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NEW YORK (Reuters) - Don Strange, founder of Don Strange of Texas, built a catering empire before his death in 2009 by keeping it fresh and ignoring the rules.
His wife, Frances, has gathered his stories and 100 recipes in a new cookbook called "Don Strange of Texas: His Life and Recipes."
Strange's disregard for rules allowed him to be creative, which could mean anything from paring cranberry sauce with beef to flying half a frozen cow across country in what looked to airport personnel like a coffin.
"He didn't know there were any rules," said Frances, his wife of 48 years.
President George H.W. Bush and music trio Lady Antebellum have attended Don Strange events, and country music stars Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert held their wedding at the Strange ranch last May.
Frances Strange spoke to Reuters about her husband, the San Antonio-based company that bears his name and the sometimes outrageous lengths he would go to amaze his guests.
Q: How did your husband's catering business begin?
A: "It started with his parents' grocery store in 1952. There was a barbeque pit in the back and the rest is history."
Q: Why did you write this book?
A: "I've never done it before and I'll never do it again but it was my story as well."
Q: What do you think was the secret to his success?
A: "There's so much food in the world you've got to change it to make it interesting. Don would take the freshest products he could and display them -- that's where he shined."
Q: Do you have an example?
A: "Once at a museum here he put mirrors on the table, bricks, and on top of the mirrors votive candles. On the bricks he had a metal pan with water and he steamed mussels in it. The effect, visually and taste-wise, was amazing. It would not have been amazing if a Picasso burned up."
Q: Did his penchant for trying new things ever meet with disaster?
A: "Once he decided if he could install a residential stove in his van he could cook food as he was driving down the highway ... He didn't allow for the fat that sloshed over and caught fire ... The van exploded."
Q: Is he responsible for the recipes in the book?
A: "Some, others were recipes given by clients who wanted them duplicated for their event. He could adjust them from a dinner party for 10 to a dinner party for 500. He could adjust them to fit his business. And he could create them, because he knew food combinations."
Q: What were his signature dishes?
A: "His signature meat was beef tenderloin, grilled over charcoal at the event. Most people wanted his sauteed oysters with Ernie sauce. If people walked in and saw sauteed oysters, they knew Don was catering it."
Q: How has Don Strange of Texas changed since your husband's death?
A: "Nothing has changed."
Brioche French Toast with Bananas Foster
1 cup whole milk
1 cup whipping cream
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
8 (5/8-inch-thick) slices of day-old brioche
Bananas Foster (see recipe below)
Sweetened whipped cream
Cinnamon or nutmeg for garnish
Mint sprigs as garnish
1/3 cup firmly packed light-brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
½ cup creme de banana or other banana-flavored liqueur
½ cup dark rum
4 bananas, peeled and cut into ½-inch slices
Make the Bananas Foster. In a small bowl, combine brown sugar and cinnamon with a fork; set aside. Melt butter in a heavy-bottomed 12-inch skillet over medium heat.
Add cinnamon-sugar mixture, stirring until sugar dissolves. Add the banana liqueur and 1/4 cup of the rum. Cook, stirring until syrupy and thickened, about 5 minutes. Add the banana slices and lightly coat with the syrup.
Add the remaining rum. Quickly swirl the pan, tilting it toward the flame, to ignite rum. (If you are using an electric stove, light the rum with a long match.) Swirl the pan, basting bananas with the sauce, until flame subsides. Remove pan from heat, set aside, and keep warm.
To make the French toast, combine the milk, cream, eggs, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a medium bowl; whisk until eggs are well beaten and the batter is smooth. Melt some butter on a flat griddle over medium heat.
Dip the brioche slices in the egg batter, coating both sides. Allow excess batter to drip off. Place the battered breads on hot griddle, without touching. (Cook in batches, if necessary, to avoid crowding.) Cook until golden brown, turning once, about 2 minutes per side. Keep hot in a warm oven while cooking the remaining slices.
To serve, stack slices of the French toast on each serving plate. Place banana slices on each serving and drizzle some of the pan sauce over the top. Top with a generous dollop of the whipped cream. Garnish each serving with a sprinkle of cinnamon or nutmeg then add a mint sprig. Serve at once.