Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Chocolate Spice Sorbet

Last week when Mamma and I took refuge in Sucre from the unrelenting sun, I had a chocolate sorbet. Now, I like fruit sorbets because they are refreshing and light but really, if you want to get right down to it, I will take an ice cream any day over sorbet. But for some reason, perhaps the spice, this sorbet called my name. It was a rich, dark chocolate brown and now that I've tasted it, I don't think I'll ever look at chocolate ice cream the same. You see, the cream or milk or whatever dairy actually mitigates the flavor of pure, unadulterated chocolate sensation. Kind of like the difference between rich, full dark chocolate and its more insipid milk-chocolate brethen. So, there's the incredible punch of chocolate flavor. Then there's the spice. I was told the sorbet had cinnamon, cardamom and ginger and it reminded me an awful lot of those chocolate cookies at Christmas, you know, the ones with grape jelly and clove and light, white glaze topping? Is this a Buffalo cookie? An Italian cookie? Because people here don't seem to know what I am talking about. Too bad because that cookie is awesome, especially if you get someone who still uses lard to make them.

I could not stop thinking about this sorbet and this weekend when I stupidly bought an enormous thing of soy milk just days before going out of town, I decided to make my own with soy as a base. I used about 2 cups of soy milk, although water would be fine. Then I added a cup of sugar, a 3.5 ounce bar of bittersweet Perugina and 1/2 cup of dutch processed cocoa. By the way, Hershey's special dark costs $3 and this stuff from Holland cost $9, about which I was a bit put out but I sprung for it anyway. I added ground cardamom, ginger and grated nutmeg and cinnamon. Then a shot of vanilla and a shot of strong coffee to round it all out. Oh, a bit of cayenne and a pinch of salt for good measure. I love, love, love the flavor of the spice with the chocolate, I could eat this for the rest of eternity. Although next time I think I will skip soy and do water (even though it kept a sorbet-like quality, not dairy-like or creamy at all) and I will use fresh ginger, cardamom pods and some of those little, bright red Thai chiles. The ground spices gave good flavor but there was a slight murkiness or dustiness that I think I can avoid using fresh ingredients. Finally when I topped it all off with stewed figs last night, I knew I had hit the sorbet mother lode. Make this!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Where is My Waistline Continued?

Where was I? Ah yes, Saturday, mid-afternoon. After Coquette we went to The Joint for some smokin' BBQ, just thinking about it is making me want some of their meltingly good brisket, especially that line of fat that rides along the top of each piece. After a cruise around the 9th Ward and a little down time at the house, we were ready to hit downtown for some live music. John Boutte was playing at dba and even though I think he is a primadonna, I also love hearing him perform. It was a great show, he made me chuckle, he made me tear up a bit and there was this incredible guy who came up and did this spoken word sort of piece using New Orleans street names to create a narrative that combined history and politics and other local tidbits. I should go take advantage of living in a city with such wonderful music more often.

Sunday morning Mamma and I went to mass at St. Augustine's in the Treme. I'm sure I've been to mass here before but long ago and infrequently so it was interesting to see how it differs from Mass I am used to. Like the peace section, which went on forever, maybe a full 15 minutes! At Holy Cross, you'd wish peace and kiss cheeks with people in your pew and in those directly in front or in back but at St Aug's, people perambulated! They made their way! I went over to peace with an usher and she said "peace, my baby," which delighted me and people who couldn't get to you flashed the international sign for peace (two fingers). I found this both hilarious and endearing. Afterwards we went to Betsy's Pancake House, where there was plenty more "How we doing, my babies?" and "Everything all good, my darlings?" Oh, and two poodles getting amorous in the flatbed of a pickup truck across the street. Good, solid, breakfast entertainment.

I sent the adults off to the French Quarter to play while I went grocery shopping because Ben and I really wanted to cook for them, plus we invited my Louisiana family to join in. We have never cooked for others together, nor have we entertained in our new place and it could have been a mess but went off without a hitch. Except for the broken window but that's neither here nor there. Donovan now knows the difference between glass and plastic and thank god he didn't hurt himself worse, as he put his foot through a window and then pulled it back in with nothing more than a tiny cut on his foot.

Amy first arrived with Donovan and Neely in tow, Mamma and Greg got back and we all piled into the kitchen to hang out and have some wine before dinner. We made crawfish dumplings and charbroiled oysters to start. I was sad that I could only find Atlantic oysters. In fact, I'm so sad about it that I can't say any more except that they turned out very well, even though they weren't from the Gulf.

We also grilled drum and amberjack with chermoula and tzatziki to top it off, a hash of mustard greens, corn and potatoes, a salad with shredded beets, ginger-poached mirliton and dressed with a fig vinaigrette. Finally, for dessert, bruleed bananas foster over homemade lucuma-manjar ice cream. It was fantastico.

Here is my fireplace, appropriately decked out with a coveted shoe from the Muses parade and a picture of my grandparents. I like seeing Donovan and Neely's shoes there too.

It was a night I won't soon forget, some of my most beloved people in the world who rarely, if ever, see one another, it was very special indeed. And delicious of course.

Greg left the next day and Mamma and I were pretty low-key the rest of the time we were there. We went to the Creole Creamery for dinner (well, we had a salad first but who cares about that?). I had white chocolate-pink peppercorn, Sicilian pistachio (I think it had a hint of cardamom in it?), chocolate-cherry and....I don't remember but I liked them all. Mamma had a kinda over-salted salted cashew chocolate but her other flavors were good, especially the lavender-honey, which is one of my favorites.

We also went to Lafayette Cemetery, shopped around the cuckoo crazy antique store on Magazine where you never know what you will find and ended up at Sucre for more cold treats, it was HOT! Then I had to bring my mamma to the airport, which was sad but luckily I get to go home this weekend so parting wasn't too hard. See you soon Mamma! See you soon Buffy and wings and pizza and chicken finger subs! Chiavetta's and sponge candy and chocolate-vanilla twists at the Custard Corner!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Domenica, Delachaise, Cure, Coquette, Camellia Grill, My Goodness, Where is My Waistline?

It's been an exciting few weeks around here with the move and house guests and summer just generally being the wild whirlwind that it is. When did summers stop being languorous and fluid and turn into visitor after baby shower after wedding after concert? Jesus Christ, I'm tired and it's only mid-season!

A couple weeks ago, a co-worker asked us to go out for happy hour. I'm new on the job and I'd like to extend my social circle a bit so I wanted to but Ben and I going to a concert. She suggested the following Friday, also out for me as my mamma and Greg would be here. So she suggested Wednesday, which wasn't great for me at all but there is only so many times you can turn people down so I agreed. We went to Domenica, Besh's newest restaurant, because they have a killer happy hour. Half-price drinks, any drinks, not $2 Bud Lights, which is the norm for happy hour offerings. And half-price pizzas from their brick oven. Wild mushroom, bacon, ricotta and yard egg? Or speck, gorgonzola and pecan? Decisions, decisions! The pizzas were very good, thin, well-blistered crust and they have a nice wine selection so I got a $12 Pinot Bianco from Alto Adige for $6 that was mighty pleasing.

Next day my mamma came to visit! We went to Baton Rouge to see Miss Amy and the kiddos. She made us a delightful shrimp remoulade and boudin, mmmmm! When we got back to New Orleans, we went to Cure for a cocktail. It was happy hour, what do you know! I am so glad that happy hour seems to be morphing into lower-priced specialty cocktail and wine as opposed to well vodka and cheap beer. I love this change. I had read on another blog that Cure's pisco sour was better even than any in Chile. Frankly, I disagree and for $9, it was outrageously small. I got a $5 Sazerac (hurrah for happy hour specials!) and it was pretty good but I would have preferred more bitters and a chilled glass. Yet. It was delightful inside, decorated like an old apothecary shop and they had a nice little menu so I'll be back for happy hour to see how their Pimm's Cup is. Afterwards, we went to Upperline and I was excited because they have their 3 course Garlic menu all summer and I've been wanting to go there for ages. But I just wasn't that hungry after eating a cheese plate at Cure. I got an unremarkable salad, in fact, it was kind of watery. I also had the Oysters St. Claude but the oysters weren't seasoned that I could taste and the St. Claude sauce used an unfortunate amount of the pre-minced garlic that marinates in embalming fluid for who knows how long. I liked how the interior was designed though, lots of local artwork and quirky memorabilia, so I will give it another shot someday.

Greg arrived the following day and after sending them to Mahoney's for po-boys while I went to work, we went for a post-work cocktail at the Sazerac Bar in the old and beloved Roosevelt hotel. Well, for me it was a post-work cocktail but as Greg put it "I've been in New Orleans for six hours and haven't had a drop of alcohol yet. That's got to change!" The Sazerac is delightful, full of well-appointed furniture that probably warmed the ass of Huey Long and other New Orleans notables back in the day, and paintings commissioned by the WPA lining the walls. The last time I was there, the bartender was explaining the history of the bar to people, making up new drinks and allowing us to sample, all in all a very pleasant experience. This time, our bartendress was a stiff woman in a white jacket that reminded me of a straitjacket. Her demeanor was about as playful as her uniform, which was kind of off-putting. I don't mind paying a lot for fancy drinks but I do expect them to be good and these were okay but forgettable. Sigh. I do so enjoy taking visitors to the fancy hotel bars here but much better cocktails were had the next day at Coquette. I'm getting there!

After the Sazerac, we went to my favorite wine bar, the Delachaise, for some snacks. The fried frogs legs were delicious and drizzled with a tarragon-butter sauce, my idea of heaven. Goosefat-fried pommes frites are always a winner and my salad was a nice foil to the fried offerings. Exhausted and sated, we turned in for the night at a respectable 9:30.

The next morning, Greg wanted to hit the Camellia Grill, which I think I only went to once and it was a very, very long time ago. Their schtick is jiving with the customers, which can't help but make you smile unless you are the duds who were sitting next to us. I literally felt the fun draining out of me just sitting next to them, not a smile cracked the entire time. Anyway, the pecan waffle was outstanding! Why would anyone make any other kind of waffle ever? It had a lovely nutty chewiness to it that I might have to have again tomorrow morning.

When afternoon rolled around, we decided to go to Coquette for a pre-lunch drink, hey, they were on vacation and I was tour guide so I had to! Wow. I had a French 75 with apricot brandy, which brought me back to when the Ritz first opened in New Orleans. We'd go hear Jeremy Davenport after work and I tried this magical cocktail, made with apricot brandy instead of regular brandy (or gin, not my style at all)and loved it. Mamma had a lychee martini, which was wonderful and balanced, which is tough to pull off because lychees are so sweet. Greg had a very solid mojito. Not only were the drinks stellar, the staff was very friendly and informative and the inside is beautiful but not stuffy. Original tin ceilings, gorgeous wooden bar etc. Plus all their cocktails are $5 on Thursdays. I will be back! Wait, I just realized I let a Thursday pass me by without thinking about that. Oh well, next Thursday then.

The rest of the weekend is forthcoming; John Boutte, grilled oysters and limbs going through glass. Stay tuned.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

July 8th, 2010

Yes, that's the best I can do for a title because there is really going to be no cohesive element to this post.

The first day after my week of denial was a special day for me and the boy so we made a marvelous dinner to celebrate that AND to welcome me back to the world of STEAK and ICE CREAM and WINE!!!!! We grilled some steaks simply and topped them off with a knob of a shallot-tarragon compound butter, which may be overkill but nonetheless, I encourage you to try it. We had a grilled romaine salad with pan-seared scallops and the most garlicky, buttery, peppery homemade croutons. As if we didn't have enough decadence-ahem, butter-, we fried some potatoes, tossed some in garlic butter and finished with shaved romano. This meal will be going on the menu at the restaurant we open. Also, I'm pretty certain the measly eight-tenths of a pound I lost during denial week came back after this dinner. No matter, 100% worth it!

I bought Ben an ice-cream maker, which means I bought myself an ice-cream maker, and made my first creation, the cardamon pod scented bliss that it was. Here's what I did.

Crush up about 20 pods of cardamom, so the seeds are exposed. Heat with 1 2/3 c. heavy cream, just to a bare simmer and then remove from the heat. I let this sit overnight but probably a few hours would do. Strain the seeds from the cream. Bring the cream, 1 cup of milk and a scant 1/2 cup of sugar to a simmer, just enough to dissolve the sugar. Whisk together four egg yolks and a scant 1/4 cup of sugar Slowly add the warm milk-cream mixture. I worried about curdling so I tempered the eggs a bit with a few eggshells of the milk mixture, then whisked in the remainder. Let this cool in the refrigerator and put it in the ice cream machine for about 30 minutes. Transfer to a container and freeze for about an hour.

It was super, I mean, I really cannot say enough about this ice cream except that you should make it and share it and eat it. I brought this to a picnic with some pound cake cupcakes I had made. One fine friend had made sangria and I though how nice that would be, the pound cake, the ice cream and the wine-macerated berries. But said friend also brought THE Chantilly cake from Whole Foods so we skipped the pound cake and berries.

I made mango sorbet the next day but it was kind of a dud because the mangoes were a bit past their prime, do you know what I mean? They get a very unpleasant flavor as they age that I can't quite put my finger on but I didn't like it. To save it I added some lime, mint and cayenne. I really liked the kick of the cayenne after the sweet, icy beginning but sadly, that over-mature note remained. Anyway, now I can't wait to do cardamom again and praline-bacon and salted caramel and peach-basil and lucuma-manjar!

I made this carrot salad, which had a number of things going for it. Namely, it was posted on smittenkitchen, which has never steered me wrong. Second, it had harisaa, mint and feta! Yes, yes, yes! I made the harissa last week and had it on eggs before making the carrot salad and it was so good that I couldn't wait to make the salad. But guess what? It was only ho-hum, I think the addition of sugar was unnecessary and actually kind of gross. I much preferred the carrot salad I made during Denial week of carrots, ginger, cranberries and scallions.

Monday night was our farewell dinner for Tabitha. I have made a very good friend here and I am sad to see her leaving us to go to medical school in Shreveport at the end of the month. But she needs to go on and challenge that big old brain of hers and God knows she isn't doing it here, sitting on the porch drinking Rose and eating cheese like we are so wont to do. Anyway, four of us got all gussied up and went to Susan Spicer's new place called Mondo. Overall, we really enjoyed it although it was nothing mind-blowing. I sort of think that's how she envisioned this place though, a neighborhood place that's casual and you can pop in for a glass of wine from their thoughtful wine list and some snacks. But it was no culinary mecca like I think so many people expect from Susan Spicer.

Highlights were the shrimp and pork meatballs on the lemongrass skewers and creamy crab toast. The breaded artichoke was pretty boring and awfully stringy but the lemon aioli was a bright spot. The steak tartare was fine but there was so much caper and pepper and so on that it detracted from the beef. If there was actually even any beef at all, I'm not sure. I'm kicking myself for not trying to soup of the day, a hot and sour soup with duck dumplings.

My dinner was perfectly passable, fish "Muddy Waters" (which in a meneuiere with jalapeno and anchovy) with roasted potatoes, except I didn't care for the fish of the day...tripletail? Triple beam? Triple threat? I usually hate five-spice powder but Tabitha's Chinese duck was very tasty, if a little small, as was the accompanying turnip cake. Corrinne got a steak with bearnaise and OOOOH, I cannot get enough of tarragon lately. I don't even know how the steak was because I focused on those lovely, licorice-like, grassy bits of tarragon in the sauce. Emily got a very well-cooked (I mean rightly done, not overcooked)piece of lamb with ricotta agnolloti that might be what I order next time I'm in. For dessert, lemon tart, coconut sorbet and sweet potato-pecan pie with almond-sherry ice cream. Sorbet, good, lemon tart, lemony, sweet-potato pecan pie with ice cream was STELLAR. I really liked the ice cream, the sherry complemented the almond so well and the almonds tasted deep and toasty.

All in all, a very nice meal, although we wanted a perhaps finer dining experience than they offer. We wanted some port or sherry after dinner, no such luck, but with such company, who really needs it? Anyway, I think next time I'll skip the high-brow meal experience and sit at the bar with a glass of wine and a pizza from the wood-burning oven. Oh, and those meatballs!