On Cooking Southern: Let The Good Times Roll All Year Long

CAJUN SOUTHERNISMS OF THE (MARDI GRAS) WEEK

Bonne Chance (pronounced bone shahnz): Good luck.
Lache pas la patate (pronounced Losh pa la pa tot): “Don’t let go of the potato,” MEANING Don’t give up.
Pauve ti bete (pronounced pove tee bet): Poor little thing, the Cajun version of “Bless her/his heart.”
Ça va (Pronounced Sa va): THAT’S ENOUGH!


Mardi Gras 2017 ends this week, and the Christian Lenten season begins.

If living in Chicago, you might be celebrating Paczki Day, the Polish version of Fat Tuesday. If in Mobile, you might be stocking up on mini Moon Pies thrown at the parade instead of plastic beads. If in New Orleans, you might be sampling Gumbo Z’herbes along the parade route before heading off to a last pancake supper.

For folks around here, the party-to-piety confluence signals one last parade around The Square, along with a few more parties and pancake suppers.

It’s all for The Good of the Order, so to speak.

We may not have krewes throwing cheap plastic beads all over town, but Oxonians do our best to embody the spirit of Mardi Gras as popularized by our brethren down in the Bayou. We, too, love good food, good Spirits, and entertaining company that departs as soon as the party’s over.

My childhood home in Memphis was filled to overflowing with that distinctive cultural joie de vivre all year long. Channeling Julia Child, my dad would transform ordinary weekend gatherings into brunch parties, pairing elegant Spanish omelets by the dozen with chilled glasses of Ramos Gin Fizz. That old-style cocktail has been known to convert even uptight Easterners into Louisiana-style Francophiles.

The recipes in this week’s column embrace the spirit of the season but are terrific any old time. As folks say near here, “Laissez les bons temps rouler.”

RAMOS GIN FIZZ

Henry Ramos created the original Ramos Gin Fizz in 1888 at his Imperial Cabinet Saloon, where by 1915 it took 32 bartenders to keep up with the 12-minute shaking production of one fizz at a time. The Roosevelt Hotel expanded the drink’s popularity, trademarked the name in 1935, and continues to make it, one 12-minute drink at a time. It’s one of the old-style signature drinks of The Big Easy. NOTE: DO NOT substitute other orange flavorings for the orange flower water, which may be found at specialty liquor stores or Middle Eastern shops that carry flavored waters.

1 to 2 oz gin
1/2 oz fresh lemon juice
1/2 oz fresh lime juice
2 oz whipping cream
1 oz simple syrup
Splash of (3-5) drops orange flower water
1 large egg white
Collins glass-full of ice cubes
Chilled club soda or seltzer
Slice of orange, optional

Fill a Collins glass with ice cubes. Combine all remaining ingredients except the soda in a shaker or a blender. Shake vigorously at least 50 times, or blend until smooth. Add the ice cubes and shake again. Strain into glass. Add soda or seltzer until the beverage foams to the top of the glass. Sip through a straw.

KING CUPCAKES

These brioche-dough cupcakes may be frozen if wrapped airtight. Use a thermometer to gauge temperature of the milk; it took me two 30-second zaps in the microwave to achieve.

1/2 c whole milk, warmed to 110˚F
2 (1/4-oz) pkgs rapid rise dry yeast
1/4 c white granulated sugar, plus 5 tsp
1/2 c (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
3 egg yolks
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp lemon zest (zested from about half a lemon)
3 tsp fresh lemon juice, divided 2 and 1
1-1/4 c all-purpose flour
1/2 c cake flour
3 tsp ground cinnamon, divided 2 and 1
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 c confectioners sugar
1-1/2 T hot water
Purple, green and yellow sugar sprinkles

Prepare a regular muffin tin by lining each cup with a paper liner. Combine the milk, 1/4 cup of sugar and yeast in a warm bowl. Stir well and set in a warm place for about 10-20 minutes for yeast to proof (activate and start to foam).

In a second bowl, combine the butter, egg yolks, and lemon zest until well blended. Mix in 2 teaspoons of lemon juice.

Sift flour and dry seasonings into large mixing bowl and beat in the milk-yeast mixture and the butter mixture. Beat until it forms a dough. If sticky, add more flour, one tablespoon at a time until shaggy but still soft. Form dough into a ball. Place into a large warm bowl greased with shortening or butter. Turn dough ball to grease it all around. Cover with a cloth or towel and let rise in a warm place with no drafts. (I place it on a towel on top of a warming oven during cold weather.)

While dough is rising, combine first cinnamon and 5 teaspoons of sugar. To prepare the cupcakes, punch dough down on a surface lightly sprinkled with flour. (I use a large sheet of parchment paper.) Roll dough out into a 12-by-8-inch rectangle. YES, USE A RULER!

Sprinkle surface of the dough with the cinnamon sugar mixture. Carefully roll dough lengthwise into a 12-inch-long log. Make sure it is rolled tightly but evenly. Measure 12 one-inch lengths along the roll and cut. Position each cut into a muffin liner. Return the muffin tin to warm spot for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375˚F while cupcake dough is resting and beat the remaining egg in a small bowl. At the end of 30 minutes, brush beaten egg over tops of each cupcake. Place muffin tin on center rack and bake about 20 minutes. While cupcakes are baking, combine the confectioners sugar, remaining lemon juice and hot water to create a sugar glaze.

Remove cupcakes from oven and while hot, drizzle glaze evenly over tops of each. Sprinkle immediately with colored sugars or sprinkles.

NEW ORLEANS STYLE PRALINES

Pronounced praw-leens by folks around here, this recipe requires a large (tall) pot and a candy thermometer. Typically the pot would be an enameled cast iron Dutch oven. I use an 8-quart stockpot made of heavy stainless steel. If using stainless, be sure to stir with an extra-long wooden spoon that has one straight side for scraping corners.

Prepare counter with a long sheet of waxed paper. Have all ingredients pre-measured and ready because the steps in this candy recipe require precision of timing.

3 c white granulated sugar
1 c whole buttermilk
1/4 c light corn syrup
1 pinch salt (I use kosher salt)
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp vanilla extract
4 c whole pecans (1 quart)

Combine sugar, buttermilk, syrup and salt in large pot. Stir regularly as it comes to a boil. When the mixture achieves a complete rolling boil, add baking soda and stir vigorously. The soda will cause the mixture to foam and expand high in the pot. Continue stirring, making sure to keep sugar from burning in the corners of the pot bottom. It helps to sing while stirring, for this step takes at least 10 minutes. The mixture will begin to turn golden as it caramelizes. Continue stirring, Use a candy thermometer while stirring. As soon as the mixture reaches softball stage (234-240˚F) remove pot from heat and stir in the vanilla. Fold in the pecans, working quickly before the mixture begins to harden.

Drop by the tablespoonful onto waxed paper as quickly as possible. GET HELP FOR THIS STEP. Any pecans remaining in pot once the mixture begins to harden may be scraped out and kept as “sugared” pecans.

Cool completely. Pop the pralines off the waxed paper and wrap individually in plastic.


Laurie Triplette is a writer, historian and accredited appraiser of fine arts, dedicated to preserving Southern culture and foodways. Author of the award-winning community family cookbook GIMME SOME SUGAR, DARLIN’, and editor of ZEBRA TALES (Tailgating Recipes from the Ladies of the NFLRA), Triplette is a member of the Association of Food Journalists, Southern Foodways Alliance and the Southern Food and Beverage Museum. Check out the GIMME SOME SUGAR, DARLIN’ website and follow Laurie’s food adventures on Facebook and Twitter.

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