Friday, 31 January 2014

New Orleans - Cafe Degas, New Orleans Cooking School and Culinary History Tour

Leaving the French Quarter behind us, we headed to Cafe Degas.  My friend Lynda was catching up with her Uncle and Cousin.  Cafe Degas is a French Bistro with a New Orleans touch.  Very chic, very classy, small, dimly lit (very romantic) and with the big tree that grows through the centre of the restaurant very cool.
We are seated in the enclosed patio and perusing the menu I decide to see how much French I actually remember from school (I did 4 years of French).... it appears not as much as I had hoped!
Lynda and I decide to order three dishes and share.  We start off with Crab & Mirliton Bisque with Crab Claws

crab claws makes things better
This is bisque is thick and hearty and creamy and the two big crab legs are juicy and sweet.  Great starter.
Roasted quail over mixed greens, quail eggs, smoked vidalia onion, sun dried tomatoes, tomatoes with a thyme balsamic vinaigrette

quail and quail eggs - petite
The quail is crispy and tender and surprisingly meaty. Eating one of the legs feels dainty in my fingers as I nibble the meat off the tiny bones. The thyme balsamic vinaigrette is tasty and woody (obviously the thyme).
Couldn't pass up another opportunity to try boudin, this time it's a black boudin (noir) which is made with blood.  Served with apple choucroute.

French Boudin Noir with apple choucroute
This black sausage skins pops as we cut into it, but it's very mushy on the inside and not very palatable.  It's rich and metallic tasting.  The choucroute (similar to sauerkraut) is good and tangy and paired with apple through it it's good. A dish that wasn't devoured.
The others ordered panfried rack of  lamb and a salad (which for some reason I have no idea what the deep fried protein was - chicken nuggets? liver? mussells?  honestly a food blogger fail!)
We were to full for dessert but someone did order the œufs à la neige, which is French for 'floating islands' a meringue in a puddle of creme anglais with blackberries and caramel sauce.

floating islands
A tiny taste test (for full research purposes), it is light and fluffy - I am a sucker for meringue.
Cafe Degas is a delightful French Bistro on The Esplanade - a little out from the French Quarter. 

Our last day in New Orleans involved more eating and drinking (of course).  We arrived at the New Orleans School of Cooking for a morning of demonstration and tasting (we also paired this class with a New Orleans Culinary History Tour.)

Once we were seated in the country style kitchen, we helped ourselves to fresh lemonade and were served a buttermilk biscuit with Steen's Cane Syrup.

buttermilk biscuits
These were not as light and fluffy as expected, however still warm and good - more like a scone than a biscuit.

Our delightful chef for the day starts with a roux (which is a fat/flour base for gravy and sauces).  Today we are using vegetable oil, however traditionally in cajun/creole cooking bacon fat is used.  It can be white to dark brown depending on what you will be using it for.  A roux is a base for gravy, gumbo and many other Creole/Cajun dishes.

I had trouble watching the demo, the mirror was a little distracting!
The smells emanating from the kitchen is wonderful and my taste buds are buzzing.  I like watching demonstrations, but nothing beats actual hands on cooking.  This morning I'm happy to sit back and relax and take it all in.

Shrimp & Artichoke Soup
We start with the shrimp and artichoke soup.  Creamy and full of perfectly cooked prawns.  The artichokes are softened and blended through the soup, leaving small pieces to chew on.
A jug of Abita finds it's way to the table.  It might only be 10.30 in the moring but I can't resist.

Locally brewed Abita brew

Crawfish Etouffee is an iconic Cajun or Creole dish (depending who is cooking it, whether Cajun spice is used or Creole spice is used)  Etouffee means 'to smother' and typically served over rice.  It can be made with any shellfish, but when in season, crawfish etouffee is the most popular.  Start with a blond roux and the holy trinity (bell peppers, onions and celery) as your base, add your crawfish and other ingredients and let it simmer into a fantastic stew like sauce.

crawfish etouffee
As crawfish isn't in season, I find the crawfish a bit on the tough side (I am thinking they may have been frozen - but not sure).  The spices taste a little uncooked for me, but that isn't to say it wasn't tasty. 
Of course no meal is complete without dessert.  Bread pudding is a staple dessert in NOLA (in my opinion).

Bread Pudding

I will say the pralines were a hit and miss.  The batch that was made for us didn't work out so well.  It crystallised and didn't set properly.  We were offered pieces from another batch.  They were okay, I still prefer the pralines from the Southern Candy Makers, but I was happy to learn how to make them. 

Following on from the class (and some shopping afterwards in the general store) we met our guide at Antoine's for our culinary history tour.  It turns out it's just the two of us.  I was excited for this tour as it takes you behind the scenes and into restaurants that you may not get to (even when dining there) and of course there is taste testing along the way.

We sit in Antoine's while eating gumbo. Antoine's is the country's oldest family owned restaurant.

Gumbo is probably one of the most well known dishes in Cajun/Creole cuisine.  It's stew like consistency can be made with anything from seafood to sausage and meats.  Served with some rice it's comfort in a bowl.

The many rooms in Antoine's.

After a walk through the famous Arnauds and the museum on site that is dedicated to the founder's daughter (and restaurateur) Germaine Cassanve Wells.  She was the social elite of the city and her wonderful wardrobe and rooms have been on exhibit for some time.

We end up at  Remoulade (which is a branch off from Arnauds) to find out next sample.   I decide to partake in a cold beer. An LA 31.

Shrimp Arnaud (shrimp remoulade). this is where the dish was invented.  The plump prawns are coated in remoulade sauce.  I'm like the huge sample on offer too!

shrimp remoulade

The name of the restaurant for the third sample escapes me.  It was part of a hotel and I know we sat out in a lovely courtyard with a fountain!  Honestly! This just goes to show how the tour was progressing (more on that at the end of the post).  This was a dish that was a first for me.

Turtle Soup.

turtle in a half bowl - turtle power
The broth was rich and meaty, but no distinct turtle flavour.  Not sure what turtle is supposed to even taste like. It was good though.  Comforting.
Our fourth (and final) stop on this tour is Tujague's.  Reputedly the second oldest restaurant in NOLA.  Here it's the famous house speciality of boiled brisket of beef served with horseradish sauce, potatoes and vegetables that brings us in (sorry no photo).  It was tender and meaty and the horseradish sauce had a good bite to it.

The grasshopper, which was reputedly invented here too, which is an after dinner mint cocktail is also included.  It's a creamy, menthol tasting concoction and not something I would drink.  I'm more of a fruity cocktail girl - or a pina colada!


In all honesty, it was fabulous to visit these restaurants and poke around behind the scenes and taste some wonderful offerings, but over all I was disappointed with this tour, including the tour guide.  I felt the whole thing rushed and the guide pushy and not very interested in the tour.  At the end there was an 'incident' where there was a stern reminder of gratuity.  As if we didn't know (particularly as my friend is American).  Before we had even finished our drinks she was rushing to get out and hadn't given us a chance to even get our purses out.  Sort of left a black mark against the day.  Nothing against the company, just now a pleasant experience.

Thursday, 30 January 2014

Cafe du Monde v's Cafe Beignet

The beignets debate is fierce in NOLA.  Which beignets are best? 
What is a Beignet?  Its a French deep fried piece of dough sprinkled liberally with icing sugar. You had me at deep fried! and icing sugar! what's not to love?  Beignets can also come with different toppings and flavourings and even savoury beignets are found around the city. 
In our quest to devour all things Cajun and Creole we hunted out two of the most famous beignet place. Cafe du Monde and Cafe Beignet.
We head to Cafe du Monde in the French Quarter first, mainly because it's on the tourist trail and seems to be the most hyped up beignet place.  We find the outside area is over crowded so we wait a few minutes before diving on a table.  Waitress' clad in the famous green and white uniforms take your order. They are quick and efficient (you would have to with a place that is crazy busy all day!).
The menu is conveniently stuck to the side of the napkin holder. Along with our beignets, I decide to order a cup of coffee with chicory.  This is the creole way of drinking coffee.
menu on your napkin holder
Served piping hot and laden with icing sugar, each serve has 3 big fritters. Enough to share between the two of us. 

beignets covered in icing sugar
Word of warning.... do not breath in (or out) when the fritter is near your mouth....breathing in will induce coughing and well breathing out send icing sugar everywhere.  Of course saying that, if you want to be funny by all means go ahead and cover your friend in said icing sugar!

digging in - you can't help but get icing sugar everywhere!
Biting into the hot sticky dough (trying not to breath in the icing sugar) I'm in dough heaven.  These are crispy on the outside and a little doughy in the middle.  These are pretty tasty. 

Not many people know this, but around the back of Cafe du Monde there is a window where you can peer into the kitchen and watch these fried fritters being made.

The fryers are on the go constantly

This is the machine that rolls out the dough and cuts it into squares ready to be thrown in the fryer.

bakers preparing the dough
The following morning (before cooking school and food tour) we headed to Cafe Beignet on Bourbon Street (tucked in the back of Musical Legends Park) for a beignet breakfast. 
Just a few local dishes on offer at the cafe along with Beignets.  My mouth is watering, however we are here just for Beignets this morning.
This place is much more relaxed, smaller and only a few tables to sit at.  No fancy crockery's more a take away place.  We order a served (again 3 being the popular number) and these fritters are square and a good amount of dusting.  Piping hot (like they have to be) and not greasy these fritters are perfect. Crispy surrounds a light and fluffy inside.  These are the best ones for me!   As for the chicory coffee, it's not really to my tasting....I'm more of a latte/cappuccino girl and as mentioned previously finding it hard to find a decent cuppa (for an Aussie girl).
awesome, crispy beignets
Good Morning - Pucker up for a sweet kiss!  I'm officially in love with the beignets at Cafe Beignet.

who wants a kiss good morning?

So when you're next in the Big Easy head to a local beignet place and taste for yourself. You won't be disappointed!

Friday, 24 January 2014

Cochon - New Orleans

Ever since I saw an episode of Bizarre Foods on the Gulf Coast, where Andrew eats at Cochon I have become very interested in Cajun food.  I eventually purchased a cookbook called Real Cajun by Donald Link (who owns Cochon) and is a well known chef in Louisiana.  I was instantly hooked.  So when I visited New Orleans I knew I had to dine at one of Donald Link's restaurants (there are currently four, Herbsaint, Cochon, Butcher and Peche Seafood Grill).  Cochon was a given. This restaurant is closely linked to Don's Cajun roots and traditional southern cooking.  The menu is drool worth with Cajun goodies.

Cochon menu

Of course there are to many options to choose from. The selections are made based on things we hadn't tried and an old favourite.

We start off with a pre-lunch drink.  The Swimming Hole - Strawberry Moonshine, Square One cucumber Vodka, grapefruit bitters, limeade, Barritt's Ginger Beer.  It's very refreshing. Lynda's glass doesn't last 2 minutes (and I'm not talking about her drinking it either as she knocked it off the table - classy! haha).  Thankfully the staff are wonderful and replace it without a second thought.

The Swimming Hole - yep I could swim in this!
House bread and butter arrive (which we nibble at but don't really eat as we are saving room for the rest of the feast).  These warm, yeasty rolls are very hard to resist though.

warm buttery rolls
First choice is the fried livers with pepper jelly & toast is a must, as it's a recipe in the cookbook I've been drooling over for months.  What is with pepper jelly?.... I'm addicted to it!

chicken livers with pepper jelly on toasts

The chicken livers are breaded and deep fried and are crunchy coated and creamy in the middle. They are clean and not overpowering (as liver can be sometimes).  This is another 'I need a moment to myself' moments.

An old favourite arrives at the table in the form of crunchy balls of fried boudin with pickled pepper
crunchy balls of goodness
These are fantastic. The crunch and shattering of the coating gives way to a very tasty boudin centre.  As far as fried boudin goes these are up high on the list.

Next up, apple and pecan salad with fried pig ears and barbecue dressing

this little piggy ear went to market

I've had pigs ears before (asian style) so I was curious to see how Cajun style compared.  This was a great little dish.  The pigs ears are not overly crunchy but the pig ear has some chewy bite to it.  The apple and pecan (do you pronouced in pe-can or phecahn?) offers a crispy, sweet balance to the cartilage.

We were tossing up whether to order a fourth dish or not.  As our eyes are bigger than our bellies we submit to it. Mustard pickle braised pork cheeks with roasted grits. 
cheekiness the porky way
Tender, porky cheekiness is braised perfectly. We are happy with the choice and it's a first for both of us tasting pork cheeks.
the cochon spread

If and when you find yourself visiting the Big Easy I highly recommend Cochon (or visiting another of Donald Link's establishments).  This was certainly a highlight eat in NOLA.  I'm now more determined than ever to actually get into the kitchen and give the boudin and the chicken livers with pepper jelly a test - along with so many other cajun delights.  I'm hungry for more!

Thursday, 23 January 2014

New Orleans Eats - Clover Grill, Bourbon Street and Gourmet Stores

After a few drinks one night we were in search of some more eating....and what better way than to end the night at a 24/7 diner.  We find Clover Grill and it's empty (due to a very recent incident where someone was 'asked' to leave and they ended up smashing their head on the pavement outside and we got to watch the whole drunken man v's medics fiasco.  Entertaining to say the least!
We score a booth where we can watch the action behind the counter.  My taste buds are watering over the bacon blue cheese burger.  Beef patty juicy and so tender topped with lettuce, tomato, bacon and blue cheese which oozes through the whole burger.  At 12.30 at night this hits the spot 100% - very close to coming to one of those 'I need a moment to myself' moments!
24/7 diner - The Clover Grill

Bacon Blue Cheese Burger

We actually didn't spent to much time on Bourbon Street drinking.  We did wander up and down choosing a couple of bars to check out.  I did indulge in the (in)famous hand grenades.  You can purchase these babies from Tropical Isle.  There are a few Tropical Isle (or Funky Pirate) bars dotted along Bourbon St and once you have your hand grenade you can just pay for a refill. 

Hand Grenade - they are the bomb!

These drinks even come with their own drinking guide!

The Hand Grenade® Drinking Guide
Drink #1 - Will lift your spirits and make you happy!
Drink #2 - Will give you a nice buzz.
Drink #3 - Will result in complete loss of your inhibitions.
Drink #4 - Will cause you to dance in the streets. Females may be prompted to “Flash” for Beads.
Drink #5 - You’re On Your Own!

We don’t recommend Drinking 5!

They are so powerfully potent and I did stop myself at two....but I will say, there was an 'incident' on the walk home involving a trash can and a car antenna but enough on that subject matter. (Lynda I'm sure you are still laughing!)

Hand grenade number 2

Tropical Isle in all it's neon glory

Further wandering during the day turned up some absolutely wonderful little boutique food stores. 
We stumble across Southern Candymakers and are enticed by the sugary aroma's wafting out onto the street.  You cannot resist taking a peak.  Handmade pralines, toffees, chocolates and candied nuts, the display case is groaning with various combinations.  I selected a few of each to nibble on (which ended up lasting me a few weeks of my trip!)

pick n' mix and pay by the pound

and the best can watch these candies being made.

For research and comparison we ducked into Laura's praline.  I will admit that I preferred Southern Candymakers pralines.  These were more sugary and crystallised.

It's this place which grabs my attention BIG TIME! It has a hot sauce bar!!! I'm swooning (and it's not from the heat of the chilli's folks) and for the life of me cannot remember the name of this store (can anybody help me out - it's in the French Quarter?)

Best hot sauce bar in town!!!! Taste test to your heart's (or is that heat levels?) content.  Just start at the front and work your way around.  There are hundreds of different brands to sample.

'slap ya mama' good stuff!
Picking a couple is not an easy task

spices and rubs

Frog Bones sauces - awesome

This has to be one of the weirdest findings on the shelves.  Saying that, I was disappointed I couldn't taste test these..  Pickled pigs lips. 

Pucker Up Piggy

REDNECK BACON HOT CHOCOLATE - yep I had to.  Mixing two favourite ingredients...I'll let you know when I taste it!

The Spice and Tea Exchange is a charming little store selling well, herbs and spices.  But not only that, they do a range of gourmet peppers, flavoured salts and sugars. Secret house blends and lovingly made.  We spent quite some time in store sampling the product.  Well displayed, fresh and the owner is very friendly and informative.

I bought bacon salt, habenero sugar, salted caramel sugar.  Great for rims of glasses, by the teaspoon or sprinkled on any dish!  So versatile!
Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop is the oldest pub in town.

Loving some of the foodie related signage/murals around town.

street art

and you can't pass up trying on some masks..... perfect for the next Masquerade Ball or Mardi Gras!