‘Confederacy of Dunces Cookbook’ Media Reviews

New York Times Book Review: “Cooking for Dunces,” (John Williams, December 18, 2015)

NPR Radio and The Salt: “‘A Confederacy of Dunces Cookbook’: A Classic Revisited in Recipes,” (Steve Inskeep, December 4, 2015)
Parade Magazine: “A Bite of the Bayou,” (Alison Ashton, February 7,, 2016)
Boston Metro: “‘Juicy Wine Cakes and Other Dunces Delights’: Author Cynthia Nobles eats her way through the Pulitzer Prize-winning Novel,” (Rachel Raczka, December 8, 2015)
The Picayune: “‘Confederacy of Dunces Cookbook’ is More Than Recipes,” (Judy Walker, October 6, 2015)
The Advocate: “‘A Confederacy of Dunces Cookbook’ Imagines the Food of New Orleans’ Favorite Malcontent,” (Cheramie Sonnier, October 7, 2015)
Houston Chronicle: Author Cooks Up ‘A Confederacy of Dunces,” (Greg Morago, January 25, 2016)
Charlotte Observer: “‘A Confederacy of Dunces Cookbook,” (Dannye Romine Powell, December 16, 2015.
The Advertiser: “Inside Look at ‘Confederacy of Dunces Cookbook,'” (Chere Coen, November 6, 2015)
225 Magazine: “‘A Confederacy of Dunces Cookbook,'” (Maggie Heyn Richardson, December 2015)

Country Roads Magazine: ‘Three Pounds of Turtle Meat and A Can-Do Attitude,'” (Chris Turner-Neal)

Guess What’s Growing at Burden!

image

(LSU AgCenter Photo)

This post is not about a book — it’s about a horticultural treasure that sits smack dab in the middle of Baton Rouge.

In case you didn’t know, the 420-acre Burden Center is home to a research facility that conducts trials to evaluate various varieties of tomatoes, sweet potatoes, strawberries, mayhaws, figs, peaches, and pawpaws, along with many other commercial and home garden vegetables and fruits.

Part of the LSU AgCenter, Burden also has an outstanding fig breeding and selection program that recently released the new varieties O’Rourke, Champagne, and Tiger. Other fruit research is investigating low-chill peaches for coastal areas and pawpaws for fruit production and landscape use. Too, they’re experimenting with organic vegetables and summer and winter cover crops. All of this is right there for you to see, and if you plan your trip right, you can even get in on an LSU Extension Service demonstration project.

If you’re not into the latest fads in crop production, you’ll certainly be interested in Burden’s herb and rose gardens, woodlands, wetlands, arboretum, and the Rural Life Museum.

Every time I go to Burden I’m amazed that something that lies in the heart of such a sprawling urban area can be so quiet and unspoiled. But perpetual serenity and a natural landscape is exactly what the land’s donors wanted.

The original land was acquired in the mid-nineteenth century by John Charles Burden, and he called his home Windrush Plantation. In 1966, Burden’s heirs donated 50 acres to LSU. Over the succeeding years, they donated additional acreage, and the final parcel with given in 1992.

Admission is free, and you’re not going to find a prettier place in town to get in your daily jog. And while you’re there, stop by and check on the progress of those figs and sweet potatoes.

The LSU AgCenter Botanic Gardens, LSU Rural LIfe Museum, and Windrush Gardens. Located at 4560 Essen Lane, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, 225-763-3990. www.discoverBurden.com.

Cooking Up A Storm: Recipes Lost and Found from The Times-Picayune of New Orleans

imageEditors: Marcelle Bienvenu and Judy Walker
Chronicle Books, hardcover, reprint edition, August 18, 2015
Pages: 368
ISBN: 978-1-4521-4400-9
Retail price: $30.00

When Hurricane Katrina washed away the possessions of a large chunk of the population of New Orleans in 2005, treasured cookbooks were among the casualties. As refugees returned and started rebuilding and resuming routines, they naturally longed to cook the way they had pre-Katrina. But what to do about those drowned recipes?

Readers of the Times-Picayune started using the Food Section of the newspaper as a lifeline to their old ways of cooking. A few even requested that someone write a cookbook. And that idea sat just fine with food editor, Judy Walker, and Marcelle Bienvenu, one of the Picayune’s long-time food columnists.

To find the city’s cherished recipes, the two dug deep into the newspaper’s archives. They also put out a call to local chefs, restaurants, and the newspaper’s readers. The result was the accumulation of over 225 authentic recipes, along with stories of how they were created and what they meant to those who lost everything.

First released in paperback in October 2008, Cooking Up a Storm is chockfull of dishes that might seem foreign to anyone outside of New Orleans. Kolb’s Sauerbraten, for example, was popular at the iconic restaurant that operated on St. Charles Avenue from 1899 until 1994. Let-Um Have it Eggplant, a dish of fried eggplant topped with a seafood sauce, was the concoction of John Unger, a “tall, strapping, tattooed man from the Irish Channel neighborhood.” The beloved dish known as Lasserre’s Magic Crawfish was one of the most requested dishes for this book, and it was created by Beinvenu’s husband, Rock Lasserre.

There are, of course, many outstanding traditional recipes, including those for beignets, chicken salad, hummingbird cake, a few omelets, and a slew of casseroles. But this book’s strength is its documentation of unusual local creations. It’s not every day that you find a recipe called Halloween Cookies Like McKenzie’s.

The cookbook’s one minor weakness is the lack of photographs. But the wealth of heartwarming stories and those unique recipes more than make up for that flaw. Even if Hurricane Katrina had not zapped away so many of the city’s recipes, this book would have still been a good idea, just the way it is.

Praise the Pig: Loin to Belly, Shoulder to Ham – Pork-Inspired recipes for Every Meal

imageAuthor: Jennifer L. S. Pearsall

Skyhorse Publishing, November 3, 2015
Paperback, 232 pages
ISBN: 978-1-63450-435-5
Price: $19.99

Blogger, photographer, and home cook Jennifer Pearsall has created over fifty recipes that can be the answer to the question: What can I do that’s different with this hunk of pork? Pearsall’s first book was The Big Book of Bacon, and she explains how branching out to make dishes that revolve around other parts of the pig “just seemed a natural route” from her inaugural work.

Recipes are made with common ingredients and techniques, and they do not call for the off-the-wall implements required by so many charcuterie cookbooks. But the dishes are anything but boring. Pearsall stuffs poblano peppers with pulled pork, and she tosses pancetta and ground pork into Porkestrone, her “everybody in the pool” Italian-inspired soup. She also makes chili out of tenderloin, and she crumbles breakfast sausage into smashed potatoes and tops it all with a pulled leftover pork chop.

A few downsides: I was thrown by the success and failure stories that appear as the last step of many of the already chatty recipes. The biggest drawback, however, is the lack of an index. The Table of Contents does list every recipe by chapter. But suppose I have a fridge full of ground pork — how will I know which recipes are contenders?

Even so, this book’s scrumptous photographs and mouthwatering ingredient lists make me want to cook. And it’s finally cold here in Louisiana, so excuse me while I go whip up a Roasted Tomato Stew with Italian Sausage and Tortellini.

 

Are We Having Any Fun Yet? The Cooking & Partying Handbook

Author: Sammy Hagar with Josh Sens

Dey Street Books, September 15, 2015
Hardcover: 9780062370006, (320 pages) $29.99
E-Book: 9780062370013, $23.99

imageYes, this lifestyle cookbook is the brainchild of THE Sammy Hagar, the high-energy rocker who found success as a kickin’ solo act, and was frontman for the bands Montrose and Van Halen. Over the years, the Red Rocker developed the reputation of party host extraordinaire, which helped bolster the image of his Cabo Wabo Tequila, Sammy’s Beach Bar Rum brands, and Sammy’s Beach Bar and Grill franchises.

But can he cook? At first I was skeptical. Then I read a few pages of this cookbook and realized that the most remarkable thing about it is that the guy is genuinely passionate about food.

Are We Having Any Fun Yet starts with a foreword by none other than Emeril Lagasse, Hagar’s true-to-life partner in culinary crime. Hagar goes on to tell us he learned to appreciate the good life from his namesake, his idolized Italian grandfather, Sam, whose favorite hobbies were “hunting, fishing, lying, and stealing.”

The bulk of the book is divided into chapters titled after Hagar’s favorite party cities. Cabo San Lucas is the inspiration for Lobster Burrito, Epazote Quesadilla, Quick and Easy Guacamole, and Sammy’s Wabo Shrimp. Maui spurred recipes for Vegetable Frittata, Papaya-Marinated Chicken, Vegetable Sitr-Fry, and Spaghetti with Black Olives and Orange Zest. Hagar’s home in California’s Mill Valley is the place where he whips up down-home favorites, such as Beet and Strawberry Salad, Homemade Stock, White Beans with Serrano Ham Hock, Chorizzo and Pork Loin Paella, and Braised Lamb Shanks.

And let’s not forget the cocktails. Heralded for his love and appreciation for a well-crafted adult beverage, after dark, of course, Hagar gives numerous recipes for his own creations. This impressive selection includes the tequila-based Red Rocker, Bloody Maria, and Waborita. There’s a vodka cocktail or two, and rum drinks, including his most famous of all, the passionfruit-tinged PMS.

I had a hard time putting this book down, not only because of the fifty well-written recipes, but also because of the narrative. Taking up at least as much page space as the recipes are Hagar’s food and party stories, along with personal photographs, which all revolve around his life on stage, his family, and his friends. The language in these sections is sometimes coarse. But you just can’t help but connect with a guy who makes his own coconut cream, practically worships perfect mushrooms, gives generously to charities, and plans to consume all ten thousand bottles of wine in his cellar before he checks out.

The book’s main weakness is its lack of any type of dessert. But we’re not throwing a tea party, here. So mix yourself up a Sammy’s Rockin’ Picasso or whip up something simple and familiar like Potato and Leek Soup. It’s time to have fun with Sammy Hagar.

Confederacy of Dunces Cookbook Launch Party

Confed Dunces CoverPlease join me for the release of  A Confederacy of Dunces Cookbook, Tuesday, October 13, 6:00 p.m., Garden District Book Shop, 2727 Prytania Street, New Orleans. I’ll be signing books and you can enjoy Fortuna’s Black-eyed Pea Hummus, Coconut and Macadamia Macaroons, Dr. Talc’s Bloody Marys, and Lucky Dogs, served by Jerry Strahan, the real-life Mr. Clyde.

A Confederacy of Dunces Cookbook

Ignatius J. Reilly on the cover of 'A Confederacy of Dunces.'

Ignatius J. Reilly on the cover of A Confederacy of Dunces

Anyone who’s read John Kennedy Toole’s satirical masterpiece A Confederacy of Dunces knows that the book’s main character Ignatius J. Reilly likes to eat. And so does just about every other character in this Pulitzer Prize winner. So for the past few months I’ve been hammering away at the computer and the stove developing recipes for a cookbook based on the foods that became such an important part of Dunces, and which includes everything from Miss Trixie’s longed-for ham to Darlene’s “juicy” wine cakes.

LSU Press will publish my manuscript, and has given me a deadline of December 31, 2014. Until then, I’ll be writing and cooking, doing research in New Orleans, posting to Twitter and Pinterest, and hoping that my finished manuscript shapes into something more coherent than the disorganized, but promising mess it is now.

So stay tuned. Santa Battaglia’s recipe for Daube and Spaghettis is coming your way. Now — back to work.

Curry Rice vs. Gumbo: What Louisiana has in Common with Japan

Japanese Curry Rice. (Photo by Hyougushi in Kyoto)

Japanese Curry Rice. (Photo by Hyougushi in Kyoto)

Last week I was honored to do a two-day interview with Conrad Chaffee and Mr. Yoichi Takeuchi, correspondents with the Tokyo Shimbun, a daily newspaper headquartered in Nagoya, Japan, and with a circulation of 3.5 million.

The two were on a quest to find out exactly what gumbo has in common with curry rice, one of Japan’s national dishes and surprisingly made with roux, and not-so-surprisingly served with rice.

The first day, we met in the New Orleans French Quarter at Arnaud’s, where proprietor Katie Casbarian graciously allowed us in the restaurant’s kitchen for a step-by-step demo of chicken and andouille gumbo. After a flurry of photos and many questions, we sat down for lunch in Remoulade’s, Arnaud’s causal eatery. Through courses of seafood gumbo and baked oysters, Chaffee and Takeuchi picked our brains on Creole gumbo’s popularity in the city’s restaurant establishment.

The following day I did a lot of questioning, when the two came to my home in Baton Rouge to watch me prepare a smoked sausage and wild duck Cajun gumbo. (Many thanks to Ed Ball, who keeps me supplied with ducks.) Since it’s not every day that a Japanese food enthusiast visits my kitchen, I also invited Cheramie Sonnier, my editor from the Baton Rouge/New Orleans Advocate, and a questioner par excellence.

After much quizzing and surfing of the internet, we Louisianaians learned that curry rice is a thick, brown, roux-based gravy that most often contains beef, and sometimes potatoes, and is seasoned with curry spices and served with a mound of rice. The dish was created in Japan in the late 19th century, when the Japanese were open to everything Western, and when the British ruled India and from there brought curry to Japan. At the time, British chefs on the island nation were unsure of what to do with curry powder, and so mixed it with a French butter and flour roux. From there, curry rice was born.

Who’d have thought that one of our favorite dishes has so much in common with what just about everyone eats in Japan. And another interesting tidbit is that the Japanese make curry rice from blocks of already-seasoned instant curry roux and roux powders, which only require the addition of water and beef. Hmmm — I see an opportunity there for some Louisiana gumbo entrepreneur.

 

Ga-Ga for Grapefruit

A Prolific Backyard Grapefruit Tree

A Prolific Backyard Grapefruit Tree

It’s hard to believe, but grapefruit didn’t even exist until the 18th century.

Some time in the 1700s on the island of Barbados, someone crossed a sweet orange and a pumelo, the largest of the citrus, and what locals termed “forbidden fruit” was born. The word “grapefruit” originated later in Jamaica, and was given because the large golden fruits grow in clusters, like grapes.

The grapefruit itself was first documented in 1750. In 1809 Spanish nobleman Don Phillipe planted the first grapefruit in Florida. Later, in 1823, the French Count Odet planted a grove on the west shore of Tampa, in a town now known as Safety Harbor.

By 1885, Odet was shipping grapefruit to New York and Philadelphia, creating a whirlwind of interest and launching the beginning of the commercial grapefruit industry.

Today, 40% of grapefruit in the U.S. is consumed as juice and 60% is eaten fresh. And Florida is the world’s leading grapefruit producer. But since the one lone tree towering over my roofline produces enough to feed an army brigade, it’s safe to say that grapefruit grows pretty well in Louisiana, too.

Cutting the Cost of Vanilla

Dried Vanilla Beans

Dried Vanilla Beans

Planning ahead for holiday baking, I recently did an inventory of one of the most important and pricey flavorings in my pantry — vanilla.

A familiar bottle of vanilla extract.

A familiar bottle of vanilla extract.

Vanilla was first grown in the highlands of Mexico, where 15th-century Aztecs called the mature seed pod the “black flower.” After the French discovered Mexican vanilla, they started plantings in the Comoros Islands, Reunion and Madagascar. Today, Indonesia and Madagascar produce 80% of the world’s vanilla.

Vanilla is a tropical orchid that grows on a vine. The main cultivars are Bourbon vanilla (from the Indian Ocean region), Mexican vanilla, Tahitian vanilla and West Indian vanilla. Vanilla beans and extract cost so much because harvesting and preparation are extremely labor intensive. For this reason, saffron is the only spice more expensive than vanilla.

A Jar of Homemade Vanilla Extract

A Jar of Homemade Vanilla Extract

Because it seems like I use it by the gallon, I’ve learned to brew my own from pods I buy in bulk. To make a pint of homemade vanilla, just slit three vanilla beans all the way down, place in a clean glass pint jar and cover with a distilled spirit such as vodka or rum. Let the covered jar sit for a month and, voila, you have vanilla extract!

And guess what? I just found a jar I’d started brewing a few months ago and had forgotten about. Now, on to baking those Thanksgiving cake and pies — and I won’t have to scrimp on expensive vanilla.