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Cooking With Myra: You don't have to go to New Orleans to experience the food

Sept. 27, 2010 at 4:27 a.m.
Updated Sept. 28, 2010 at 4:28 a.m.

Natchitoches Meat Pies

Natchitoches Meat Pies2 Tbsp. vegetable oil

1 pound ground beef (not lean)

1 Tbsp. salt

1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper

1 tsp. paprika

1/2 tsp. chili powder

1/2 tsp. ground white pepper

1/2 tsp. ground cumin

1/2 ground black pepper

1 small onion, finely chopped

1 green bell pepper, cored, seeded and finely chopped

1 medium jalapeno pepper, stemmed, seeded and finely chopped

4 plum tomatoes, diced

1 tsp. dried thyme

4 bay leaves

1/2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce

2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour

2 Tbsp. water

1 bunch scallions (thinly sliced- ½ cup)

5 dashes Louisiana hot sauce

Meat Pie Dough (recipe follows), chilled

1 egg, lightly beaten

Vegetable oil for frying

Heat the vegetable oil in a 12-inch cast iron skillet over medium high heat. Add the meat, salt, cayenne, paprika, chili powder, white pepper, cumin and black pepper and cook, using a metal spatula to break up the meat. Cook for 5 to 8 minutes or until meat is lightly browned.

Add the onion, bell pepper, jalapeno, tomatoes, dried thyme, bay leaves and Worcestershire sauce and cook, stirring for additional 5 to 10 minutes or until most of the juices have evaporated and the vegetables have softened.

Dust the flour over the meat and add the water, stirring to combine (this should tighten up the mixture enough so it won't leak moisture when its encased in the dough). Stir in the scallions and hot sauce and transfer the mixture to a baking pan or dish to cool for 20 minutes at room temperature.

When you are ready to prepare the pies, line two baking sheets with parchment paper and a dusting of flour. Divide the dough into four even sections to make it easier to work with. Return three of the sections to the refrigerator. Dust the counter with a sprinkling of flour and roll out the first section until the dough is just under 1/4-inch thick. Using a 4-inch biscuit cutter, cut the dough into rounds. Save the scraps, they can be re rolled if needed.

Lightly brush the outer edges of each circle with beaten egg. Place 2 1/2 Tbsp. of filing in the center of each mound. Fold the circle over the filling to make a half circle. Using the back side of fork tines, press around the edges to seal the pie. Transfer the pies to the prepared baking sheet. Repeat the process with the remaining dough sections.

When you fill a baking sheet, place it in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes, so the dough stays firm when you fry it. You can also freeze the uncooked pies. Just freeze them on the sheet pan first and then when they are fully frozen, transfer them to a plastic freezer bag.

To fry the pies, heat 2 1/2 inches of oil in a large cast iron skillet or Dutch oven to 350 degrees. Fry the chilled pies in batches of four or five at a time, cooking for about 8 minutes, until golden. (Frozen pies will need 12 to 14 minutes). Transfer the cooked pies to a sheet pan lined with paper towels or newspaper, and keep warm in a low oven while you fry the remaining pies.

Meat Pie Dough1 pound cold butter, cut into small pieces

51/4 cups all purpose flour, plus extra for dusting

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 cups ice water

1 large egg, lightly beaten

Using a pastry blender or your fingers, cut the butter into the flour and salt, until the mixture resembles coarse pebbles. Using a fork, stir in the ice water until the dough pulls together, then use your hands to knead for a few minutes until it's smooth and evenly blended. Roll the dough into a rectangle and fold it over itself three times like a letter. Repeat this process four times and reshape to a rectangle, and refrigerate until firm, at least 15 minutes.

By Myra Starkey

I love Cajun and Creole cooking. Most Texans think those types of food are one in the same, and lately it is hard to tell them apart. New Orleans is known for its Creole cooking, a melange of flavors taken from ingredients found in Europe, Africa and the Caribbean. Cajuns, on the other hand, were people who lived in small communities west and south of New Orleans, and generally ate what they could grow, catch or shoot. Cajuns tend to start with a roux, while Creole cooking utilizes tomato bases. Over the years, both types have been known as Louisiana cookin', and it's some of the best cuisine known to man.

Several weeks ago, Taylor and I had the opportunity to visit New Orleans with our friends, Robert and Mary Ann. They were going to look at some furniture and art that was to be in an auction, and they invited us to come along. Taylor is fairly knowledgeable about the value and condition of art, and so I think he was invited along to give his opinions. And maybe they considered that I might be able to make restaurant recommendations. But really, I think they invited us on this adventure because all of us just have a great time together.

We arrived in New Orleans that morning and drove down to the French Quarter. We traveled down St. Charles Avenue with its famous street cars passing along and great architecture everywhere we looked. I saw so many interesting antique shops, and there was one famous restaurant after another, Galatoire's, Emeril's Delmonico, August and Lilette. Our first stop was Neal Auction, and Mary Ann and the guys started checking out the items for sale. Meanwhile, I began to look for someplace special to eat that would be open for lunch. I had done some research before the trip, so I had a list of possibilities.

Donald Link is the chef and owner of two award-winning restaurants in New Orleans, Cochon and Herbsaint. He had just published a book, "Real Cajun," which won the James Beard Foundation Book Award (which is a big deal in the food world), and I was eager to try one of his establishments. We chose Herbsaint, and I felt myself holding my breath when I called for a lunch reservation. The hostess sighed, and I must have sounded desperate, so she reluctantly gave us a 1:30 p.m. reservation. "Outside," she quipped, as I told her the number in our group, "All we have is an outside table." I exclaimed, "Perfect." New Orleans weather is much the same as South Texas, only more humid. I silently hoped that the rest of the group would not mind the heat.

We were seated at a table near the street. I could feel the air whoosh on my back as the large green streetcars would noisily pass by loaded with locals needing transportation and tourists who were just taking in the views along old St. Charles.

I ordered a salad of baby red romaine with goat feta cheese, roasted pistachios and creamy tarragon vinaigrette. I followed that with shrimp and grits flavored with tasso and okra. I coerced Taylor into ordering crunchy-fried catfish served with green rice and red onion chile sauce. I intended to eat off his plate and anyone else's who did not mind me tasting their food.

Our waiter offered up more bread and tea, and as he spoke with a Louisiana accent, I immediately recognized as the N'Owleans drawl. I inquired whether I might view the new cookbook, and he happily returned with a signed copy. How could I not buy myself a copy. The book is filled with family recipes and essays about the Link family allowing the reader to fish, hunt, shrimp and dance their way through all 250 pages.

As I paged through, I recognized one of my childhood favorites, Natchitoches Meat Pies. My mom referred to these as "love pies," since they require several steps to make. I came home and whipped up a batch, and they are just as I remembered them. You might not be able to take a trip to New Orleans, but Donald Link's cookbook will open the world of Cajun cuisine to you and your family.

Myra Starkey lives in Victoria. Write her in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901, or e-mail myra@vicad.com.

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