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Classic Dishes from The Big Easy


Every time Al sees a TV show or a movie set in New Orleans his mouth starts to water.  Along with the obligatory shots of Bourbon Street and funky jazz clubs, there will be depictions of folks tucking into big plates of gumbo and shrimp étoufée. And as Chef Jerry Pellegrino says, there's no denying it: the cuisine of New Orleans is mighty tempting.

Two terms you will hear repeatedly are jambalaya and gumbo.  The basic difference is that jambalaya is very similar to a paella, whereas gumbo is a thick stew, usually served on rice.  Its close cousin is the étoufée.

Two other terms bear discussion: "Cajun" and "Creole." The difference is simple. Creole is a cuisine with touches of Spanish, maybe Italian. Thus it uses tomatoes. Cajun is pure French, and it does not. That's it.

Here are several New Orleans recipes that play well for Marylanders and our local food.

New Orleans Recipes from Chefs Amy von Lange & Jerry Pellegrino

Arnaud’s Crab Meat Prentiss


¼ cup unsalted butter

1 cup finely chopped onion

½ cup finely chopped celery

½ cup finely chopped green bell pepper

1 small clove garlic, very finely chopped

1 pound cream cheese, at room temperature

1 cup sour cream

1 pound jumbo lump crabmeat, picked over and all bits of shell and cartilage removed

2 teaspoons Creole seasoning

2 green onions, white and green parts, thinly sliced

¼ cup finely chopped fresh parsley

½ cup grated parmesan cheese

1 cup grated Swiss cheese

Parsley sprigs, for garnish

Preheat the oven to 350°F. In a large saucepan, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Add and sauté the onion, celery and bell pepper until translucent, about 7 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for a minute or two, until tender but not browned. Add the cream cheese and sour cream and stir constantly until the cream cheese melts and the mixture comes to a simmer. Gently stir in the crabmeat, reduce the heat to very low and simmer for 3 minutes. Add the Creole seasoning, green onions, parsley, Parmesan and Swiss cheese. Stir together to blend and bring to a boil, then remove from heat. Divide the mixture among individual ramekins or shallow serving dishes and place on plate with several croutons alongside each one, for scooping. Garnish with the parsley sprigs and serve hot.

Cajun Gumbo


1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 green bell pepper, seeded and diced
2 large onions, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
3/4 cup vegetable oil or lard
3/4 cup flour
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
6 cloves garlic, minced
5 1/2 cups reserved shrimp stock
1 pound spicy sausage, removed from the casings

Combine peppers, onions, and celery in a bowl and have ready next to the stove. In a large heavy skillet (cast iron is best) heat oil until it just begins to smoke. Gradually add flour, whisking constantly. Continue whisking constantly and cook over medium to medium-high heat until roux is dark brown and very fragrant. Add vegetable mixture and stir with a wooden spoon, continuing to cook, for 2 minutes. Add salt and dry seasonings and garlic and stir to combine, cooking for another 1 to 2 minutes, then remove pan from heat.

Place shrimp stock in a large Dutch oven or stockpot and bring to a gentle boil. Gradually add roux mixture to boiling stock, whisking constantly, until completely incorporated and dissolved. Return to a boil and add the sausage, then reduce to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.
Cooking the roux can be tricky. For safety's sake, wear good oven mitts while whisking (roux can cook to nearly 400 degrees F!) and be very careful not to let it burn on the bottom. If black bits show up in the roux before it is done, you must start over, boo-hoo. If the roux starts to smoke, remove it from the heat for a few minutes and keep whisking. Remember that the pan will retain a lot of heat that will continue to cook the roux even off the flame. This is not a quick project! Your patience will be rewarded with a rich, delicious gumbo.

Creole Jambalaya - you can add to or take away from. Let the seasonings be your guide and use your imagination!


1 onion (diced)

1/2 green bell pepper

1/2 yellow bell pepper

1/2 red bell pepper (for all bell peppers, cut small strips, then cut these in half)

10 small banana peppers (cut ends off)

1 whole garlic clove (diced)

2 cans diced tomatoes

1 small can tomato sauce

6 Polish sausages (chopped into bite-sized pieces)

15-20 jumbo whole shrimp

2 cans red beans

1 can corn niblets

1/2 cup vegetable oil

Worcestershire sauce (to taste)

Creole seasonings (to taste)

1 tbsp. parsley flakes

1 cup rice (uncooked)

Cooking Instructions

Start with heated oil. Add onion, garlic, and sausage. Sautee with sauces and spices.

Add all peppers.

Let simmer until onions and peppers soften.

Add tomatoes and 1-2 cans of water.

Let it come to a boil, then add beans, corn and parsley flakes.

Boil rapidly and flavor to taste.

When sausage rises to top, add shrimp and simmer for 20-30 minutes.

Serve over rice and enjoy!

Schola’s Creole Seasoning


 cup paprika

3 tablespoons smoked paprika

3 tablespoons dried oregano

3 tablespoons ground black pepper

3 tablespoons dried basil

3 tablespoons kosher salt

2 tablespoons cayenne pepper

2 tablespoon granulated onion

2 tablespoon granulated garlic

4 teaspoons dried thyme

In a medium bowl combine paprika, dried oregano, ground black pepper, dried basil, kosher salt, cayenne pepper, granulated onion, dried thyme, and granulated garlic. Stir to combine. Store in an airtight container for up to three months.

Classic Beignets


1 1/2 cups lukewarm water
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 envelope active dry yeast
2 eggs, slightly beaten
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1 cup evaporated milk
7 cups bread flour
1/4 cup shortening
Nonstick spray
Oil, for deep-frying
3 cups confectioners' sugar

Mix water, sugar, and yeast in a large bowl and let sit for 10 minutes.
In another bowl, beat the eggs, salt and evaporated milk together. Mix egg mixture to the yeast mixture. In a separate bowl, measure out the bread flour. Add 3 cups of the flour to the yeast mixture and stir to combine. Add the shortening and continue to stir while adding the remaining flour. Remove dough from the bowl, place onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth. Spray a large bowl with nonstick spray. Put dough into the bowl and cover with plastic wrap or a towel. Let rise in a warm place for at least 2 hours.

Preheat oil in a deep-fryer to 350 degrees F.

Add the confectioners' sugar to a paper or plastic bag and set aside.

Roll the dough out to about 1/4-inch thickness and cut into 1-inch squares. Deep-fry, flipping constantly, until they become a golden color. After beignets are fried, drain them for a few seconds on paper towels, and then toss them into the bag of confectioners' sugar. Hold bag closed and shake to coat evenly.

Peach Compote


6 medium peaches, pitted and roughly chopped

2 tablespoons light brown sugar

juice of 1/2 lemon

2 tablespoons water

pinch of kosher salt

1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste (or vanilla extract)

Place all the ingredients into a medium saucepan set over medium heat.  Stirring frequently, bring the mix to a gentle boil.  Continue cooking until the liquid in the pan has reduced to the consistency of a sauce like you see in the photos, about 10 minutes.  Taste for seasoning, adding more sugar or lemon juice to suit your tastes.

Let cool in the pan.  

Al Spoler, well known to WYPR listeners as the wine-loving co-host of "Cellar Notes" has had a long-standing parallel interest in cooking as well. Al has said, the moment he started getting serious about Sunday night dinners was the same moment he started getting serious about wine. Over the years, he has benefited greatly from being a member of the Cork and Fork Society of Baltimore, a gentlemen's dining club that serves black tie meals cooked by the members themselves who are some of Baltimore's most accomplished amateur cooks.
Executive Chef Jerry Pellegrino of Corks restaurant is fascinated by food and wine, and the way they work in harmony on the palate. His understanding of the two goes all the way to the molecular level, drawing on his advanced education in molecular biology. His cuisine is simple and surprising, pairing unexpected ingredients together to work with Corks' extensive wine offerings.