A Traditional French Gumbo

What a fabulous whirlwind Thanksgiving weekend was!

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Between Wednesday and Saturday we made time to enjoy Thanksgiving with my family (especially enjoying the time we had with all four of our kiddos & the son-in-love) and the in-laws  in Tennessee, then finally attending my mother’s family 40th annual family reunion just south of Birmingham.  It was so much fun, but I have to be honest with you I am totally over rich, heavy foods, casseroles and desserts, and I am most definitely over turkey!

Looking for something different yet tasty, I looked back over my notes from a cooking class I took part in at the New Orleans School of Cooking a couple of weeks ago and decided a pot of chicken and sausage gumbo was just what we needed to break the monotony of the holiday.

This version of gumbo I learned to make in class is the traditional French, before the Italians and Haitians added their touches to southern Louisiana cuisine, so it does not have tomatoes or okra.  I won’t give you the full cooking lesson, but you use an old-fashioned dark roux for the base which is the traditional French way!

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INGREDIENTS:

1/4 cup lard or 1/2 cup bacon grease (strained)

1/2 cup flour

1 pound chicken, cut up and deboned

1 pound Andouille sausage, sliced

2 cups onion, chopped

1 cup celery, chopped

1 cup green bell pepper, chopped

1 TBSP Garlic, minced

6 cups chicken stock

1 cup green onion, slivered

Tony Chachere’s to taste (I prefer the unsalted version)

ASSEMBLING THE GUMBO:

Season (salt & pepper) and brown the chicken in 1/4 cup of the lard or bacon grease over medium high heat in a large pot.  Add sausage to pot and sauté with the chicken.

In a skillet make a roux using equal parts of lard or bacon grease (must be strained &  without particles) and flour to desired color. Heat the grease to medium-high prior to adding the flour to aid in an easier breakdown.  Whisk continually and strive for a dark roux.

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You want your roux to look like dark chocolate … this was buttery color still

You must pay attention to this step because a scorched roux smells horrendous and you’ll have to begin again.  Reduce heat and add your onions, celery, and bell pepper (also known as the Trinity of French cooking) to the roux.  Add the garlic to the mixture and stir continuously.  After vegetables reach desired tenderness, add to pot with the chicken and sausage, continuing to stir frequently with a strong wooden spoon.  Gradually stir in chicken stock and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer to cook for an hour or more.  Season the gumbo with the Tony Chachere’s to your taste.

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About 10 minutes prior to serving, add green onions.  Serve gumbo over rice or French bread if you choose.

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We LOVED this gumbo and it’s even better heated up a second day after the flavors have had more time to mesh.

What is something you like to serve to break up the rich foods served over the holidays?

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10 Things: New Orleans

“We wander through old streets, and pause before the age stricken houses; and, strange to say, the magic past lights them up.”

~ Grace King, French Quarter Guidebook ~

I absolutely love New Orleans; not the loud, drunken partying New Orleans, but the cultural, culinary, historical and gracious New Orleans.

My husband knows this, so when he had to schedule a business trip to this grand old Southern City last week, he made arrangements for me to accompany him.

{He’s thoughtful that way.}

While Bourbon Street is clearly the most happening place in New Orleans, I tend to prefer the more subdued side of town.  You may ask what else is there to experience in this town known for its lively side, so let me share some of my favorite things to enjoy while traveling New Orleans.  I’ve included a few tips and links to help you plan your own vacation.

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1. Step back in time and tour the plantations on Louisiana’s old River Road.  From the stunning Houmas House and Gardens to the lesser known St. Josephs plantation (owned by the same family since 1877), these are still estates with working gardens or sugar cane crops!

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The Houmas House, also known as the Burnside Plantation or “The Sugar Palace”… The original portion of the house was built in the 1700s with  additions made by later owners completed in the 1840s.  The original portion of the home was built in the Federal style of architecture that was so common in the late 1700s, but the newer portion is obviously Greek Revival style which was used in many old southern homes.

We toured Houmas House first thing in the morning before the tour buses arrived.  It was still cool and quiet which made for a lovely and relaxing morning.

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The Houmas House guided tour is quite informative and well worth taking.  You will hear stories of several generations who lived there as well as a few details on furniture (Audley loved the 150 year old humidor) and accessories throughout the house.

 

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St. Joseph’s Plantation in Vacherie was built in the 1820s.  I love the French Creole architecture of the area and time.  The house was originally opened on the bottom as many Creole homes were, but was enclosed prior to the Civil War so that the home is 12,000 square feet!  My guide, Rae was full of information and facts including that the home was built from cypress wood since it was inexpensive to use, then faux finished to look like oak which was much more expensive!  Very interesting when so many seem to think faux finishes are a newer design concept. 

I visited St. Josephs later in the afternoon where I enjoyed a personal tour.  There were only a few other people around this time of day so I had plenty of opportunity to ask questions and really soak in the history.

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Sugar Cane (certified organic) is still grown and harvested here at St. Josephs.  

If you love history and architecture, this is definitely a stop on your list of “to-do’s”.

2. Treat your sweet side with a trip to Sucre’ on Magazine Street for authentic French macarons, chocolates, and pastry.  Make sure you have left room in your carry-on for carrying a few delights home with you!

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Window shopping is quite sweet while strolling the streets of NOLA

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3. Enjoy the beautiful, historic Jackson Square in the French Quarter and take a tour of the stunning St. Louis Cathedral with her Renaissance & Spanish (which surprises me since Louisiana was such a large French colony) architecture, first completed in 1793 and added onto in 1850!

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The Andrew Jackson statue … Hence the naming of Jackson Square.

4. Enjoy a carriage ride through the French Quarter with a knowledgable and entertaining guide.  If you are limited on time, this is one of the best ways to take in a little of local New Orleans history and flavor.

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We took our tour at twilight and left from in front of the cathedral, where tours leave from all day.  We participated in a group tour so our ride was $20/each, Carriages for two run about $45/each.

5. Indulge your taste buds with delicious New Orleans flavor by dining at one of the many local restaurants found in the downtown area.  We thoroughly enjoyed dining at the Red Fish Grill located on Bourbon Street (near Canal).

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Start your meal with fresh, Gulf oysters shucked right in front of you, then venture into the dining room for a delicious meal showcasing traditional, local flavor.

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I highly recommend the shrimp and grits topped with friend pickled okra and pancetta, although Audley was totally suggest the wood plank grilled red fish with lump crab meat.

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No matter which you prefer, make reservations before heading out for the evening.  This is true for almost every restaurant in the area!

6. And while you are making reservations be sure make time for a cooking class at the New Orleans School of Cooking.  

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Our demo and tasting class included Gumbo, jambalaya, and Pralines and was only $28 each.  We were so full when we left, so it is well worth participating in.

Here you can choose a demo and tasting class, or a full hands-on instructional class.  Either way, you are going to learn a lot about traditional French cooking from Colonial, Louisiana and how it evolved with Italian, African, and Haitian influences into the amazing flavors we enjoy today!

7. While I’m definitely not a fan of Bourbon Street, I LOVE strolling down it long enough to reach Fritzel’s European Jazz Pub.  A stop in Fritzels is like stepping back in time to mid-century France or Germany with their jazz clubs, long wooden tables and benches included.  It doesn’t take long for you to find yourself lost in the music, leaving the present day behind.

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There is not a cover charge for Fritzels, but there is a minimum one drink per set purchase required; bottled water counts as a drink!

8.  Tour an old historic cemetery as there are plenty to choose from.  The old St Louis Cemetery #1 is the most popular and requires a $20 admission and comes with a guide.  Audley and I enjoy exploring on our own and there are several which allow you to do just that.  One of our favorites in the Hook and Ladder cemetery (established in 1858) in Gretna.  It’s not too big, still lovely in a unique way, and definitely worth checking out.  If you want to make your tour a little more interesting, read up on how these family mausoleums work… extremely interesting!

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The Hook and Ladder is located next to fabulous restaurant, The Red Maple,  which I also highly recommend you visit for supper one night!

9. Take some time out to shop the market in the French Quarter. From local boutiques artisans to stereotypical gift shops, there is something to be found for everyone on your shopping list.

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10. Did you really visit New Orleans if you skip over Cafe du Monde?  Located next to Jackson Square in the Quarter, stopping in for beignets and a cafe au lait in this famous open-air cafe is a must-do on your trip.  Choosing from a very limited menu of hot chocolates, coffee, cafe au lait and beignets takes little time.  There is really no excuse to miss this cafe as they are open 24-hours!

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Have you visited New Orleans before?  What are your favorite things to do in this grand old city?

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What I Did on My Summer Vacation: A Taste of New Orleans

When Audley and I were mapping out what all we would do while traveling for eight days back in June we knew that while New Orleans was on our path, it really wasn’t an option for a stay with his work schedule.  Trying to keep as close to schedule as possible and still maximize our time we picked an option that allowed us to enjoy a taste of NOLA and still make our hotel reservation in Mississippi.

New Orleans is known for fabulous cuisine with very unique flavor, and since I was game for a good cheat night, we decided New Orleans was definitely the place to enjoy it!  Audley has had to meet for business a couple of times here and had a place all picked out for us to enjoy together.

The Red Maple, actually located in Gretna, just outside of New Orleans on the West Bank, is a unique restaurant as it began in a house (to which it is still attached) in 1963 and has expanded over the years as a hidden treasure in the area.  It has been owned and operated by several generations of the Trauth family all of these years, a family that has EIGHT generations of restaurant owners!  There is a wall showcasing the family through the years.  It truly make dining at the Red Maple a more personal experience.

The Red Maple has lunch and supper service with extensive menus for both.  There is also a children’s menu available, although I’m not real sure that I would bring children in for supper as the atmosphere is truly geared for the adult diner.

We arrived early for dinner (just as they were opening for the evening meal) thanks to storms shortening our afternoon at Oak Alley Plantation, which gave me the opportunity to snap plenty of pictures and enjoy impeccable service from the waitstaff at Red Maple.

I loved the decor… copper pitchers and lanterns hanging from the wooden rafters helped create a warm environment.

Tables set for the crowd that would soon fill the space in the main dining room.  There are also private rooms and banquet spaces available for groups and a full-service bar with a knowledgable and fun bar tender.

Despite our original reservation being for later in the evening, the maitre de was able to sit us immediately for supper.   Our drink orders were quickly filled and fresh house baked bread and butter were brought to our table.

I don’t think my tea glass was less than half full all evening!

Along with a simply amazing blue cheese wedge salad (which I totally forgot to shoot) we started off our meal with a jumbo shrimp cocktail and charbroiled oysters.  I absolutely love seafood, especially when fresh is definitely and option.
We were not disappointed at all.

For his main course, Audley ordered the house speciality; Redfish Pontchartrain is a pan-seared fillet topped with lump crabmeat and mushroom-sherry cream.

I cannot begin to describe the richness and flavor of this dish, but next time we are in the area, this is what I am ordering!

Since I was enjoying a cheat night choosing to splurge a little for supper, I went for the Crawfish ravioli which consisted of Breaded Ravioli Stuffed with Pepper Jack Cheese Over Angel Hair Pasta with a Creamy Crawfish Sauce.

Oh. My. Goodness.

It was absolutely delicious and full of that Creole/Cajun flavor that I was totally looking for when I knew we would be having supper in New Orleans.

Even though we were very early for our reservation, our waiter, nor anyone else in the restaurant made us feel as if we had “messed up” their evening.  We found the staff at the Red Maple to be very accommodating and friendly, eager to please their customers.
We left very full and satisfied with the grand meal that we most definitely overindulged in!

After you have enjoyed all of this deliciously rich food, you can take an evening walk through the historic Hook & Ladder cemetery right behind the restaurant.

I know it seems rather creepy, but the above ground mausoleums tell stories you cannot find just anywhere.  The Hook and Ladder cemetery was first established in 1859 in Gretna.  Buried here is the first mayor of Gretna as well as the first victim of a skirmish between the United States and Mexico.

 Some of these tombs are quite simple, while others are elaborate monuments made of marble to honor the memory of those they hold.

Reading all of the names on the monuments was a piece of history in itself as there was such a mixture of French and Spanish names which were the foundation of the Creole/Cajun peoples of Louisiana.  But it was also interesting that there were a number of Germanic names inscribed as well.

Multiple generations can be found in many of the tombs; what I consider a unique tribute to each of the families. It’s as if they have always been close and united.

Since I was just talking food, I won’t explain how so many generations can fit into a space that seems so small, but it is quite interesting I assure you!

When reading up on the cemetery I discovered while a Catholic tradition, the locals still spend the last week of October cleaning the cemetery, painting and polishing the mausoleums and participate in the laying of fresh flowers on the graves on All Saints Day; November 1.

It is just ingrained as a part of the culture now.

Truly it was a wonderful and peaceful sunset walk with Audley.

If you plan a trip to New Orleans in the near future, add the Red Maple to your list of “must-do’s”.

Red Maple Restaurant
1036 Lafayette Street
Gretna, Louisiana 70053
phone: (504) 367-0935


And, don’t forget to check out the Hook and Ladder Cemetery right behind the restaurant to walk off your dinner!

You’ll be so glad that you took the time to visit New Orleans’ West Bank!

What I Did on My Summer Vacation: Oak Alley Plantation

Between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, right on the Mississippi River, just off the beaten path is Vacherie, Louisiana.  It is common knowledge (& something I am teased about endlessly) in our home that I love the antebellum period of history.  Not the negatives of it all, but the beautiful architecture, the romance, the elegance of the ladies, a time where the hustle and bustle of everyday life did not exist as it does today.  Vacherie is the home to many beautiful and historical plantations that have survived from the early 1800’s thanks to historical preservationists and individuals and with my love for this elegant time, it was inevitable that Audley & I would visit one of the graceful homes while on our road trip.  Plantation row in Vacherie has so many wonderful places to choose from when visiting the area, but Audley and I decided to tour the most well-known, Oak Alley.
 Over the years, Oak Alley has been featured prominently in several Hollywood films; Primary Colours with John Travolta, and more recently, Tom Cruise’s Interview with a Vampire are just two of the many.Oak Alley is most famous for the gorgeous row of 300 year old Oak trees that line the front walkway from near the Mississippi River to the old house that have withstood the tests of time from hurricanes to flooding to droughts.I admit, I find them very romantic and they played a large part in my reasoning to visit Oak Alley.

The view through the 28 Oaks that make the beautiful alley to the Mississippi from the house.

The original Oak trees were planted by an unknown settler to the area in the 1700’s and was honestly the selling factor when Jacques Telesphore Roman acquired this land (already a working sugar cane farm) in trade with his brother-in-law Valcour Aime to build a home for his wife, Celina, and at least one of their children in 1837.  He preferred this area to raise a family as he was NOT a fan of New Orleans and it’s immorality.  Despite all of the beauty and grandeur of Oak Alley, Celina was never really happy there (preferring the social life of New Orleans) and left Oak Alley after her husband’s death years later.

It took over two years to build the grand Greek Revival style home on the Mississippi among the Oaks, with finishing touches added through 1841.




When you walk around the outside of the home and once inside you will notice that instead of windows on the bottom floor, French doors are in place.  They line up with doorways on the inside and in the summer months were opened up to allow for breeze and keep the house cool.  The walls are 16-inches thick and are brick both inside (covered with plaster) and out.  The bricks were made using all local material from the Mississippi River and were made by the slaves.  



Windows and doors were brought up river via steamboat.  Flooring in the house was originally a beautiful marble but over the years was replaced with hardwood.

To visit the Roman family at Oak Alley in the 1800’s guests either traveled three days by horse and buggy from New Orleans or rode a steamboat up the Mississippi River.  Guests were not just dropping in for dinner and cards, but were coming to visit for days and even weeks!
 The levee wasn’t built as high during this time period as it is now, so this beautiful estate was visible from the river.  As you can imagine when boats passed by or visitors arrived they were mesmerized by the beauty and elegance of this estate.



When guests first arrived at Oak Alley they met at the dock and were taken to the front parlour to relax and unwind a bit after their journey.  

The beautiful parlour chandelier

Here the men would enjoy brandy or sugar cane spirits made on the plantation while the ladies would indulge in a little seasonal fruit.  I know that seems sexist, but women were frowned upon for drinking spirits, especially in mixed company, but they would soak their fruit in liquor and enjoy it. 

{History has proven time and again, women have a way to get what they want!}

Many traditions of the Roman’s French Creole background were shared throughout our tour of the home from the sharing a pineapple (which was a symbol of hospitality and warmth) to courting rituals.


The front parlor was also a space where the courting took place at Oak Alley.  


Our great guide through our tour of Oak Alley, dressed in period appropriate attire.

I loved hearing the story behind the phrase “he got the short-end of the stick”.  When a gentleman would come calling a candle was lit in a coiled candle stick.  The candle was raised or lower based on how impressed the family was with the gentleman caller and when the candle itself burned to the first coil, your date was over!  If you had been fortunate enough to have the candle high in the coil you enjoyed a long evening with the family.  If a caller “got the short end of the stick” the candle had been set low and didn’t take long to burn to the first coil!  And the height of the candle was subject to change as an evening progressed and not necessarily because it burned down!

{I may need to try this with my daughters.}

The furniture in the home, although period correct, IS NOT original to the home or the Roman family.  In fact only a couple of dishes and a cradle in an upstairs room is all that did belong to the Roman family.

The dining room was spacious and beautiful in the home.  Boasting a 16-foot dining table The Roman’s  hosted many an elaborate dinner party for their guests.

If you notice the silverware looks huge compared to the dishes, this was no accident.  The oversized silverware was a way that wealth and prominence was demonstrated.  Celina Roman was all about appearances which came back to hurt her and the family later in life.

Over the top of the table was a large harp-shaped piece, known as a “shoo-fly” that provided a breeze to keep the family and guests cool during mealtime.  A young boy would occupy a chair in the corner and work the pulley to keep the fan working.

The two plates in the box are the only known original dishes belonging to the Roman family and Oak Alley.

from my Instagram pictures

The bedrooms were upstairs in the home.  One of the first rooms we were shown was a mourning room.  This was a room where sick family members stayed or a body was laid in state after death.  The guide we had never said if this room was used for anything else, but I would assume it was.

 The Creoles were a very superstitious people so the mirrors were covered with black veils to keep the spirits from seeing themselves until the body was buried.

The rolling pin on the bed was a common item in the bedrooms.  Maids used them every morning to roll out and smooth the mattresses that were filled with horse hair and Spanish moss.

The other bedrooms were just beautifully decorated with period furnishings and accessories.  A children’s bedroom was so sweet, especially with the little dolls on display.  Children (even though they were wealthy) did not have the extravagance children today have.

The Master/Guest room was beautiful as well, with a gorgeous Pineapple bed as it’s centerpiece.  As I mentioned before, the pineapple was a Creole symbol of hospitality so it played a role in many aspects of decorating.

The beautiful cradle that is the only known surviving piece if the Roman family is also displayed in this room.  It held the six children birthed by Celina Roman.

The family portrait wall shows the Roman family.  The three shadow prints are three of their children who passed away in infancy.

A sweet southern belle answering questions for visitors to Oak Alley

Jacques Telespore Roman died at the age of 48.  His widow, Celina returned to New Orleans, as she had never been happy at Oak Alley, leaving the plantation to be run by her son Henri.  With Celina’s extravagant spending, Henri’s lack of ability to run the plantation and the Civil War, the Roman family eventually fell into financial ruin.  Oak Alley along with all of its belongings were auctioned off for a mere $32,000, not even enough to cover the debt the family had.

Many others owned the plantation over the years, but it mostly sat abandoned.  As it sat abandoned the roof rotted, cattle made it their own shelter, destroying the beautiful marble floors and it fell into ruins.

The final bedroom on our tour was the “lavender room”.  This room is the only one in the house that holds furniture that does not fit the period.  The final owner of the home, Josephine Stewart, used this room as her own until her death.  Her husband, Andrew, had purchased the home in 1926 in desperate need of repair. Together they restored this Mississippi River treasure, making Oak Alley a showplace again.  Mrs. Stewart also redesigned and restored some of the garden spaces. In her later yeas, after Mr. Stewart’s death, Josephine establish a foundation to preserve Oak Alley for the future.  She passed away in 1972, and in 1978, Oak Alley was designated a National Historic Landmark.

The grounds of Oak Alley are as beautiful as the house and so enjoyable to walk around.  You can sip an ice cold lemonade or mint julep while taking in the gardens and other points of interest of Oak Alley.

The rear of Oak Alley
Once a large pot for cooking sugar cane, many of these dot the landscape as decor.  During WWI most of Oak Alley’s sugar cooking pots were donated to be used for military needs.
The original bell to signal the end of the work day and meal times.
Audley and I in the shadows of a 300 year Oak tree covered in resurrection moss…

Oak Alley is the only plantation home where Spanish Moss does not drape the trees (It had to be brought in for filming Interview with a Vampire several years ago!).  No one seems to know why.  The resurrection moss wilts in the heat of the day but is revived by the afternoon showers that frequent the area.
This cottage predates the actual mansion.  It was most likely an overseers cartage, but Jacques Roman did not use an overseer, preferring to manage his own affairs.  Now it is a private residence.

The Oak Alley Foundation is striving to preserve much of the history associated with the plantation.  They are painstakingly researching and rebuilding the slave quarters to give visitors a glimpse into slave life.

An old fire extinguisher on display

The location of the river was of most importance when sugar cane was originally planted here, so that exporting his crops was fairly easy and convenient.  Oak Alley was a 1200 acre sugar cane plantation, and to this day sugar cane is still grown and sold on this property. 

Sugar cane blowing in an afternoon thunderstorm.


We only had a little while to tour the home and a bit of the grounds before a huge thunderstorm hit, shortening our visit.  It was such a great trip back into time!  If you are ever in the New Orleans or Baton Rouge areas I seriously recommend that you take the time to do one of the plantation tours.

Next up on our vacation was dinner and cemetery tour in New Orleans!  If you would like to see what we did in Baton Rouge you can check it out here.