Food column: From Louisiana to Glenwood Springs – home cooking at the Bluebird Cafe | PostIndependent.com

Food column: From Louisiana to Glenwood Springs – home cooking at the Bluebird Cafe

Column and photos by Jordan Callier

Sensation Salad

According to Thomas, Sensation salad is a popular dish found in Baton Rouge and the surrounding area. Her version uses fresh spring salad mix with the Sensation dressing and is garnished with parsley and sweet peppers. It is an elegant mixture of sour, savory and a little bit of spicy. It’s the perfect option to start a meal with heartier fare to come later.

Serves 2-4 people

Ingredients

1 package of fresh spring mix

3 cloves of garlic, minced

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

1 cup virgin olive oil

1 cup grated parmesan cheese

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Directions

1. Combine minced garlic, lemon juice, vinegar and oil in a large glass container with secure lid. Thomas likes to use a recycled olive jar. Shake contents well.

2. Add parmesan cheese, salt and pepper, and shake the jar again until ingredients are fully mixed. Any unused dressing can be refrigerated for later.

3. In a large salad bowl, toss the spring mix with enough dressing to fully coat the lettuce. Then serve immediately and garnish with parsley sprigs.

Red Beans and Rice

This is one of Thomas’s favorite dishes from her childhood. When she was young, she struggled with dyslexia. She helped herself overcome it by learning how to read recipes and cooking them with her mother. Recipes helped bring the words to life for her. This is one such dish.

Serves 2-4 people

Ingredients

2 links of andouille sausage

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/4 cup water

1 package of dried red kidney beans

1 green bell pepper

1 yellow or white onion

2 stalks of celery

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 tomato

1 1/2 teaspoon Cajun seasoning

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

4 cups cooked white long-grain rice

Directions

1. Soak the red kidney beans overnight for best results.

2. Sauté sausages and vegetables separately. Cook sausages thoroughly and sauté vegetables until they are softer and caramelized.

3. Combine sausages (and drippings), vegetables and spices with 1/4 cup of water in pan. Bring to a boil, then simmer for about 10 minutes. Add additional water as needed while simmering.

4. Serve with cooked long-grain white rice and garnish with parsley.

Muffuletta Sandwich

Immigrants from northern Italy brought this recipe to Louisiana. It is named after the muffuletta bread, which is large, round and flat. Thomas imports the muffuletta bread directly from Gambino’s bakery in New Orleans. The sandwich is crispy, gooey, savory and has some fire.

Serves 2-4 people

Ingredients

1 loaf of Muffuletta bread (substitute with Italian bread)

1/3 cup olive oil

2 slices cheddar and provolone cheese

1/4 pound Genoa salami and ham

1/4 cup giardiniera olives

1 tablespoon dried oregano

1 tablespoon dried basil

1 teaspoon of red pepper

Directions

1. Half bread lengthwise, and drizzle olive oil on each side. Sprinkle both sides with herbs and pepper.

2. On one of the slices of bread layer olives, salami, ham and cheeses.

3. For extra crispiness, toast the sandwich using a panini press. Cut into quarters and serve.

Banana Foster

Finally for dessert, we indulged in banana foster. This dish was created in New Orleans, and one of Thomas’s favorites. She recommends it for romantic dinners or a treat shared between good friends. With an artistic flare, preparation becomes performance when Thomas burns off the extra alcohol shortly before serving. Please do this with caution.

Ingredients

4 medium size ripe bananas

1/2 cup butter

1 cup packed brown sugar

1/2 cup rum

1/4 cup amaretto

1 orange, juiced

4 scoops of vanilla ice cream

Dash of cinnamon

Directions

1. Cut bananas in half lengthwise.

2. Melt butter in skillet over medium heat. Add brown sugar and cook while stirring constantly.

3. After two minutes, add bananas to skillet. Add orange juice.

4. Remove skillet from heat. Stir in liquor, rum and carefully ignite the fumes above mixture. After flames dissipate, return to heat, and cook for two to three minutes or until soft.

5. Serve with scoops of vanilla ice cream. Drizzle sauce on top, and garnish with a piece of toffee and sprig of mint.

The weather outside is frigid, and it still feels like the middle of winter. This is the time of year when warm food with kind friends is necessary. The good cheer of the holiday season is over, but it is still very much needed.

I recently had a nourishing experience with Susan Thomas, who is the co-owner and manager of the Bluebird Cafe in downtown Glenwood Springs.

Thomas has been the co-owner of the cafe with Kurt Hans, of Boulder, for about a year. She was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and grew up in Shreveport. While in Shreveport, Thomas operated a Cajun and Creole restaurant that specialized in home cooking. In Baton Rouge, she ran a restaurant that offered northern Italian cuisine.

“The Italian immigrants brought their distinct cuisine to the area. Later, their food was influenced by the local Creole population,” Thomas said. “I’ve brought that influence with me here to the Bluebird.”

The Bluebird Cafe doesn’t just serve coffee and pastries. With Thomas’s knowledge and recipes, the cafe now serves Italian and Cajun specialities. I was fortunate to have Thomas invite me to share some of this food with her at the Bluebird Cafe. Surrounded by art and Cajun nostalgia, we enjoyed a meal fit for kings and saints. The atmosphere was cozy, and the food was superb.

This is how Thomas wants all guests to feel.

“This is a very happy space that welcomes the community,” Thomas explained. “We want our customers to feel like they are stepping into their own living room with friends.”

I certainly felt welcomed, and I tried several dishes — both familiar and unknown. For our dinner, Thomas prepared Sensation salad, red beans with rice, a muffuletta sandwich, and for dessert, banana foster.

Thomas kindly shared these recipes with me to share with you. These dishes are also available as specialties at the Bluebird Cafe when available. All recipes are listed below, and Thomas also offers private cooking courses at the cafe for those who want to learn more.

Sensation Salad

According to Thomas, Sensation salad is a popular dish found in Baton Rouge and the surrounding area. Her version uses fresh spring salad mix with the Sensation dressing and is garnished with parsley and sweet peppers. It is an elegant mixture of sour, savory and a little bit of spicy. It’s the perfect option to start a meal with heartier fare to come later.

Serves 2-4 people

Ingredients

1 package of fresh spring mix

3 cloves of garlic, minced

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

1 cup virgin olive oil

1 cup grated parmesan cheese

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Directions

1. Combine minced garlic, lemon juice, vinegar and oil in a large glass container with secure lid. Thomas likes to use a recycled olive jar. Shake contents well.

2. Add parmesan cheese, salt and pepper, and shake the jar again until ingredients are fully mixed. Any unused dressing can be refrigerated for later.

3. In a large salad bowl, toss the spring mix with enough dressing to fully coat the lettuce. Then serve immediately and garnish with parsley sprigs.

Red Beans and Rice

This is one of Thomas’s favorite dishes from her childhood. When she was young, she struggled with dyslexia. She helped herself overcome it by learning how to read recipes and cooking them with her mother. Recipes helped bring the words to life for her. This is one such dish.

Serves 2-4 people

Ingredients

2 links of andouille sausage

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/4 cup water

1 package of dried red kidney beans

1 green bell pepper

1 yellow or white onion

2 stalks of celery

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 tomato

1 1/2 teaspoon Cajun seasoning

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

4 cups cooked white long-grain rice

Directions

1. Soak the red kidney beans overnight for best results.

2. Sauté sausages and vegetables separately. Cook sausages thoroughly and sauté vegetables until they are softer and caramelized.

3. Combine sausages (and drippings), vegetables and spices with 1/4 cup of water in pan. Bring to a boil, then simmer for about 10 minutes. Add additional water as needed while simmering.

4. Serve with cooked long-grain white rice and garnish with parsley.

Muffuletta Sandwich

Immigrants from northern Italy brought this recipe to Louisiana. It is named after the muffuletta bread, which is large, round and flat. Thomas imports the muffuletta bread directly from Gambino’s bakery in New Orleans. The sandwich is crispy, gooey, savory and has some fire.

Serves 2-4 people

Ingredients

1 loaf of Muffuletta bread (substitute with Italian bread)

1/3 cup olive oil

2 slices cheddar and provolone cheese

1/4 pound Genoa salami and ham

1/4 cup giardiniera olives

1 tablespoon dried oregano

1 tablespoon dried basil

1 teaspoon of red pepper

Directions

1. Half bread lengthwise, and drizzle olive oil on each side. Sprinkle both sides with herbs and pepper.

2. On one of the slices of bread layer olives, salami, ham and cheeses.

3. For extra crispiness, toast the sandwich using a panini press. Cut into quarters and serve.

Banana Foster

Finally for dessert, we indulged in banana foster. This dish was created in New Orleans, and one of Thomas’s favorites. She recommends it for romantic dinners or a treat shared between good friends. With an artistic flare, preparation becomes performance when Thomas burns off the extra alcohol shortly before serving. Please do this with caution.

Ingredients

4 medium size ripe bananas

1/2 cup butter

1 cup packed brown sugar

1/2 cup rum

1/4 cup amaretto

1 orange, juiced

4 scoops of vanilla ice cream

Dash of cinnamon

Directions

1. Cut bananas in half lengthwise.

2. Melt butter in skillet over medium heat. Add brown sugar and cook while stirring constantly.

3. After two minutes, add bananas to skillet. Add orange juice.

4. Remove skillet from heat. Stir in liquor, rum and carefully ignite the fumes above mixture. After flames dissipate, return to heat, and cook for two to three minutes or until soft.

5. Serve with scoops of vanilla ice cream. Drizzle sauce on top, and garnish with a piece of toffee and sprig of mint.