12 September 2013


I confess, I love cookbooks based on television programs.  They tend to fall into two categories: the "unofficial" cookbook, which means someone writes a book outside of the purview of the producers of the show.  They tend to be rather plain and based on other cookbooks, much like the The Unofficial Downton Abbey CookbookWe are still hoping for that "OFFICIAL" Downton Abbey cookbook.  The official cookbook is the other kind of TV Show cookbook.  True Blood is an official cookbook.  This means they have all the force and resources of the particular show behind them.  Specifically, lavish photos.  (Primarily the reason we are hoping for an "Official"  Downton cookbook.)  

While the lavish photo are a big plus, the problem with many of these sanctioned cookbooks, is the desire to "pretend" that the actual characters in the show have assembled the cookbooks. What happens is some lowly junior writer is tasked with developing a back story for the character who is then given a voice to tell us about their  families cooking experience.  It is a bit lame.  OK, it is very lame.  

Why can't producers have faith in their audience.  Why don't they write a cookbook that features the historical justifications for the food in their series, especially if it plays an important role.  (I don't mean to harp, but this is EXACTLY what Julian Fellows should do with Downton Abbey.  Discuss the Edwardian kitchen.  Show lots of photos, give recipes for the food, come on Fellows, give us a cookbook! But I digress...)

With the "official" cookbook for the series Treme,  the producers have tried to give us both the cheesy, "Our characters wrote these recipes and here are their culinary back stories" and legitimate recipes from a wide variety of chefs.  Treme: Stories and Recipes from the Heart of New Orleans was written by respected food writer,, Lolis Eric Elie.  It would be hard to write a story of New Orleans and leave out either the food or the music.  David Simon, the producer of Treme uses both of these vital elements in his story telling.  In fact, he has blurred the lines of fact and fantasy by including real, recognizable chefs as members of his cast.  When the idea of a Treme cookbook came to light, there was a built-in repository of culinary info.

And still... we have to have the recipes come from the cast of characters in Treme.  Head chef is one Janette Desautel who writes the "introduction" to Treme.  Desautel is played by the fine Kim Dickens, who has played far too many hookers and addicts in her career. (News flash, Dickens is set to join the cast of Sons of Anarchy as ... "seductive and maternal madame Colette Jane".)  To get the rhythm of an actual chef, Dickens worked in several restaurants, spending a great deal of time with New Orleans chef, Susan Spicer.  when Janette Desautel goes to New York, Dickens actually works on Le Bernadine's line making the pounded tuna from Eric Ripert.   A set was built for Lucky Peach a fictitious David Chang restaurant, Chang said it was set up better than Momofuku, the real David Chang restaurant.

The Alabama born, Vanderbilt educated Dickens becomes the Alabama born, University of Alabama drop-out, Janette Desautel, who goes to Birmingham to work with Frank Stitt.  It all seems so believable!

One of my favorite characters in Treme is LaDonna Batiste-Williams, played by Kandhi Alexander (who like Kim Dickens, has played a lot of hookers, addicts and the occasional medical examiner.)   LaDonna Batiste-Williams both loves and hates New Orleans and the complexity of her charter is unusual on television.  In her bar, there is always a pot of gumbo, gumbo that has been cooking for a century.  While the gumbo cooks and the beers are cold, LaDonna Batiste-Williams might be inclined to serve up some microwave pralines.

Microwave Pralines

1 pound light brown sugar
1 cup heavy (whipping) cream plus 1 to 3 teaspoons cream or milk for thinning batter
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
2 cups pecan halves, cut in half again (in other words, not too big or small)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into 4 pieces
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Line a heatproof surface like a countertop or 2 baking sheets with wax paper.

In an 8-cup microwave-safe glass measur­ing cup with a handle, combine the brown sugar, cream and corn syrup, mixing until all the sugar lumps are dissolved and the bat­ter is well blended.

Position the measuring cup in the micro­wave so you can see how the batter inside measures; the batter will be at or near the 2 1/2-cup mark. Microwave on high without covering or stirring, watching it continuously, until the mixture slowly bubbles up to slightly higher than the 8-cup mark and then deflates to near the 4 1/2-cup mark, 10 to 16 minutes (depending on how quickly your microwave cooks).
Do not open the microwave during the cooking process and, if in doubt, cook for less time, not more.
(If you want to make praline sauce instead of pralines, let the batter cook as directed until it has expanded to slightly over the 8-cup mark and then has slowly deflated just to the 7-cup mark. Use warm or at room temperature. Refrigerate the leftovers, tightly covered, for up to 1 week.)

Carefully remove the very hot measuring cup from the microwave and, using a sturdy metal mixing spoon, gently stir in the pecans, butter and vanilla, being careful to not splash any of the hot mixture on your skin. Continue stirring until the mixture is noticeably less glossy, about 3 minutes.

Working quickly, and using two spoons, scoop rounded tablespoonfuls of the mixture onto the wax paper, about 1 inch apart and, using a second tablespoon to push the batter off the mixing spoon. If necessary, thin the batter with the remaining 1 to 3 teaspoons of cream as you reach the end of the batter and it thickens as it cools. Let the pralines cool to room temperature, about 20 minutes, then serve as soon as possible. Any leftovers can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 4 days.

In the hands of Lolis Eric Elie, Treme has manage to be both a television tie-in and a remarkable testament to the food of New Orleans.

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