Make Some Room: Where to Eat in New Orleans

I was in Katrina…Part I.  Part I being the episode where the hurricane passed over Florida and didn’t do anything–we had a couple of lightless hours, long enough for a game of Clue, and a can of Chef Boyardee.  We couldn’t believe it as we watched the monster the little hurricane would become, and what it did to the city I had always wanted to see.

Finally, a few months ago, I made my way to New Orleans.  Sorry, I’ve been keeping this story in my back pocket.  The first thing that struck me was how much damage there still was.  Having lived in Florida, I know that hurricanes can be slow things to clean up.  But it was clear that in some places, all efforts had stopped.  But in the French Quarter, where we stayed, what struck me the most is how many times I heard the words “Thank you.”  Hoteliers, restauranteurs, waiters, locals: Thank you for coming to see out city.  I had never thought of it as charity!  I was just so excited to finally arrive.  So, if I can say anything back to New Orleans, it’s thank you for one of the most gut-busting weekends I’ve ever had in my life.

I don’t know what other people go to New Orleans for.  I went for the food.  And if that’s why you’re going, then this is where you’ve got to eat.

Muffuletta

Muffuletta

The Central Grocery

My first meal–and what should have been my last from the size of it.  You can buy a half muffuletta, but Mr. English and I were like, please.  We need a whole one.  Don’t do that.  It was this huge sesame loaf, stuffed with salami, mortadella, provolone, swiss, and olive salad soaked with oil and briny capers and pickled veggies and herbs.  It was amazing, and a true testament to American enormity.  But afterwards, I felt like a Pepcid AC commercial.  I had to lie down…and eat a praline.

923 Decatur St
New Orleans, Louisiana 70116
504.523.1620

Laura’s Candies

Across from the W is this little candy shop.  The pralines, especially the creamy chocolate ones, are to die for.  They’re made with half and half, sugar, and pecans.  That’s “peecahns”.  They are like crisp, sweet fudge.  If you’re there, and you don’t need to have a praline for sentimental purposes, get the Mississippi fudge–a morass of chocolate, caramel, and pecans.

French 75 at Arnaud’s

What’s amazing in New Orleans is the gentrification of it all.  Just steps from Bourbon Street and its plastic beads and peep show posters are these ancient establishments of dinner jackets and cocktail napkins.  I had the Contessa: Boodles gin, Aperol, grapefruit juice, cranberry cordial, and an orange twist studded with three cloves.  You’re not going to find cocktails taken so seriously anywhere else.  And for Mr. English–an Abita beer, made close by.

K Paul’s

You can find Chef Paul Prudhomme’s blackening spice in every supermarket now, but this is where the original blackened fish accident happened.  Legend has it that a chef left a fillet of redfish in the skillet just a little too long–and the blackened fish shot to fame and fortune.  I had it, with vegetables, and the best mashed potatoes, and a smoky pepper butter.  You also have to get the shrimp remoulade with fried green tomatoes–so spicy and crunchy and good.  You won’t get food this good in such a warm, casual atmosphere at any other New Orleans institution!

Café du Monde Beignets
Café du Monde Beignets

Café du Monde

I had been waiting my whole life for this, mostly I think because my middle name is beignet.  Or, it should be.  You can taste the grease on them–but that’s okay.  Square and fluffy and distinctly fried, the beignets are tumbled under an avalanche of powdered sugar that you snort on everyone around you, and inevitably inhale.  It’s amazing.  There’s only two things on the menu!  Beignets and beverages.  I kept going back–don’t let the line intimidate you, it goes fast.  If you don’t want to be such a tourist, go to the window, order a bag of beignets to go, and take it down to a bench on the Mississippi.

The Water at the W French Quarter

I drink a lot of water, so when water is the show stopper, I have to say something about it.  If you want a great hotel, do check out the W in the French Quarter.  It has this very moody central courtyard that was my respite from running around and eating.  But in reception, they had the best “spa” water: steeped with grapes, strawberries, citrus, and fresh mint.

Bayona

This is a cheffy darling, I gather.  Very gourmet.  It’s a lovely, sophisticated little establishment.  I had eggplant caviar and tapenade.  Caesar salad.  Perfect pink lamb with red wine sauce and goat cheese.  And a lemon lavender semifreddo.  It’s very perfect food, but not red-beans-and-rice.  If you need a respite from all the gumbo, this is the place to go for something a little grown up.

Jambalaya at the New Orleans School of Cooking
Jambalaya at the New Orleans School of Cooking

New Orleans School of Cooking

Go and take Sandra’s class.  You get beer, biscuits, tea, and Miss Sandra teaches you to make a real roux, gumbo, jambalaya, and pralines.  She explains all about Emeril’s holy trinity of onion, celery, and green peppers–but did you know garlic is the pope?  That’s what Sandra will teach you.  You’ll leave stuffed with equal amounts of fat, personality, and flavor–plus their gourmet store is the perfect place to stock up on beignet mix, blackening spices, and the works.

Galatoire’s

One of my best friends from Le Cordon Bleu is from Louisiana, and he now works in New Orleans.  He told me about Galatoire’s, which is one of the dinner jacket and cocktail napkin places I was mentioning earlier.  I was the youngest person there by a generation, but it was so full of life, and history, it this big, cacophonous room, that I felt like the old fogey.  The best thing about New Orleans is how cheap expensive food is–all I ate at that meal was oysters, crabs, and champagne, and while it’s not a cheap restaurant, I spent about what a chicken would have cost me out in New York.

Po' Boy

Fried Shrimp and Oyster Po' Boy

Po’ Boys

The place I went to for a po’ boy wasn’t the place in New Orleans, so I’m not going to both listing it.  The point is, just drop into any ol’ place and get one.  I could not believe that I got a footlong baguette stuffed with fried oysters and fried shrimp, about 20 or 30 of each, with mayo, lettuce, pickles, and half a bottle of Crystal hot sauce for less than $10.  It was voodoo magic.

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Win a FREE Copy of Gwyneth Paltrow’s New Cookbook: My Father’s Daughter

My Father's Daughter

My Father's Daughter

I was just having a look around Gwyneth Paltrow’s new cookbook, and I love it.  I knew I would love it because I’ve always loved her, from my first date (Shakespeare in Love) to Goop to Glee.  She gave Cee Lo a run for his money.  But as for the book, really the book, I love that the recipes are unpretentious and without gimmick–they just look like good food that she makes at home in London.  Fish tacos.  Chinese duck.  Chicken and dumplings.  And I love the balance–there’s a “no-fry” French fry recipe, and a deep fried French fry recipe.  There’s Gruyère, but also Vegenaise (my mother would LOVE her).  There’s no guilty food or healthy food–just lovely food made good for you at your discretion.

But more than that, I actually love the writing of it.  Each recipe is forwarded by a little blurb about her family, or her memory of what inspired the dish, or what friend or relative first served it up, and it is all very raw and honest and real, with her casual bantering inflection bubbling up through the prose.  When she writes of her father’s pancakes that the recipe “is so truthful to his pancakes that it’s almost hard for me to eat them, I keep expecting him to walk into the kitchen,” my throat caught.  Because that is what food is to me, and all of us.  The little memory, through tastes and smells and sights, that we can recreate from our happy past, when sometimes not all the parts of that past are still here.

I am if nothing else, like Gwyneth, my father’s daughter.  Our birthdays are days apart.  We are the same size.  We think the same things, like the same things, cry at the same things.  We are both weepers!  And great seafood aficionados.  And New Yorkers.  We like music and food.  We share these things, and talk about them, all the time.  It is from that love, that I know many daughters have, that made Gwyneth’s book so palpably poignant, because I get it.  My father taught me to cook too, even though he is a gourmand who can’t boil water.  We stuck a fatty piece of steak under the broiler 25 years ago, and it ignited like the great fire of a small New York kitchen, and we’ve never cooked together since.  But we have dined together extensively, all over the world, and we talk about where we’re going for dinner over the New York Times crossword puzzle at breakfast.  And the hours in front of the Food Network that we have both logged–well, I think it’s safe to say my father is the reason you are reading this.  I think his equivalent to Bruce Paltrow’s perfect pancakes is the great New York Eggplant Parmigiana–that dish will forever mean my dad to me.

I have one copy of this truly beautiful and heartfelt book to give away to one happy reader.  Leave a comment about the one thing your dad taught you to make, or to eat, or to love, and I will choose at random among the comments.  I can’t wait to hear all your stories.

This giveaway has closed and the winner has been contacted.  Thank you so much for all your comments.  They are wonderful!

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So Long Sushi: The Merits of Hot Japanese Food

Haru

Haru, NYC

Of course, lately, we have all been thinking of Japan.  And though it might seem gauche to say so, those thoughts have taken me more frequently than usual to my favorite Japanese restaurant.  Normally, it’s always the same thing.  King Crab Gyoza, and a Golden Passion Roll, with charred white tuna and yuzu tobiko.  But I had been eating too much of it.  Sushi is like teenage love.  It’s one of those things you obsess over for weeks, and then eat and eat and then you just need a break.  I needed a break, but I found myself, again, sitting in my favorite Japanese place.

That’s when Mr. English suggested, let’s get udon.  My father and I looked at him with utter disbelief.  No one had overthrown the imperialist reign of the King Crab Dumplings and Golden Passion Roll in years…years.  ”I’m in.”

I ordered the tempura udon.  A cauldron of broth emerged from the kitchen, full of these thick, white noodles, soft and yet chewy.  Steamed spinach floated like a raft above it all.  The broth was one of those things I know it would be impossible for me to ever recreate.  So savory, and yet slightly sweet.  Brown with I have no idea what.  Clear, and light and luscious.  On the side were battered prawns and squash and broccoli, that I dunked into the soup.  It was just so vitally good.

I usually have Japanese food because I want sushi.  And I want sushi because I want to be healthy and virtuous.  I loved the feeling of being in a Japanese restaurant just to eat Japanese, something I could never recreate at home, and something that wasn’t particularly overwhelmingly great for me.  Now I can’t stop ordering udon.  I hope this won’t lead to a premature breaking off of another culinary puppy love, but I just can’t stop myself.  So, this is just a little PSA to say, next time you’re ordering sushi, look at the rest of the menu.  Japan has a lot of great stuff going on.

For great, and I mean really great, udon or soba in NYC,

check out Haru.


TO DONATE TO THE RED CROSS FOR EARTHQUAKE AND TSUNAMI RELIEF IN JAPAN, CLICK HERE.

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French in a Flash: Tapenade-Baked Chicken

RECIPE: Tapenade-Baked Chicken
Tapenade Chicken

Tapenade Chicken

Get the whole story at Serious Eats.

Is it wrong to love a shortcut?  I’ve been busy lately, but when it comes to writing my columns, I want to bring the best to my readers.  But then I thought, I bet they’re busy too.

I have become obsessed with this one shortcut I started using about a week or so ago: using spreads or sauces that I can buy, and repurposing them as cooking agents.  Last week, I baked fish in pesto.  And this week, it’s chicken in tapenade.

Think of chicken like a piece of bread.  Who doesn’t love bread with butter or olive oil?  It’s delicious, of course.  But, it’s also simple, and frankly, it feels like a starter.  But when you slather your bread with tapenade, full of olives, anchovies, garlic, and herbs, eating becomes exciting, full of flavor, different.  It becomes a meal.

Tapenade, like pesto, is blended together with olive oil, so in essence, it’s just a highly flavored cooking medium.  Smother chicken in it, and already the meat is coated with olive oil, but also crusted in olives and herbs.  Just bake it in the oven, and just like that, you’ve created something really different, without having to stock your pantry or, frankly, cook.  It just cooked itself.

French food is, I can assure you, at times very labor intensive.  That is the artistry of the cuisine.  But the base flavors of the country are so beloved and developed, that you can skip the labor, and just make use of the best part: how delicious it is.  Dinner in Provence tonight?  And in less time than it takes to book a flight on AirFrance.com?  I’m all for that.

Tapenade-Baked Chicken
serves 2 to 4

Tapenade ChickenINGREDIENTS

  • 4 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly cracked black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon dried herbes de Provence
  • 4 teaspoons store-bought or homemade black olive tapenade

PROCEDURE

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.  Wash the chicken, and dry on paper towel.  Season with salt, pepper, and herbes de Provence.  Rub each piece of chicken, on all sides, with 1 teaspoon tapenade.  Place all 4 thighs, skin-side-up, on a foil-lined, rimmed baking sheet.  Roast until the inside of the chicken reaches a temperature of 165 degrees F, about 25 minutes.

 

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Franglais: The Roquefort Wedge

RECIPE: The Roquefort Wedge
The Roquefort Wedge

The Roquefort Wedge

Get the whole story on The Huffington Post.

If it’s wrong to expound on the beauty and perfection that is the blue cheese wedge, then I’m sorry.  I just don’t care.  To me, it is the snow-capped Everest of salads.  It might even be holy.

Salads can be grueling.  You really wanted a burger, but here you are, with a pile of foliage, and a little pot of fat-free Italian on the side, counting calories.  It is misery itself.  Yes, a halo spins around you head, and your middle names are virtue and penance, but after it all, you know you’re binging at 3 o’clock.

But the Blue Cheese Wedge.  It is the least PC of all salads.  A huge block of the only nutritionally maligned lettuce ever to exist, topped with an avalanche of cheese and creaminess, scattered with, can you believe it, bacon.  What could be more Mad Men-kitsch?  What could be more naughtily on the verge of nice?  It is an unhealthy salad—the only salad you would ever order out of love.

I insist on one a week.

I love that I have to crack it open with a steak knife, and that the last bite makes me feel like a culinary Bear Grylls at the heights of Himalayas.  I could have accomplished nothing else that day; but I at an entire Blue Cheese Wedge.  I love how the lettuce crunches to water in by mouth, and how the blue cheese fills my nose with that pungent stench that is somehow so utterly alluring.  I love it, pure and simple.

Now imagine replacing the nameless blue cheese with one of the greatest blues to come out of the greatest cheese country in the world: Roquefort, from France.  Sharp, almost numbing in its spice, it moves you from Everest to the Alps.  Cheese in French salads is rarely so adulterated as to be converted to a dressing, but try it before you knock it.  Sometimes, it tastes good to be a bit naughty.

The Roquefort Wedge
serves 4

The Roquefort WedgeINGREDIENTS

  • 3 ounces room temperature Roquefort cheese
  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons half and half
  • 1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
  • Freshly cracked black pepper
  • 1 small head iceberg lettuce, cut into 4 wedges, with the core removed
  • 1/4 cup roughly chopped walnuts

PROCEDURE

In a medium bowl, whisk together the Roquefort, mayonnaise, half and half, vinegar, and pepper.  Leave some lumps.  Place each wedge on a plate, and pour the sauce over the top.  Top with walnuts, extra pepper, and some additional crumbled Roquefort (optional).

 

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Working Girl Dinners: Spicy Penne with Instantaneous Meatballs

RECIPE: Spicy Penne with Instantaneous Meatballs
Spicy Penne with Meatballs

Spicy Penne with Meatballs

Meatballs are so romantic.  I’ve been in love with them ever since I saw Tramp nudge one over to Lady across the spaghetti supper.  I think I’ve been dreaming of re-enacting that scene, sans whiskers and wet noses (or with, who am I kidding?), since I was five (note to Mr. English).

Yes, meatballs are awesome, but they are also complicated to make and a process to perfect.  The best have three types of meat, separately cooked flavorings, and bread soaked in milk.  Italian grandmothers make meatballs on Sundays–even they don’t have time the rest of the week!  I’m guessing you don’t either.

Lady Tramp Spaghetti

So, Mr. English and I kind of look exactly like them. Is that wrong?

I have a secret to making instantaneous meatballs: sausage.  I just buy it, and my meatballs are pretty much done.  Roll the sausage meat into balls between your hands, put them in the oven, and that’s it.  They already taste like garlic and fennel and herbs and spices, and you didn’t have to do anything.  Buy turkey (because it’s healthy) or pork (because it’s delicious), and toss them with multigrain penne, tongue-burning spicy sauce, and sweet peppers and onions.  I’ll take care of the recipe.  But finding a checked tablecloth, candlelight, accordionist, and Tramp (man or dog) are all up to you.

Spicy Penne with Instantaneous Meatballs
serves 4

Spicy Penne with MeatballsINGREDIENTS

  • 1 pound Italian sausage (pork or turkey, not spicy)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 orange, red, or yellow bell pepper, thinly sliced in strips
  • 1 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced in half-moons
  • 1 jar arrabiata sauce (recommended: Mario Batali)
  • 1 box multigrain penne pasta (recommended: Barilla Plus)
  • Grated Parmesan cheese (optional!)
  • Freshly chopped flat-leaf parsley (optional!)
  • Salt & Pepper

PROCEDURE

Bring a large pot of water to boil, covered, over high heat.  Preheat the oven to 425°F.

Make the meatballs from the sausage.  Pull little chunks of meat out of the casing from one end of a link of sausage.  Roll it into a ball, and place it on a parchment-lined baking sheet.  Where I buy my sausage, I get 4 ¼-pound links, and each link yields 5 meatballs.  Repeat until all the sausage meat is used.  Discard the casings.  If using turkey sausage, spray the tops of the meatballs with cooking spray.  Bake for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in sauté pan over medium-low heat until the oil loosens up in the pan, spreads out, and starts to shimmer.  Add the peppers and onions to the pot.  It should sizzle.  Season the veggies with salt and pepper, and stir often for 15 minutes.  The veggies will the soft, and a little golden around the edges.  Add the jar of arrabiata sauce to the vegetables, and cover.

At this point, the water should be boiling, and the sausage meatballs should have been in the oven for 20 minutes.  Salt the boiling water, and add the pasta.  Stir once, and cook according to package instructions until al dente.  Immediately add the sausage meatballs carefully into the simmering sauce and veggie mixture, make sure the meatballs are submerged, and cover.  Cook on low until the pasta is done.

Drain the pasta well, and add it back to its big pot.  Pour the sauce, veggies, and meatballs over the pasta and stir gently until everything is tossed together.  Top with Parmesan, and maybe some parsley, and you’re in business!

TIPS

If you don’t want this dish to be really spicy, use a jar of marinara sauce instead of arrabiata sauce, and add a pinch of crushed red pepper.

If you don't want to cut up anything, just leave the veggies out!

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Categories: 30 Minutes, Cheap, Easy, Eat, Main Courses, Meat, Poultry, Recipes, Series, Watch, Working Girl Dinners
 

VIDEO: How to Make Pesto Sauce

RECIPE: Homemade Pesto
Pesto

Pesto

My mom always made the best pesto sauce.  Growing up in New York, we would spend these long, leafy summers in Woodstock, in a house on a big mountain.  Everything about the place, the whole town, was just summer.  Buzzing bees.  Big swimming pools with decks that gave you splinters in your feet.  Black raspberry ice cream cones.  And the best farmstand ever.  I would buy warm, seedy watermelon juices there every day, and my mom would buy bunches of basil.  What is better than basil in the summer?  She would make homemade pesto sauce, full of nuts and cheese, and toss it with pillows of ricotta-stuffed ravioli.  We would eat on the deck of the wood-sided house as the hot sun sank down.  With memories like that, I’m not surprised pesto is still one of my favorite foods.

Reader and friend Jenn asked for a video on how to make pesto.  Great request.  It’s one of those things that’s so easy; after someone has shown you how to make it once, you’ll make it a million times.  Here’s my easy pesto rule-of-three: 3 cups of basil, 3 tablespoons olive oil, 3 tablespoons pine nuts, 1/3 cup grated Parmesan, and 1 clove of garlic.  Blend it in a food processor, and you have perfect pesto.

If you want a good pesto pasta, boil up some fusilli.  Toss it with the pesto, and add some of the pasta cooking water to loosen up the pesto around the pasta.  But don’t stop there.  Toss some gnocchi with pesto and a pat of butter and extra Parm.  Use this pesto in last week’s Working Girl Dinner, and roast fish or shrimp or scallops in pesto sauce.  Toss pesto into a pot of steaming mussels.  That’s good.  Or spoon a dollop over grilled steak.  Or, one of my college favorites, mix the pesto with a touch of mayo, spoon onto whole wheat toast, and sandwich sliced tomato.

Watch to learn how easy it is to make homemade pesto!

Need a food processor to make your pesto?  Click here to buy the one I like.

Homemade Pesto

PestoINGREDIENTS

  • 3 tablespoons pine nuts
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 3 cups fresh basil leaves, washed and spun dry
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • Salt & Pepper

PROCEDURE

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Scatter the nuts in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet, and toast 5 to 10 minutes, until you can smell the nuts in the oven, and they have turned golden brown.  Let them come to room temperature before you use them!

Put the nuts, garlic, and basil in the food processor.  Whiz them up until they are finely chopped.  Add the olive oil, and season with salt and pepper.  Whiz until smooth.  Add in the cheese, and run the machine one final time to combine everything.

TIPS

To save money, use chopped walnuts instead of pine nuts, and substitute spinach for half the basil.

 

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Categories: 15 Minutes, Bread & Butter, Dips, Spreads, Preserves, Easy, Eat, Recipes, Sides, Starches, Vegetarian, Watch