Thursday, December 31, 2009
Monday, December 28, 2009
Ever since having the Smoked Duck and Chestnut Pasta at the Green Goddess a couple of months ago (a dish that includes caraway and duck fat braised Napa cabbage, 5 year Dutch gouda and wild mushrooms and about which I have longing-filled daydreams continuously), I've been thinking about cabbage with pasta. Since I am neither worldly or wise, it was a small revelation to me. Initially, I thought I had never before eaten the pairing, but deeper consideration reminded me that I have done so frequently... just, in Asian noodle dishes instead of Italian. I've been looking for an opportunity to stick cabbage in pasta ever since.
Last night, I was seeking inspiration from one of my new cookbooks, Italian Easy: Recipes from the London River Cafe, and found a recipe for Rigatoni, Cabbage, Fontina. It seemed a good place to begin.
Here is the recipe, as shown in the book.
I made a few ingredient alterations to accommodate what was available to me. The grocery was out of Savoy cabbage, so I substituted regular green cabbage. There was only one Fontina at Whole Foods which was much too expensive and seemed as though it would be wasted if melted into a pasta dish instead of eaten in it's own right, so I substituted with a more commercial grade Fontal. Additionally, I cut all of the measurements in half, to make a dish that feeds two.
All in all, it was a nice but not standout meal.
Saturday, December 26, 2009
My Christmas loot included three great cookbooks:
* Real Cajun by Donald Link
* Italian Easy - Recipes From the London River Cafe by Rose Gray and Roth Rogers
* Jean-Georges: Cooking At Home with a Four-Star Chef by Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Mark Bittman
Three very different types of cuisine with one connecting theme: simple, flavorful dishes for the home cook. I spent yesterday reading them, cover to cover, and am really looking forward to digging back in and putting them to good use in the new year.
If you have cooked out of any of them, can you recommend a favorite recipe?
Monday, December 21, 2009
What I Love About Slice Pizzeria:
1. Great salads. My favorite is the Mescalun, shown below. It features organic petite greens, chevre goat cheese (which is wonderful, by the way), toasted walnuts and local berries. Depending on the day, I have gotten blueberries, strawberries and blackberries in it which are always fresh and sweet. Much appreciated. I've never been served a served a bad berry. The caesar has a proper dressing and is topped with roasted red pepper, shaved peccorino, a crostini and a lemon wedge. I wish the romaine leaves were served whole, but it's not a deal breaker. Best part is that the salads can be ordered in Half ($3.95) or Whole ($6.95) which is a pretty nice price considering the quality of the ingredients.
2. Really nice pizza by the slice. New Orleans doesn't have great pizza. Honestly, this isn't great pizza either, but it is pretty good. Nice toppings options like Chesesi ham, andouille, capers, caramellized onions, and gorgonzola are a treat.
3. Newly opened second location at Magazine and Joseph, across from Whole Foods in the old Italian Pie location. Convenient!
What I Don't Like About Slice Pizzeria
Last night, we made the mistake of deviating from pizza and salad and ordered the cheese ravioli. Despite being cute, with yellow and green striped pasta, it was flavorless and disappointing. Six raviolis, swimming in sauce that tasted like it was straight out of the can, with dried out pasta and an unimpressive 4 cheese filling.... Bust. Next time, I'll stick with the pizza.
Saturday, December 19, 2009
I am just back from La Divina on Magazine Street, where the Society of New Orleans Baristas (S.N.O.B) were preparing for the South Central Regional Barista Competition coming up in January in Austin, TX by offering free, beautifully pulled espressos to one and all. I got a chance to talk to Drew Cambre (a New Orleans barista) and Kirk Knipmeyer (of Coffee Roasters of New Orleans) about S.N.O.B. and their endeavor to better the coffee scene in New Orleans. Their goal, they say, is to improve the quality of coffee and espresso everywhere in New Orleans, so that you can be sure to get an excellent cup no matter where in the city you go.
As I sipped a stunningly lovely shot of espresso, pulled on a Cimbali machine by talented barista Anderson, I learned more about S.N.O.B. and the Barista Competition.
S.N.O.B. is an independent collective of baristas from many local New Orleans coffee houses who share a passion for the art of coffee and are "preaching the gospel of espresso". They meet weekly at Dee's Coffee on Baronne. Baristas from the city's best coffee spots are represented including Dee's, Z'otz (on Oak St), La Divina (with locations on Magazine Uptown and on St. Peter in the French Quarter) and Tout de Suite Cafe in Old Algiers. 2010 will be the first time that more than one barista from the entire state of Louisiana will compete in the South Central Regional Barista Competition. This is strange, considering that New Orleans is the largest coffee port in the nation, with 14 warehouses, more than 5.5 million feet of storage space and six roasting facilities in a 20 mile radius. S.N.O.B. is hopeful that if they can get enough baristas from Louisiana to compete, the next competition will be held in New Orleans.
S.N.O.B. believes that New Orleans should demand more from their local coffee houses and I have to wholeheartedly agree. The coffee culture in New Orleans is far from where it could or should be. Drew says that the key is to communicate our expectations to the baristas and management at our favorite haunts. Don't accept sub par espresso. Do something about it! Tell your barista when your espresso is bitter or doesn't have the beautifully caramel colored head of foamy crema that it should. Speak up when you are served coffee that lacks depth and flavor or has been sitting past its prime. If you aren't sure whether you are getting quality brew or not, just visit any of the excellent establishments listed in this post for an example of what you are missing. Then, go back to your favorite coffee house and let them know what is lacking. Tell them that you expect better. Tell them that the bar is higher than what you are getting. We expect good ingredients, prepared properly. This is not too much to ask! Communicating these expectations is crucial and even more valuable than simply avoiding the establishments that can't meet them. It tells them that their customers care and what they can do to improve. Complacency is an epidemic in our beloved city, affecting everything from coffee and cuisine to politics and crime. Only we, the average, every day citizen, can do anything about it.
Now that I've got that off my chest, I've also got to say that if you are looking for excellent coffee beans for brewing at home, La Divina is a great spot to get it. I've been getting my espresso beans and their Windsor Court roast (they use it for their French presses) from them for quite a while and couldn't be more pleased. They also have panettone, a Milanese Christmas bread, from Flamigni, one of Italy's top panettone makers. These small, rustic cakes are housed in charming cartons designed to be hung on the Christmas tree and then eaten on Christmas Day with coffee or tea. I sampled some while I was there and had to get one for my own tree.
Friday, December 18, 2009
I love duck, but Kid Cayenne does not. Consequently, I am always on the lookout for somewhere that sells fresh duck breasts, as opposed to a whole one, with the idea that I can cook myself a nice piece of duck breast while making a chicken breast for Kid. So far, I have only found the occasional frozen breast fillet, often pre-seasoned or sauced, and at prices that don't compel me to buy. Maybe my expectations are too high.
I drizzled a bit of the sweet sauce over the whole thing and had a side of pickled veggies, to use what was left of those. You could use whatever bread and accompaniments you like.
Thursday, December 17, 2009
It would be impossible for me to overstate how much I love Vietnamese pho. It's is my go-to for any situation in which I need to be soothed, comforted, or pampered. If I'm sick, if things just don't feel right with the world, if I am cold or lonely... pho cures it. I just lose myself in the warm curls of fragrant steam that waft from a huge bowl of luscious, herb and anise scented beef broth and everything topsy turvy begins to right itself.
Of course it also makes a sunnier day a bit sunnier, a happy occasion that much happier. If hard pressed, I might admit that I think pho could bring about world peace and cure cancer, but thankfully no one is pressing me too terribly hard today. In summary, pho is where it's at.
The best pho I've ever had was in San Francisco at one of the many noodle houses in the Sunset area. Filled with sliced rare beef, beef meatballs and tripe, it was a sensory delight. I haven't been able to find anything as good in New Orleans, but that doesn't stop me from enjoying what we do have.
Living in New Orleans uptown/Carrollton area, I am a bit farther away from all of the best areas for Vietnamese food than I would like to be. I also am usually on my own when I go out for pho and therefore, don't venture as far into neighborhoods I am less familiar with as I might if I had a lunch partner. Consequently, I haven't tried any of the better known pho shops in New Orleans East or on the Westbank. I am certainly open to suggestions for ones that are worth going out of my way for.
Currently, my go-to place is Frosty's on Cleary in Metairie. While I don't often go to Metairie, when I do, they are always my favorite stop. Coupled with the fact that they have absolutely divine bubble teas made from fresh fruit (no syrups), their pho is a delight. The ingredients are always crisp and fresh, the broth is richly flavored. It's lovely.
Yesterday, I had reason to travel out to Harahan and decided to try Kim Anh's Noodle House for the first time. Way, way down Jefferson highway, past the Huey P., past several river bends, I found it. It's housed in a tiny strip mall across the street from Colonial Bowling Lanes, a bit run down and understated. The dining room is very casual, as is usually the case in noodle houses, but clean and larger than I expected. I knew I wanted to order pho tai (pho with sliced beef) but thought I'd try some eggrolls as well. The spring rolls all come in quantities of 2 but I wanted the deep fried, crispy Chả giò rolls which the menu states are in quantities of 4. I was alone and didn't want all 4, but the server offered to let me place a half order.
They arrived perfectly hot and crisp, accompanied by a small salad of lettuce and pickled carrot and radish. The filling was delicious, a balanced blend of pork, shrimp and vegetables that had just the right amount of pepper. I was very pleased.
The pho was nice but not exceptional. I found the broth to be a little too bland for my taste and had to add more sriracha than I generally find necessary. I didn't detect any depth or the layers of anise, clove or beefiness that I look for in good beef pho broth. I even wondered if it had a chicken broth base instead. The plate of accompanying ingredients included the requisite bean sprouts, sliced jalapeno, lime wedges and herbs, in this case thai basil (Frosty's offers cilantro. I find either to be lovely). While not the absolute freshest, it was certainly within the realm of acceptability. The bowl was slightly smaller than I generally see, and cost $6.49. There is the option to upsize to a large bowl for an additional $1.29. I find this convenient, as I've never, ever been able to finish a whole bowl and appreciated the ability to waste less. I did enjoy my meal at Kim Anh's and would visit again if I were in that area, but I don't plan on making it a pho destination.
Where should be next on my list to try? Who has the best pho in the city? Extra points for options that include more than just sliced beef.
Monday, November 23, 2009
We took the streetcar down to Oak St...
...and followed the Parkway signs...
...to where the bread was stacked a mile deep...
...ordered roast beef po boys with Zapp's Crawtaters (only $2!) and Blue Moon beers...
...then followed the Second Line band...
...with it's legions of Leidenheimer Bread second liners...
...proudly brandishing our own loaves of New Orleans finest po boy bread...
...down the street...
...dancing all the way...
...trying to work off that po boy...
...til the fragrance was heavy in the air...
...and the target was in sight...
...Drago's charbroiled oysters with garlic, butter, parmesan and herbs over an open fire...
...on the halfshell...
...believe it or not, this is a look of bliss...
...followed by apprehension...
...and then resignation...
...finally a walk through the cool, damp air...
...back to the streetcar and home. The end.
Friday, November 13, 2009
I suck at this. Since my last post... eh, 3 months ago?... I have been to Houston, where I had a great Thai curry, Biloxi, where I attended the Gumbo Cook Off and Berlin, Germany where I had the most exceptional meals. I'm not kidding. Exceptional. Life changing bouillabaisse at KaDeWe, apple strudel and hot chocolate poured straight over dense whipped cream at Cafe Einstein, the best Argentine steak of my life at Grill Royale, the most luxurious lunch experience ever at Facil and my first döner kebab. Back in New Orleans, I have enjoyed wonderful, wonderful meals at Lilette, The Green Goddess and 9 Roses in the past few weeks.
Have I documented any of these meals? No. Not a one. I took the random photo here and there, but for the most part, I have severely neglected my duties.
I resolve to do better.
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
I enjoy making lunches with fresh seafood because it is quick, light and easy to portion for just one. It's also nice to indulge in a more expensive piece, because I need so little of it. Today's lunch consisted of a small piece of sushi grade yellowfin tuna and a side of stir fried bok choy.
Seared Yellowfin Tuna for one
I wanted a simple Asian marinade and initially thought to use only oil, rice vinegar and ginger until I saw this recipe from Simply Recipes. Since I had everything it called for on hand, I went ahead and added the extra ingredients, to lovely effect. When making one serving only, I went with the following proportions:
1 sushi grade tuna steak (4-5 oz)
1 TB sesame oil
1 TB soy sauce (I used a mix of light and dark)
1 TB rice wine vinegar
a bit of fresh ginger, crushed and minced (about a half inch)
a bit of sliced green onion (about an inch)
a squeeze of fresh lime juice
Mix marinade ingredients together and whisk lightly to combine. Coat the tuna with the marinade and leave in the bowl, covering tightly with plastic wrap and and refrigerating for about half an hour. Turn over half way through.
Heat a nonstick skillet to medium high heat. When the pan is hot, remove tuna from the marinade and place in the pan. Sear quickly on each side, just long enough to get a nice crust on the surface. Turn the tuna to let all sides get seared. I like the tuna very rare on the inside, so I didn't leave it long, but you can increase the amount of time based on how rare you like it.
Remove from pan and slice.
Stir Fried Bok Choy for one (adapted from a recipe at Seasaltwithfood)
1 large bok choy cut into 1 inch pieces or 2 baby bok choys left whole or cut in half
1-2 cloves of garlic, sliced
1 TB oil (canola or peanut)
1 TB oyster sauce
2 TB water
sea salt to taste
Clean and cut the bok choy. I also like to dissolve the oyster sauce into the water to make it easier to mix in to the dish while cooking.
Heat oil over medium low heat and add garlic, letting saute very briefly until fragrant and translucent. Quickly remove the garlic to prevent from overcooking and becoming bitter. Set aside. Increase heat to high and add bok choy, stirring quickly. As it begins to just wilt, add water with oyster sauce and garlic. Mix sauce to coat then season with sea salt. Remove from heat and serve.
The finished dish:
Forgive the inept plating and photography.
I get my soy sauce, sesame oil and rice vinegars from Hong Kong Market in Gretna.
Friday, August 14, 2009
Working from home can be lonely and isolating but has definite culinary advantages. I can cook myself a decent lunch or get a head start on dinner. I can go out to eat without worrying about making it back in less than an hour (or harder still, 30 minutes). And... I can take a snowball break.
Plum Street Snoball is close and quite good. While not a match for Hansen's Sno-Bliz (my favorite), it does have reasonably fine and fluffy snow and a good Nectar Cream syrup, my latest snowball flavor of choice. I've spent the last 10 years always sticking with my favorite combination: cherry and coconut. This summer, I've decided to branch out and have started trying the cream flavors. Nectar Cream is at the top of the list and is difficult to describe. I had it first at Hansen's as part of a Sundae which consisted of layers of ice and syrup topped with canned cream (I had no idea there was such a thing and if there was, that I'd want to eat it, but it really does work beautifully), crushed pineapple and a cherry. Super sweet but an absolutely craveable winner for me. I'd love to know what Nectar Cream is composed of. There are notes of something like nectarine, maybe a bit of a cherry and then something else that I can't seem to identify. It's fantastic.
This time, at Plum Street Snoball, I paired Nectar Cream with Orchid Cream because the name was so irresistible. The staff described it to me as a French Vanilla which was a bit of a disappointment, but sounded fine at the moment. I should have known better. There isn't much to be said for fake vanilla. It was far too cloying and not at all to my taste.
Next time, I'm heading back to Hansen's to get a taste of their tart flavors. Will report back.
Thursday, August 13, 2009
I've been in love with La Divina Gelateria for a good while now. It's no exaggeration to say that in the year or two immediately following Katrina, La Divina is what kept me from going 100% ape and demanding that we get the hell out of here NOW. OK, I did demand that a few times but I was in pain and was acting out. I didn't mean anything by it. Kid Cayenne held me down. La Divina gave me hope. We'd visit every Saturday or Sunday afternoon, just about all year long. I'd revel in whatever the newest seasonal flavors were. Kid Cayenne would stick with her favorite, Creme Brulee. I started to believe that if La Divina (with it's fresh, minimal, lovely interior, it's determination to use only truly quality ingredients and not take the easy way out, it's unsinkable, darling staff and owners) could exist in our dark, post-apocalyptic city, then some how, some way everything would be OK again eventually. And it was.
My affection grew miles deeper when, after a trip to San Francisco where I had the divine Salted Caramel ice cream at Bi-Rite Creamery, I begged Carmelo to please consider doing a gelato version. I knew they would do it well and I was having major cravings for it. He said he'd think about it. A few weeks later, I got an email saying that they had made it and to come try it out. Needless to say, their version was exceptional. I later learned that they had been planning it for a while, but I like to pretend it was all my idea. Makes me feel all fancy and such.
What can I say about La Divina's gelato? It's heaven. Truly. Totally artisanal, they make it entirely from scratch. It is delicate, refined, frosty and never icy, just the right amount of stretchy. The flavors are well balanced with a wonderful mix of seasonal and year round favorites. It's perfect. I've never been to Italy but when I have a spoonful of Grapefruit Campari melting on my tongue, I can imagine that I am there. Also to be adored are the perfectly made espresso drinks, my favorite being the mochas because, dear reader, they use Valrhona chocolate. Valrhona is queen of chocolates, very high quality and among the best in the world. This is a serious mocha. Deep, perfectly bittersweet, exquisite. *sigh* I am having a tiny fit thinking about it and might have to go over tonight and have one.
When Kid Cayenne and I were about to move to our new house, I lamented that we would be a little far from my beloved gelateria. A little far being 3.5 miles away as opposed to 1.5. Not to worry. Almost simultaneously timed, we bought our house and La Divina opened a Maple Street location. 1 mile, y'all. 1 tiny little mile away from our new home. I visited earlier this week, and while the new location is much smaller and not as well equipped, it's still got all the important things: decadently good gelatos and mighty fine coffees. One of these days, I'll get around to telling you about the salads and paninis...