Quick and easy meals took center stage at the Life Begins @ 50 Expo on Saturday. More than 120 people gathered for the program in the Baton Rouge River Center presented by The Advocate Food staff.
The focus was delicious meals easily made for one or two, ideal for a couple who have said goodbye to college-bound kids or a retired pair planning RV adventures.
This year, Advocate Food Editor Cheramie Sonnier and What a Crock columnist Julie Kay were joined by award-winning chef Jeremy Langlois for a cooking demonstration. Executive chef of Latil’s Landing Restaurant and the three other restaurants at Houmas House in Burnside, Langlois shared recipes that he has scaled down for two.
“People ask me all the time what I cook at home,” Langlois said. “These are three recipes that I would do at home. They are all things that can be simple.
“Because I work all the time, I like to cook something that’s fast when I get home,” he said. “Because I’m a chef, I still like to make something that’s interesting.”
Working on stage behind a portable kitchen, Langlois said, “Once you have chopped the ingredients, it takes no time at all. I can make a meal in 20 minutes.”
In all three recipes, Langlois made use of Cajun cooking’s “holy trinity” ingredients: celery, green bell pepper and onions. He said to save time people can pick up containers of these ingredients already chopped and ready to use.
Demonstrating his Crab and Mango Cake With Chipotle Rémoulade Sauce recipe, Langlois advised using both crab claw meat and lump crab meat mixed with mayonnaise and bread crumbs, along with the “holy trinity,” for the best texture and sweetness.
While he uses mayonnaise to bind the crab patty, low-cal, low-fat mayonnaise will work as well, he said. Dusted with bread crumbs, lightly sautéed, and topped with your favorite rémoulade sauce, they make a delightful meal.
For his Paneed Chicken With Marsala Sauce recipe, the chef dredged boneless chicken breast halves in Italian bread crumbs.
He sautéed the chicken in olive oil, saying, “Cooking is all about managing heat. You don’t want to put your chicken into a cold pan. To test the heat, first put a small amount of bread crumbs into the oil to see if it sizzles.”
He placed the sautéed chicken on a plate, and then made a light sauce starting with olive oil, chopped onions, sliced shiitake mushrooms and hint of garlic. He said mushrooms will absorb the oil, so if necessary, add a little oil to the pan while you are cooking.
“You want to add a little flour to thicken the sauce, “ he said. “Then you add marsala wine and beef broth.”
Langlois commented on using store-bought broths: chicken, beef or seafood as needed. You can make your own broth, but it saves time and energy to buy pre-made broth at a grocery, he said.
“Be generous with the sauce you put atop the chicken,” said Langlois. “You can serve it with asparagus or boiled pasta on the side.”
Langlois wowed the audience with his Shrimp and Jambalaya Grits recipe. For top texture and flavor, he said, use stone-ground grits that are available at Whole Foods or from Papa Tom Bonnecaze Farm at the Red Stick Farmers Market.
The dish starts with fresh andouille sausage sautéed in a large frying pan and then adding onion, garlic and chopped baby tomatoes. Mix the grits with milk (4 cups of liquid to 1 cup of grits), Langlois said. Stir and simmer over medium heat. If necessary, add a little milk.
Then, take a pound of shrimp (He used 10 large shrimp to a pound.), Langlois said, and use peeled shrimp with the heads and tails on. Sauté shrimp in oil then add onion, celery, bell pepper and garlic. Add a bit of flour, then add shrimp or seafood broth, which is available in stores. Add a small amount of whipping cream to thicken the sauce.
To complete the meal, add generous amounts of butter and cheddar cheese to the grits; place the grits on a plate and put shrimp and plenty of sauce on top, Langlois said. The entire meal can be completed in about 20 minutes, he estimated.
While Langlois cooked, members of The Advocate Food staff updated the audience with cooking trends, new products and healthful eating tips.
Sonnier said Blue Diamond is producing new baked Nut-Thin crackers that are wheat and gluten free. One version features brown rice and almonds. She said that the pecan nut-and-rice cracker snacks are especially delicious. “They can be used like chips. But, they are better than chips; they’re good and better for you,” she said.
Adding a touch of humor, Sonnier said another Blue Diamond product on the market is a package of thin-shelled almonds. “But, you can see I’ve eaten them all,” she said, smiling and holding up an empty bag.
The food editor told the audience that Ball’s producing new light-blue Mason Jars in celebration of its 100th anniversary this year. The popular containers have long been used by cooks for canning and preserving. The new jars come in six-jar packages for $9.95.
She also noted a new Quinoa Corp. organic product features a gluten-free elbow pasta made with corn flour and quinoa flour and has 100 calories per serving. For those watching their diets, she suggested trying Smart Balance’s new minibags of a light buttered popcorn.
“You can pop them in the microwave, but you have to watch carefully because they will burn faster than the package tells you,” she said.
Other new products you can find in Baton Rouge area stores are Hanley’s Sensation Dressing invented in Prairieville and a Caesar’s dressing by Walden Farms that is labeled calorie free, sugar free, fat free and gluten free.
Other Louisiana products mentioned were Guidry’s Cajun Gumbo mix and Pourciau’s Original Pecan Praline Sauce.
To sweeten your table, look for Suga, a sugar cane syrup: one made with sugar cane and another made with Stevia. Also, it will be hard to resist sampling Gators, newly produced pickles with a distinct sweet and hot pepper seasoning.
Sonnier also pointed out new place mats for children from Chocolage with clever designs planned to encourage table manners and polite manners. There’s a new plastic gadget, the Ronco Chip-Tastic, fashioned to help you make homemade chips in the microwave, which by all appearances may take more time than you wish.
Kay, The Advocate’s slow-cooker enthusiast, showed the audience a new generation slow cooker by Ninja. “It has an oven function, slow-cooking function and is a steamer,” she said. The pot also comes with a tray for cooking muffins.
In a new inventive Crock Pot, you can indicate what protein you’re cooking and tell the pot what time you want it done, she said. The pot will then adjust the temperature while it is cooking.
Kay also recommended new take-away containers with screw tip lids by Rubber Maid that help you take home-made dishes to others or make large dishes such as soup that allow you to package in containers for two-people meals.
She also said keep an eye out for new packages of seasonings made for slow-cooker meals, such as pot roast and pulled pork.
The program concluded with The Advocate Food staff serving audience members with samples of the jambalaya grits and paneed chicken, cooked on stage by chef Langlois, as well as a sample of his Bisque of Curried Pumpkin, Crawfish and Corn, a signature dish at Houmas House restaurants.
People were apparently delighted in the samples and the on-stage demonstrations.
“I really liked the jambalaya grits,” said Clarence Hickman. “As I am getting older, I’m now interested in (learning about) low-calorie cooking now that I can’t use a whole lot of salt.”
John and Dianna LeBlanc, of Gonzales, said they are regulars at the Life Begins@50 programs.
“I would never have thought about putting grits and andouille sausage together,” said Dianna LeBlanc.
Her husband said,” I like easy, fast meals, and I thought the program was fabulous. It’s really easy if you can get chopped vegetables in the stores.
The couple really liked the tips on new products.
“I cook a spaghetti sauce with 10 pounds of ground meat and like to put it in small containers for freezing,” said John LeBlanc. “ I also like Ziploc bags because they take up less room in the refrigerator.”