Banana Pudding Friday, Apr 26 2013 

Banana Pudding

Banana pudding

Published April 25, 2013.

Banana pudding just might be the quintessential Southern summer dessert. It is a staple at family reunions, church picnics and crawfish boils. For decades, middle-aged women wearing madras Capri pants and kitten heels have tottered across the wet grassy fields of parks and down uneven sidewalks while tightly gripping the sides of aging Pyrex bowls with fading daisies printed on the sides.

Almost anyone can make banana pudding. It doesn’t need to rise and bake. It is easy to assemble and uses very few ingredients. Perhaps this is why with the exception of the occasional cafeteria, it is rarely available for purchase. However, most Southerners have no aversion to shelling out a little dough for other custard and banana delicacies like Bananas Foster, Crème Brulee and banana cream pie.

Right after I moved to New York, a friend drug me to Magnolia Bakery mainly because Sarah Jessica Parker’s character in Sex in the City, Carrie Bradshaw, had a special affection for their cupcakes. As I leaned over the display case, I saw small single servings of banana pudding for $5. FIVE DOLLARS! My initial shock turned to confusion and then quickly wrinkled up into anger. I placed buying banana pudding in the same ballpark as paying for sex and selling a baby on the black market.

After leaving Magnolia, I quickly realized that much like Rumpelstiltskin had effortlessly spun straw into gold; I could easily turn Jell-O pudding into an “exotic” dessert. My German friend Stefanie declared that I had to make her banana pudding at least once a month. When she moved back to Munich, I gave her my mother’s recipe. I expected her overwhelming gratitude but was met with anger. She said, “It is so easy to make. I could have been making this every week. This is worse than the day I found out Rice Krispie treats could be ready in ten minutes.”

Now I will give to you my Mother’s recipe. I will also give you the Magnolia’s bastardized take on banana pudding. You can feel free to do what you will with them.

The Nancy Hanks Myers Banana Pudding
(Keep in mind this recipe is about as original as the pecan pie recipe written on the side of a bottle of Karo syrup.)

Ingredients:
A 5oz box of vanilla Jell-O Cook and Serve Pudding (The Nancy speaks: “The big box!!! Yes, Stephanie Leanne…Cook and Serve pudding comes in sizes. Read the box carefully or you wander home with instant pudding.”)
1 bag of Jack’s Vanilla Wafers (Nancy: “You can get other brands.  It just won’t be as good.”)
4 or 5 Bananas
3 Cups of Milk
½ Cup of Sugar
1 Beaten Egg
1 Container of Cool Whip (Writer’s Note: This is one of the few times in life I find Cool Whip to be an acceptable substance to ingest.)

Directions:
1. In a pretty 8-inch crystal bowl, alternate between slices of bananas and vanilla wafers.  While doing this, do not eat more than 5 or 6 vanilla wafers. You will need all of them. Justify eating 10 vanilla wafers by telling yourself that it was OK because you only ate the broken ones.
2. Make the pudding according to the directions on the box, but add the sugar and the egg. This makes the pudding into more of custard.
3.  When the pudding is ready, pour it over the bananas and vanilla wafers. Place in the refrigerator until cool.
4. Top with Cool Whip.  (Try not to wonder if the body can actually digest Cool Whip.)
5. Give to man you want as a future husband.

The Magnolia Recipe

Ingredients:
1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
1 1/2 cups ice cold water
1 3.4-ounce box Jell-O instant vanilla pudding mix
3 cups heavy cream
1 12-ounce box vanilla wafers
4 cups sliced ripe bananas (about 3 large bananas)

Directions:
In a medium bowl (or using an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment) whisk together sweetened condensed milk and water until blended. Add pudding mix and continue to whisk into fully incorporated. Cover with plastic wrap and chill until set, about 3 hours (or you can leave overnight).

Once pudding has set, whip heavy cream in a large bowl with an electric mixer until stiff peaks form. Fold pudding into the whipped cream until completely blended. In your serving bowl (or individual serving jars), begin layering vanilla wafers, then bananas, then pudding.  Repeat 3 times, or as many times you need/like to fit your desired serving dish. Garnish pudding with additional wafers or wafer crumbs, cover with plastic wrap and chill for an additional 4 hours.

Do you see what I am talking about?  They didn’t even cook the pudding. What a travesty.

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La Reyna Friday, Apr 26 2013 


La Reyna

Authentic Honduran specialties at La Reyna include a pupusa (top) and paella served with fried plantains.

Published April 19

Tired of the same old Mexican food? Then continue your journey towards the Equator and head to La Reyna for some authentic Honduran cuisine. This family-run restaurant is located at the end of a strip mall on Perkins near Siegen and has been introducing Baton Rouge to fresh home-cooked Central American fare since 2008.

The interior of La Reyna is nondescript. It’s clean, with colorful contrasting tablecloths and drinks served in plastic tumblers. Many photos and travel advertisements for Honduras hang on the walls.  Food is served in mismatched dishes. Locals speak Spanish and read newspapers while they wait for dinner.

Start your meal with a pupusa, a grilled cornmeal pancake stuffed with pork crackings, cheese and spices that is served with a spicy slaw of pickled cabbage, onions, and peppers. It has a simple, clean flavor that does not disappoint.  Or try a pastelito–a delicious fried meat pie.

La Reyna also offers some harder to find entrees.  Paella, a Spanish rice dish is piled high on the plate, with slices of fried plantains sticking out like petals on a flower. The delicious dish is filled with beef, chicken and shrimp. They also have chicken slow cooked in a mole sauce.

La Reyna has something to offer people who aren’t looking to eat red meat. The restaurant might very well make the best fish tacos in town. Well-seasoned grilled fish is served in flour tortillas with tomatoes, onions, peppers and shredded cabbage.  For those wanting a twist on the more familiar Mexican food, try the Honduran enchiladas, which feature a sliced egg and shredded cabbage, or the Honduran tacos, which also feature cabbage and red onion.

Traditional Honduran fruit drinks are also available and are served mixed with water or milk.  Or try a hibiscus flower drink—a spicy cold tea.  For dessert, order a freshly made banana shake.

La Reyna’s prices are very affordable – Entrees run between $6-$10. They also have 8 daily lunch specials, ranging from taco plates to stewed pork priced between $6 and $8.50. 13213 Perkins Road, Baton Rouge, LA. (225) 768-1315 or lareynarestaurant.com

The Triumphant Return of the Dairy Queen to Baton Rouge Friday, Apr 26 2013 

The Triumphant Return of the Dairy Queen to Baton Rouge

Dairy Queen in Baton Rouge

Published April 15, 2013

When I was 6 years old, my mother ran into my room and said, “Ronald Reagan just called. Unless we go to the Dairy Queen right now and have a banana split, space aliens are going to attack earth.” I had been charged with saving our planet. So I did what any dutiful young American would do—I put on my shoes and went in search of flying saucers and banana splits. The Dairy Queen and I saved the world that day.

Yes, it is a fast food chain, but the local Dairy Queen in Clinton, Miss., had a heart and a soul that McDonald’s and Burger King could never possess. Our Chihuahua, Buddy, would ride in the car with us to get a take-out quart of soft serve and faithfully guard the container all the way home. Then he would sit in the pocket of my father’s robe and wait patiently for him to share.

Every December 26th, my mom would present me with a banana split with candles for my birthday. This ridiculous concoction was never long for this world and barely made it past the photo-op of me blowing out my candles as they teetered in a soupy mixture of chocolate syrup, pineapple, strawberries and cream.

Eventually my tastes became more sophisticated and I traded my beloved banana splits for a new concoction called a Snickers Blizzard. Dairy Queen just made our family happy. When we cleared out my grandmother’s house after we moved her to a retirement home, I found an entire kitchen drawer filled with Dairy Queen’s signature red plastic spoons with the emblem of an ice cream cone pressed into the handle. As I threw them out along with plastic bags filled with dryer lint and boxes of Harlequin historical romance novels, I imagined the high point of most days for my grandmother had been sitting in her recliner while eating parfaits and reading soft-core porn that featured poorly written facsimiles of Scarlett O’Hara.

The return of Dairy Queen to Baton Rouge fills a nostalgic culinary need in me. The burgers still have that great char-grilled taste and the magical item known as a dip cone is still on the menu. Children can watch while their ice cream cone is turned upside down and coated with chocolate sauce that miraculously dries to form a protective coating in about 15 seconds. I like to think that—in spite of the fact that today’s children are over-stimulated and extraordinarily savvy—being handed a chocolate-covered ice cream cone makes them smile.

On my most recent trip, I ordered a banana split Blizzard. And when the cashier brought it out, I made him turn it upside down to ensure its thickness. Baton Rouge’s Dairy Queen can be found at 3444 South Sherwood Forest Boulevard. (225) 636-2140.

Ask the Bartender Friday, Apr 26 2013 

Ask the Bartender
In an age where college kids tend bar for extra money and any slob with a rag and a beer opener in their back pocket can call himself a bartender, Lynn Burgett stands apart and embodies the persona of the old fashioned barkeep. Lynn greets customers at Galatoire’s Bistro Baton Rouge by leaning over the bar and shaking their hands. Making the perfect handcrafted cocktail for guests isn’t enough; he needs to know the history behind the drink. He is part master craftsman, part mad chemist and part psychiatrist.
The Good Feast is proud to offer the services of Lynn to Country Roads readers in the form of the column called “Ask the Bartender.” For his first outing, Lynn would like to introduce one of his favorite drinks.

The Moscow Mule

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The Moscow Mule is traditionally served in a copper mug made by Cock ‘n’ Bull, topped with ginger beer and a lime squeeze. I love the story of the Moscow Mule and what made this the breakout cocktail for vodka circa 1941 by John G. Martin of G.F. Heublein Brothers, Inc., an East Coast spirits and food distributor, and “Jack” Morgan, President of Cock ‘n’ Bull Products, a ginger beer producer and proprietor of the Cock ‘n’ Bull restaurant on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles.

The story goes that John G. Martin purchased an original Polaroid Land Camera in 1947—the first camera of its kind during this period. With his new camera in hand, Martin developed a brilliant marketing scheme to jump-start the sales of his new account, Smirnoff vodka. Martin would travel from bar to bar taking pictures of a bartender or bar manager holding a Moscow Mule mug in one hand and a bottle of Smirnoff in the other. He’d give them a copy and take a second photo to the next bar showing the popularity of the drink and selling them on the next “drink craze”. The bar owners would bite, another photo was taken, onto the next bar and so on. The cocktail made its way from the East Coast to the West with its strongest foundation in Hollywood during the 1950’s where it is reputed that stars and starlets had their own Cock ‘n’ Bull mugs behind the bar with their initials engraved upon the copper mugs. The Moscow Mule slowly faded in the late 1960’s, but was never forgotten.

Moscow mule recipe
1 ½ oz Smirnoff Vodka
3 oz ginger beer. Ginger ale can be used in a pinch
Lime wedge
Glass Highball or a copper mug if you have it

Build the cocktail in a glass with ice. First add vodka. Top with ginger beer and squeeze the lime over the cocktail. Then gently stir. I prefer the copper mug as it complements the citrus and ginger notes in the cocktail.

About Lynn:
“I’ve been tending bar for over thirteen years and traveling the country for seven of those as a bar trainer. The epitome of my passion is the history behind the handcrafted cocktail, the use of fresh super-local ingredients and the techniques used to procure a variety of unique concoctions.”

If you require Lynn’s services, you may find him at Galatoire’s Bistro Baton Rouge on Perkins Road where he holds court as head bartender.

Have a libation related question for our resident bartender? Email cherrythedivebargirl@gmail.com

The Corruption of the Eggs Friday, Apr 26 2013 

The Corruption of the EggsImage

It is the day after Easter. Which means a gigantic rabbit has completed his yearly visit to my home and left too much chocolate candy, wayward plastic Easter grass all over the floor, and more than a dozen pastel-colored eggs in the refrigerator. Eventually, the chocolate will be eaten and the grass will blow under the sofa, but the last development is more of a call to action. It is time to take the purest of the pure—a hard-boiled egg—and corrupt it with mayonnaise and spices.

The day I moved back home to Louisiana, my mother showed up on my doorstep and presented me with a deviled egg tray. She said, “You are back in the South. You will need one of these now.” I secretly scoffed at this. I took one look at its scalloped edges and branded it as a completely non-versatile kitchen instrument and placed it in the back of the cabinet.

About a month later, I was invited to an impromptu board game party and the only things in my refrigerator were a collection of condiments and a dozen eggs. So I did what any good southern belle would do, I got out my special tray and went to work. Before the first game of Yahtzee was complete, all of the eggs were gone.

Deviled Eggs

My dyed then deviled eggs minus the signature tray. Unfortunately at the time of press, it was discovered that a southern belle of lesser means had absconded with my crystal platter.

True, recipes for deviling eggs exist on the Internet, but no one uses them. They simply make them just like their mama did. I could never imagine showing up to a family gathering with some kind of fancy modern deconstructed deviled egg. People would whisper about how my years spent in New York City had left me with an intolerable amount of elitist snobbery that needed to be beaten out of me.

So while I will not post a recipe for deviled eggs, I will make some suggestions as to how to spice up the old family recipe.

1. Make your eggs look pretty by piping the filling back into the egg white by using a pastry bag with a large stainless steel star-shaped pastry tip.
2. Add some spices into the mix. Pick from sriracha, horseradish, habanero, wasabi, curry powder or chipotle. Sometimes adding just a little minced onion can really do the trick.
3. Top or add a protein: crumbled bacon or sausage, prosciutto or leftover Easter ham. Go the shellfish route and add some shrimp or crawfish or go high end with a little caviar on top. (Stay away from chicken and other fowl! It is too “mother and child” and there is something a little incestuous about it.)
4. Add avocados to the yolk mixture to make them even creamier.
5. Take a healthier route: use only 2/3 of the egg yolks and substitute non-fat Greek yogurt instead of mayonnaise.

If you still have an inclination for an elevated deviled egg, I suggest the bayou eggs at Restaurant IPO in downtown Baton Rouge (421 Third Street).  They devil theirs with crawfish and tasso and then top them off with perfectly fried oysters.

And now for an Easter story from my misspent youth.

In second grade, my family moved from Clinton, Mississippi to Fort Lauderdale, Florida.  It would be an understatement to say things were different there.

My first Easter in Florida, I received my typical offerings from the Easter Bunny: candy, a chocolate bunny, a ceramic figurine, and a stuffed animal. The next day I returned to school to find the rest of the children had received cash, entire outfits, and video games from the Easter Bunny.

I was in shock. I went home and asked my mother if I had been bad. Why had the Easter Bunny slighted me?

Her reply, “You are still being serviced by the Mississippi Easter Bunny and the Mississippi Easter Bunny is poor! He doesn’t have all that Walt Disney World money like the Florida Easter Bunny does. The Mississippi Easter Bunny does the best he can with his limited resources.”

Important lessons about economics were learned that day, and I secretly wondered if I would be considered a Florida resident the next time the Easter Bunny hopped by the house.