Thursday, December 19, 2013

New Orleans Overview

Last weekend was my birthday!  Well, we were already planning a trip down to the gulf-ish area, so we decided to tie it into my birthday as well.  We started our trip in Baton Rogue to see my aunt, she made us some fantastic gumbo for our arrival, then loaded me down with bacon for breakfast.  Then we headed down to New Orleans.

It had been about 7-8 years since either of us had been there.  So we were pretty damn excited to be able to carry adult beverages down the sidewalk.

St. Lawrence Bar & Restaurant--Our first meal in New Orleans was chosen out of convenient location to the Aquarium.  On the edge of the French Quarter (on N. Peters), we were drawn to it because it smelled like garlic.  It ended up being a really great lunch!  It was a little late so they were out of about 1/4 the menu while prepping for dinner, but there were still plenty of delicious sounding things to choose from.  I had a crawfish "lobster" roll: sweet and spicy crawfish in a lite mayo dressing with celery and a tiny bit of red onion on a buttered hot dog bun.  Louis had the fried oyster bahn mi po'boy: basically a po'boy with pickled radishes and carrots.  And the hand cut fries, well, any good french fry can win over my heart.  I also had their (incredibly strong) daiquiri of the day--pumpkin pie daiquiri. Yeah, you read that right.

Cafe Amelie--Go here.  Just do it!  We chose this as my birthday dinner because the menu sounded good and it was about a block from our hotel.  But, seriously, GO HERE!  We couldn't decide what we wanted, so we got several appetizers to share.  Satsuma chili glazed shrimp, shrimp and grits, and Cajun poutine.  Oh! the cajun poutine--crispy oven roasted gold potatoes loaded with asiago and cochon (a highly seasoned roasted pork).  Absolutely order the Cajun poutine!!!  They make a really great tomato bisque as well (a little on the salty side, but I still ate every drop).  For dessert we had the doberge cake of the day; it was a creamy 9 layer cake with strawberry cheesecake mousse.  And I cant forget about the cocktails!  They are a little on the expensive side, but worth it.  Order any of the house cocktails--you will not be disappointed.  (Reservations suggested, especially if weather doesn't permit courtyard seating.  We just hung out and had a drink, we had no where to go.)

Stanley--Right on Jackson Square at the corner of St Ann and Chartres overlooking St. Louis Catherdral, this is at the "institution" level of dining.  A place everyone seems to go.  And for good reason.  We were there on a Sunday... after church hours.  But since there were only two of us and we were willing to sit at the bar or table (we got a table), we only had to wait about 20 minutes.  Enough time to walk around the square and look at the art for sale displayed along all the fence lines.  I had the Breaux Bridge Benedict; the eggs could have poached about 30-45 seconds longer for my taste, but the homemade boudin and hollandaise more than made up for that.  Louis had the benedict po'boy that also looked divine.  (There is an upscale sister restaurant called Stella... just needed to throw that in there.)

French Market Restaurant--The Central Grocery is closed on Sundays and Mondays.  That was a huge bummer.  This was just down the street so we assumed they had to have good muffalettas.  Wrong.  Don't order the Italian muffaletta here.  The crawfish fritters were really good, so maybe we if we had ordered something else it would have been good, but the oily, hamburger bun muffaletta and frozen french fries were a gigantic let down.

Felix's--Chargrilled oysters.  That is why you should go here.  Fresh shucked oysters cooked over an open flame with parmesan, breadcrumbs, and butter.  The crawfish etouffe and seafood gumbo are also really good.  The roux for the gumbo was way darker than I am used to, and I make my roux pretty dark, so that is saying something. It threw me off at first, but the more I ate, the more sense it made.  It's simple Louisiana food done right, what more could ask for?

The last day we made an obligatory stop at Cafe du Monde.  It was Monday morning so it was only half full.  I know it is the big place everyone goes.  But let me just say that I've tried quite a few other beignets and I've had some that are as good, but none that have been better.  (If you know of a place with beignets that surpass Cafe du Monde, please let me know!)

I feel I should mention a daiquiri that I had as well.  Most people know of the 24 hour to go daiquiri stands in New Orleans.  After Felix's, we walked down Bourbon St. to get back to our hotel on the other side of the French Quarter and decided we needed drinks to go.  We stopped at one of the places that has a wall of frozen drink machines.  (And they offer samples, so that was fun.)  I settled on a thing called the Cajun Storm.  It is dark rum, 151 rum, brandy, and grain alcohol (with some unknown fruit juices and sugar).  And it is delicious.  It is also a bargain at less than $9 for ~20oz.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Onion "Soup" Roasted Potatoes

I'm cheating here.  This isn't original, it is just seriously delicious.  I'm pretty sure no one actually uses onion soup mix for soup.  It isn't a thing a I usually have around my house.  However, I happened to have a packet left form braising venison shanks.  When the holiday coupon book for Kroger came out, I saw this.  It seemed like the perfect, easy thing for the fingerling potatoes I had just bought.  Honestly, I can't imagine anyone complaining about these for any dinner.  And why not make the holiday feast a little less stressful by whipping these up?  A thin skinned potato is best: new, yukon gold, fingerlings, etc.

Onion "Soup" Roasted Potatoes
1 pkt onion soup mix
~2.5 lbs potatoes
~3 Tbsp oil (olive, canola, etc.)

  Wash potatoes and cut them into large bite-sized chunks, if needed.  Toss with oil and soup mix.
   Roast at 400 deg F for 30-45 minutes (depending on the potato.)  Toss every 15 min or so.  When tender and golden, they are done.
   Serves 6.

OR just follow Knorr's recipe here.  I didn't use Knorr, so their packets may be a little smaller, but I found that you can use more potatoes than the suggested amount.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Three Cheese Mac & Cheese

I feel like I make macaroni and cheese a lot.  Truthfully, I don't.  But I get so excited when I do, that is a big deal I remember.  Usually it is a special occasion of some sort.  I could eat mac 'n' cheese many times a week, but to save my weight/overall health, I try to refrain from that.  This version is a simple, classic crowd-pleaser that I made the day after Thanksgiving for my mom's side of the family.  It was quickly devoured, and they asked for this recipe (and bugged me about not keeping up with this thing better.)  So here you go, guys!

Three Cheese Mac & Cheese
1 lb pasta (large elbow, large shell, or penne are probably the best shapes)
1 1/2 Tbsp butter
1 1/2 Tbsp flour
3/4 C milk (I used 2%)
1/2 C half & half
1 C shredded smoked gouda (1 Tbsp reserved)
1 C shredded sharp cheddar (1 Tbsp reserved)
1/2 C shredded Monterrey jack (1 Tbsp reserved)
1/3 C panko bread crumbs
2 Tbsp olive oil (or melted butter)
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp black pepper

   In liberally salted water, cook pasta about 1 minute shy of being done.  Drain, set aside.
   Melt butter in a sauce pot.  Add flour, stir so there are no lumps.  Slowly whisk in milk and half & half, making sure no lumps form.  Bring to a simmer, let cook about 3 minutes until it starts to thicken.  Remove from heat.  Add salt and pepper.
   Combine cheeses, pasta, and milk mixture.  Pour into a greased 13x9 baking dish.
   Combine panko crumbs, reserved cheeses and olive oil.  Sprinkle over the pasta.
   Bake covered at 350 deg F for 20 minutes.  Uncover, bake another 15 minutes
   Serves 6-8

Note:  Using high quality cheese is a good idea here.  I used Boar's Head smoked gouda and Vermont sharp cheddar.  The Monterrey Jack is almost a filler to give it gooey meltiness without masking the flavors of the other cheese so store brand is fine.  And if you add a little extra cheese, I'm sure no one will complain.  I'm fairly certain my cups of cheese were heaping cups.