Sunday, August 4, 2013

N'awlins

For 5 days I binged on gumbo, seafood, bloody marys, and beignets, and although I spent a miserable 4 days juicing to cleanse my system, I'd do it all over again.  New Orleans is one of those cities that encourages splurging and splurge I did.

Snacks:

Just an hour after landing in Louis Armstrong International Airport, my friends and I took our first fried bite at the famous Cafe du Monde for beignets and coffee.  The beignets came up pipin' hot and overly dressed in powder sugar.  Although Cafe du Monde's beignets were tasty and understandably hyped, I personally liked the beignets at Cafe Beignet which I found less oily and more airy.


For something even sweeter, checkout Leah's Pralines for, well you know.

Brunch:  Commander's Palace.  The happiest place on Earth.

 Table-side vodka Bloody Marys all around.  And around.  And  around.  Best consumed while being serenaded by the charming house jazz band.

The brunch special at Commander's Palace includes an appetizer, entree and dessert.  I decided on the turtle soup (splashed with dry sherry) and it was the most flavorful soup I've ever had.

In order to try as many things on the menu, my friends ordered the Oyster & Absinthe Dome (featured) and the Smokey Chicken Gumbo.  The Dome had a flaky buttery pastry crust encompassing a rich and creamy mixture of oysters, bacon, and artichokes.  The gumbo was another amazing appetizer I can eat of barrel of.

My main dish was the Eggs Benedict over a spiced pork shoulder and spicy creole hollandaise sauce.  Every bite was a punch in the face... for a masochist.



 There were so many dessert choices, but by far the best were the mixed berry shortcake and the creole bread pudding.  The bread pudding was dressed with table-side caramel and was surprisingly light and not-too sweet.  The shortcake was buttery and light and the berries were fresh, tangy and sweet.  A perfect ending to the meal.

Lunchtime:  Sandwiches.  Meaty, artery-clogging sandwiches.



A must in New Orleans is the traditional Italian Muffuletta sandwich at Central Grocery on Decatur Street in the French Quarter.  It was the perfect ratio of salami, ham, olives, provolone and sesame seed bread.  Delicious hung over or not.
After a long intense afternoon at the World War II Museum in the Warehouse District, we filled our empty bellies at Cochon Butcher.  Below were a few items we devoured: brisket sliders, duck pastrami sliders, and pork belly sandwich.  


Johnny's Po-Boys.  Recommended by friends and many food blogs.  Johnny's has a long list of po-boy options but I decided on the shrimp po-boy (mostly because that was all the cash I had on hand).  Solid sandwich but not life changing.

On my last day in NOLA, I visited Royal House for a happy hour bloody mary and oysters.  Below are the chargrilled oysters drenched in garlicy butter.  I also tried the Oyster Duo (Rockefeller and Royale) but I didn't taste much of the oyster underneath the fried batter and toppings.


Sunset on the Courtyard.  Gratis sunglasses
Dinner:

Me enjoying an O'Keefe Cocktail
SoBou:  I'm not surprised our dinner at Sobou was a hit since it's the same owners of Commander's Palace.  Since my friends and I were still stuffed from brunch, I specifically picked Sobou for their tapas style bar food and extensive alcohol menu since we needed to eat something before another night of drinking on Frenchman Street.

Of course, we ordered the foie gras burger, pork cracklins and mac n'cheese.  A nice surprise with the burger was the root beer float as an accompaniment.



Tip: I also stopped by SoBou for their happy hour before my flight.  But SoBou also has a happier happy hour between 11-3pm offering 25 cent martinis!













Sylvain:  Not the best representation of traditional New Orleans food, but Sylvain is on my list of must-go restaurants for food-lovers.  The vibe is more LA than Louisiana-- hip, casual and modern.  The place was so hip that the cast of American Horror Story (Kathy Bates included) decided to dine right next to me!  Pardon the bad lighting.

My friend and I shared the Grouper special, Braised Beef Cheeks, Pickled Shrimp Salad, and (our favorite) the Pan-Fried Pork Shoulder.  And of course, a chocolate pot de creme for dessert.

Bars / Late Night:  

If you want a break from all the jazz clubs in NOLA (The Spotted Cat, Maison, Howlin Wolf), The Gold Mine Saloon is a contemporary dive bar and dance club (with a cover).  It has a young crowd looking for love or looking to get trashed.  If you want more of a low-key bar scene, Backspace Bar, Checkpoint Charlie's and One Eyed Jacks were my other destinations with a solid juke-box.  A classier bar scene can be found at Carousel Bar & Lounge in the Hotel Monteleone.  It has a rotating bar, which can make a party of 3 or more a bit tricky ordering drinks.  Personally, my aviation was too way too sweet but any bar that attracts Judy Greer is ok in my book: "Say goodbye to these!"  

For traditional NOLA Hurricanes 
or other sugary drinks, head over to 
Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop Bar.  








After dancing the night away (and not getting lucky), head on over to the Turtle Bay for their nachos and pizza for late night sustenance.  

For the morning after, the fried chicken at Coops Place can cure any hangover (it did mine).  


Notable mentions:  Olivier's gumbo trio appetizer and Columns Bar for classy daytime Southern drinking.




Thursday, July 11, 2013

Dinner for One: Moroccan Chicken with Rice

It never fails, whenever I end up watching cooking or travel shows I get the urge to compete in a solo Quick Fire Challenge and create a dish purely from my pantry and refrigerator.  On this particular lonely night, I was watching Anthony Bourdain's "Parts Unknown" where he traveled to Morocco. Knowing I had left over chicken in my fridge, I decided to make myself a Moroccan style chicken dinner.  I've never made this before so I mostly eyeballed everything.  I did cheat a little and searched for Moroccan chicken recipes on Pinterest to get a feel for a recipe and the proportions for the spices.

I noticed a recipe called for almonds-- and I was lucky enough that my roommate had left over almond slices she used for baking, so I snagged them.   I always have a range of spices: cumin, ground ginger, cinnamon, tumeric, ground coriander, paprika, and fennel seeds, which were used for my DIY recipe.  I also had rice, yellow onions, garlic, raisins, lemon juice (no real lemons on hand), mint and parsley to complete my self-induced challenge.

I toasted the almonds with the spices for a couple of minutes until fragrant.  I turned off the heat and let it cool.

I started cooking the rice while I prepared my chicken.  I seasoned the chicken with salt and pepper and set it aside.  I heated up olive oil in a skillet at medium heat.  I cooked the sliced onions and minced garlic in the skillet until the onions were translucent.  I took half of the spices and rubbed it on the chicken and placed it in the skillet with the onions and garlic-- cooking each side for 8 mins or so (until golden brown).  I did add a little water to the pan to avoid burning the spiced crust of the chicken.

When the rice was done, I added the left over spices/almonds and raisins and mixed it in.  For garnish, I sprinkled finely chopped parsley and mint and poured a tiny amount of lemon juice.  Below is the final and very delicious end product.  I think I would have made it on top if this was a real challenge (with no tagine or anything).






Saturday, May 4, 2013

Mad Old Time


I'm proud to say that my annual Mad Men Viewing Parties are gradually getting more popular and dapper.  What started as a goofy night swooning over Don Draper with the roomie has become a slightly anticipated event amongst my friends.  To prep for Season 6, I made three trips to the store, spent too much money and wasted away over the stove all day.  The classics made another appearance: Old Fashioneds and Dirty Martinis, but I challenged myself and created a new 60s inspired menu.  

Mad Menu:

(Utz) Potato Chips and Onion Dip
Chicken Liver Tea Sandwiches
Cheese Fondue and Accoutrements 
Vietnamese Spring Rolls 
Meatballs in Marinara Sauce
Ice Cream Sundaes




Welcoming guests with an Old Fashioned.


If you don't have a fondue pot, which I didn't, check out Craigslist!  I got a decent fondue pot for $5 and the seller even threw in a fondue cookbook.  The accoutrements were a mix of precut baby carrots, cherry tomatoes, broccoli, apples, and french baguette.  Keep an eye on the fondue when the pot is on though, the cheese burns quickly.

For the Canadian-French Megan inspired sandwiches, I bought my favorite chicken liver pate at Trader Joes and store bought white bread.  For the cute tea sandwich look, I cut off the crusts and cut them into triangles.


The Vietnam War spring rolls were a real time suck-- I definitely don't recommend if you don't have a lot of time.  Not only do you have to buy and prep all the individual ingredients (rice wraps, rice noodles, thai basil, mint, cilantro, scallions, cucumbers and carrots, I had to cook the meat (used ground turkey left over from the meatballs [kosher guests], lemon grass and garlic), and then assemble each one. I actually got so frustrated, that I didn't even bother to make a peanut or nuoc mam sauce to go with it.  


 The simplest dish was the favorite of the night: individual ice cream sundaes.  I just purchased Bryers Neapolitan Ice Cream, canned whipped cream, Hershey's double chocolate syrup and nuts and voila! happy guests again (since the premiere's lack of drama deflated the mood a bit-- I suggest a drinking game to avoid this).  

I can't forget to mention MUSIC! My Mad Men inspired playlist featured: Otis Redding, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, the Velvet Underground, Led Zeppelin and Bob Dylan. Of course, all songs were pre-1969 (it's all in the details).  

Shida and Karthik; Best Dressed

Mad Women and Men

Monday, February 18, 2013

Juicing Up

I recently got a cold and I needed to load up on vitamins.  I made frequent visits to juice bars like Naturewell and Kreation Juice but felt the dent in my wallet each time I shoved out $7 a visit.  My favorite is the Coconut Kale Smoothie at Naturewell which made such an impression on me that I had to try replicate it at home.

The ingredients are simple: ITALIAN kale (the curly kind is more bitter), coconut flesh, coconut water, agave nectar, bananas, cinnamon and ice.  I eyeballed the proportions but it was basically two generous handfuls of kale, 1 cup of coconut water, half a banana, 1/4 cup of coconut flesh, 1/2 tbsp of agave, 3 dashes of cinnamon and a handful of ice.

The hardest part was figuring out how to open the coconut, but after googling it and some elbow grease, I did it!  If you can find coconut flesh prepackaged or get a coconut that labeled "easy crack" I highly recommend it.

The fruits of my labor is exhibited on my Instagram (follow me @lesismore84).  Yay juice!

http://instagram.com/p/V5RgRduFSH/

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Toys: Slow Cooker

Combining the week-long reading of slow cooker recipes on thekitchn.com and browsing online for holiday gifts, I decided to treat myself to a slow cooker on sale at Target. All the recipes filling my subconscious made it seem like the perfect tool for hearty meals on those cold nights.  An easy recipe that caught my eye right away was the Peppered Beef Shank in Red Wine.  I followed the recipe for the most part, but I didn't get the actual beef crosscut shank and replaced it with a beef brisket cut-- which was probably a bad idea since I felt my final product was a bit tough despite the 8 hours of cooking time.  But overall, the flavor was great and it was a satisfying meal -- it also made my apartment smell fantastic and it was nice coming home to a hot meal without worrying about a fire hazard.

The only gripe about the slow cooker was that I was expecting a one step cooking tool but in actuality you'll need another pot to sear the meat and reduce the red wine sauce, at least for recipes that require searing meat or sauteing veggies.  I was annoyed by how many dishes I ended up washing.  But after realizing this, I decided to cook a similar stew with my left over prime rib from my Christmas dinner feast.  I took out a large pot and sauteed a large yellow onion with a few chopped carrots.  After sweating the onions, I added some chopped garlic, a bay leaf, some left over red wine and 1 qrt of beef stock.  I turned on my slow cooker and added my (already cooked) prime rib left overs, then poured the reduced stock over it.  I popped in two sprigs of rosemary and 8 hours later, voila!


I only used ingredients that I had in my fridge, so adding celery and potatoes would be a great addition.  The beef was so tender and melted off the bone.  I also toasted some sourdough bread to soak up the rich broth.

I also got a dutch oven as a gift and can't wait to use it and see how it differs from a slow cooker.  But until I take it out of its box, here's a list of other slow-cooker recipes I'll be trying very soon!

http://www.thekitchn.com/10-seriously-awesome-slow-cooker-recipes-171262

Monday, January 7, 2013

A Christmas Feast J.C. would be proud of

Usually for the Christmas holidays, my sister will take on the main course of prime rib and I handle the appetizers and side dishes, but this year after seeing a recipe that claims to be the perfect prime rib recipe on SeriousEats I had to tackle the beefy beast.

My sister purchased a 20lb wet-aged prime rib, not dry-aged as the recipe suggested since that request needs to be made a few weeks prior, but honestly I don't know if there's a real taste difference.  I had to cut the beast in half to accommodate those who prefer well-done rather than medium rare.  I preheated the convention oven for 200 degrees.  Although this deviates from the recipe, I crushed garlic and thyme and stuffed it into the skin of the prime rib per my sister's suggestion (the family loves garlic).  I then rubbed the entire thing with room temperature butter.  Uncovered, I placed the prime rib in the oven for 3.5 to 4 hours until the internal temperature reached 120 degrees.  I then removed one half of the prime rib and allowed the other half to cook for an additional 30 minutes until it reached 130-135 degrees to get it to medium.




It must also be noted that while the beast was cooking, my family devoured the traditional yearly hor d'oeurvres of bacon wrapped dates (stuffed with either blue cheese or almonds), marinated olives (store bought), my sister's famous bruschetta, and washing it down with a Apple Cider Margetini.  

After taking out the 2nd half and wrapping it with foil, I cranked up the oven to 500 sear the outside while further cooking it to the 125 degree temp for medium rare and 135 for medium-well.  (Note: because the oven gets so hot and smokey, I hope your stove fan is on or have a window open.)  I seared the prime rib for just 8-9 minutes and it came out perfectly seared and crispy!  I personally let it rest for 10 minutes only since I had hungry people waiting anxiously, but I suggest letting it rest for 20 mins at least since it got bloody messy while I was carving it.

The finished product is below-- crispy seared exterior and a perfectly red interior without any grey overcooked sections.  Beautiful.







In addition to the perfect prime rib, I also roasted a "vibrant" medley of root vegetables, made a kale radicchio salad with blue cheese and hazelnuts (inspired by Sycamore Kitchen),  Joël Robuchon's famous potato puree, and my sister sauteed some fresh green beans.  For sure, the puree and root vegetables are coming back next year but I can honestly say without boasting too much that the entire meal was spectacular.  

Monday, December 3, 2012

Thanksgiving: My favorite time of the year

This is my fourth year cooking Thanksgiving dinner for my family and I try to make it more fabulous each year.   The menu was divvied up between me, my sisters and cousin.  I was in charge of the 20 lb turkey, roasted brussels sprouts, cranberry sauce, gravy and crispy kale chips.

Roasted Turkey 

I use Alton Brown's brine recipe to start things off.  It takes 12 hours so I prep the turkey the night before the big day.  I grab my mom's huge (holds 5+ gallons) pho pot to mix the brine and store the turkey.  Using a cheesecloth to hold the spices is highly recommended to avoid the peppercorns sticking to the turkey.  It's not in the recipe, but I like to add a slice of lemon, a few thyme and rosemary leaves too.
While the brine is cooling off-- I clean the turkey and take out the neck and gizzards.  I use the neck and gizzards to make the turkey broth for the gravy.  I placed the turkey inside the brine and stored it overnight.
The next day, the turkey is then removed, rinsed off and patted dry.  I finely mince and chop garlic and mix it in a stick of butter.  I then stick as much of the garlic butter under and over the skin as humanly possible.  This is ensure a crispy brown skin as well as a moist bird (since I don't baste the turkey more than twice).
In the cavity of the bird, I place a cored granny smith apple, a lemon I poke holes in, fresh sage, rosemary and thyme leaves.  I then take a piece of foil and fold it into a triangle to cover the breast and wings of the turkey.  I also poured 2 cans of chicken stock on the bottom of the roasting pan.  In a preheated 500 degree oven I placed the bird on the bottom rack for 30 minutes.  After 30 minutes, I turned down oven to 350 and cooked the bird for another 3-3.5 hours (basting it at the 1.5 and 2.5 hour mark).  I also remove the foil the last hour to brown the breast skin.



Sausage Sage Stuffing

I used both a rosemary loaf and french baguette for base, added granny smith apples and dried currants to the recipe.  It's a great recipe to make beforehand and reheat the next day.

 Suffering Bastard Cocktail

 Careful with this cocktail-- it got me in trouble.
 Recipe is  below.

1 part gin
1 part whiskey or bourbon
1 part lime juice
Splash of bitters
4 parts ginger ale (but I reduced it to 1 part)

Crispy Kale Chips
The only problem making the chips was that I didn't have the oven when I wanted it.  I needed a 375 degree oven that would fit two trays of kale.  I baked some in my parents' toaster oven and fit one small tray next to the turkey.  These were good--but I'll likely not make them again for a large dinner.



Gravy

I took the neck, livers and gizzards of the turkey and covered them with water in a 3-quart saucepan.  I let it simmer on low heat for 1 hour to make a concentrated turkey broth for the gravy.  I strained the broth and refrigerated it.
Once the turkey was removed from the roasting pan, I put the pan on the stove top and added a few tablespoons of flour and the turkey broth, whisking it until it thickened.  I then strained the gravy before serving.

Spiced Cranberry Sauce 
Still not a favorite dish with my family, but I liked it.

Corn Bread Muffins

I basically use the recipe on the side of the Albers Corn Meal box--but it works every year!