December 20, 2009

Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24: Creole Christmas in Canada

Every year, my girlfriends and I try to get together to catch up over the holidays.  A few years ago we decided to stop buying Christmas gifts for each other and instead spend a nice meal together.  After all, what's better than the gift of time, friendship, and food?

It was easier when we were younger, but now with everyone living in different cities, provinces, states and countries, these annual get-togethers get even more important.  With added significant others, the faces have changed but the dynamic remains the same - lots of laughs, tons of food, and great stories to share.
This year, we headed up to Toronto, Canada for our annual Christmas get-together.  Because we last got together to celebrate our milestone birthdays in New Orleans, LA, we decided to attempt a Creole Christmas this year.
We started with a couple of cocktails because nothing else reminds us of both the holidays and New Orleans!  We made the appropriately-named and festive-colored French Quarter Champinis.  We mixed up 1.5 oz Chambord, 0.5 oz Grand Marnier, 0.5 oz lime juice, 0.5 oz cranberry juice per glass with ice.  After pouring the mix in the glass, we topped it off with about 6 oz of sparkling wine.
Hurricanes were next as we remembered our warm summer's evening enjoying these drinks at Pat O'Briens.  Though we did not have the famous Pat O'Briens hurricane mix, we made a very similar drink.  We mixed together 3 oz rum, 3 oz orange juice, 3 oz pineapple juice, and 0.5 oz grenadine syrup and poured the drinks into tumblers over ice.
Our hostess made these delicious mini vegetarian muffaleta sandwiches as a reminder of our huge vegetarian muffaleta sandwich from Central Grocery:
We laughed when we remembered our initial shock at the size of the original sandwich (and were glad that we opted to share it)  We loved our hostess' version of the sandwich as it was rich in flavor from the olive spread and vegetables.  Its smaller size was also much easier to eat!
On this cold winter's day, the vegetarian gumbo with biscuit topper was a comforting dish.  The hardest part was finding the file powder for the gumbo - which in Toronto is found at Kensington Market (and in New York at Indian spice market Kalustyan's).  Though we had the meaty gumbo at Acme Oyster House, this homemade version was so flavorful and substantial (due to the rice), we didn't really miss the meat.  (And it gave our vegetarian friend a chance to have the gumbo she missed out in New Orleans!)
Our favorite place during the entire trip was Cafe du Monde (as evidenced by our daily trips during our stay).  We all smiled as we remembered our various treks for coffee and beignets - morning, noon, or night.  We found the coffee in the most unusual of places - Chinatown!  In both Toronto and New York, Cafe du Monde coffee can be found in various Chinese stores due to its popularity for Vietnamese Iced Coffee.  We learned that when Vietnamese immigrants went to New Orleans, they loved the chicory coffee so much that they used it for their iced coffees.
We were all so full from the delicious food, dessert was a simple bowl of Pralines n' Cream ice cream topped with Grand Marnier.
We all seemed to have sucre in mind when we made shared our edible gifts.  Bourbon balls covered in festive sugar and sprinkles were rich and reminded us of the truffles we had seen.  The cookies shaped like purses were similar to the fun packaging sucre uses for its chocolates (and the champagne represented our birthday toast at Restaurant August).  And finally, chocolate-covered apples with nuts wrapped in a Fleur de Lils ribbon (New Orleans symbol) to thank our friends for their southern hospitality...all the way up north! 

We all had a wonderful time re-living our New Orleans trip and catching up like old times (while the husbands chatted about that night's big game between Dallas and, coincidentally, New Orleans).  After all, good food and better company is what the holidays are all about!

Mini Vegetarian Muffulettas:
1 cup giardiniera (pickled cauliflower and carrot salad)
1 cup olives
1 cup marinated mushrooms
6 rolls
1 cup roasted sweet red peppers
1 cup spinach leaves (or arugula)
0.5 lb sliced provolone cheese
0.5 lb sliced part-skim mozzarella cheese
1 cup thinly sliced tomatoes

1. In a food processor, chop giardiniera, mushrooms, artichoke hearts, and olives along with liquid from the jars.
2. Hollow out tops and bottoms of rolls, leaving 3/4 inch shells (discard bread or save for future use)
3. Spread veggie mixture over tops and bottoms of rolls
4. Layer provolone cheese, roasted red peppers, tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, and spinach.
5. Replace tops.
6. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap, secure with toothpicks.
7. Refrigerate overnight.

Vegetarian Gumbo
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup toasted sesame oil
3/4 cup flour
1 large onion, chopped
1 bunch green onions, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
6 ribs celery with leaves, chopped
2 tsp thyme
3 cloves garlic, minced
6 cups vegetable broth
3 cans (15 oz) diced tomatoes
1/2 bunch parsley, finely chopped
2 bay leaves
2 Tbsp Tamari soy sauce
1 tsp hot sauce (add more for extra kick!)
1 tsp paprika
salt to taste
8 cups cooked rice
file powder to taste

1. Heat oil over low heat in a big soup pot or Dutch oven.  When it's hot, add flour.  Cook over low heat for about 10-15 minutes until the color is similar to a coppery penny.
2. Add onion, peppers, celery, thyme, and garlic.  Cook over low heat for about 30-45 mins.  Stir frequently - add oil only if necessary.
3. Add stock, tomatoes, parsley, bay leaves, tamari, hot sauce, paprika, and salt.
4. Let it come to a boil, then turn down and let simmer 2-3 hours.  The key to this recipe is low heat and almost constant stirring for 45 minutes.  After an hour or so, taste and add more salt or cayenne.
5. Serve in cups and top with file powder and biscuit.

Decorated cookies recipe - click here

Candied apples recipe - click here


  1. What a great 24 event Andrea! Bravo to you for being able to recreate all that. Happy Christmas and all the best to you and Jeff in 2010. May the year bring happiness and health and good blogging!


    I was lucky enough to take a vacation in NEW ORLEANS this fall, and loved every minute of it. Your post brought back some great memories (wonderful pictures by the way)...

    Thought you might like to see my postings of my NO memories... As I try to rebuild New Orleans one Sazerac Cocktail at a time...

  3. @Mardi - Thanks so much! Most of the congrats goes to our awesome hostess who not only opened up her home to all of us but also prepped and made most of the meal. Happy Winter Solstice =) to you and Neil and cheers to another great year for you! We're looking forward to more of your fabulous posts, winning entries, and fantastic photos of your food and travels!

    @A Year on the Grill: Thanks!! Love your site - such wonderful candor and great recipes! We will definitely check out all of your New Orleans posts! Happy Holidays to you and your wife and looking forward to lots more great food ideas on your blog!

  4. wonderful Christmas dishes! everything looks delicious too

  5. what fun ... with all the great cocktails and food, I bet you could here the riverboat Natchez tooting away with music.....

  6. All the Creole specialties look wonderful! Excellent 24, 24, 24 event!

  7. I too love the food from New Orleans - what a great creation of delicious recipes!

  8. What a great idea to have a Creole Christmas in Canada! I adore Cafe du Monde products. Everything looks great!

  9. Great holiday atmosphere ... congrats on a sucessful 24,24,24 event!

  10. You had me at muffaleta...and I was off reminiscing a recent trip to New Orleans. It's great to stay connected with friends. Don't let that tradition drop.

  11. Ahh, meatless muffalettas at Central Grocery .... Want one now! NOLA foold is the best. What fun!

  12. Congratulations on a wonderful idea and for pulling if off so perfectly!

  13. Great post and great idea! Impressed with your memory as I don't really remember much a few weeks out ... dying to visit New Orleans and your post certainly reinforced that. Happy Holidays!

  14. Hurricanes! They're dangerous. :) Looks like the South can go anywhere you want it.

  15. Congrats on getting chosen for 24, 24, 24! I love the idea of getting together for a trip instead of exchanging presents. Looks like you had a great time on your trip. It's always nice to get away to some place warm during the winter. :)

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