Thursday, December 27, 2012

Homemade Zebra Cakes

Oh yes, that's right. Homemade. Zebra. Cakes. Today is my Dad's birthday, and the originals are a long-time favorite of his. Pete always has a box of them stashed away at home and out at Lower Breaux Bridge. So, when it came time to ring in another year, I thought it would be perfect, and unexpected, to celebrate with my own little homemade recipe for these tasty little snacks.
And they were definitely a hit! They turned out even cuter and tastier than I had imagined. Everyone had their own little mini cake to enjoy . . . and there are a few left over to fight over for the next few days.
Although the process is a little bit intensive, it was a lot of fun to do with the family and totally worth the fuss.

Ingredients

Yellow Cake
  • 3 cups cake flour
  • 3 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 1/3 cups sugar
  • 6 large egg yolks
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
Filling
  • 12 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup vegetable shortening
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 3 cups confectioners' sugar
White Chocolate Coating
  • 16 oz. white chocolate melting chips
  • 1/2 cup vegetable shortening
Dark Chocolate Drizzle
  • 4 oz. dark chocolate melting chips

Directions

Yellow Cake
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. In a medium bowl, sift the flour with the baking powder and salt.
  3. Using a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, beat the butter until soft and creamy, about 1-2 minutes. 
  4. Slowly add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy, about 3-5 minutes. 
  5. Add egg yolks, in two batches, beating well after each addition. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. 
  6. Add the vanilla extract and beat until combined.
  7. With the mixer on low speed, alternately add the flour mixture (in three additions), and milk (in two additions), beginning and ending with the flour. 
  8. Pour batter into a greased 15x10-inch jelly roll pan.
  9. Bake at 350 degrees F for 15-20 minutes.
  10. Place the cake on a wire rack to cool, in their pans, for about 10 minutes. Then remove the cake from the pan and place onto a greased rack to cool completely.
  11. Use a biscuit cutter or other round cutter to cut an even number of circles in the cake. Try to cut the circles close together to maximize the number of cakes. close together in the cake.
* Yellow Cake recipe is adapted from the Joy of Baking.

Filling
  1. While the cake is cooling, cream together butter and shortening until smooth.
  2. Slowly add the milk, sugar, and vanilla extract.
  3. Continue beating on medium speed until smooth and creamy.
  4. Place the flat side of one cake circle face down. Spread filling on the top
  5. Top with another cake circle, flat side up. Repeat with all the cakes.  
  6. Place the cakes on a baking sheet lined with wax paper and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
White Chocolate Coating
  1. In a large microwave-safe bowl, melt the white chocolate chips and shortening, stopping to mix every 30 seconds. 
  2. Once fully melted and combined, place a cake in the bowl and gently spoon the melted chocolate over the top. 
  3. Slide a fork under the cake and lift it out, pausing to let the excess drip off. 
  4. Place the cake back on waxed paper. Repeat with all the cakes, then let sit at room temperature until coating is set.

* White Chocolate Coating recipe is adapted from the Confessions of a Cookbook Queen blog.

Dark Chocolate Drizzle
  1. When the coated cakes have set, melt the dark chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl, stopping to mix every 30 seconds.
  2. Drizzle over the top of the cakes.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Christmas Crinkle Cookies

Every year, my office throws a holiday cookie exchange party in December. It's a great excuse to procrastinate on a cold, dreary Monday afternoon. 

People bring in a platter of their favorite baked goods and trade recipes for all sorts of festive confections. So as not to be rude, I like to sample as many as possible. You know, you don't want to offend any coworkers . . .

There are a few avid bakers are here, so it is always full of beautiful treats and tasty recipes.

My contribution this year: chocolate crinkle cookies with a little twist - a touch of hazelnut thanks to the addition of nutella. I like to go ahead and throw nutella into any recipe humanly possible. It's pretty much my crack in a jar. And it adds just the right amount of sweetness and nutty flavor to these snow covered cookies. They are delicious little bites of soft, chewy chocolate on the inside with crisp edges on the outside.

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 5 1/3 oz. nutella (chocolate hazelnut) spread
  • 1/8 cup vegetable shortening
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup sifted confectioners' sugar

Directions
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. 
  2. Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium mixing bowl.
  3. Using a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, mix the nutella and shortening on medium speed until combined.
  4. Add sugar and mix until combined.
  5. Slowly beat in the egg and vanilla extract.
  6. Add flour and milk alternately and mix until just combined.
  7. Cover and chill several hours until firm.
  8. Shape the mixture into walnut-sized balls.
  9. Roll the cookie balls in confectioners' sugar until coated.
  10. Place on greased cookie sheet and bake at 375 degrees F until the cookies set and their surfaces crack, about 8-10 minutes.
          * This recipe is adapted from Nutella Crinkle Cookies.

The loot from this year's exchange.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Crispy Bacon and Blue Cheese

I didn't always love Brussels sprouts. They were, for me, an acquired taste. And a vegetable that I didn't know how to properly prepare for some time.

When done right, though, they are tender and delicate in flavor. They have numerous health benefits as well - high in protein, folic acid, iron, Vitamin C, and packed with potent anticancer properties.

Roasting Brussels sprouts caramelizes their natural sweetness. Crumbling on a bit of crispy bacon and creamy blue cheese adds texture and bite to this lovely side. But then again, it's hard to go wrong when you add cheese and bacon to any dish.

Ingredients
  • 2 pounds Brussels sprouts, cleaned and trimmed
  • 2-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 cup cooked and crumbled bacon
  • 2 oz. mild blue cheese, crumbled
  • salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Directions
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. In large baking dish, toss the Brussels sprouts with the olive oil, salt, and pepper.
  3. Roast in a 400 degree oven for about 20 minutes, until caramelized. Rotate the pan and toss the sprouts around a few times during the cooking process to evenly brown.
  4. Drizzle the tablespoon of balsamic vinegar over the roasted sprouts and toss well. 
  5. Return to the oven to bake for another 4-5 minutes.
  6. Place the roasted sprouts in a large bowl and toss in the crumbled bacon and blue cheese.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Chocolate-Ancho Chili Flourless Cake

Sometimes things are just better the second time around . . . In October, I attempted a dark chocolate torte with a kick of heat in honor of Nikki's birthday. It was certainly tasty, but I wanted to play with the texture of the cake and the combination of spices to see if I could improve upon the recipe. 

After a bit of searching, I found that ancho chili powder, with it's complex fruity sweetness, pairs beautifully with the chocolate and gives the dessert a more balanced flavor profile. Additionally, I found that a new method of preparation that ensures a very dense, moist confection. Overall, this recipe update is pretty awesome and sister-approved.
Ingredients
  • 8 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 6 eggs
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 tablespoons ancho chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Melt the chocolate and butter in a double boiler and over (but not touching) about 1 inch of simmering water. Stir constantly until fully incorporated. Remove from heat and set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, combine the sugar and eggs. Using a handheld mixer beat together until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. 
  4. While mixing, slowly add the cocoa powder, ancho chili powder, cinnamon, salt, and vanilla extract. 
  5. Slowly incorporate the melted chocolate mixture and blend until just combined.
  6. Pour batter into a greased and floured 9-inch round baking dish.
  7. Bake at 350 degrees F until the cake is set and a thin crust forms on the top, 45 to 50 minutes.
  8. Serve with fresh whipped cream.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Nanny Bird's Meatball Stew

Meatball stew is a hearty fall and winter favorite in South Louisiana. It's good, old fashioned Cajun comfort food and a staple on our family's holiday spreads. Serve with toothpicks as a casual appetizer, or over rice dressing as a meal. 

My grandmother's sister, Nanny Bird, perfected the recipe. And we haven't changed it one bit.

Ingredients
  • 1 lb. ground veal
  • 1 lb. ground pork
  • (can substitute ground sirloin if veal/pork not available)
  • 3/4 cup Italian breadcrumbs
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 medium onions, diced
  • 2 green bell peppers, diced
  • 1 stalk celery, diced
  • 5 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 3 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 2 tablespoons dark roux (store-bought or see Turbo Roux recipe)
  • water

Directions
  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
  2. In a large bowl, mix together the ground meat, breadcrumbs, eggs, bell peppers, celery, garlic, salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper, and 2/3 of the diced onions. Set the remaining onion aside.
  3. Once thoroughly combined, form the mixture into 1-inch meatballs. Arrange meatballs on a sheet pan.
  4. Brown in the oven at 325 degrees F for 30 minutes. Rotate the balls once during baking.
  5. In a large dutch oven pot, heat 2 tablespoons of dark roux and the remaining onions over medium heat. Cook for 1-2 minutes.
  6. Place the meatballs in the pot and add just enough water to cover.
  7. Simmer on medium heat for 1 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally.
  8. While cooking, season with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Wedding Cake Martini

Happy Wedding Day to my girl Megan! Today, my beautiful friend and her tall, dark and handsome man will tie the knot. Unfortunately, I cannot be there to celebrate with them. But I'm sending all of my love and very best wishes to the happy couple and their families on this wonderful day! 

I know it will be a lovely ceremony and one hell of a party. We'll be dancing the night away with you in spirit!

Ingredients
  • one part vanilla vodka
  • one part white crème de cacao
  • one part pineapple juice

Directions
  1. Chill martini glass.
  2. Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker half full of ice.
  3. Shake vigorously. Strain into martini glass.
  4. Serve immediately to the beaming bride. 
Congrats to Meg and Young Jedi! Wishing you all
of the happiness in the world!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Birthday Greetings from Barbados

This week, three of my favorite ladies celebrate their birthdays. And I am lucky enough to spend the day with two of them on the beautiful island of Barbados. We arrived this morning and promptly raised a glass to Sarah and Meaghan. More on our Caribbean shenanigans to come . . .

Natacha turned another year older and wiser earlier this week, and we are, of course, sending some birthday love her way. Wish you were here!
Happy Birthday to my gorgeous girlies:
Sarah, Meaghan and Natacha!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Macaroni & Four Cheeses

It's amazing. That's all you need to know.

Ingredients
  • 16 oz. penne pasta, uncooked
  • 5 oz. sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 5 oz. mild cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 5 oz. fontina cheese, shredded
  • 5 oz. asiago cheese, shredded
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 7 tablespoons flour
  • 3 cups whole milk
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper

Directions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Cook pasta 2 minutes less than package directions. Drain well.
  3. While the pasta is cooking, begin to make a béchamel sauce by melting the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat.
  4. Whisk in the flour and cook for 2 minutes, whisking constantly.
  5. Continue whisking and slowly add the milk.
  6. Cook over medium heat until the sauce thickens, about 10 minutes, stirring frequently.
  7. Remove from heat.
  8. Add the salt, garlic powder, white pepper, and 4 oz. of each of the cheeses. Reserve 1 oz. of each of the cheeses for the topping. 
  9. Stir until the cheese is melted and all ingredients are incorporated, about 3 minutes.
  10. Carefully combine the pasta and the béchamel sauce in a medium bowl.
  11. Transfer the mixture into a greased 9x13 baking dish.
  12. Bake at 350 degrees F for 20 minutes.
   * This recipe is adapted from Beecher's "World's Best" Mac & Cheese.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Corn Soufflé

Don't be fooled by the underwhelming photo or the intimidating name. Corn soufflé is flavorful and easily assembled . . . there's no real soufflé aspect to it. This Mott family dish is moist and fluffy with just a touch of sweetness.

While this recipe may not be complex or sophisticated, it is a comforting southern classic.

Ingredients

  • 1 (8.5 oz.) box of Jiffy corn muffin mix
  • 1 (15 oz.) can whole kernel sweet corn
  • 1 (15 oz.) can cream style corn
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten

Directions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together all ingredients until combined.
  3. Transfer the mixture into a greased 8x8 baking dish.
  4. Bake at 350 degrees F until golden brown, about 45 minutes.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Pecan Praline Candied Yams

This is one of my Mom's Thanksgiving must-haves (and one of my favorites too). The pecan topping caramelizes to form an almost candy-like crust. It's a sweet and decadent side dish that's perfect for any holiday feast.

Ingredients
  • 3 cups yams, precooked (if you use canned yams, be sure to drain the liquid)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/4 inch cubes
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Topping
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/4 inch cubes
  • 1 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1 cup pecans, chopped
  • 1/3 cup flour

Directions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Combine the butter, milk, vanilla, and cinnamon in a small bowl.
  3. In a large bowl, mash together milk mixture with the yams, sugar, eggs, and salt.
  4. Transfer the mixture into a greased 9x13 casserole dish.
Topping
  1. Mix all ingredients together in a small bowl. Crumble the topping over the yams.
  2. Bake at 350 degrees F for 35 minutes.

Deep-Fried Turkey

Want to know if you've stumbled upon a southern family's Thanksgiving dinner? There are a few good indicators. Do you detect even the hint of an accent or drawl as loved ones argue about their preferred SEC football team? Is there are large pitcher of sweet tea? And, most importantly, are they deep frying their turkey?
The Fry Masters: Jared, Seth and Tim
This method of preparation is a little tricky and dangerous, but is sure to result in an amazingly tender and juicy bird. Be sure that your turkey is completely thawed, but still refrigerated until just before cooking. Pat dry with paper towels to ensure that gorgeous golden brown and crispy exterior.

Ingredients
  • 1 (13 lb.) whole natural turkey, neck and giblets removed
  • 2 1/2-3 gallons peanut oil (approximately)**
  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/4 cup Pete's Good Stuff Seasoning Mix, plus 2-3 tablespoons
  • special equipment: meat injector, outdoor propane burner, 28- to 30-quart pot, frying basket, and hook
** To determine the correct amount of oil, place your turkey in the pot that you intend to use for frying. Add cold water until the turkey is just covered, leaving 4 or 5 inches between the surface of the water and the top of the pot. Measure the water: this will be the amount of oil you use for frying.

Directions
  1. In a small bowl, combine melted butter and 2-3 tablespoons of Pete's Good Stuff Seasoning Mix.
  2. Load the mixture into a meat injector and poke into the thawed and dried turkey in several places to insert the marinade.
  3. Using the remaining 1/4 cup of seasoning, apply a dry rub on the skin of the bird and all around the cavity. Refrigerate for at least one and up to 24 hours before cooking to allow the flavors to meld together.
  4. Allow the bird to sit at room temperature for 30 minutes prior to cooking.
  5. Pour the appropriate amount of peanut oil into a 28- to 30-quart pot and set over high heat on an outdoor propane burner with a sturdy structure.
  6. Bring the temperature of the oil to 350 degrees F.
  7. Place the turkey in the frying basket and, using the hook, slowly lower into the oil until completely covered.
  8. Place a cover on the pot and cook the bird for about 45 minutes, or 3 1/2 minutes per pound. (Maintain an oil temperature of 350 degrees F while cooking).
  9. Use the hook to secure the handle of the frying basket angently remove the turkey from the oil. Allow it to rest for a minimum of 30 minutes prior to carving.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Crudités with Creamy Dill Dipping Sauce

Now that we've finally come out of our tryptophan-induced food comas, let's get into some of these tasty recipes. As family and friends arrive for the big meal, it is always a good idea to have a few things for people to snack on just in case you get behind on your cooking schedule (which is almost always the case in my kitchen). A crudité platter filled with fresh, crispy, sliced vegetables is a lovely addition - especially when accompanied by an addictively good dip.

Ingredients
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1 tablespoon fresh dill weed
  • 1/2 tablespoon shallots, minced
  • 1 tablespoon fresh parsley, minced
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 tablespoon beau monde (seasoning salt)

Directions
  1. Mix all of the ingredients together in a medium bowl.
  2. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
  3. Serve with a variety of sliced vegetables.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Our Thanksgiving Menu

Today, I have so many things to be thankful for. My parents and sister are visiting this week for the holiday. And we have had a wonderful time traipsing around the District. Now, we are sitting down with the Motts for our first official Thanksgiving at the apartment. Merging families and family recipes: the perfect way to create our own new traditions.

I hope your day is filled with wonderful food, wine, family, friends, and everything else that makes today a holiday for you!

P.S. Recipes for many of these delectable dishes coming soon!

Hors d'Oeuvres:

Cocktails:
Cranberry Mimosa

Dinner:
Meatball StewRice Dressing
Homemade Dinner Rolls

Desserts:

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Sarah P's Piled High Apple Pie

When Jared and I got married, it was understood that I would eventually learn to make the family's hallowed apple pie. While my charming husband is an excellent hunter and angler, baking isn't exactly his forté. So, the responsibility falls to me to carry on the tradition.

Expectations are high, to say the least. In an attempt to delay my potential botching of this beloved dessert, I waited until it was officially apple season. Then, I dragged Jared to a local orchard to handpick our loot. And now I have no more excuses. God help us all.
First: make sure that you have pie-appropriate varieties of apples. Don't show up with a bag of Red Delicious and expect to pass muster. The Motts are New Englanders (mostly). They know exactly how they like them apples . . . too much? You want the apples to be firm (to hold their texture during the baking process) and not too sweet (to balance out the sugar needed to thicken the juices from the apples as they cook). Stayman, Gravenstein, Braeburn, Fuji and Pink Lady Apples are all crisp and sturdy. Jonathan, Jonagold, Granny Smith, and Pippin are great sweet-tart options, as well. I used a blend of Braeburns and Staymans, from our apple-picking trip, for my first attempt.
Second: booze up your crust. That's right. Grab a bottle of Grey Goose Vodka and head to the kitchen. This is a more recent update to the original recipe, but it's a good one. The alcohol works as a tenderizer for the dough. Since eighty-proof vodka is 40 percent ethanol and 60 percent water, you are able to add more liquid to the dough without making the crust tough. The alcohol vaporizes in the oven, leaving you with a moist, flaky crust. And if your adventures in baking end in tragedy, just bring the bottle back out and drink your dessert instead.
Thankfully, I successfully pulled together my first Mott-approved apple pie. And will henceforth use this new skill to bargain and bribe my way into and out of certain situations. I recommend you do the same. Because, oh yes, it is that good.

Ingredients

Pie Crust
  • 2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 12 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled and cut into 1/4 inch cubes
  • 1/2 cup vegetable shortening, chilled and cut into 4 pieces
  • 1/4 cup cold vodka
  • 1/4 cup cold water
Pie Filling
  • 15 medium apples, peeled, cored, and cut into 1/4 inch slices
  • fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/4 inch cubes

Directions

Pie Crust
  1. In a food processor, combine the salt, sugar, and 1 1/2 cups of the flour (2 one-second pulses).
  2. Add butter and shortening and process until the dough just starts to collect in uneven clumps, about 15 seconds. The mixture should resemble cottage cheese curds and there should be no uncoated flour.
  3. Scrape the bowl with a rubber spatula and redistribute the dough evenly around the food processor blade.
  4. Add the remaining cup of flour and pulse until the mixture is evenly distributed around the bowl and the mass of dough has been broken up, about 5 quick pulses.
  5. Empty the mixture into a medium bowl.
  6. Sprinkle the vodka and water over the mixture.
  7. Using a rubber spatula, fold the mixture, pressing down on the dough until it is slightly tacky and sticks together.
  8. Divide the dough evenly into two balls. Flatten each into a 4-inch disk. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 45 minutes or up to two days.
* Pie crust recipe is adapted from Cook's Illustrated's Foolproof Pie Dough.

Pie Filling
  1. Using an apple corer/peeler, prepare the apples. Place the apple slices in a large metal bowl. Squeeze the juice of 1 or 2 fresh lemons over the slices as you go to prevent them from browning.
  2. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
  3. In a small bowl, mix together the flour, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt.
  4. Sprinkle the mixture over the apples and combine thoroughly.
  5. Remove the dough from the refrigerator.
  6. Working on a lightly floured surface, roll out one disk of dough to a 12-inch round.
  7. Transfer to a 9-inch round pie dish.
  8. Carefully arrange the apple mixture into the dough-lined pie dish. Pack the apples tightly and form a dome of the slices until they no longer hold in place. Dot the top with the butter.
  9. Roll out the remaining dough to an 12-inch round. Use to top the pie.
  10. Press the edges of the dough together and trim the overhang to 1 inch. 
  11. Fold the edge under itself and crimp to seal the edges.
  12. Score the top of the crust with a sharp knife to create air vents for the steam to escape.
  13. Bake the pie in the center of the middle rack of the oven. Place a baking sheet on the lower rack to catch any juices that might bubble over while cooking.
  14. First, bake at 425 degrees F for 30 minutes.
  15. Reduce heat to 350 degrees F and bake for an additional 30 minutes.Place a sheet of aluminum foil over the pie to protect the edges and tops from burning.
  16. Let the pie cool for at least 2 hours before serving.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Travel Bites - New Orleans

Last weekend, Jared and I hopped on a plane to New Orleans to celebrate the wedding of our friends Brad and Ally. We had a wonderful time catching up, listening to good music, eating way too much food, and enjoying the local artwork. Little did we know, though, our quick trip to the dirty south ended up lasting a bit longer than expected as Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast. Our flight back to DC got cancelled and, in an odd turn of events, we got stranded in south Louisiana to ride out the storm.
But, first things first: the wedding weekend in NOLA. We arrived in the Big Easy on Friday afternoon and headed straight to our favorite burger joint. Port of Call serves up made-to-order, juicy burgers and baked potatoes with all of the usual toppings (which are very generous, so just order a cheeseburger and sprinkle some of the excess on your potato). Enjoy one of the many specialty drinks to wash it all down. The Neptune's Monsoon, their take on a traditional Hurricane, will definitely get any weekend started early - delicious, fruity, and potent. We decided it was better to drink in the natural disasters this weekend since we were stuck anyway.
Later that night, we met up with our friends Jon and Kim for dinner and fun on Frenchman Street. Chef John Besh's latest restaurant, Borgne, honors the cuisine of coastal Louisiana and serves up some amazing seafood and local wildlife-inspired dishes. After twenty minutes of catching up and drooling over the menu, we finally settled on a delightful-looking spread: crabmeat croquetas with chipotle remoulade; duck poppers with jalapeño and bacon; slow smoked pork empanadas white barbecue sauce; black drum a la plancha with brown butter, pecans, and jumbo lump crab; and oyster spaghetti  with creamy oyster broth, garlic, and botarga.
Many adult beverages later, we found ourselves singing and dancing with the Soul Rebels Brass Band at the Blue Nile. Because, like Jared said, happiness is a fat man on trombone. Then, of course, coffee and beignets at the infamous Café du Monde at 3 a.m. (the only time you can walk in and get a table). Deep-fried pastries, covered in powdered sugar: the perfect late night/early morning snack.
The next morning, as I nursed my mild hangover, my rock star friend Rachel ran her first half marathon. We cheered her on by text message, then met up for brunch to celebrate. Rachie's restaurant of choice: EAT new orleans. This adorable and cozy spot is a great find in the French Quarter. It's casual southern classics done right. I enjoyed every bite of my soft-shell crabs benedict. The eggs were perfectly poached, served atop lightly-battered and fried soft-shell crabs and covered with a delicate hollandaise sauce.
 Finally, we made our way to Metairie for the sweet wedding of some Louisiana friends that met in DC. Brad and Ally got hitched at the bride's family church and hosted a beautiful reception at the Audubon Tea Room. We feasted on an amazing buffet featuring turtle soup, barbecued shrimp and grits, fried green tomatoes with crawfish remoulade, and other tasty Creole favorites. It was the quintessential NOLA wedding and we had a damn good time celebrating with the lovely couple.
After a wonderful wedding and our food marathon of a weekend, we were able to spend a few days with my family in Lafayette thanks to the storm delay. On Thursday, we finally made our way back to the District to find things very much the way we left them, thankfully. Unfortunately, other areas were not so lucky, and my thoughts are with all of those impacted by the storm.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Voodoo on the Bayou

Happy Halloween folks! What better way to commemorate All Hallows' Eve than with a little Louisiana voodoo?

Marie Laveau is the late, great, undisputed Voodoo Queen of New Orleans. According to folklore, this exceptional beauty got rich selling gris-gris and her advice was sought after by world leaders. She danced with a snake and presided over blood-drenched rituals. And her powers caused the death of at least one Governor and one Lieutenant Governor.

It is believed that when a Voodoo Queen dies, her spirit re-enters the river of life and moves to the next realm, adjacent to this one. So, Laveau's spirit is always close at hand. To this day, people still visit her tomb in St. Louis Cemetery to call on her undying spiritual powers with the hope that she will grant their wishes.

One local pizza joint created a dish with a Cajun twist in honor of this South Louisiana legend. The Marie LeVeaux at Deano's Pizza in Lafayette is crowned with the biggest, tastiest Blue Point crabs, sauteed with mushrooms, onions and spices to create an amazingly flavorful and unique pie. Our family prefers to pay homage by eating our gris-gris instead of traipsing through a maze of above-ground graves.

Deano's, one of my ultimate hometown favorite spots, is also home to the Cajun Executioner - a pizza that will leave you breathing fire - topped with pepperoni, hot sausage, spicy shrimp, fresh onions, bell peppers, and jalapeños. Or try the Muffalata Pie - their version of a muffuletta sandwich - ham, salami, homemade olive salad with a special blend of spices and cheese piled high on a special olive oil pizza crust.

And if that's not enough for you, start your meal off with their Crawfish Nachos. Crisp tortilla chips topped with tender crawfish tails in a creamy, cheesy, spicy sauce. You'll be licking the plate clean.
Deano's Crawfish Nachos

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Quinoa-Stuffed Peppers

Looking for a tasty new addition to your Meatless Mondays repertoire? Or Tuesdays, as it were . . . this is a great vegetarian dish that is packed with protein and flavor. And, if you nix the bread crumbs, it's gluten free. This recipe is a spin off of the Quinoa Mac & Cheese recipe previously posted and works great as a hearty side dish or as a main course.

Ingredients
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 1 pint cremini mushrooms, sliced
  • 10 grape tomatoes, diced
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 red bell peppers, halved and seeded
  • 1/2 cup quinoa, rinsed and drained
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 cup skim milk
  • 3/4 cup sharp cheddar cheese, grated
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon hot sauce
  • 1/4 cup panko bread crumbs
  • cooking spray

Directions
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
  2. Prepare the quinoa according to the package instructions. Typically, you combine 1 part quinoa and 2 parts water to a sauce pan and bring that to a boil. Lower the heat to a simmer. Cover and cook for 10-15 minutes until the germ separates from the seed (which looks like a white thread curling around the seed).
  3. In a separate pan, sauté the onions, mushrooms, and tomatoes in olive oil over medium heat until softened, about 10 minutes.
  4. Whisk together the egg, milk, garlic powder, onion powder, black pepper, and hot sauce in a large bowl.
  5. Fold in the cooked quinoa, vegetable mixture, and grated cheese. Mix well.
  6. Apply a light coating of cooking spray to both sides of the bell pepper halves.
  7. Spoon the quinoa mixture into each of the peppers, pressing the stuffing down firmly.
  8. Place each of the filled peppers onto a greased cookie sheet.
  9. Top with panko bread crumbs. Sprinkle on some red pepper flakes for a little more heat.
  10. Bake at 375 degrees F for 20-30 minutes until are golden brown.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Salted Caramel Apples

While Jared is preoccupied with all of his opening days of hunting, I also get excited about this time of year. The weather finally turns cool and crisp - perfect for gumbos, football season is in full swing, the holidays are right around the corner, and it's apple picking season in the mid-Atlantic region!
We spent Sunday afternoon out in Maryland at Larriland Farms, enjoying the gorgeous weather and hauling in a ridiculous amount of freshly-picked apples. Staymans, Braeburns, Fujis and Suncrisps, to be exact. 
While this isn't exactly something I grew up doing in south Louisiana, the New England Motts are well-versed in this fall activity. And they have a number of tasty recipes to help utilize the loot (some of those to come soon).
But for now, I'll stick with something I know and love: caramel apples. They are a sweet and gooey mess of a dessert that always make me feel a little warm and fuzzy inside . . . as long as I don't manage to burn myself on the molten candy lava. But I decided to mix things up a little bit with a slightly sophisticated twist, using a recipe for salted caramel that brings out the sweetness of both the apples and the candy with just a hint of savory. 
If you're weary of homemade candies or are down a candy thermometer, you can always opt for a bag of caramel squares. Just be sure to add about 1/4 cup of water and a teaspoon of fine sea salt when you melt the candies to have the same sort of effect. 

Ingredients
  • 8-10 whole apples, small or medium in size
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/4 cup light corn syrup
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 teaspoon fine sea salt, plus extra for sprinkling
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • special equipment: 8-10 wooden skewers or chopsticks and a candy thermometer

Directions
  1. Line a baking sheet with wax paper. Coat with a light layer of non-stick cooking spray. Set aside.
  2. Make sure all of the apples are cleaned, dried and stemmed.
  3. Insert a wooden skewer or chopstick into the top end of each apple. Set aside.
  4. In a deep saucepan, combine the water, sugar, and corn syrup. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat.
  5. Cook until the mixture is a warm golden brown, swirling (not stirring) occasionally.
  6. In a small pot, bring the cream, butter, and 1 teaspoon of fine sea salt to a simmer over medium heat. Turn off the heat and set aside.
  7. When the sugar mixture is a warm golden brown, turn off the heat and slowly add the cream mixture. Beware: it will bubble up violently.
  8. Stir in the vanilla with a wooden spoon and cook over medium-low heat for about 10 minutes, until the mixture reaches 248 degrees F on a candy thermometer. Remove from heat.
  9. While the caramel is hot, dip the apples in, twirling to coat evenly.
  10. Let the excess caramel drip off. Sprinkle with another pinch of sea salt. 
  11. Place the apples on the lined baking sheet.
  12. Place in the refrigerator to harden, about 1 hour.
   * Caramel recipe is adapted from Ina Garten's Fleur de Sel Caramels.