rice, but cut into small squares it makes a nice nibble. It is even hearty enough to serve with a nice green salad for a meal.

Crawfish Cornbread

2 cups yellow cornmeal

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon Creole seasoning

6 eggs

2/3 cup vegetable oil

1 yellow onion, finely diced

8 ounces cheddar cheese, grated

1 (12-ounce) bag frozen corn, thawed

2 pounds crawfish tail meat, finely chopped

1 (4-ounce) can diced jalapenos

Preheat the oven to 350°. Grease a 9 by 13 inch baking dish.

Stir the cornmeal, baking powder, salt and creole seasoning together in a very large bowl. Stir in the eggs and oil and mix thoroughly. Add the onion, cheese, corn, crawfish and jalapenos and stir until everything is completely mixed together and evenly distributed.

Spread the cornbread into the prepared pan, smoothing out the surface. Bake for 45 – 50 minutes until golden and firm and a tester comes out clean. Let rest for about 10 minutes before slicing and serving warm.

Serves 8 – 10

Red Beans and Rice – My Way

Red Beans and Rice

Red Beans and Rice are a classic of the Louisiana cooking canon.  And I assume every Louisiana cook has there own version that they would assert constitutes the only way to properly make the dish.  And I’ll tell you, the same can be said of me.  No, I am not from Louisiana and I don’t have roots there, but I love the food and I cook my own version of red beans and rice – the way I like.  So I’ve been reluctant to share the recipe, because I may be brought to task for not cooking them in the traditional way.  But as I see it, that’s kind of the point of a country, homey comforting dish.  You do what you like, with out the constraints of technique or the weight of history.  But with Mardi Gras on the doorstep, I thought I’d better share the dish I make most often from my Louisiana repertoire.

My red beans are full of flavor, and full of delicious pork.  I cook the beans with lots of flavorful additions, then use that cooking liquid in rich sauce.  I like a little creaminess in my red beans, the rice just soaks it up so well.  And underlying everything is the beautiful trinity of Louisiana cooking, celery, onion and green pepper.  This makes a big ol’ pot, and I like more red beans than rice, so cook a little extra rice if you are so inclined.  Make a batch of King Cake Bars and you’ve got a Mardi Gras party!

Tasso is a spiced, smoked Cajun style pork.  If you can’t find tasso at a specialty market, use a piece of smoked ham or a ham hock and some creole seasoning. If you can’t find Andouille, use any smoked sausage like kielbasa.

Red Beans and Rice My Way

1 pound red beans or kidney beans

1 carrot

3 stalks celery

1 large yellow onion

2 cloves garlic

2 bay leaves

6 ounces tasso or smoked ham or ham hock plus 2 teaspoons creole seasoning

1 green bell pepper

14 ounces Andouille sausage

4 Tablespoons butter

2 Tablespoons flour

1 teaspoon Creole seasoning

salt to taste

1 ½ cups long grain white rice

3 ½ cups water

hot sauce for serving

For the Red Beans:

Sort through the beans, picking out any debris or broken beans. Rinse well then place in a bowl and cover with water by about 3 inches.  Soak overnight.

Drain and rinse the soaked beans and place in a large pot.  Add the carrot, broken in two, one celery stick, also broken and half of the onion.  Cut through the circumference of the onion and put the root end in the pot, it will hold together better.  Add the garlic, bay leaves and tasso.  Cover with 10 cups of cold water, bring to a boil, skim off any scum that rises, reduce the heat and cover the pot.  Cook until the beans are tender, about 1 – 1 ½ hours, stirring occasionally.

While the beans are cooking, finely dice the remaining onion half, 2 stalks of celery and the green pepper.  Cut the Andouille into bite-sized pieces.

When the beans are tender, place a colander over a large bowl and drain the beans, reserving the cooking liquid.  Discard the onion, carrot, celery, bay leaves and garlic and set the tasso aside.  Wipe out the cooking pot and return it to the heat.  Melt the butter over low heat, then add the onion, celery and bell pepper.  Cook until the vegetables begin to soften, cover the pot and cook, stirring occasionally, until they are completely soft.  Sprinkle over the flour and stir until it is absorbed into the vegetables. Stir in the Creole seasoning. Pour in 3 cups of reserved cooking liquid from the beans.  Stir until the sauce has thickened, about 4 minutes, then add the andouille and stir to coat.  Return the beans to the sauce and stir gently to coat.  Dice the tasso into small pieces and add to the pot, stirring gently again.  Simmer over low heat until everything is warmed through, making sure the sausage is cooked through.

For the Rice:

When ready to serve, cook the rice. Stir the rice into the water in a large saucepan with a tight-fitting lid. Bring to a boil and boil until almost all the water is absorbed and little air bubbles form in the rice, about 10 – 12 minutes, stirring a few times to prevent sticking. Remove from the heat and tightly cover the pan.  Set aside for 15 minutes, then fluff with a fork before serving.

Spoon the rice into nice, big bowls and scoop the red beans over.  Serve with some hot sauce on the table.

Serves 6 – 8

Maque Choux (Cajun Stewed Corn and Tomatoes)

Maque Choux distills the essence of summer into every bite.  Admittedly, its first attraction may be the fun name. Pronounced mock shoe, it is a corruption of a French word or an Indian saying, or just straight up Acadian, depending on whom you ask.  It is a traditional Cajun dish which occasionally makes it onto the menus of New Orleans-style restaurants, but more often than not, as some dressed up, modernized version – with herbs, no bacon, named heirloom tomatoes.  All of which is fine, but when you stop de-constructing and re-constructing and cook up a big, simple skillet-full, the very taste of ripe, sweet summer corn and fresh, juicy tomatoes is so clear, I don’t see why we need to mess about.

Like classic Wash Day Beans, this is not a quick, lightly cooked preparation.  The slow, mellow braising of corn kernels with onion brings out a sweet richness that will make you think someone snuck in a dash of sugar while you weren’t looking.  Salty smokiness from good bacon and a touch of sweet-tart freshness from full, ripe tomatoes round out one of my favorite expressions of summer’s bounty.  Serve maque choux beside a hearty piece of grilled meat, but I’ll be honest, I usually eat it by the bowlful all on its own, maybe with a biscuit to sop up the juices.

Maque Choux (Cajun Stewed Corn and Tomatoes)

6 strips of bacon

1 medium yellow onion, chopped

1 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped

6 ears of fresh corn, husked and silked

2 large or 3 medium tomatoes, chopped, juices reserved

Salt and pepper to taste

Cut the bacon into small pieces and cook in a large, deep skillet with a tight fitting lid until crisp. Remove half of the bacon to paper towels to drain, leaving the rest in the skillet.

While the bacon is cooking, cut the kernels from the corn and scrape out as much milk as possible.  Lower the heat on the bacon grease, add the onions and green peppers and stir to coat.  Cook for a few minutes, scraping any browned bits from the bottom of the pan.  When the onions are beginning to soften add the corn and stir to blend.  Scrape in the chopped tomatoes and their juices, stir well and bring to a bubble.  Lower the heat to a simmer, cover the skillet, and stew for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.  If needed, add a dash of water here and there to keep things from sticking.  Maque Choux can stand up to longer cooking if you get distracted and can be gently reheated a few hours later.

Serve warm, with the remaining bacon pieces sprinkled on top.

Serves 8