Culinary Research in the Big Easy

January 11, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

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Midnight on Julia StreetA wonderful new “Author’s Cut” edition of my novel, Midnight on Julia Street, was recently released by Sourcebooks, and prompted so many memories from the days when I was researching life in modern day and 1840 New Orleans.   This “time-slip” story deals with burnt out television reporter who arrives in the Big Easy with high hopes that at last, she can tell the truth as a journalist without getting fired.  (No such luck, I’m afraid…)

Julia Street–once the heart of the cotton warehouse region of the city in the 19th century–is host these days to trendy galleries and fabulous eateries like Emeril’s.
This part of town became the focus of many a foray I made into the wonderful world of Louisiana cuisine that, at times, figured in the story of a young professional getting to learn about a city famous for a certain flavor of magic and mystery.  Scents, especially, became the “way back” for the heroine inexplicably to slip between the city’s storied past when “Cotton was King” and the modern day of cell phones, digital news-gathering, and a city that never stops celebrating.

Part of that celebrating that I had the good fortune to witness generally involved that most hallowed of all culinary traditions in NOLA:  making a good Gumbo!  Everyone, it seemed, had his or her own special recipe or way of making a roux–the “building block” of any respectable gumbo.  There are seafood gumbos, chicken and sausage gumbos, even vegetarian gumbos, but the one I developed over the last fifteen years was made either with quail, Rock Cornish Game Hens, or–if pressed for time–organic chicken thighs…or even a rotisserie chicken from the supermarket!

So, if you want to add to the sensory experience of reading my historical novel Midnight on Julia Street, get into the spirit of the Mardi Gras season that started with Twelfth Night (January 6, 2012) and will run until Fat Tuesday (February 21) by trying out my version of New Orleans Gumbo as posted in my blog…and if you like your gumbo spicier, just add pepper flakes and more cayenne!

 

New Year’s Eve in New Orleans!

January 5, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

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It’s been several years since we owned our Creole cottage on Ursulines Street in the Lower French Quarter in New Orleans…but every year as the holidays roll around, I get an irresistible urge to make “my” gumbo.

Actually, there is no “official” recipe for this dish…families have handed down their ingredients and techniques for generations.  I developed my own version when I spent a few years there researching and then writing Midnight on Julia Street, and created a chicken-and-sausage gumbo that evolved over the years from a recipe I found in Emeril LaGasse’s wonderful cookbook, Emerl’s Creole Christmas.   His used quail, and since that wasn’t always handy, I subsituted small Rock Cornish Game Hens.  His used alot of cayenne and spicey andouille sausage, but my Western-raised family liked smokey flavors that wouldn’t burn your tongue, so I made a few more adaptations.

During this same period, my husband Tony and I became great friends with another historical novelist, Michael Llewellyn who’d written a wonderful novel, also set in New Orleans, called Twelfth Night and who made the best chicken gumbo I ever tasted.  He shared a few secrets with me which altered and refined my “morphing” version until I thought I’d reached pretty much perfection, and stopped messing with it.

Enter my wonderful pal from my KABC Radio days in Los Angeles, Diane Rossen Worthington, author of some twenty-two cookbooks (a number of them in the Williams-Sonoma series–but probably her best known and best loved is the classic:  Seriously Simple).  She now writes a syndicated column for The Chicago Tribune and we were chatting on the phone this autumn about holiday fare.  I mentioned how I loved to make my gumbo, stirring the roux –which is made from slowly combining oil and flour together and takes about 45 minutes to attain a rich, dark, chocolately color–while thinking of all the friends and family members I love.

“Can I use that in my column?” asked Diane.

“Sure,” I replied. “I can email you the recipe and you can put your own spin on it.”

“Oh, no, thanks,” she said. “I have my own seafood version I’ve been doing for years.  I just want to borrow the part about you thinking of family and friends while you’re stirring the roux!”

Well, she did just that in December, and guess what?  I’d completely forgotten about our conversation and suddenly I hear from the publicist Beth Pehlke at my publisher, Sourcebooks Landmark, that Diane’s piece, kindly mentioning my 2011 release of Midnight on Julia Street, had hit tons of newspapers all over the country.  So, here’s a link to Diane’s article and version of seafood holiday gumbo–which makes a great Winter meal anytime it’s cold outside.  And if there’s interest, I’ll post my chicken and kilbasa sausage version in a later blog.

 

Meanwhile, Happy New Year, everybody…and for 2012, Laisser Les Bons Temps Rouler, y’all!