Sunday, December 21, 2008

    8 of the Best Slices I Consumed in 2008 traditional King Cake in all its sprinkled, iced glory.)

    1. My last meal as a New Yorker: As the terrific friends who I met and grew with during my years in New York came in from the January cold to John's Pizzeria, my favorite pizza shop, the waiter continued to add extra chairs to our table. Though many goodbyes were said that night, amidst the bittersweetness a happy discovery was made, and a new tradition begun: the meatball and garlic pizza. I was always a toppings purist when it came to eating at John's, but a smart foodie friend asked the waiter what he recommended, so we ordered one pie with meatballs and garlic. And then another. And maybe a third. In spite of the cold, as was always my tradition, the pizza was followed by a stop next door at Cones for gelato.

    2-3. First Parkway Bakery po-boy, and a slice of King Cake: Less than two days after my John's goodbye dinner, Jon picked me up at Louis Armstrong airport and whisked me to Parkway for a po-boy. I washed the warm, well-fried oyster, mayo, lettuce, and tomato sandwich down with root beer, and another new tradition, of root beer with po-boys, was formed. I've since discovered that root beer is very popular in New Orleans, which makes the city even more popular with me, as it's always been my favorite soda.

    Next we went to a thrift store, where I found a 70s-style outfit to wear later that night to a friend's Mardi Gras-themed wedding. After the traditional church ceremony, everyone changed into costumes, and we danced to Iko Iko and did the Second Line, beads swinging, white napkins waving. From the buffet, I ate pieces of sweet, sticky, glistening King Cake, which is a dessert associated with New Orleans, mostly during Mardi Gras. During the years that I worked for the travel magazine, the New Orleans Tourism Bureau sent copious King Cakes each Mardi Gras season. Of all my co-workers, I was the one who especially liked them, which I'll take to be one of the signs that I was meant to live in New Orleans one day (and/or that I have a very sweet tooth).

    4. My first Sazerac: Whoa, Nelly. All I need is one, and I'm seeing double. Two, and I might be on the floor. Come to think of it, I should probably only drink two of these whiskey, bitters and anise liquor-heavy drinks per year. This year, my first was at La Petite Grocery, and my second was at The Columns. It's definitely time to start thinking about where to imbibe my first Sazerac of 2009.

    5. Beef Jerky on my wedding day: On my wedding day, the starving bride-to-be, plus a bag of buffalo beef jerky equaled an energized bride, and a new appreciation for canine teeth. I'm sure I looked quite odd chomping on the jerky in my full wedding hair and makeup at the salon while waiting for my Maid of Honor's hair to set!

    6. Pesto from my garden: In 2008, I wasn't able to make a final summer pesto from my basil garden due to the evacuation for Hurricane Gustav, but that's not going to stop me from trying again. This spring, I'm going to grow a garden on my back patio and plant more varieties of herbs, along with tomatoes, peppers, and flowers. Ooohhh, maybe edible flowers...

    7. Greek Shrimp (click here for recipe): This was Jon's favorite meal I made in 2008, though my recent dinners of Macaroni and Cheese and Roasted Salmon with Yams, Swiss Chard, Cabbage, and Red Wine Sauce (from Bon Appetit as well) were similarly savored. I first made the shrimp to celebrate a friend's birthday at our house, and then I made it again a few weeks later when my Dad visited. The dish is savory yet sweet and gives you that warm, cozy, everything's-gonna-be-alright feeling.

    8. Pepitas: It's so simple: heat up a pan with olive oil, throw in your green, hulled pumpkin seeds (pepitas), salt and pepper them, and stir frequently until they start to pop. It's up to you how dark you want them, and also how you serve them. Ground to become pumpkin seed pesto? In a salad? As a snack, maybe sprinkled with curry powder? They're simple, healthy, tasty, and my new favorite ingredient.

    (Salted pepitas on the left, curried on the right.)

    Recipe: Greek-Baked Shrimp

    One of my favorite meals of the year. Please go to this link for the recipe, but read below for my input.

    ~Prior to making this recipe, I'd rarely cooked shrimp. I have no problem seeing or tasting any kind of food in a restaurant, but with meat, fish, and especially shellfish, which I love so much, I've previously been scared I'd do something wrong and turn myself off it, like I did with hamburgers in 5th grade and meat altogether during my early 20s. Now that I've become a better cook, I have fewer qualms, especially after the fabulous result from this shrimp!

    Note: I cut back on the onion and garlic some, and seasoned a little more. I also sprinkled some Parmesan with the feta as we already had it at home. I substituted rosemary for dill (which I don't care for) once, and skipped it altogether the next time. When I did use the rosemary, I baked it right in. I also topped with whole wheat Panko crumbs, to give it a little more texture. If you don't eat shrimp, the dish would be delicious with chicken, or even portobello mushrooms.

    Both times, I've served it with cous-cous that I added toasted pine nuts to (oops, burnt the first batch, those things go from raw to burnt in no time!).

    Once, I made a homemade pumpkin puree salad dressing (puree, olive oil, salt, pepper, balsamic), for a chopped salad with shaved pear, feta, and pomegranate seeds. The second time, I made a salad that included creamed corn, freshly shredded carrots, diced tomato, avocado and a light store-bought vinaigrette. There will definitely be a next time.

    Thursday, December 18, 2008


    I submitted this entry to one of my favorite food blogs, Not Eating Out in New York, which was seeking a 27th reason for why "not to eat out in New York." Another was chosen, so I thought I'd share mine here:

    During the eight years I lived in New York, my fridge was a vessel for a few condiments, a Brita pitcher, some Whole Foods containers, and vodka. I didn't even keep milk for coffee. I could blame not making coffee at home on lack of counter space, but instead I'll admit it was due to what I thought was the “convenience” of the coffee shop around the corner. On weekends my routine went something like: wake up, put long coat over pajamas, run down four flights of stairs, walk the block to and fro, run up the four flights of stairs, drop coat, and voila, back to bed with my coffee, which had usually leaked on my hand and coat by then.

    Then about a year ago, I got married and moved to New Orleans. Buried in that sentence are three good reasons for not eating out: first, thanks to our wedding registry, I now own the right pots, pans, and other accouterments that make eating at home easier. Granted, I could’ve acquired some of these things on my own, but I spent the money on eating out instead.

    Second, I live in a house that's much larger than my former East Village 'squat,' and though I still don't have enough counter space, I do make my coffee at home every day (Cafe du Monde's chicory of course), sometimes twice a day. Now the daily routine goes something like: set up automatic function on coffee maker the night before, wake up to aroma of brewing coffee, stumble toward the kitchen in mismatched or scanty sleep gear, extract milk from fridge, pour, shuffle to bed/couch/kitchen table/front porch. Repeat.

    And, I've been known to turn the top of the trashcan, washer, dryer, or even the top of the coffee maker, into those extra inches of necessary counter space.

    Third, and most important, so many of the restaurants here serve fabulous, traditional New Orleans food, aka the kind of food that makes you gain weight just by looking at it. Not eating out has become a 6 out of 7 night necessity in order not to gain the "New Orleans 15," which is easily acquired when you move from a walk-to-survive city to a driving one. By not eating out, I can better control what I eat and make sure I put enough vegetables, whole grains and lean protein (not just fried protein!) into my body, to make up for all the po-boys, Muffalettas, and beignets I eat as part of the new New Orleanian initiation rites (who am I kidding, I’m not so new here anymore!).

    I’ll admit, however, that often after one of those super-healthy, cooked from scratch meals, I take a leisurely walk over to the local ice cream shop and get a scoop of Red Velvet or Chocolate Chicory Caramel ice cream. Maybe for my one –year wedding anniversary, I'll request an ice cream maker.

    Sunday, December 14, 2008

    The Last of the Thanksgiving Turkey

    This year Whole Foods made a happy mistake and gave us double the amount of turkey breast we ordered for our Faux Thanksgiving. After turning it into lunch sandwiches and a curried turkey casserole dinner, I froze the rest until today.

    Then I baked it a little more, trimmed and chopped it, and made a Pink Lady apple, mayonnaise, spicy mustard, and salt and pepper turkey salad.

    Soon as the turkey salad topped greens and turkey sandwiches we'll make from that are gone, I'll be off the turkey for a long, long, long time...I'm considering duck, quail, ham, or even chicken for next year!

    Hand model: JAL ;)

    Sunday, December 07, 2008

    These Are The Things That Make Me Happy Now

    Voila, more kitchen space!

    A New Kind of Comfort Food

    When I lived in New York and was overcome by a particular food craving, I knew exactly how to fill it. Chocolate: Black sesame crusted mochi wrapper filled with hot liquid Callebaut chocolate at Rickshaw Dumpling Bar; Pizza: John's on Bleecker -- no toppings necessary, or the braised lamb and roasted lemon pizza at Waldy's; Skirt Steak: Jane; Indian Street Food: Bread; Comfort Food: Mama's Food Shop.

    These days, I've taken to serving my cravings the old fashioned way (new-fangled, rather, for me): first the grocery, then the kitchen! Yesterday I was in extreme need of comfort food, so I shopped for and made a mac n' cheese recipe I'd recently torn out of a magazine. I used to subscribe to food magazines as a way to learn about food. Now I also subscribe for dinner!

    Mac and Two Cheeses With Caramelized Shallots
    (Click on each photo for a short caption)

    -3 tablespoons butter plus more for baking dish

    -About 6 sliced "cloves" of shallots [Depends on how much crispy sweet tartness you want on top of your casserole; surprisingly, I did indeed have to wear my onion goggles for chopping the shallots!]

    oz small elbow macaroni (2 cups) [I added more than it called for]

    1 1/4 cups half and half [I substituted whole milk; next time I'll do 1/2 whole and 1/2 skim]

    -2 1/2 teaspoons hot sauce (such as Cholula) [I love Cholula so I added extra]

    cups (packed) coarsely grated extra-sharp cheddar cheese (about 8 ounces) [My grocery store didn't have low-fat cheese, otherwise I would've substituted it to make this fatty recipe a little less so]

    -1 1/2
    tablespoons all purpose flour

    -2/3 cup crumbled soft fresh goat cheese [I bought a tube as it was less money than the pre-crumbled, then crumbled it ahead of time into a small bowl]

    Jennifer's Extra Ingredients
    The tomatoes and spinach enrich the recipe a bit
    -1-2 pints cherry tomatoes
    -1-2 cloves garlic (or you could use shallots, or both)
    -A few handfuls of uncooked fresh spinach

    -Preheat oven to 400°F.

    -Recently, to finish a pint of aging cherry tomatoes, I thinly sliced and oven-roasted them with olive oil and garlic, so that they were crispy, tiny, and almost chip-like. To add additional flavor, texture, and lycopene, I decided to do something similar for the mac n' cheese. I cut the tomatoes in half, chopped some garlic and a little bit of shallot, added them to a baking dish with ample olive oil, popped them in the oven, and set the timer for an hour. I didn't cut them as thinly as last time (or maybe these were just plumper tomatoes), so they were still a little juicy when I took them out of the oven, which worked great since they were soon to go back in, mixed with the mac n' cheese. Note: By the time the tomatoes were done baking, everything else was prepped and the kitchen was clean, so it didn't add that much time.

    -Butter 11x7x2-inch glass baking dish. Melt 3 tablespoons butter in heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Add shallots; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cover and cook 5 minutes, stirring often. Reduce heat to medium. Cook, covered, until shallots are deep brown, stirring often, about 6 minutes.

    -Meanwhile, cook macaroni in large saucepan of boiling salted water until just tender but still firm to bite, stirring occasionally; drain well. Reserve pan. [I transferred the macaroni to a bowl and coated them with a little olive oil, salt, pepper, and Cholula after they were well drained]

    -Bring half and half [or whatever milk you prefer] and hot sauce to simmer in same saucepan over medium heat. Toss cheddar cheese and flour in medium bowl to coat; add to half and half mixture. Whisk until sauce is smooth and just returns to simmer, about 2 minutes. Mix in pasta. Season with salt and pepper.

    -Spread pasta mixture in prepared dish. [I spread a thin layer of the cheese-covered macaroni, then added a medium-sized layer of spinach. Next I mixed the tomatoes with the rest of the macaroni and added it. I purposefully didn't add the tomatoes into the first layer of macaroni because I knew they'd get stuck to the bottom of the pan]

    -Top with shallots, then goat cheese. Sprinkle with pepper. Bake until heated through, about 15 minutes. [I baked for about 25 minutes total to make it crispier -- the extra water from the spinach and tomatoes likely made that necessary]

    This recipe turned out to be tantalizing, heartwarming, and sexy. It exceeded my expectations and helped get me through a crappy day. I can't wait to eat the leftovers (there aren't many) for lunch.