• Tommy Centola

From the TV to the kitchen

There are currently 2 food channels on my television provider: The Food Network and the Cooking Channel. Growing up, I remember seeing cooking demonstrations on my local PBS station, filmed from New Orleans. This gentleman with his heavy Cajun accent and wit was Justin Wilson.

Justin was the author of 6 cookbooks and hosted a few different cooking shows. He was also a comedian, telling stories of the bayou. He always injected humor into his demonstrations. He would have been more popular if not for his heavy accent, causing many to have trouble understanding him. His cooking was always top notch. Today, I reached into one of his cookbooks for three recipes: Stuffed Pork Chops, Elementary Macaroni and Pralines. In these recipes, you will not find any ingredients that are difficult to get. Cajun cooking is very simple, but tasty. Here is a sample of Justin’s cooking.

This first recipe shows basic Cajun cooking. Since Cajuns lived off of products they grew or raised, these pork chops are stuffed with ground pork. It is a good way of using as much of the pig as they can.

Stuffed Pork Chops

1 pound ground pork

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1/2 cup finely chopped onion

1/2 teaspoon salt or to taste

1 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper or to taste

1/2 teaspoon finely crushed dried mint

Other spices to your liking

1 cup plain bread crumbs

6 pork chops, 1-inch thick, with a pocket sliced in the middle

Preheat oven to 350℉. Mix all ingredients together, except the pork chops, in a bowl. Sprinkle salt and pepper on the outside of each pork chop, then stuff the pocket of each with the meat dressing, and place in a greased baking dish. Bake for 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

This is Justin’s version of what is commonly known as American Chop Suey. This dish shows that Cajun cooking is not very fancy. It is food used to feed large families, which many Cajun families are. This is definitely not white table cloth cooking, it is down home cooking at its finest.

Elementary Macaroni

2 pounds ground beef

2 cups chopped onions

1 cup chopped fresh parsley

1/2 cup chopped bell pepper

1 pound macaroni, cooked and drained

2 cups tomato sauce

1/2 cup red wine

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

Salt to taste

1/2 teaspoon crushed dried mint

Louisiana hot sauce or ground cayenne pepper to taste

1 teaspoon garlic powder

Over medium heat in a high-walled skillet, brown the ground beef. Add the onions, parsley, and bell pepper, and cook until the onions are clear. Add the macaroni and blend well. Stirring, add the tomato sauce, wine, Worcestershire, salt, mint, hot sauce, and garlic powder. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes.

Today’s final recipe is Pralines. In France, almonds were used in the making of their pralines. When the French settlers arrived in Louisiana, there were no almonds to be found. What they did find was an abundance of pecans. So they adapted.

Pralines

1 1/2 cus sugar

1 1/2 cups firmly packed brown sugar

1/12 cups evaporated milk

Dash of salt

1 tablespoon margarine or butter

1 teaspoon vanilla extract or other flavoring extract

2 cups chopped pecans

In a medium-sized saucepan over medium-high heat, mix the sugar, brown sugar and milk together. Cook until the firm ball stage (240℉ on a candy thermometer), stirring occasionally. Add the salt and the margarine and stir until melted. Set the pot aside and let cool until the bottom of the pot is cool enough to hold in your hand. Add the vanilla, beat until creamy, then stir in the pecans and spoon the mixture onto wax paper by the teaspoonful and let harden.

Justin used his humor to show that cooking is not difficult. He would start his shows with the greeting “How Y’all Are.” Of course, he has his own catchphrase, I gar-one-tee (guarantee). I gar-one-tee you will love his recipes.

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