Tuesday, February 23, 2010

A Weekend In New Orleans - Day 1

I took some much needed time off this past weekend. On Friday, we headed to New Orleans and ate ourselves silly! We headed back on Sunday, then on Monday I did some spring cleaning that I've been putting off.

Friday's drive to New Orleans was great! I finished reading The Quiet Game by Greg Iles, and Chip listened to music and drove. We left around 11:30 am and pulled into the Crescent City three short hours later.

I read about folks doing a French Quarter "oyster crawl" on the New Orleans Chowhound boards, and I decided we had to try it out. Our list of restaurants to try was ambitious... our plan was to stop in at each spot, have a drink, and try their signature oyster dish.

Luke: raw P&J Oysters
Antoine's: Oysters Rockefeller (the original)
Red Fish Grill: BBQ (basically an oyster fried Buffalo-style... with Crytal hot sauce and blue cheese dipping sauce)
Desire (in the Royal Sonesta): charbroiled

We walked into Luke right at three o'clock and got some great news from our server: from 3pm to 6pm oysters are 25 cents each and drinks are half-off! I immediately ordered a champagne cocktail and a dozen P&Js. We were both starving from having no lunch, so we decided to try a cup of their seafood gumbo, too. I love Luke, and I always recommend it to folks visiting New Orleans.
The restaurant is pretty, with a classic French bistro vibe (although it is much bigger than most bistros in Paris). We've only been for breakfast/brunch/lunch because there are so many other great dinner choices in the area. We have probably eaten there six or more times over the past few years, and the food has always been great. The service... well that is another story. Often slow, sometimes painfully slow. But this time it was perfect! Our server was attentive and friendly, and the timing of the meal was excellent.

Another round of drinks later, and we were ready for the next adventure: Antoine's.

We stopped by the hotel to change into nicer duds (Antoine's is a fancy place after all), and footed it over Canal Street, down Bourbon, to St. Louis Street. We entered the main dining room at around five o'clock, and it simply sparkled! From the brass chandeliers on the ceiling to the mirrors on the walls, down to the pearl-white floors. So pretty! We told the maitre d' we were looking for the Hermes Bar, and we were led to a beautiful bar across a small hallway from the main dining room. Our waiter was fantastic. He was quick and seemed happy to be serving us on a beautiful Friday evening. I had another champagne cocktail - a French '75 - and ordered the Oysters Rockefeller. The food came, we had more drinks, and we watched guests arrive for a wedding rehearsal dinner taking place in one of the fifteen dining rooms at Antoine's. Given that neither of us really liked the oysters, we somehow spent two hours in the bar. As night fell, we observed the ebb and flow of the bar's regulars on a gorgeous Friday night.

At this point, things get a little fuzzy :)

We decided we were done with eating for a while, and we wanted to listen to some music. We headed across the Quarter to d.b.a. where a band was just starting up. Yes, we headed there. And yes, we made it there. But no, we did not make it in any reasonable amount of time.
After four champagne cocktails in four hours, what can I say? I did NOT make an efficient navigator. Somehow we made it down Royal Street, across Esplanade Avenue, and right across Frenchman Street within 30 yards of the bar, and then kept going... We ended up on Elysian Fields a little drunk, laughing our butts off because somehow we ended up in the middle of a movie set. With period costumes. And mules and donkeys pulling old-timey Mardi Gras floats. Hilarious at the time! We walked right through the set while the director was on a ladder with a megaphone. I wish I'd have gotten a photo of that!

We had a round and enjoyed the band, then at nine we were starving again. I was craving the BBQ shrimp that I'd heard about from Mr. B's Bistro. Chip was up for anything, so we headed fifteen blocks or so back up Royal Street for dinner.

The atmosphere in Mr. B's was bright and exciting. New Orleans BBQ shrimp are served shell-on, swimming in the butter-laced BBQ sauce. When my BBQ shrimp arrived, they came with a bowl for the shells, a warm, damp towel so I could wash my hands after peeling them, and a paper bib. My waiter wasted no time tying that bib on me! When I picked up my fork and knife to cut the heads off, he looked at me really suspiciously and asked, "Do you know how to peel shrimp?" Apparently he thought I was going to try to peel all of them with my fork and knife. Once I explained that I was just taking the heads off with the knife, but I fully intended to peel them with my hands, he left me to it. And wow - those were the best shrimp I've ever had! Perfectly tender and the BBQ sauce is to die for. I sopped up every bit of sauce with the delicious french bread, then ended the meal with their bread pudding.

We didn't make it to all or most of our spots on the crawl, but we did have three excellent experiences on Friday. The oysters at Luke were fresh and juicy. At Antoine's, I didn't like the licorice flavor of the Oysters Rockefeller, but I loved the atmosphere. I know now that they add a little herbsaint (licorice/anise-flavored liquor) to the rockefeller topping, and I'm not a fan of that flavoring. Mr. B's BBQ shrimp lived up to the hype, and you can make them at home! The recipe is on their website.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Recipes from My New Orleans by John Besh

My brother-in-law and sister-in-law gave Chip and me John Besh's My New Orleans for Christmas. John Besh has many restaurants in the New Orleans area. We've been to Restaurant August two or three times, and we never miss brunch at Luke on our weekend visits to New Orleans.

Chip read My New Orleans cover to cover first, and I almost stole it away from him before he finished. As Chip was reading the cookbook, he read many of the stories and recipes from the cookbook aloud to me and would have my mouth watering every night right before bed. I probably dreamed of creole cooking for a week straight! I knew that this was going to be a cookbook I actually cooked from... unlike The French Laundry cookbook that I've ogled but have yet to try a darn recipe.

I made Besh's the Chicken and Sausage Gumbo for the NFC Championship, and it was mighty good! I left out the okra, though, because I just don’t love okra. For Chip's birthday back in October, I made Emeril's Chicken and Sausage Gumbo, and it was neat to compare the two batches. I cheated on the Besh batch because I pulled the meat from a store-bought rotisserie chicken. For the Emeril batch, I used only thigh meat. The thigh meat was better, I think, but the recipes were really similar.

For the Super Bowl, I decided to make the Shrimp, Chicken, and Andouille Jambalaya and the Mardi Gras King Cake recipes from My New Orleans. The jambalaya was really good. It was a celebration of pork: bacon, andouille, ground pork sausage, and sliced smoked sausage. We don't eat much pork in our house, so it was definitely a treat. I used crawfish tails instead of shrimp, and that added a yummy twist.

Stirring up all that porky flavor!

I have some reservations on the King Cake recipe. The recipe said the baking temperature and time should be 375F for 30 minutes. I thought the temp was a little too high, and sure enough it turned out dry and a little too brown. I should have pulled it out of the oven earlier or baked it at 350F. Also, Besh's recipe had me sift the cinnamon and nutmeg into the flour. Next time I might try to roll out the dough, shake on some cinnamon sugar, and roll it up jellyroll-style so that there are swirls of cinnamon throughout the braids. But seriously, I can't complain too much, because with a few tweaks, it will be a showstopper. Just look at this cake!

I forgot to take photos until I had already mixed the dough, kneaded for 15 minutes (!), and let it take its first rise. And from there...

Rolling out the dough for the braid.

The recipe said equal lenghts. These looked equal enough for me!

Getting ready to braid.

The braiding begins. It was so FUN!

Braided and ready for its second rise.

Second rise done. Now it is ready for the oven!

Cooling before the icing goes on.

What do you think? Happy Mardi Gras!

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Geaux Saints!

The South is exploding with pride because our Saints are in the Super Bowl! Growing up, Sundays were football days, and we always watched the Saints play. I would sit in my daddy's lap in his chair, and he would teach me all about what was going on on the field. My little brother LOVED the Saints and had a 1991 NFC West Champions t-shirt that he wore out. My high school had a "Who Dat?" cheer (insert "Arrows" for "Saints"), and it was always our favorite way to end a pep rally.

We are having a Super Bowl Party at our house, and here is the menu so far:

Guacamole (football isn't the same without it!)
Buffalo Chicken Dip (Susan says it is the Devil! Can't wait to try it!)
Shrimp, Chicken, and Andouille Jambalaya (John Besh recipe from his new book, My New Orleans. I might throw in some crawfish tails, too.)
King Cake (I'm making one from scratch, also from My New Orleans)
Peyton and the Colts may tear the Saints apart, but I'm hoping that they hang in there and play a good game. Geaux Saints!

Thursday, February 04, 2010

This is what happens when Chip has to work late...

Dirty Gin Martini.
The English Home.

Why am I reading home design magazines? Well, I got something new, and I am trying to make it feel like mine. Y'all know how that is! I'm getting inspiration from some of my favorite sources. Unfortunately, my absolute favorite source is not around anymore. Cottage Living - my inspiration during my first few years of home ownership - is no longer in print. Sad, isn't it?

My dinner, however, is not sad. It is wonderful. Its a play on a dish from Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Suppers. Whole Wheat Penne with Masses of Broccoli, Green Olives, and Pine Nuts. No kidding - that's the name of the recipe. I added some sauteed kale and a sprinkling of parmesan cheese. Yum! Next time, I think I'll add a chopped tomato, too.

Stay tuned for my new home project...

Cotton Bowl 2010

I don't know how I let an entire month go by without posting the rest of our Cotton Bowl photos. That's not good!

We stayed at the Stoneleigh hotel in Uptown Dallas, and I loved this hotel! The location was great - within walking distance to some good restaurants and bars.

We arrived Friday afternoon - New Year's Day - and we were starving, so we walked over to Nick & Sam's Grill for a late lunch. They were one of the only spots open because it was New Year's Day. The great thing about Nick & Sam's Grill is that they had all-you-can-drink mimosas. Yes, please!

The hotel was very clean and stylish, and our room was quite large. I thought the color scheme was great, too.

When we got back from lunch, I was thrilled to find a chilled bottle of Veuve Clicquot Rose in the room! I know every girl loves Clicquot, but I really love it. Before we left for lunch, Chip secretly requested that the hotel place a bottle in the room. We relaxed, watched some New Year's Day bowl games, and sipped our champagne.

We were both craving some Tex-Mex that night, so we walked over to a spot called Mattito's and had a delicious meal, then had beers at the Gingerman.

The next day was the big game! You all know that story already... Rebs won!!

Cowboy Stadium is massive.

The jumbotron is massive, too. I almost needed a wide angle lens to capture the whole thing.