Friday, December 31, 2010

Bistro Daisy

The boyfriend and I celebrated an anniversary this week and I have been looking forward to a fancy dinner with him for a while! Sadly, because of the huge winter storm, I ended up stuck in Chicago for the better part of our special day so we had to postpone.

The next day we opened a bottle of bubbly and sat on our porch in the remarkably mild weather. It felt so good to be HOME and reflect on the past year and, obviously, to savor some champagne! I won't bore you with details and cut right to the chase. We went to Bistro Daisy. It was outstanding. This is where I need to bring my mother next time she visits.

It's beautiful inside, the wooden bar is lovely, the ceilings are painted a sky blue and the chandeliers look like they are original. But what really shone was the food. I normally only like my oysters raw or fried but I ordered an appetizer of poached oysters with an Herbsaint cream broth, fennel, tomatoes and bacon. WOW. This may be one of my favorite dishes of 2010. The excellent bread served to us sopped up the juices perfectly. Now my grandmother definitely never cooked with oysters or Herbsaint but something about the aroma of this brought me back to Sunday dinners in her kitchen so naturally, I loved it a little more for that. My sweetie got the sweetbreads, which were very good, but the accoutrements of sweet potato, bacon and pecans were not the perfect foil for the already rich meat. I like the zing of citrus to contrast such a rich dish.

For entrees, I ordered the duck with cracklings and a brandy-orange-foie gras demi. It was very tasty but I think they took the skin off to make the cracklings (which were addictive by the way!) but that meant that I lost the crisp skin with savory meat in each bite. I sort of missed that. It was good but GAHHHH!!!OOOOHHHH!!! MMMMMMMMMMM!!! The lamb shank that Ben ordered was out of this world. This is last-meal worthy food. The meat was unctuous, so luscious and flavorful, cooked in a bit of a tomato sauce with MINT and this taste made me think of my grandmother all over again. I would have thought Bistro Daisy had French leanings but I felt like I was in my Sicilian grandmother's basement kitchen. Basement kitchen, you ask? Yes indeed, the second kitchen in the basement where the real cooking happens but I suppose that's another post.

We skipped dessert in favor of espresso and a glass of port but they brought us a baked Alaska anyway, which was very sweet. Sweet of them, not overly sweet to taste. I don't know what they do to their meringue but it was the creamiest I have ever tasted, so much so that it just makes you want to slide it up against the roof of your mouth and mash it around with your tongue to prolong the experience.

We walked back to Nashville Avenue hand in hand in the breezy and wonderfully warm night air and really, I could not have asked for more. Go to Bistro Daisy, take your beloved, order the lamb.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Windmill cookies! Be still, my childhood heart!

I recently read about the new Gourmet Cookie Book and that therein lies a recipe for Speculaas. Not familiar with these, I did a little research and lo and behold! They are actually my favorite windmill cookies that were served at snack time by every school or day care I ever went to! Maybe this is a northern thing, I have asked several people here if they know what I'm talking about to no avail. Anyway, real speculaas are a very traditional Dutch cookie. They kind of remind me of sugar cookies, except that they are a deep brown and spiced warmly, dotted with toasted almonds. I made a lot of cookies this weekend and these seemed to be the hit.

This recipe is from Gourmet but please note my changes at the bottom because I had some issues.


3 cups flour

4 teaspoons baking powder

1 tablespoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon cloves

1 teaspoon nutmeg

½ teaspoon ground aniseed

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon ginger or white pepper

2 stick (1 cup) butter, softened

1½ cups firmly packed dark brown sugar

3 tablespoons milk

¼ cup flour (for rolling the dough)

2-3 cups blanched almonds, chopped lengthwise

2-3 lightly beaten egg whites


Published in Gourmet in 1971, these cookies have been baked in the Netherlands for centuries.

Into a bowl, sift together 3 cups flour, baking powder, spices and salt. In a bowl of an electric mixer, beat butter with brown sugar until the mixture is light and fluffy. Stir in milk. Gradually add the flour mixture, stirring until it is well combined and form the dough into a ball. Knead the dough on a board sprinkled with flour. Roll it into a rectangle ¼-inch thick. With a sharp knife or cutter, cut the dough into rectangles 2½ inches by 1½ inches. Put the rectangles on a buttered cookie sheet. Decorate them with blanched almonds by gently pushing the nuts into the dough. Brush cookies with lightly beaten egg white. Bake the cookies at 375 degrees 12-15 minutes, or until they are firm.

My notes: I had neither ground clove or aniseed but I think it's perfectly acceptable to add more ginger and pepper or maybe if you're adventurous, some cardamom. I mixed the dough as directed and it seemed awfully dry so I added an egg. That seemed to do the trick and then I was able to roll it out just fine. I also skipped the egg whites at the end and just pushed the almonds into the dough, which worked fine and then I didn't have to think about what to do with those egg yolks. Also, I am pretty generous with the almonds but I probably used 1/2 cup of blanched, toasted almonds and that was plenty. (I had all those leftover almonds and so it inspired me to make chocolate financiers but I am stopping here!)

Monday, December 20, 2010

Elixir G

I went to Pal's for drink on Friday and let me just tell you how much I like Pal's. It is a comfortable neighborhood joint that also serves upscale cocktails without the pretense often found at other places. I got the Gingerita, which scared me a bit because drinks with cutesy names often are laden with super-sugary liquors and pre-made syrups and so I asked what was in it. Ginger vodka, ginger beer, ginger juice and a bit of fresh lime juice. It was excellent. The ginger juice is apparently from some organic ginger farm in California, it's called Elixir G, which sounds like something you might have imbibed at a rave circa 1997. Despite its sketchy name, it is DELICIOUS. Not available in the great state of Louisiana, I wrote the company and they told they they could ship it to me for $10 a bottle and I could send them a check upon receiving it. How's that for customer service? Anyway, get yourself a bottle of this stuff or just go to Pal's and drink theirs.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Heaven on Earth: Gene's Po-Boys

You wouldn't guess it from the charming exterior, but Gene's Po-Boys is the shit. This Pepto-Bismol pink landmark has been filling happy bellies for years and every time I am in the neighborhood, i make it a point to stop by. Their hot sausage is, quite simply, inimitable. It's super garlicky and redolent of spice, topped with cheese and mashed altogether in the perfect Leidenheimer loaf. I took an out-of-town friend there last night and he was floored. Could not believe that New Orleans gets the hype for its roast beef po-boys and not the hot sausage. While they are certainly popular in the city, I'm fairly sure most tourists come here with red beans and jambalaya on their minds more than hot sausage.

Can I rhapsodize about the hot sausage just a little more? Bear with me. I just can't stop thinking about it, which is where the danger lies because once you have one, you start plotting activities and routes to get you near to Gene's at all times of the day, thank GOD they are open 24 hours! Although in truth, I have never been there during the day, which you may want to do actually. It's generally surrounded by people asking for change but if you're not bothered by it, neither am I. Please go to Gene's next time you come to New Orleans. Or if you live here and you have never been, please go immediately. You will be so happy.

Sorry I have no pictures, usually Gene's po-boys are consumed rapidly in the car because I cannot resist their intoxicating aroma on the drive home!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Georgian Cilantro Sauce

I am not sure how I spent my Saturdays before but my routine for several months now has been coffee in bed while I peruse the internets, hitting the gym, and then settling in for back-to-back episodes of "The Splendid Table" and "Louisiana Eats." Generally what I hear goes in one ear and out the other. This is not because it isn't interesting but because between the 20,000 food blogs I read, constantly reading updates on Yelp and voraciously attacking the weekly food installments from the NY Times and Gambit Weekly, I get a little overly saturated with information.

Anyway, this sauce, native to Georgia (country, not state), piqued my interest and I finally made it on Sunday. It's very tasty, I slathered it on some chicken thighs (all over, including under the skin) and then made my boyfriend go outside and grill them in the 26 degree weather. I am a cruel mistress.

I didn't have any parsley so I used all cilantro in its place. That's it, no other changes.

2 ounces dried apricots

1 cup boiling water

1/3 cup shelled walnuts (1 ounce)

2 to 4 garlic cloves (to taste), halved, green shoots removed

1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon salt (more to taste)

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Pinch of cayenne

2 cups cilantro leaves (2 good-size bunches), coarsely chopped

1 1/2 cups parsley leaves (1 1/2 bunches), coarsely chopped

1/2 cup coarsely chopped mixed basil, tarragon, and dill

5 tablespoons walnut oil (or more, to taste)

1/2 cup soaking water from the apricots, as needed

1. Place the dried apricots in a bowl and pour on the boiling water. Let sit for at least an hour, more if possible, even overnight. Drain over a measuring cup and retain 1/2 cup of the soaking water.

2. Turn on a food processor fitted with the steel blade, and drop in the garlic. When it is chopped and adhering to the sides of the bowl, stop the machine and scrape down the bowl. Add the walnuts, and process with the garlic. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the drained apricots, the lemon juice, salt, pepper and cayenne to the bowl, and process to a puree. Add the cilantro and other chopped herbs, and puree, stopping the machine to scrape down the sides several times. Combine the walnut oil and soaking water from the apricots, and with the machine running, gradually add it to the puree. Process until smooth. Transfer to a bowl, and let sit for one hour. Taste and adjust salt. Serve with beans, chicken, meat or fish, grilled or roasted vegetables, or grains.

Yield: 1 1/2 cups.

Advance preparation: This sauce will keep for several days in the refrigerator. Bring to room temperature before using.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Somebody Loves Me

The boyfriend missed me while I was gone and he welcomed me home with this. This would be seared redfish on homemade gnocchi, topped with watercress and a bit of bacon, sauced with a dijon beurre blanc and finished with truffle oil. I love him.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


I am cold. I went to Chicago for Thanksgiving and it was about 22 degrees there, about 80 in New Orleans when I left. During the four days, I pretty much stayed enrobed in my favorite fleece pajamas and beshawled by miscellaneous afghans. Family members kept going on walks and shooting off to the movies but not me! I entered the house on Wednesday night and I did not emerge until Saturday morning on my way to the airport!

(By the way, T-Day was great. I love my family. I can't believe we can put 16 of us in one house for four days and all enjoy it so thoroughly. It probably helped that we were lubricated by perhaps dozens of bottles of wine and champagne, plus a liberal amount of "the brown," as my uncles affectionately call their stash of Basil Hayden. My nieces are delightful. I ate with wild abandon. I luxuriated with books. Too bad I didn't take any pictures but I leave it to the pros in my family. Gordon? Greg? Cory? Where are the photos? This is your not at all subtle hint!)

Anyway, the weather changed dramatically whilst I was away. It was chilly in NOLA too. Then weirdly it was 78 and humid. Yesterday the temperature inside the house (nothing on, open windows) was 76 degrees. By evening, it was 61. I relented and let the boyfriend turn on the heat. Although I am reluctant to turn on the heat, I do love the chill, brisk walks and soup-making. I made a split pea soup the other day with smoked turkey instead of ham and it was fine but I really prefer the swine. Tonight, I am thinking about a Jamie Oliver recipe for soup with pancetta, barley and sage.

This is weird. Split peas and barley are my new cravings? Oh well, go with it, I say. I'll update you on how the soup turns out!