Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Real Cajun: Rustic Home Cooking From Donald Link's Louisiana

I have many books of recipes, especially of the Cajun and Creole variety. Many contain pretty much just ingredient lists with the preparation instructions. Pretty straight forward stuff. Last year I met Chef Donald Link at his third New Orleans' restaurant Butcher. Friendly and interesting we chatted for a moment about the cruise ships, the effect of the recession, and his new upcoming book.

I waited for his book "Real Cajun: Rustic Home Cooking From Donald Link's Louisiana" for a month or so and finally ordered my copy online. While I was awaiting it's delivery, I saw it in the local bookstore. I could not resist checking the book out. Let me tell you, this is one of the most in-depth cookbooks I have ever seen. Not just recipes, but life stories about a young man's growing up years in Louisiana.

I really enjoyed all the anecdotes about his grandparents and their food. His grandmothers' kitchens and how he learned to fish on all the waters around his home from his grandfather. Every food seems to illicit a different memory for the Chef. When he smells a certain smell or tastes something familiar he tells you about where it took him in his recollections. Unlike most Chefs of his stature, he really seems to be enjoying writing his first cookbook. Such detail helps the reader imagine the kitchens, backyards, bayous, and camps he visited while growing up Cajun in South Louisiana.

While he adds a few twists to some of his recipes, most all these are pure and simply Cajun, with the occasional Creole dish. He talks lovingly about his obsession and love of the hog, the porcine romance that burns within his heart. Be it his grandmother's Smothered Pork Roast, his preoccupation for boudin, or his sinful lust for pork cracklins. Unlike most cooks, he makes not excuses for sneaking in some pork fat into his wonderful meals, he practically celebrates it. It's a wonder he's not hundreds of pounds overweight, were it not for the amount of work it takes to operate 3 restaurants and a private dining room. Chef Link is a busy man.

You really need to buy this book. It has many wonderful recipes to temp you to pull out the old cast iron dutch oven and rub it down with lard. Some of my favorites include the Fried Chicken Gumbo and his Old School Jambalaya. The pages are loaded with beautiful photos which make this my FAVORITE cookbook. When in New Orleans you can visit his restaurants Herbsaint, Cochon, and my favorite, Butcher. Until then, order Chef Link's incredible book by clicking HERE.


Thursday, January 14, 2010

Soul Food Tradition: Neckbones & Gravy

Living in the South I have had the opportunity to eat nearly every type of food, Cajun, Low Country, Mountain, and even had my share of Soul Food. Originally created by poor black families in the American South, it consisted of the cheaper cuts of meat and vegetables that barely fit into the vegetable category.

Most of the cuts of meat required long, slow cooking periods to get the meat tender enough to eat. Some of the staples are greens of all sorts, collards, mustard, and turnip greens to mention a few. Fried chicken, sweet potatoes, and macaroni and cheese are often found in the "trendy" Soul Food restaurant menus these days.

Neckbones are about the cheapest cut of meat available, .99 per pound for the ones I cooked. They are simply the meat around the neck of the hog. The bones infuse such a wonderful collagen into the gravy, which is also thickened with flour that's dusted on the neckbones. Cook these slow and serve them with rice or grits, or even smothered cabbage like I did. I am including the recipe so you can make your own. Some grocery stores might not carry them, look for ones with some good meat still left on the after trimming.

Bon Appetit

Neckbones & Gravy

4 lbs Pork Neckbones
2 cups Flour (plain)
2 med Onions (diced)
3 ribs Celery (chopped)
1 tbs Garlic (minced)
1 tbs Creole Spice Mix
1 tsp each Salt & Pepper
4 cups Water
2 tbs Worcestershire Sauce
1/2 cup Oil
1/2 stick Margarine

Sprinkle Creole Spices on the neckbones. Dredge in 1 1/2 cup of flour. In a cast iron Dutch Oven, melt margarine and combine with corn oil. Fry neckbones on MED until brown on the outside. Remove from pot and fry onions in remaining oil. After the onions start to brown, add celery and garlic. Stir well and cook 5 mins. Sprinkle remaining 1/2 cup of flour over onion and celery mixture. Stir well and let it brown a bit with all the dregs of flavor in the pot.

Add salt, pepper, and worcestershire sauce, stir well. Add neckbones back to the pot, cover with 4 cups of water, add a little more if you need to nearly cover the bones. Leave open and bring to a boil and turn down to MED/LO for two hours stirring occaisionally. Stir, then place covered in a 225º oven for the remaining hour. Serve by spooning meat and gravy over rice or grits, accompanied with smothered cabbage and cornbread.


Sunday, January 10, 2010

Red Monkey Spices

Months ago, I received an e-mail asking me if I would like to try some organic spices and spice mixes. It was from an oddly named Red Monkey Foods. I was intrigued, so I told them to send me some. I received a package soon containing some really incredible quality spices and I thought I'd tell you about them.

To start with, this is not a commercial, I am not being paid to do this. These are some wonderful spices to cook with and I am all about that. I received a bottle of Cayenne Pepper, Garlic Salt, Cajun Spice Rub, Mango Habanera Rub, and Pomegranate Spice Rub. To start with the Cayenne is not only fiery, but flavorful. You can actually taste the flavor rather than just the heat. My daughter loves the Garlic Salt for when she makes garlic bread. More garlic than salt makes it stand out. I've used the the Cajun Spice Rub in my Gumbos, Jambalaya, and Red Beans. It has such a depth of flavor, you can taste them all, not just salt.

I have only used the Mango Habanera Rub once, I used it in my sweet potatoes at Thanksgiving. Wow, I always give them a pinch of salt or some Creole Seasoning, but this really "kicked it up." As for the Pomegranate Spice, I haven't tried it in cooking anything yet, I have tasted it on a salad, (which is GREAT by the way) I would think this would be great rubbed on a pork loin, Cornish game hens, ribs, or whatever.

If you are striving to clean up your foods by going organic, then Red Monkey Foods have a great selection to choose from. Also, their name sounds fun and creative. Check out their site by clicking HERE and tell them RouxBDoo sent you.