Crazy Sista Cooking: Cuisine & Conversation with Lucy Anne Buffet

Lucy-8690-smWhen my daughter was in high school, I drove her and a friend down to Gulf Shores, Alabama for spring break. While we were there, a friend insisted we go to Lucy Buffet’s Lulu’s Gulf Shores, a bayside beach restaurant. I was pretty sure, no make that positive, that this would be some kind of not-so-good-but-my-brother-Jimmy-is-a-major-celebrity type of place. The good thing, I thought when we sat down in the very crowded main dining room was that we could see dolphins frolicking out in the water from our screened in, over-sized window. That would make the bad food worth it.

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Okay, so I totally misjudged what Lulu’s was all about. The food was delicious, whatever was fried was done just right—not greasy or heavy—and there were plenty of other options on the menu that were delicious like the crab melt, Crazy Sista’s Juicy Pot Roast Sandwich (yes, indeed, pot roast), gumbo, Lulu’s Jerk Chicken Quesadillas and, of course, this being the south, fried okra and fried hushpuppies (both of which were wonderful). I was given a copy of her cookbook, Crazy Sista Cooking: Cuisine & Conversation with Lucy Anne Buffet (Grand Central Life & Style) that included a foreword by brother Jimmy. Crazy Sista is Lucy Anne’s nickname. Now Buffet also has restaurants in Destin, Florida and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina and several other cookbooks including LuLu’s Kitchen: A Taste of the Gulf Coast Good Life and Gumbo Love: Recipes for Gulf Coast Cooking, Entertaining, and Savoring the Good Life. Many of the zippy recipes are the same with new ones added. For the fried oyster recipe Dave requested, I included Mama’s Favorite Oyster Loaf. Instead of oysters, you can use fried shrimp or even fried veggies instead.

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The recipe calls for making a lot of the ingredients such as her Sweet and Sassy Icebox Pickles and Lulu’s Crazy Frying Cornmeal. I’ve included those recipes, thinking you can plop the pickles in the refrigerator and eat them at other times and save the left over cornmeal mix as well. But if you’re in a hurry, feeling lazy or just want to make it simple, you can just find comparable ingredients at the grocery store.   And since it’s good to have an accompaniment, I’ve included Lulu’s recipe for Sweet Tomato Pie.

The following recipes are from LuLu’s Kitchen: A Taste of the Gulf Coast Good Life by Lucy Anne Buffet (Grand Central Life & Style, $20).

Listen to Lucy talk about Gumbo Love.

Mama’s Favorite Oyster Loaf

Makes 4 sandwiches

1 quart oysters

4 (8-inch) New Orleans-style French bread or 1 baguette, cut into four pieces

2 to 3 tablespoons butter, softened

Mayonnaise to taste

Lettuce leaves

2 medium tomatoes, sliced

Sweet and Sassy Icebox Pickle slices (recipe below)

Hot Pepper Sauce

Preheat oven to 200 degrees.

Fried oysters (see recipe below)

Preheat oven to 200 degrees.

Fry oysters in batches and place cooked oysters in oven to keep warm.

Slice bread horizontally, about three-fourths of the way through, leaving one edge intact.

Spear a little butter on inside surface of French bread and toast. I like to place mine face-down on a warm skillet or grill.

Spread mayonnaise on toasted read.

Layer lettuce, tomato slices and pickles on bottom side of the bread. Top with fried oysters, using about eight oysters per sandwich.

Add a few dashes of hot sauce to taste.

Cut into halves or quarters depending upon the bread you’re using and serve.

Sweet and Sassy Icebox Pickles

1 (1-gal.) jar whole kosher dill pickles, drained, cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices

4 cups granulated sugar

4 cups packed light brown sugar

1 cup apple cider vinegar

2/3 cup peeled, halved, and sliced fresh ginger

1/4 cup prepared horseradish

1 tablespoon crushed red pepper

1 tablespoon mustard seeds

1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric

4 medium-size yellow onions, thinly sliced

20 garlic cloves, sliced in half lengthwise

8 cinnamon sticks

Place all the ingredients in a big ol’ stainless steel bowl or large plastic food-safe container with an airtight lid. Using your hands, toss well. Cover and chill overnight. The pickles will reduce in volume, so the next day you can place in a very large jar or several small airtight containers for easier storage.

Refrigerate at least 1 week before using, turning topsy-turvy every day. Pickles are ready when sugar has dissolved and all dill flavor has vanished. Store in refrigerator up to 3 weeks.

Perfect Fried Oysters

Make Lulu’s Crazy Crying Cornmeal (recipe below) or use regular cornmeal.

6 cups peanut oil or enough to fill a skillet, about 2 inches deep

1 quart oysters, drained

Heat oil in cast iron skillet to 355 degrees or heat until a little flour flicked into the oil sizzles

Taking a few oysters at a time, dredge through cornmeal mixture coating thoroughly.

Gently drop into hot oil. Fry until golden brown turning once or until they float to the top. Drain on paper towels and serve immediately.

Lulu’s Crazy Frying Cornmeal

2 cups all-purpose white cornmeal

2 tablespoons Creole seasoning

1 tablespoon black pepper

½ teaspoon salt

Combine all ingredients and mix well.

Sweet Tomato Pie

Serves 6-8

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

Pastry for 1 pie crust

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 large onion, thinly sliced

1 tablespoon sugar

4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced

4 ounces cream cheese, softened

1/2 cup mayonnaise

2 tablespoons heavy cream

1 tablespoon sour cream

1 tablespoon honey mustard

1 cup shredded Parmesan

4 green onions, including the green part, cut into 2-inch pieces

4 large red tomatoes, in 1/4-inch slices

1/2 teaspoon each kosher salt and coarsely ground black pepper

1/2 cup fresh basil, cut in ribbons

2 cups shredded Gruyere or Swiss cheese

Heat oven to 450 degrees. Sprinkle flour over work surface and roll pastry dough to fit a 7-by-11-inch baking dish, making sure dough comes up the sides of the dish. Poke bottom of crust with a fork in several places. Bake for 9 to 10 minutes or until lightly browned. Let cool. Reduce oven temperature to 400 degrees.

In a cast iron or heavy skillet, heat butter and olive oil over medium heat. Add onions and sugar; sauté until onions are very brown and caramelized. Add garlic and stir constantly for 1 to 2 minutes or until garlic is cooked through and tender. Remove onions and garlic from skillet and let cool.

Using a food processor, process cream cheese, mayonnaise, cream, sour cream, mustard, Parmesan and green onions until well mixed.

In the cooled pie crust, layer half the onions, cream cheese mixture, sliced tomatoes, salt, pepper, basil and Gruyere. Repeat. Bake for 35 minutes or until pie is bubbling and top is browned. Cool for 15 to 20 minutes before slicing.

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Serves 4 to 6

1 (750-milliliter) bottle Pinot Gris or any other crisp light white wine

1/2 cup peach-flavored vodka

2/3 cup sugar

1/4 fresh pineapple, chopped into cubes

1/2 lemon, cut into wedges

2 fresh strawberries, chopped

1/2 mango, chopped into cubes

1 (8-ounce) can ginger ale

Ice cubes

In a very large pitcher, combine the wine, vodka, sugar, and fruit. Stir well. Let the ingredients steep in the fridge for 2 to 24 hours (the longer, the better).

Add the ginger ale and ice cubes about 30 minutes before serving.

Place a strainer over the mouth of the pitcher and pour to order. Garnish with any leftover fruit, such as more of the pineapple, lemon, strawberries, and mango.

 

 

King Solomon’s Table: A Culinary Exploration of Jewish Cooking from Around the World

            For her book King Solomon’s Table: A Culinary Exploration of Jewish Cooking from Around the World (Alfred A. Knopf 2017; $35), Joan Nathan, the multiple James Beard award winner, followed in the footsteps of Jewish traders as they circumvented the globe centuries and even millenniums ago. As they traveled, they brought the food cultures from the lands they’d visited before and adapted new ones but keeping close to their dietary laws, traditions and homelands.Joan Nathan (c) Gabriela Herman (1)

            Nathan, who has written almost a dozen cookbooks, recounts the culinary history and geography of these early travelers in her sumptuous new book featuring over 170 recipes.

            It begins at the Paradesi Synagogue in Kochi, Kerala where Nathan spies an inscription indicating Jewish traders might have crossed the Indian Ocean from Judea to India during the reign of King Solomon. Already a world traveler, Nathan next made her way to Chendamangalam, a hamlet 20 miles north of Kochi surrounded by a lush landscape of mango, coconut and cinnamon trees and pepper and cardamom vines.

            “As I walked toward the bank of the nearby Periyar River, which flows into the Arabian Sea, I imagined ancient Hebrew adventurers and traders arriving on the shores and marveling at the lushness of the terrain,” writes Nathan in the introduction of her book.

            And so we too are seduced by her journey into exotic lands, looking at how foods and ingredients have crisscrossed the globe originating far from where we first might have thought.

            We chat about Malai, a Romanian cornmeal ricotta breakfast pudding that she features in her book and I tell her how I learned to make a polenta-like dish from my Romanian grandmother.

            “Oh mamaliga,” she says, like everyone knows about mamaliga.  But then what would you expect from a woman whose book contains five recipes for haroset, a thick sauce or paste typically made of chopped fruits and nuts. It, like so many recipes, has morphed, bouncing back and forth between countries and continents, each time being tweaked just a little and Nathan includes a version from Brazil, Persia, Ferrara and, of all places, Maine.

            Asked what recipes she’d recommend for those just starting using her cookbook, Nathan suggests Yemenite Chicken Soup with Dill, Cilantro and Parsley (“a really old recipe,” she says noting that historic records dating back to 12th century the healing power of chicken broth). She also suggests Malai, the Romania dish and Roman Ricotta Cheese Crostata with Cherries or Chocolate, a cheesecake recipe dating back to Imperial Rome in the 1st century. She also included a recipe from her friend, her friend Injy Farat-Lew, an Egyptian-Jew who grew up in Cairo and Paris, for a flourless chocolate cake and one for hard boiled eggs traditionally served ruing Passover on the Seder plate but can be used as a side for any meal.

            “This recipe for long-cooked eggs with spinach came from the island of Corfu, Greece to Ancona, Italy, a seaport on the Adriatic coast,” writes Nathan, who first taste the dish in Rome, in the introduction to this recipe which also exemplifies the convoluted origins of food.

            As she traveled (Nathan says her quest took her to approximately 30 countries over a six-year time span), the scope of her book changed. But it was all part of her culinary journey and one she continues to take.

 

Huevos Haminados con Spinaci

(Long-Cooked Hard-Boiled Eggs with Spinach)

 

Yield: 12 servings

 

12 large eggs, preferably fresh from a farmers’ market

4 tablespoons olive oil

1 1/2 cups red onion (about 1 large), peeled and chopped coarsely

1 tablespoon sea salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 1/2 pounds spinach, fresh or frozen (thawed and drained if frozen)

 

Put the eggs in a cooking pot and add water to cover by about 2 inches. Then add the olive oil, onions, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then lower heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Cool and remove the eggs with a slotted spoon. Tap the eggs gently against the counter and peel under cold running water, keeping them as whole as possible.

 

Return the peeled eggs to the pot with the seasoned water and simmer very slowly uncovered for at least 2 hours, or until the water is almost evaporated and the onions almost dissolved. The eggs will become dark and creamy as the cooking water evaporates and they absorb all the flavoring.

 

Remove the eggs carefully to a bowl, rubbing into the cooking liquid any of the cream that forms on the outside. Heat the remaining cooking liquid over medium heat, bring to a simmer, and add the spinach. Cook the spinach until most of the liquid is reduced, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon, about 30 minutes, or until the spinach is creamy and well cooked. Serve a dollop of spinach with a hard-boiled egg on top as the first part of the Seder meal or as a first course of any meat.

 

Flourless Chocolate Cake

 

8 ounces good bittersweet chocolate

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter or coconut oil

6 large eggs, separated

3/4 cup sugar

Pinch of salt

1 teaspoon vanilla

Unsweetened cocoa powder for dusting

Raspberries and blueberries for topping

Whipped cream or ice cream (optional)

Directions

 

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and butter a 9-or 10-inch spring-form pan with spray, or a little of the butter or coconut oil.

 

Melt the chocolate and the butter or coconut oil in a double-boiler or in a microwave for a little more than a minute. Let cool.

 

In the bowl of an electric stand mixer using the whip attachment, beat the egg whites with 1/2 cup of the sugar and the salt until soft peaks form. In a separate bowl, whip the yolks with the remaining 1/4 cup sugar and vanilla. Using a spatula, slowly stir in the chocolate in the egg yolk mixture. Then carefully fold in the egg whites. Don’t overmix or it will deflate.

 

Bake for 28 to 35 minutes, or until the cake is fully set around the edges. You want it to be slightly gooey in the center.

 

Let cool in the pan for a few minutes, then remove from pan and cool completely, and dust with cocoa.

 

Serve topped with berries and, if you like, with whipped cream or ice cream.

 

Yields 8 to 10 servings

 

Above recipes courtesy of Joan Nathan “King Solomon’s Table.”

 

Jane Ammeson can be contacted via email at janeammeson@gmail.com or by writing to Focus, The Herald Palladium, P.O. Box 128, St. Joseph, MI 49085.

The Spice Diet: Use Powerhouse Flavor to Fight Cravings and Win the Weight-Loss Battle

Sharing his life story and his struggle with food was the inspiration behind Judson Todd Allen’s recently released “The Spice Diet: Use Powerhouse Flavor to Fight Cravings and Win the Weight-Loss Battle” (Grand Central Life & Style 2018; $27). Indeed, when Steve Harvey wanted to lose weight he tuJudson Allen Author Photo_credit Komifotorned to Allen, who helped him drop 30 pounds. Even more impressively, Judson himself shed more than 100 pounds and has managed to keep it off.

“Since I was little, I struggled with weight and telling people about my journey is very empowering for me,” says Allen, a finalist in Season 8 on the “Food Network Star” and executive chef of Taste 222 restaurant in Chicago’s West Loop. “It’s something that many people go through and this book allows me to help others.”

Allen graduated from the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences and then earned a bachelor’s in food science and nutrition at the University of Illinois at Urbana. This background gave him a unique perspective on food and later, studying at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris and then traveling throughout Europe sampling a myriad of cuisine, solidified his perspective that the use of spices can create foods so compelling and flavorful that they can overcome our need for sugar and salt.

Citrus such as lime and lemon or lemons zest produce a taste effect that’s similar to salt says Allen, the CEO and Executive Chef of Healthy Infused Cuisine, LLC., a premium cuisine company that provides customized personal, private and event chef services and catering to clients who desire healthier food choices that don’t compromise taste.

“It’s all about balancing,” he says, noting that using spices, herbs, fresh ingredients, cutting out things and using alternatives works when it comes to creating tasty food that doesn’t have unnecessary and unhealthy ingredients. “I balance vinegar’s acidity with sweetness using honey or agave. It all gives a level of flavor that keeps you from cravings for salt. One of the things about most diets is you have these cravings and we all know cravings are hard to overcome. If we want to have a healthy life-style change we need foods that we will always want to eat.”

One of the cravings Allen, who was born and raised in Chicago, remembered and wanted to re-imagine was the marvelous food his grandfather, a New Orleans native, cooked.

“One of his favorite dishes is fried fish and grits,” says Allen. “It is only fitting that I re-create the delectable taste of his favorite dish in a healthier version, because he is my inspiration for being a chef. Early on in my attempts to change my eating habits, I figured out the best way to achieve the fried fish effect without the deep-frying and calories. By incorporating healthy nuts with the perfect spice blend and other flavor enhancements, I cracked the code with this recipe.”

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Photo credit @wellnessmats

I learned so much from him writes Steve Harvey in the book’s introduction.

“Being able to make a lifetime commitment to healthy eating depended on getting to the root of my issues with food. He showed me how to ‘cheat on my favorite foods by substituting healthy ingredients and spice combinations without sacrificing any of the flavor or texture. He was a stickler for portion control,” he continues. “After a while, I didn’t notice that I was eating less, because my food was so delicious and satisfying.

“A few outstanding dishes left a lasting impression on me. His Special Fried Chicken, which was organic chicken marinated in a crazy blend of spices and crusted with pecans and fresh parsley, looked just like pieces of dark golden fried chicken, but it was baked in the oven in a healthy way. I also appreciated his creativity when he made a healthier version of cornbread, one of my favorites, by using cauliflower, jalapeño, and other ingredients for a comparable yet brand-new experience that was totally satisfying. Given my long days, I really appreciated the snacks, especially his health bars. The recipes are all in The Spice Diet.”

Judson Todd Allen will be cooking and talking about his cookbook at Read It and Eat on Thursday, April 5 from 6:30 to 8:30 CT. 2142 North Halsted Street, Chicago, IL. (773) 661-6158; readitandeatstore.com

The following recipes are courtesy of Chef Judson Todd Allen

New Orleans Pecan-Crusted Catfish

Serves: 6

Serving size: 1 fillet

Calories per serving: 292

This recipe works with just about any type of fish. If catfish is not your cup of tea, then swap it out for halibut, cod, red snapper, sword fish or salmon.

3/4 cup finely chopped pecans

1/3 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese

4 tablespoons Bayou Cajun Spice Blend, divided (recipe below; you can reduce this amount if you have sensitivity to heat)

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

1 tablespoon lemon zest

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon olive oil, divided

6 (5-ounce) catfish fillets or almost any other kind of fish, deboned

Lemon wedges, for garnish

Preheat the oven to 400° F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, combine the pecans, cheese, 3 tablespoons Bayou Cajun Spice Blend, parsley, lemon zest, and 1 tablespoon of the olive oil.

Place catfish fillets on the lined baking sheet. Brush the fillets with the remaining teaspoon of olive oil and rub in 1 tablespoon of the Bayou Cajun Spice Blend. Massage the oil and spice on both sides of the fish.

Spread the pecan crust liberally over the top of each piece of fish.

Bake for 15 minutes, or until the crust is dark golden and the fish is flaky and moist. Serve with lemon wedges.

Bayou Cajun Spice Blend

Yield: 1/4 cup

“Cajun cuisine is the food of my ancestors,” says Allen. “I love it. Let the good times roll! When I think about catfish now, I think about this blend. It works well with any white- fleshed fish, shrimp, or poultry, and brings vegetables to life.”

2 teaspoons freshly ground white pepper

2 teaspoons garlic powder

2 teaspoons onion powder

2 teaspoons cayenne pepper

2 teaspoons paprika

1 tablespoon dried thyme

2 teaspoons ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon mustard powder

Mix together all the ingredients in an airtight container and store in a cool, dry place away from heat and light.

The Ultimate Tuna Salad

Serves 4-6

Serving Size: 1 Cup

Calories Per Serving: 257

3 (5-ounce) cans albacore tuna in water, drained

1/2 English cucumber, diced

1 teaspoon capers, drained

2 avocados, pitted, peeled, and cut into 1/2” cubes

1 small red onion, thinly sliced into half moons

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley

1/2 teaspoon finely chopped fresh dill

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro

3/4 cup sliced cherry tomatoes

2 teaspoons Bayou Cajun Spice Blend (recipe follows)

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

2 tablespoons olive oil

In a large serving bowl, combine the tuna, cucumber, capers, avocado, onion, fresh herbs, tomatoes and Cajun Spice Blend. Add the lemon juice and olive oil and toss the salad.

Chef Judson’s Sweet and Sour Dill Pickle Cashews

1 tablespoon honey

1 teaspoon fresh lime juice

1 teaspoon olive oil

1 teaspoon Sour Dill Pickle Spice Blend (see recipe below)

2 cups raw unsalted cashews

Preheat the oven to 350° F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a bowl, mix the honey, lime juice, olive oil, and Sour Dill Pickle Spice Blend together. Add the nuts and coat them fully.

Spread the nuts on the lined baking sheet and bake for 10 to 15 minutes.

Serve warm or at room temperature. Nuts can be stored in an air – tight container in the pantry for 6 to 9 months, in the refrigerator away from strong smelling food up to a year, and in the freezer for 2 years.

Sour Dill Pickle Spice Blend

Yield: about 1⁄3 cup

Dill and lemon is a familiar combination, and the garlic in this blend adds another layer of flavor. I use it on salmon and delicate fish like sole or flounder. This blend is not overpowering. It’s great in a broth – based soup. It also pairs well with shellfish.

2 tablespoons dried dill

3 tablespoons lemon pepper

1 teaspoon granulated garlic

Mix all the ingredients in an airtight container and store in a cool, dry place away from heat and light.

Recipes excerpted from “The Spice Diet” Copyright © 2018 by Judson Todd Allen. Reprinted with permission of Grand Central Life & Style. All rights reserved.