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Friday, September 25, 2009

It all runs on gumbo

When I was in my early 20s, down the street from my apt was this tiny hole in the wall neighborhood bar. The first time I walked in there out of curiosity, my yards of black lace clothing and teased and sprayed blue-black hair got a couple looks. My age got a bunch more. The average age of the customers was 45. The bartender, Jim, played the saxophone whenever he could get from behind the bar and during the day worked on his small farm outside town. The guitarist who was the regular musician there played a mix of songs everyone knows, and obscure bits of absolute funniest. He learned Punk Rock Girl for me, and it warms your heart to hear that played and sung blue grass style.
Anyway, to get to the point, on holidays, they would have potlucks, and one older lady ALWAYS brought a big old pot of gumbo.
Gumbo, thick and spicy and loaded with different kinds of shellfish and fish. Gumbo that seemed that to have been handed down from her great grandmother, all the flavors were so well combined.
I might have a dinner party with friends to give them turkey and all the trimmings, but I'd eat very little so I could have a spot of that gumbo on a pile of rice because I'm way too wimpy for the amount of heat it had, but I couldn't resist the flavor.
So.. I could be a little biased about New Orleans cooking. It always seemed magical to me. Something to aspire to. A little southern, a little French, a lot of seasoning and a little jazz. That's what it tastes like to me.
All that to say, I picked up a copy of Tom Fitzmorris's New Orleans Food yesterday.
First the quick thing, what I don't like about it is that it's paperback binding, so it won't lay open.
What I do like about it? The author lived in New Orleans all his life except for after Katrina. He's a food writer who really loves his subject.
All those foods you've read about, that you've dreamed about, are in this comprehensive book.
If I were going to do a Julie/Julia thing, this is the book.
Gumbos, bisques, jambalaya, dirty rice, red beans and rice, beignets are all in here. Along with things like deviled eggs with a New Orleans twist, a simple cream cheese recipe, desserts make me feel like I committed the sin of gluttony just reading the recipes and all sorts of main dishes. Over 200 recipes, and so far all of them sound wonderful.
Yes, a lot of the recipes are a bit time consuming and you need some basic kitchen skills like how to make a roux to make them, but many of the recipes are pretty simple too. Also, if you are an experienced cook, there are short cuts you take for quick home cooking, like using good boxed stocks and a food processor to do a lot of the chopping.
If you like seafood, this is also a good cookbook for that, there are a lot of shrimp, scallops, clams, oyster and fish recipes. It's a vital part of cuisine from that part of the country.
Just makes me hungry reading it.
A lot of the reviewers on Amazon from NOLA say that the gumbos are just like Mom or Grandma used to make. What better recommendation is there? If this is a style of cooking you've always want to learn, this is the book that covers all the basics.
Part of the proceeds from sales of the book go to Habitat for Humanity.

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