Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Sickie Soup

I just concocted a makeshift sickie soup out of 2 cups water boiled with ginger, a bundle of soba noodles, 2 packs of instant miso soup mix, some chopped red onion and sriracha.  It is not my finest hour.  It looks as unappetizing as it tastes, which is just as unappetizing as it sounds, but I am sick and alone and I need a hot soup lunch that will help clear my sinuses and warm my insides.  This is all I could come up with without going to the store.

What do you eat when you have a cold?


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Chocolate Whiskey Cake

There is a food blog I follow, called Blank Palate and whose author has changed locations from Alabama to Spain, that has lovely, interesting recipes that intrigue me.  I enjoy the blog in general quite a bit, but there is one post, in particular, that haunted me for the longest time.  It was a recipe for Chocolate Whiskey Cake and I couldn't get it out of my mind.  I had to have it. 

I've made it twice now, each time for guests, and the response is always a vigorous "YES!"  Also, depending on the person's caffeine tolerance, it can elicit an occasional "You want me to paint the house now?!?"  Very dark, very dense, decadently chocolate-y but with sweetness tempered (and made more fascinating) by deeper layers of flavor (black pepper, cloves, coffee), it is now one of my favorite cakes.  Make it for people you like very much.

Dark Chocolate Whiskey Cake

3/4 cup plus 3 TB unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 cup strongly brewed good coffee
1/2 cup whiskey
12 TB unsalted butter, cut into chunks about 1 inch wide
1 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar
2 cup all purpose flour
1 1/2 ts baking soda
3/4 ts salt
1/4 ts fresh ground black pepper
1/8 ts ground cloves
3 eggs
2 ts vanilla
1 cup mini chocolate chips

Preheat your oven to 325° F.  Butter a 9 or 10 inch cake pan (or spring form pan) and then dust the pan with 3 TB cocoa powder, knocking out the excess.

Heat the coffee, butter, and 1 cup of cocoa powder on low heat until the butter is melted. Whisk occasionally.  Add sugars and whisk slowly until sugars completely dissolve.  Transfer the mixture to a large bowl to cool for a few minutes.

Meanwhile, combine the flour, baking soda, salt, black pepper, and cloves in a bowl.  In a separate bowl, whisk together eggs and vanilla.  Starting slowly, drizzle eggs into the cooled chocolate mixture and whisk them in to combine.  Add the flour mixture and mix until just combined.  Fold in chocolate chips.

Pour the batter into your pan and bake until a wooden pick comes out mostly clean, about 1 hour and 5 minutes.  Mostly cool before eating.

After a day (should you have any left) keep it stored in the refrigerator, covered in plastic wrap.


Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Swiss Chard and Tomatoes over Soft Polenta

I've been on a really big polenta kick ever since returning from Venice.  I can't get enough of it.  I've gone so far as to contemplate buying relatively expensive, very high maintenance freshly stone ground polenta from the internets.  I still might.  In the meantime, here is a little recipe that I made using Bob's Red Mill Polenta Corn Grits, available at your friendly neighborhood Whole Foods, and probably lots of other groceries as well.  Bob's are par-boiled, so the cook time is really short compared with true, long cooking polenta that takes an hour or more.  Start cooking your chard and tomatoes about 10-15 minutes into the polenta cooking process.


3 c water
1 c polenta
1 t salt
2 TB butter or olive oil
1/2 c grated Parmesan cheese

In a heavy bottomed pot, boil 3 cups of water.  Whisk in the polenta and salt.  Turn down the heat and stir constantly until the polenta is suspended in the water and no longer settles to the bottom of the pot.  Cook for 30 minutes at a bare simmer.  Stir frequently, being careful not to burn yourself if the polenta bubbles pop and splatter.  Add water if the polenta gets too thick.  You want the it to stay soft.

Stir in butter and Parmesan.  Taste and add more salt if needed. 

For the Chard and Tomatoes:

1-2 bunches swiss chard (1 bunch if you are cooking for two, 2 if you are serving 4)
1 TB extra virgin olive oil
1/4 ts crumbled red chili pepper flakes
2 large garlic cloves, sliced finely or minced
a handful of grape tomatoes, sliced lengthwise

Prepare chard by washing,  rinsing and drying thoroughly.  I dry mine after it's cut (in a salad spinner) but it can also be dried with towels while still in whole leaf form.   Pull or cut the leaves from the center rib.  Chop the ribs into slices and cut the leaves into ribbons, approximately 1 inch wide.

When your polenta is about half way through the cooking process, start cooking the chard.  In a heavy pan, heat the olive oil until it shimmers over medium heat.  Add garlic and saute until it just begins to be fragrant, about 30 seconds to a minute.  Add the chili pepper and quickly stir.  Add chard ribs and saute gently until they begin to soften, about 2-3 minutes.  Add chard leaves and salt.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until the chard leaves begin to wilt and become tender.  Add a tablespoon of water if the pan begins to dry out at any point.  Add tomatoes and saute gently until they are warmed through but not breaking down.  Taste for seasoning and salt if desired.  If you have a good finishing salt like Fleur de Sel de Guérande, this is really nice place to use it.

Serve immediately by placing a large spoonful of soft polenta into a bowl and using the spoon to create a dip in the center.  Top with sauted chard and tomatoes.


Monday, November 15, 2010

2010 Po-Boy Preservation Festival

I looove the Po Boy Fest.  I look forward to it each year, plotting out which po boys I want and never making it to the end of the list before I'm full and need to sit down.  This year was no different, except for one crucial thing. Apparently everyone else in the world decided to love it too, because Oh Mama, was it crowded.  I don't mean, really good festival crowded.  I mean, no room to breathe, let alone walk crowded.  Stuck in one particular human bottleneck, I started thinking rash thoughts about pushing and shoving and screaming, "Get OFF of me!!" just so I could have a tiny bit of space to take a breath.  I know the organizers spent a lot of time and effort in making the flow work better this year.  I think it was more the sheer volume of people.  I wonder how many attended...

Aaaanyway.  The po boys.  Kid Cayenne and I made it to the far end at Eagle Street so we could get to the Palace Cafe booth where I had the smoked duck po boy with citrus marmalade.

Kid Cayenne got the BLT po boy with Crystal hot sauce aioli.

The real highlight of our day though, was at the Blue Frog Chocolates tent, where we bough chocolate dipped Zapps Cajun Crawtaters.  Genius.  Mmmm.
I would love to do this for gifts at Christmas, but am concerned that they may have a very short shelf life in our humidity.  Do you think the chips part would go soggy within a day or so?  I might call Blue Frog and find out.


Saturday, November 13, 2010

Needed: Pointers on How To Properly Eat a Boiled Crab

I am completely inept at eating boiled crab.  I destroyed mine at Kenner Seafood today, and hardly got any of the meat out.  I did it wrong.  I may have also eaten some gills.  I need lessons.  Seriously.  Who'll give me pointers?


Thursday, November 11, 2010

Orecchiette with Broccoli, Tomatoes and Pine Nuts

This is an easy and lovely dish using one of my favorite pastas, the tiny orecchiette.  Shaped like (and named after) a "small ear", its delicately curved, disc-like shape is perfect for capturing tiny bits of deliciousness in every bite... hence the broccoli.  Cutting the broccoli florets into very small pieces ensures that they will nestle into the hollows in the pasta, along with the pine nuts and grape tomato halves, to delicious effect.

1/2 lb (8 oz) orecchiette pasta
boiling water
2 TB extra virgin olive oil
1/2 lb (a medium sized) broccoli crown
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 ts crumbled red chili pepper flakes
a large handful of grape tomatoes, halved lengthwise
2 TB pine nuts
freshly shredded Parmesan to top
salt to taste

Here is how I time things so that they all finish simultaneously.

Start your pasta boiling water and when it is getting close to boiling (but not really there yet), begin to chop your garlic and broccoli.  Cut the broccoli a bit obsessively (and wastefully, to be honest).  You want only the florets, chopped to their smallest parts, discarding the stems and stalk.  Mince your garlic.

Add pasta to the boiling, salted water.  Cook for the amount of time dictated by the package (usually about 11 minutes).

Heat olive oil on medium high heat in a large skillet until it shimmers. Add garlic and red pepper flakes to the pan.  Cook for about 30 seconds and then add the broccoli.  Lightly salt.  Saute, stirring occasionally, for 5-6 minutes.  Let it rest at times, so that you get a bit of caramelization on the broccoli.

Meanwhile, in a small skillet, lightly toast your pine nuts over medium low heat.  Toss them frequently, since they burn easily.  As soon as you see them begin to get a golden hue (after about 2 minutes or less), add them to the broccoli.

When broccoli is wilting and beginning to get a glossy, garlicky coating and the pasta only has a minute or two left on it, add the halved tomatoes to the broccoli skillet.  These should only cook for about 2 minutes, long enough to warm through but not really break down.  You want them to retain their shape.

Drain pasta and add to the broccoli pan.  Mix well.  Salt to taste.  Serve immediately, topped with shaved Parmesan.

Serves 2 with seconds or 4 with salad and bread.

* adapted from a recipe in the Italian Easy: Recipes from the London River Cafe Cookbook to have no pancetta but a ton of flavor anyway.


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Cane River Meat Pies

I recently had the pleasure of having lunch at Charlie's Seafood in Harahan (what a wonderful meal that was!) and it was there that I discovered Cane River Meat Pies.  Handmade by Janet J. Caldwell, they are served as appetizers but are also available for bulk purchase.  I bought a dozen pies (half meat pies, half seafood pies) to have for lunches. I'm still patting myself on the back for making that decision.  They are so fantastic.

Packed with care, they are pre-cooked and then frozen.  All it requires to restore them to their former glory is 20 minutes in a 350° oven, turning them a couple of times along the way.  What comes out is a crispy, stunningly delicious Natchitoches meat pie.  I've been eating them for lunch with a little salad tossed with the best Caesar dressing I know how to make.  Serve the meat pies with a smear of Creole mustard and hot pepper jelly and you elevate it to the sublime. 

For your own take-home meat pies, go down to Charlie's or email Mrs. Caldwell (who is just about as sweet as she can be, by the way).  You can buy a dozen for $40 or six for $20.  Perfect for parties and holiday gifts too, I'd bet.  Who wouldn't want a box of meat pies for Christmas??

Cane River Meat Pies
at Charlie's Seafood
8311 Jefferson Hwy
Harahan, LA 70123
(504) 737-3700 or
(504) 296-1061


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