Sunday, December 31, 2006

    You Say Cala, I Say Collard Greens

    My month of blogging on AOL's health channel has begun!! Check out my next post on January 2 at, and then each weekday after that through the 31st.

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    My recent favorite thing to do on New Year's Eve is to cook a special dinner at home. Then, a few minutes before the New Year, we go outside to breathe in the cold New York City air, which is drunk on both libations and anticipation, and listen to revelers as the clock strikes midnight.

    Jon has been traveling in Nicaragua for the last week and will be back in town in just a few hours. Since I've yet to cook for him in our apartment, I decided today was the day! I'm making the Southern traditional New Year's Day meal of collard greens and Hoppin' John. Southerners say that collards represent wealth in the new year. Hoppin' John, which Jon has never eaten, are also supposed to bring good luck. Some say that the peas stands for coins while the greens stand for paper dollars.

    Yesterday I bought something I hadn't purchased before: ham hocks to cook with both dishes. You can make each without the ham, but it adds a greater depth of flavor and smokiness. I'd planned for months to also pick up some of Wine Cellars Sorbet's champagne sorbet, which I've sampled a few times at Whole Foods. It has 5% alcohol, and the company does sorbet tastings with various cheese pairings. The WF cheesemonger suggested a Robusto, which I believe is a nutty, gouda-like cheese. I'll serve this first, as an amuse-bouche.

    For dessert, I was thinking of making a CheerDevil cake (Cheerwine and devil's food mix). I grew up drinking Cheerwine, the regional cherry-flavored soda. It's not too sweet, and special enough to be non-reminiscent of Cherry Coke. Instead, I decided to make calas, which I'd never heard of before reading this article in the New York Times (it's now Times Select only, so I'll post the recipe at the end). I know Jon will be especially excited about this dish because his post-grad school job involves working in areas hit by Katrina, and he's become as interested in Cajun and Creole culture as he's been in my Southern heritage.

    From the article:
    "Vance Vaucresson is from a Creole family that has been making chaurice for more than 100 years. Katrina took out the family sausage operation on St. Bernard Avenue, but a competitor from a nearby suburb of Metairie has allowed Mr. Vaucresson to make chaurice there while he rebuilds.

    Mr. Vaucresson can talk about Creoles and sausage for days, but he was more excited last week when he watched rice fritters called calas boil in a pan of hot oil.

    The cala (pronounced cah-LAH) has roots in Ghana. In 18th century New Orleans, Creole women of color who had the day off from their domestic jobs sold them out of baskets, shouting, ''Calas, belles, calas tout chauds!'' (Beautiful calas, very hot!)

    Save for a few Creole grandmothers, who made them for special events like First Communion and Mardi Gras, calas had almost faded away.

    Since Katrina, they have reappeared in some restaurants, as a dessert or in the form of savory fritters made with wild rice and smoked catfish or with duck confit."

    Here's to good luck and happy eatin' in 2007!

    Adapted from Poppy Tooker
    Time: 20 minutes

    Vegetable oil, for deep-frying
    2 cups cooked medium- or long-grain white rice
    6 tablespoons flour
    1/4 cup sugar
    2 teaspoons baking powder
    1/4 teaspoon salt
    Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
    2 large eggs
    1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
    Confectioners' sugar.

    1. In a fryer or a deep pot, add oil to a depth of at least three inches, and bring to 360 degrees. In a large bowl, combine rice, flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and nutmeg.
    2. In a small bowl, mix together eggs and vanilla. Add to rice mixture and stir with a fork until well blended. Keep mixture cool (below 70 degrees) so that it will not separate when dropped into hot oil.
    3. When oil is correct temperature, drop in heaping tablespoons of batter. Calas will brown on one side and turn themselves over. When browned on both sides, after about 5 minutes, remove them with a wire skimmer and drain on paper towels. Sprinkle with confectioners' sugar, and serve hot.

    Yield: About 12 calas (4 to 6 servings).

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