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Cook the Book: 'Treme'

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This week, we're cooking a range of New Orleans classics from Treme, a cookbook inspired by the HBO show.

New Orleans is a food city unlike any other in the U.S. Rather than bowing to the pressure of trends or battling for honors and elite stars, the city's food scene is as entrenched and vital to its inhabitants as the tides are to its fisherman. In New Orleans, it was habit to be obsessed with eating long before food bloggers made it big. So it should come as no surprise that a television show on a neighborhood in New Orleans should focus so intently on its food. And it should come as even less of a surprise that this show, Treme, would be the focus of a new cookbook.

Treme, the cookbook, is a collection of recipes "penned" by its cast of characters, in addition to the show's guest chefs. A good third of the book focuses on one character in particular, Jeanette Desautel, who traveled to New York to work in David Chang's culinary empire. Her recipes are technical restaurant plates with a penchant for Chang-inspired Asian fusion. It may not be classic New Orleans cuisine, but it's definitely good food. The remaining chapters offer peeks into other characters' kitchens, where that the heart and soul of New Orleans food truly emerges. Old favorites like gumbo, bread pudding, succotash, and beignets appear alongside lesser-known specialties like crawfish callas, stuffed mirliton (chayote squash), and cushaw pie.

Of course, this is a real-life cookbook, so there had to be real-life chefs and writers behind the book. Lolis Eric Elie, a former Times-Picayune columnist and staff writer for the show, is the voice of the characters appearing on each page. Home cooks and professionals who are friends with the production team wrote the bulk of the recipes. David Chang contributed a few of his own recipes, as did Eric Ripert, Emeril Lagasse, and John Besh. Given the wide range of culinary voices represented in Treme, the quality of each recipe varies. Some are intricately detailed and easy to follow. Others assume an understanding of Creole cookery or innate seasoning skills that must be inferred to produce a successful dish.

Still, for fans of the show and New Orleans cuisine alike, Treme offers a fun and detailed look at a city's culinary heartbeat. Much like the city from which it comes, the book is generous, rambunctious, and doesn't hold back on the butter or booze.

This week, we'll take a taste of a few of the myriad flavors New Orleans has to offer. We'll have a high-end, deconstructed version of Shrimp Clemenceau and a Chang-esque Hanger Steak with Crispy Rice Cakes. Classics like Creole Succotash and Shrimp-Stuffed Mirliton will offer a sampling of homier creole dishes. We'll end on a sweet note, with a Parfait of Summer Berries, steel cut oats, and a tangy, boozy chantilly cream.

Win 'Treme'

Thanks to our friends at Chronicle Books, we have five (5) copies of Treme to give away this week. All you need to do for a chance to win is tell us about the cuisine that defines your community in the comments section below.

About the author: Kate Williams is a freelance writer and personal chef living in Berkeley, CA. She is a contributor to The Oxford American and Berkeleyside NOSH, and she blogs at cookingwolves.wordpress.com.

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