Sunday, February 28, 2010

New Orleans - Day Two

We woke up to a gray sky the next morning which kept a chill in the air. We bundled up and went downstairs to the Riverwalk mall to pick up our trolley passes. Thankfully, already outside was a river trolley waiting to take us to the famous Café Du Monde. We followed the trolley driver's directions and walked along the wall of the French Quarter and found a long line still late in the morning. We stood around for a few moments until Guy spotted an empty, but still dirty, table. We took notice for a few more minutes and no one else seemed to want to sit, so we shimmied past the crowds and sat down. A lady soon appeared and cleared the table while taking our order. We both requested the classic: café au lait and beignets. We were at the original café which is open 24/7 and seems to never slow down. Our food didn't take long to appear and we couldn't wait to dig in.

The au lait had a subtle bite to it, but was still smooth and delightful with the chicory addition. The beignets were big, puffy, warm mounds of goodness. The thick layer of powdered sugar caked to the roof of our mouths when we'd bite into them and melted as we enjoyed the French doughnut. After we enjoyed our breakfast and set out into Jackson Square, we noticed another line on the other side of the café - the line to wait to be seated. Oops...

Even on a cloudy day, Jackson Square was lovely and peaceful. We stood around for a bit just taking it all in.

We glided into the St. Louis Cathedral which was beautiful. The air smelled of faint candles burning and the organ was playing soft music. Everyone inside couldn't take their eyes off the paintings overhead.

We decided to spend our vacation just wandering around the city without worrying about keeping track of time. We walked up and down all the streets of the French Quarter and stopped into any stores which looked interesting. Our first stop was Maskarade, a charming boutique with beautiful designer Mardi Gras and masquerade masks. The shop is very kind and allows visitors to try on the masks and take photos.

After goofing around for a short time, we found ourselves in Pirate's Alley, which I found amusing. I would celebrate everyday as Pirate Day if it were socially acceptable (Arrr!). We entered the famous Faulkner House which has been transformed into a bookstore.

I snuck around to the back gate and snapped a photo of the interior patio since we were the only ones besides the two ladies working up front, and my camera kept making clicking noises. I was afraid they'd be upset, so I hurried back around the corner so they wouldn't fear I was being mischievous. The bookstore has tall, thin cases which made me wish I could swing around the room on a rolling ladder and just read into eternity.

I was now in library mode and wanted to find more bookstores. We found the créme de la créme next at Kitchen Witch - a giant bookstore that only carries cookbooks! I wandered around all the dark corners of this bookstore for hours. They even had a sleeping puppy curled up in bed and kitchen witch dolls swinging from the ceiling. The store owner was very informative and gladly helped me research a cookbook that was sadly not in stock. I combed through the originals of Julia Child and many other rare cookbooks; it was amazing to get to hold and thumb through them in person.

After I'd had my fill, we set out to Quartermaster Deli at the edge of the French Quarter for lunch (looking at all those cookbooks sure made me hungry). The deli is hidden in the back of a convenience store, but they also are open 24/7 and have free delivery.

I ordered a turkey sandwich on wheat and had it toasted since it was still chilly. We sat down on some house steps across the street to enjoy our modest lunch. The sandwich was steamy and dripping with flavor. This is a favorite among the locals, and I would love to sample more from their menu.

After wiping the crumbs from our mouths, we ventured over to Dauphine Street Books.

The interior looked like they were playing jenga with the books in the mass of organized chaos. I leaned against a wall of books and got lost just skimming through several mystical varieties. The books put me in the mood for something more mysterious, and we next found the Boutique du Vampyer. Local artists have created art inspired by the popularity of vampires and we had fun musing through their selections.

We decided to rest before dinner and took a break in the late afternoon. Winding our way back through the streets I spotted a boutique, Just Dogs!, that carried gourmet treats for dogs and had to quickly run inside. I picked up a small variety of flavors for my dog to bring her back as a reward for behaving at the babysitters.

Another local favorite is Coop's Place. They have been rated as having the best jambalaya in New Orleans by several different sources, so we had to see for ourselves.

The all brick eatery was very charming and intimate, with soft lighting keeping the establishment aglow. We discovered just in time it is a sit yourself kind of place, while a line formed outside as we were getting comfortable.

We ordered a bowl of their famous Jambalaya Supreme to share before our entrées. This dish is prepared with a classic medley of vegetables and a smörgåsboard of meats: rabbit, sausage, tasso, shrimp, and crawfish. I gave them extra points for not bringing out the dish piping hot at an unpalatable temperature. The jambalaya arrived warm and fresh, at just the right temperature for us to enjoy immediately. It was well seasoned with a hint of tomato present with the other vegetables. We thought the meat was uniquely cooked separate from the vegetables and then blended together, since the meats retained so much flavor and were not soaked through. This was definitely the best jambalaya we've ever tasted (besides the one Guy makes).

Chicken Tchoupitoulas

Shrimp Creole

For our entrées, I ordered the Chicken Tchoupitoulas (chew-pit-two-lass) and Guy had the Shrimp Creole. Mine was a chicken breast smothered in cream sauce on a bed of perfectly cooked rice, and some shrimp and tasso thrown in for good measure. Tasso is small pieces of Cajun flavored pork shoulder butt, which has an intense pork flavor. The side of green beans smothered in a butter sauce still had a snap to them and tasted freshly picked, which was a bonus. The Shrimp Creole was shrimp, vegetables, and rice all cooked beautifully and tossed together. This dish had a more powerful sweet tomato flavor than the jambalaya which was lovely. Besides The Napoleon House, this was our best meal in New Orleans.

As a surprise at the end of our evening, a cat wandered over to our table. I had noticed the cat bed and dishes in the windowsill, but assumed the cat was off in the back somewhere sleeping for the night. I'm a huge animal lover, and thought it was pretty cool they allow their resident cat, Stella, to hang out with dinner guests. She let me pet her for a moment, and then I set her on the ledge to get a drink and quick snack. She then hopped down and went looking for other friends.

We went back to the hotel to change and then walked over to Hotel Monteleone for martinis at the famous Carousel Bar.

I was so excited to sit at a rotating bar. We had to wait for a few minutes for a seat to open up, but it wasn't long thankfully. In the adjoining room a pianist plays favorite songs as the ceiling has twinkling lights representing stars overhead, including some that flash like a shooting star.

I ordered a simple chocolate martini to enjoy as we went around in circles and relaxed while listening to conversation and catching a bit of the winter Olympics on small televisions around the room. The bartender was the best I'd ever seen and was a pleasure to watch whip up drinks all around the bar. I couldn't imagine all the hundreds of drinks he must have memorized. He never hesitated to any request made, including his ability to make well received recommendations. It was a pleasant way to end our second day.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

New Orleans - Day One

As our belated Christmas present to each other, my fiancé and I spent a four day weekend in New Orleans, LA. We chose this city since it's only a quarter day's drive away and we wanted to be able to say we've been at least once before we move from the area. We were apprehensive about going since the atmosphere surrounding the city isn't a perfect personality match, but we decided to try anyway.

We left Thursday morning, after consoling my dog at the baby sitter's (I'd never left her anyway before and she had a rough first morning), and I was already looking forward to lunch. Pensacola, FL, was the halfway point on our trip, and it houses one of my favorite restaurants - McGuire's Irish Pub. Kylene introduced me to this local jewel when I accompanied her to second shoot a wedding last summer. I couldn't wait to show Guy.

The pub is quite large, but has a very small feel on the inside which makes you feel nestled. One of the first things you notice are the walls - they are covered in one dollar bills. The pub allows you to sign a dollar and staple it to the wall as a way of leaving your mark. We signed our names and I climbed on top of a chair and nailed it to the ceiling. The restaurant patrons clapped in approval as I climbed down.

We started with their famous senate bean soup. This simple soup, at only 18 cents a bowl, is the epitome of white bean soup. We scarfed it down so quickly, I have no evidence of its existence, but I promise it's worth finding.

Then came the entrees. McGuire's knows how to cook an authentic Irish meal. Last time I had the shepherd's pie, which was amazing. The meat was cooked to tender perfection, and the vegetables were left in large chunks to soak in the rich sauce. It's then topped with whipped potatoes, piped on in a wavy design, and finally baked all together.

This trip I chose the Irish steak and mushroom pie. They take the same tender meat and pair it with button mushrooms cooked in Cabernet wine. They are then covered with a puff pastry, with the shape of a clover cut in the middle, and baked until warm and flaky. The meal was so flavorful with the addition of the wine sauce, and deliciously filling.

Guy wisely chose the pot roast, which was their special. I kept sneaking bites of his tender meal and savoring the medley of flavors.

After we bid farewell to McGuire's, we soon found ourselves entering Louisiana. The coastal drive into Louisiana looked like the Florida panhandle, until we crossed the border. The sky was ominous as there was no mistaking you were entering the devil's playground. The clouds twisted in an unnatural manner and the sunlight begged to push through but was shoved backward at the first glimpse of hope.

I had been apprehensive to come to New Orleans. The gloom of the city was bleeding into my ever darkening mood. I had become coarse and protective before my feet had ever swept over the ground. The sky turns ever blacker as the city swallows you whole and you feel so insignificant. People line the streets like skeletons in limbo.

Canal Street appeared more civilized and we attempted to remain hopeful of good things to come. We arrived at the Hilton on Poydras Street and swiftly retreated to our room. Thankfully the hotel would remain our comfortable haven.

We ventured out into the city at dusk for dinner at The Napoleon House on Chartres Street. The house is over 200 years old and oozes with history. Nicholas Girod, mayor of New Orleans from 1812 to 1815, originally owned the house. In 1821, he offered Napoleon refuge. Even though Napoleon never set foot in the house, the name haunts the house still.

We were immediately sat at a lovely table by a street window. Images of what the street looked like at its conception and thoughts of the original inhabitants danced in our heads. The waiters were dressed in a classy attire of black slacks, white dress shirts, and black ties.

I ordered a Pimm's Cup to start, in a souvenir glass. This drink is claimed to be invented in 1840 by James Pimm of England. The drink was delicious and would be quite refreshing in warmer months. The smooth taste and finishing wisp of cucumber was delightful.

Reuben Sandwich

Organic Sandwich

Guy ordered a classic Reuben sandwich while I opted for the Organic sandwich. My sandwich was filled to the brim with huge slices of avocado, sprouts, juicy tomatoes, cream cheese, and balsamic-dijon vinaigrette all on toasted multi-grain bread. We enjoyed ourselves at this restaurant, and wish we could sample more from their menu.

After dinner, we clung tightly to our coats and walked over to the tip of Bourbon Street to try The Old Absinthe House. Erected in 1806, this building also has a rich history. The first story was converted into a saloon named "Aleix's Coffee House" in 1815. However, in 1874 the floor was renamed "The Absinthe Room" when the infamous drink, Absinthe House Frappe, was invented.

I chose this as my first drink. The licorice flavor was nearly overwhelming, but I unwisely endured. I rarely visit bars, but here enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere and warm fire. The two female bartenders began to appear to glide across the floor, and I began to sway to the music that filled the air unwillingly.

My second, and final, drink was the Hurricane. I was not a fan of this drink, but I can offer some advice - if it begins to taste good, you're already in trouble.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cookies

I was in such a rush earlier this month to prepare for our vacation that I am posting this recipe out of order. My chocolate bark was made with leftover chocolate from this recipe. I was in charge of cookies for a collaborative Super Bowl party, and these goodies were my contribution. It seems everyone is a fan of chocolate chip cookies - but me. It's kind of like cookie dough ice cream - only the dough is tasty, but the vanilla ice cream is just so blah. That's how I feel about chocolate chip cookies; the dough surrounding the chocolate pieces doesn't make eating the whole cookie worth it.

I decided to make the entire cookie overflow with chocolate and knew no one would be able to keep their hands off. And I was right - we went home with an empty container after the party.

Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1 1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
11 oz semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup turbinado
2 eggs
1 1/4 tsp vanilla
3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup walnuts, chopped

Preheat the oven to 350*F, making sure two racks are in the upper third of the oven. Prep two cookie sheets with butter or parchment paper.

In a large bowl, whisk together the ingredients of flour through salt.

In a double boiler, melt the 11 oz semi-sweet chocolate chips. While the chocolate is slowly melting, use a mixer to cream the butter and both sugars for 3 min. Next add the melted chocolate and the eggs, one at a time. Then add the vanilla. In small batches, add the flour mixture until just incorporated.

Fold in the walnuts and whole chocolate chips carefully as the dough will be stiff.

Form the dough into large balls and place six onto each cookie sheet. Bake for 15 min. Allow the cookies to rest for a few minutes before transferring to a cooling rack with a spatula. Allow the cookies to cool, otherwise they will be very crumbly.

~Yields 20 cookies.

~Recipe adapted from Joy of Baking.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Chocolate Bark

I had wanted to make chocolate bark during the holidays and was never able to find the time. Now I'm ironically posting during Valentine's Day. We do not celebrate Valentine's Day (it just seems forced - we celebrate our relationship throughout the year), but maybe this recipe will come in handy for any desired celebration.

I used candied ginger for the first time, and it has quite a kick to it! I prefer my desserts to be as sweet as possible, and a little salty if I'm in the mood, but spiciness in my sweets is something I still need to get used to. I think the next time I make chocolate bark, I'll use an alternate ingredient and find a different use for my leftover candied ginger elsewhere.

I also bought some dried cherries which were the most delicious dried fruit I've ever had! I have to find a way to keep using them - I must have more!

The chocolate bark was prone to melting afterward, so make sure it's kept in a cool place - if it lasts that long.

Chocolate Bark

11 oz dark chocolate chips
1/3 cup walnuts, chopped
1/3 cup dried cherries
1/4 cup candied ginger, chopped

Prep a baking sheet with a layer of tin foil, with the edges folded up.

In a double boiler, melt the chocolate slowly, stirring occasionally.

Remove from the heat and fold in the walnuts, dried cherries, and candied ginger.

Pour onto the tin foil and spread evenly. Place in the freezer for one hour until the chocolate becomes firm. Remove from the freezer and break the chocolate into pieces.

~Yields chocolate bark for as long as it can possible last.

~Original by Brie.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Avocado Soup with Lobster Tail

A few months ago Kylene gave me a lobster tail she caught down in Key West, FL. She takes an annual trip down south with her husband and they graciously let me enjoy a taste of their bounty. I had been saving it to use in a dish where the flavor could come through and not be lost. Lobster, especially lobster caught by a friend, is too special to be drenched in a cream sauce or diced into a cheesy mess of an entrée. I found a recipe for avocado soup haphazardly while browsing for recipes and thought this would fit perfectly. The sweetness of the lobster tail cut through the richness of the soup. After tasting I decided these two complimented each other very well. I tasted more of the chicken broth rather than the avocado strangely. However, this soup is quite rich, so I would not recommend eating it alone as a meal. It would fit nicely with a spicy arugula and fruit salad.

Avocado Soup
Printable Recipe

2 avocados
2 cups chicken broth
salt and pepper
1/2 cup heavy cream
cooked lobster tail, sliced
olive oil

Preparing an avocado:

Using a knife, cut the avocado lengthwise around the entire fruit. Separate the avocado halves by twisting slightly and then pull apart.

Sink the knife into the pit, twist, and then pop the pit out.

Take your thumb and loosen the avocado fruit from the skin by rotating the avocado half around to separate.

Preparing the soup:

Squeeze the lemon juice into a bowl.

Cut the avocados into small cubes and place in the bowl with the lemon juice.

Mash the avocado well and then place into a pot. Add the chicken broth and salt and pepper to taste.

Bring the soup to a boil, then reduce and simmer for 5 min. Add the cream and cook until desired thickness is reached. (If you desire a smooth soup, use an emulsion blender before serving.) Ladle the soup into bowls. Cut the lobster into pieces and place on top of the soup. Drizzle olive oil for garnish.

~Yields 2 servings.

~Adapted from Blog Well Done.