Friday, February 20, 2015

"Jazz Cooks - Portraits and Recipes of the Greats" - Harry Connick, Jr.'s Red Beans and Rice for Mardi Gras 2015

Date I made this recipe:  (Tuesday) February 17, 2015 – Fat Tuesday!

Jazz Cooks – Portraits and Recipes of the Greats by Bob Young and Al Stankus
Published by: Stewart Tabori & Chang
ISBN:  1-55670-192-6
Purchased at Strand (Bookstore), NYC
Recipe:  Harry Connick Jr.'s Red Beans and Rice – 186-187

People, I try normally to make a dish to commemorate a holiday or two during any given month but this month is insane!  First we had Valentine's Day, then two days later, President's Day, then the next day (today) is Fat Tuesday, kicking off Mardi Gras, then this coming Thursday the Chinese New Year gets underway.  And to cap off my cooking pain, on Sunday we have the Oscars.  Who planned this?!  So I'm telling you right now that if I am a tad behind on my dish of the day, you'll just have to live with it. 

So okay, today I have a lock and load on Mardi Gras and am using a newly-acquired but already-a-favorite cookbook, Jazz Cooks – Portraits and Recipes of the Greats.  I bought this at the Strand (Bookstore) in NYC last summer for all of $6.00 – sweet deal!  And sure, you get the recipes but you also get biographies and a brief discography of some of the greatest players/singers from the jazz world. What's not to love about this?

The book is separated into sections by instrument and since I am a woodwind player (clarinet and sax), I wanted to show respect by sticking to that section...except there were so many other greats in other instrument sections (brass, percussion, strings, keyboards) that I thought I would have to switch camps.  And then, just as I was approaching near-meltdown, I got to the vocals and people, there I stayed.

When it comes to music, as with other things in my life, I was a late bloomer. Piano lessons got underway when I was in 6th grade.  I "learned" (if we can call it that) to play the clarinet and sax as an adult student of MacPhail Center for Music.  But voice – now there's something I had from the get-go.  I'll have you know I was a proud member of the Sacred Heart Catholic School Children's Chorus, participating in a community musical event in 6th grade.  Prior to that though, I made my mark in various grade school productions and was even one of six students who sang at daily mass during the "guitar-mass" portion of our program in the late 60's.  "Kumbaya, my Lord, Kumbaya..."

Anywho, I had a love and a (I'll just go ahead and say it) talent for singing at an early age and the more I listened to vocalists like Doris Day and Frank Sinatra on my parents albums, the more in love I fell.  And so what the heck - as long as I was taking clarinet and saxophone lessons at MacPhail, I signed up for some vocal lessons as well, performing in many studio recitals along with several other "jazz" vocal students.  Oh, the fun.

So I was especially enamored with the Vocals section of this cookbook and might have gone with a recipe by a female vocalist like Shirley Horn, Abbey Lincoln or even Nancy Wilson but then along came Harry Connick, Jr. and his Red Beans and Rice recipe and that was that.

First, how much more Mardi Gras/New Orleans can you get with that recipe and second, I love his voice.  In fact, hearing him sing It Had to be You on the When Harry Met Sally Soundtrack prompted me to instruct my wedding band to play that as the bridal party dance number at my 1991 wedding.  It almost took top honors for the bride and groom's first dance but we reserved "Embraceable You" for that spotlight moment.  My husband, bless his heart, means well when it comes to dancing but anything faster than a slow sway is asking for trouble.  Embraceable You is a slow sway; It Had to be You is not.

No doubt many of you only know Harry from his recent stint on American Idol but what you missed is that he was a child prodigy who was playing and singing in New Orleans' jazz halls from a very early age.  I mean for crying out loud, the guy "joined the musicians' union at nine!" What were you doing at age 9? (I tell you what I was doing:  singing The Lonely Goatherd from The Sound of Music, that's what! Oh, if only there was an American Idol for kiddies back then.).

So.  Our Harry went out and did some really cool stuff and is now on American Idol and all is well with the world.  Oh, and he stared in a few movies to boot.  Honestly, I should hate him....

Before we get to this recipe, let me just whet your appetite for this cookbook and some jazz by listing some of the other jazz greats in this book:

Reeds: Pacquito D'Rivera (clarinet, saxophone); Illinois Jacquet (tenor saxophone)
Brass: Nat Adderly; Mario Bauza; Terence Blanchard; Mercer Ellington; Dizzy Gillespie; Wynton Marsalis; Doc Severinsen; Clark Terry
Percussion: Tito Puente
Strings: I must confess that I don't recognize any names which means I have homework!
Keyboards: Dave Brubeck; *Dave Frishberg; Marcus Roberts; George Shearing; McCoy Tyner (*I heard the late, great singer, Blossom Dearie, perform a bunch of Frishberg's compositions a few years before she died and my favorite song of his/hers is "My Attorney Bernie."  As an attorney, this amuses me to no end, especially this refrain "Bernie tells me what to do, Bernie lays it on the line, Bernie says we sue, we sue, Bernie says we sign...we sign.")
Vocals: Harry Connick, Jr.; Shirley Horn; Abbey Lincoln; Helen Merrill; Joe Williams; Nancy Wilson

And folks, these are just the ones I know and/or whose CDs!  So if you have a chance to score this book off the internet, start searching!

Okay then, as to the recipe, Red Beans and Rice is pretty damned easy and in fact, Harry Connick, Jr. says that you can either go by the instructions on the package of beans (his favorite brand is Carmellia) or you can customize it like he does.  I went with his version and really liked it.  I'm giving you both so you can choose but honestly, it's rather tough.  Just decide already, then sit back and listen to some Preservation Hall Jazz if you have it, or Harry Connick, Jr., if you have that or some other jazz that tickles your fancy.  New Orleans is all about good food, good music and, if you are so inclined, a good cocktail.  Have at it!

Red Beans and Rice – serves 4 to 6
1 pound red kidney beans, preferably Carmellia brand
½ pound ham
1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped celery
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
8 to 10 cups water
1 large bay leaf
Salt and pepper

The package version:
Soak the beans overnight in enough water to completely cover them.  In the morning, drain, rinse the beans, and discard any debris.  Render the ham in the skillet by cooking until the fat becomes liquid, and remove the meat and place to the side.  In the fat that remains, sauté the onion, garlic, celery and parsley. 

In a large pot, combine the beans, water, meat, bay leaf, salt and pepper.  Bring to a slow boil, lower the heat to a simmer, and cook for about 1 ½ hours, stirring occasionally, until the beans are tender.  (If necessary, add more water).  Remove the bay leaf and serve over rice.

Harry's version:
Make a stock using ham bones.  Soak the beans in the cooled stock overnight.  "This gives the beans a really great flavor," Connick says.  (Ann's Note:  I didn't have a hambone so I didn't make a ham stock but I did have frozen leftover Easter ham and that added a lot of great flavor.)

"Also, I grate my onions – usually two – and don't usually sauté any of the ingredients.  I just put them into the pot uncooked with the beans.  I also allow my beans to cook until they begin to get creamy."

Ann's Note:  I hate grating onions – what a mess – so instead, I use a mini-food processor and pretty much puree the onions in small batches until I get the consistency I'm looking for.  

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