Tuesday, February 26, 2013

New Orleans Day 3

Seeing as how we were staying in the Treme neighborhood, it made sense to visit the Backstreet Museum before Saturday lunch at Lil’ Dizzy’s. The museum is incredible - the intricate details that go into creating an Indian costume are all on display, and the people that work there are happy to tell you as many stories as you can stomach about the chiefs and the history of the area. Definitely make time to go - it'll make the rest of your experience in New Orleans more meaningful. They're also very helpful with when Second Lines are happening around the city (sadly it rained heavily on the day we wanted to go see one).

The first restaurant on the list of recommendations at the Muse Suite is Lil' Dizzy's (1500 Esplanade Ave, New Orleans, LA 70116), and with good reason. The entire menu looked wonderful so it was hard to limit our choices down to a manageable amount of food. A cup of gumbo came first, followed by a fried oyster po'boy and one piece of fried chicken. C wanted breakfast food so had scrambled eggs, bacon and biscuits, and A tacked on an order of French toast as well. And then we had to order some bread pudding (which by the way might be my new favorite dessert. Don't worry, a recipe will be posted soon!) We were so stuffed after this brunch that the only solution was to go on a city tour.

We booked a city tour through Cajun Encounters, and while it was not cheap, I think it was money well spent as we got so much background and history that added depth to what we were seeing. Our tour guide was excellent and generous with his recommendations for things he loves. Since we had decided to go car-free for this trip, it was a good chance to see parts of New Orleans that weren't as accessible by foot.

After getting dropped off in the French Quarter again, we headed to one of J's recommendations, Muriel's. The wraparound balcony on Jackson Square makes it an ideal location to drink and people-watch, but it was still a bit too brisk for that so we went back indoors after a peek outside. Since it was early the waitress told us about a bordello-like area upstairs that is usually used for private parties, but since it was empty it was fine for us to hang out there while drinking some superbly mixed  cocktails. A's choice was a Burnt Sage Margarita, with Herradura Reposado, muddled sage, Johnny Walker Black and house-made sour - the speed at which he drank it is a testament to its loveliness, I think. I had a NOjito made with muddled tarragon, lemons, Tabasco and New Orleans Spiced Cajun Rum. And C had her favorite, the French 75.

We'd done a little research about some jazz acts that were playing while we were in New Orleans and booked tickets to see Dr. Michael White at Snug Harbor (626 Frenchmen St, New Orleans, LA 70116), so we picked a restaurant close by for dinner - Marigny Brasserie (640 Frenchmen St, New Orleans, LA 70116). I hadn't quite realized how hungry I was until the bread rolls came out with the most mind-numbingly awesome apple butter. The waiter emphasized the need for us to try the apple butter and he was right - I tore through two rolls in no time at all. This was a dumb move, as portions are absolutely enormous, and even though three of us shared a starter of fried green tomatoes with shrimp remoulade, I was defeated before my main even arrived. My jambalaya was so large I managed what seemed like a quarter of it (though you couldn't tell I had eaten any at all) before surrendering. A's fried chicken with mashed potatoes and macaroni and cheese and C's blackened catfish with collard greens and sweet potato fries were similarly boat-sized, so we had them packed up for another meal.

After the fantastic concert at Snug Harbor, we popped into The Spotted Cat (623 Frenchmen St, New Orleans, LA 70116) as well, seeing the last tune by a six-piece band before The Davis Rogan Band appeared. Prior to our New Orleans trip, A and I had been watching Treme and saw an episode where the character named Davis was writing a song about the gentrification of his neighborhood. Of course, that song came on and A and I looked at each other quizzically, and of course discovered afterwards that the character is based on Davis Rogan and the real Davis makes quite a few cameo appearances. So there's our "celebrity" sighting of the trip.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Lebanese Chickpea Stew

I really love chickpeas so when I saw this recipe that incorporated chicken thighs (another favorite), I was ready to give it a try. All of the ingredients were in my cupboards, except for the roasted red peppers that the original recipe called for. So I eliminated the red peppers and threw in some cabbage and carrots I had, and it worked out wonderfully. Of course, I also found out that A isn't that fond of whole chickpeas (something I never realized before, especially given his ability to eat entire containers of hummus in one go). Oops.

Lebanese Chickpea Stew
Adapted from The Amateur Gourmet who adapted it from BonAppetit


6 chicken thighs (I used with bone and with skin)
Kosher salt
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons ground cumin
2 tablespoons tomato paste
3/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 cup red wine (AG says white wine but this is what I had)
3 dried bay leaves
2 15-ounce cans chickpeas, rinsed, drained
1 cup cabbage, chopped into smallish pieces
2 carrots, peeled and sliced into rounds
2 tablespoons cornstarch (optional)
Fresh lemon juice (from half a lemon)
Coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley

  1. Heat a medium pot or Dutch oven on medium-high heat. Season chicken aggressively with salt and then brown the chicken, skin side down, until it’s a deep, dark brown. (The best way to do this is not to move it for the first 4 to 5 minutes; then flip it over). Remove the chicken to a plate and turn the heat off for a few minutes before adding the garlic (otherwise it’ll burn). Also, if there’s a lot of rendered chicken fat in the pan, you may want to pour some of it out leaving a few tablespoons. 
  2. Turn the heat back to medium-low, add the garlic and monitor carefully. When it’s fragrant but not at all brown add the cumin, tomato paste, and red pepper flakes; stir until a smooth paste forms, about 1 minute. 
  3. Add the red wine, if you’re using it, scrape up the brown bits as it comes to a boil; then add 3 1/2 cups water along with a pinch of salt. (If you’re not using wine, just add 4 cups water.) Add the bay leaves and return the chicken to the pot; bring liquid to a simmer, put the heat on low and cook, uncovered, for 20 minutes or until the chicken is tender. 
  4. Transfer the chicken to a plate. Add the chickpeas, cabbage and carrots to the pot; bring to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, shred the chicken and add to the stew whenever it is all shredded. Taste for salt. Sprinkle in cornstarch, if using, in order to thicken the stew a bit.
  5. Take the stew off the heat, add a splash of lemon juice (to taste) and a generous sprinkling of parsley. Serve with good bread.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

New Orleans Day 2

Our first morning was bright and sunny to match our moods. C was recovering from a cold so stayed in to rest, but A and I headed out for a wander. We knew our first destination was going to be Café Du Monde (800 Decatur Street, New Orleans 70116) for beignets and café au lait, and it just happened to be on the other side of the French Quarter from where we were staying, so we took a meandering route through the intricate wrought iron-lined streets. Once we arrived at Café Du Monde we joined the scrum for a table (later visits would demonstrate that it is not always super busy so since it's open 24 hours a day you can just come back at another time if you can't be bothered to wait). Beignets come three to an order, under a mountain of powdered sugar - I'd argue that you should just get one order per person unless you're saving room for something else, as the last thing you want to do is argue over a messy delicious breakfast.

While strolling around running errands (such as picking up tickets for a cocktail tour!!!) we passed Central Grocery (923 Decatur St,  New Orleans, LA 70116), home of the muffuletta (a round flat sesame-seed loaf split horizontally and covered with layers of marinated olive salad, capicola,mortadella, salami, pepperoni, ham, Swiss cheese and provolone, according to Wikipedia). So we had to get one for lunch. In our confusion about how large a muffuletta is, we ordered a whole, which was clearly meant for four people to consume. A put it in his bag and exclaimed about its weight. It's ok, he only had to drag it around for another two hours before we were ready to eat it. Sadly it was a bit disappointing - we found the bread to be a bit dry (though we saved a quarter to eat the next day and it was better then).

Heading east, we ended up at the French Market which was full of more food (oh no, there's no room!) and then a flea market section full of souvenirs and weird objects. We were later told by a tour guide that the best time to shop there is right before closing and the vendors expect to haggle, so ask for deep discounts.

On our way back to the apartment to meet up with C, we walked through Louis Armstrong Park which is full of statues of jazz musicians and a little manmade pond - apparently in warmer weather you can rent boats, but none were to be found in early January.

We'd signed up for a cocktail tour that started at 4pm - this was a hilarious activity that combined history, anecdotes and drinking with a spitfire of a tour guide (thanks to J & K for recommending it!) We went to the following (though every tour is different):

Pirate's Alley Cafe and Old Absinthe House (622 Pirates Alley, New Orleans, LA 70116). Guess what we had there?

The Hermes Bar at Antoine's Restaurant (713 St Louis St, New Orleans, LA 70130). The bar was too crowded so instead we got a wonderful tour of all of the private dining rooms and a look at the ridiculously ornate costumes worn by the King and Queen of Mardi Gras. 

The Court of Two Sisters (613 Royal St New Orleans, LA 70130). They are famed for the Bayou Bash, which is a sangria-like punch made with Southern Comfort. We were all surprised by how much we liked it (I usually have an aversion to SoCo). A had a very disappointing mint julep, so don't get that.

The French 75 Bar at Arnaud's (813 Bienville Street, New Orleans, LA 70112). Embarrassingly I am not entirely sure this is where we were, but we were definitely in a bar famous for French 75s so let's just assume I'm right. C discovered she loves the French 75. A also liked his Sazerac here (though it was not his favorite of the trip).

The Bombay Club (830 Conti St New Orleans, LA 70112). We loved the atmosphere in here, but were all cocktailed out at this point. A had a dry martini, which was fine, but honestly who knows how good things are in the last bar of a cocktail tour?

930 Tchoupitoulas St
New Orleans, LA 70130

Thankfully we had a long walk to dinner to clear our heads. This was a recommendation from several people, and ended up being one of my favorite meals of the whole trip. I still think about the woodfired roasted oysters - god only knows what they did to them but they were so incredible that all I want to do is eat them over and over and over again. We also sampled fried alligator (a little like chewy popcorn chicken) and gumbo (gussied up here, and I will confess I think I like the not-gussied up gumbo better). For mains, A and I shared the Louisiana cochon with turnips, cabbage, pickled peaches & cracklins (hell yeah!) and then to be frank, the eggplant and shrimp dressing and macaroni and cheese casserole sides we shared with C pushed me over the edge into delirium. I cannot express how much I loved this meal and would happily go back as many times as I could afford. 

The Hotel Modern New Orleans
936 St Charles Ave
New Orleans, LA 70130

Just to drive a final nail into the coffin of this day, we had a nightcap before heading home. I know A had a port cobbler, but I'm not sure about mine - maybe something ominous like The End of the World? Anyway, while they were lovely, I'm sure my enjoyment was dampened by the exhaustion that was setting in. These were the most experimental of the cocktails we had in New Orleans, I think - most places seem to stick to the classics, while we saw ingredients here that had to be interpreted by the waitress. So if that's what you're looking for, give Bellocq a try.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

New Orleans Day 1

So, unsurprisingly, I absolutely adored New Orleans. So much so that I am now daydreaming about living there, even if just for a few months, so I can have more time to eat! drink! listen to jazz! gaze at the architecture! 

As J said, the city has soul. It comes through in so many ways, and in our brief stay there we absorbed as much of it as we could.

The title of this post is a bit of a misnomer as we didn't arrive until almost 8pm. So really, it's Evening 1, and it consisted of:

The Sazerac Bar @ The Roosevelt Hotel
123 Baronne St
New Orleans, LA 70112

New Orleans is famed for its cocktails and we dove right in, taking a cab straight to the Sazerac Bar where we could down celebratory Ramos Gin Fizzes. Back in the day, they used to have a line of barmen who would each give the cocktail a hearty shake so that it was frothy and showy - now you can sit in elegant armchairs while waiters whisk drinks to your side and the dramatics are a bit more muted, but still - it is a perfectly made drink that makes you happy to be alive.

Also due to weird flight times, we'd had an afternoon lunch/dinner so weren't in need of real food, but as usual I couldn't resist trying at least one thing, so I settled on the dish called "Heirloom Tomato". The waiter noted that it wasn't exactly a salad, which was appreciated as what came out was amazingly done, but definitively NOT a salad.

Afterwards, we decided a walk through the French Quarter would be a good way of getting a tiny introduction to the city, so we followed Bourbon Street back towards our apartment.* Let's be clear, a lot of Bourbon Street is my idea of hell, but I was still glad to see it in all of its tawdry desperate glory. And there are still some gems to be found, one being Fritzel's (733 Bourbon Street, New Orleans, LA 70116) where we popped in to see a jazz band entertain a mixed crowd that was loving every note played.

* Speaking of our apartment, Air BnB was the best option for us by far since we needed two bedrooms. We stayed in the Muse Suite in the Treme neighborhood (picture at top of post). The owners were helpful and thoughtful and the apartment beat every luxury hotel I've ever stayed in (jacuzzi bath, amazing shower that could have fit four people inside, master bedroom and closets the size of my London flat, etc.) and it was within walking distance of the French Quarter and some damn good fried chicken. Highly recommend.

Thursday, February 07, 2013

No Knead Bread

I can't believe I'm writing about this six years after the recipe was first published, but that is just how long it's taken me to get my planning cap on. And of course, like everyone who's done it has said, it's so easy once you figure out what time of day to start the thing, and when you'll be able to finish it.

Because I tend to use weights now when I bake (no messy measuring out cups of flour, just dump straight into mixing bowl!) I'm writing down the recipe using weights. However, for the smaller ingredients (yeast and salt) I find it easier to use teaspoon measurements as I'm not always confident that my scale will tell me exactly when I've measured out a single teensy tiny gram of something.

Original recipe is here. Guidance on some improvements and tweaking is here.

No Knead Bread
From the great Mark Bittman, who adapted it from Jim Lahey of Sullivan Street Bread


430 grams of flour
345 grams of water
1 gram of yeast  (1/4 tsp)
8 grams of salt (1 1/4 tsp)


1. In a large bowl combine flour, yeast and salt. Add the water, and stir until blended; dough will be shaggy and sticky. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rest at least 12 hours, preferably about 18, at warm room temperature, about 70 degrees.

2. Dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles. Lightly flour a work surface and place dough on it; sprinkle it with a little more flour and fold it over on itself once or twice. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest about 15 minutes.

3. Using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking to work surface or to your fingers, gently and quickly shape dough into a ball. Generously coat a cotton towel (not terry cloth) with flour, wheat bran or cornmeal; put dough seam side down on towel and dust with more flour, bran or cornmeal. [Note: I did this and it totally stuck to my towel, even with a lot of flour. So I'd try parchment paper next time, I think.] Cover with another cotton towel and let rise for about 2 hours. When it is ready, dough will be more than double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.

4. At least a half-hour before dough is ready, heat oven to 450F / 235C. Put a 6- to 8-quart heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic) in oven as it heats. When dough is ready, carefully remove pot from oven. Slide your hand under towel and turn dough over into pot, seam side up; it may look like a mess, but that is O.K. Shake pan once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes. Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes, until loaf is beautifully browned. Cool on a rack.

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Banana Raisin Loaf

Second recipe involving raisins. Unfortunately this one also involves bananas (my nemesis!) so it all went to A and his coworkers. But they liked it, so that's a good sign right? (Aside from the one guy at his workplace who also doesn't like bananas, who said it was too banana-ey. I hear you, man.)

Banana Raisin Loaf
Adapted from Allrecipes


110g (4 oz) butter
80g (4 oz) sugar (reduced from 110g)
2 eggs
4 bananas (could leave one for end so less mashed)
225g (8 oz) self-raising flour
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
140g (5 oz) raisins

1. Cream together the butter and sugar.

2. Add the eggs and beat well.

3. Add 3 of the bananas and beat well to mash them in. Chop up one banana into chunks, add and stir to mix. 

4. Sift and fold in the flour, bicarb, cinnamon and raisins.

5. Bake in a greased and lined loaf tin for 45 minutes at 180 C / Gas 4.