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From the kitchen of: Honey, I couldn't find an hour to buy you a gift

Slackers, rejoice! If your he or she likes to eat and/or cook, then you’re a phone call away from salvation.
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I spent a happy Saturday morning at a Creole/Cajun cooking class at Langlois Culinary Crossroads, perched on a stool overlooking the kitchen while Chef Tess fed, informed, and let us get in on the act (voluntary). To start, we ate crusty bread with all sorts of sides and learned how to make this bread dough in about 5 minutes and turn it into pizza dough if we wanted.

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We made little cakes that were a cross between a praline and a blondie, Andouille Herb Calas (now I know what to do with leftover Chinese food rice), and Crepes Suzette, crepes stuffed with a sweet cream cheese filling flamed in a lemon/lime caramel sauce. We learned the tricks to making perfect poached eggs (lots of vinegar in the water and create a whirlpool before letting go of the egg). We made crepes, learning the move that flipped the thin pancakes back into the pan (and sometimes the floor). We ate and then we ate some more, all the while drinking cup after cup of good coffee. I would think for tourists, a cooking class at Langlois would be a great way to meet locals; we were about half and half.

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Along with all of this eating and cooking there was an ongoing conversation about the history of Creole and Cajun cuisine, how the cuisines originated, swooped together, and how they diverged. Chef Tess herself has an interesting history. She grew up in upstate New York, a stone's throw from the great Culinary Institute of America, where her mother attended the baking program. When they opened a bakery to the public, Chef Tess was hired to run it, youngest employee ever at the CIA. She went on to work in lots of fine restaurants and then cooked up and down the Mississippi on the paddlewheel steamboat Delta Queen.

Owner of Langlois, Amy Sins, is a local chef steeped in our food traditions and winner on Game Show network’s Beat the Chef. The tragedy of Hurricane Katrina hit Amy and her husband directly, as they lived next to the 17th Street Canal. All the family recipes went down in the flood and her cookbook, Ruby Slippers, was created as part of the healing process, as was Langlois. She couldn’t click her ruby slippers and be back to before, but she could insure the family recipes would never again be lost.

I just had a blast Saturday morning, and I think it was because the vibe at Langlois was so open and friendly. The entire staff seems to love what they’re doing. I not only walked out of there happy as a (fat) clam, but with a couple of fabulous cooking tools I’d never seen anywhere else: one, a large meat pounder to replace the little one I’ve had forever. It makes so much more sense to be able to pound out a whole chicken breast, for instance, in one level smash. It's also going to be great for keeping bacon flat in the pan. I also left with a spoodle, a ladle/spoon with holes in it, perfect for lifting poached eggs out of the water. And I bought some Magic Unicorn Salt. Finally, I know where magic unicorns come from ... Atlanta, not Atlantis! Wow, this stuff really is magic. So far I’ve used my spoodle and my Unicorn Salt ... twice!

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You can get all the particulars about cooking classes, culinary and history tours, and see lots of pictures at www.langloisnola.com. The school is located at
1710 Pauger St., New Orleans; telephone 504-934-1010.

Carol Pulitzer is an award-winning writer and illustrator. Her work has appeared in the Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle, Food & Wine Magazine, and Country Living among others. She writes and illustrates super short stories at her Little Theatre blog ( littletheatre1.com ) and can be contacted at [email protected]