Sep 20, 201109:42 AM
The Lighter Side
Exploring the humor and peculiarities of the Big Easy
Fall Recipes, and a Bone to Pick
So I just love Anthony Bourdain. I think he's the coolest. And I think he has the coolest job of all time. He's a "chef/writer/traveler person who eats stuff." I think if I had to write down what my dream job would be, I'd write down "artist/writer/traveler person who eats stuff."
And when I heard that Anthony's show, No Reservations, was coming back to Louisiana for a "Cajun Country" episode, I couldn't wait to watch it. But for some reason, probably because I got terribly busy, it got stuck in my DVR for a few weeks before I actually got around to it.
When I finally had a bit of time, I made myself a nice salad, poured myself a glass of wine and sat in front of the television to watch Tony hang out in my adopted state for awhile. I was excited.
I watched him hang out with Wendell Pierce (Antoine from Treme) for a little while, talk about jazz music and eat yaka mein, something I had never heard of but made sure to put on my extensive mental list of "things to try in New Orleans".
But then Anthony started hanging out with another guy... a fellow Tremé writer and BBQ enthusiast/journalist named Lolis Elie, who took him around Foubourg Tremé and treated him to the best fried chicken ever at Willie Mae's Scotch House. You can watch the clip here.
But Lolis (who I'm sure is a very lovely dude) also said some things that had me scowling.
You see, he seems to think that people outside of New Orleans only eat at McDonald's or Burger King and that they only listen to what's on the Top 40 radio station. When asked by Bourdain what other regions of the country could learn from New Orleans, he answers that the city should be an example for them. Other places should look deep inside themselves and bring back their culture.
And then he puts a nice cherry on top:
"I don't believe that the people in Ohio didn't have anything to eat before they got McDonald's."
To which I responded to my television,
Ye without a McDonald's in your city cast the first stone!
Okay. So, yes, New Orleans is awesome. It's a culinary mecca. It was voted Travel+Leisure's number one foodie city! New Orleans has its own unique culture derived from the different people that have lived here over the centuries. Spanish, Africans, French, Haitians, Americans ... all of these people together made and continue to make a magical equation of New Orleans-ness. And yes, no other city in the country is quite like this one. At all. I've heard it described in ways such as "The only European city in the US" or "the northernmost Caribbean city." And for all of these reasons, I love it here. I moved here. I now call it my home. And I'm proud of that.
But I do not pretend to think that other cities in this country do not have their own cultures and traditions too. They might not be quite as overt, but they exist. And to just dismiss all of that with a "oh, you eat at McDonald's and listen to boring music" is, well, kind of mean. And dismissive.
Anyone from Ohio that heard those words probably felt the same twinge of "What the hell do you know?" And I guarantee that if a journalist from Ohio (or someone like, say, Alan Richman) said anything quite as dismissive and thoughtless about New Orleans, there would be words. Strong ones.
Even Anthony Bourdain, "a culinary elitist" from NYC, reluctantly traveled to Ohio to do a show a few years ago, in which his food writer-friend and beloved Ohioan Michael Ruhlman took him around the city of Cleveland. He was shown the hidden treasures of a midwestern industrial city that is trying to find its identity in an increasingly post-industrial world. And it featured the hottest chef ever, Lola's Michael Symon, shoving plate after plate of lovingly prepared local food in front of Bourdain's face. It was a great episode.
You know, "culture" doesn't just exist in those areas of the country that are not a part of the dreaded "fly-over" zones of these United States. And no, that culture does not totally consist of ugly concrete mini-malls Applebee's and TGI Fridays franchises. To assume so is just thoughtless.
After the episode of No Reservations: Cajun Country was over, I decided to take Lolis Elie's advice and make myself a lovely meal that reminded me of home (you know, before Columbus, Ohio became a test-market town and we totally lost our culture, before we forgot that corn was an actual vegetable and not just something that you turn into syrup).
So instead of going down the street to McDonald's to get a taste of my homeland, I decided to make a few fall recipes to remind me of one of my all-time favorite things - autumn.
These recipes bring to mind the spices of fall. The smell of the turning leaves in the air. The beautiful red, orange and yellow in the trees, the crisp blue autumn sky. Food brings such great memories, and not just the ones I have of sitting in all those fast food drive-thrus.
These are two things that I've been making for a few years and that I must make at the first sign of autumn (which happens to be the precise moment when the Pumpkin Spice Latte returns to Starbucks).
Apple, Brie & Bacon Sandwich
(and these wonderful food photos were brought to you by my iPhone... sorry)
What you need:
- An apple (you'll only need about half of it), sliced thinly
- Sturdy bread
- Apple butter
This is a very easy sandwich to make... and its results are downright amazeballs.
Start by getting some sturdy bread that will hold up nicely to grilling. I got this cute little french loaf at Rouse's and got about four slices out of it. Spread one side liberally with apple butter. Top with your thinly sliced apples.
Put on some brie slices. I like to use these "wee bries" that you find next to those "laughing cow" cheeses in round boxes. I think they taste great and you can spread the brie. You can also unwrap what you want and put the rest in the fridge without worrying about needing to use up all that expensive brie at once. But you can use whatever brie you like.
Top with a few slices of crispy bacon. This is the "center-cut" stuff. Slam the two halves together and put in a pan with a pat of butter so it can "grill". Keep the pan at a "medium;" you want everything to cook evenly and if the pan is too hot, the bread will just burn while the insides are still cold. A nice slow medium will get you a nice crust and everything warmed though.
Put a bit of butter on the top bread before you flip so the other side gets nice and toasty too.
And enjoy. It's really one of the best things ever.
What you need:
- Almost a pound of penne
- Extra virgin olive oil
- A package of sausage
- 1 sweet onion
- 4 cloves garlic
- Sage, 8-10 leaves chopped
- 1 bay leaf
- Several dashes of cinnamon
- Dash of coriander
- Dash of allspice
- Dash of nutmeg
- 1/2 cup white wine
- 1 cup chicken stock
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 3/4 can pumpkin puree
- 2 cups shredded mozzarella
- Shredded parmesan cheese
- Panko bread crumbs
Cook paste al dente in salted water. (I don't use the whole bag. I always leave a little bit left in the bag because I like a lot of sauce on my pasta. If you like pasta more than sauce, cook the whole thing.)
I use this "chicken & apple" sausage and get it nice and crispy in the pan with a bit of olive oil, then set it aside for a few minutes.
Mince garlic, chop onion and sauté in the juices from the pan plus a little bit more olive oil. Let that get nice and translucent.
Add your half-cup of wine. (If you don't want to spend the money on the wine, just use more chicken stock. I was lucky because my boss handed me this bottle at a work event. Wow, am I lucky to work for a place where your boss hands you wine.) Bring all this up to a simmer. Reduce liquid by half. Throw in your bay leaf and sage. Your house is going to start smelling awesome at this point.
So after all that is reduced, pour in your chicken stock and throw in some salt to taste. Be mindful of the sausage's salt contnet and how much parmesan cheese you use at the end. Just keep tasting and be aware.
Start gently stirring in your pumpkin. Add the chicken sausage back in.
Bring all this up to a slow simmer. Put in your spices. I like to use about a half-teaspoon of cinnamon, a half-teaspoon of coriander, a few dashes of allspice and a few grates of nutmeg. If you don't like one of these spices, feel free to leave it out. This is just my perfect formula. Afterwards take a little taste, and if you think it could be a little spicier without starting to go into pumpkin pie territory, go ahead and add a little more until it's just right.
Stir in your cream. And at this point I like to put the lid on the pan and let it simmer at a low temperature for a little while to let the flavors develop.
Then mix up the penne and your sauce in a pan.
Cover with a few handfuls of mozzarella cheese and then with a handful of shredded parmesan. Or if you have that wonderful grated reggiano, go with it! I also top it with a few hand fulls of panko breadcrumbs for a nice cheesy crunch at the end.
Put that in a 400-degree oven for a few minutes, until the cheese is melty and the breadcrumbs have browned.
There's my pumpkin pasta dish all warm and bubbly and cheesy and pumpkiny among other Buckeye dishes for a football party. We lost. (Oh, well.) But at least we had good food!
And as I sit and feast upon these grown-up recipes featuring apples and blessed pumpkin puree, I'm not reminded of all that time that I must have spent at McDonald's as an Ohioan, but of all those family trips to pick apples and to buy gallons of the yummiest, spiciest local apple cider you can think of - and to the pumpkin patch, where you stuff your little face with pumpkin doughnuts and drink hot chocolate after you go on a hayride to find your perfect pumpkins to carve for the season. This is my favorite time of year, and it holds my favorite stash of recipes.
Do you have a favorite fall recipe? If so I'd love to hear it!