28 November 2008

A flurry of thoughts

Nothing really compares to the bliss of that mixture made by Crystal hot sauce and mayonnaise. It's too humble to realize its magnificence, but it is always there in its glorified state of almost-aioli to make my po-boy that much better.

My mind, body, and appetite almost collectively shut down Wednesday night when Grant Achatz of Alinea fame showed up as the guest judge on Top Chef. I wrote about Alinea a little while ago; though I have never been to the restaurant itself (I've never even been to Chicago), I have been enamored of molecular gastronomy for a while now. There was a fantastic article about it last year in the New York Times called "Food 2.0: Chefs as Chemists" (the link should be foot-noted) with which I completely credit my infatuation. The article mainly focused on Wylie Dufresne of WD-50 in the Lower East Side, but I've had a special culinary crush on Achatz ever since I stumbled upon him.
I think my fascination with molecular gastronomy is rooted in a deep appreciation for the whimsy and intellect that seem attributable to that kind of conceptual cooking. Suddenly, food is no longer food; food can't be divvied up into convenient pigeonholes. Molecular gastronomy is its own realm, not necessarily in terms of taste but undoubtedly in terms of thought. It seems as though every dish I've heard of -- from the knot foie that was mentioned in the Times article to the potato-and-truffle dish that quickly stole my heart -- is infused with a certain vivacity and wit. Tongue-in-cheek, refreshing... I like it all.
Now, of course, I just need to taste it, since all my observations are purely speculative...

Raphe and I went back to Mahony's today and it's quickly rising into my canon of favorite po-boy shops. I realized today that it has a unique inviting quality; Domilise's still trumps them all in terms of flavor, but I go so rarely because the atmosphere there is dark and almost intimidating. At Mahony's, I feel more than welcome to hunker down, watch a football game with my little brother, and ask to have the rest of the onion rings wrapped up (they make for surprisingly good leftovers when they're toasted!). My sandwich comprised of grilled shrimp with fried green tomatoes and remoulade... mmmm. I'm living on the edge and stepping out of my po-boy comfort zone! And, today, I'm quite glad I did.

Now I get to look forward to cozying up with M.F.K. Fisher's The Art of Eating -- my poetry teacher told me about her and I am SO excited to delve into Gastronomical Me. She has everything at this point to suggest that I would desperately want to befriend her if she was still alive. Maybe I'm flattering myself, but she sounds like a kindred spirit.

23 November 2008

Looking forward

to a day of great food. Today is the second annual Po-Boy Fest over on Oak Street -- I didn't go last year since I heard about it too late, but apparently it is a bastion of every possible variation on the po-boy theme. I'm hoping the samples are small because I'm not sure how many different regular-size po-boys I could eat...

Then tonight I'm hosting a potluck! Those are always fun because they are an excuse to eat comfy simple food. I'm making spaghettini with garlic-infused olive oil, red pepper flakes, and mushrooms. Mmmm. Should be delightful.

ALSO: my first issue of Food & Wine came in the mail yesterday and I'm in the process of reading it cover to cover. It practically oozes fabulosity. I'm loving reading about the ten best restaurant dishes of 2008- each one is inspirational in its own right, although it's all I can do not to eat my hand. One of the dishes -- a lovely crawfish ravioli -- is actually from Bistro Daisy here in New Orleans. I guess I'll have to make it a point to go there sometime soon. I'm particularly enamored of the duck-fat fried chicken... who can possibly resist an upscale, clever take on a comfort-food classic? Now I just have to wait for the first issue of Gourmet to arrive before I can be truly immersed in love and hunger.

17 November 2008

I can't help it

I have to put in one last word about the holiday macaroons that have been newly introduced at Sucre. I went to get my monthly fix of chocolate yesterday and picked up a box of eight macaroons while I was there because I just couldn't walk out. I got two each of the pistachio, strawberry, and hazelnut ones, which are staples, but what I simply can't get over are the triple-chocolate macaroons. The girl who was helping me accidentally broke one of the macaroons as she was putting it into my box, so I got to eat it right then and there. The cookieish outside is feathery and indescribably fragile; as soon as you bite in, the inside just explodes and it's this warm dark brown that's decadent and tastes exactly like brownie batter. I wish I was kidding. It's unbearably delicious. There are little cacao nibs as garnish that add to the adorableness factor (although they didn't add that much in the way of taste).

A few new chocolates have been added. I tried the pecan praline, which has a pecan-infused dark chocolate ganache and is itself a plain old square enrobed in dark chocolate, which was good but not great. The pistachio and passionfruit chocolates have been slightly changed -- they used to be rectangular and now they're taller, denser, more substantial squares. The grand coeur (a heart-shaped chocolate with a Triple Sec- and orange-infused ganache) and port (a dark chocolate bonbon in an intriguing but mildly frightening dark eggplant color) both caught my eye, but I wasn't in the mood to experiment. Next time I go, I'll pick up a grand coeur -- Giada de Laurentiis's show today featured a chocolate cake with hazelnut brittle and a garnish made of chocolate and orange zest... hopefully, Giada can train me out of my skittishness of that orange/chocolate combo.
My only disappointment? I was all ready to get five each of the passionfruit, gianduja crunch, bolivian palet d'or and avery when I discovered that their boxing has been revamped. If I wanted to pay the price I was used to paying ($30) for my usual medium-sized box, I could only get fifteen (rather than eighteen) chocolates -- they used to charge by weight, and now they have a flat price of $2 (steep even by my standards) per chocolate.

So I guess this'll be a lighter month... but at least I've got my macaroons to console me in my times of need. :]

An Ode to Sandwiches

For some unknown reason, I am always seized with this carnal craving for a very particular dish or food group whenever I am in after-school choir practice. There is no explaining it, but every week, without fail, it happens, and I'm nearly keeling over because I am so hellbent on finding a juicy pink steak, some mushroom pasta, or some tortellini. Today, the food group of choice -- or, more accurately, of involuntary spastic craving -- was cheese. Ask Elizabeth; I was spouting out "mozzarella sticks," "cheesy ravioli," and other such novelties between verses for the entire rehearsal.

But at the heart of the matter was a very simple but very pressing issue. I was a girl who needed a grilled cheese. And with that said, I have decided to compile a very sincere, very dedicated declaration of my love for the art of the sandwich. First off, were you aware that John Montagu, the fourth Earl of Sandwich, is credited with pioneering this delectable dish? (He didn't invent it, though; he was just a fond champion.) Wikipedia is such a joy.

La Divina's Il Tacchino panini -- I'm usually at this cute little place to get gelato (their crema di limon is like nothing else on this earth; it's exactly like a lemon icebox pie, and it's got a dreamy consistency), but every now and then, when I have company, I stick around for a sandwich and I'm never disappointed. The ciabatta bread is, well, ciabatta bread -- I'm not sure anyone has ever raved about plain old ciabatta, but it's certainly decent. Inside are thin-thin-thinly sliced smoked turkey, gorgeous avocado that is unfailingly green, diced red onions that are small enough to not overpower, and parmigiano reggiano cheese. I always ask for dijon mustard, because really, when can you go wrong with mustard on a sandwich?!

Sucre's sashimi tuna sandwich -- I actually haven't had this one in a little while so I'm having a hard time remembering the ingredients; I'm a foodie but not a cook, so I have a keen memory for finished products but very rarely pick out and remember particular flavors and ingredients. (I'm working on it!) Anyway, the sandwich is comprised of a soft kind of French bread that is the polar opposite of Leidenheimer's (it's firmer and moister, so it stays intact and dignified for the duration of your sandwich experience) but which lends itself nicely to the rest of the item. Then you've got strips of delicious, tender, perfect sashimi tuna enrobed in black sesame seeds, some sandwichy green vegetable garnishes, and a sensational but simple wasabi aioli that is mellow with a kick.

Camellia Grill's cheeseburger -- Hands down the best burger I've ever had. When I get married, I will bend over backwards to ensure that my wedding is catered with these things. They're just yummy slabs of plain ground beef, of a manageable but thoroughly satisfying thickness, cooked on that buttery Camellia grill until sizzling and served on the squishiest of squishy white hamburger buns. The best way to go is to get it dressed (mayonnaise is, for me, only okay when it's on a Camellia Grill burger); bonus points if you also ask for grilled onions, which are diced up and practically caramelized in the same butter in which the burger is cooked. Some might say this universal grill is brutish, but I think it's genius; I'm positive that the union of all the different items on that one cooktop makes for a sandwich that has subtle nuances and a pleasing sense of togetherness. I like my burger to have faint traces of fried egg in its flavor, and I like my onions to have faint traces of bacon grease or burger juice. Scrumptious.

Domilise's half-shrimp, half-oyster po-boy -- How can I possibly do justice to the way that bread crumbles at the slightest touch into a million tiny flakes? How can words possibly attest to the euphoria incited by that first bite into bread that is at once crunchy and soft? How can poetry possibly convey the glory of a single fried oyster bathed in Tabasco hot sauce? Enough said.

St. James Cheese Company's delicious concoction of salami, buffalo mozzarella, and pesto -- I haven't blogged about this place yet because I can't get over the mourning I have for my broken camera; I guess I haven't felt confident enough to do it justice in its own entry with words alone. St. James is really quite awe-inspiring the first time you go in; as the name suggests, it is a bastion of artisan cheeses -- every kind you can imagine -- as well as other cutesy little spreads and dips from all over the world. The lunches there are a favorite of my mom's and she's gotten me hooked, too; among the offerings are assortments of cheeses/pates/chutneys, gigantic salads, and a host of constantly changing sandwiches named after their respective starring cheeses. My favorite is toasted on thinly sliced ciabatta, with just a few slivers of this really hearty salami, fresh and splendidly white mozzarella that is melted to cover the entire sandwich in all its velvety goodness, and some good old-fashioned basilly walnutty pesto. The sandwich is aesthetically pleasing because contrary to so many other sandwiches you see these days, it is slender and easily fits into your mouth; with such strong and high-quality ingredients, there is absolutely no need for gross excess.

Lilette's pulled-pork sandwich with natural gravy -- I hesitated to mention this one because it hardly counts as a sandwich, what with its hedonistic extravagance and ostentatious flair. I decided to put it in because it fits the technical definition of a sandwich and because it nicely follows the prim tastefulness of St. James' creation. Pulled pork never loses its whimsy, in my mind; pulled anything is practically made for sandwiches, what with its easy biteability, and it absolutely doesn't get better than juicy, well-seasoned pork (unless PERHAPS we are talking about a very particular brisket). The natural gravy is creamy-silky, and it makes the sandwich as a whole utterly lavish, serving a purpose similar to that of icing on a cake. The fries on the side are not perfunctory, either, and they are worth poking around in any extra gravy you might have.

That's all for now because I'm a little swamped. Consider this a work in progress, and feel free to add your own input! I am always looking to expand my sandwich repertoire...

14 November 2008

The best authentic rootsy French food I've ever had outside of France.

Eleanor mentioned today that she's having dinner with her parents tonight at Crepe Nanou. Could I be more jealous? Probably not. Crepe Nanou is this adorable little joint with a cozy bar up front and small, candlelit tables. The lighting is dark and moody. They take no reservations, but it is such a well-loved little place that you usually see groups of people huddled outside a few minutes before opening time in hopes of snagging seats before the dinner rush.

Anyway... now I am sitting here pining for a bowl of their perfectly herbed and delectably warm mussels, or one of their many tasty and creative crepes, or a fantastic dessert crepe that is positively oozing chocolate fudginess. Save me now.

09 November 2008


This is a photo of that Cuban beef sandwich I had at Surrey's about a million years ago. By the way, I was there again this morning and had some phenomenal shrimp and grits... next up on the Surrey's lineup is their huge banana pancake. You can get it with peanut butter (!!!). How much better does breakfast get?

I was so hungry on Friday that I ended up researching cheeseburgers on the Internet and this is what I came up with. It is allegedly the biggest cheeseburger ever made. Don't you just love it?

Today was a good eating day. I had yet another baking flurry and made some delicious lemon pound cake with sour cream. The sour cream made the inside really moist and soft, but the top baked perfectly golden and crispy, almost caramelized. It's perfect when it's reheated in the toaster oven and drizzled with some glaze I made just by mixing two cups of powdered sugar with about five tablespoons of fresh lemon juice. SO delectable. We also had spaghetti bolognese for dinner that was just sumptuous and will make just perfect leftovers...

Hope everyone's weekend was grand and restful.

03 November 2008

National Cupcake Day and other baking sprees...

I realized today that I completely forgot to mention National Cupcake Day, which happened several weeks back on October 18! That was a Saturday, so the night before school on Friday, I slaved away at a triple batch of bittersweet, dense chocolate cupcakes with cream cheese icing so that all my classmates and teachers could celebrate. Imagine a giant Tupperware of about 40 or 50 cupcakes, accompanied by two smaller Tupperwares filled with cream cheese icing to be added accordingly. It was quite an absurd scene, but it did earn me a round of applause in senior study...

Anyway, this realization occurred to me because today, I had a similar such experience with a baking tantrum. It would appear that I am becoming increasingly and unknowingly domesticated. In the middle of poetry class, it dawned on me that I wanted to have chocolate soup. Stream of consciousness: chocolate soup --> chocolate soup for the class --> announcing this thought out loud --> this thought being met by a few dubious glances --> me reevaluating my plan for socialized desserts --> me settling on the idea of creating variations on the brownie theme. I ended up with the following:

First, a batch of a chocolate brownie-cake -- less chewy and melty than usual brownies, but equivalently glorious in its novelty -- with white chocolate peppermint icing and a preposterous amount of dark chocolate ganache that has since solidified in the fridge. Imagine: a glorified peppermint patty. It really doesn't get much better.

Second, a batch of my more famous fudgy brownies smeared with some really delectable homemade peanut butter frosting -- PB and powdered sugar and butter, oh my! -- as well as a thinner, sweeter bittersweet chocolate glaze. These are ideal because they're baked in a 13x9x2 pan, so the batter spreads pretty thin = easy nibbles. Okay, so they wouldn't make the most impressive birthday cake, but still...