On this rainy, lazy morning in Nashville I could not agree more!
From a culinary perspective, this time of year (i.e. Mardi Gras) is one of my favorites. I have an affinity for Cajun food. I think that has a lot to do with the family vacation to New Orleans we took when I was a teenager. We stayed right on Bourbon Street and totally immersed ourselves in the culture and history of the city. As a naive teenager, there were many eye opening experiences and I am so thankful for the opportunity to have had them! This was a trip that continues to bring me happy memories and teaching moments! NOLA is definitely on my list of places to return to as an adult. Can’t wait to see and taste New Orleans as an adult!
I have lots of great memories from this family vacation but I think my favorite memories are all the colorful characters we met on our exploration of the city. During the day, there were mimes, men & women painted up as statues that would stand still for hours, sweet boys with bottle caps on their shoes tapping away for loose change and best of all the incredible musicians. After dark on Bourbon Street, the atmosphere became even more fantastical. The people of the night crawled out of whatever dark hole they lived in during the day to decorate the streets with mystery. As a teenager, I enjoyed gothic literature and tales of horror: vampires in particular (and they are still my guilty pleasure). Bourbon Street at night was literally stepping in to the pages of whatever Anne Rice novel I was reading at the time!
But back to the food! Ever since taking this trip 15 years ago I find myself craving Cajun food. I crave fried alligator tail and etouffee from the Cajun Cabin while listening to zydeco and people watching. Some of the best pastries I have ever had came from La Madeleine, a French bakery and cafe. I was a teenager the last time I was in New Orleans but now I have discovered a love for Hurricanes, the ever present libation on Bourbon Street.
But the food from NOLA I crave the most has got to be beignets and cafe au lait from Cafe Du Monde overlooking Jackson Square. I dream of fluffy fried donuts and chickory coffee with steamed milk. I still remember the sticky tables and trumpet player that never seemed to take a breath (you can see him in the far left in the pic above). Since they are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week Cafe du Monde was always there to satisfy our sweet tooth! There were a few days we went for breakfast and for a late night snack!
Since Cafe du Monde is over 500 miles away and I can’t make a quick run on Saturday mornings (although I can order coffee and beignet mix by mail!) I had to figure out a way to bring Cafe du Monde to me! Bon appetit!
Beignets and Cafe au Lait
- 1 package active dry yeast
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 2 tablespoons vegetable shortening
- 1 1/4 cups warm milk (110 degrees)
- 1 egg, beaten
- 4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (4 cups for beignets, 1/2 cup to roll out dough)
- Pinch of salt
- Oil for frying
- Powdered sugar for dusting
- 5 cups of Chickory Coffee, hot
- 5 cups whole milk, hot
In the bowl of an electric mixer, fitted with a dough hook, add the yeast, sugar, shortening, and milk, mix for 2 minutes. Add the egg. Mix well. Add 4 cups of flour and pinch of salt. Beat at low speed until all of the flour is incorporated, about 1 minute. Then beat at medium speed until the mixture forms a ball, leaves the sides of the bowl, and climbs up the dough hook. Remove the dough from the bowl. Using your hands, form the dough into a smooth ball. Lightly oil a bowl. Place the dough in the bowl and turn it to oil all sides. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside in a warm, draft-free place until it doubles in size, about 2 hours.
Preheat the vegetable oil in a deep fat fryer or pot with deep sides to 360 degrees F.
Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and pat the dough into a rectangle about 1-inch thick. Lightly dust the surface of the dough with flour. roll out the rectangle to 12 1/2 inches long by 10 inches widee and about 1/4-inch thick. With a sharp knife, cut the dough into twenty 2 1/2-inch square beignets. Fry the beignets, a couple at a time until golden brown and crispy on all sides, about 3 to 5 minutes. Remove and drain on paper towels. Sprinkle the beignets with powdered sugar and serve.
Fill each cup with 1/2 cup of coffee and 1/2 cup of hot milk. Stir well.
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