CITRUS BONDS

Satsumas | for the love of the south

Lacy railings adorn balconies as we stroll along Royal St. The combination of the faint scent of decay and the citrus growing in ancient pots into the center of courtyards spills out into the French Quarter. Jazz echoes through Pirate Alley as we pass St. Louis Cathedral.

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Naturally, we dined like kings in New Orleans. The po’boys from Parkway on Hagan Ave. are served on the softest French bread and then slathered with a thin layer of mayonnaise, thinly sliced tomatoes, cold shredded lettuce and are generously piled with the crispiest oysters you’ve ever had. All you need is a bottle of hot sauce and a pile of napkins as thick as a dictionary, and you are all set. In the heart of the French Quarter, we sat under the green and white awning at Café du Monde with a plate of beignets piled with a mountain of powdered sugar and washed them down with café au laits and hot chocolates. In the Caribbean Room at the historic Pontchartrain Hotel in the Garden District, we split the Mile High Pie, which is a wedge of ice cream pie with layers of chocolate, vanilla and pink-tinted mint ice cream, crowned with toasted marshmallow and drizzled with melted chocolate. Impossibly crusty bread, decadent turtle soup drizzled tableside with sherry and dark, rich seafood gumbos littered our table at Commander’s Palace.

Satsuma Peels & Coffee | for the love of the south

But all the while, I had a secret. Safely stashed away in a clear cellophane wrapped bag nestled in my purse were sweet and sour satsuma candied peels. I found these to be the perfect travel companions. Anytime I needed a hiatus from heavy dishes, I popped one of these sunny beauties in my mouth and instantly my palate was refreshed. We piled into the car and drove three and a half hours west to Lake Charles. The fresh citrus peeling reminded me of nibbling on a few contraband kumquats in the center of one of the courtyards in the French Quarter.

Satsuma Tree | for the love of the south

I woke up in my grandparent’s house the next morning. Immediately, I made a steaming cup of café au lait and walked all the way to the left of the yard to the great satsuma tree, which gave off the scent of sweet honeysuckles after an afternoon rain. I gently twisted the fruit off the tree and peeled back the thin, supple peeling. The cold juice from the swollen segments dribbled down my chin. I quietly sipped on my coffee and finished off half a dozen of freshly picked satsumas on an old ladder next to the tree.

On our way back to Nashville, we made our way past sugarcane fields being cleared, and I couldn’t resist reaching into my bag and pulling out one of these satsuma peels. During this time of year, I have a deep connection with these little fruits. They remind me of home, and that’s a very strong bond indeed.

Sweet & Sour Satsuma Candied Peels | for the love of the south

Sweet & Sour Satsuma Candied Peels

Makes about 2 cups

Adapted from Rebekah Turshen of City House in Nashville, TN

Note: Satsumas are my favorite citrus to use since the skin is thin and peels away with ease, leaving the rest of the fruit intact. This makes for a perfect snack for later!

P.S. You can find citric acid at spice shops or online!

 

6 medium organic Satsumas

2½ cups granulated sugar, divided

1 tablespoon citric acid

½ vanilla bean, seeds scraped out

 

Scrub the satsumas, and carefully peel the satsuma in one long piece if you can, trying not to break the peel so you can easily cut the peeling in long, thin strips. Cut in ¼-inch thick strips. You should end up with about 2 cups of sliced peelings. (Save the segments for snacking!)

Bring peels and 4 cups water in a small saucepan to boil for 5 minutes.

Drain and repeat process twice, using fresh water each time.

Return peels to pan and add 2 cups granulated sugar and 2 cups water. Bring to a soft boil and cook until peels are soft and translucent, about 30 minutes.

Drain and transfer peels in a single layer onto a rimmed baking sheet fitted with a wire rack. Chill for 20 minutes.

Mix citric acid, remaining ½ cup sugar and vanilla seeds in a medium bowl with your fingertips. Toss the chilled peelings to coat. Return to rack and let sit at room temperature for 4-12 hours. You want the peels to be completely dry before storing in an airtight container.

Stays good for 1 month!

 

BEIGNETS, I LOVE Y’ALL

Marvelous Grapefruit Beignets | for the love of the south

There is a bridge stretching over Lake Pontchartrain, a very long bridge, which connects Mandeville to Metairie, Louisiana, just outside of New Orleans. We made our way past the gilded Superdome, onto Poydras to Decatur St. The scent of boiled crawfish, brewed Abita beer and fried beignets pierced the air. There is a tangible excitement in the streets, an energy as the city marches to the beat of its own drum, king cakes baking, jazz pouring out of every nook and cranny, rod iron rails decorated with colorful beads. It’s Carnival Time! The occasion calls for a visit to one of my favorite spots in New Orleans, Café du Monde.

The emerald green and white striped awning greeted us, welcoming us to our home away from home with open arms … and café au lait and beignets! We found a spot at one of the speckled, sugar dusted circular tables. Visitors from all over the world came to celebrate the season. Piles of camera bags, men in less than flattering shorts, gluttonous pigeons and hot beignets covered in mounds of powdered sugar filled the open-air café.

Marvelous Grapefruit Beignets | for the love of the south

Immediately, I became captivated by my surroundings and began watching a businessman, most likely a local, talking on his cell phone in the middle of the café.“How in the world is he carrying on a conversation with all of this celebrating going on?” It was in that moment when I heard him say, “Hold on, a pigeon is about to fly on top of this girls head!” Before I could turn around to get my eyes on the ill-fated girl, I felt something brush the top of my head as I bit into my beignet. Exhaling out of pure shock (and unfortunately covering everyone around me in a cloud of powered sugar), the lively café came to a screeching halt as I began waving frantically, attempting to get the pigeon away from me. My effort completely failed as one of its tiny feet got caught in my ponytail. That’s when the real floorshow began. A flurry of feathers, blonde hair, skinny arms and sugar began to brawl right smack dab in the middle of Café du Monde. An uproarious laughter filled the café, the bird finally got its footing and made a quick escape to the rafters. Everyone cheered, plates full of beignets slapped the tables, coffee cups clanked together and everything went back to its harmoniously brassy New Orleans self.

Our waitress placed another plate of hot beignets in front of me with a smirk. I knew she had seen the spectacle, and I also noticed she gave us twice as many beignets as we originally ordered. I think she felt bad for me. I didn’t mind. An extra order of hot beignets at Café du Monde was worth the trauma and disheveled hairdo. I cautiously devoured my glorious “pity” beignets as I kept one eye on the hot fried dough and one on the greedy pigeons above me.

Across the way in Jackson Square, someone began playing “When the Saints Go Marching In” for the tourists. No matter how many times I hear this song being played on the streets of New Orleans, I’m always surprised how it bewitches me. I’ll always have the spirit of Mardi Gras in my pocket, carrying it with me wherever I go and maybe a beignet or two! Laissez les bon temps roulez!

Marvelous Grapefruit Beignets | for the love of the south

Recipe: Marvelous Grapefruit Beignets

Serves 6

Note: These buttery, sugar-covered beignets, are traditionally eaten on Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras, during Carnival season right before the season of Lent. But honestly, I love to serve them year round to keep the spirit of Mardi Gras alive!

If you don’t have superfine sugar, don’t worry. Just whiz up some granulated sugar in a food processor until superfine! Also, you can also substitute the grapefruit zest for lemon, lime or orange zest.

½ cup (100g) of granulated sugar

Zest of 1 grapefruit

2 cups (240g) all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon of kosher salt

½ teaspoon of baking powder

6 tablespoons of unsalted butter, cut into cubes, room temperature

3 eggs, room temperature

2 tablespoons of vanilla extract

Vegetable oil, for frying

Superfine sugar, for dusting

In a small bowl, combine sugar and zest. Rub the zest into the sugar with your fingertips. Set aside.

In a stand mixer fitted with a batter attachment, combine flour, salt and baking powder with a fork. Create a well in the center and add the rest of the ingredients, including the zest-infused sugar. Mix until the ingredients are combined and begin to form soft dough. Shape the dough into a ball, cover in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 hours.

On a generously floured surface, roll the dough out until ¼-inch thick. Cut into 16×2-inch strips. Cut again on a diagonal, creating diamond shaped pieces. The dough is very delicate, so be as gentle as possible!

Over medium heat, pour 2-inches of oil in a large cast-iron skillet. Once the oil reaches 325oF, gently place the diamond-shaped pieces of dough into the oil, allowing them to get beautifully golden on both sides. Drain on paper towels or paper bags and toss in superfine sugar. Devour immediately! If by some miracle there are any leftover, just seal them up in a plastic bag, stash them on the counter, et voilà! Breakfast is served!

 

 

 

 

THE SWEET LIFE

Bananas Foster Crepe Cake

My favorite time to visit New Orleans is during springtime. Azaleas radiate with blushing hues, early blooming magnolias perfume the streets, breezes from the river tousle my golden locks, and the air is softly sweetened with the city’s many treats. I always stand astonished at Aunt Sally’s as pralines the size of moon pies studded with toasted pecans lay in a row, basking in front of an old fan, awaiting their fate to be boxed up and devoured within mere moments. Looming next door at Café Du Monde is a different type of lure, one that was deep fried and laden with powdered sugar, begging to be washed down with a café au lait.

Bananas Foster Crepe Cake Top

New Orleans offers another treat, one that entices and excites as it gleams and glows with its amber flames and saccharine scent. Brennan’s Bananas Foster. There is a tinge of delight that never grows old as this famous dessert is prepared tableside, blazes and all. Even though I sit in pure elegance of the restaurant, the combination of cinnamon, butter and sugar will always remind me of the swamp and the bananas added to the concoction of tiny pirogues bubbling away in the murky darkness. No amount of sophistication will ever make me outgrow my bayou roots. As my imagination twirls, rum is added to the sauté pan and whoosh. The flickering flame engulfs everything in its sight. Surrounding tables applaud at the spectacle while the spark dies down and all that’s left is bourbon-brown bananas scented with spicy cinnamon and sugary rum.

Bananas Foster Crepe Cake with Bananas

Traditionally, this delectable dessert is spooned over ice cream, but I decided to do a spin on this New Orleans classic. Once the bananas have browned in the sugar and butter, I mash the whole mixture together and use it as a filling for a crêpe cake, delicately adored with whipped cream spiced with rum and caramelized bananas. Springtime couldn’t get any sweeter.

Sliced Bananas Foster Crepe Cake

Recipe: Makes 1 Crêpe Cake

Filling:

1 stick of butter

2 cup of brown sugar

2 teaspoon of cinnamon

2 teaspoon of vanilla

7 ripe bananas, peeled and sliced on a diagonal

½ cup of good, dark rum (optional)

In a sauté pan over medium-low heat, melt butter in the pan. Once the butter has melted, add the sugar, cinnamon and vanilla to the pan. Stir until dissolved and add bananas. Whenever the slices begin to brown and soften, carefully add the rum (if using.)  Light the pan with a long match or a torch. Allow the flames to subside. Let cool and mash with the back of a fork or a potato masher until thick and almost a puréed consistency.

Crêpes: Adapted from Tyler Florence

½ cup of water

2 cups of milk

4 eggs

2 cups of flour

2 teaspoons of vanilla

4 tablespoons of sugar

Pinch of salt

6 tablespoons of butter, melted, plus more for greasing pan

Combine water, milk, eggs, flour, vanilla, sugar and salt in a blender. Blend until all of the ingredients are well incorporated and the mixture is no longer lumpy. Scrape down the sides and blend again. Add the butter to the mixture and blend for just a few more seconds. Let the mixture rest in the fridge for an hour.

Place a nonstick skillet on medium to medium-low heat. Brush butter onto the pan. With the batter in one hand and the hot skillet in the other, slowly pour the batter into the pan and twirl the skillet in the other so that there is enough batter to purely coat the bottom of the pan. Let the crêpe cook just until brown at the edges, flip with a spatula and brown on the other side. Flip onto a plate and continue with the remaining batter.

Rum Whipped Cream:

2 cups of heavy whipping cream

2 tablespoons of sugar

2 teaspoon of vanilla

1 tablespoon of rum

Whisk all of the ingredients in a stand mixer until soft peaks form. The whipped cream should be able to hold a peak if inverted.

Creating the Layers:

Banana Foster Purée

Prepared Crêpes

Rum Whipped Cream

Caramelized Bananas*

*Note: For the caramelized bananas, sprinkle sugar onto 1” slices of banana. Using a torch, carefully caramelize the top of the banana like you would a crème brûlée.

On a cake stand, place one crepe on the bottom of the stand. Spread a thin layer of the bananas foster purée onto the crêpe. Repeat with remaining layers until you add the last crêpe (or run out of filling! Whichever comes first.) Finish the last crêpe with a topping of the rum whipped cream and adorn with caramelized bananas.

Ain’t Your Mother’s Bread Pudding

Mother's Restaurant

Walking down the streets of New Orleans is like no other experience imaginable. The culture, the people and, of course, the fare is vivacious and inimitable. As I passed down Tchoupitoulas and found my way to Poydras, I spotted a little white and red sign, barely hanging from a portico reading, “Mother’s Restaurant.” Looking at my watch, I realized it was nearly 1 o’clock in the afternoon, and there was an hour-long line wrapped around the old, brick building. The sign to Mother’s boasted some of the world’s best-baked ham, but I was craving a different dish, bread pudding. Finally, I was allowed into the establishment to wait in another line to order. I gazed at the walls that were filled with old black and white photos, vintage posters and tin signs. Once I reached the counter, I tried to sound like a local by ordering fast and efficiently, only to be in the way of a man trying to balance a keg on a dolly. Apologizing empathetically, I realized that my cover was blown, I was from out of town and everyone now knew it. Finding my way through the crowd, I discovered a table all the way in the back of the restaurant and planted my little self in the corner with the rest of my family. Moments later, the waitress comes flying to our table with our orders. I saw my dad point to a dish, asking the waitress if it was his side of ham, and she said it was the bread pudding. I checked to make sure she wasn’t laughing, and when I realized she was telling me the truth, I looked up at the sad brown and white heap of bread pudding and set it next to my red beans and rice. I said a little prayer and encouraged my plates by saying that the most humble dishes are the best dishes. Amen.

I fell in love with my red beans and rice at first bite. And with every spoonful, I eyed the bead pudding, seeing if it would get prettier. It never did. After the last bite of French bread and beans, I put the bread pudding in front of me. I took my fork and slowly edged off a piece of the pudding, only to find a pool of what looked like sugar, butter and cinnamon. I drew the fork to my mouth, and all of the flavors I assumed were in the pool were now doing summersaults in my trap! I looked around to make sure that no one could see my excitement, for fear that they would ask for a bite. I snuck the white plate filled with heaven under the table, and every so often, when no one was looking, took a bite! Now, to make it clear, I am not a very selfish person. I am a giver by nature, but if anyone took a piece before I had my feel, I think they might have lost a finger! Eventually, I allowed the rest of the party to split a ration big enough for a mouse. I thought it was quite generous. As I left, I was happy, content, and dreamily making my way through Mother’s Restaurant. My dreams were slightly interrupted by a keg on a dolly nipping at my heels. As I reached the sunny, warm New Orleans streets, I felt empowered, sustained and full. All because of my contraband bread pudding.

Bread Pudding

Recipe: Revised from Mother’s Restaurant in New Orleans

Makes 1 9×13-inch Pan of Bread Pudding

1 large French bread loaf or 2 smaller baguettes, torn into bite-sized pieces

4 cups of milk

1 cup of heavy cream

2 sticks of butter

6 eggs

1 ½ cups of sugar

4 tablespoons of vanilla extract

2 cups of fruit cocktail with syrup

2 tablespoons of ground cinnamon

¼  teaspoon of nutmeg (optional)

Preheat oven to 3500

Place the breadcrumbs in a large bowl. In a saucepan, combine milk, cream and butter and simmer until all of the butter melts. Pour milk mixture onto the bread and stir to combine.

In a separate container, whisk eggs, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg and fruit cocktail together. Pour into the same mixture as the bread and milk. Make sure all of the ingredients are combined well and there are no dry pieces of bread. Pour into a 9×13-inch dish. Bake in a 350o oven for 1-1 ½ hours until golden brown and set in the middle. Pour the bread pudding sauce either on each plate when serving or pour onto the bread pudding when it has finished being baked.

Bread Pudding Sauce:

2 sticks of butter

½ cup of brown sugar, packed

¼ teaspoon of cinnamon

In a small saucepan, combine all of the ingredients and heat on medium-low until slightly simmering. Reserve until ready to serve with bread pudding.