Many Jazz Fest visitors not only know what performers they want to hear, they also know exactly what they want to eat when they go to the Fair Grounds Race Course for a day of hanging out with the best of New Orleans.

A lot of people won’t call it a day before they get a crawfish sack, some calas or a cochon de lait poor boy. I was once on a tasting team that sampled everything out there every year. Foodies followed us around for the leftovers and by the end of the day we were as gorged as an overstuffed poor boy.

In the early days, Fest goers were allowed to bring their own food and drink, which sometimes shared a wagon with the kids. It was cheaper but never as tasty as the fried chicken, crawfish Monica and oyster poor boys turned out on site.

Food choices have soared and it’s difficult for me to choose two or three dishes when I go out for an afternoon. It’s exciting to try the new foods such as the ethnic cuisine that has found its place in our city. We are no longer limited to Creole and Cajun. Large Vietnamese and Hispanic populations have taught us to venture out – not that Creole and Cajun are going anywhere, they’re still at the top of what we eat

everyday and what brings in tourists by the millions.

My daughter had to go to Jazz Fest every year if for no other reason than to get the crawfish bread. Finally, she learned to make it herself and found it a great dish to serve at a party. Not quite as labor-intensive but equally delicious are the Natchitoches meat pies, also a fine party food. Learning to cook some of these specialties means you can have your own Jazz Fest at home. Put on some Aaron Neville or Irma Thomas and you’re rockin’ and rollin’ whenever you please.

Try cooking some alligator for your out-of-town guests. They’ll love it and if they don’t, they’ll love telling their friends they ate it anyway. A few grocery stores carry it in their frozen food sections; seafood stores may have it, too.

Jazz Fest puts freshness first, one of the reasons the food is so appealing. The sanitary rules are strict so that nobody has to worry about street food sickness.

Second, the stakes are high. Vendors don’t get a spot unless they produce the food that locals demand. With that high calling, no wonder the tourists love it.
1 package active dry yeast
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon sugar
1 1/4 cups warm water
3 1/3 all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt

6 ounces Monterey Jack
      cheese, grated
6 ounces extra sharp cheddar
      cheese, grated
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1/3 cup chopped onions
1/3 cup chopped green onions,
      green part only
1 12-ounce package crawfish
      tails, thawed
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper to
1 egg white, beaten
With electric mixer, whisk together the yeast, oil, sugar and warm water until well mixed. Let sit for a few minutes until slightly foamy. Attach dough hook to mixer and add flour and salt gradually, kneading on low speed until the dough begins to cling together. Increase speed slightly until dough forms a ball. Remove dough from mixer and place on a floured board. With your hands, make the ball smooth and round. Grease your hands with a little vegetable oil and pat the dough on all sides. Place in a large bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let rise to almost double in size.

While the dough is rising, grate and mix cheeses and set aside.

In the vegetable oil, sauté the white onions until translucent, add the green onion tops and sauté a minute more. Add crawfish and seasonings, cover and simmer for 10 minutes. Set aside to cool.

When dough has risen, place on floured board and cut into half. Roll out one half to 1/8-inch thickness and cut into 6 rectangular pieces. Place 2 tablespoons of cheese on one side of the dough, leaving a 1/2-inch margin, and place 2 tablespoons of crawfish mixture on top of cheese. Brush edges of dough with beaten egg white and fold over to make a square or rectangle. Pinch edges together. Place on a baking pan covered with parchment paper. Repeat with other half of dough until all pastries are complete. You should have 12 small loaves. Brush tops with egg white and cut 2 slits in the tops of each. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise again for about 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Bake for about half an hour or until loaves are golden brown. Makes 12 loaves.

2 pounds alligator meat
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon salt, divided
3/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper,
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 bunch green onions, green and
     white parts separated, chopped
1 bell pepper, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 14.5-ounce can diced Roma
1 10–ounce can Rotel tomatoes
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon thyme leaves
2 bay leaves
2 1/2 cups water
1 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons chopped parsley

Cut alligator meat into pieces, approximately 2-inch squares.

In a bowl, mix flour with half the salt and cayenne pepper. Heat oil in a large skillet. Dredge alligator pieces in the flour mixture, shake off excess and brown well in the skillet a few pieces at a time. Remove meat from skillet and set aside. Sauté onion, white part of the green onions, bell pepper and celery in the oil (adding more if necessary), until transparent. Add the garlic and sauté 1 minute more. Add tomatoes, freshly ground pepper, thyme, bay leaves, remaining salt and cayenne pepper, water and sugar and bring to a simmer. Add alligator meat and cook, covered, over low heat until alligator is tender – about 1 hour. Stir occasionally and adjust seasonings. (Sauce piquant should be spicy.) Add green onion tops and parsley in the last few minutes of cooking. Serve over rice. Serves 6.
1 pound lean ground beef such
      as ground round
1 pound lean ground pork
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons flour
1 onion, chopped
4 green onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon Creole seasoning
3/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon chopped parsley

3 tablespoons shortening
2 eggs
6 tablespoons milk
2 1/2 cups flour plus extra for
1 egg white, beaten

To make filling: In a skillet, brown beef and pork, breaking the meat up well. Set aside.

In a medium pot, make a peanut butter-colored roux with the oil and flour. Add onions, stirring for several minutes and then add garlic, stirring for another minute. Remove from heat and add meat and remaining ingredients; mix well and set aside.

To make crust: Flour a large cutting board. In a mixer, cream shortening. Add eggs one at a time, mix and blend in milk. Add flour and mix on high until just blended.

Mixture should cling together. Place on floured board and form into a smooth ball. Do not over-handle the dough or it will become tough. Place in a large sealable bag and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

When ready to fry the pies, heat enough oil to deep cover two or three at a time, or use a deep fryer, heating oil to 350 degrees.

On the floured board, cut the ball of dough into six equal pieces. Roll out one piece at a time the size of a saucer – 6 or 7 inches around and about 1/8-inch thick. An easy way to do this is to place a saucer on the rolled-out dough and cut the pastry with a knife. Use scraps for one or two more.

To form the pastries, place one-third cup of the filling on one side of the pastry circle, leaving a 1/2-inch rim. With your finger, brush the egg white around the entire rim of the pastry. Fold over and press the edges together with a fork.

Drop pastries, two or three at a time, into hot oil and fry, turning occasionally, until golden brown – about 5 minutes. Drain on paper towels and continue frying until all are done. Serve hot. Makes 6 to 8.

Note: You will have filling left over. Either freeze or make another round of pastry to use immediately.