Monday, November 30, 2009

Tapas & Touchdowns

Blogger's Note - Today, in honor of this post on Rio Mar, we introduce a new blog character: Spaniard. His name comes not only from his striking resemblance to Maximus, but also his love for the food and wine of España. He is the only person I know who is willing to pay the exorbitant price for jamón Ibérico, which is available at only a small number of restaurants in the city. Guess what one of them is?

The small plate craze has been in full force for quite a while now, with numerous restaurants offering mini portions of nearly everything on their menus. But let us not forget the impetus of this trend. The tapas bars of Spain have been serving tastes of octopus and olives long before boudin balls came around. Rio Mar might not have been the first restaurant in New Orleans to serve tapas (or maybe it was, I don't really know), but it's still one of the best.

In Spain, a "tortilla" is made with layers of thinly sliced potato. Rio Mar's version strongly resembles a classic French quiche, but it's still more akin to it's brethren in Madrid as opposed to Oaxaco. There is usually a "tortilla of the day" on the menu, and this one with chorizo and tomatoes is a fine example.

While in some cases I agree that foreign names on menus are merely attempts at pomp and circumstance, there are times when chefs should refuse to translate so as not to scare away less adventurous diners. For example: you may be weary to order "blood sausage," but "morcilla" sounds too exotic to resist. But whether in English or in Catalan, this stuff is just damn good. The casing is crusty from the grill while the interior has a silken texture and rich flavor.

I forgot one very important point: Rio Mar is NOT strictly a place to get seafood. As if the blood sausage was not enough of a clue, then the best choice on the lunch menu should be: hanger steak with a vibrant chimichurri and yuca fries. It's the next best choice to La Boca being open for lunch.
Got football fever? Office closing early today? Not sure where to go for a bite and a few beers before the game? Luckily for you and me, Rio Mar has decided to extend their hours for Monday Night Football, serving tapas straight through from lunch until kickoff. You can thank Spaniard for this, as he sent no fewer than 5 emails and made 4 phone calls begging Chef Adolfo to stay open all day.

We who are about to dine, salute you.
Rio Mar - Birdie

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thanksgiving is Coming

Editor's Note: This will be our last post until the Monday of The Game. Tomorrow, as you know, is Spring Break for fat adults and Friday is our annual luncheon with The Pope, Legend and Doc at the Old Green Lady. Hopefully they won't kick us out, or worse, seat us upstairs for being such good reporters a few months ago. Have a great Turkey Day.


Listen, maybe your family gets along without it. If so, congrats. For the rest of us, while you may not need it to tolerate Uncle Harry's stories, it certainly helps. Plus the goal of Thanksgiving is to do things you normally wouldn't do on a Thursday. You get to sleep in late. There is football on TV during the day. You get to eat a huge lunch replete with wine (OK, this is normal for some of us). And then if things go according to plan, you get to fall asleep in a Barcalounger.


It looks like it will be chilly on Thursday, so why not begin the day with an Old Fashioned. The night before I want you to make a simple syrup: 1 cup sugar, 1 cup water; dissolve over heat or vigorous shaking. Into glass, ice, three fingers of bourbon or rye whiskey, a finger of syrup, a few dashes of Peychaud's bitters, an orange slice, a few cherries, and a splash of club soda. Stir and enjoy. Of course, you could always make a pitcher of Satsuma Wrestlers or Mimosas, using the juice of as many satsumas as you can find and a bottle of bubbly.

Beer and Wine

Beer is often overlooked at Thanksgiving, but it fits in just as well as water. For the darker side, I would focus on a nutty ale such as Lazy Magnolia's Southern Pecan or a more basic Newcastle. Too bad NOLA Brown isn't available outside of a keg yet. A Guinness would also go very well with all the hearty food of Thanksgiving. Of course there is no shame in knocking back a few ice cold Miller High Lifes. Shoot, it's just as healthy as water.

Let's get this out the way. There is no "perfect" wine for Thanksgiving. I would even further this by saying there is no perfect wine for any food. On Thanksgiving drink, whatever you like. White burgundy and cranberry, why not? Cabernet and sweet potatoes, sure. It does not matter. But regardless here are a few selections from me.

On the white side of the table, stick to something basic that can be drank cold. A fume blanc, pinot gris, or pinot grigio would work. I also think a riesling or well-honeyed viognier would work, calling to mind those holidays when you drank your body weight in Coca Cola.

Moving to the red, red wine.... Robert Mondavi makes several enjoyable and affordable wines. Their Private Selection (formerly the Coastal Selection) Pinot Noir would mingle with all of the flavors of Thanksgiving without overwhelming your palate. Plus at around $15 a bottle, there will be no regret in opening one more bottle as the last guest leaves.

The fizzy wines are also perfect on Thanksgiving. Cavas, Champagnes, and Sparkling Wines will lend a festive tone for sure, but they also serve an essential function: they clear your palate. The bubbles and acidity will scrub your tongue so you can have another bite of dressing.

In line with fizzy drinks, recently I had an opportunity to taste some alcoholic, sparkling apple cider, and I couldn't help think, this drink would be perfect with Thanksgiving. Low alcohol makes it easy to drink (and drink and drink). The apples lend a flavor of fall and a touch of sweetness to a well-rounded beverage. There are some good brands out there, seek out a bottle from Stein's Deli today.

Finally for wine, you may want to have one nice bottle. After the dishes have been washed and the Turkey carcass is on the stove transforming into stock, when there are just the few guests left that you really like, open a really nice bottle of wine. I will let you decide which one. Sit back, put your feet up, start a fire if you can, put the game on mute, turn on some music, chat, and enjoy the evening.

Better rest up now, 'cause Christmas is coming.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A Tale of Two Meals

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times."
Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

Much has been said and written about Coquette. Based on a recent lunch there, the restaurant still has some growing up to do if it wants to run with the big boys. The meal was a study in contrast. My basic bistro fare sung although it was not without its issues, whereas Lindsay's more refined menu just fell flat.

The space is well-located and beautiful, with large windows looking out onto bustling Magazine Street and a pressed tin ceiling. If one is looking to pick up a bored housewife from the tony Garden District, this would be the spot for you. The food however has some very major flaws. It is at times perfectly executed and at others infuriating.

Lindsay got the sunchoke soup with crabmeat and parsley puree. The soup was boring and lacked seasoning. The background flavor was that of plastic, rather than anything natural. Now admittedly, we had recently had the sunchoke soup from Iris, and compared to that fine specimen this seemed cheaper than a pair of Oakley knockoffs at the Flea Market.

I, on the other hand, had the marvelous, meticulous, well-executed fried shrimp with grapefruit, pomegranate seeds, olives, and arugula. The batter encasing the shrimp was a cross between tempura and a traditional fish 'n chips batter - light, greaseless, and crunchy. The entire dish floated between the seaside flavors of the shrimp, the pop and zing of the grapefruit, the briney olives, and the peppery arugula.

Lindsay struck out again with her main. The redfish with mushroom risotto and chow chow lacked focus. The risotto itself was textbook - well-cooked and earthy, but the redfish was greasy. The goal of the chow chow was to introduce some acid and pungency to the dish, but the force of the chow chow was like being hit in the jaw when all you needed was a tap on the shoulder.

Steak frites, while not difficult to make average, are very hard to make excellent. The steak component bordered on excellent. The hanger was well-seasoned, well-rested, tender and cooked to an exacting medium rare. The red wine demi and caramelized onions added some additional heft to the meat. The aioli had a wonderful vinegar and mustard component that paired equally well with the steak and the fries.

But the fries. They were sad, soggy, and as far as I could tell had never had the pleasure of being introduced to salt before greeting me. The fries also would have benefited from another sixty seconds in hot oil. Just by looking at the photo of the fries, you can tell they were not up to snuff. If you are going to go to the trouble or making house cut fries, which I believe these were, how could you forget to just toss them in some salt before plating?

Service started out with a bang and fizzled. As we waited for our main course to be cleared, the table next to us went through two courses. As we sat, the hostess stared off with a far away look reserved for when you don't want to make eye contact with someone from your past. Finally the waiter returned and cleared our plates. Five minutes later he came back to ask if we wanted a dessert menu, we said yes, which lead to another long wait. And so on and so forth. By the time our post lunch drinks had arrived, the lunch hour had become two.

I wish I had better things to say about Coquette, but then again, I bet they do too.

Coquette -Bogey, the bad far outweighed the good.

Monday, November 23, 2009

So. Many. Po-Boys.

We are still digesting the onslaught of po-boys that we consumed yesterday at the Po-Boy Preservation Festival, but a quick recovery is needed with the Thanksgiving marathon of eating coming up on Thursday. We ate A LOT of po-boys yesterday (too many to recount, in fact), and there was a whole bunch of non-po-boy related fun that is also worth mentioning. So here's a photo diary of our 7 hours on Oak Street. Pictures courtesy of The Folk Singer and Mary Magdalene's camera.

As you probably already know, we were asked to serve as judges for the po-boy contest. The luck of the draw sent Rene to the roast beef table and myself to the seafood (non-shrimp) table with Lorin Gaudin. I don't know if that gig qualifies as us "celebrity judges" per se, but at least one person didn't think so, as is evident from this conversation between a curious woman watching The Folk Singer snap some action shots:
Random Woman: What celebrity judge are you taking pictures of?
The Folk Singer: Haha, just my boyfriend.
Random Woman: (Silence evidencing disappointment.)
The Folk Singer: But Robert Peyton is up there.
Random Woman: Oh my God! I love him!

There were plenty of non-conventional po-boy options, including the sukiyaki po-boy from Little Tokyo.

Here we have the "Extra Special Peacemaker" from Palace Cafe. What made it "extra special" was the addition of brie fondue to the combination of fried oysters and shrimp. It didn't do it for me, but others liked it.

The lines for Dong Phuong's banh mi were some of the longest at the festival. After finishing our judging duties, I joined in the queue for one of my own. While waiting, a friend tapped me on the shoulder and said, "Man, you really love that Vietnamese, don't you?"
You know it.

The "Shrimpzilla" from New Orleans Hamburger & Seafood Company.

Crescent Pie & Sausage Company was doling out bratwurst po-boys with saurkraut. By the way, their restaurant is now open for business, so check it out.

Mrs. Clara Cvitanovich of Drago's fame was one of my judging partners for the contest, and then she was at her restaurant's booth passing out trays of piping hot chargrilled oysters. And in case you were wondering, Mrs. Clara's favorite po-boy is roast beef.

There was even a po-boy second line.

Here we have the shrimp caminada po-boy from Grand Isle.

There were two music stages setup as opposite ends of the festival. Here is a shot of NOLA's own MyNameIsJohnMichael performing on the Carrollton Stage.

Dessert: fried bread pudding po-boy from Ye Olde College Inn.
Does anyone have any antacid?

Friday, November 20, 2009

Kitchen Essentials


Calphalon, All-Clad, and the like make a pretty good dime marketing space age pans to cooks worldwide. They use words like carbon-fiber technology and solid aluminum transitional core to give people fodder for a dinner party conversation. "Ohh yes, our Calphalon 1820 Dicam can withstand 47 days in a low oxygen environment while still conducting heat on the Kelvin Scale."

Forget it. A saute pan just needs to be tough and durable. You are going to be slinging this puppy around like a stoner with a Frisbee in a college quad. You don't need to spend $100 on a non-stick, anatomically correct saute pan. You want this stud.

Now listen, I realize sexy it aint. That blue handle will likely clash with the color scheme of your inspiring kitchen. But you can hide this in the cabinet. This pan heats in a hurry and is large. Meaning you can cook a large amount of food in one pan rather than using two or worse, doing it in batches (which will result in uneven cooking). Better yet, this pan is stick. That means when you cook, little pieces of food will caramelize on the bottom of the pan. This is called fond. Add some liquid to this, and scrap with a wooden spatula, and you have the beginnings of a beautiful sauce.
Other pans I recommend is a non-stick frying pan. This is perfect for making eggs, omelets, fritattas, and other egg dishes. I pretty much only use it for eggs, but occasionally I have fried a boudin puck in it. This pan has never met detergent. After it is used, just wipe it with a paper towel.
And the grandpappy of them all. A big honking Cast Iron Skillet. I call this one Summer, cause it brings the heat. It can fry catfish, sear a steak, make a mean chicken and dumplings, and still bake a cornbread. You buy this at hardware stores, this brand is made by Lodge. Take it home, wash it in hot soapy water, then pour some veg oil in the beast, and stick it in a 300 degree oven for 2 hours. Wipe it out, treat it as your egg pan.

With those three pans (and admittedly two of them are superfluous), the stove top will be at your command. I would estimate that you could get all three pans for around $120. Treat them right, and you will never have to buy pans again.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

New Orleans Po-Boy Fest

This weekend that uniquely New Orleans samwich the po-boy will have its turn to be the star. On Sunday, vendors of this noble tube of good will line the new and improved Oak Street, sharing space alongside brass bands and cold beer. Da Fest takes place Sunday, from 11-6. More info here. What better way to prepare for the bounty of Thanksgiving by sinking your teeth into a crunchy and hot fried oyster po-boy slathered with mayo, hot sauce, and lettuce? Well, besides eating a fully dressed roast beef one.

Last year's success showed that this festival has legs. The street of Oak was crammed with eaters of all shapes, sizes, and pedigrees chowing down on po-boys, drinking beers, and listening to music. This year should be no different. And yes, we know there is a Saints game on, and we are reassured by the organizers that this has been taken into consideration. There will be a special Saints section with big televisions broadcasting the game. Grab a po-boy, watch Saints score TD, drink cold beer, repeat. Perfect.

Now, there are some who claim this noble sandwich is to be called a "poor boy." That not only sounds stupid, it makes one look pompous. The rationale is that the original menu called the sandwich a poor boy. Ok, fine. But language like people, animals, and the solar system evolve. If we are to call po-boys "poor boys" solely because that is what they were once called, then I ask you: Do you say "Wherest art thou presently located?" or "Where Y'at?"

Peter and I will be judges at the Po-Boy Fest. To this end, we have rented robes and strewn them with crumbs. Peter has fashioned a gavel out of a two week old peacemaker as well. If your entry involves gravy, pork, and something fried, there is a 99% chance you already have our vote.

Hoping to see you there,

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Thanksgiving is Coming

Last week the New York Times enlisted two writers to argue about what was more important at Thanksgiving: the turkey or the sides. We will not add to the vitriol and debate that plagues this nation. Do we really need to fight about this? No. The answer is that they both make Thanksgiving special.

I see it like this. A turkey is the American touchstone. Every family has a turkey. It is what ties us to every other American who stops, gives thanks, and celebrates Thanksgiving on that Thursday. Sides tell your family's story. The sides that decorate the table make your Thanksgiving, well, your Thanksgiving.

In our household, we start Thanksgiving with a cocktail. Preferably one with bourbon and not much else, but an Old Fashioned makes an appearance from time to time. Maybe a few mimosas for the womenfolk. There are usually Better Cheddar and Wheat Thins on a cheeseboard with some grapes and strawberries. Why? Because.

The younger of my two older sisters will make a crawfish and corn bisque (because nothing says "late fall" like crawfish). This same sister will invariably wear a summer dress and remark how cold it is, leading to a fire being started on her behalf. This in turn causes the house to fill up with smoke as it becomes apparent the flue hasn't been opened since it was last closed.

Before brining, foil hats, and frying came into popular lexicon, it seemed like the turkey cooked for the whole month of November. While the turkey was in its last trimester, Mom made mashed potatoes with russets, a hand mixer, margarine, Daisy sour cream, and a microwave. I use yukon golds boiled with the skin on, steamed, then peeled and run through the Kitchen Aid mixer. I use roughly three cows of cream and a tub of butter, a good dash of Crystal, and some creme fraiche. Mom's still wins.

Then there is oyster dressing from my dad. The recipe calls for a quart of raw ersters and their likker. He buys two quarts, using one as his "payment" as he cooks down the trinity inside an old gray battleship re-purposed as a dutch oven. Even though he has made the dish countless times, there will be a last minute run to Office Depot to pick up toner so that he can print out the recipe. This is usually preceded by a litany of curse words and always succeeded by a final trip to the grocery store.

There is also corn goodness - corn sauteed with butter, jalapeno, onion, roasted red pepper, and garlic. In its original incarnation, corn goodness was as salty as an old sailor, which I blame on Fat Harry's the night before. Now whenever it is served one sister will say, "Rene, don't ruin it this year. Ohh remember how hungover you were? You looked like death."

Fresh green beans with garlic, butter, and lemon make an appearance, solely for the purpose of being able to say, "Look, that's greenish." There might be other things that make a cameo one year or so, but they are soon forgotten and dismissed to the kids' table.

As you well know, armies march on their stomachs, and to that end, breads are vitally important. Rolls, French, and Bunny (for turkey, mashed potato, gravy, and cranberry sandwiches Thursday night) can not be overlooked.

Now comes dessert. I remember once when my oldest sister made pecan pie. She could not have been older than 16 or so. She was really into "jazz" and Marlboro Lights. To make this pie she asked the rest of the family to leave the house the weekend before Thanksgiving, presumably because the crust needed to rise in a controlled environment. That year there were beer cans behind the garage and a McKenzie's receipt in the trash.

I always associate Thanksgiving with orphanages. Why? Well, as a youth, following rules, behaving, and the like were not my strong suits. Now they are absolute bedrocks. Nearly every Thanksgiving after Mass (why was Mass involved on an American holiday?), we would drive by the old orphanage on Carrollton, and my sisters and parents would tell me to get out. I always believed them, just for a second.

Now that is a side dish uniquely mine.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

C'est Magnifique

Y'all already know how much I enjoyed my time in France, so I need not recount the reasons why. But for you other Francophiles out there (or anyone interested in a dry run for a future trip abroad), I suggest you try Chateau du Lac on Metairie Road.

OK, so they use a dry erase board for the daily specials instead of the ubiquitous chalkboard of France. And the prices are a tad higher than those at the bouchons of Lyon. Still, if you enjoy classical French food (read "not Creole"), everything else just fades into the background.

Portions are, for the most part, modest. All the more reason to order an appetizer. We started with a charcuterie plate - all made in house - which included rabbit terrine, pork rilletes, and pate. The petite marmite consisted of scallops and shiitake mushrooms in an intense seafood sauce flavored with tomato and black pepper, the remnants of which is a great dip for the french fries. The classic endive salad with raisins, grapes, pecans and gorgonzola was expertly composed with the perfect balance of ingredients.

I hate to admit this, but my Mom crushed me when it came to ordering entrees. Not that my blanquette de veau was bad, but her choice was so fantastic that it overshadowed everything else on the table. Open-faced sliced sirloin sandwich with sauteed onions and bearnaise. This knife and fork sandwich comes with an accompanying green salad and a basket of french fries for the bargain price of $12. Someone at the next table ordered the cassoulet, which looked equally as scrumptious. But with pork belly, sausage, and duck confit, how can you go wrong?

Have you ever seen the inaugural No Reservations episode in Paris? Tony goes to lunch at Chez Denise and finishes with baba au rhum for dessert. Well, the one at Chateau du Lac is not near as large as the one Tony ate, but it's still fortified with plenty of rum, which you can see pooling as a syrup in the bottom of the dish.
Just one of many examples of why the French don't suck.
Chateau du Lac - Birdie

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Downtown Deli Diagnosis - Part 3: Between the Bread

Blogger's Note - After a brief hiatus, welcome back to our survey of the CBD sandwich shops. And just in case, here are links to Part 1 and Part 2.

Today we take a look at Between the Bread, a newcomer to the downtown deli scene located on St. Charles across from Lafayette Square. The space is extremely inviting - vaulted ceilings allow for balcony eating upstairs and tall windows offer plenty of natural light. The menu is simple: soups, salad, and sandwiches. You can check for the daily specials on their blog. Order at the counter and wait for your name to be called.

Triple B, the Coonhunter, and I all ordered sandwiches on our first visit, and not one of us left disappointed. The bread is of the typical sliced genre but much taller, and you can have your choice of sourdough, whole wheat, rye, or multi grain. As you can see from the Coonhunter's main street sandwich with turkey and bacon, all of the deli meats are sliced paper thin.

The "market chicken salad" is a medley of sizable chunks of white meat, dried cranberries, relish and egg mixed held together by a mixture of cream cheese and sour cream. For all you people with an aversion to mayo (and I am sometimes one of them), this is the chicken salad for you. One of the best specimens out there.

Why have I not seen this before? BLT/PC - bacon, lettuce, tomato, and pimento cheese. The homemade PC is creamy and not overwhelmed by the peppers, and when you match that with the salty crunch from the bacon, you get a great sandwich. Brilliant!

Sandwiches come with kettle chips, but you can swap for potato or pasta salad for a buck. The most expensive choice on the menu is the smoked salmon salad for a whopping $9.

Between the Bread - Birdie

Friday, November 13, 2009

Sunday Brunch

When I wake up on Sunday morning, the last thing I want to do is cook. Problem is that going out for brunch usually requires enduring long lines at the more casual spots or settling for mediocre food from the JV kitchen staff at the higher end places. And then there is Patois, which offers a well executed and sophisticated brunch menu at reasonable prices (most entrees are in the mid-teens) in a fine dining setting. Still, a collared shirt and jeans fits well within the dress code.

And they open at 10:30 so you can make it back in time for Saints kickoff.

The Folk Singer started with the gnocchi with crabmeat and chanterelles, which is perhaps the most popular item on the dinner and lunch menus at Patois. I thought the gnocchi were a bit heavier and more dense than my preference, but it's still a very good dish overall.

You know what's better though? The grilled lamb kofta kabob salad. The succulent ground lamb paired well with the rich Ryals goat milk feta and the tangy preserved lemon and tahini dressing. Better than anything I have had in a local Mediterranean restaurant and worth every penny of the $13 price tag.

For the main event, I chose the fried rabbit loin paired with poached eggs and topped with an Italian sausage cream gravy. Tasty? Yes. Rich? Extremely. Too rich? Possibly. Regardless, TFS trumped me with the breakfast sandwich special: fried green tomatoes, guanciale, and fried egg on brioche. IN-credible.

Patois Brunch - Birdie

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Kitchen Essentials

The Art of the Braise

Braising is one of the easiest ways to turn a tough, inexpensive cut of meat into something soulful and delicious. But fear not, the meat need not be so tough you can see where the marks from where the jockey was whipping it. You can braise just about anything including chicken or even pork belly. Braising requires a minimum of active cooking time, allowing you to do other things like watch the Saints, talk about the Saints, or listen to people talk about the Saints.

Without getting technical, to braise is to cook a piece of meat in a minimal amount of slightly, bubbling broth enhanced with aromatics and herbs. Think of it as an all day shabu shabu or fondue. This post will lay out the general structure of how to braise something. It is by no means an expert report nor definitive, but I hope you will try the technique soon.

You can use any hunk of meat you like. I find that cuts with a lot of fat and a bone work best. Recently I braised some pork belly from Cochon Butcher. (If you are nervous about eating pork belly, its just the non-cured, non-smoked name for bacon.)
If the piece of meat you are using has a side with a good layer of fat, you can leave it, trim it, or "score" it. To score it, simply run asharp knife over the fat and make some shallow slices. Then rotate the meat 90 degrees and do again to create a diamond pattern. Congrats you have scored for the first time and you didn't even need to rent a tux.

Now, we need to season that big hunk of sexy. So apply some Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper to all side. You want to over season it. Its a large hunk, it can handle it, I promise. You are using real pepper and Kosher salt right?

Then we want to sear the meat over medium high heat on all sides to develop an nice brown crust. So get your dutch oven smoking hot, add a little oil, and place the meat fatty side down in the oil. Let it go for about 15 minutes. Meanwhile preheat your oven to 300 degrees. After meat has browned, remove it from pot. It should look like this, but if you go darker, even better.

At this point there will likely be a lot of rendered fat in the pot. Remove the majority of it. Then into the pot, place your mirepoix. Here I used a diced carrot, slices of onion, celery, a leek, a few hot peppers, garlic, and thyme. Use these aromatics to scrap up all the brown bits from the pan. Cook on medium heat for about 10 minutes or until mirepoix has softened.

Into pot add two cups or so of liquid. You just want the liquid to begin creeping up the sides of the meat. Do not completely submerge your meat. You can use whatever liquid you like, be it stock, beer, wine, or even just plain old water. Bring to simmer, cover, and place in oven.

Come back three hours later, add another cup of liquid, and cook uncovered for another hour. You want the meat to be soft, when it is, it is done. You can experiment with cooking it uncovered or covered. Cooking it uncovered will help the sauce concentrate. Sometimes I cook it completely uncovered on the stove on low heat, just depends. On this piece of belly, I went in the oven. But the key is even, steady, low cooking.

You can also let the meat cool and serve it the next day. If you do this (which tends to make it taste better), make sure it cools in the liquid you braised it in and that the meat is completely submerged.

One of the best effects of braising is that the dish makes its own sauce. All the mirepoix soften and combine with the juices and fibers of the meat to make something really special. Chef Warren Stephens of Cochon Butcher and Calcasieu recently shared this tip on how to turn the sauce into an amazing gravy. After you remove the meat, place the sauce and mirepoix in a blender. Blend until smooth and pour over sliced meat. The result is spectacular. The fat emulsifies with the juices and mirepoix creating a thick and creamy sauce. Another trick is to remove the meat and add a cup of rice to the mix. The rice will absorb all the flavors and you end up with a hybrid gravy-rice pilaf thing which is just delicious.

The possibilities of braising are endless. Try chicken with garlic, saffron, Pernod and tomatoes for a take on bouillabaisse (obviously I call it Pouletbaisse, clever right?), or beef short ribs with a deep red wine like Cabernet, or lamb with carrots, star anise, and ginger.

Braise something this weekend. Just the smell alone of slowly simmering meat and aromatics is worth it.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Roman Pizza

Roman Pizza was brought to Blackened Out's attention a few weeks ago when Peter asked who had the best pizza in the city. While I am not here to definitively answer that question, Roman's certainly belongs in the debate.

Crust - Good structure, bready but not doughy, pliable and crispy.

Sauce - Light and tangy, scattered across the dough rather than meticulously applied.

Toppings - Fresh, looks like cut in house, large, and well-dispersed.

Cheese - A bit toothsome but nicely browned.

Misc. - Look at the box. See the little puddles of grease? That is what you want to see sometimes. Goes perfect with cold beer. And they deliver.

There is an old Armenian saying, "There is no such thing as bad pizza, just stupid people." If that is the case, prove how smart you are and try Roman's soon.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Thanksgiving is Coming

The greatest holiday is Thanksgiving. But don't take my word for it. Thanksgiving was originally created by a rowdy bunch of ex-cons who thought religious oppression was for the birds. Then it was ratified by none other than Abe Lincoln. And we all know that dude had some pretty good ideas. Besides what is there not to like? Fall - Best Season, Football - Best Sport, Eating - Best Form of Exercise.

So let's get you ready for Thanksgiving. First thing is first, da bird. Take that turkey fryer and put it back in the garage. Put away the needles and salty injectable marinades with names like "Dr. Cajun's Crazy Turkey Viagra." And for goodness sakes, please don't even give Tofurkey a second chance.

I can hear it now: "But frying a turkey is fun!" OK, it might be. But in reality you are going to spend around $50 on enough peanut oil to power the International Space Station for a week. You will not be frying a turkey again this year, which means you have to figure out a way to dispose of 5 gallons of slightly used oil. I recommend putting it in your neighbor's trash. Then there is the issue of safety. While although I trust you, your cousin Peanuckle with the gimpy leg, he is a liability. Finally, it just does not taste good. If you want fried turkey, just cut up a whole bird and fry the pieces like chicken. That would be much tastier.

The easiest way to get a juicy, moist tender bird is to cook it properly. Get a screaming hot oven, say 400 degrees. Wash your bird inside and out. Thoroughly season it inside and out with salt and pepper. In the cavity, toss a few chunks of onion, some lemon wedges, garlic, maybe some sage or thyme. Place it on a rack in a roasting pan. Maybe under the rack you want to put some onions, carrots, celery, or a leek. Rub the outside with some butter or oil. Maybe you want to carefully place massage some butter under the skin and over the breast meat. Place a thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh. Place bird in oven, open second bottle of wine, and yell at SEC refs.

After 45 minutes, lower the heat to 325. Remove the bird from oven and baste. Here is where it gets tricky. I want you to fashion a foil breast plate for your turkey. Take a piece of foil and fit it over the breast. Tuck it in, make sure it is sturdy, and place the pan back in the oven. Cook until bird reaches an internal temp of 165. Remove. Let rest for a good half hour. Carve and enjoy.

The foil breast plate will protect the breast from drying out and overcooking. The skin should be golden and crackly after 45 minutes in such a hot oven, but if it doesn't, remove the breast plate and baste occasionally, replacing breast plate when you are done. Or just finish uncovered for the last 30 minutes or so.

Now you certainly can brine the bird, but I find the gravy comes out way to salty. Another simple trick is to just salt the inside and outside of the bird a few hours before cooking. When ready to season, rinse off.

Now, what Turkey Day issues should we tackle next? Besides how to un-invite your cousin Peanuckle.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Rain, Rain, Go Away

When I checked the forecast last night, there was a 100% chance of rain today. Even if it's not raining when you start your lunch break, the ominous dark clouds above usually serve as a deterrence from a long walk for lunch. That likely leaves you with three options:

  1. You brought something from home.
  2. You are driving to somewhere with covered valet parking.
  3. You are eating whatever is available in your office building.

Chances are likely that you forgot to pack your lunch, and today being a Monday you would prefer a quick bite rather than fighting your way out of the parking lot. So it looks like you will be dining in today, a thought which makes most people cringe. But not all office buildings were created equal when it comes to lunch options. Let's take a closer look:

  • One Shell Square - Smoothie King, Subway, Roly Poly, pizza, coffee shop, Square One Buffet, and Empire State Deli. Little known fact: Square One formerly hosted an evening lingerie show for those tenants who needed a break from burning the midnight oil.
  • Place St. Charles - The second floor food court has too many stands to list, but Steve's Diner (home of the "breakfast in a cup") deserves special mention. For dessert, head to Mrs. Field's on the first floor for cookies and soft serve.
  • The Energy Centre - Allegro Bistro (go with the seared tuna salad with ginger dressing) or the sandwich shop next door which has a halfway decent salad bar.
  • Canal Place - Not a deep selection in the food court, the Mrs. Field's doesn't have soft serve, and Morton's is closed for lunch.
  • Poydras Plaza - Whole Hog Cafe and the sandwich shop on the ground floor, plus we will give you Catty Corner next door as a lagniappe.
  • Pan-Am Center - The cafeteria on the 11th floor is reminiscent of my freshman college dorm. I'll let you fill in the blanks on that one.
  • First Bank & Trust Building - Unless there are leftovers from The Pope's complimentary breakfast fare last Friday morning, you will be subsisting on peanut butter crackers from the sundry shop. Epic fail.

And the winner is... well, you tell us in today's poll.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Kitchen Essentials

Sa, Sa Sa Salt 'n Pepper here.

In his book Salt, Mark Kurlansky makes a very compelling argument that salt, and the pursuit of it, is the most important commodity in human history. He explains how ancient roads often follow a circuitous path which all either end or begin at salt deposits. This was likely the result of thousands of years of mammals, marsupials, and such traipsing through the wilderness to find salt. Or how about the word "salary" which is derived from the Roman word for salt, which coincidentally was what the Roman empire used to pay their soldiers.

Furthering Mr. Kurlansky's premise, the most important ingredient in your kitchen is salt and pepper. Properly seasoned food tastes better. And that is the whole goal right? But for many of you out there, you are still using table salt and pre-ground pepper.

If it works for you, fine. But chances are if you switch to kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper, your finished product will improve. Kosher salt, traditionally used by Kosher butchers, does a better job of penetrating the surface of food, thereby resulting in a more thoroughly seasoned piece of food. I keep my salt in a little olive wood box, sprinkling it on with my grubby fingers.

Kosher salt is flakier and coarser than regular NaCl. When seasoning a piece of beef, you can actually feel and see the salt, allowing you to judge if the food is seasoned properly by sight (as well as taste). Kosher salt is "softer" as well. The flavor is less chlorinated and more well-rounded. If you begin using Kosher salt, you will notice the harsh, chemical taste of regular old salt. Also, kosher salt is more forgiving, which means fewer run-ins with over salted food.

Pepper. You use it more than you think. The pre-ground stuff is a joke. Even if you don't want to invest in a $20 pepper mill, at least buy the little tube of whole peppercorns with the grinder for a lid. Please, I beg of you. Even if you don't want to go to all the trouble of grinding peppercorns, at least buy some whole peppercorns, place them on the cutting board, cover them with a towel and beat them like a red headed stepchild with a heavy pan.

Look at you becoming a better cook already. Next week, we introduce a technique. The tension builds. For those of you who don't think you can cook, check out this perfect recreation of risotto carbonara by Legend. If he can do it, half in the bag, emerging into a hangover, and with a Coleman stove, trust me you got it.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The New Home

Well, we are getting settled in here. And so far the response from you has been deafening. Emails and servers are crashing like they are running fast through turn number three at Talladega. The bassets are pretty stoked about the new site. So stoked in fact, Penny has mastered the art of looking like a sleepy Abercrombie model.

A few months ago, Peter realized that New Orleans is a city where there is always something going on. But even more, you don't really realize it until the event is upon you. So Peter came up with the idea of having a calendar which would be your go to source for New Orleans culinary and drinking events. It's right there on the left. So if you are in charge of an event, your restaurant is running a special, or whatever, let us know and we will put in on the calendar. We hope you check it religiously and even stalk it a bit.

We got rid of a lot of the stuff along the margins, mainly cause it just looked messy. Our site design we think looks pretty dank (thanks to Designs by Kristy) and we hope you like it also. But if there is anything you notice, that our glassed over eyes may have missed, please let us know. We know about the hyperlinks, and are working on it.

So, as this blog has settled we have both begun gravitating towards our particular areas of interest. Peter writes more about restaurants and events, and I am writing more about cooking and wine. And we like this, but we want to hear from you. What are some areas you would like to read about? Are there any article you just can't stand? Any new feature ideas? Should The Pope go on a 30-day Cleanse?

We write this blog for two reasons: a) it is what our accountants tell us is a "tax loophole," and b) we truly love the thought that for a few minutes each day you read us rather than doing what you are supposed to be doing. So please let us know what you want to read.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

A Different Kind of Diner

In this month's issue of offBeat we reviewed Stanley, Chef Scott Boswell's "traditional" diner in Jackson Square. Our latest visit was much improved from our first back in February, and the menu is pretty solid from top to bottom. The gumbo is a hybrid version full of oysters, shrimp, andouille and chicken. A perfect start to a meal now that the weather has begun to turn.

For everyone out there who has trouble deciding which sandwich to order, I give you the po-boy sliders. From front to back: Club Stanley, Korean BBQ beef with kimchee, and fried oysters with remoulade and cole slaw. Who cares which one is best? You get to eat all three.

Half of the menu comprises breakfast/brunch dishes which are served all day long. The above Breaux Bridge Benedict could also be dubbed "The Hangover Cure" - toasted french bread topped with boudin and cheese, perfectly poached eggs, and a generous ladle of hollandaise. It almost makes that 6th hand grenade sound like a good idea.

Prices are in line with the French Quarter, which is to say higher than you would expect. But the food which comes forth is well polished and has an attention to detail often absent from similar establishments. Some might call Stanley the "poor man's Stella!" We just call it good.
Stanley - Birdie

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Hoa Hong

We recently had a cast of blog characters gathered together for lunch at Hoa Hong 9 Roses. Rene, Bloggle, Donnie Boy, and I ate our way through nearly every animal in the zodiac. But before the carnivorous feast began, we had our daily fill of vegetables from the Vietnamese crepe (banh xeo). The crepe looks deceptively like an omelette, but it's thinner, crisper, and has a slightly sweet flavor. It's filled with shrimp and bean sprouts, and then served with a tray of lettuce, sliced carrots, and mint. Add fresh veggies, dip in fish sauce, spice up with sriracha, and indulge.

In honor of the Dread Pirate, I tried the goat curry. The curry was flavorful but very thin, which made it less than optimal as a sauce for the steamed rice. The goat meat was cut into bite-sized morsels and served skin on, which may be off-putting to some but the texture is not completely foreign. Still, the meat was oh so love me tender.

Both Rene and Bloggle had the vermicelli bowl with chargrilled pork and eggrolls. In celebration of skipping the Chicago marathon, Bloggle ordered the large bowl - a decision which earned him the distinction of "Superman" in the eyes of our waitress. But in this case the Man of Steel's eyes were bigger than his stomach, and he threw in the towel before he could finish. How anyone could leave behind such deliciously grilled pork, I cannot understand.
Donnie Boy ate some sort of no carb, non-fat meal. Needless to say it was not worth writing about.
9 Roses - Birdie

Monday, November 2, 2009

Who Dat?

Let's just admit it: No one is focusing on work today. Not with the Dome set to explode at 7:30 tonight. So why fight temptation? Today is all about the Saints.

Last year Rene and I wrote a feature for offBeat on the food options at the Dome, and our shocking conclusion was that Dome food just ain't that great. Still, 3 hours is a long time to go without any food, especially if you are imbibing your fair share of Dome Foam. So you have to eat something. Our question to you is this: What are you eating at the Saints game?

Personally, I rarely ever eat at the Dome other than a bag of peanuts. However, that was not always the case. I was lucky enough to attend every Saints home game from the age of 6 until I left for college, and during those years what I ate at the game was just as important as the score at the end of the 4th quarter. The menu changed with every home game, but the 3rd quarter always ended with a Dove bar from the cart conveniently located at the entrance to my section on the terrace. I loved those things.

And I know that I'm not alone in my Dome rituals. Here is a look at a few of the characters who I've gone cha-ching with over the years.
  • Mr. Joe - He was a friend of my uncle's who sat with us at every Saints game for probably 15 years. Mr. Joe had high blood pressure, so his wife insisted that he take along a bag of unsalted popcorn for him to munch on during the game. He never seemed to view this as an act of deprivation, but I always thought it was terribly mean of his wife to try to stop him from enjoying a Dome dog.
  • Podnuh - For as long as I can remember, the same group of 4 guys sat in the row behind us in the terrace. I could never remember their names, but the one who sat on the aisle always called everyone "Podnuh." These were true fans: they knew every player's name, knew what the penalty would be as soon as the flag was thrown, and knew exactly what Jim Mora was doing wrong. They also knew how to eat. Podnuh was a smuggler like Mr. Joe, except instead of bland popcorn it was pork chops and turkey legs eaten straight off the bone. It was always a treat to see what appeared from beneath that foil wrapper tucked under his jacket.
  • The Pope - How could this list not be complete without La Papa? During high school he appointed himself "President of the Nacho Club" and had all of the concession prices committed to memory. If you sat with The Pope, you could only get up for food when he did and were forbidden from even asking for a few of his peanuts. He has since become "kind of a big deal" and now often sits in a suite. But if you need to know how much an order of chicken tenders and a bloody mary costs, he's still the person to call.