Category Archives: Recipes

In Light of Pi Day, A Pie Recipe – Cane River Pie

This is really more like a cake than a pie, but I think it is pretty close to the Cane River Pie recipe ate Lasyone's in Natchitoches.

It is incredibly simple to make (uses box mixes) and tastes way, way better than you would think when you look at the ingredients (I promise).

 

Cane River Pie

Box of Spice Cake Mix

Box of Vanilla Pudding

Container of Cool Whip (leave out of refrigerator so it defrosts completely and is very soft).

Bottle of Hershey's Chocolate Syrup

Make cake according to mix recipe. You can do it in a round or rectangle cake pan, but you're going to slice in half lengthwise so don't make it too thin. If you ise a round pan you'll get two layers and you can slice each of those and end up with a 4 layer cake or you can forego the slicing and put the pudding later between the two whole layers.

Make box of Vanilla Pudding and let it set up. I use instant because it sets better for use in this recipe.

When cake is cooked and cool, slice in half lengthwise and take apart into two pieces.

On the bottom of the cake plate, lay the top half of the cake upside down (upper crust on the bottom of the plate). You should now be looking down on the cut portion of the cake.

Squeeze chocolate syrup in a spider web design on the cake surface. Use enough but don't over do it. There's lots more chocolate syrup coming.

Use spatula to place a layer of vanilla pudding across top of chocolate syrup (which is on top of cut cake) being careful not to get too much of the syrup mixed into the pudding.

Squeeze chocolate syrup on top of pudding, again in spiderweb pattern

Place other half of cake back onto the top, cut side facing cut side (although, of course, the cut side on the bottom is now covered in chocolate syrup and pudding).

Put another spiderweb of chocolate syrup on top of cake, this time fairly light.

Spread Cool Whip in a layer on top of chocolate syrup.

Do a final spiderweb of chocolate on top of Cool Whip.

Refrigerate and serve chilled.

 

This is one of the best desserts you'll ever eat! Even though I'm not a fan of spice cake, the mixture of that, the chocolate, and the vanilla pudding combine to make it an incredible experience and no one can ever figure out all the components.

Also, you can make a healthier version by making the cake using the lighter recipe on the back of the box, substituting the reduced fat Cool Whip, and the sugar free vanilla pudding with almost no difference in taste. I didn't care as much for the lighter chocolate syrup, so I always use regular.

If you try it let me know what you think!

 

 

Recipe for Cobbler Crust – Special Request by a Fan

I met a really nice lady from Eunice, La. at the Natchitoches-NSU Folk Festival over the weekend and during our discussion she asked if I had a recipe for a good cobbler crust so I told her to check my website and I'd post it on here.

CRUST

2 1/2 c all purpose flour 

1 tsp salt

1 large egg

3 Tbsp sugar

1 c shortening (or lard, or butter. Lard works best but most people don't want to use it. If you use butter make sure it's cold)

1/4 c cold water (if you're using this for a peach cobbler substitute a little Peach Brandy for some of the water, for an apple cobbler, substitute a little apple brandy or hard apple cider)

 

Sift the dry ingredients together, then cut in shortening/lard/butter with a fork or pastry cutter (to be honest, I use a food processor with the blade attachment now and it works and just takes a few second)

Whisk liquid together and sprinkle over dry mixture then work with hands to form a small ball.

Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes or so.

Roll out a part of the dough to form the bottom crust (about 1/8 inch thick) and a part to form the top. If you are doing a lattice type on top, use slightly more than half for the bottom.

As far as the inside of the cobbler, use canned or fresh peaches or berries. I like to put mine in a bowl and sprinkle a little extra sugar and a splash of Grand Marnier and then let them sit for a while.

Cajun Breakfast Recipe – Cush Cush (Couche Couche)

cush cush

When I used to go to Abbeville, La. to visit relatives my cousins down the street would always have what they called "cush cush" that they ate with butter and Steen's Cane Syrup (from the plant there in Abbeville) poured over it.  Sometimes they'd put it in  a little milk or put preserves on it.

I haven't used it in any of my books yet (although my trips to Robie's Grocery Store in Abbeville did make it into No' Chance) but I imagine it won't be very much longer until you read where one of the characters are eating it..

Some people look at the recipe and think it is like hoe cakes (another Southern breakfast treat) but it's not. As you cook the cush cush you constantly scrape the bottom of the pan to dislodge the crust that forms and turn it over so that the crunchy crust end up being spread throughout. You can add a little sugar to the recipe too, which is the way I like it, but I think the traditional recipe doesn't have it.

Anyway, enjoy.

2 c. yellow corn meal

1-1/2 tsp. salt

1 tsp. baking powder

1-1/2 c. milk

1/2 c. bacon drippings or vegetable oil

Combine the corn meal, salt, baking powder, and milk in medium sized bowl. Mix well. heat the bacon drippings in a medium sized cast iron skillet over medium heat. Add the corn meal mixture and allow a crust to form at the bottom. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook, scraping the bottom of the skillet using a spatula to stir and fold the crust. Cook until mixture is golden and resembles crumbled cornbread. Serve hot.

Setting the Atmosphere Through Food (and a Roast Beef Po-Boy Recipe)

As I've mentioned before, most writers pull off of their backgrounds when they set the atmosphere and tone of their books. Some do it by smells (who can forget the sour smell of Bourbon Street on a weekend morning), some do it by sounds (Ernest Gaines is great at this, conveying a sense of poverty by the creaking of worn out bed springs), and others are visual. I often do this by describing a food.

In No' Chance I referenced both the Lucky Dog hot dogs found throughout the French Quarter in New Orleans as well as po-boys served at Johnny's Po-boys there. This is probably a holdover from the family dinners we used to have out at my great grandmother's house in the small community of Bellwood, La. Ma and Pa Alford lived in the heart of the Kisatchie National Forest that became the setting for The Bottle Tree. We used to go there on Sundays and Ma would spend all morning cooking so that we'd have a huge lunch and the day revolved around that meal.

The recipe below is one that reminds me of New Orleans, the taste instantly sending me to the humidity, sights and smells of the Crescent City. This one is made the New Orleans way, dripping with "Debris Gravy". It's also great to make homemade french fries and use them in place of the meat to make the po-boy, but then covering them in the gravy. You have to remember, most of the New Orleans and Cajun foods (two different kinds) were developed because people were poor and had to make do with what they had. This one can be made from inexpensive ingredients but the taste is rich!

I started with a recipe from NOLACuisine.com and then made some changes to suit my family.

I hope you try and enjoy it.

 

Roast Beef Po’ Boy with Debris Gravy Recipe

For the Roast:

1 Beef Chuck Roast (app. 2 ½ pounds). Don’t trim the fat since it adds flavor.

2 Garlic Cloves thinly sliced

Kosher Salt & Black Pepper

Cayenne

Flour to coat roast

3 Tbsp Lard or Vegetable Oil

1 Medium Onion, Diced

1 Medium to Large Carrot, Diced (I prefer to shred it using a cheese grater)

1 tablespoon finely Chopped Garlic

1 Cup Beef Stock

1 Cup Chicken Stock

Water if necessary

2 Tbsp Worcestershire Sauce

1 Tbsp Hot Sauce

2 Sprigs Fresh Thyme (you can use dried if you don’t have fresh)

1 Bay Leaf  (fresh or dried)

Kosher Salt and Black Pepper to taste

 

Cut small slits into the roast, about every 3 inches, try not to pierce all the way to the bottom. Stuff the sliced garlic into the slits.

Season the Roast very liberally on all sides with the Salt & Black Pepper, season with Cayenne to your taste, I don’t use much.

Coat the roast in flour. You want enough to form a light crust when you brown it in the oil. This step will make the gravy just a tad thicker.

Heat the fat in a heavy bottomed Dutch Oven over high heat, when the oil starts to smoke, wait a few more seconds, then carefully add the Roast cut side down. Brown very well on all sides, without burning it. Remove to a plate.

Drain off all but 1 Tbsp of the fat in the pan, add the onions and carrots, cook until just before the onions start to brown, add the garlic (be carefult not to burn the garlic) then place the roast back in the pan, then add the stocks. Finish, if necessary, with enough water to bring the cooking liquid 3/4 of the way up the roast. Add the remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil, then back down to a very low simmer. Simmer covered for 3-4 hours or until the meat falls apart when you look at it (you know what I mean, very tender).

For the Debris Gravy:

Carve the meat into very thin slices, it will be hard to do and will fall apart, that is good. All of the bits and pieces, that fall off are your Debris (pronounced Duh-bree.)

Add all of the bits and chunks to you cooking liquid after skimming off the fat from the surface, keep the carved meat with a little liquid on a warm plate, covered tightly with plastic wrap.

Bring the gravy to a full boil and reduce until it coats the back of a spoon. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Our family adds all of the meat back to the gravy when it has reduced and lets it sit there for a while to moisten the meat.

  

For the Po’ Boy:

New Orleans Style French Bread  (we found out that if you can’t get the good, crusty French bread to make this then you can use the canned Pillsbury Crusty French Bread and it is surprisingly good)

Cut the bread 3/4 of the way through so that the bread folds open as opposed to slicing it all the way through. If you slice it through the sandwich will fall apart. If you are using fresh baked bread wait for it to cool before slicing.

Shredded Lettuce

Mayonnaise

Roast Beef (see above)

Debris Gravy

 

Slather the bread with a very generous portion of Mayonnaise on the inside of the upper and lower halves. Place about a cup of Shredded Lettuce on the bottom half. Cover the lettuce with a generous portion of the “sliced” Beef. Drown the beef with Debris Gravy.

 This recipe will make 4 big Po Boys.

Recipes From The Bottle Tree – Fried Apple Pies

One of the finest things I have ever eaten is a Fried Apple Pie. These aren't the kind you buy in the convenience store, overly sweet, with a crumbly crust and covered in a glaze. Instead, these are made with real fruit, usually dried, and the taste of the fruit bursts in your mouth as opposed to the store bought kind that are cloying.

This recipe, slightly modernized as lard is not used, would be the same one used by Johnny Robinson's grandmother and the ones which Ukiah loved so much in the book,  The Bottle Tree  .

It is extremely hard to find anyone that still makes these but they are well worth the trouble!

The ones I like the best used reconstituted dried fruit, since that is the old fashioned way, but today it is cheaper and easier to use fresh fruit. Likewise, the old fashioned recipe used lard instead of butter and incidentally, lard gives you a flakier crust than anything else.

The best recipe I found was the one from the Foxfire books, but unfortunately I've loaned those to someone and don't have access right now. However, this is another recipe that is extremely close to the old fashioned one and almost impossible to tell any difference:

The Filling:

  • 3 medium apples, peeled, cored, and thinly sliced, or 8 ounces dried apples
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 tablespoons water (1 cup if using dried apples)
  • 3/4 cup oil for frying
  • 1/4 cup powdered sugar

The Pie Crust:

  • 1 3/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/8 teaspoon of fine salt
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 egg, beaten

1. To make the filling with fresh apples, combine apple slices, sugar, and 2 tablespoons of water in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the apples are tender, about 20 minutes. To make the filling with dried apples, combine the dried apples, sugar, and 1 cup water in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce the heat, and simmer until the apples are soft and syrupy, about 30 minutes.

2. On a floured surface, roll out half the pie dough out until you have a rectangle about 1/8-inch thick. Use a 4-inch round cutter to cut out as many circles as you can.

3. Place a heaping tablespoon of filling in the middle of each circle. Fold dough over to form a half-moon. Using the tines of a fork, press down on the edges to seal them. Repeat with the remaining dough.

4. Heat the oil in a large cast-iron or other heavy skillet over high heat until very hot. Working in batches, fry the pies, turning them once, until golden brown, about 2 minutes per side. Drain on paper towels. Serve the pies warm or cool. The best ones I have ever eaten were snuck from a plate covered with a "dish towel" from my great grandmother's pie safe.

Yield: Makes 20 to 24 pies.

 

 

Recipes From the Bottle Tree – Biscuits and Brown Gravy

While everyone knows about Cajun or Creole cuisine not many people know that Central and North Louisiana also has great food. That area was settled by people from across the country and so elements of Southern, Northern, Soul, and Cajun foods are common.

The Bottle Tree  is set in the Kisatchie Forest of Central Louisiana, in Natchitoches Parish not far from the small town of Bellwood which just happens to be the area where many of my ancestors are from and where many of my relatives still live. Some of my most vivid memories are of the "dinners on the ground" at various churches, meals at my Grandmother's, Great Grandmother's, and Great Aunt's houses, or in other kitchens across the area.

I am going to occasionally post a recipe here and there for those of you who aren't familiar with this type of cooking. I may update them slightly, since many of them contained ingredients like lard, which hardly anyone uses any more and for which I will substitute the more common vegetable shortening.

Some, like this first one, will be pretty common and well known but may include a twist or two to add just a touch of authenticity.

BISCUITS

This recipe makes about six normal size biscuits

Ingredients

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 8 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cubed
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk (or whole milk if buttermilk is not available)

Directions

Rub shortening into the bottom and the sides of a small cast iron skillet and place into a 350 degree over until the shortening melts. Leave the oven at 350 degrees and pour off any excess.shortening from the skillet, carefully swirling it around the sides to form a thin layer before discarding the remainder.

In a large bowl sift together flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Using a fork or your fingers, cut butter into mixture until it begins to look like cornmeal. 

Make a well in the top of the flour mixture and slowly add milk into the middle. Knead dough with your fingers and add milk when necessary. 

Traditionally, in Central Louisiana (where “The Bottle Tree” is set) the biscuits are then formed with the hands and placed into the skillet for baking, however the dough can also be rolled out to the desired thickness on a lightly floured surface and then cut with biscuit cutter.

Place biscuits in pan and brush the tops with butter or some of the melted shortening. For real authenticity you can lightly brush them with the oil cooked off of bacon. Note: If the skillet is hot when you add the dough it makes for a better crust around the outside.

Bake for 12-18 minutes or until golden brown.

These can be eaten as is, with butter, jelly, or preserves, split horizontally and stuffed with bacon or ham, or served open faced with gravy.  One difference is that in Central Louisiana the gravy is less often a cream based white gravy and more often a brown gravy.

Brown Gravy (exactly as my mother sent it to me)

Use bacon drippings or Crisco oil to make a medium brown roux out of flour.  When the roux gets a medium to medium dark brown add water and stir constantly until the roux is mixed in well, add salt and pepper to taste then  turn the burner down and simmer for a little while until the flour taste is gone from the gravy.  The amounts you use depend on how much you are wanting to make.  You should use almost equal amounts of flour and oil for the gravy.  I will usually use a tad bit less flour than oil.   To turn it into a milk gravy, you simply substitute milk for the water. 

This is the recipe that I use and I got from Ma Alford when she made this.  It is the same recipe that I use to make my hamburger steak gravy out of except I saute the onions in the oil and remove them before I add the flour to make the roux.  This way you get the sauteed onion flavor into the gravy as well.

Note: This recipe is done the old fashioned way and doesn't really use measurements. I also found that a modern variation is to use beef broth on place of all or a portion of the water in the gravy, but it makes it really rich.