Monday, January 11, 2016

New Orleans Inspired Dinner

Back in August, the spouse and I got a chance to take a mini-vacation in New Orleans. We ate some amazing food at some fantastic restaurants. A frequent customer asked me to make a meal inspired by our trip.

The menu I ended up doing was an appetizer of a savory asparagus cheesecake with jalapeño aioli, a shrimp bisque with a whole wheat cheddar Parmesan cracker, an entree of chicken en papillote with crab mushroom béchamel, braised chard, and green onion hush puppies, and vanilla bean ice cream with bananas Foster.

The appetizer was inspired by one we had at Dick and Jenny's. Mine was a cheesecake with ricotta, feta, and Parmesan cheese, and blanched asparagus. The recipe I started from is this one from

The crust is a cracker crust using whole grain club crackers. I blind baked the crust before hand, so that it would not be soggy.

It is garnished with a  jalapeño aioli, made from mayonnaise, roasted jalapeño, key lime juice, and sea salt.

I served the cheesecake warm. This resulted in a silky texture that was quite pleasant.The contrast with the crispy crust was spot on.

The soup is a shrimp bisque. The stock was made from about three pounds of crayfish shells, mostly heads, that I simmered for three hours, then ground up with an immersion blender and ran through my chinois.

This provided a solid base for the soup. I added green and red bell peppers, onion, and celery. It was seasoned with Old Bay seasoning, cumin, cayenne, and fresh ground black ground black pepper.

I pouched one whole shrimp per bowl in the stock for garnish,. The rest are cut up in small pieces, and added right before service, so that they were not overcooked.

To go with the soup, I made whole wheat cheddar Parmesan crackers. They had a robust texture that held up well to the soup.

For the entree, I made chicken en papillote with a crab mushroom bechemel. It's a fun way of cooking. En papillote is French for in paper. The food is wrapped in parchment paper, and  baked in a hot oven. It steams in the envelope.

To go with, I braised white chard with apple cider vinegar. That gave it a mild sweetness to counterbalance its natural mild bitterness.  It was cooked with bacon and onion. 

I also made green onion hush puppies, because, really, what is more quintessentially New Orleans than hush puppies. Crispy outside, light and fluffy in the middle, with a hint of heat from a little cayenne.

For dessert, I made bananas Foster over vanilla bean  ice cream. No pictures, my phone died before I could get any. Great flavors of rum, banana, brown sugar, and spices over a good quality ice cream. Didn't have time to make my own, unfortunately.


Savory Asparagus Cheesecake


5 1/2 oz. whole grain club crackers
2 1/2 oz. butter, melted and cooled
2 eggs
spray canola oil

Pre-heat oven to 350 F.

Use spay oil to generously grease six 4 1/2" ramekins.

In a food processor, grind crackers very fine. Add butter and eggs. Process until smooth. Press dough into ramekins. Bake for ten minutes. Remove from oven, let cool.


1 bunch asparagus
1/2 medium white onion, fine diced
8 oz. ricotta
8 oz. feta
1 oz. grated Parmesan
3 1/2 oz.heavy cream
2 Tbsp. butter
2 eggs
salt and pepper to taste

Pre-heat oven to 350 F.

Cut tips of asparagus 1" long. cut an additional 1" of stalks. Blanch asparagus pieces in lightly simmering salted water until al dente. Shock in ice water to stop cooking. Select twelve tips to leave whole. Set those aside, fine dice the rest of the asparagus pieces.

In a skillet over medium heat, melt butter. Saute onions until tender. Add diced asparagus, saute lightly. Add cream. and turn down to low.

In a large bowl, whisk together eggs, ricotta, and feta. Temper cream mixture, and whisk into cheese mixture. Season to taste.

Ladle custard into ramekins. Add two
asparagus tips to each ramekin. Sprinkle tops of custard with Parmesan.

Place full ramekins in a shallow baking dish. Add hot water to half way up the ramekins. Bake until custard is set, about 20 minutes.

Remove from oven. Let rest about 10 minutes. Gently run a knife between crust  Slide cheesecake from ramekin, plate and garnish with jalapeño aioli.

 Jalapeño Aioli

1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 medium  jalapeño
1 tsp. key lime juice
salt to taste

Roast  jalapeño in 350 F oven until blackened. Shock in ice bath. Peel, de-stem, and de-seed. 

Blend together  jalapeño, juice, mayo, and salt until smooth.

Shrimp Bisque


3 lbs. crayfish shells
5 quarts water

Simmer shells in water for three hours. Using an immersion blender, grind up shells. Filter through a chinois to remove shell bits.


1 qt. crayfish stock
1 lb. shrimp tails without shells
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
1/2 medium white onion, diced
3 stalks celery, diced
3 strips bacon, diced 
2 tsp. Old Bay Seasoning
1/2 tsp. cumin powder
1/4 tsp. cayenne powder
salt and pepper to taste

In a pan over medium heat, render fat out of bacon. Add vegetables, saute until tender. Add stock and spices, bring to a simmer.

Take six whole shrimp. Poach in soup until cooked, about 3 minutes. Remove and set aside.

Dice remainder of shrimp. Add to soup. Simmer until done, 

Ladle soup into bowls. Garnish with whole shrimp and cheddar Parmesan cracker.

Whole Wheat Cheddar Parmesan Cracker

4 oz. grated sharp cheddar
2 oz. grated Parmesan
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 tsp. dry mustard powder
1/4 tsp. sea salt
1/8 tsp. cayenne powder
2 oz. butter, softened
2 Tbsp. cold water, plus more if needed

Combine Cheese, flour, and seasonings in a food processor. Pulse a number of times to combine ingredients.

Add butter. Plus until dough resembles course crumbs. Add water, one tablespoon at a time, processing until dough just sticks together. If too dry, add additional water, 1/2 tsp. at a time.

Form dough into a ball and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate for two hours.

Pre-heat oven to 375 F.

On a floured surface, roll out dough very thin. With a fork, poke holes in dough at regular intervals. Using a pizza cutter, cut into diamonds. Transfer to a silicon baking pad lined sheet pan. 

Bake ten minutes, or until crisp and lightly browned.

Transfer to parchment paper to cool.

Crab Mushroom Bechemel

3 oz. butter
1 oz. flour
8 oz. mushrooms, sliced thin
3 oz. canned crab meat with juice
3 cups cream
salt and pepper to taste

In a saute pan over medium high heat, melt 2 oz. butter. Saute mushrooms until tender. Set Aside.

In a sauce pan over medium heat, melt remaining ounce of butter. Add flour, cook until light brown.

Add cream, whisking in until well incorporated. Bring to a simmer, stirring constantly. when thickened, Add mushrooms and crab. Set aside.

Chicken en Papillote

3 large boneless skinless chicken breasts
crab mushroom bechemel

Pre-heat oven to 450 F.

Cut breasts in half lengthwise. Pound each half breast to 3/4" thick.

Cut six 10" hearts out of parchment paper.

Place each half breast on a parchment heart. Cover with bechemel. Crimp paper closed around breast. 

Put packages on baking sheets. Bake for 15 - 20 minutes.

Green Onion Hush Puppies

1 cup cornmeal
1/2 cup flour
1 egg
1 cup buttermilk
3 green onions, sliced thin
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. cayenne powder

canola oil for frying

Whisk together all ingredients.

Heat oil to 365 F. 

Drop batter by spoonfuls into hot oil. Fry until golden brown.

Happy Eating!

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