The Big Easy Cook

About

Welcome to my little corner of the web! I’m so glad you’re here. A native of New Orleans, my life is a gumbo of people, places and experiences, the highlights of which center around cooking, cocktails and family. I’ve wanted to do a blog for a long time, but until now I didn’t have the nerve (as my grandmother would have said) to do so. This pandemic has put many things in perspective for me, the least of which is that there is no better time than now to pursue a dream.

Growing up, Grandma was the cook in our home. Though Dad had a few specialties, Grandma could always be counted on to make the Cajun and Creole foods that we loved. Between her and projects from the 4-H Club, I was able to cobble together limited kitchen skills as an adolescent.

My first attempt at making brownies is still a vivid memory. In order to earn points to get to summer camp, club members had to bake and present their foods to a panel of judges. There were no measuring spoons in my home, and I had no idea that Nestle Quik chocolate milk mix was not the same thing as the cocoa called for in the 4-H recipe. We had baking soda so that our refrigerator didn’t smell bad. Surely that was the same thing as baking powder?

While I am by no means a chef, I’ve come a long way since that first disastrous effort. A move to New York at eighteen taught me what it really is to miss New Orleans. Besides the people and city I loved, I longed for the food. Thus began my efforts to recreate the dishes of my hometown.

At nineteen, I met my future mother-in-law, Dorothy. Safta, as she was called once grandchildren came along, taught me how to make traditional Jewish and Italian foods. I remember scraping my knuckles raw in her kitchen preparing potato kugel for the first time. Her famous marinara sauce was next. Though he would never admit it, I think learning how to make that sauce was a prerequisite to my husband, Marty, proposing.

Over the years I built on and expanded my culinary knowledge, catering breakfasts and lunches in the offices where Marty was seeking clients. We had just moved to Hollywood, Florida (Hollyweird to locals), and Marty needed to re-establish his business. From there his clients hired me to cater parties.    

With the birth of my third and youngest child, Sam, I stopped catering as a business. Lavish parties for clients and large family gatherings, however, were still my domain. Laura, my oldest, helped me to arrange platters and coordinate. Max, my middle guy, was chief taste tester.

By now I was in my thirties, and though I loved my life as it was, I harbored a secret desire. I wanted to write. As luck and fortune would have it, a friend introduced me to reknown writer and teacher, John Dufresne. John held a writer’s workshop at a nearby coffee house each month. (John has an amazing trio of books on the craft of writing, available wherever books are sold. The latest is titled, Storyville: An Illustrated Guide to Writing Fiction.)

From John’s workshop, I found the courage to go back to school. First finishing my bachelor’s degree, I was then accepted into the creative writing program at Florida International University. There I met an amazing group of professors and fellow students, all committed to seeing each other grow and prosper as writers.

Part of the joy and camaraderie of attending the FIU program, were the many writing conferences, readings and gatherings that we had. In addition to nurturing our creative spirits, these functions also nurtured our bodies. Good food and drinks were usually a part of our events.

It was from here that my culinary anthology, Irrepressible Appetites grew. With over 60 contributors, the book is a food-centric celebration of stories and poems, with recipes. The book and my studies at FIU opened the door to freelance writing.

For years I penned various columns for the food section of the Sun-Sentinel newspaper. From takeout reviews, to stories about interesting specialty markets, I immersed myself in the South Florida culinary scene. One column, The Kitchen Next Door, always featured a local resident preparing a dish from their native country or heritage. Writing these stories and testing the home cooks’ recipes was an honor and a joy.

There was a column in which I interviewed local chefs, which led to a column called Bartender’s Best. Quite possibly my favorite, this column dropped me right into the heart of cocktail culture just as bartenders were beginning to be called mixologists, and people began to once again appreciate a finely crafted beverage. A whole new world opened up to me.

This world of cooking and entertaining, creating recipes and sharing cocktails both expanded my universe and sustained me through the many slings and arrows life has sent my way.

No matter what tragedies befall us, somehow we end up in the kitchen. Gathered around the stove or table, we share stories and memories. We laugh and we cry, in our family, often laughing so hard that we’re crying.

No American city has endured more catastrophes than New Orleans. That our mandate to Laissez les bon temps roulez, let the good times roll, has less to do with fear of what will come next, but exactly when. The city has endured epidemics of yellow fever, small pox, catastrophic floods and deadly hurricanes.

And yet New Orleanians don’t obsess over these things. They embrace life and celebrate anything and  everything conceivable.  There is an easy-going, laid back attitude that permeates the people and the place. According to the Urban Dictionary, Big Easy is a person who is, “fun to be with, comforting and so lovable.”

One of the definitions of cook, according to Mirriam Webster, is “to perform, do, or proceed well.”

If I mashup those definitions I can say that my intention of using the name, The Big Easy Cook is to be fun and proceed well. Kind of like a parade. One of my favorite New Orleans traditions.

Though the themes and the floats change with every parade, the fun and excitement remain constant. And along with every New Orleans parade come the beads and the throws. Giveaways, or as we like to say, lagniappe – a little something extra.

In addition to recipes and kitchen tips, I’ll be throwing in some lagniappe here and there. Travel adventures, cooking with my grandkids, Remy and Rory. And of course, cocktails. Thanks again for stopping by. I truly appreciate it. Drop me a note if you’re so inclined. I’d love to hear from you!

The Big Easy Cook

@2020 by Tracey Broussard