Oysters Bienville

8 to 12 servings

While oysters cook, they can release a good deal of water -- and that can rip the sauce apart, says Fitzmorris. His solution: Use more bread crumbs than look or feel right. He serves this as an appetizer; it also can be a side dish.

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter

1 pound small shrimp (50 count), shelled and coarsely chopped

1 rib celery, coarsely chopped

1 large, red bell pepper, seeded, cored and coarsely chopped

8 ounces small, white mushrooms, coarsely chopped

1/4 cup dry sherry

4 strips lean bacon, fried crisp then crumbled

2 scallions, white and light-green parts, finely sliced

4 dozen large Eastern Oysters (Crassostrea virginica), well drained, 1 cup water reserved (or as much as you can get, plus enough water to make a cup)

1/2 cup flour

2/3 cup 2-percent or whole milk, warmed

2 egg yolks, lightly beaten

2/3 cup finely shredded mozzarella cheese (about 3 ounces)

1 teaspoon Creole seasoning

1 cup fresh bread crumbs

1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

In a medium skillet over medium heat, add 1 tablespoon of the butter and heat until it bubbles. Add the chopped shrimp and cook just until it turns pink. Remove and set aside.

Using the same pan on medium heat, add 2 tablespoons of the butter and heat until it bubbles. Add the celery, bell pepper and mushrooms, cooking until they are tender, 6 to 8 minutes. Add the sherry and bring to a boil for about 1 minute. Add the cooked shrimp, bacon and scallions. Cook for another minute, then add the oyster water. Bring to a boil and cook for about 2 minutes. The sauce should be wet but not sloshy. Remove from the heat.

In a medium saucepan over medium-low heat, melt the remaining butter. Add the flour and stir to make a roux. At the first hints of browning, remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the warm milk to form a bechamel sauce (it will have the texture of thick mashed potatoes). Add about one-third of the bechamel sauce to the egg yolks, stirring quickly to combine it before the eggs have a chance to set, then add the rest of the sauce and stir. Add the mozzarella cheese to the sauce and stir. Add the bechamel to the pan with the shrimp mixture and stir to combine.

In a small bowl, add the Creole seasoning, the bread crumbs and the Parmesan cheese. Blend two-thirds of this mixture into the sauce.

Place the oysters in a large, shallow baking dish or individual ramekins, leaving just a little space between them. Top with the Bienville sauce, then the remaining bread crumb mixture. Bake until bubbly and the top is browned, 15 to 20 minutes. Serve immediately.

Per serving (based on 12): 282 calories, 22 g protein, 13 g carbohydrates, 15 g fat, 170 mg cholesterol, 7 g saturated fat, 278 mg sodium, 1 g dietary fiber

Recipe tested by Stephanie Witt Sedgwick; e-mail questions to food@washpost.com

Root Beer-Glazed Black Ham

About 20 servings

In New Orleans, the ham of choice is Chisesi. You'll want to use a top-quality, lean, naturally smoked ham. The glaze gives the ham its distinctive dark, crusty appearance. Use a disposable pan; the drippings, Fitzmorris warns, are "impossible to dislodge."

24 ounces root beer, preferably Barq's

11/2 tablespoons pepper jelly

1 bay leaf

11/2 tablespoons Caribbean-style steak sauce, such as Pickapeppa

6 cloves

1 stick cinnamon

Peel and juice of half of an orange

Peel of half of a lemon

1 cured, smoked ham, preferably boneless, 4 to 5 pounds

3/4 cup dark brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon dry mustard

In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, combine the root beer, the pepper jelly, the bay leaf, the steak sauce, the cloves, the cinnamon, the orange peel and juice and the lemon peel. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and cook for about 30 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and strain the mixture, discarding the solids. Return the liquid to the pan and cook, on medium-low heat, until the liquid is reduced to about 1/2 cup and is thick enough to coat a spoon, about 30 minutes. If done in advance, transfer to a sealable container and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Place the ham on a rack in a disposable aluminum foil pan. Using a knife, score the top half of the ham in a crisscross pattern. Spoon the glaze over the entire ham to completely moisten the surface.

In a small bowl, combine the brown sugar and the dry mustard. Pat the mixture all over the ham. Pour 1/2 cup of water into the pan. Bake until the ham reaches an internal temperature of 160 degrees on a meat thermometer, 3 to 4 hours. While it is baking, spoon some of the glaze over the ham, letting it dribble down the sides, at 15-minute intervals until the glaze is used up. Add more water to the pan as needed to keep it from getting dry.

Transfer the ham to a work surface. Let it rest, uncovered, for about 30 minutes before carving.

Per serving: 192 calories, 20 g protein, 11 g carbohydrates, 7 g fat, 52 mg cholesterol, 2 g saturated fat, 903 mg sodium, 1 g dietary fiber

Recipe tested by Belle Elving; e-mail questions to food@washpost.com

Savory Bread Pudding

With Mushrooms

8 servings

Fitzmorris says this bread pudding is best with meaty, wild-tasting mushrooms and cheeses that melt well and have an interesting tang.

1 tablespoon unsalted butter, to coat the pan

3 cups half-and-half

4 large eggs, beaten

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1/4 teaspoon hot pepper sauce, such as Tabasco

1/4 teaspoon salt

18 inches of stale French bread, crusts on, sliced about 1/4 inch thick

11/2 cups sliced mushrooms, such as portobellos, creminis, shiitakes, chanterelles or porcinis

3/4 cup scallions, mostly light-green parts and about an inch of the white parts, thinly sliced

11/2 cup shredded easy-melting white cheese, such as Gruyere or fontina

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Lightly grease a 9-by-5-by-4-inch baking dish or a 2-quart casserole with butter.

In a large bowl, combine the half-and-half, eggs, Worcestershire sauce, hot pepper sauce and salt and mix well.

Place a layer of bread along the bottom of the prepared baking dish or casserole. Sprinkle one-third each of the mushrooms, scallions and cheese over the bread. Pour one-fourth of the milk-egg mixture over this, enough to soak it well, and push down gently until the bread is soaked. Repeat with two more layers in the same order. Top with a layer of bread and the last of the milk-egg mixture.

Place the baking dish in a large pan of warm water that's about 1/2 inch deep. Bake for an hour and 15 minutes or until an instant-read thermometer registers 160 degrees. (It will rise and fall during the baking process.) Let it cool for at least 30 minutes before serving.

Per serving: 433 calories, 19 g protein, 35 g carbohydrates, 24 g fat, 171 mg cholesterol, 13 g saturated fat, 577 mg sodium, 2 g dietary fiber

Recipe tested by Tom Wilkinson; e-mail questions to food@washpost.com

Dirty Rice

8 side-dish servings

Unlike jambalaya, which can be served as a main course, dirty rice is strictly a side dish.

1/2 pound ground pork

1/2 pound turkey or chicken giblets (heart removed)

1 large onion, chopped

1 green bell pepper, seeded, cored and chopped

1 rib celery, chopped

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

2 teaspoons Creole seasoning

1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram

11/2 cups parboiled rice, such as Uncle Ben's

21/2 cups chicken stock


Freshly ground black pepper

3 scallions, light-green parts only, thinly sliced, for garnish

In a medium skillet over medium heat, cook the ground pork until all the pink is gone. Drain the excess fat and set aside.

In two or three batches, place the giblets, onion, bell pepper and celery in a food processor and process until finely chopped.

In a large, heavy saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the giblet-vegetable mixture and cook, stirring, until the onions are translucent, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the Worcestershire sauce, crushed red pepper flakes, Creole seasoning and marjoram. Stir, reduce the heat to the lowest possible setting and simmer until most of the liquid is absorbed (but don't let the mixture dry out), about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a large saucepan over medium-high heat, bring the rice and the chicken stock to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover and cook for about 25 minutes, or until all of the liquid has been absorbed. Fluff the rice with a fork and add it to the pan containing the giblet-vegetable mixture. Add the ground pork and stir to combine. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Transfer the mixture to a medium-large ovenproof skillet and bake for about 5 minutes, longer if the rice is very damp. It's done when the rice is a little dry but not hard. Garnish with scallions.

Per serving: 248 calories, 16 g protein, 31 g carbohydrates, 7 g fat, 41 mg cholesterol, 3 g saturated fat, 669 mg sodium, 1 g dietary fiber

Recipe tested by Marcia Kramer; e-mail questions to food@washpost.com

Turkey-Andouille Gumbo

About 8 servings

This gets better after it sits in the refrigerator for a day. Serve over cooked rice.

1/2 cup vegetable oil

1/2 cup flour

1 large onion, chopped

1 red bell pepper, seeded, cored and coarsely chopped

2 ribs celery, chopped

1 or 2 cooked turkey carcasses, with whatever meat is still attached, plus all available scraps such as the neck (not the giblets) and wing tips

3 quarts chicken stock or water

1 teaspoon salt, or more to taste

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/4 teaspoon hot pepper sauce, such as Tabasco

2 bay leaves

1/4 teaspoon dried thyme

1 pound cooked andouille or smoked sausage, sliced into 1-inch disks

2 scallions, mostly light-green parts and about an inch of the white parts, chopped

2 to 3 cups cooked long-grain rice, warmed

File powder (optional)

In a large saucepan over medium to medium-low heat, combining the oil and flour and cook, stirring constantly, to make as dark a roux as you can without burning it. (The heat can be higher, but you must stir more assiduously to avoid burning it.) When the roux is medium-dark, reduce the heat to low and add the onion, bell pepper and celery. Cook them in the roux until the onions are clear and have begun to brown a little, about 10 minutes. Add the turkey bones and meat to the pot, along with the chicken stock or water, salt, pepper, hot pepper sauce, bay leaves and thyme. Bring the mixture to a simmer and cook, uncovered, for about an hour. While it's simmering, occasionally skim fat from the surface.

In a large skillet over medium-low heat, heat the andouille or sausage to remove excess fat. Drain on paper towels, and then add the sausage to the gumbo pot. Reduce heat to low and simmer the gumbo, stirring occasionally, for 1 to 2 hours (it improves with time). Remove and discard the bay leaves.

Using tongs, transfer the turkey bones from the pot to a work surface. Strip off all the meat from the bones and return the meat to the pot, discarding the bones. Add the scallions and simmer for 3 to 4 more minutes to lose their crispness. Check seasonings and adjust to taste.

To serve, put about 1/2 cup of fluffy cooked rice in individual bowls and top with about 1 cup of the gumbo. Sprinkle with file powder, if desired.

Per serving: 516 calories, 25 g protein, 24 g carbohydrates, 36 g fat, 60 mg cholesterol, 9 g saturated fat, 1374 mg sodium, 1 g dietary fiber

Recipe tested by Liza Mundy; e-mail questions to food@washpost.com

Orange Cheesecake

12 to 16 servings

The most time-consuming part of making a cheesecake is cooling it. This has to be done slowly, or the top will develop cracks.

2 cups finely crushed cinnamon graham crackers

11/4 cups sugar

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted

Four 8-ounce packages of cream cheese, at room temperature

1 cup sour cream

4 eggs

1 cup heavy cream

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Grated zest of 1 orange

1/4 cup orange juice

1 teaspoon lemon juice

Set an oven rack on the middle level and preheat the oven to 275 degrees. Line the bottom of a 10-inch springform pan with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, combine the crushed graham crackers and 1/4 cup of the sugar. Add the melted butter and stir with a rubber spatula or a wooden spoon until the butter has soaked all the crumbs. Transfer the graham cracker mixture to the prepared pan and press a wedge of crumbs along the bottom edge all the way around. Then make a bottom crust, and press the remaining crumbs up the sides of the pan. (It is not necessary for the crust to come all the way to the top of the pan.) Set aside.

Using a stand mixer on medium-slow speed, mix the cream cheese and the remaining 1 cup of sugar until completely blended and fluffy, about 10 minutes. Add the sour cream and mix until fully incorporated. Add the eggs, one at a time, allowing each one to blend in completely and using a rubber spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the cream, vanilla extract, zest and juices. Continue mixing for about 5 minutes. Pour the filling into the crust.

Place the springform pan in a shallow pan and place both in the center of the oven. Pour warm water into the bottom pan to a depth of about an inch. Bake for 90 minutes, or until there's just a hint of browning on top. Turn off the oven but leave the cheesecake inside. After an hour, open the door a crack and let the cheesecake cool in the oven another 30 minutes. Transfer the cheesecake to a wire rack to finish cooling. After another hour, remove the sides of the springform pan, cover the pan with plastic wrap and place it in the refrigerator. Chill for at least 3 hours before serving.

Per serving (based on 16): 541 calories, 9 g protein, 42 g carbohydrates, 38 g fat, 157 mg cholesterol, 22 g saturated fat, 387 mg sodium, 1 g dietary fiber

Recipe tested by Tom Wilkinson; e-mail questions to food@washpost.com