The IRS Can't Take Away Your Appetite

Listen carefully and you can hear a monumental sigh of relief echoing across the nation. Lines of haggard individuals clutching IRS envelopes no longer trail endlessly outside of post offices. Desks, once strewn with receipts, and 1040 forms, at last are cleared. It is time to relax and celebrate. Tax day is over!

Like a holiday, federal taxes have their own season, culminating in a final day of observance. There the similarity ends. One never hears, "Only 364 days left until April 15th!" The real holiday occurs after the fact.

A reason perhaps is that fine dining hardly ever is associated with taxes. Even the refund crowd tends to slim pocketbooks and waistlines while contemplating expenditures and financial net worth. Junk foods often accompany all-night tax sessions.

To help you recover from this "festive" season, I have created a menu of recipes in honor of tax day's passing. For those who wound up with the "this is the amount you owe" line, our meal begins with Eggplant Caviar. This dish tastes nothing like its fish roe namesake, but does have some of caviar's elegance, is even more versatile, and doesn't carry an exorbitant price tag. It can be used as a dip, a topping for garlic bruschetta, a filling for sandwiches (especially good with fresh mozzarella), a salad dressing over mixed greens, or as a stuffing for zucchini or bell peppers.

Po' Boys are a delectable sandwich invented in a New Orleans bar. During the Great Depression, longshoremen who worked along the Mississippi frequented the bar. At that time the sandwiches were inexpensive, so they became a favorite of hardworking "poor boys."

Po' Boys seem more fitting for a meal in honor of 1040 time. Basically if something is tasty, it makes an appropriate filling. Fried crawfish, roast beef, shrimp, and andouille sausage are a few options.

I exercised a bit of fantasy by mixing "poor boys" with the Rockefellers. A takeoff on Oysters Rockefeller, the Louisiana Fried Oyster Po' Boy is made with fried oysters and a spinach Rockefeller Spread. The spread also doubles well as a dip for bread sticks or vegetables, perfect for snacking on while studying next year's schedules, estimated tax sheets, and other fun forms.

If you expect a refund this time around, celebrate with a slice of Financier Pound Cake. Financier is a French cooking term used to describe desserts made with ground hazelnuts and egg whites. I have noticed that a few bakeries sell these cakes shaped like gold bricks. If you don't happen to have real bricks of gold, financier cake makes a worthy substitute.

Louisiana Fried Oyster Po' Boy

1 cup yellow cornmeal

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon onion powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup all-purpose flour

16 oysters, shucked

2 eggs, beaten

Vegetable oil for frying

3 French bread rolls

"Rockefeller" Spread

1-1/2 cups shredded iceberg lettuce

Lemon wedges

Louisiana hot sauce

Combine cornmeal, cayenne, onion powder, and salt on a plate. Stir to incorporate. Place flour on another plate. Dip each oyster in flour. Shake off excess. Dip in egg, then cornmeal mixture.

Heat about 1-1/2-inches of oil in a skillet or frying pan to 375 degrees. Fry oysters until golden on both sides. Do not overcook. When done, oysters will curl and firm slightly. Drain on paper.

Split rolls. Spread both sides generously with Rockefeller Spread. Add shredded lettuce. Arrange oysters over lettuce, allowing 6 per sandwich. Serve with lemon wedges and hot sauce.

Makes 3 sandwiches.

Eggplant Caviar

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 onion, chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

2 medium tomatoes, chopped

1 large eggplant, cooked (grilled, baked or microwaved) peeled and chopped

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1/4 cup chopped, fresh parsley

In a skillet or large saut pan over medium high heat, saut onion in olive oil until almost translucent. Add garlic. Saut for 1/2 minute. Add tomatoes, eggplant, salt, and pepper. Cover and cook for another 2 minutes. Stir in vinegar and parsley. Transfer to a serving bowl.

Cover and allow to marinate in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour before serving. (If you prefer a finer texture, pulse for a few seconds in a food processor.)

Yields 6 servings.

Rockefeller Spread

1 (10 ounce) package frozen chopped spinach

1 cup sour cream

1 cup mayonnaise

1/2 cup minced onion

1/4 cup minced celery

1 8-ounce can sliced water chestnuts, chopped.

1/8 teaspoon ground anise (optional)

1 (1-ounce) package dried Italian salad dressing mix

Cook spinach according to package directions. Drain well. Cool slightly. In a mixing bowl, combine spinach with remaining ingredients. Stir to blend. Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours before serving.

Yields about 3 cups.

Financier Pound Cake

1 1/4 cups toasted hazelnuts

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

3 eggs, separated

1/2 pound unsalted butter

1 cup (packed) dark brown sugar

1 cup sour cream

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

In a blender or food processor, mix toasted hazelnuts until finely chopped. Add flour, salt and soda. Blend to incorporate.

Cream egg yolks, butter, sugar, sour cream, and vanilla in a bowl. Gradually stir dry ingredients into egg yolk mixture. In another bowl, beat egg whites until they form stiff peaks. Fold egg whites into hazelnut batter.

Pour batter into a buttered loaf pan. Bake for approximately 45 minutes, or until a small knife inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool before removing from pan.

Yields 1 pound cake.

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