You know it’s “potluck day” at the Clarion Herald’s Howard Avenue headquarters when Peter Finney Jr., the newspaper’s executive editor, emerges from the elevator carrying a blue cooler.
Worried that the cream cheese and sour cream-laden contents will spoil in transit from his home kitchen, Finney heads straight for the lunchroom refrigerator to deposit the precious cargo: a lemony crawfish dip so rich and perfectly spiced that it must be hidden in the back of the fridge so staffers aren’t tempted to have it for breakfast.
“This is a great party dip and extremely easy to make,” said Finney, noting that like most New Orleans seafood dishes, a little goes a long way.
Although he considers himself to be a master of the one-pot and meat-with-two-veggie dinner, Finney, whose Lenten repertoire includes salmon, catfish and shrimp, places the Clarion’s culinary mantle on the shoulders of two staffers: Christine Bordelon, associate editor; and Jonelle Foltz, executive assistant.
Dressing up fresh tuna
Bordelon, who grew up in a family of talented home chefs, is the kind of cook who gets bored preparing the same dish twice, and who enjoys testing out new recipes on willing guinea pigs. Clarion staffers have been at the receiving end of such successful “experiments” as Bordelon’s sweet and savory chestnut stuffing, artichoke balls and crabmeat and camembert soup, the latter flavored with one of the culinary world’s most exotic spices – saffron.
The Mount Carmel Academy graduate and volunteer for the St. Joseph Altar at St. Francis Xavier Parish also regularly surprises her donut-weary colleagues with homemade scones, made from a recipe extracted from a pastry chef at the Windsor Court Hotel.
Bordelon’s recipe for a meatless favorite – Pan-Seared Sesame-Crusted Tuna Steaks – was found on the website of America’s Test Kitchen.
“I love grilled fish and fresh tuna,” Bordelon said. “(The American Test Kitchen recipe) uses a ginger-soy sauce with scallions that is delicious, but my sister-in-law Beth gave me this recipe for a fresh avocado-mango salsa that is equally divine. It’s hard to say which one I like better, so when I have all the ingredients, I serve both sauces.”
Another of Bordelon’s go-to meatless entrées is Shrimp Vermicelli, adapted from a recipe in Holly Clegg’s 1983 cookbook “From a Louisiana Kitchen.” Bordelon added flavor to Clegg’s original recipe by incorporating more vegetable seasoning and adding a splash of liquid crab boil to the pot as the pasta cooks – the latter something she does to punctuate all her seafood pasta dishes.
A taste for turtle
Foltz, a graduate of St. Joseph Academy and a mother of five, proudly counts her son Matthew and husband Michael among her family’s most enthusiastic cooks. Matthew Foltz’s Steelhead Trout Ceviche is a brand-new addition to the family’s list of must-haves, she said.
“It’s a refreshing cold dish that can be served with tortilla chips or over rice. It’s not a main dish,” Foltz said. “The lime and the lemon really make it jump. It’s different from anything I’ve ever had. It has a very bold taste, and the cilantro gives it a different twist.”
Foltz prepares one of her own specialties – Turtle Soup – on Lenten Fridays and on special occasions, such as her children’s birthdays.
“It’s a must to have the lemon peel – just enough to give it a smooth taste,” said Foltz, who tweaked the recipe found in her favorite cookbook, “Talk About Good,” a wedding gift from her Aunt Hannah.
“Years ago it was really difficult to find turtle meat. You had to go all the way across the lake,” she said. “But now a lot of seafood markets and even grocery stores carry it. Just call ahead and see if they have it.”
Mike Comar, the Clarion’s business manager, got his recipe for barbequed shrimp from his girlfriend, Betty Giandelone, who had received it from her hairdresser. Comar’s rendition of the dish deviates from more traditional recipes in that the shrimps’ buttery bath calls for chili sauce and liquid smoke.
“It’s great to serve to visitors because it gives them a taste of a great New Orleans dish,” Comar said. “Just be sure to have lots of French bread handy, as one of the best parts of this dish is to sop up that delicious sauce.”
For better or worse, sweets are the most common items on the Clarion’s lunchroom table.
Circulation Manager Vernell Speyer, the newspaper’s longest tenured employee, now in her 40th year, describes her rum-laced Pineapple Delight Cake, first baked by her friend Carolyn Delle, as “light and refreshing.”
Staffers really begin to salivate when MJ Cahill, director of advertising and marketing, announces plans to bring her Nana’s Apple Pie to the annual Halloween potluck and to birthday parties, by request. If there is such a thing as the perfect apple pie, this is the ticket. Cahill has adapted her recipe for the ultimate crust over several decades.
“(Sports Editor) Ron Brocato ate three pieces once. He would have eaten the whole pie, but he felt guilty,” chuckled Cahill, who received the detailed recipe from her great grandmother.
“Eggplant casserole and apple pie are the two things I can remember eating when I was 6,” Cahill adds, “and when you think about it, those aren’t two things most 6-year-olds eat.”
Additional meatless recipes from the Clarion Herald staff can be found at www.clarionherald.org.