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Mardi Gras means very different things to Louisianians depending on which part of the state they were raised in. To me, Mardi Gras is multi-coloured homemade costumes, wire masks, horses, rides through the country on a trailer with live music, and a big gumbo at night. The New Orleans’ Mardi Gras, on the other hand, is extravagant floats, feathered or glittery masks, brass bands, beads and doubloons, and kings and queens. It’s a similar affair throughout northern Louisiana and, sadly, much of the prairie heart of Louisiana has picked up the beads, beauty pageants, and purple (justice), green (faith), and gold (power) colours in place of our own traditional celebrations.

In 2006 my brother Joel started a traditional Mardi Gras from his house (which used to be Pops’ and is still called that). He and our childhood friends, Linzay Young and Lucious Fontenot, focus on keeping the Courir de Mardi Gras as traditional as possible: people are asked to make their costumes themselves and to wear wire masks and the traditional capuchons, then they ride around the area asking families to donate a live chicken, some sausage or some rice in exchange for dances and songs from the costumed participants. After the run, which is usually 5 or 6 miles, everyone returns to Pops’ to slaughter and clean the chickens, make a big gumbo, and dance to live bands playing on the porch all night long.

The King Cake is actually a New Orleans tradition that came over from France and has been picked up by all of Louisiana. While Cajuns do not generally hold the same significance over the cake, we do love sweet things, and this one is really very good. The recipe here is for the traditional King Cake, but it is often filled with Bavarian cream or even chocolate.

In France, the King Cake will have different trinkets inserted into it after baking: a four-leaf clover for luck, a star for fame, or even a coin for fortune. Bakeries in New Orleans often have a special coin with their logo inserted into their cakes, but the most common prize to be found in Louisiana King Cakes is a tiny plastic baby used to symbolise Jesus. You can insert different charms to represent whatever you want to offer your family and friends, or, for a more rural cake, simple insert a whole pecan or almond into the bottom of the cake. Whoever gets the charm in their slice has either luck for the year or has to supply next year’s King Cake, depending on how you want to do it. There are so many variations in this tradition that you can easily make it your own.

For the cake:

  • 60g (4 tbsp) butter
  • 90ml (generous 1/3 cup) milk
  • 7g (1 package) dried yeast
  • 450g (3 cups) plain flour
  • 110g (½ cup) caster sugar
  • ½ tsp nutmeg
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 1 egg + 1 egg white

For the filling:

  • 115g (½ cup) white granulated sugar
  • 45g (¼ cup) soft brown sugar
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • ½ tsp nutmeg
  • 75g (½ cup) pecans, finely chopped
  • 100g (½ cup) raisins
  • 30g (2 tbsp) butter, melted

For the glaze:

  • 250g (2 cups) icing sugar
  • ¼tsp almond extract
  • ½tsp vanilla extract
  • ½ tbsp cinnamon
  • small pinch of salt

In a small pan, melt the butter in the milk and then leave it to cool to room temperature. Mix the yeast into 60ml (¼ cup) of warm water.

Put the flour, sugar, nutmeg and salt into a large bowl. When the yeast mixture has started to froth, pour it in, along with the milk/butter mixture and the egg. Mix well with your hands until you’ve got a rough dough, then tip it onto a floured work surface. Knead the dough, adding more flour if it’s too sticky, until it becomes smooth and elastic (10 minutes or so). Butter a large bowl and put the dough in it to prove, covered with a clean tea towel.

Mix all of the filling ingredients apart from the melted butter together in a bowl. When the dough has doubled in size (30–40 minutes), punch it down and roll it out on a floured work surface to a large rectangle about 5mm thick. Brush the surface with melted butter and sprinkle the top half of the rectangle with a thinnish layer of the filling mixture.

To make the traditional plaited ring, pick up the bottom edge of the dough and fold it over the filling. Roll it lightly, then cut it lengthwise into 3 strips. Pinch the edges of the strips if you need to stop the filling from falling out. Using a bit of water, join the 3 strips at the top and braid them loosely, pulling with your hands to stretch the strips. Use water to join the strips at the other end, then form the braid into a loop and stick both ends together. Put the cake on a sheet of baking paper on a baking tray and leave it to rise, covered with a clean teatowel, until it has doubled in size (about an hour).

Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F). Whisk the egg white with a tablespoon of water, and brush this over the risen cake. Bake the cake for 25 minutes or until it’s golden brown, then let it cool on a wire rack for 30 minutes.

Now make the icing: put the icing sugar and salt in a large mixing bowl and, using a hand mixer at low speed, slowly pour in 50ml (3½ tbsp) water. Add the almond and vanilla extracts and the cinnamon and keep mixing until the glaze is smooth and creamy. Drizzle this over the cake, leave it to set, and then sprinkle with coloured sugar –this is very easy to make at home by mixing a small bit of food colouring with white granulated sugar. Traditionally, purple, green, and gold sugar is used in sections on the cake(as a child I always wanted only the purple pieces).

If you’re using charms or a plastic baby, gently lift the cake and make a small incision with a sharp knife halfway into the cake from the bottom. Insert the charm and coerce the cake back around it to close.

Serves 10

Notes:   While cinnamon, sugar, and raisins make up the most traditional filling, there are many options. Feel free to experiment according to your owns tastes. Some other fillings I’ve used and enjoyed were Nutella (I just piped a thick cord of it across each strip of dough before folding them closed and braiding) and a mix of cream cheese, egg, rum, brown sugar and cinnamon.

Alternatively, you can make a very simple royal icing using one egg white and about 125g (1 cup) of icing sugar, with a bit of lemon juice or vanilla mixed in. Glaze the cake with the white royal icing, then decorate it with coloured sugar, or you could make purple, green and gold icing and use that. Just a note if you want to do it this way—let the white icing dry before adding a colour, then let each colour dry before you add another. Otherwise they all run together and ruin the effect.

Buy The Savoy Kitchen – A Family History of Cajun Food by Sarah Savoy here.    

Cajun party

Cajun partyWhich is why we’ve put together the Cajun Dinner Party Kit, just in time for Mardi Gras. It contains everything you need for a great night in (apart from the beer and the company):

The Savoy Kitchen – A Family History of Cajun Food? Check.

A packet of original, non-artificial, Sarah Savoy approved Cajun seasoning? Check.

A frankly kick-ass CD from Sarah Savoy herself? Oh Yes!

All you need to do is get your saucepans out, call your friends and get them to drop by the off-licence on the way over. Mardi Gras is on Tuesday March 4th so there’s no time to waste. And if you need any further inspiration, why not check out these truly wonderful photos, taken by Sarah’s sister Gabrielle, of a real Mardi Gras run in rural Lousiana: http://www.gabriellesavoy.com

Buy the Cajun Dinner Party kit right here

Sarah Savoy Party Pack

 

 

Brixton Village cookbook

Recipes from Brixton Village We’ve been VERY excited about the prospect of our Brixton Village cookbook, Recipes from Brixton Village, for some time now, but are even more excited now as things are suddenly gearing up for publication in May. All the editorial work is done, and ace illustrator Kaylene Alder has turned in a pile of really wonderful illustrations that capture the charms of the village perfectly.  So all that’s left to do (ha!) is sort out a little launch party.

So, put it in your diaries: Thursday May 22nd – there’ll be some drinks & books being signed at Studio 73 first of all, then look out for special things being concocted all over the Village to celebrate the launch. More details to come as and when they are confirmed but we hope we’ll see you there! And keep your eyes out in the meantime for teaser recipes and other little titbits to keep you hungry.

 

navy-beansThis has been one of my favourites since I was a kid. Mom makes it fairly often and we normally eat it just as a soup, although many people also like it over rice. As kids we put ketchup in it.

Serves 4

  • 450g dry white navy beans soaked overnight in enough cold water to cover
  • 225g smoked sausage, finely chopped
  • 1 large, meaty ham bone sawed into 5cm lengths (your butcher will do this if you ask)
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1/2 green pepper, chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 4 spring onions, green parts only, sliced
  • 1 tablespoon parsley, minced
  • 1/4 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 bay leaf, broken in half
  • Salt, black pepper & cayenne (I like to use both ground and flaked cayenne)

Drain the beans and put them in a large heavy pot with all the other ingredients. Cover with 2 litres of cold water and bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 3 hours. The beans should be very soft and the soup thick. Remove the ham bones from the soup with a slotted spoon.

Remove about 3 cupfuls of whole beans (don’t worry if you pick up a few bits of sausage etc as well) and mash them roughly in a bowl with a potato masher before returning to the pot.

Stir the soup well before serving (with ketchup or not).

navy bean soup

Buy The Savoy Kitchen – A Family History of Cajun Food by Sarah Savoy here.

 

Savoy kitchen award winner

We were really excited to hear that Sarah Savoy’s The Savoy Kitchen – A Family History of Cajun Food is the UK winner of ‘Best US Cuisine Book’ at the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards 2013 – a fantastic Christmas present, and incredibly well deserved.

The book will now go on to compete for ‘Best in the World’ at the Beijing Cookbook Fair in May but for now, best in the UK will do just fine. The Savoy Kitchen is the 3rd Kitchen Press title to get a Gourmand accolade so congrats and thanks also to the team that makes it all possible.

The Gourmand Cookbook Awards were founded in 1995 by Edouard Cointreau  to ‘reward and honour those who cook with words’ and this year featured entries from 187 countries. They’ve become a major fixture in the food & drink calendar so it’s a real privilege to be on their awards list. Next stop Beijing…

Here’s a Thanksgiving gift for y’all from the Queen of White Trash Cajun herself: it’s Sarah Savoy’s Sweet Potato Cheesecake!

For the crust:

  • 200g (2 cups) Speculoos or graham crackers
  • 90g butter, melted

Put the crackers in a food processor and blitz until you have crumbs. Stir in the butter, and press this mix into the bottom of a 23cm springform pan. Put it in the fridge to chill.

 For the cheesecake:

  • 3 large sweet potatoes
  • 900g cream cheese, softened
  • 335g (1½ cups) sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • 6 large eggs
  • 120ml (½ cup) crème fraîche or sour cream
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • seeds of 1 vanilla pod
  • pinch of ground ginger
  • ¼ tsp ground cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp freshly grated nutmeg

Preheat oven to 200°C (390°F). Put the sweet potatoes on a baking tray, and bake for 45-60 minutes until very tender and soft. Peel the sweet potatoes and mash thoroughly.

Increase the oven temperature to 230°C (450°F).

Beat the cream cheese until soft with a hand mixer (ouch) or a stand mixer. Add the sugar and salt and mix well, then stir in the eggs one by one. Add the crème fraîche (or sour cream), flour, vanilla seeds, spices and mashed sweet potato and mix until just combined (don’t overmix or you’ll have a sloppy, gloppy mess).

Pour the batter over a wooden spoon over the crumb crust (so as not to disturb the crumbs), and put the cheesecake in the oven. You might want to put it on a foil-lined baking sheet just in case. Bake for 15 minutes, then lower the heat to 120°C (250°F) and cook for an hour more.

Now for the most important part. Turn off the oven but do NOT open it. Leave the cake in the oven for 2 hours and put a note on the oven warning people not to open it.

Once the 2 hours are up, chill the cake in the fridge for at least an hour before serving.

Check out more of Sarah’s recipes in The Savoy Kitchen – A Family History of Cajun Food.

baked sweet potatoes

The Savoy Kitchen book

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The Savoy Kitchen – Available Now!

Sarah Savoy’s The Savoy Kitchen – A Family History of Cajun Food is now in the shops, and it’s looking just peachy. We celebrated the launch with a series of events up and down the east coast of Scotland where Sarah cooked gumbo, sang songs, played the accordion and generally kicked some ass. A big thanks to everyone who came out to say hello – we had a lot of fun.

Things kicked off at Forgan’s in St Andrews for a dining society special. On the menu: Crab Cakes Savoy, Chicken and Sausage Gumbo, Courtboillon, Stuffed Duck Breast, Pecan Pie and Bourbon Bread Pudding – there didn’t seem to be much left on the plates afterwards.  Then we hot-footed it up to the wonderful Hammerton Store in Aberdeen to hang out with Susan and blogger Foodie Quine.

Then on to Waterstones Dundee for a lovely evening of music and stories from Sarah and some more gumbo. On Friday it was Edinburgh, which was cold and beautiful as only Edinburgh can be. Sarah spent an hour chatting with Claire English and Peggy Brunache on Radio Scotland’s Kitchen Cafe – though frankly, once Sarah and Peggy got going they could have have been chatting for three…

The grand finale was at Looking Glass Books, where word of the free beer and gumbo had obviously got out: looking glass 2

Lets get them back to Scotland soon.  In the meantime: why not check the book out and listen to some tunes?

https://www.kitchenpress.co.uk/book_item/the-savoy-kitchen-a-family-history-of-cajun-food/

https://soundcloud.com/sarahsavoy

gumbo

Thanks to Chris Scott, Literary Paparazzo for the Looking Glass Books photos, and Foodie Quine for the montage.

We’re delighted to announce the details of Sarah Savoy’s upcoming author tour of Scotland. Dates are as follows:
Weds 30 October
7.30pm Forgan’s St Andrews – Cajun Dining Club featuring a 6 course Cajun dinner.

Thursday 31 October
12pm Hammerton Store, Aberdeen – book signing, music & chat!

6.30pm Waterstones Dundee – performance & book signing

Friday 1 November
1.05 Radio Scotland’s Kitchen Cafe

3.30pm Looking Glass Books, Edinburgh – performance and book signing.

Apart from the Cajun Dining Club at Forgan’s (which is a TOTAL bargain at £24.95 for two), all events are FREE and feature not only Sarah’s very fine gumbo but also free beer courtesy of our good friends at Eden Brewery, St Andrews. It is Sarah’s first visit to Scotland, so please, don’t be shy, swing by and say hello!

Miss South avatar

A massive congratulations to Miss South, joint winner of the Food Writing category at the Young British Foodies Awards 2013 last night!

She’s the co-founder and lead author on the Top 20 UK food blog North/South Food, food editor at the Brixton Blog & Bugle, and has been featured across national and regional media including BBC Radio 4’s The Food Programme and the Observer Food Monthly.

We’re also proud to announce Miss South is the editor of, and contributor to, our forthcoming title Recipes from Brixton Village… so we’ve actually known she’s brilliant for some time now…

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