Tidbits – My New Orleans – The Cookbook
My New Orleans – The Cookbook by chef John Besh is an ode to New Orleans. Besh recounts the city’s pre-Katrina life, and juxtaposes them against the destruction and decimation that ensued because of Katrina. His love affair with this city is endearing. The stories he tells of his youth and the human cost of Katrina are quite compelling. Besh explains that immediately after Katrina, his staff had dwindled to 4 from 167. But, he didn’t close up shop. Instead, he and his remaining staff began cooking and handing out food to anyone in need. This cookbook is more than a collection of recipes; the beautiful, large-scale photos and 374 pages make it an appealing coffee table book.
I have mouthwatering memories of the food I had in New Orleans. Red Beans and rice, shrimp, mock turtle soup and, of course, beignets … every restaurant in New Orleans seemed to revel in showcasing the best the city could offer. It was a foodie’s paradise, and will be again. Besh’s cookbook made me wonder if it was possible to achieve those same flavours at home. Certainly, some authentic ingredients, like filé and fresh crawfish, would be difficult, if not impossible, to come by. I decided to make three recipes: Hot and Spicy Lemongrass Shrimp Soup and Shrimp Creole because I happened to have a few pounds of shrimp on hand, and Beignets for dessert.
The Hot and Spicy Lemongrass Shrimp soup lists a lot of ingredients, but pulling it all together was actually pretty simple. It required about 15 minutes of prep time to slice, dice and make the shrimp stock (which was also very easy). The shrimp creole was classic and redolent with the flavours of tomato, celery and sweet pepper. As for the beignets, I’ve seen a few different recipes over the years. I don’t know which is the authentic one, but Besh’s interpretation is quite tasty.
The only drawback to the book is the way in which it’s organized. Although cookbooks organized by course or by type of ingredient (vegetable, poultry, etc.) are standard, they do offer a kind of easy referencing system. It’s easy to put together a complete meal from appetizer to dessert when you know where to find what you’re looking for. My New Orleans is organized in part by event (Mardi Gras, Feast Days) and by ingredient or theme (Crawfish and Rice, Gumbo Weather, The Urban Farm). This organization means that main courses, desserts, appetizers, etc are scattered throughout the entire cookbook. Looking for something a little different to serve for dinner? You will have to scan the cookbook page by page to make sure you haven’t missed any ideas.
Here’s one for you to try.
1 cup lukewarm milk, about 110°F
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 pkg. dry yeast
4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup melted butter
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
4 to 6 cups canola oil
1 cup powdered sugar
1. Pour the warm milk into a large bowl. Mix 1 tablespoon of the granulated sugar, the yeast and a heaping tablespoon of the flour into the milk, mixing with a whisk, until both the sugar and the yeast have dissolved.
2. Once bubbles have developed on the surface of the milk and it begins to foam, whisk in the butter, salt and vanilla. Add the remaining flour and sugar, folding them into the wet ingredients with a large rubber spatula. Knead the dough by hand in the bowl for about 5 minutes, then cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate the dough for 6 to 8 hours.
3. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and roll out on a floured surface to a thickness of 1/4 inch. Cut into 2 inch squares, cover loosely with plastic wrap, and allow the beignets to rise for about an hour.
4. Heat the oil in a large deep skillet over high heat until it reaches 350°F. Use a candy thermometer to check temperature. Fry the beignets in small batches in the hot oil, turning them every 30 seconds or so with tongs, until golden brown all over. use tongs to remove beignets from the oil and drain on paper towels. Put the powdered sugar into a fine-mesh strainer and dust the warm beignets generously with the sugar.