Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Almighty Muffletta

 The muffletta is said to have been invented at Central Grocery on Decatur - a great old school Italian grocery store that has long line ups every day for a taste of the layered sandwich of genoa salami, ham, mortadella, provolone, topped off with Central Grocery's killer olive salad.

 The muffletta bread is about a foot across, topped with sesame seeds - again, pretty disappointing bread, but useful as a sponge to sop up the oil from the salad...
although not enough to stop it from dripping off your elbow as you bite in!  You can buy quarters, halves or wholes, but hard not to want the whole thing.

 We had some fried pork rinds as a snack, and topped it all with a frozen daiquiri as we made our way out to the Gulf Coast.

Before we left New Orleans, I went back to Central Grocery to buy a quart bottle of their olive salad to take home.

We added red onions to our mufflettas, and used real bread - a fennel whole grain baguette from Art-is-In Bakery - with that olive salad? 

Awesome!??!??!  YEAH YOU RITE!

Iconic NOLA eats!

I'm not sure why I didn't realize the level to which New Orleans is a foodie destination...  but as I did my research in advance of our trip, I couldn't help but salivate... and when we got there, I suffered fraom the anxiety of having to chose where to eat on our ever decreasing number of meals before our departure - the pressure!

A few iconic eats in NOLA:

(1) The po'boy: not just a submarine or hero, but THE sandwich of Louisiana.  You can get them from fine restaurants to corner stores to gas stations.  Thought to originate in the 1920's when French bread was filled with potatoes and gravy to feed striking workers... I'd heard a lot about Johnny's Po-boy Restaurant in the French Quarter, so we got there for an early lunch.

 Nothing like ordering in a local restaurant for the first time - it was jam packed, and I had to ask what "all dressed" meant, and missed my number being called (cuz I didn't expect it to be made so quickly!).

 We stuck with the classic fried shrimp po-boy (undressed - shredded iceberg, tomatoes, pickles and a little mayo on the side) - I usually deprive myself of it, but freshly-fried, tongue-burning food is mana from heaven... at least at the first moment the flavours burst on your tongue, the crunch of crispy, airy batter, hints of cayenne blended with a shmear of mayo... mmmm! 

We did wonder about the bread though - crispy on the outside, but processed bland air dough in the middle...  Probably the only disappointment of the entire trip.  Although we heard later of the "bread as vehicle" theory around po'boy bread...

(2) Beignets and chicory cafe au lait:  The iconic spot is Cafe du Monde (first opened in 1862) on Decatur Street past Jackson Square.  A super touristy place which I considered waiting in line for until I realized that they were filming Emeril Lagasse inside.... next time!

We came across Cafe Beignet, a little hole in the wall restaurant with a shaded terrasse that was pumping out these hot square doughnuts with a snowstorm of icing sugar on top.   Maybe that layer of sugar is to keep from burning your upper lip, as you've got to inhale them while they are still warm... and remember NOT to wear black if you are going to indulge!

(3) Fried Chicken:  Part of the Creole/soul food experience, which you can get even in a cafe called "Fiorella's" (which I found out later is one of the best places to get fried chicken in town)!  And on St. Paddy's Day, I had to indulge in their special - a $2 green apple martini - before lunch!

 This was a dangerous "beginning of trip" experience.  The still sizzling, lightly coated skin breaking like glass under my teeth, flavour burst of fat and spices as I sunk into the juiciest chicken I may ever have experienced - the textures and tastes all blending into an eye-rolling mouthful...  Whoa!  Made me want to eat more and more, and start a pilgrimage to find the holy grail of fried chicken....  and to never ever eat KFC again!  Note the red beans and smoked sausage with rice side... nice!

(4) The Muffletta:  But that will have to be a separate post....

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Airport food - Chicago & New Orleans

I don't travel as often as I used to, but it is often interesting the types of food you can get en route.  Of course there are the ubiquitous Rotten Ronnie's, BKs, and Tim Hortons, but it's the local food I look for.  I've seen jamon sandwiches and rum drink boxes (Cuba), awesome burritos (at Andale in San Fran), Korean BBQ (sadly, gone from the local terminal at Honolulu International Airport), ramen (Tokyo), etc.  I love that feeling of being able to squeeze one last meal into a trip!

I rtecently passed through O'Hare in Chicago.  I checked out a tapas place that the stewardess had mentioned, but passed on the drab menu.  I ended up, sadly, at Wolfgang Puck's Express - which was interesting years ago when it first opened but now seems a tired.  After eating a rather dull sandwich, I came across this sight. 

OMG!  Tortas?!?!?! by Rick Bayless!?!?  I've been a fan of his PBS series and cookbooks as a champion of authentic Mexican cuisine.  Frontera just opened in February 2011 and has already been named one of Frommer's top 10 airport restaurants in the US.  The menu for Frontera was mouthwatering, and high point for his ingredients sourcing.


With a heavy heart, and full stomach - I read the menu... then decided I had to eat SOMEthing.  I knew I wasn't flying back through ORD... so I had the tortilla soup...
Pretty challenging flavours - earthy, oily, intense chili flavours.  Next time, a torta....
On our way back from an epic trip to New Orleans, we ended up in the Louis Armstrong International Airport (MSY) and found the Creole Carvery.  Great staff and even greater menu.

A little lagniappe (a little bonus, New Orleans style): a fun website of airline food! 

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Cochon in New Orleans!

One of our favorite meals on our trip to New Orleans - Cochon, Donald Link's restaurant celebrating cajun food.  Great energy, packed to the gills with locals and tourists like most restaurants we visited here.  As we entered, we met some friends who warned us we were in for quite a meal...

Mmmmm....  soft, sweet rolls - brought back childhood memories of the '70s for some reason...

 The 4 of us shared three appies - the wood-fired oyster roast (served on a bed of rock salt), crawfish pie with a corn salsa, and the fried alligator with chili garlic aioli.  The alligator was particularly delicious - the garlic and spices melded into a salty-savoury-flavour hit...

 Stephen had the grilled redfish "fisherman style", and declared it "the best fish I've ever eaten".  We all had a taste - perfectly cooked, oozing with flavour...  Here's the recipe - so easy, and you will be speechless when you take your first bite.  

Donald had the rabbit stew with dumplings.

Alison and I had the restaurant's signature dish, Louisiana Cochon. Smoky pulled pork formed into a patty, breaded, fried, served with a lovely jus on top of a bed of turnip and cabbage.  Oh, and of course, with a couple of crispy, salty cracklins on top.  Oooooooh baby.......


We had to have desserts - shared the Black Bottomed Brown Butter Banana Cream Pie and the Upside-down Pineapple Cake with Coconut Lime Sherbet (another '70s throwback). 

All in all a fabulous meal - we rolled out of there happy and full, trying to burn off a few calories walking home down quiet streets in the warm spring air.