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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 Pies

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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