Seasonal Cooking with Rita Calvert~The Local Cook
At this time of year, most of us will take any reason to celebrate a little and add some fun to a meal. March 8th ushers in Mardi Gras and the festival of feasting, play and music before Lent begins. In New Orleans, the U.S.capital for steamy, jazzy celebrating-the food is rich, fiery and full of character loaded with local chile peppers, celery, onions, bell peppers, tomatoes, crawfish, shrimp and those oysters which are making their way back.
The holy trinity…of cooking — at least in New Orleans and the rest of Louisiana -in other words in Cajun and Creole cuisine — is equal parts onion, celery, and bell pepper. This style of food could be called a rustic cuisine — ingredients, available locally where preparation is usually simple.
Although we don’t have year round growing season like N’Orleans and that sunbelt, we do have plenty of the staples to see us through. Make big use of our Chesapeake oysters, our local poultry and some of our value added goodies like the sauces, mixes and nuts from Blue Crab Bay; carried in both Homestead Gardens stores. Maybe you have frozen that okra (like I do) from your CSA!
Mardi Gras Menu
Rousting Chesapeake Mary
Gumbo with Chesapeake Oysters
Makes 4 servings
- 1 (32 ounce) bottle Blue Crab Bay Sting Ray Bloody Mary Mixer
- Old Bay for rim of glass
- 3/4 cup vodka
- 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1 teaspoon Tabasco
- Lime wedges and big fat stuffed green olives
Combine Bloody Mary Mix, vodka, Worcestershire sauce and Tabasco in a large shaker or pitcher with ice. Stir well and pour over ice in tall glasses. Garnish with lime wedges and olives.
Gumbo with Chesapeake Oysters
When it comes to Cajun cookin’, we can’t overlook that fiery Avery Island ‘local’ product, Tabasco-the hot, legendary pepper sauce (by their own admission). Credits for this recipe go to Tabasco even if we do use Chesapeake oysters. Of course the recipe begins with making that famous “roux”.
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 2 green bell peppers, diced
- 2 celery stalks, diced
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes, undrained
- 2 cups sliced fresh okra
- 2 cups water
- 3 pounds chicken, boned and cut into large chunks
- 1 pound boneless smoked ham, cut into 1-inch chunks
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
- 1 tablespoon Original TABASCO® brand Pepper Sauce
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 pint shucked oysters and their liquid
- 3 cups hot cooked rice
Heat oil in a 5-quart Dutch oven or saucepan over medium heat. Add flour and cook about 30 minutes, stirring constantly, until roux turns dark brown and develops a nutty aroma. Add green peppers, celery, onion and garlic; cook 10 minutes or until vegetables are tender.
Add tomatoes, okra, water, chicken, ham, parsley, TABASCO® Sauce, salt and bay leaf. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce heat to medium, and simmer uncovered for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Stir in oysters and simmer 10 minutes longer. Discard bay leaf. Serve over rice.
The recipe below makes just enough filling for 2-6-inch tarts, 4-6 cupcake size tarts or 24 mini’s. Any extra pastry can be frozen for later use.
Cream Cheese Pastry
- 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter, at room temperature
- Two (3-ounce) packages cream cheese, at room temperature
- 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
- 1 large egg, lightly beaten
- 1/2 cup golden syrup (such as Lyle’s Golden Syrup)
- 1/2 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons butter, melted
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1 1/2 cups finely chopped pecans, toasted
For the pastry: Combine the flour and salt in a small mixing bowl and stir to mix.
Combine the butter, cream cheese, and sugar in a mixing bowl and beat, using an electric mixer, on medium speed until smooth. Stir in the flour mixture and blend well. Press the dough firmly into 2 equal-size balls with your hands. Wrap the balls in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
Roll out the pastry, one ball at a time, to a 1/8-inch thickness on a lightly floured work surface with a lightly floured rolling pin to fit tart pans. Or cut into 2 1/2-inch rounds. Press evenly into the bottoms and sides of (24) 1 3/4 x 1-inch muffin cups. Refrigerate to form.
For the tarts: Preheat the oven to 350F.
Remove the pastry from the refrigerator and spoon about 2 teaspoons of the chopped pecans into each pastry-lined muffin cup. Spoon about 2 teaspoons of the syrup mixture over the pecans in each muffin cup.
Bake until the filling mixture sets and the tops of the tarts are lightly browned, 20 to 25 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool in the pans for 5 minutes, then flip over onto a wire rack to cool another few minutes before serving. The tarts can be stored in an airtight container for up to a week.