Tag Archives: Louisiana

Christmas on the Bayou

It’s only May, but I’ve already jumped the gun and wrote about Christmas, so I’m in the mood to talk about Christmas at my house. There is, of course, plenty of food for everyone, turkey (fried and baked), ham, casseroles, rice dressing, cornbread dressing, etc. However, the only thing that I enjoy more than the food is the craziness of all my family being together.

About two years ago Edmund decided to show up for Christmas. I’m not entirely sure how Edmund is related to us, but he’s older and I think he may have been related to my grandfather. Everybody just rolls their eyes when Edmund shows up because they know he’s going to ask them for something, usually money. Edmund wears blue jeans, a denim shirt, and a cowboy hat. He drives an old Ford F-150 and is the kind of man who probably has a bunch of money stuffed in a mattress somewhere yet acts like he’s poor.

He’ll say, “Mais, you got any money to help the pauvre misérable?”

Do you have any money to help the poor miserable?

So he’s at my house for Christmas, and he’s standing in the kitchen. He starts talking to my Aunt, Bernadette, and he says “Mais Bernadette, you need to go a diet and lose some weight.”

She turned around, face hot with anger and said, “Edmund! I may be fat, but you’re ugly and you’re gonna die ugly!”

And that was the end of that. Christmas at my house isn’t usually that dramatic, but that particular time was a bit crazy because of Edmund and his mouth. It’s usually just a food filled festivity, and there are always leftovers for days afterwards. The story about Edmund coming over for Christmas will remain one of my favorite stories about the holiday.

My dad is really good at carving a turkey

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Cajun Night Before Christmas

Cajun Night Before Christmas is a retelling of the old story. Image from http://lsuforever.tumblr.com/

Sometimes folks from south Louisiana will take familiar stories and twist them to make them a little more Cajun. Cajun Night Before Christmas by “Trosclair” is a good example of this.

Santa in envisioned as riding in a skiff pulled by alligators named Gaston, Tiboy, Pierre, Alcee’, Ninette, Suzette, and Renee’. Also, Santa is dressed in muskrat fur. The whole book is written in the Cajun dialect and tells the story of St. Nick coming to the bayou. It starts out:

‘Twas the night before Christmas

An’ all t’ru de house

Dey don’t a t’ing pass

Not even a mouse.

Den Mamma in de fireplace

Done roas’ up de ham

Stir up de gumbo

An’ make bake de yam.

Copyright by Pelican Publishing Company 2001

After Santa finishes his stop he bids everybody farewell in true Cajun fashion.

Merry Christmas to all

‘Til I saw you some mo’!


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Gumbo

Gumbo is a good and hearty meal. Photo from http://www.myrecipes.com

Gumbo is a dish that many people know about, but few people know how to make well. It can take on many forms, but the basis of gumbo is always a good roux. If you read my last post and tried your hand at making roux, this post will show you how to use that roux to make a delicious gumbo.

Gumbo is defined by the ingredients that you choose to put in it. Your gumbo can be chicken and sausage, seafood (crabs, shrimp, oysters, or even shrimp and okra. There are a few other varieties, but the three that I mentioned are the most common at my house.

For this post I’ll focus on a chicken and sausage gumbo, it’s pretty straightforward to make, and the ingredients are easy to find at most grocery stores. This recipe is modified from Tony Chachere’s Cajun Country Cookbook to be closer to the way my family cooks it.

You’ll Need

  • A large stock/soup pot. 12 quarts will be plenty
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 green bell peppers, chopped
  • Cajun seasonings (Tony Chachere’s or Slap Ya’ Mama)
  • 1-2 cups of roux depending on how thick and dark you want your gumbo
  • 3 lbs smoked sausage, sliced
  • 1 4-6 lb hen, cut into pieces and seasoned with Cajun seasonings
  • 2 cups rice

Fill the pot a little less than half full with water, set to boil.  Add roux once the water starts boiling and stir to ensure that the roux mixes evenly. Add chopped onion and bell pepper and simmer for 20-30 minutes. Add chicken and sausage and cook on medium low heat for 2-3 hours until chicken is tender. Stir regularly so the chicken and vegetables don’t stick to the bottom. Be careful to not overcook the chicken because the meat will start falling off the bone.

Once the meat gets close to being done, cook 2 cups of rice. Skim any excess oil off the top of the gumbo before serving. When gumbo and rice are cooked, serve gumbo over rice and enjoy. I usually make a potato salad to go with the gumbo as well, and it helps if the gumbo is really spicy. Here’s how I make it:

  • 5 russet potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 7 eggs
  • mayonaise
  • mustard, to taste
  • Cajun seasonings, to taste

Boil potatoes and eggs. Peel eggs and put boiled potatoes and eggs in a large bowl. Mash until you have a mixture of small pieces. Add mayonaise until the mixture is smooth. Add seasonings to taste. Enjoy!

This recipe can be cut in half if you want to make less, but it’s better to make a big gumbo because it takes so long to cook. Gumbo can be frozen and reheated later. I usually make a large gumbo, eat it for 3-4 days and then freeze the rest, that way I only have to cook my rice and I have a quick and easy hearty meal. Gumbo is always better the next day because all of the flavors have really sunk into the meat.

Sometimes the leftovers will be mostly the juice from the gumbo, but even that is worth freezing. When reheating the gumbo, bring it to a low boil and crack a few eggs in it. Don’t stir. The eggs will cook and help you stretch the gumbo. This tastes good in all gumbos, and it is actually one of my favorite parts about eating a gumbo.

Cooking a gumbo is more about taking an afternoon to just let it cook than about any fancy cooking technique. The main things to remember are:

  1. Make sure you’ve added enough roux so your gumbo isn’t too watery
  2. Make sure you have enough water so your gumbo isn’t a stew
  3. Stretch it as much as you can because it’s delicious

Beyond that, gumbo is done more by feel than by recipe, so use this as a guide and you’ll be able to learn the basics and then see what works. Bon appétit!


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How to Make a Roux

I wrote about how my grandmother’s mean chicken made its way to the gumbo pot in an earlier post, and this post will be about the key ingredient in Gumbo, the roux.

I believe that the most essential part of a good gumbo is a good roux. Pronounced roo, it is the basis for the gumbo’s flavor. If you can make a good roux, you can probably make a good gumbo. There are only two ingredients in roux, oil and flour.

To make a roux, take about equal parts oil and flour (I go a little bit heavier on the flour than the oil) and mix them together in a cast iron pot. I usually use about 1 cup of oil and 1 1/4  cups of flour. Make sure they’re mixed very well and then turn on the stove and stir the mixture with a wooden spoon as it cooks. Scrape the bottom of the pot to make sure that none of the roux sticks and burns. Do not stop stirring. You have to start over if you burn the roux.

The roux needs to cook to a nice dark brown color. Most of Cajun cooking is done by feel and not by recipe, and knowing the right color is something learned over time. Roux has a very distinct, smoky flavor, and the darker the roux, the bolder the flavor.

When the roux is nearing completion, pour it into a glass bowl so it will stop cooking until you’re ready to put it into the gumbo. The roux is by far the trickiest and most intensive part of making a gumbo. The rest is easy! Roux keeps well in the refrigerator, so you can always make it in advance and store it when you need it.

A good roux takes about half an hour to make. Photo from http://www.thekitchn.com

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Grandma Roy and the Chicken

Sometimes roosters can be hostile. Photo by hpoulos http://www.flickr.com/photos/hpoulos/

My grandparents on my mom’s side had chickens and rabbits in a pen behind their house. My grandfather’s name was Roy, and my grandmother’s name was Lydia. They lived just a few minutes across the bayou in Arnaudville. Both of them spoke Cajun French. For some reason I called both of  them Roy, Grandma Roy and Pop Pop Roy. My favorite story about Grandma Roy involves the chicken coop.

They had one rooster in the pen that was just plain mean. One day my older brother, Chris, went into the pen and the rooster attacked him. Roosters, of course, have spurs that they use to spar.

“Grandma Roy, that rooster you got in your pen is mean,” Chris told her.

“No, No, cher, it’s fine.”

Grandma Roy ended up going into the pen a day or so later and the rooster attacked her and left a gash on her leg.

The next day Grandma Roy went into the pen and wrung that rooster’s neck. It went into the pot for a gumbo. And that was the end of that. She was not going to put up with that rooster anymore.

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Hay Baling

Although hay baling isn’t distinctive of Louisiana, it is a big part of my growing up. My family lives on a plot of land across the street from Bayou Teche that is nearly 70 acres. My dad grew up on the back end of the property, and my grandfather used to grow sweet potatoes and have cattle on the land. Now my father uses the land to bale hay. He bales hay in the summer for extra money , and he has a few loyal customers who buy the hay from him each year.

My father has two old International 806 tractors that have been around for as long as I can remember. I used to ride on the fender while my dad drove the tractor.

I learned how to drive on this tractor

There is a gravel road from my house to the back end of the property that runs for about a mile and a half. I learned how to drive mostly by learning how to drive our old tractors, and I learned how to drive a car by driving my dad’s old Ford pickup from the 80s. After I learned how to drive, my dad would have me pull a trailer in the field so he could load up the big round bales to put them in the barn. To this day, there’s something sort of nostalgic for me in seeing the tractors and the equipment. Even now, the sound of that diesel engine is still one of my favorite sounds to this day.

Hay bales weigh several hundred pounds

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Cafe’ Du Monde

Cafe’ Du Monde is a central fixture in New Orleans’ French Quarter

Cafe’ Du Monde, known for its beignets as well as its coffee and chicory, has been open since 1862 and closes only for Christmas Day and the occasional hurricane. Located in the French Quarter, it is an essential stop if you travel to Orleans.

The place is always bustling with people who are eager to taste beignets and coffee and chicory. My typical order at Cafe’ Du Monde is a cup of cafe au lait with a order of beignets.

Workers at Cafe’ Du Monde preparing orders of coffee and begniets

Cafe’ Du Monde serves coffee and chicory, which is a blend of regular coffee and ground up chicory leaves. Chicory was sometimes used as a coffee substitute in the old days when coffee was either really scarce or really expensive. Despite chicory’s humble past, Cafe’ Du Monde proudly serves coffee and chicory to this day.

I find that the chicory gives the coffee a hearty, earthy flavor that actually makes the coffee taste considerably stronger. This distinctive flavor provides a perfect foil for the sweet taste of the beignets, which are traditional French doughnuts topped with powdered sugar. They are thick, fluffy, delicate, and exceptionally delicious.

Cafe’ Du Monde serves delicious coffee and beignets

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