Cooking Louisiana - Newsletter - March 2009

Bonjour my fellow home chefs! 

Sorry for taking so long with the newsletter... I just watch too much news on TV I guess. I've tried to make up for lost time here. Read and enjoy, laugh and learn.

Gumbo Fun!

My son-in-law Nick and our daughter came over for New Years' Eve and he was in the mood to cook a gumbo. Nick's gumbo's are normally better than mine so naturally I wasn't putting up a fuss over his gumbo mood. We naturally talk food whenever we're together and gumbo was naturally the subject mater. I told him that I often put a few handfuls of cut okra right before the pot is done. He had the idea to throw some oysters in the chicken/sausage/taso gumbo. 1-1/2 dozen oysters with oyster liquor and okra went into the pot. Man-o-man, what a combination! That was fun!!!! 

Walkin' in the Woods with my Parin'.

We're probably related but naturally won't claim each other! Ron "Black" Guidry is an old friend of mine through music in Houma, La.. Black does the music thing and also does a swamp tour... you can check that out here http://www.cajunman.com/... He does a song written by Buddy Dennis of Houma and put the Cajun to it in great fashion. The song is built upon "Walking in a winter Wonderland", but you have to listen closely. I hope you enjoy the conversion and the reality of Cajun life not too many years back. You'll have to purchase it... sorry, I can't give you the song for free.

Here's the first of the lyrics...remember... Winter wonderland...use your imagination.

Hey my friend, shut-up and listen
Look in the sky, the sun is missing
The moon is just right, to bull-eye tonight
So let's go walkin' in the woods wit' my parin'

It gets much better!!! For those who don't know, a "parin" (pah-ran) "n" is usually silent... is a Childs' Godfather.

Support my friend "Black" by purchasing the CD. Merci!

Crawfish

We're having a "decent" season but prices are high... super high! Live at this time is around $2.50 a lb. We've had a lack of rain and of course March is the beginning of the real crawfish season. I'm hoping it gets better for the farmers and our pocketbooks. 

Saving Money

How can I not address this topic given the current state of our economic situation. For you newcomers I am all about cooking the home meal and stretching whatever is possible; it's inherently the "old Cajun way". There are two fundamentals in the quest for food especially with kids; filling and nutritious.  You have to "equalize" to get the long term benefit. Here's what I mean. In easy terms you can eat bad one day and make up for it the next. You can only do what you can do monetarily... but here it is in simple terms... Eat hot dogs one night then serve a little hamburger or chicken with corn or beans the next. Always include the fiber (simple salad is great). If you can include some fruit, do it by all means. We've lived through times of little money... you do what you have to do. Being creative is tough but it takes thinking....good things spread out.

Now let's talk about vitamins... your first thought, I can't afford that. Let's look at it on a logical and monetary basis. First of all the vitamin supplement opponents say that there is no proof of an "advantage" to taking a vitamin; believe what you may. Do you have to take a vitamin daily? In my opinion that's only an opinion or option... two or three times a week is good in my opinion "something is better than nothing". So lets look at the cost of vitamins on the basis I presented. You'll  pay for a bottle of 100 tablets for Centrum Kids Complete around $10.00 (I'm not supporting Centrum, but I take the "Silver" 2-3 times a week). Do the math... that's 10 cents a piece for the vitamin. Let's say you give your kids one vitamin three times a week or about one every other day. That comes out to 30 cents per week or $1.20 a month per child. Looks cheap now doesn't it?

Are you eating out! Stop or limit that now. You are paying rib eye prices per pound for something you can fix at home for chicken prices. I know some of you work, you're tired and it's an easy filler. Is it easy to sit and pay your bills and you have to choose not to pay something. Not easy huh? Add up all the eat-outs for the month; I call it mass math. Take $5.00 every other day to eat out per person and multiply it by 15 (5 meals X 15 days)...that's $75 a month or $900 a year per person; now take that and multiply it for a four person family. (That's $300 a month and $3,600 a year)... is $5.00 per meal per person cheap now...? --- that's a car note. When it's all done that day everybody is stuffed and happy, the bags go in the garbage, and the next day presents the next meal challenge... with less money to spend. 

Here's the bottom line... you can plan and cook to stretch your daily meals. You can blend yesterdays meals using elements of the previous days' meals to make the next days' meal. Sauces, gravies, etc with a starch and a veggie.... as Emeril says "this is not rocket science"! If you have a freezer you can enhance all of this (read my freezer article). Cut the "eat out" by half, or better yet, once every few weeks. You won't die if you don't eat out! And... take your vitamins! 

Mardi Gras Floats

Why are Mardi Gras floats called "floats"? The initial quest was that they were designed to appear as though they floated above the street. Just thought you might want to know that...! With all the technology today I still have yet to see an automatic bead thrower!

Saving the Oil

No, this is not about saving the car engine oil, it's about the precious cooking oil that we use to fry foods with. Peanut oil is outrageous in price... something like $13.00 a gallon and Canola is around $10.00. A barrel (42 gallons) of oil is now around $45.00... heck, that's about a dollar a gallon! Gasoline is even cheaper, but, don't try to fry your chicken in gasoline... it might not be nice; colorful maybe, but not nice.

So let's save a few dollars by reusing the frying oil. First of all reusing cooking oil is somewhat dangerous in that food particles and after a period of time could be subject to bacteria growth...oil is not indefinitely good!!! Another fact I read about is that every time you use the same oil the smoke point decreases. That means the oil will smoke and taste bad at lower temperatures. Read more here...

Now let's figure you're going to save some oil to be reused. Let's now look at filtering... that's a key to the reduction of bacteria growth. How can we filter it quickly and in a simple manner? Two funnels and coffee filters.

Buy yourself two of the same sized funnels. Now cut one funnel in half and leave the other just as is is. You can cut the funnel with a hacksaw. Clean up the cut edge with sandpaper. The first picture below is the top or "cut" funnel.

Cooking oil filter

Now, take a coffee filter and put it in the bottom of the uncut filter and put the other cut funnel on top of it.  Below is setting the filter in place in the uncut filter, then put the cut funnel on top of it

Cooking oil filter

Here is "the rig-up" with everything in place. I put a few clothes pins on it to hold the funnels together since the top one will want to float a little.

It's going to take some time as you progress because the coffee filter will clog up. Change the coffee filter when you think you should.

Many people don't filter their oil, I know that. I'm just not a big fan of taking chances. One other point is flavor of the final product and here's what I do. Save seafood frying oil to be reused for seafood frying. The same holds true for chicken. Oil holds flavor (except in certain cases for Peanut oil). 

Green Bags

You've seen the advertisements for the Debbie Meyer Green Bags. Now I haven't tested every veggie but I can tell you that I see a difference. One big difference is preserving parsley. I kept a bunch of parsley for at least three weeks and the leaves stayed pretty (in a cooking way). For those of you who have kept parsley in the normal fashion you know good and well that three weeks with parsley in the fridge is virtually impossible.

Now I'm going to throw some logic at you... bear with me. A green bag is made of the same material inside and out (I assume...there's the kicker). So, If you have a semi-sealed vegetable drawer in your refrigerator, AND, you have several green bags in it wouldn't the affect or preservation properties of the green bag transfer to all vegetables or fruit? I'm just asking.

Now if you read the instructions on bag it tells you that if moisture accumulates you should wipe it out, that's what is says on the instructions on my "off-brand" box of green bags. I don't fold or seal the green bags when I put something in them. I leave it open so it can "breath", therefore I get no moisture build up, and, they seem to do the same job.

I wash the used bags out, turn them inside out and let them dry. Then they go back in the box.

Fake Beignets

This is another breakfast filler and is not the original Beignet recipe by a long shot. This is just a quick and easy substitute for the real thing and the kids just love them... at least my kids did. It's more taste than anything else.

Here's what you need:
Biscuits (store bought in the can... the cheapest you can get)
Cooking oil
Confectioner's Sugar
Cane Syrup

Heat your oil up in a frying pan... around 325ºF; not too hot. Open the can of biscuits and flatten them out twice their diameter. Punch a hole in the middle (kind of looks like a donut); this helps them fry  throughout a little better. Fry each one until lightly brown on each side. You can do two or three at a time depending on the pan size. Flip twice... they're going to cook fast and watch the oil heat. As soon as they come out of the oil sprinkle a little C-Sugar on them. Once they've cooled a little sprinkle a little more Confectioners Sugar. Serve with syrup and a breakfast drink. 

Real Beignets have more yeast in them hence are more "fluffy"... 

Crunchy Toast

This is one more quick and easy food, and, if you can picture Melba toast in a "big form" this is what it is.

Put the oven on 325ºF. Take however many pieces of white bread that you want and place them directly on the oven rack... no pan. Get some tongs and flip them every five minutes or so... I can't give you a time. Watch them and continue baking them until they are evenly brown, dry and crunchy "sorta like Melba toast". This shouldn't take more than about 15-20 minutes (I'm guessing; I didn't time it). Kids love the crunch and you don't have to butter them but you can. It's all about the "crunch".

Aluminum Foil

I was wondering the other day (too much time to think I guess). Why is aluminum foil shiny on one side and dull on the other?  I emailed The Reynolds Company and received the following. Second paragraph was interesting... they make a foil that has a non-stick coating! Maybe you knew that... but I didn't.

Dear Jack:

Thank you for your inquiry regarding Reynolds Wrap® Aluminum Foil.

In response to your question regarding the correct usage of aluminum foil, it makes little difference which side of the foil you use -- both sides do the same fine job of cooking, freezing and storing food.  There is a slight difference in the reflectivity of the two sides but it is so slight that laboratory instruments are required to measure it.

When using Reynolds Wrap® Non-Stick Aluminum Foil, you should place the food on the side with the matte or dull finish because that is the side that has the non-stick coating.

You may be interested to know that the foil manufacturing process creates the matte and shiny sides. In the final rolling step, two layers of aluminum foil are passed through the rolling mill at the same time.  The side coming in contact with the mill's highly polished steel rolls becomes shiny. The other side, not coming in contact with the heavy rolls, comes out with a matte finish.

Please let us know if we can be of future assistance.

Jim Reynolds - Consumer Response

You'll have to took up "reflectivity". It's actually how much heat or light a material will reflect. Think of a mirror and then downgrade from that.

The Gumbo's End

How many times we cook gumbo and there's a lot of liquid and not much meat? Hey, freeze the liquid. When you want to eat gumbo cook a little meat on the side, heat the liquid, throw it together and it's a done deal. A perfect example of this is chicken/sausage gumbo. Running home from work... need a meal, buy a rotisserie chicken (already cooked), de-bone it and chunk it in the liquid. Cook some rice and you're there. Now, in lieu of a potato salad boil some eggs while the rice is cooking and throw them in the gumbo (peeled of course). My eldest daughter Missy came up with the above, so, I can't take credit for it. 

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That's it for now folks... be well and happy cooking! I'll be back in the near future.
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If you've go a subject you'd like me to research, or, you've done a little fact finding yourself, don't hesitate to contact me... this is about us, not me!  Cooking is fun, and, that's what we do here... have fun cooking! 

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Till next time... eat well...be well.

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