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      La Belle Cuisine

A Tribute to Craig Claiborne

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Fine Cuisine with Art Infusion

"To cook is to create. And to create well...
is an act of integrity, and faith."


"Cooking is at once one of the simplest and most gratifying of
the arts, but to cook well, one must love and respect food."
~ Craig Claiborne

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The Best of Craig Claiborne: More than 1,000 Recipes from His New York Times Food Columns and Four of His Classic Cookbooks icon















Corn Fence, New Orleans, Louisiana
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Craig Claiborne, in his New York apartment in 1990
(courtesy AP)


La Belle Cuisine


"Epicure Craig Claiborne dead at 79," read the Associated Press headline. Reading those words on January 23, 2000, made my blood run cold. I felt
as though I had lost an old friend.
Unfortunately, I've never had the pleasure of Mr. Claiborne's company,
so why did I feel such a tremendous sense of personal loss? Was it
because he was from Mississippi, where I spent a large part of my life?
No, although that was certainly a factor in establishing rapport between
us. His was always one of the names I mentioned during the times I felt
it necessary to defend Mississippi when it was under attack by those so grossly misinformed as to think that Mississippians are basically back-
ward, uneducated and lacking in both culture and mental acumen. Was
it because we shared the same philosophy about food? Indeed it was.
And with good reason. When I was becoming serious about cooking,
he was my primary mentor and played a large part in expanding my
knowledge of global cuisine - mine as well as the rest of the country's.

We lost more than a "food writer" when Mr. Claiborne left this earth.
We lost an extraordinarily talented, influential individual, a revolutionary
giant in the culinary world. For those of you who may be unfamiliar
with Mr. Claiborne and his work (although that is unimaginable to me,
assuming you to be a lover of fine food), perhaps I should elucidate...
In addition to being a prolific author, he was the first male editor of the
food section of the New York Times and remained on the Times staff
until his retirement in 1988. His journalistic acumen was backed up by
a solid formal food education in Lausanne, Switzerland. Not only did
Mr. Claiborne write well, he knew whereof he wrote, which, sadly, is
not always the case.

Part of the astonishing legacy left us by Craig Claiborne is The
New York Times Cookbook
, published in 1961 by Harper & Row*,
now a classic. When I learned of Mr. Claiborne's death, I immediately
began to gather up his cookbooks, more out of respect for him than for
my own pleasure - although his books always bring me that. During the
process of browsing through some of my favorite, well-worn cookbooks,
I was astounded to realize how very far ahead of his time Mr. Claiborne
actually was. I would venture to say that very few "average" American
cooks were familiar with such things as Cacciucco in 1961. And it isn't
exactly a household word today! (And yes, I had to look it up myself:
Italian seafood stew.) Or how about Riz à l'Impératrice?
Cabbage, sure. But Cabbage à la Bretonne? Sauerkraut? By all means.
But Choucroute à l'Alsacienne is a far cry from ordinary sauerkraut!
Mr. Claiborne, like Julia Child, took us to places most of us never
dreamed of, broadened our culinary horizons, if you will. Epicure
indeed he was. He will be sorely missed. (MG)

*The latest edition (1990) of Craig Claiborne's renowned
New York Times Cookbook, published by HarperCollins:

New York Times

The original 1961 edition of The New York Times Cook Book is
now out of print, but can be obtained from used book dealers.



"Nothing rekindles my spirits, gives comfort to my heart and mind,
more than a visit to Mississippi... and to be regaled as I often have
been, with a platter of fried chicken, field peas, collard greens, fresh
corn on the cob, sliced tomatoes with French dressing... and to top it
all off with a wedge of freshly baked pecan pie."
from the introduction to
Craig Claiborne's Southern Cooking


Craig Claiborne's Maque Choux

"One of the most typically Cajun dishes is called maque choux,
a name I have never heard explained. It is primarily a vegetable
dish with corn as its principal ingredient."

16 ears fresh corn on the cob
4 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon peanut oil
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped bell pepper
(green and red)
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
2 cups cored, chopped, ripe tomatoes
3 tablespoons heavy cream
1 teaspoon sugar

Cut corn kernels from the cob using sharp knife. Scrape cobs to obtain
pulp. there should be about 8 cups. Heat 1 tablespoon butter and the oil
in a skillet and add the onions and bell peppers. Cook, stirring, until
wilted. Add the corn, ground pepper, cayenne and thyme. Cook about
10 minutes or until corn starts to stick to the bottom. Add tomatoes,
salt to taste, cream and sugar - stir. Cover and cook, stirring often,
about 10 minutes. Stir in remaining 3 tablespoons butter and serve
hot. Serves 10.


Craig Claiborne's Eggplant au Gratin

Craig Claiborne's
Southern Cooking

Craig Claiborne, 1987, Times Books/
2007 Univ. of Georgia Press

1 eggplant (about 1 pound)
1/2 pound fresh mushrooms
3 1/2 tablespoons butter
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 1/2 tablespoons flour
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup heavy cream
freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
Tabasco to taste
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons bread crumbs
2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Peel eggplant and cut flesh into 1-inch
cubes, more or less. Drop cubes into boiling salted water and cook about
5 minutes, just until cooked. Drain well.
Meanwhile slice mushrooms. There should be about 2 cups. Heat 1 tablespoon butter in skillet and add mushroom slices. Sprinkle with salt
and 1 teaspoon lemon juice. Cook, stirring and tossing, until mushrooms
give up their juice. Continue cooking until liquid evaporates. Set aside.
Melt 1 1/2 tablespoons butter in a saucepan and add flour, stirring with
a wire whisk. Add milk and cream, stirring rapidly with whisk. When
blended and smooth, add salt and pepper, remaining lemon juice,
nutmeg and Tabasco. Stir in mushrooms and eggplant. Stir in egg.
Spoon into baking dish (8-inch pie plate). Sprinkle with mixture of
crumbs and Parmesan, dot with 1 tablespoon butter. Bake 30 to
40 minutes.

Index - Craig Claiborne recipes!
A Tribute to Julia Child
A Tribute to Eudora Welty
The Spice Cabinet
Index - Food Features
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