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Author: Kara Johnson

19 Jun

A PERFECT SUMMER DRINK: THE PIMM’S CUP

Summer is in full swing, and we all know what that means.  It's hot and only going to get hotter.  This makes it the perfect time to begin creating your list of cool and refreshing libations for the warm months ahead.  I want to start with the Pimm's Cup.  It's a New Orleans staple and like bread pudding, this tasty drink travelled all the way from London to be received by New Orleans with open arms.  The Pimm's Cup dates back to the 1840's when the proprietor of an oyster bar in London, James Pimm, invented the drink using gin and a secret mixture of herbs. He promoted it as being a medicinal tonic that improved one's digestion. It was served in a tankard referred to as a No. 1 cup,...
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5 Jun

YAKA MEIN and A TALE OF TWO CHINA TOWNS

Yaka Mein, Ya-ka-mein, Yakamein, Yakamee, Yaka Meat and Old Sober are all different expressions of the same dish.  Many claim it has mystical healing powers such that it can cure a hangover with a single bowl.  Asian in origin, this well-known soul food fare is a New Orleans staple.  There are as many different ways to prepare it as there are to spell it. The variations are endless.  The YaKaMein Lady, Ms. Linda Green, can attest to this.  Her website offers beef, shrimp, beef and shrimp, duck, oyster, vegetarian and even alligator yaka  mein. My go-to chef, Gason Nelson, makes a version with turkey, and also has one that uses turtle or cowan, as it's commonly called in these parts.  While there are infinite possibilities when it comes to creating this concoction, it is...
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29 Apr

LIBERTY’S KITCHEN: A RECIPE FOR SUCCESS

Liberty's Kitchen is an organization near to my heart.   A simple way to describe it is as a nonprofit, workforce training enterprise that teaches culinary skills to individuals ranging from the ages 16 to 24.  While this description is factual, it is also grossly inadequate because Liberty's Kitchen is so much more than this.  Janet Davas founded the institution in 2008.  She wanted to help with the rebuilding of our young people after Hurricane Katrina.  More specifically, this program focuses on our most vulnerable youth who are disenfranchised and disconnected from opportunities to reach their full potential.  The mission is to provide pathways for New Orleans youth to create and achieve their vision of success through workforce training, leadership development, and support of healthy lifestyles. ...
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10 Apr

REVEREND MARTIN LUTHER KING, SR., CORETTA SCOTT KING, THE DINNER PARTY AND MY MOTHER’S OKRA GUMBO

Growing up in New Orleans makes food connoisseurs of us all.  Who makes the best red beans and rice, jambalaya, shrimp etouffee or bread pudding?  We are all experts on these matters of monumental significance and usually have to look no further than our mothers or grandmothers for the answer.  In my case, I'm blessed to have also partaken of the culinary delights prepared by my great grandmother, Marguerite Victor Johnson, and of course, there's my uncle Kenneth.  Many of the staple dishes in my family have been passed down for generations and my family roots in this city go all the way back to the 1700's.  Today I'm sharing my family's recipe for okra gumbo as well as the story about the time my...
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20 Mar

NINA’S BREAD PUDDING with WHISKY SAUCE

by Kara Johnson Growing up in New Orleans mandates a love affair with bread pudding.  I don't remember the first time I ate it, but my grandmother made one of the best I've ever tasted.  If food is love, (and I know that some part of it is), we were most certainly cared for and treasured by my grandmother.  Born Evelina, she shortened her name to Evelyn, and we called her Nina.  After school, my cousins and I would all go to my great grandparents' home in the 7th Ward.  The house was a double  shotgun, renovated into a single, located caddy-corner to Valena C. Jones Elementary School. It was the gathering place for my family.  Nina would have the most amazing dinners waiting for us, and...
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19 Mar

Nina’s Bread Pudding with Whisky Sauce!

by Kara Johnson Growing up in New Orleans mandates a love affair with bread pudding.  I don't remember the first time I ate it, but my grandmother made one of the best I've ever tasted.  If food is love, (and I know that some part of it is), we were most certainly cared for and treasured by my grandmother.  Born Evelina, she shortened her name to Evelyn, and we called her Nina.  After school, my cousins and I would all go to my great grandparents' home in the 7th Ward.  The house was a double  shotgun, renovated into a single, located caddy-corner to Valena C. Jones Elementary School. It was the gathering place for my family.  Nina would have the most amazing dinners waiting for us, and...
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19 Feb

A CASUAL CONNOISSEUR’S GUIDE to CREOLE AND CAJUN CUISINE

New Orleans is famous for its world class, one of a kind cuisine, but its cuisine is actually comprised of two different kinds of cooking.  They are Creole and Cajun.  I grew up loving my uncle Kenneth's food.  His jambalaya is one of the best I've tasted.  In fact, my son used to go to restaurants and order "Uncle Kenneth's jambalaya".  I've  had to explain to him on more than one occasion that you can only get that in one place. His is made with a tomato base.  I remember the first time I saw brown jambalaya.  I thought it wasn't authentic, but what I later learned is that it was Cajun, not Creole.  So what's the difference? Please allow me to begin by saying there are numerous legitimate variations on much of our...
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5 Feb

THE GREAT KING CAKE DEBATE

Have you heard about the great king cake controversy?  There's an ongoing debate about this delightful delicacy. What actually makes a king cake a king cake?  Can any pastry topped with purple, green and gold sprinkles claim the title?  Is it simply a sweet treat, or can it be the main course? There are so many new takes on this old tradition. The king cake was originally made in France some 300 years ago in honor of the Epiphany.  The Epiphany, celebrated throughout Western Europe, occurs on January 6th, 12 days after Christmas, and is also known as the Twelfth Night. It commemorates when the three kings visited the baby Jesus. In New Orleans, it also signifies the beginning of the Mardi Gras season.  The...
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25 Jan

I Am A Casual Connoisseur

LAGNIAPPE Hi, I thought I should formally introduce myself since I'll be writing the articles on New Orleans cuisine and culture.  For me, this is a journey into territory both very familiar and uncharted.  As a naitive New Orleanian whose family lineage hails back to the 1700s in this city, I know a lot about what goes on here.  My great-grandparents owned a home in the 7th Ward and lived to be in their late 90s.  I along with everyone else in my family went over to their house everyday.  I grew up hearing generations of stories about New Orleans.  There were portraits of formerly enslaved ancestors as well as free people of color who were "passe blanc".  That means they could pass...
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