Wednesday, July 6, 2016

NOLA - Partie Deux

So here it is! The second installment of our trip to New Orleans! If you've never been, GO!

Day 3, Thursday: It was a big day for us! We woke up and immediately ventured to Cafe du Monde. I can't actually believe that we had been in New Orleans for a day and half and had not had a Beignet! Once many years ago, Amy sent me a photo of Beignets at Cafe du Monde with a caption that said, "Where am I?" I had no idea! I had never been. Honestly my life is complete now; Bulent and I got a dozen Beignets. They were magnificent and a perfect start to the day. A beignet is a sort of donut, literally swimming in powdered sugar -SWIMMING! (They're also reminiscent of a Turkish treat called 'Pisi.')



After filling our bellies with some of the world's greatest creations, we headed back to the French Market Inn to ready ourselves for our swamp tour. One of the big things on our lost was to see gators. We booked our tour through Swamp Adventures at the suggestion of Randy Orzalli - a seasoned outdoorsman.

It was, quite literally an amazing adventure. The television will tell us that the folks who live amongst the marshes of the Mississippi River are something that they are not. These folks are actually hard core conservationists who are very knowledgable about wildlife, marsh safety and requisite hospitality. We saw snapping turtles, myriad water fowl, beautiful scenery that is found nowhere else on earth and of course alligators. And the fan boat? Oh my word! The fan boat! It was fast and fun and loud and so powerful that it can go on dry land.


Beautiful. We saw tiny baby alligators here. They were about 4 inches long and if they survive they can get up to 10 feet long and weight about 1000 pounds.

The great Southern Live Oak with plenty of Spanish Moss.


video

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We got back to our hotel. The Swamp Adventures people picked us up and dropped us off. It was a nice treat since we had no car of our own. You really don't need one when you visit New Orleans. The door to door service was great but the hunger in our tummies was not great. We were edging again dangerously close to hangry. Thats no good for anyone. I told you one of the great things about The French Market Inn was their helpful staff. So we asked them where we should go for real Cajun Seafood. And...they sent us to a place in a borough called Treme. Know what it was called? "New Orleans Original Cajun Cooking" It was one of my favorite meals in New Orleans but it's hard not to have excellent food there.




All the fixin's 
This guy was in food heaven!
Treme: Mother in Law Lounge
We took an Uber to Marigny and walked the rest of the way to the hotel. I love the weather in Louisiana. Some people hate the humidity but I like it. And walking in that weather was nice! By the time we made it back to the hotel, we had to rest. NOLA is a busy place. The energy is all a buzz and some napping was in order.

We woke up again, hungry! We had been told to go to a place called Bacchanal by a local woman we had met at an art gallery. We dressed up a little and headed to the Bywater district.

The most commonly visited neighborhoods. Bywater is right on the Mississippi.
This little place was a gem. Here's the jam: You walk in, you grab a bottle of wine. You go to the cheese fridge and choose a couple cheeses. You go to the meat fridge and you choose a couple meats. Then you pay for the whole shebang but they cart off your food selections while you try your darnedest to get a decent table or any table for that matter. We were lucky! We got a table right away and listened to Gypsy Jazz - a great band - The Courtyard Kings. And bam! They set down a magnificent plate of meats and cheeses and a tower of bread with house made remoulade and pickled veg. It was a feast. It's the one thing I didn't take a picture of - hangry. It was a magical evening.





We were also told to go to Vaughan's in the same neighborhood, but we were knackered and simply couldn't. It's on the list for our next visit.







Thursday, June 30, 2016

NOLA, Nawlins, New Orleans, Louisiana (Partie Un)

As I upload the photos here to P&P, I am realizing that perhaps this trip needs to be at least two posts similar to how I did Turkey - Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4...

So here it is, our beloved NOLA - Part One (or as a nod to the French heritage of New Orleans, Partie Un or as in the Mardi Gras fashion Party On - you choose).


This city is so special, I have wanted to come here since I was 17 years old. That is the age I was when I read "Interview with a Vampire" by Anne Rice for the first time. Indeed the city is as Louis and Lestat described it but now I have my own perspective. It was an excellent trip and I hope we can visit again soon. 

We stayed at an excellent boutique hotel called The French Market Inn. I am reluctant to tell you guys about it, because next time we go to NOLA, I want to be sure I can get a room there again. It has excellent Louisiana architecture, a sweet, refreshing, bijoux pool, brick work and courtyards everywhere. Plus, it's centrally located without being directly on top of everything on Bourbon St and it's clean as a whistle. And the cherry on top, the staff is impeccable, from manners, to welcome to concierge if you're not sure what to do. I feel like I'd go back to New Orleans just to stay at this little place.

The view from our sweet room.
The New Orleans sky.
The beautiful courtyards at The French Market Inn

Day 1, Tuesday: After we got situated at the hotel, we decided to walk the city for some food and to see where NOLA's energy would take us. We snuck into a tiny place that was not on our list of must see's. But both the husband and I are drawn to organic experiences of what it might look like if we lived in a place. The Chart Room would likely be a place we would frequent if we lived in NOLA. Oddly, it was a place we frequented even just for the four nights we were there and we sort of called it home base.

Our first meeting of the famed New Orleans phrase at The Chart Room: "Laissez les bon temps rouler!"
Translation: "Let the good times roll!"

After our beer at The Chart Room only a few short blocks walk was the Hotel Monteleone. The Carousel Bar they say is a must see and the must drink is the Pimms Cup. The fates were on our side because we got a seat as soon as we walked in. It was the best Pimms Cup ever and it is a cocktail I'm going to add to my regular rotation.

One of the embellishments at The Carousel Bar.

Starving, we headed off down Bourbon Street for some food. We had been told by a friend of friend to stop by the Verti Marte. We were salivating at the thought of Po-Boys so we ordered 2. We were told to get the "All That Jazz." The thing was the size of Florida but we had no idea it was going to be so huge. Needless to say the second Po Boy (plain 'ol shrimp) went (unfortunately) to waste. We walked and we walked and the night came and I got a whistle from a man on  balcony (victory) who said, "Hey good lookin,' you want some beads?" "Of course," said I! (VICTORY)! I mean c'mon, some dude thought I was cute, whilst I walked with my husband and from the distance of a balcony. Did I mention victory?

We stopped at one more little joint, 801 Royal. The woman behind the bar flung me their special and as she set it down in front of me, she said, "Might want to stir it sweetie, I put a good lot of Moonshine on there." Giggle. I just wanted to experience the freedom of ordering and then taking an adult beverage in a to-go cup.

Just a small pic here. In a to go cup with a lot of moonshine.

Day 2 Wednesday: We woke up pretty late for our usual standards of 7AM or earlier. It must've been 9AM by the time we got out the door. We went in search of breakfast or brunch. We headed to Marigny, a little borough just at the outskirts of the French Quarter. A friend suggested that we go to The Ruby Slipper. We got in the door and Bulent looked at me and said, "Hey, there was a little place just a block away. We passed it on our way here. Let's check it out." He is all about an "off the beaten path" experience and so we ventured. Although I was a bit torn. I really wanted The Ruby Slipper. I have a big running list for stuff to do on our next trip there.

The great business card really says everything you need to know. Look at that little girl with her confirmation veil and those other little hooligans and the mother's expression - oh the mother's expression.

On the outdoor covered eating area at the "new" place was a lady sitting with her phone enjoying the sunshine. I tried to stumble into the little place but the door wouldn't budge. I was pulling and pulling. The lady in front said, "push, lovebug, push!" And so I did and in we went.


Horn's was magnificent! Not crowded but clearly locals attending. The service was good, the dining room clean and the food outstanding! Fresh flowers on the tables and $3.00 French 75's? YES PLEASE! Plus Kappa (the owner) is warm and wonderful. I wanted her to be my friend. I told her if she's ever in CA to look us up. She said, "K.I.T.!"


After breakfast we simply wended our way back to the quarter. We saw some lovely things. An art gallery featuring New Orleans artists. We met a woman there who made some suggestions and we walked a bit more. Bulent found himself sitting at Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop.


And then we went to The French Market. And we walked around vendor booths and had a melon daiquiri and walked more. We walked down Decatur St. and went to an excellent, eclectic store called Milk Studio and another store which was sort of an artists mall. And here are some of the treasures we found there:

Alive!
Disappointingly I do not know the name of the store nor the artist that painted this.
We walked still, yet more. And looked at beautiful architecture and sensational signs and delightful colors. And then headed to the Historic New Orleans Collection. An old historical collection begun by a general and his wife in 1966, the collection boasts fine old cartography, little known historical facts and utterly knowledgeable docents who are kind and hospitable and the best part - it was free!

Sadly, this was the only photo I took there. I wish I had taken more but I was transported to another world without phones but dusted with voodoo, immigration, the Louisiana Purchase, the Spanish occupation of the city and so on. Nevertheless, as my husband's totem is a lion, I took it for him and I love the composition.
We left the museum hungrier than bears edging dangerously close to hangry. I had to run back to the museum to ask where we could get great seafood. One of the docents pointed us in the direction of Felix's. Turns out it was one of my favorite most memorable parts of our trip. We sat at the bar. It was comfortable cool and super casual and we made friends with Faye, our bar tender. She was fantastic! She told us little stories and made some great suggestions and I truly felt a connection with her. If you go there you will truly feel NOLA - no bullshit there. It is a real place. Not too many tourists, excellent food and good prices but the best part was the spirit.


We enjoyed our lunch to the max! We left Faye behind and stepped out into torrential rain. I was glad that Amy reminded me to bring the umbrella. But like other tropical places, it rained very hard for ten minutes and then the sun came out again. Here is where some people might complain about the humidity. Not me. I love the warmth, the steady heat. We simply soaked in the climate (punny) and continued to walk.



Finally we made it back to The French Market Inn and took a rest at the pool before heading up to our room to clean up for dinner. We headed to dinner at Cane and Table on Decatur. It was good. The drinks were delicious but the atmosphere was so old world, that it was truly an escape. Amy suggested this restaurant to us (along with The Ruby Slipper) and it did not disappoint. I had a Rum Punch and some fancy hush puppies with a green tomato remoulade.



The end of our evening came again after a short, beautiful walk, in front of St. Louis Cathedral to have a final night cap at The Chart Room. More tomorrow. Laissez les bon temps rouller!


Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Summertime Cocktail - Ginger Juno

Yep. It's summer. Hundred degree weather is here and while some folks don't like it, I get excited to be warm, to not have to carry a sweater or a jacket and to have a tan, a pool and an adult beverage.

I recently went to the River City Marketplace and saw some cool stuff and learned some new things and met some clever people.

One of my favorite vendors there was a gentleman named Gabriel Aiello. Cool dude, makes cool stuff. Since we are in the farm to fork capital he has capitalized on the foodie nature of our town. He makes shrubs, soda mixes, syrups and cocktail mixers under the Burly Beverages title!

I brought home my very own Burly Beverages Ginger Soda Syrup and Gabriel and I had a lovely talk about the Feverfew herb.

The Ginger Juno
 It was a delicious thing. I say was, because it was gone in just about 2 days. In that 2 days, though, I was able to make a serious cocktail from the Ginger Beer Syrup; I call it the Ginger Juno. It's a "burly" girly drink, hence the nod to Juno (protector of women), it's pretty, it's tasty and it's easy to make.


Ingredients:
Burly Beverages Ginger Beer Syrup
Sparkling Water
Strawberries (for muddling and for garnish)
Gin (I like Hendricks) or
Vodka (some people do not like gin)
1 vanilla bean

Directions:
In a cocktail shaker-
2 oz. gin or vodka
1 oz. Burly Ginger Beer Syrup
Shake well with lots of ice

In a large glass, muddle strawberry
Empty the seeds from a vanilla bean but keep the seeded bean for garnish
Add a huge ice cube to the glass and pour shaken mixture over ice and muddled strawberry and vanilla.
Add a splash of sparkling water - I mean it's like giggling water - what's not to like?
Garnish with a cut strawberry and the vanilla bean.
Drink it and follow it with another and then another.
Enjoy!


Friday, May 20, 2016

Strawberry Shortcake Torte


So here is a little ditty of which I am quite proud. (Tara, that's the good English). I call it a Strawberry Shortcake Torte. When I make it again, I will tweak a couple of things in the recipe. For haste, I used Pillsbury Pie Crust. Next time I'll use my mother's short crust recipe (still hasty) and I'll make it taller, much like my Peanut Butter Cocoa Torte.  But for my first go at an "in my mind, made up recipe," it turned out tasty and (bonus) Bulent loved it.


Mom's Short Crust Recipe

Ingredients:

2 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cups butter, softened
1/4 cup vegetable shortening
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
very cold water

Directions:

1. Sift flour, baking powder and salt into a food processor (Mom never sifts, she just throws it in there). Pulse once.
2. Add butter and shortening. Pulse until crumbly.
3. Add water just until ball forms - *caution - do not make the dough too wet.
4. Roll dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
5. Roll out and line the bottom (and sides) of a spring form pan.
6. Bake at 375 F for roughly 20 minutes. Keep an eye on it though. And remove it from the oven when it is toasty and golden.

If you prefer a sweeter crust for your fruit pies and tarts, you know what a fan I am of Add A Pinch -and her sweet short crust is excellent - so you can use this one instead if you want. I will use Mom's as an homage and because it's easy for both sweet pies and savory treats.


Strawberry Filling

Ingredients:

4 oz. cream cheese
3/4 cup confectioners sugar
2 cups sliced berries
1 pkg. Strawberry Jello
1/2 t. Almond Extract
1/2 t. Vanilla Extract
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
Juice of 1 lemon

Directions:

1. Slice strawberries and squeeze lemon on them, set aside in the fridge.
2. Cream sugar and cream cheese together until smooth.
3. Add 1 cup cream and extracts to cream cheese mixture, combine.
4. Pour cream cheese mixture into baked, cooled short crust. Put in freezer for quick set.
5. Prepare Jello using directions on box. Add a splash of heavy cream to make it pink.
6. Add strawberries to Jello.
7. Pour jello mixture onto cream cheese mixture in the short crust gently.
8. Refrigerate until set.
9. Whip the rest of the heavy cream.
10. Remove the set tart from the refrigerator and garnish with whipped cream, mint and a berry.




Sunday, April 24, 2016

Music is Life - Miike Snow

Sometimes my husband is a DJ. Of course, this is one of the qualities in him that makes me swoon. I love bounding around the kitchen while he mixes up some radical jams as i create some kitchen magic. When he does you can feel a little buzz of creativity in our house.

Miike Snow has been a big listen in our house for quite sometime. So when Bulent found this song he immediately played it for me over and over again and then showed me this video.

Enjoy!


Friday, April 22, 2016

Cinnamon Blondies

I love cinnamon. The smell of cinnamon, the taste of cinnamon, anything (sweet or savory) with cinnamon in it. In fact, my next food post may be my Arabic Rice, which I swear,  is the reason my husband loves me, and guess what - yeah, cinnamon - main ingredient.

But for today, have these Cinnamon Blondies. 


That ooey gooey cinnamon ribbon in the middle cannot be topped. But if your on a diet, keep on moving because these ARE NOT waistline friendly. They are as rich as rich can be. Moist, flavorful, delicious. And if you love cinnamon like I do, a good quick cinnamon fix. I should call them Cinnamon Crack Blondies because you become quickly addicted and cannot stop at one.

Of course, I searched the 'ol Pinterest and came across Sally's Baking Addiction for a recipe that was quick and easily adaptable. But I did not use Sally's recipe as she had it. Oh no, you know how I love to make mischief and appropriate someone's good idea and mold it to suit me, right?

Ingredients for Cinnamon Blondies:

2 1/3 C flour
1 1/4 tsp baking powder
Pinch salt *see note
3/4 C salted butter, softened
3/4 C packed brown sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
2 tsp vanilla extract
Scant 1/2 C white chocolate chips (optional) **see note

Ingredients for Cinnamon Ribbon:
3 tsp cinnamon
1/2 C granulated sugar

Directions for Cinnamon Blondies:
  1. Preheat oven to 350F degrees. Spray an 11x7 metal baking pan with Pam Baking. Alternatively, you can line the baking pan with parchment leaving enough overhang on the sides to easily pull the blondies out of the pan and cut. (This is the method Sally uses, but I'd rather not incur the hassle or the mess).
  2. Combine flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside. 
  3. Beat the butter on high speed in a large bowl until creamy. 
  4. Add sugars and beat until light and fluffy. Scrape down the sides and bottom of bowl as needed. 
  5. Beat in the eggs and vanilla on high speed, scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl as needed. On low speed, beat in dry ingredients until just combined. 
  6. With a large wooden spoon or rubber spatula, fold in the (optional) white chocolate chips.
  7. Spoon half the batter into pan. It will be a relatively thin layer, but try to spread it across the pan evenly. 
  8. Make your cinnamon ribbon mixture and sprinkle on top of bottom layer, reserving enough to cover the top as well.
  9. Spread the remaining batter over top of bottom layer that has been sprinkled with the "ribbon mixture." 
  10. Sprinkle the top with remaining cinnamon-sugar.
  11. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. 
  12. Cool completely.
*Just a pinch - literally. You already have salt in the butter.
**The white chocolate chips make these sweeties too sweet for me. I do not love a cloying mouth feel so all the subsequent times I have made these, I simply omit the white chocolate chips altogether. Feel free to do the same.