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La Belle Cuisine
Big Bad Feast
would I think you might be interested in an ongoing Thanksgiving
weeks before Christmas? Easy.
Your family tradition might be
the same as ours. Your Christmas Feast may be simply a variation on the
theme. That is the case with
many folks. Or so I’m told. In
which case, this information may be of assistance to you.
how about this?
The Major (remember him? I suspect he has migrated
to Mars by now,,,)
hosted The Big
Bad Feast. Ahah! Just as
you are really curious!
You cannot help wondering
chef was up to this time,
right? Right! Wonder no more…
is what The Major had in mind:
– Lemongrass Soup with Shrimp (recipe follows)
– Pork Chops with Crawfish and Cajun Noodles
(Thanksgiving Day) – Turkey and all the trimmings
(Translation: 3 deep-fried turkeys, his signature smoked oyster dressing
and turkey gravy, Rum-Glazed
and Oyster Mushroom Gratin, and Brussels sprouts. It
would not be
Thanksgiving without the obligatory
pumpkin pie. And, just because I
I threw in a delicious Mocha
Rum Cake, which actually
had nothing to do with Thanksgiving.) Okay?
Oh yeah. Almost forgot. Also at
my request, there was an appetizer of
The World’s Best Crab-Stuffed
Mushrooms. Just had to do it.
would have something to nibble on while we were cooking, of
– Chef Keegan’s
Crab and Mushroom Bisque
Red Wine and Shiitake Risotto
mercy, mercy! Mouthwatering, no? You
may be wondering how
many people The Major was planning to feed. And, perhaps, how many
refrigerators he has. You would not believe me if I told you, so just don’t
is the way it was:
– The Major's creation (probably with
a little help from his
die for. Absolutely. You really
give this a try.
Soup with Shrimp
1 shallot, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, pressed
3 stalks lemongrass, bottom third only,
cut into 1/4-inch pieces
1/2 pound white mushrooms, sliced thinly
1 pint [2 cups]
[or canned chicken broth if you must]
2 tablespoons fish sauce
3 limes, juice only
Dash cayenne pepper
1 package oriental wheat noodles
(or regular fettuccine)
shrimp, reserving shells. Place
shrimp in cold, heavily salted water.
Sauté the shallots and garlic in one tablespoon oil or butter until lightly
Add chicken stock, lemongrass and shrimp shells. Bring to a
simmer 20 minutes. Strain through colander to remove shells,
etc., and return to
Add mushrooms, fish sauce and lime juice. Season with salt and pepper.
Cook noodles and add to stock.
Add shrimp and cook until pink (about 3 minutes). Serves 2.
– (still on schedule) Pork Chops with Crawfish and Cajun Noodles… The
actually, is not that big a thing. [Easy
for him to say…] Fry up the
pork chops. Season the crawfish with a bit of Emeril's Creole seasoning,
or equivalent. Sauté them up
in butter until just heated through. Toss in about
2/3 cup heavy cream. Continue heating. Just
before a low boil, reduce heat and stir in a couple of tablespoons of cold
butter, little chunks at a time.
This will thicken up and make a nice
sauce to pour over your pork chops.
Cajun Noodles, boil up some fettuccine. While that is going on,
2 tablespoons butter, 1 tablespoon
Cajun Blackened Seasoning and
one tablespoon soy sauce in a small pan.
Drain the pasta and toss with
Different and delightful.”
Day – Yes, the man actually did fry 3 turkeys.
Here is how that goes:
you have to check the weather forecast. This is something you just really can't do in the rain (or snow, I
would expect). You want to
your turkey fryer well apart from the house, and somewhere you
care about getting a fair amount of oil spattered on.
Like the lawn.
four hours before cooking time (and we are going to figure three
half minutes per pound, if you are calculating table time), inject
turkey(s) with the chosen marinade. I
went down to the local Tractor Supply shop and bought a genuine equine
syringe (horse needle, for you Marines). Works better than what they sell
in the grocery store. What
put in it is a kind of personal thing. I go for about half a cup of olive oil, a
maybe a tablespoon or so of Cajun Blackened
Seasoning, a little hot chili
and sesame oil. Warm it up on
the stove, strain
it through a tea strainer.
turkey itself is dirt simple. Wear
your grungy clothes. Fire up
the turkey fryer. Add oil.
Peanut oil is best, but expensive unless you are doing more
than about six
turkeys. Otherwise, go for the cheap stuff. I used four gallons this year. Heat the oil to 350
degrees F. VERY
carefully, lower in the turkey (which you have carefully dried with paper
towels, right?). Watch the
tem- perature closely. Keep it between 325 and 350.
Forty, forty-five minutes. Drink
beer while you do this. [What
else? Distinctive beer,
though, if you please.]
you, Major. And now, sir,
would you be so kind as to enlighten us about the preparation of your
signature dressing and gravy, as well. (God knows I have tried to document his every move - notebook, pen
and wine glass in hand - but the Major can be very hard to follow…
“Dressing. Basic, simple. Cheat. Start
with a bag of Pepperidge Farm
Stuffing Mix. [See there. He is not
the purist you may have thought him
He is flexible!] Make
up according to package directions, sort of
chicken broth for at least part of the water. Add at
least three tablespoons rubbed sage and a couple teaspoons
grind of black pepper.
And two or three tins of smoked oysters. Don't
bother to drain them.
gravy, start with the giblets and neck pieces from the turkey(s).
these in a pan with a little salt and pepper and a goodly tablespoon
rubbed sage and cook the hell out of them.
Gentle simmer for about
an hour should do it. The test piece here is the gizzard. When that is
tender, all else will be
as well. Pull the meat off the neck, chop the other
stuff into small pieces.
could be a problem with fried turkeys. Forethought here. [Ahem.
just so happens that I absolutely insisted on turkey
stock, fried turkeys
or no. Okay?] Bought a couple of turkey legs dirt cheap; everyone wants
breast (is there something Freudian there, or what?). Tossed them in
the oven in a shallow pan with some carrots and
leeks and whatever and
cooked it down
for a couple of hours. Discard the vegetable, pull the meat
and add it to the gravy
fixings. On the stovetop,
heat the pan. Add two
tablespoons flour and stir until the flour just begins to brown a tad. Add
one quart milk. Adjust
color with Kitchen Bouquet. [See. He is cheating again. Not
at all the stuffy perfectionist!] Season
with salt and pepper.”
[He did not bother to tell you that he uses sea salt and that he has 3 or
4 pepper grinders to achieve just the right degree of texture and flavor. The
man does have his standards.]
Me again. The Rum-Glazed
Sweet Potatoes were good. But. In
opinion, not outstanding. (All
due respect and my humble apologies
to Marcelle Bienvenu.) The Major and I were wondering, for example,
what happened to the
rum. Not even the faintest
hint could be detected.
bother??? I just gotta tell you though, the Major's four-year-old
grandson absolutely loved them!
Leek, Gruyère and Oyster Mushroom Gratin. Yes. Delicious. But
not the showstopper I expected it to be. For one thing, even shopping at
one of the best supermarkets
around, we could not get fresh oyster mush- rooms. That was not the problem, though. We bought an excellent assort- ment of
fresh mushrooms – crimini, baby portobellos, and a pre-packaged
that actually did
include a few of the oyster variety.
Other than that,
I must say that I followed the recipe to the
letter (knowing that I would be
reporting on it). There was far too much liquid to be accommodated in the
dish, so naturally, I did not use all of it. A baking dish will only hold
as much as it will hold, right? And yes, I did use the size called for in the
recipe. Sheesh! Perhaps
next time I will try adding the remaining liquid a
little at a time during
the baking process. This is
certainly not a recipe to
be discarded. But, in my humble opinion, not to die for. If you are
interested in a decadently creamy potato dish, try this:
Potatoes, Onions and
Mushrooms au Gratin
5 pounds new potatoes in their jackets. Cool, peel, and cut into
slices about 1/4 inch thick.
Peel 24 small white onions and boil them in salted water to cover about
to 10 minutes, just until they are tender. (Or,
if you must, you may
substitute two 15-ounce cans small white onions, but
they will tend to
Heat 1/2 cup butter in a large saucepan. In it, sauté 1 pound fresh
mushrooms, cleaned, stemmed and
until tender and just
beginning to brown. Stir in 1/2 cup flour and cook,
continuing to stir,
for several minutes. Whisk in 4 cups milk, 1 cup heavy cream, and
10 1/2-ounce can
condensed consommé. Add 1
teaspoon freshly ground pepper, a good pinch
of cayenne, and
Worcestershire sauce. Cook
the sauce, stirring, until it is
Remove from heat. Add
the onions, stirring
Grate 1 pound sharp Cheddar cheese.
In a large baking pan (4-quart capacity) layer the potatoes, covering the
bottom of pan. Sprinkle
lightly with salt and pepper. Cover
with half of the mushroom-onion mixture and half of the
the layers. Bake
at 350 degrees F. about 1 hour, or until bubbly
and golden. Serves 12.
Brussels sprouts, I am sorry to say, fell by the wayside. By the time
we normally would have cooked them, we were too tired
to tackle any-
thing else. Yeah, yeah, yeah, it would not have been that much trouble,
it would not
have taken that long.
I know what you're thinking. WHAT ABOUT THE VEGETABLES?
hear you! That is just the
way it was. You would not
want me to lie
about this, would you? Gimme a break!
Whoops. Almost forgot about the crab-stuffed mushrooms. Ohmigod. I
I outdid myself. There is a
funny story here. This is one
I-don’t-know-how-many recipes that started out scribbled down on
of scratch paper in what once was a Delta Air Lines reservations
office in a mid-size metropolis somewhere in the Deep South. Back in
the old days.
usually happened on the night shift. Things would start to slow
would begin to chat between calls, and sooner or later, the
turn to food. There was a
very petite, very beautiful, very
Southern, blue-eyed blonde, relatively
new in the office, who had
quickly established the reputation of being
VERY blonde. The kind
of blonde brunettes love to hate. You get my drift, no? And,
us, we tended to dismiss her as being, well, blonde. (Not to worry,
I have already asked to be forgiven for this pompous, intolerant stance
many times. And I have reformed. Okay?)
Lo and behold. All of
a sudden, somebody says, “I have the
recipe for stuffed mushrooms imaginable! And you’ll
never guess who gave it to me!”
way! Way. You got it.
Blonde. THE Blonde. The one
with the long, fluttering eyelashes.
off. Turned out
she was a
fine cook. Knew
just goes to show you,
never judge a cook
peroxide. Or something
World's Best Crab-Stuffed Mushrooms
large fresh mushrooms
1 cup grated Romano cheese
3 cups fresh lump crab meat
[or, if you do not choose to spend half your
salary, an equal
canned crabmeat can be substituted]
4 tablespoons butter, divided
2 tablespoons flour
2 cups half-and-half
Italian bread crumbs
Garlic [I use 4 cloves, peeled, minced]
Fresh parsley, minced
1 bunch scallions, trimmed, diced,
including some green
Butter Sauce (recipe follows)
a white sauce using 2 tablespoons butter, flour and half-and-half.
In skillet sauté scallions, garlic and parsley in 2 tablespoons
mushrooms, reserving the stems. Dry the mushroom
paper towels. Chop the
stems and add to scallion mixture. Sauté till mushrooms are just tender.
Add to the white sauce the scallion-mushroom mixture and the Romano
cheese. Blend well and season to taste with salt and pepper or Cajun
the crabmeat, blending carefully. Add
bread crumbs to just hold the stuffing together - should
not be too dry.
Stuff the raw
mushrooms. (Can be covered
and frozen at this point if
Bake at 450 degrees F. about 15 minutes. Then pour butter
over mushrooms. If desired, broil
several minutes to brown the
[ I do not find this
1 cup butter
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon minced parsley
3/4 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
2 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon lemon juice
[I add a splash or two of dry white wine]
butter. Add all other
ingredients. Heat, don't
boil. Pour over stuffed
mushrooms. This sauce is also very good with 3 lbs. shrimp - pour over
and bake at 400 degrees F.
Pie. Good grief, how I do
hate to admit this. I did not
crust from scratch. And,
yes. Shame on me, as The
already. For years and Years and YEARS, I would never
considered the possibility of cheating.
I was a purist. And it
me years, literally, to learn how to make a really
excellent crust. I
paid my dues. And
I am recovering. And it turned
out rather well
anyway. So there.
which, I do believe that if you are going to cheat, you might as
Cheat. I used that Pillsbury
refrigerated dough that all you have to
do is unfold it and put it in
pie plate. It was not bad. The filling is
dear grandmother’s recipe,
God rest her soul. I still consult the
3 x 5 card,
written in her hand. It has
were going to bake a
mincemeat pie, too. But somehow we just
got around to it. Go figure...
Friday. Okay. You don’t
really think we made Crab and Mushroom
Bisque, do you? We just looked at each other and said, “What were
thinking?!?!?” And ate
leftovers like everyone else in the country.
turkey sandwiches not the best part of Thanksgiving, anyway?
insists that his sandwich be made on Jewish rye bread
with caraway seeds. No mayo, no butter, no condiment of any sort. Just
bread, piled high with turkey and slices of smoked oyster
1/4-inch thick, and lots of salt and pepper. But
of course. Freshly ground
pepper. This is the MAJOR, after all. Period.
I, on the
other hand, do not like caraway seed. At all. Yuck. So I had
my turkey sandwich on plain rye with mayo (of course!) and
range relish. The
Major did not say what he was thinking as I consumed
that is just as well.
Saturday. We thought about it. A lot.
Truly. But we could
knowing that we still had a fridge full to overflowing. And
no matter how good the risotto turned out to be, we would
eat all of it. And
besides, I was still full from Thursday. So
went out socializing for a while and wound up dropping in at a
simply wonderful cantina
for Margaritas (not going to tell you how many),
guacamole (lots!) and
Hit the spot.
Sunday. I was absolutely determined to make some soup. I had thought
about my mother’s split pea soup (Potage
St. Germain), but it occurred
me that a more practical solution
would be another all-time favorite:
Smoked Turkey, Broccoli and Black Bean Soup. George's at
the Cove, La Jolla, CA
Mercy, mercy, mercy… Yummy,
this was not my best batch. Because the turkey was
smoked? Because I used too much (or not enough?) artificial smoke
But do be sure to try it. Very
much in its favor
the fact that
this soup would make good use of some
rich turkey stock. (And after
all, making this
stock is the highlight
of my Thanksgiving celebration.)
And that, my friends, was that. Merciful
Father, what a feast! Even
we did have to
leave out about half of it.
Be well, stay safe, and express your love for each
God bless us every one. As Ole Blue Eyes would say,
"Have yourself a merry little Christmas."
And until next time,
and every act of kindness done by anyone anywhere
resonates out into
world and somehow, mysteriously,
invisibly, and perfectly, touches us all."
The Editors of Conari Press, from Random Acts of Kindness
seems to me that our three basic needs, for food and security and love,
mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think
of one without
the others. So it happens that when I write of hunger, I
am really writing about
love and the hunger for it, and warmth and the
of it and the hunger for it…
and then the warmth and richness and
fine reality of hunger satisfied… and it
is all one."
~ M.F.K. Fisher, The Art of Eating
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