Yo, Blacken This!: Hell's Kitchen Meets the French Quarter at the Delta Grill, by M.B. Roberts (Willow Creek, 1999).

2004_10_food_yoblackenthis.JPGWhen Gothamist thinks comfort food, we want something warm and spicy, kind of like an internal blanky. Lately we've been drawn to Cajun and Creole food, which satisfies our hunger like no other cuisine. In our neighborhood alone, we have Mara's Homemade, Natchez, and Raga's soul food Tuesdays to choose from. But when one of our midtown-dwelling friends tipped us off to Delta Grill's hangover-curing brunch (omelets, macaroni & cheese, andouille sausage), and we found out about the cookbook, we figured it was time to try some Cajun cooking for ourselves. And hell, when it's cold outside, we might want to stay in and cook a little longer than usual.

Crawfish Etoufee; Photo: Yo, Blacken This!Delta Grill's chef, Greg Tatis, is a native New Yorker who trained for eight years with Paul Prudhomme in New Orleans before opening the restaurant with Tom Burns. He describes his food as "Cajun, with a New York attitude." His cookbook lays the "New York attitude" on a little thick, we think, but the food looks so good we'll excuse it. However, we would note that none of the recipes in the book are super fast or super easy. Every non-dessert recipe uses one or both of Tatis's custom spice mixes (recipes are provided after the jump), which makes the recipes a little involved even before you get started. But the recipes are explained well, and oh, do they look good. Roasted Pecan Crab Cakes with Saffron Sauce, Fried Green Tomatoes with Black Pepper Envy Sauce, Jambalaya, even Alligator Sauce Piquant. (Not yet available from FreshDirect, you gan get alligator meat from CajunGrocer.com or ExoticMeats.com). We love artichokes and shrimp etoufee so we substituted shrimp for crawfish in the recipe for Artichoke with Portabello Mushrooms and Crawfish Etoufee. The roux is rich, spicy and nutty, and a great match for the artichokes.

Gothamist also recommends these (NYC-related and not) cookbooks for good Cajun/Creole/Southern food. If you have a favorite cookbook please tell us in the comments!

Sylvia's Family Soul Food Cookbook: From Hemingway, South Carolina, to Harlem, by Sylvia Woods

The Gift of Southern Cooking: Recipes and Revelations from Two Great American Cooks, by Edna Lewis and Scott Peacock

The Taste of Country Cooking, by Edna Lewis

Chef Prudhomme's Louisiana Kitchen, by Paul Prudhomme

Fit for a King: The Elvis Presley Cookbook, by Elizabeth McKeon

Artichoke with Portabello Mushrooms and Crawfish Etoufee

3 cups medium diced onions
2 cups medium diced green bell pepper
2 cups medium diced celery
2 cups corn oil
2 1/2 cups flour
1 tablespoon Seasoning Mix #1 (below)
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
two large (24-count) artichokes
1 lemon, sliced
ice cubes
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon fresh chopped garlic
2 tablespoons Seasoning Mix #2 (below)
1/2 pound crawfish (or shelled, deveined shrimp)
2 cups sliced portabello mushrooms
2 cups chicken stock (or vegetable stock)
1 tablespoon corn starch
2 tablespoons warm water
1/4 cup sliced scallions

Dark Roux
Chop 1 cup medium diced onions, 1 cup medium diced green bell pepper and 1 cup medium diced celery. Set aside.

Heat 2 cups corn oil in an 8-10" skillet (at least 2" deep) over a high flame until it begins to smoke. When smoke appears, slowly add 2 1/2 cups flour, using a whip to stir as you go. Don't stop stirring!
Flour will turn a dark, rich brown after 10-15 minutes. Remove skillet from heat and stir in vegetables (above), 1 tablespoon Seasoning Mix #1 (see below) and 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce. Set aside, but keep warm.

Take two large artichokes and cut 1/4 inch off bottoms and 1/2 inch off the top. Place them in a 4-6-quart pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil. Slice 1 lemon in half. Squeeze in all the juice, then drop the lemon halves into the water. Continue boiling until artichokes are tender (approximately 25 minutes). To check: grab an artichoke with a set of tongs. Remove a leaf from the center (near the heart) of the artichoke. If it comes out effortlessly, the artichoke is done.

Remove artichokes from pot. Place into a large bowl filled with 2 trays of ice and 2 cups water. Quickly remove artichokes from ice bath and place on a plate. Pull off each leaf, all the way down to the heart. Place them in a bowl and put in the refrigerator.

Place the hearts on a plate. Take a spoon and scoop out the hair which is on top of the heart. Be careful not to go into meat of the heart. Next, cut the hearts into slices, put them in a small bowl and set in the refrigerator.

Crawfish Etoufee
Heat 4-6-quart pot on a medium flame. Add 2 tablespoons margarine and let it melt. Add 2 cups medium diced onions, 1 cup medium diced green bell pepper, 1 cup medium diced celery, 1 tablespoon fresh chopped garlic, and 2 tablespoons Seasoning Mix #2 (see below). Saute for 20-25 minutes. Then add 1/2 pound crawfish (or shrimp), 2 cups sliced portabello mushrooms and stir. Cook an additional 5 minutes, continuing to stir.

Add 2 cups chicken stock. Bring to a simmer. Then, take 1 tablespoon roux, and 1/2 cup chicken stock (from the simmering pot), place in bowl and stir together. Then add that mixture back to the pot. Bring to a boil. Cook an additional 5-6 minutes.

Next, add 1 tablespoon corn starch and 2 tablespoons warm water into a coffee cup. Stir together, then add to pot. To finish, add artichoke hearts to sauce with 1/4 cup sliced scallions. Stir and continue to simmer.

Return to Artichokes
Fill 4-6-quart pot halfway with water. Heat the pot on a medium flame. Scoop artichoke leaves into pot and heat them 2-3 minutes. Scoop leaves out of the water and arrange them in a circle on a large plate, as if the leaves were the petals on a flower.

Pour sauce over leaves on the plate and serve warm. Serves 4.

Seasoning Mixes

Seasoning Mix #1
1/4 cup salt
4 tablespoons white pepper
4 tablespoons garlic powder
4 tablespoons onion powder
2 tablespoons cumin
2 tablespoons mustard powder
3/4 cup paprika (Spanish)
2 tablespoons chili powder
4 tablespoons ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper

Seasoning Mix #2
1/4 cup salt
4 tablespoons white pepper
4 tablespoons garlic powder
4 tablespoons onion powder
2 tablespoons cumin
2 tablespoons mustard powder
3/4 cup paprika (Spanish)
2 tablespoons chili powder
4 tablespoons ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons thyme (dry)
2 tablespoons basil (dry)
2 tablespoons oregano (dry)

To Prepare Seasoning Mixes
Measure out all spices for Seasoning Mix # 1 in bowl #l. Then place the sifter on a plate. Pour the seasonings from the bowl into the sifter. Next, lift up the sifter, place it over the bowl and sift all contents. Do this three times and put the bowl aside. Next, measure out all spices for Seasoning Mix #2 in bowl #2. Place the sifter on a plate. Again, pour the seasonings from this bowl into the sifter. Note: the herbs from Seasoning Mix #2 will be left in the sifter. Just pour them back in the bowl when done. After sifting, mix both seasoning mixes separately with a spoon one last time for good luck, especially #2 because of the herbs.