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I'm a guy who likes to cook, eat, and drink, but not necessarily in that order. This blog is nothing fancy; just my random thoughts about anything that can be baked, roasted, or fried. Enjoy!

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Thirty-Six Hours in New Orleans

“New Orleans food is as delicious as the less criminal forms of sin.”  ― Mark Twain

© 2014 Chris Terrell
That New Orleans is a major gastronomic destination can hardly be disputed. Within its confines, one will find food both low-brow and high-brow, and everything in between. Everything from po-boys and red beans and rice to high-end French. What may be less evident is how New Orleans became the center of creole cuisine that we know today.

It is a port city that, over many, many years, welcomed an immense variety of humanity: French, Africans, Spanish, Portuguese, and Asians. As a port city, somewhat isolated from the rest of the United States, it cultivated a certain openness and joie de vivre that fostered culinary experimentation. After all, the unofficial motto for New Orleans is "
Laissez les bons temps rouler"—“let the good times roll!”

I love New Orleans. I love its insouciance; its practiced shabbiness. 

A few weeks ago, I had  the opportunity to share my love of New Orleans with my two boys. This was their first trip to the Big Easy. We left around 2:00PM on a bright, clear, somewhat warm Friday afternoon. They were out of school because of the recent snowstorm that had hit Birmingham earlier in the week. It is not a bad drive from Birmingham to New Orleans. A straight shot on interstate the whole way.

We would stay at a condo in the Warehouse District with my dad and his significant-other, Veronica. The kids were excited for different reasons. My son Hamp, who has a strong interest in anything martial, was looking forward to the WWII Museum. My son Forrest, who has a strong interest in anything that can be eaten, was looking forward to the restaurants.

By the time we settled in and I had parked the car, it was close to 8:00PM. We were all pretty hungry. Though I was unfamiliar with the Warehouse District, there was no shortage of places to eat. It was late, and we were not necessarily looking for fine dining. We ended up at Lucy’s Retired Surfer Bar on the corner of Girod and Tchoupitoulas. This worked out well. Hamp and I both got hamburgers, which were quite good. Forrest got the special: catfish over rice, which was also quite good.

The next morning was another clear, beautiful day. After I had a quick run along Old Man River, we headed off to the WWII Museum. Breakfast that morning was a surprise. We came across the Crescent City Farmers Market at the corner of Girod and Magazine. It is open every Saturday from 8:00AM to Noon. I grabbed a croissant and some chicory coffee. Forrest grabbed a muffin the size of his head. Fully fueled, we headed off to the museum

After the museum, it was pushing noon. We were all hungry. One thing that Hamp (the non-foodie son) and I share is a love—some would say, a passion—for pizza. For me, pizza and beer is one of the perfect food-drink combinations. But beer, pizza, and Saturday afternoon is the perfect food-drink-time combination. Now the trick was to find a pizza place without knowing where to go. I’m a big fan of Urbanspoon. I pulled out my iPhone and fired up my Urbanspoon app and found a place that looked promising: Dolce Vita on St. Charles. It had a 100% rating. 

We were not disappointed. This was some of the best pizza I’ve had outside of NYC! Believe it or not, the chef and owner, Bogdan Mocanu, is not Italian, but Romanian! He grew up cooking with a wood-fired oven and was trained in John Besh’s restaurant, Domenica, so he knows what he’s doing. The story of how he ended up in New Orleans is interesting. He had a food truck in Baton Rouge, but it got totaled by a drunk driver. Only in Louisiana! Bad for him, but good for us. 

By this point, my enthusiasm and love of walking and exploring new places had taken its toll on my little tour group. My dad, Veronica, and the kids were tuckered out and ready to nap. I dropped them off at the condo, and after a quick 15-minute power nap myself, I grabbed my camera to take some photographs in the French Quarter—a “target-rich environment” for any photographer. 


© 2014 Chris Terrell
© 2014 Chris Terrell
That night we had 8:30PM dinner reservations at Cochon, a restaurant that I had been trying to get into for the last three trips to New Orleans. Because I had some time, and happy hour had just arrived (isn’t it always happy hour in New Orleans?!), I decided to meet up with two dear friends who live in New Orleans: Victor and Jennifer. Victor is an amazing jazz pianist who teaches at the University of New Orleans and Jennifer owns a children’s clothing store in the Garden District on Magazine. 

We conspired to ditch our kids and meet for drinks at Delmonico on St. Charles. Delmonico is one of Emeril Lagasse’s restaurants. Now, I don’t know about the food, as I’ve not eaten there (Victor and Jennifer agree that its good), but if the food and service is anything like the bar, then “bam!” I’ve got to try it. I had a Sazarac—of course!—and a rum punch (emphasize the word “punch”). Both drinks were perfect. And the service! Usually, I time my second drink so that there is a little bit left in the first one, so as to ensure no lag time. No need!  I had barely taken another sip after I placed my rum punch order and “bam!” there was my drink. Gotta go back to this place!


© 2014 Chris Terrell
As I mentioned, dinner that night was at Cochon. “Cochon” is French for “pig.” An appropriate name, for this place is all about  pork! And speaking of “pig,” we pigged out! 



Here’s what we had: 
  • Wood-fired oysters with chili garlic butter 
  • Shrimp & tasso ham with charred greens & field peas 
  • Fried livers with pepper jelly & toast 
  • Smoked pork ribs with watermelon pickle 
  • Rabbit & dumplings 
  • Oven-roasted gulf fish “fisherman’s style 
  • Oyster & sandwich 
  • Macaroni & cheese casserole 
 And for dessert we had:
  • Farmers cheese and Meyer lemon pie 
  • Chocolate peanut butter pie with candied spicy peanuts 

After we stuffed the last bite into our mouths and paid the bill, we then made the long oscitant walk back to our condo, groaning with delight at the awesome meal we had just had. 

We slept in late the next morning and then headed off to Cafe du Monde for beignets and cafe au lait. But before heading back to Birmingham, I gave in and took my kids for a stroll down Bourbon Street. Okay, so I may not win parent of the year, but at least it was a Sunday afternoon. Bourbon Street was relatively calm. After picking up some king cakes at Rouses on Royal street, we had to hit the road and head back to Birmingham.


© 2014 Chris Terrell
A few days later, I got to thinking about New Orleans. I recalled that in law school I made jambalaya all the time. It is a great dish—cheap, simple, and sustaining. Having just been to New Orleans, I decided I would make it again. When I made jambalaya back then, I relied heavily on The Joy of Cooking, my one and only cookbook. Consequently, I cracked open the latest edition and looked up the recipe for jambalaya. 

I was a bit  underwhelmed. 

It seemed like such a good recipe eighteen years ago, but not now. It lacked flavor. No worries. I took the basic recipe and improved upon it.  Maybe I've changed. Maybe I'm a better cook. Anyway, here's my version:


The Insouciant Chef’s Jambalaya

Ingredients

3 tablespoons butter
16 oz. andouille sausage 
1/2 cup red wine
1 medium chopped yellow onion
3 garlic cloves minced
1 medium green bell pepper, cored, seeded, and diced
1/2 cup diced celery
1 cup extra long-grain rice
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 cups warm chicken stock
14 1/2 oz. can of whole tomatoes with juices
1 tablespoon of dried thyme 
1 tablespoon of dried oregano
2 tablespoons of paprika
1 tablespoon of cayenne pepper
salt and pepper to taste

Preparation

In a dutch oven, melt the butter and add the sausage and brown. When the sausage has browned, pour in red wine and de-glaze the pan, then add the onion, green pepper, celery, and garlic and simmer over low heat for about 2 minutes. Then add rice and tomato paste and stir to coat.

Add chicken stock and tomatoes (crushing tomatoes by hand).

Add bay leaf and other spices and simmer for about 45 minutes to one hour until thickened and rice is soft.

Salt and pepper to taste. (Of course, you can adjust the spices as you wish depending on how spicy you like your jambalaya.)

Bon app├ętit!

1 comment:

  1. Bam! Great post. Look forward to trying the recipe.

    ReplyDelete