Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Morocco, Closer than Paris and a Lot More Exotic

To get a good photograph of Casablanca's Mosque Hassan II took a lot of backing up and avoiding the crowds of international tourists who had come to visit one of the world's largest mosques.
The building is not only about size, but details. The mosque invites visitors to appreciate the scale of nature and the intricacies of life as represented by the exquisite metal and tile work. As if it were the land's sentinel protecting man from the violence of the world, the Mosque stands on the edge of the North African continent, on the edge of a palisade overlooking the turbulent Atlantic Ocean.
A trip to Morocco often begins in Casablanca and frequently tour guides make the Mosque one of the first stops. After the majesty of the Mosque, we traveled north-east toward Fez, stopping in Mouly Idriss, a historically important hill city where we had lunch at Restaurant Alaambra with an open air-patio and grill.
The Mosque and Restaurant Alaambra were two good tent poles for our Moroccan trip. The spiritual and sublime mixed with the very human scale of every day life.

Visit a souk in Fez, Marrakech or seaside Essaouira and life tumbles out. Freshly butchered sheep, goats and cattle hang in the open air. Rabbits, pigeons and chickens sit quietly in wire cages waiting to be selected and turned into the family dinner. As a former French colony, bi-lingual Morocco has as many excellent bakeries selling croissants as Arabic bread.
A press trip to Morocco for New York Daily News circumnavigated the country, showing us the coastal cities of Casablanca and Essaouira, inland to traditional Fez, the Roman ruins of Volubilis, cosmopolitan Marrakech and relaxed Imlil in the High Atlas Mountains.

The article appeared Sunday in the print edtion and online: Former French colony of Morocco has much to recommend: stable government, good roads, beautiful architecture, exotic locales

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Before and After Thanksgiving: Turkey Liver Pate Appetizer and Turkey Stock

The best Thanksgiving appetizers are ones that are light, more about flavor than satisfying hunger.

Cheese, olives, vegetable crudite and pickles are an easy way to anticipate the meal while everyone is getting settled and beverages are being served.

Years ago I discovered turkey liver pate when I was stumped by what to do with that very large turkey liver inside the turkey. Ever since, I have happily served the pate as an appetizer with crackers or thin slices of fresh Italian bread.

This year, having bought beets to make a Thanksgiving beet salad, the beet greens were a healthy substitute for Italian parsley. The sweetness of the greens are a perfect compliment to the richness of the liver.

The other part of Thanksgiving that is important to me is the turkey stock that I start making while dinner is still in progress.

Everyone has their favorite after Thanksgiving left-over sandwich. For me, nothing is better than the turkey stew with dumplings made with the thick stock prepared from the Thanksgiving turkey.

Many people throw out the turkey carcass because it looks gross. But this ugly duckling (excuse the shifting metaphor) turns into a beautiful swan of a soup.

Before Thanksgiving dinner begins, the stock pot is on the stove, even as the turkey is finishing roasting in the oven. After the turkey is carved, instead of leaving the unsightly mess of bones on the cutting board, all of it goes into the stock pot, even the little bits of stuffing.

By the time the last guest says goodbye, the stock is ready to be strained, the bones picked clean of meat for soup. Refrigerated and then frozen, the stock continues the pleasures of Thanksgiving into winter.

Turkey Liver Pate

Serves 10

Ingredients

1 turkey liver, washed, cut into quarter sized pieces
1 cup shiitake mushrooms, washed, stem trimmed, thin sliced
1 piece of bacon, finely chopped
2 eggs, hard boiled, peeled, quartered
4 cups beet greens, stems and leaves washed to remove the grit, finely chopped OR 1 cup Italian parsley, washed, leaves and stems finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, ends trimmed, papers removed, finely chopped
4 tablespoons olive oil
Sea salt and black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne (optional)

Directions

Saute together the garlic, onions and beet greens or Italian parsley with 1 tablespoon olive oil until lightly browned. Push the caramelized vegetables to one side of the pan. Add another tablespoon olive oil to the pan. Sauté the liver pieces until lightly browned. Do not overcook the liver. I only needs to be seared.

Use a rubber spatula to move the liver and sautéed vegetables into a food processor. Add 2 tablespoons and season with cayenne (optional), sea salt and pepper. Pulse until smooth. Taste and adjust with more salt and pepper and olive oil.

Refrigerate in a covered container.  Before serving, allow the pate to come to room temperature. Serve with crackers, thin slices of bread or lightly toasted bread.

Turkey Stock

Serves 10

Ingredients

Bones and carcass of turkey

Directions

Place all the bones and the carcass of the turkey into a large stock pot. Cover with water and lightly cover.

Simmer 1 hour. Strain the bones. Place the stock into covered containers and refrigerate. The stock will keep in the refrigerator for several days and can be frozen for several months.

Friday, November 16, 2012

80+Thanksgiving Recipes

For those of you who are subscribers to Men Who Like to Cook, my last post--It Takes A Village (of Bloggers) to Get Thanksgiving on the Table--has 80+ recipes from Food Bloggers, Los Angeles.
Unfortunately, the email that notified you about that new post did not carry with it the links to those recipes.

Please click on this link, which will take you to the web site where you find an amazing collection of recipes for appetizers, soups, muffins, side dishes, entrees and desserts. All perfect for Thanksgiving. All tested in the kitchens of Food Bloggers, Los Angeles.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

It Takes a Village (of Bloggers) to Get Thanksgiving on the Table

To feed a large number of people takes planning, lists and help. Lots of help.

Happily, Thanksgiving is one of those holidays when pot-luck is very much a part of the celebration.

When the door bell rings, you'll greet friends and family bearing gifts of appetizers, side dishes and desserts. Many of those recipes are the result of years and, in some cases, generations of kitchen-tested, holiday cooking.

We have a cousin who brings her signature pumpkin pie. Another cousin comes from San Francisco carrying his ice cream maker in the trunk of his car so he can prepare fresh ice cream that he tops with his home made hot fudge sauce.

I make an apple pie with crystalized ginger in the crust. Besides the roast turkey, my wife cooks her corn bread stuffing with shiitake mushrooms, dried apricots and Italian sausage.

A helping hand
A few weeks ago, the members of Food Bloggers, Los Angeles (FBLA) met in an Ocean Park member's home to share Thanksgiving recipes.

Belonging to a group of food bloggers has many advantages, not the least of which is many more experienced hands and great minds are brought to bear on the question of how to prepare seasonal vegetables (end of summer tomatoes was one meeting's topic) and holiday favorites (pumpkin for side dishes and desserts).
At the last meeting, the topic, appropriately, was Thanksgiving.  When food bloggers gather, they don't just talk about their dishes, they bring them to share.
I contributed Moroccan preserved vegetables and chermoula, perfect to accompany a roast turkey, which, unfortunately, did not make an appearance for this meal. My bad.

The dining room table filled with appetizers, side dishes, a bowl of cranberry relish, a basket of freshly baked rolls, biscuits, half a dozen cakes, nut bars and pies.
As you can see, besides learning new recipes, the fun of such gatherings is socializing and eating. But, before the biscuits are eaten and the cake is cut, every dish has to be photographed. Because to a food blogger, there can be no eating until there has been much photo-taking.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Election Eve Munchies

I want the election to be over. I'm tired of partisanship, attack ads and endless news cycles of pontificating pundits.
I want the election to be over as long as my candidates and propositions win. That's what I meant to say.

If my side needs more time to win the day, so be it. Take all the time you need.

Skin in the game
Every election cycle feels special. The stakes are always high. The choices game changing. The amount of campaign money spent on elections stupefyingly large.

If you are a conservative, you are convinced the moral fabric of the country is on the line. Our economic future is at risk. 

If you are a liberal, you have seen the Ryan budget and the writing is on the wall for all the Progressive advances since Teddy Roosevelt. If you care about social inequality and women's rights, you are bewildered by the seemingly unending attacks that come from Republican candidates.

On Election Night this Tuesday, given the number of key battle ground states and the voting difficulties created by super storm Sandy, conclusive results might not be forthcoming until late in the evening or early morning.

What you're going to eat on Election Night might not be the first thing on your mind, but after you've finished working the phone banks and you've driven the last person to the polls before they close, it's time to head to a TV at home or a friend's and be prepared for the long haul.

If you don't want to cook, have a collection of take-out menus available. That way you are only a phone call, your credit card and 45 minutes away from a table full of pizza, stir fried green beans with beef and salads with seasonal greens and homemade croutons.

On the other hand, if you want home cooked food, here are some easy-to-make favorites that we like to serve when we're watching the Super Bowl, NBA Playoffs and waiting to celebrate the beginning of another year.

Good luck to you and all the candidates you believe in and the propositions you are voting for.


Tapenade with Charred Garlic

A secret weapon in last minute cooking, tapenade brightens any meal either as an appetizer or a condiment. If you use pitted, canned olives, making tapenade will take 10-15 minutes.
 
The taste of your tapenade depends on the quality of the olives.

Serves 6-8

Ingredients

1 can pitted olives, drained weight 6 oz., preferably green or kalamata olives
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves with skins
¼ cup Italian parsley, washed, leaves only, roughly chopped
¼ teaspoon pepper flakes (optional)
Black pepper to taste

Directions

Skewer the garlic cloves on the end of a knife or a metal skewer and hold over a gas flame to burn off the outer skins. Let cool, remove any pieces of charred skin and roughly chop the cloves.

In a small blender or food processer, place the drained olives, olive oil, garlic, parsley and pepper flakes. Pulse until the olives are roughly chopped. Taste and adjust the seasoning with the addition of black pepper, sea salt, pepper flakes and olive oil.

Pulse again until the tapenade achieves the desired texture. Personally I like a tapenade that has a rustic look with the olives coarsely chopped rather than puréed.

Refrigerate until ready to use and serve at room temperature.

Variations

 2 anchovies packed in oil, roughly chopped and added with the olives. If salted, rinse before adding.

1 tablespoon capers added with the olives.

Lavash Crisps

Served in the Middle East, lavash and pita are commonly used instead of bread. Flat, unleavened lavash has a delicious, lightly grilled flavor when fresh. Making crisps makes use of lavash that might otherwise have gotten stale and gone to waste.
Lavash crisps have more flavor and are more flaky than commercially manufactured chips. Serve them with salsa, tapenade, dips or thin slices of cheese.

The crisps will last for weeks if kept refrigerated in an airtight container. 

Serves 6-8

Ingredients

1 large or 2 small sheets of lavash
1 cup olive or safflower oil
Sea salt and black pepper to taste
5-6 paper towel sheets

Directions

Cut the lavash sheets into 2” squares by cutting the sheet in half, placing the halves on top of each other, cutting those in half and doing that again until the pieces are 2” wide. Cut the 2” wide strips into 2” squares and set aside. If not cooked immediately, store in an airtight container.

In a large frying pan or griddle, heat ¼ cup of the oil. Season with sea salt and black pepper and heat on a medium-low flame. Be careful not to burn the oil or cause it to smoke.

Lay a paper towel sheet on a large plate or baking sheet.

Add the lavash squares to the hot oil. Do not overlap. Using tongs, turn over the lavash when they are lightly browned and cook the other side. They cook quickly so watch them closely.

Remove the cooked crisps and place them on the paper towel. Cook another batch. Place a clean paper towel on top of each layer to absorb excess oil.

Replenish the oil in the frying pan as needed and season with sea salt and black pepper. Allow the oil to reach the proper temperature before adding more lavash.

Discard the paper towels when the crisps cool. Store refrigerated in an airtight container. Serve at room temperature.


Spaghetti and Shrimp

To build out the flavors, other ingredients can be added to this easy to make dish. Check out the variations below.
Yield: 4 servings

Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients

1 pound shrimp, washed, shelled and deveined
1 pound spaghetti
2 cloves garlic, peeled, finely chopped
2 tablespoons yellow onion, peeled, finely chopped
1/4 cup Italian parsley, washed, dried, leaves only, finely chopped
3 tablespoon sweet butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 cup pasta water
Sea salt and black pepper to taste
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan

Instructions

To help with timing the dish, make the pasta first.

Bring a gallon of water to boil in a large stock pot. Add kosher salt and pasta. Every five minutes use tongs to stir the pasta to keep it separated. Place a strainer in the sink along with a heat-proof cup to capture 1 cup of pasta water. In ten minutes or until the pasta is al dente (firm to the bite), strain the pasta and reserve the cup of pasta water.

Return the pasta to the still hot pot. Add 1 tablespoon sweet butter and 1 teaspoon olive oil, season with 1/4 teaspoon each, freshly ground black pepper and sea salt. Stir well with tongs. Lay a piece of aluminum foil over the top of the pot to help the pasta retain heat.

Leave the shrimp whole or cut into bite sized pieces. In a large chefs pan, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil and saute the shrimp until lightly pink. Remove the cooked shrimp from the pan. Add the garlic, onion and parsley and saute over a medium flame until lightly browned. Stir well to prevent burning. Add 2 tablespoons sweet butter, 2 teaspoons olive oil and 1/2 cup pasta water.

Simmer, reduce and taste. Add sea salt and pepper if needed.

Add the cooked pasta and shrimp. Stir well to coat with the sauce. Add small amounts of pasta water if more liquid is needed.  Toss well and serve with grated Parmesan.

Variations

Add 1/4 cup home made roasted tomato sauce to the saute.

Sprinkle 1/4 cup toasted bread crumbs on the pasta before adding the grated cheese.

Toss the pasta with 2 tablespoons finely chopped, crisp bacon.

Add 1/4 teaspoon pepper flakes for heat.

Saute 4 shiitake mushrooms, washed, thinly sliced with the garlic, onions and parsley.

Saute 1 cup corn kernels with the garlic, onions and parsley.

Instead of shrimp, use lobster or scallops.


Couscous or Bulgar Salad with Celery

Yield: 4 servings
Time: 20 minutes

Ingredients

1 cup instant couscous or fine grained bulgar
1 1/2 cups water
1/4 cup olive oil
1 celery stalk, washed, leaves removed, finely chopped
1 scallion, washed, ends trimmed, finely chopped
5 Italian parsley sprigs, leaves removed, washed, finely chopped
Sea salt and pepper

Method

Boil the water. Put the couscous or bulgar into a bowl, add the water, stir, drizzle with 1 tablespoon olive oil, cover with plastic wrap for 10 minutes.

Using a fork, fluff the couscous or bulgar, add the rest of the olive oil, season with sea salt and pepper to taste, toss with the celery, scallion, and parsley.

Serve at room temperature as a salad or a side dish.

Variations:

Add chopped raw tomatoes

Add Iranian cucumbers, washed, peeled, finely chopped

Add 1/4 cup finely chopped yellow onion

Add currants

Couscous or Bulgar with Grilled Vegetables

Yield: 4 servings
Time: 20 minutes

Ingredients

1 cup instant couscous or fine grained bulgar
1 1/2 cups water
1/4 cup olive oil
1 large carrot, washed, peeled, ends removed, cut into 1" long slabs, 1/4" thick
1 large broccoli crown, washed, cut into 1" long slabs, 1/4" thick
5 Italian parsley sprigs, leaves removed, washed, finely chopped
Sea salt and pepper

Boil the water. Put the couscous or bulgar into a bowl, add the water, stir, drizzle with 1 tablespoon olive oil, cover with plastic wrap for 10 minutes.

Toss the carrots and broccoli pieces with olive oil, seasoned with sea salt and black pepper. Grill or roast in a 350 degree oven until lightly browned, about 15 minutes. Let cool and finely chop.

Using a fork, fluff the couscous or bulgar, add the rest of the olive oil, season with sea salt and pepper to taste, toss with the cut up carrots and broccoli.

Serve at room temperature as a salad or a side dish.

Variations:

Add 1/4 cup corn kernels, seasoned with olive oil, sea salt, and pepper, grilled or roasted

Add 1/4 cup olives, pitted, chopped

Add 1 cup spinach leaves, no stems, washed, roughly chopped



Egg Salad with Grilled Vegetables and Crisp Bacon

Crisp bacon bits adds another level of flavor and texture to egg salad. The bacon strips can be cooked first but better is to mince the raw bacon and saute the bits. That way, each bacon bit is nicely browned and holds a uniform shape.

Yield: 4 servings

Time: 45 minutes

Ingredients

4 farmers' market fresh large or extra large eggs
1 large carrot, washed, ends trimmed, peeled
1 ear of corn, tassels and husk removed, washed
1/2 cup Italian parsley leaves, washed, finely chopped
1 tablespoon capers, rinsed, finely chopped
2 strips of bacon, finely chopped, sauteed until crisp, drained
1 tablespoon finely chopped shallots or scallion
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 tablespoons olive oil
Sea salt and black pepper

Method

I like to put the eggs into a pot of cold water, turn the flame to medium-high, and cook them for 30 minutes. Many people say that's way too long but it works for me. The yolks come out flaky, the whites dense. Rinse with cold water, take off the shells, and roughly chop.

Slice the carrot into flat slabs about 1/4" thick and 3" long.  Toss in olive oil seasoned with sea salt and black pepper.  Do the same with the ear of corn.  Grill until lightly browned all over or oven roast in a 400 degree oven for 15 minutes. Turn frequently to avoid burning. Let cool.  Finely chop the carrots. Remove the kernels from the cobs.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the chopped eggs, carrots, corn kernels, parsley, shallots, and crisp bacon bits. Toss. Season with sea salt and black pepper.  Add the mayonnaise and mix well.

Serve on bread, crackers, or lettuce leaves.

Variations

Add 1/4 cup roasted red pepper, finely chopped

Omit the bacon

Add 1/4 cup finely chopped, pitted olives

Roast 2 garlic cloves, tossed in olive oil, seasoned with sea salt and pepper until lightly browned, peel off the skins, finely chop the soft garlic and add to the egg salad

Add a dash of tabasco or a dusting of cayenne pepper for heat


Open Face BLT with Avocado

Use any kind of bread you love. Personally I prefer thin sliced French or Italian bread for my open faced sandwiches. Depending on the size of the loaf, you will need two to six slices per person.

My favorite bread for a BLT is the Italian bread from Bay Cities Deli in Santa Monica. Light with a thin crust, the bread perfectly compliments the sandwich's toppings.

To keep its shape, the slices should be lightly toasted.

Serves 4

Time 30 minutes

Ingredients

8-24 slices of bread, lightly toasted
8-10 slices of bacon
2 ripe avocados, washed
4 ripe large tomatoes, washed, stem and blossom end removed
8 romaine leaves, ribs removed, or a handful of arugula leaves without the stems, washed, dried
8-16 slices of bread and butter pickles (optional)
Sea salt and black pepper
Mayonnaise

Directions

Set the lightly toasted slices of bread aside to cool.

In batches, cook the bacon in a large frying pan or griddle on a medium-low flame. Turn the slices frequently for even browning, being careful to cook through all the fatty pieces. Place paper towels on a plate. When each bacon strip is cooked, lay it on the paper towel to drain.

While cooking, pour off excess grease into a coffee tin for later disposal.

Cut the cooked bacon pieces so they are the same length as the toasted bread slices.

Depending on your preference, make thin or thick slices of tomatoes and set aside.

When you are ready to assemble the sandwiches, cut the avocados in half, remove the peel and discard the pit. Since the avocado flesh will discolor once it is exposed to the air, do this last step just before serving.

Spread mayonnaise on each slice of lightly toasted bread, place avocado slices on the bread, covering the surface. Lay romaine or arugula leaves on the bacon. Add a slice of tomato, pickle slices (optional) and lastly the bacon slices. Season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Serve with an ice cold beverage, a tossed salad and fresh fruit for dessert.

Variations

Lightly dust the avocado with cayenne for heat.

Instead of lettuce or arugula use watercress leaves for a peppery flavor.

Toss the avocado slices in a mix of 2 parts olive oil and 1 part fresh lemon juice before placing on the sandwich.

To make an open-faced melted cheese sandwich, lay thin slices of Irish or English cheddar cheese on top of the sandwich, place in a preheated, 350 degree toaster oven for 5 minutes to melt the cheese, 1 minute in a toaster oven set on broil and cook until the top of the cheese lightly browns. Serve warm.




Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Getting Ready for Thanksgiving


There was a chill in the air today even if last week it felt like summer. The grocery store ads are carrying discount coupons for turkeys. It's beginning to feel a lot like Thanksgiving.

At the Wednesday Santa Monica Farmers Market, the once a year $5.00-for-all-the-pumpkins-you-can-carry event was held in the middle of the intersection of Second and Arizona. Three and four year old kids were encouraged to pick out pumpkins too heavy to carry and "roll them down the street."
Adults were more ambitious. For $5.00, one person was allowed one trip to carry off as many pumpkins as they could manage, as long as they carried them 24 feet away from the pumpkin pile. No bags allowed. No help from associates. This was an individual effort. Everyone with a strong back, grabbed two, three and as many as four pumpkins and crab walked away with their treasure.

I managed to carry away three large pumpkins to use as house decorations and, ultimately, to turn into pumpkin pies for Thanksgiving.

We're working on our Thanksgiving dinner plans. We've invited our guests. We're figuring out the menu.

Coming back from recent trips to Morocco and New Orleans I've been looking for new ideas to use at Thanksgiving. Is there a way to make sweet potatoes in a tagine? What about Creole seasoning on roast turkey?

This weekend we've been invited to Localicious, the food and wine tasting fundraiser for Family Farmed, an organization that promotes local farming.

There's a good sampling of local restaurants including Tavern, Church and State, Rustic Canyon, Public Kitchen, Tender Greens, Joe's, The Curious Palate and FIG.

The event's this Sunday, November 4th from 6:00pm-9:00pm at the Annenberg Community Beach House in Santa Monica on PCH.
The chefs will be cooking with products supplied by farmers from the Santa Monica Farmers Market.

The Localicious web site has the full list of participants and details about tickets.

It's for a good cause. There will be food and wine. And I'm hoping to get some inspiration for Thanksgiving.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

What's Cooking in New Orleans

Mention New Orleans and anyone who's been says, "The food's so great. And the music. If you go, you'll love it."
I hadn't been so when I was able to stay for a three day weekend in early October, I jumped at the chance.

With so few days in town, I asked for suggestions on Facebook and Twitter, read guide books and got recommendations from friends who are NOLA aficionados.

Certain restaurants appeared on multiple lists:

Acme Oyster House (724 Iberville Street, New Orleans 504/522-5973) in the French Quarter (for oysters although I was advised the place is so crowded, a good workaround to get in is to sit at the bar between 3:00pm-4:00pm).

Donald Link's restaurants are popular, especially Herbsaint (701 Saint Charles Avenue, New Orleans 504/524-4114) and Cochon (930 Tchoupitoulas Street, New Orleans 504/588-2123) I made it to the latter, but more about that in a minute.
Fried chicken at Willie Mae's Scotch House (2401 At. Ann Street, Seventh Ward, New Orleans, 504/822-9503). Not close to anything, tucked away in a suburb, but well worth the 10 minute cab ride or 30 minute walk from the French Quarter.

Open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, the original Cafe du Monde (800 Decatur Street, French Quarter, New Orleans, 504/525-4544) in the French Quarter for a morning or afternoon cafe au lait and beignets.

In the jackets-preferred Commander's Palace (1403 Washington Avenue, Garden District, New Orleans, 504/899-8221), Antoine's Restaurant  (713 Saint Louis Street, New Orleans 504/581-4422) and Galatoire's Restaurant (209 Bourbon Street, French Quarter, New Orleans, 504/525-2021) for an upscale version of Creole, Cajun and New Orleans cooking.

We didn't have time to use the St. Charles streetcar, travel on a Mississippi riverboat, take a ride in a horse drawn carriage through the French Quarter or visit the Audubon Zoo.

Because the city is on mostly flat ground, riding a bicycle is a great way to get around town. My wife took an early morning bike ride. Leaving the Hotel Modern (936 St. Charles Avenue, New Orleans, 504/962-0900, 800/684-9535) where we were staying, she spent two hours happily riding around the Garden District's stately homes and the hauntingly beautiful cemeteries.
We missed many of the recommended places, but we did have a drink at the Carousel Bar in the Hotel Monetleone (214 Royal Street, French Quarter, New Orleans, 504/528-1019), which made me dizzy even though we were sitting safely in the nearby large lounge. Changing my seat improved the experience so instead of watching the slowly spinning bar, I watched people on the street walking by and riding in horse drawn carriages.
We heard music everywhere, in bars, on the street and in parks.
Our first night in town, arriving late because our Southwest flight was delayed, we walked into the French Quarter for something to eat. Surprisingly, given New Orleans' reputation as a party town, all the restaurants were closed by 10:00 PM.

After asking around, just off Bourbon Street we found Oceana Grill (739 Conti Street, French Quarter, New Orleans, 504/525-6002) which stayed open later than most restaurants.
Not on anyone's list, we enjoyed our meal of Cajun seafood gumbo, blackened red fish with red beans and rice and bread pudding with whipped cream. Even though it was close to 11:00 PM, the food tasted freshly made, the crab was sweet and delicious, the red fish with Creole seasoning was moist and spicy.
A Manhattan-up-with-a-twist was made with the local Sazerac Rye. Very nice.

On our short trip, we started a list of places we would happily recommend and look forward to visiting again.

We made a pilgrimage to cash-only Cafe du Monde for coffee and a breakfast beignet. Given the crowds morning-noon-and-night, it's surprising they have such a limited menu. Basically it's a riff on the SNL cheeseburger-cheeseburger-cheeseburger joke. Only here it's cafe ole-beignet-orange juice.
The beignets--better than any I've eaten anywhere else--arrive thickly coated with powdered sugar on tapas sized plates. There's no way you'll eat your beignet and NOT get sugar on your shirt and pants.
The coffee is great and goes perfectly with the airy-suggary beignets. Even though the place is crowded, the turnover is quick so even if there is a long line to get in, you can sit, eat and even read the newspaper without feeling guilty.
A kitchen the size of a large closet accommodates dozens of waitstaff and kitchen help. With exquisite choreography, servers carrying large trays loaded down with silverware, stacks of paper napkins, water glasses, coffees and beignets leave the kitchen passing by others returning tray-fulls of empty glasses, dirty silverware and plates.
Meals at Herbsaint and Cochon were good. Finding fresh vegetables that haven't been steamed, stewed and fried isn't that easy in New Orleans. Donald Link treats his veggies with respect even as he celebrates all things meat, especially pork at pig-centric Cochon where I had a crust-perfect serving of short ribs on a bed of vegetables and creamy faro.
Since I love good fried chicken, Willie Mae's was a lot of fun. One of my fondest memories growing up was our trips to the beach with containers filled with potato salad and fried chicken. Admittedly the fried chicken was soggy after spending the night in the refrigerator, but I loved it none the less.
At Willie Mae's, there is no such thing as soggy fried chicken. The chicken that arrives on the plate is as crisp as can be with the meat, hot and moist.

For $10.00, you get a wing, thigh and leg, a corn muffin and a choice of sides, which in my case was not a "side" but a second course of red beans and rice served in a large bowl. I loved the fried chicken and the red beans and rice. The beans were thick with flavor and a touch of heat.

The best meal of the trip started with an interview with Austin Kirzner, executive chef at Red Fish Grill on the edge of the French Quarter. Kirzner sat down with me over a cup of coffee in the morning before the restaurant opened and described the kind of cooking he learned to do in Louisiana and New Orleans.

To illustrate what he was talking about, he showed me how to make a New Orleans classic: BBQ Shrimp. The video lays out all the ingredients and the techniques required to make an easy-to-make recipe that any home cook could prepare.
The heads-on shrimp were delicious. And his creamy cheesy grits were as good.
At night my wife and I came back for a tasting of Red Fish Grill's menu.
Kirzner showed us his favorites: the BBQ oysters which were actually deep fried and served with blue cheese dressing, raw oysters on the half shell and Louisiana blue crab cakes.
A crispy whole redfish looked as if it could still swim but this time in a river of vegetables and a filet of hickory grilled redfish was topped with sweet lump crabmeat.
Several delicious desserts appeared on the table, including a fat slice of pecan pie with whipped cream and an over-the-top triple chocolate bread pudding that could barely contain itself in its silver bowl.
When we weren't eating and listening to music, we walked around the city, admiring signs, graffiti and architecture that was unique, distinctive, traditional and modern, with a sense of humor and a delight in bright, vibrant colors.










Ready, Set, Infuse - It's Time to Make Homemade Umeshu, Japanese Plum Wine

If you love umeshu , Japanese plum wine, and you want to make your own, the race is on. Ume are only available for three-four weeks in the ...