Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Two Best Meals

If you're an epicurean snob, you may find this post boring. And while I love food and fancy preparations and truffle oil and saffron, I also enjoy very simple ingredients. So I had two great meals in the past few days that included everyday ingredients and took me about 12.4 seconds to make. Well, a little longer but you get the point.

Saturday morning I went grocery shopping at Wegman's. I rarely buy bagels, although I love them, because, well, they are a carbohydrate-laden nightmare and upstate New York isn't exactly overrun with amazing little bagel places like in NYC. Which usually means a frozen sixer of Lender's bagels and I haven't bought those in yeaaaaars. But something made me go pick a couple up at Wegman's bakery, just to throw in the freezer for later. Ohhh, but they were fresh and warm and displayed next to freshly made containers of cream cheese, not the waxy, oily stuff that can survive the refrigerator for months on end. I rushed home, lovingly toasted my everything bagel, slathered it with billowing cream cheese, layerd slices of tomato just picked from the garden and topped it with a little sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper. Oh. My. God. I'm too embarrassed to describe the sounds I made whilst eating this but trust me, it was good.

Speaking of tomatoes, I'm on a big BLT kick this summer. But I usually don't have white bread in the house and a BLT is not really a BLT on ezekial bread with sprouted grains and flax seed or whatever the heck kind of cardboard bread is in my freezer. I picked up a nice, country bakery loaf the other day though so yesterday was Ultimate BLT day at my house. Be prepared though, it's a bit unorthodox. First of all, I don't mind lettuce on a BLT but I don't think I've ever bought a head of iceberg and probably won't start. Nothing wrong with it of course, it just personally reminds me a browned, shriveled, slimy cafeteria salads and I'm so over that. Instead, I like thin slices of creamy avocado. Also, I don't think it needs mayonnaise and I've tried to prove myself wrong here many times. I'll say to myself "OK Laila, you can nix the lettuce but you HAVE to have cool, tangy mayo to contrast with the salty bacon, you HAVE to." But you don't. I like the bread to soak up the lovely tomato juices much, much more. Think panzanella. So my method goes a little something like this:

Go to the garden and pick some tomatoes and basil. Slice tomatoes up and toss with chopped basil, add salt and pepper.
Fry up three slices of bacon.
While frying, toast the bread.
When the bread is toasted, lay down the bacon on one slice of bread.
Crack some pepper on top.
Lay down avocado slices on top of the bacon.
More black pepper.
Dump the tomato mixture over all that (it will have some juice from sitting with the salt for a few minutes).
Mash the top piece of bread down and have at it.
Have extras on hand, I could probably eat ten of these myself!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Jicama Salad

I have a great affinity for jicama. If you're not familiar with it, hmm, well, you should be because it's wonderful. It's crisp and refreshing and has few calories and lots of vitamin C. I've paired with with citrus before, orange or grapefruit segments, and it's quite tasty. Yesterday though, I was in the yard and noticed my pear tree was looking abundant and ripe. Interestingly, the pear has a similar texture to jicama so it made a very nice coupling. I tossed it with a bit of lime juice, sugar, rice wine vinegar, olive oil and chipotle powder and it was really tasty. I also think that it would make a nice entree if topped with grilled shrimp.

Jicama Salad:

1 medium jicama, peeled and cut into strips
1 large or 2 medium firm pears, like Bosc, seeded and cut into strips
1 lime, juiced
1 T. rice wine vinegar
1 T. olive oil
1 T. sugar or honey
1 t. chipotle powder

I cut everything up and added the dressing ingredients right in. If you want to make it with honey though, I would make the dressing separately and pour it over the strips of fruit/vegetables.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

New Orleans Food Schedule

So, I'm making my annual pilgrimage to my beloved New Orleans in October and I'm SO EXCITED! This time though, it will be different. Every time I end up in New Orleans, I find myself being pushed and pulled by other peoples' whims, wishes, schedules, whatever. It's my damn vacation and I plan on doing everything I want to do. In that vein, I have been devising my food schedule all morning and it's going to be a delicious journey!

On Thursday, I'll get in around 5 and my dear Mary Beth recommended a new place in the Quarter that she says is amazing. It's called the Orleans Grapevine and I looked at their menu online, I think I will have the BQ shrimp and the crabcakes, please. I'd also really like to stop by the Marigny Brasserie to sample the duck spring rolls on the bar menu. Or maybe their nine spice BBQ shrimp. Or rabbit debris over pappardelle. Possibly even pan-fried redfish with chickpea crust and sesame dressing.

Friday morning, I will be having a fried oyster po-boy upon waking up. I hope that it's at Liuzza's but anywhere will do in a pinch. Breakfast of champions! And I will eat fried pickles and drink an Abita amber in a frozen goldfish bowl. God, I love that place.

Friday night, I'm going to have dinner at Dooky Chase's if it kills me. I can't believe I've never eaten there. The proprietess, Leach Chase, is 80 something and has been nationally recognized for her fried chicken, gumbo, courtbouillon and so on. Katrina wiped her out and I was afraid I'd missed my chance to taste her fare but not so! She seems to be a tenacious lady.

Pearlie Wurlie and I have a BBQ shrimp tradition at Mr. B's. I tried it Pascal's Manale a while back but I still think Mr. B's has the best. Hopefully Pearlie will be awake by noon and we can go put on those silly bibs and lollygag at the bar with some colorful delusionals.

Saturday night we are checking into the Hilton Riverside and immediately going to dinner at Drago's. The charbroiled oysters will be consumed in mass quantities. I don't even think I want an entree, just about four dozen oysters.
I cannot go to New Orleans without a stop at Napoleon House for cool, creamy shrimp remoulade in an silken avocado boat and a Pimm's Cup, of course. New Orleans and Napoleon House introduced me to joy of a Pimm's Cup, so refreshing! Oh, and we're planning on going to the Abita brewery across the lake in Abita Springs. I'm sure I will eat more oysters there. I'm not sure how I'm going to fit all this in but I will surely try! In fact, I'm not sure I have any time left over for other activities after accounting for all my meals!

Finally, I will end my trip in Baton Rouge to see my gorgeous godson, Donovan. He's really enough of a draw but I will have to try the Baton Rouge-style white beans while I'm there. Apparently, white beans are to BR what red beans are to New Orleans. Curious, no?

There you have it folks, that's my itinerary, join me for some or all of it but by no means try to hijack my time or plans! I do not want to eat sushi or Indian when I'm in New Orleans nor do I want to sleep on your couch. I mean, thank you for all the couches I've slept on but this time, I'm doing my trip grown-up style. And it feels pretty good.

Friday, August 8, 2008


I'm sorry, I was so vague the other day! I just assume that everyone reading this has heard me babble on about Chile over the past few months and now I realize that I must divulge some details!
I am flying in Santiago, Chile in early February. This is not because I want to go spend a ton of time in a smoggy city of 8 million inhabitants but that's the only place I could get to with my frequent flier miles. No worry though, it's only a scant 70 miles to my destination city of Valparaiso and I hear land transit in South America is great, haaa.
So, Valparaiso, or Valpo as it is affectionately called, is a city on the Pacific coast. It was once a shipping capital and those blue collar roots are still palpable. But it also has a young, bohemian, artsy vibe and is often referred to as the San Francisco of the south. I hope the housing costs are NOT like San Francisco! Directly above Valpo is a resort town called Vina del Mar, a bit more upscale with beaches and touristy stuff. But I prefer earthy so I'll be making my home in Valparaiso. A cool thing about Valparaiso is it's topography; the city fans out around the bay and there are tons of hills, winding and deviating. Travel is made easier by ascensores, which in English means elevators but I think the word is really funiculars, you know, those cable cars that go up and down hills, like a ski lift.
Oh yes, this is no group thing, I am going alone on my great adventure, although I do welcome guests. I plan on doing a bit of community service while I'm there, to get into a groove and work my Spanish skills, which is the whole reason for going. I won't be making any money but I think it's important to have something concrete to do, I don't want to fritter away 5 months on the beach with surfer boys. Wait, that doesn't sound so terrible.
No, I don't know anyone there but I have a lot of friends with family there who can hopefully link me into their network. I'd like to find a roommate to help defray the cost of being unemployed for so long. Apparently I chose the most expensive country in South America, awesome. I have a real talent for squirreling out the priciest options! No matter, I think this is a once in a lifetime kinda deal so if I spend a few hundred more than I planned, so be it. I'm in debt to Sallie Mae for the rest of my life anyway.
Let's see, what else? Oh, the job and apartment. I'm leavng them both behind, sniffle. I've told my boss I'm off for adventure but my landlord is being a real jerk about me leaving in the winter. Just kidding pops. My landlord/father is awesome, I offered to move in with him for the last few months I'm here so he isn't saddled with an empty apartment for the rest of the winter but he doesn't seem to care. Or maybe he just doesn't want me moving in, hmmmm. Also, I'm spending this fall applying to go back to school, yet again, this time to get my PhD in public health, that's Dr. Bondi to you! So next fall should bring me to a new city and another exciting chapter in this book called life.
Finally, I will most certainly be updating ye olde blogge whilst on my travels. Hopefully I'll be eating lots of delicious food and taking tremendous pictures of breathtaking vistas. Wish me luck!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Holy Crap....

...I am going to CHILE for FIVE MONTHS!

And this is where I'll be living, come visit me!

Little of This, Little of That #5

Like my garden, this blogging thing so quickly gets out of control! I've got some tasty morsels for this installment though.

-I went to the Italian Festival a few weeks ago and was reminded why I haven't been there in about 15 years. It's terrible, really. And I can't even say I though much of the food. I had an arancino that was fairly bland and a lobster roll that was downright disgusting but I did share some fried dough with Suki and this is what it looked like. I think we're both looking a bit overwhelmed. Also, I'm looking pregnant? Just a bad picture, no worries!

-I made these little bites for music in the parkway last week and they were fantastic. I mixed a log of goat cheese with the zest of one lemon, some fresh mint and chopped pecans and then stuffed the mixture into dates. I tasted the filling on its own, which was very nice but paired with the dates, it became incredible. They morphed into little jewel-like treats that were almost reminiscent of candy, albeit a more upscale and refined candy. Alas, I also made that Mint-Ginger spritzer recipe to mix with rum and they proportions were all off. I even tried to make it a second time and it was off again. It's a fairly straightforward thing to make an infused simple syrup so I'll keep on trying.

-I had dinner with my daddy-o at Betty's last week. It can be hit or miss there for me, although the patio and decor is always inviting and charming. This week was a hit, luckily, I had a pasta salad with crab and Pops had a green salad with mango salsa and grilled salmon. I liked the little pepitas sprinkled over the top too.

-I enjoyed my crab salad so much that when I saw the recipe in Gourmet for sweet and sour crab salad I had to make it. It was ai-ight but I won't be making that again. Maybe after the millenium I spent cracking the crab legs and the innumerable puncture wounds I endured, I expected too much.

-Two noteworthy dinners, one at my mother's and one at Greg's. My mother had a fried chicken extravaganza, although how I ended up in the kitchen frying on a hot July night, I'll never know. To start, we had black-eyed pea fritters with this incredible hot pepper relish and tasty crab deviled eggs. The main course included a great salad, cornbread, corn and tomato salad and the deliciously brined chicken, accompanied by fresh watermelon cocktails. Cricket made a marvelous blueberry crisp for dessert, mmmm! Not to be outdone, Greg fired up the grill for an ENTIRE coho salmon stuffed with crab the next night. It was decadent and wonderful.

-I had a go at processing and preserving last night. I have cucumbers coming out of my ears and green and yellow beans galore. I was only working with two Mason jars yesterday though (I know Mamma, I'll get over to the house and pick up the rest today!) so I just did some pickled beans. When I worked in New Orleans, we'd garnish bloody marys with pickled green beans and pickled okra and I'd spend a better part of the evening munching away on pickled beans, I loved them so. Also, those olives stuffed with jalapenos, mmm, or blue cheese, even better! In fact, most of the college years, I subsisted on whatever I could graze at work, making my own salad bar out of the array of drink garnishments. LOTS of orange slices, pickled accoutrements and sugar-doused lemon wedges. And praline bread pudding when the boss man wasn't looking. That was a healthy time indeed. Anyway, sorry, sheesh, here's my beans, aren't they pretty?

By the way, you're all getting garden bounty for Christmas presents as I save up for El Grande adventure. I will leave you with this picture of last Saturday's rainbow. Not a great picture but I don't know the last time I saw a rainbow that was a full arc so it was noteworthy. Enjoy!