by Betty Thompson

A recent first-time trip to New Orleans was to provide the topic for this month's column. But choosing what to write about after I returned home has been as formidable as it was selecting places to eat and food to sample.

Should I write about Lafayette and Breaux Bridge, the heart of Cajun country? Here large family restaurants like Mulates provide live Cajun music and a place to dance as well as mountains of good food. We feasted on plates of hot andouille sausage and chunks of delicious (farmed) alligator along with a platter of homemade crab cakes, fried shrimp, crawfish etouffee, fried catfish and frog legs served with jambalaya, homestyle french fries, cole slaw and crispy French garlic bread. There was barely room for hot bread pudding and certainly no space to try Cajun gumbo, blackened rib eye or the Opelousas baked duck or the Zydeco salad.

I wanted to go back later, but Prejean's was next. We were greeted with a 14-foot stuffed alligator, the largest ever caught in South Louisiana. Tables were covered with red checkered crawfish cloths and gallon sweet potato cans holding rolls of paper towels and the ever-present assortment of hot sauces such as Tabasco, Louisiana Gold and Cajun Power Garlic Sauce.

We sampled smoked duck and Andouille gumbo and cream of wild forest mushroom and Andouille soup. Then came Soft Shell Crab Imperial stuffed with crawfish dressing and finished with crab butter and grilled tasso (smoked pork) along with Dirty Rice, fresh asparagus and green salad.

Fillet Jumonville was a filet stuffed with crawfish, cheese, fresh herbs, grilled and served over an eggplant toast and finished with a crawfish and brandy sauce served with baked potato and corn macque choux. The finish was Triple French Chocolate Cheesecake on a bed of Montana Huckleberry Coulis and Chocolate Grand Marnier Torte on a bed of Black Walnut Cream.

It doesn't get any better than this.

The next day, on the advice of some old timers, we headed for the local grocery store for a taste of Acadiana's fast food: fresh French bread and locally made hot boudin (boo-den), a well seasoned rice-and-pork sausage. We provided a good laugh for customers when we had to ask how to eat it. The official boudin-eating technique is to bite into the sausage but not through. Pull the casing between your teeth so you eat just the filling. It was delicious.

So many good recipes, so little space. Here are three I hope you enjoy, but I have left many behind -- the Artichoke and Crab Bisque, hot beignets (doughnuts) piled high with powdered sugar, crawfish pie, oyster Po' Boy, muffalata sandwiches, pecan pie, pralines ...

Catfish with Red Pepper sauce

Serve with oven-fried potato and sweet potato wedges.
11/3 pound catfish or cod
3 tablespoons lemon juice
A mixture of 3/4 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, 1/4 teaspoon cayenne, 11/2 teaspoon paprika and 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
3 tablespoons oil
12 peeled prawns

Sprinkle fish with lemon juice on both sides. Season on both sides liberally with seasoning mixture. Let stand for 15 minutes.

Pan fry or drizzle with oil and broil 5-6 minutes until golden. Add prawns the last two minutes. Serve fish on a bed of red pepper vinaigrette and top with prawns.

Red Pepper Vinaigrette:
1 cup roasted sweet red peppers (Mezzetta brand)
1/2 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
2 teaspoons olive oil

Puree into a smooth sauce and heat through.

Mushroom-Andouille Soup

Adapted from "Cajun Revelations."
3 tablespoons oil
1 cup onions, finely chopped
1 andouille (smoked) sausage, diced
1 medium portobello mushroom, cut in half and sliced 1/4 in thick
4 cups chanterelles, sliced
2 cups fresh shitake, sliced or 1/2 cup dried Chinese mushrooms, restored and sliced
2 teaspoons paprika
1/4 cup white vermouth
1/4 cup marsala
2 cups chicken stock
2 cups half and half
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon flour mixed with 1/4 cup cold water

In a large pot, sauté onion in oil until tender. Add sausage and fry until lightly browned. Add mushrooms and saute until softened.

Stir in paprika, add wines and simmer until only 1/4 cup liquid remains. Add chicken stock and half and half and heat through. Add flour and water mixture and heat, stirring until thickened.

Cajun Cole Slaw

1 medium cabbage, cored and shredded
1 red pepper, seeded and sliced
2 cups red cabbage finely shredded
4 carrots, coarsely grated
1/2 cup dill pickle, shredded
6 green onions, chopped

Place vegetables in a large bowl. Toss with dressing. The salad is even better the second day.

1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon Creole mustard (coarse grained)
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon Tabasco
2 tablespoons minced onion
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup olive oil

Whisk all ingredients together.

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