it's okay to play with your food

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Holiday Edition, Part 3

Tonight is New Year's Eve, a night in which we all get to engage in a few final acts of 2008 gluttony and debauchery before the new year wipes our slates clean.

But in case you feel like extending the party into the first few daylight hours of 2009, here is a recipe that is as simple and tasty as it is absurd: the Poor Man's Mimosa.

The Poor Man's Mimosa

PBR (often left over from the 2am beer run the night before)
Orange Juice

Mix 2 parts PBR to 1 part OJ. Drink it.

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Holiday Edition, Part 2

I realize that by this point in the season, many people are tired of sweet things, chocolate things, buttery things, etc. But this recipe for Peppermint Bark is definitely worth a look and a try-out.

I often make truffles of some variety over the holidays, but I was urged by a co-worker to try Peppermint Bark. I was totally up for the challenge. After all, these are something of a specialty food item, sold at Williams-Sonoma for between $27 and $53. I figured there must be something daunting and special about the process of making them, right?

Turns out, the ratio of tastyness to difficulty is actually something like 10 to 1. And people love it! It's delicious and looks festive as a gift or displayed on the holiday dessert table.

I found a recipe on epicurious but wasn't 100% happy with it, so my slightly modified version is below. Obviously, the better quality chocolate you use, the better your bark will turn out. I was trying to work on a budget, however, and trying to keep things simple, so I ended up using Nestle chocolate chips. The result was still a big hit, though I can imagine these would be devastatingly good with a serious chocolate (Callebut comes to mind).

Peppermint Bark
Modified from the Layered Peppermint Crunch Bark on

18 ounces white chocolate chips
4-5 candy canes, coarsely crushed (I put them in the empty bag of white chocolate chips and broke them up with a can of coconut milk)
8 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
3 tablespoons whipping cream
3/4 teaspoon peppermint extract

Turn large baking sheet bottom side up. Cover securely with foil. Melt 2/3 of the white chocolate in the microwave (2-3 minutes on 50% power seemed to work best.) Pour melted white chocolate onto foil. Using a spatula, spread chocolate to create a rectangle, about a 1/4 of an inch thick. Sprinkle with half of the crushed candy canes. Chill in the freezer until set, about 15 minutes.

Stir semisweet chocolate, cream and peppermint extract in heavy medium saucepan over medium-low heat until just melted and smooth. Cool to barely lukewarm, about 5 minutes. Pour bittersweet chocolate mixture over white chocolate rectangle. Using spatula, spread bittersweet chocolate in even layer. Freeze until very cold and firm, about 20 minutes.

Melt remaining white chocolate in microwave (about 1-2 minutes on 50% power). Working quickly, pour white chocolate over firm bittersweet chocolate layer. For me, it was half drizzling and half smoothing out globs of chocolate. Immediately sprinkle with remaining crushed peppermints. Chill just until firm, about 20 minutes.

Using metal spatula, slide bark off foil and onto work surface. Using your hands, break the bark up into serving pieces. Let stand 15 minutes at room temperature before serving. (Can be made 2 weeks ahead. Chill in airtight container.)

Holiday Edition, Part 1

Since returning from my vacation in Hawaii, I have fully steeped myself in the winter holiday season. (Something about 80 degree weather and coconuts kept me from appreciating the wishes of Mele Kalikimaka on the radio.) Like most people, that means cooking and eating as much as possible.

So with the passing of fall and Christmas a recent memory, I am finally sharing some of my favorite holiday recipes from the past few months.

I am a strong believer in extended kin networks. So it was really awesome to host two of my best friends- Daniel and Sarah- for brunch on Christmas Day. My brother celebrated with us too, and it was this lovely convergence of blood relations and friends-as-family. Everyone brought something... Daniel the bacon, Sarah an amazing multi-grain loaf from Metropolitan Bakery... and I made scones and frittata for the main course. Oh yes... and there were mimosas...

Christmas Brunch Menu
Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Drop Scones with Orange Cinnamon Butter
Spinach and Red Pepper Frittata
Multigrain Toast

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Drop Scones with Orange Cinnamon Butter
Adapted from the recipe for Oatmeal Date Drop Scones from

3/4 cup milk
1 large egg
3 tablespoons light brown sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
Rind from one orange
2 1/4 cups cake flour (not self-rising)
1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
1 tablespoon double-acting baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 stick (6 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter, cut into bits
1/2 cup chocolate chips

In a bowl whisk together the milk, the egg, the brown sugar, vanilla and orange rind until
the mixture is combined well. In another bowl stir together the flour, the oats, the baking powder, the baking soda, and the salt and blend in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Sir in the chocolate chips and the milk mixture until the mixture just forms a sticky dough. Drop the dough by 1/3-cup measures onto an ungreased baking sheet and bake the scones in the middle of a preheated 400°F. for 15 to 18 minutes, or until they are golden.

Orange Cinnamon Butter
Soften butter to room temperature. Add about 1 tsp. of orange rind, 1 tsp. of cinnamon and 1/2 tsp. of powdered sugar and combine well. Serve in a ramekin or other small bowl. I basically approximated all measurements to taste.

Spinach and Red Pepper Frittata
8 eggs
Milk, salt and pepper
1-2 cloves of garlic and olive oil
One red bell pepper, diced
Large handful of baby spinach
Feta CheesePreheat oven to 500 degrees (or use the broiler if you know your dish wear is oven-safe). On low heat, saute the garlic in olive oil. Add red pepper and saute till just tender. Add spinach till lightly wilted. Meanwhile, in a bowl, combine eggs, milk, salt and pepper. Combine eggs with vegetables in a stove and oven safe dish. Cook on stove-top at medium-high temperature till eggs are just set in the bottom of the dish.

Sprinkle with feta cheese and pop in the oven for approx. ten minutes. If the top of the frittata isn't completely cooked, but the edges are brown, take it out of the oven and let sit on the stovetop till completely cooked through. The egg will continue cooking from the heat within and you won't burn the rest of the frittata.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The Happy Homemaker

I really love throwing theme parties... whether it be Halloween, the state of Ohio, the state of Texas, or my own recent foray into domesticity, I love a good party with fun food potential.

So this week is my housewarming party, co-hosted by my two housemates. They are responsible for the beverage portion of the evening; I am taking control of the food. In honor of the new house, I am building a menu around popular foods of the fifties/sixties, a time associated with the savvy American homemaker. The menu shall include:

Cola Cake
Apple Cake
Spinach Dip
Ranch Dip
Lil' Smokey Cheeseball
Lil' Sweetie Cheeseball (I'm making this up. Wish me luck!)
Pigs in a Blanket
Deviled Eggs

Any suggestions? Recipes and photos forthcoming.

In the meantime, check out this video from, 1958. It's awash in the hues, sounds and modern conveniences of the fifties!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Indonesian in Newbold

I'm a bit late in posting this... but last Friday's Inky showcased two Indonesian restaurants in my part of South Philly, Newbold. I've only been to Hardena (just three blocks from my house!) and can attest that it is awesome. The unassuming storefront gives no hint as to the delicious food inside. For $6, you get a mound of hot rice and a choice of three dishes to go on top. I tend to go with the coconut beef, yellow curry fish and tofu/tempeh. On my last visit, I shared a plate of lamb satay swimming in a most authentic peanut sauce (also only $6). Overall, their sauces are thick and rich, the meat tender.

The only downside is that their hours are a mystery. I went there with friends last Friday (the day of their glowing review) at 8:30 to find the doors shut. Plus, I believe they are also closed Mondays and Tuesdays.

So check out the review below and let me know when you want to go to either place. I am up for trying Indonesian Restaurant but I suspect my heart will always belong to Hardena.


Tuesday, October 14, 2008

A Public Service Announcement

The following recipe is the last chocolate cake recipe you will ever need. It is super simple, both in terms of ingredients, time and effort required. And it's very good. Plus it is easy to gussy up with frosting, whipped cream, or a fruit sauce (raspberry sauce would be delish). It can also be eaten plain. I realized I should share this on kitchenplay after my friend asked for a simple but really good dessert for a dinner party.

And if you've ever made this cake (ahem, Sarah... ahem, Elizabeth), I want to hear your testimonials about it. Leave comments!!!

Elodie's Chocolate Cake
Bon Appetit, October 1995

10 ounces bittersweet (not unsweetened) or semisweet chocolate, chopped
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
5 large eggs
1 1/4 cups sugar

5 tablespoons all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

Powdered sugar (optional)

Preheat oven to 325°F. Butter and flour 10-inch-diameter springform pan with 2 3/4-inch-high sides. Stir chocolate and butter in heavy medium saucepan over low heat until chocolate melts and mixture is smooth. Beat eggs and 1 1/4 cups sugar in large bowl until well blended and beginning to thicken. Sift flour and baking powder over eggs and fold in. Gradually fold in chocolate mixture. Transfer batter to prepared pan.

Bake cake 20 minutes. Cover pan with foil. Bake until tester inserted into center comes out with moist crumbs still attached, about 30 minutes longer. Uncover cake; cool in pan on rack (cake will fall as it cools). (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover; let stand at room temperature.)

Cut around pan sides to loosen cake. Release pan sides. Sift powdered sugar over cake; cut into wedges.

Coming up: Pumpkin Walnut Muffins and Cranberry Granola from The Metropolitan Bakery Cookbook

Friday, October 10, 2008

Lavender Rosemary Crostini

A more accurate recipe title would be Lavender Rosemary Honey Goat Cheese Crostini... but I shall sacrifice accuracy for pithyness.

Inspired by my Honey and Goat Cheese Sandwiches from a couple weeks ago, I made these for a housewarming potluck last weekend. In light of the occasion (one of my best friends just moved to Philadelphia), I wanted to gussy them up a bit. They were very popular and easy to make.

As lavender is such a strong flavor, and one that is not favored by many palettes, keep it subtle. Start out with less than you think you need and add as desired. As usual, my measurements below are estimates. I did use about 5 sprigs of rosemary and a generous fingerful of rosemary. I *think* it was about 2 tablespoons.

P.S. I promise this will be my last goat cheese recipe for a while!

Lavender Rosemary Crostini

One baguette, sliced into rounds (approx. 1 inch thick)
Olive oil and salt
Goat cheese
About two tablespoons of lavender, coarsely chopped
About 5 sprigs of rosemary, coarsely chopped

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees. Mix together olive oil and salt and spoon over (or brush on with a pastry brush) the rounds of baguette. Arrange bread on a baking sheet and cook till crispy and a light golden brown (about 20 minutes).

Prepare lavender and rosemary by mixing them together and set aside.

When crostini are done, let cool. Smear each round with goat cheese. Place each round side by side, and drizzle them with honey. Sprinkle the lavender & rosemary mixture on top.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Simple Pleasures

So today was a day of making ridiculously easy meals that were delicious, so I have to share...

Goat Cheese and Honey Open Faced Sandwiches

Slices of a hearty bread, toasted or untoasted (I used left over Pain au Levain from last week's Roasted Beet Salad)
Goat cheese

Smear goat cheese on the bread, drizzle with honey.

Basil and Tomato Ravioli

Small bunch of fresh basil, coarsely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
olive oil
1 medium tomato, diced
ravioli (I had mushroom ravioli from Trader Joe's, really tasty)
coarse sea salt

Mix together the basil and garlic with just enough olive oil to form a paste. Cook ravioli. After draining ravioli, drizzle with more olive oil, add basil paste, tomato, salt and pepper to taste, and toss.


As I mentioned in an earlier post about my new kitchen, the black and white subway tile inspired me to do a retro color palate. Kitchens in the 1950s/60s are known for their bold colors: primary hues, but also pinks and aquas. My color obsession is for anything blue green (my yarn stash and wardrobe can attest to this). So I knew I wanted a bi-color scheme, with a deep sea-green and a warmer cremesicle shade.

My paints came from Greenable, a store in Old City that specializes in eco-friendly home supplies. I chose the colors Wide Horizons and Honey Bunch from Mythic Paint, a non-toxic, low VOC line.

One painting party later, I have a lovely kitchen.

The Honey Bunch came out more yellow than orange, but I still love the look.

You can also see that I have a fridge now. As luck would have it, another client of my real estate agent was buying a house with a fridge she didn't want. The client gave me the fridge. I just had to pay for the move, taken care of by Mambo Movers. It's an old-school Westinghouse model. It works fine, but the gasket (the seal around the door) is busted. So I actually have to buy a new one and install it... and pay a bajillion dollars in electricity bills this month. But I'm going to take care of it this week. (my real estate agent's agency... look for Trish Kelly)

Monday, September 22, 2008

Roasted Beet Salad with Toasted Pistachios and Caramelized Onions

My dad came over for dinner yesterday to see the new house, so I threw together a simple one-dish meal using beets from the Passyunk Square Farmer's Market and other random ingredients from the pantry. Being out of blogging-mode, I didn't think to take photos, but imagine magenta half-moons and flecks of white goat cheese amidst green romaine lettuce leaves and you're pretty close to seeing the finished product.

Roasted Beet Salad with Toasted Pistachios and Caramelized Onions

Bunch of fresh beets
1/4 onion, thinly sliced
Handful of shelled pistachios
Head of romaine lettuce
Goat cheese

Balsamic vinegar
Dijon Mustard
Almond oil
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut off leafy green tops of beets, leaving a short stem. Wrap beets in foil and roast in oven till tender, about one hour.

Meanwhile, caramelize the onions in butter with a teaspoon of sugar on low heat. (If onions are already sweet onions, e.g., vidalia, you don't need the extra sugar.). Caramelizing takes about 30 minutes. Let onions cool.

Toast the pistachios for about 5 minutes. Chop coarsely once cool.

Wash the lettuce leaves and prepare the vinaigrette (see previous posts for more specific vinaigrette directions).

Once beets are ready, let them cool for a few minutes before peeling off their skins. Slice into half-moons and let them reach room-temperature.

Once all ingredients are cool, dress the salad. Mix in the beets, onions and pistachios. Drop in small plops of goat cheese and lightly toss. Serve with bread. (I picked up a loaf of Pain au Levain from Metropolitan Bakery, a rustic sourdough).

Friday, September 19, 2008

Busy Tizzy

So my life over the past few weeks has been consumed by the Philadelphia Live Arts Festival and moving, leaving little time for blogging. However, the kitchen has been painted, a fridge has been acquired and I am refurbing a vintage dining table... photos and posts are forthcoming.

In the meantime, check out this Philadelphia Inquirer article about the midcentury modern trend...


Friday, August 15, 2008


So I have to buy a refrigerator. The house doesn't come with one. In my original offer, I asked for one (and a washer/dryer). In my counter-counter offer, I took all appliances off the table. It worked, since he accepted the offer. It just means I am suddenly in the market for a fridge.

For some reason, this feels more adult to me than buying a house.

If I had my druthers (and around $4K), I would get a Northstar:

I have neither my druthers nor $4K. Instead, I have fairly low standards and $200.

I have a few options on the table. I could always purchase one from a Lowes/Sears/Home Depot kind of place. But that doesn't feel super great with me, especially since I am trying to furnish the majority of the house with used things. And they tend to be more than $200.

My friends Kate and Dom told me about a place that buys used appliances and refurbs them: Appliance Warehouse ( I spoke to the owner yesterday and he was super friendly. It helps that I want a basic unit: white, freezer on top, nothing fancy or special needed. I just need to figure out all the different door measurements, though we will most likely have to take the fridge doors off its hinges to get it in the house. Philadelphia rowhomes are notorious for their narrow doorways.

He actually said he had a nice unit coming in next Friday (with an ice maker! how adult is that???) that would probably work. Cost: around $200.

Another possibility is buying one off of a client of my real estate agent's. The client is closing on a house later this month and wants to get all stainless steel appliances for the house. The fridge is fine, but just not the right look. My agent thinks that might be able to come my way for around $100. We still haven't heard back from the client.

I just want something that will keep my food cold. That's really it.

If you have my druthers and $4K...

If you have a sense of social responsibility and a budget...

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Too close for comfort

So today was a rather intense day. I've been going back and forth with the seller since yesterday, negotiating on various repairs identified during the inspection. He was playing hardball. I was playing hardball. The reality is, I understand that owning a home means assuming a great deal of responsibility. And I know that I will be responsible for repairs and maintenance starting on day 1 of ownership. I feel psychologically, emotionally and even financially prepared to take this on. However, I was not comfortable dealing with certain issues, specifically those related to shoddy work done by the seller during the rehab process.

My agent advised me to walk away. I cried at my desk at work. My agent totally went to bat for me with the seller and we finally came to an agreement.

I don't particularly like roller coasters, including the emotional ones.

But we are back on track and things are moving forward. The repairs must be complete by August 15th, at which time I will reinspect the property with my agent. Providing all is in good shape, we are still set to close on August 22nd.

But it reminded me of how important it is to maintain emotional distance from the house. I could have walked away if I needed to, but I didn't want to. I really didn't want to. And things are still tenuous, so while I need to make plans, I also need to be ready for anything.

That said, I'm still thinking about colors for the kitchen. Damn it. This is pretty hard.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Kitchen To Do List

1- Repaint walls
2- Purchase fridge
3- Remove cabinet doors (maybe...)
4- Buy/create more counterspace
5- Utilize wall space
6- Knock down the wall between living room and kitchen; install an island

Saturday, August 2, 2008


Home inspection was this past week and all went very well. No major issues with either the foundation or the roof, but many little things I'm currently negotiating with the seller. It also gave me the opportunity to take more photos of the house, the kitchen in particular.

It's a rectangular floor plan, with black and white subway tiles on the wall, ceramic floor tiles and 3 large windows. It also holds lots of room for potential.

Back door leading out to patio

Looking in from the living room

Corner where fridge will go

Things I love about the kitchen: the natural light, the retro tiling, and the possibility of knocking down the wall between the kitchen and living room and adding an island, thus opening up the floor plan, letting in more light throughout the first floor and adding much needed counter/socializing space. That project won't happen for at least another year. In the meantime, I'm looking to paint the space, buy a fridge and figure out some creative ways to maximize space.

Ideas, anyone?

Friday, July 25, 2008

Apologies, Apologies

I have been very negligent in my kitchenplay upkeep as of late. I still have BBQ tales from Texas and more recent ice cream cake making adventures to share.

But the big news is that I am in the process of buying a house in South Philly. Much still needs to happen in the next few weeks, such as house inspection and mortgage approval, so keep your fingers crossed.

Provided all goes according to plan, I will be documenting the updating of my new kitchen on kitchenplay. I'm envisioning a sea foam green/orange creamsicle color palatte circa 1950s/60s.

I will also be exploring the culinary possibilities of my new neighborhood, Newbold. While it is actually only 4 blocks from where I currently live, it isn't a place that I have frequented at all since moving to Philadelphia. I hear tales of amazing Indonesian food, the South Philly Taproom, and an upcoming coffeeshop/take-out beer place. Stay tuned...

And in the meantime, I will be featuring other foodie blogs on the site that can keep you occupied till my next entry.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

A bit of shameless self-promotion...

My friend Cellis is a former colleague with the Gotham Chamber Opera. He is so smart and fun that I often forget he is a bit younger than me... almost twenty years younger... and yet that doesn't stop us from gabbing about opera and dancing to Madonna till the early morn.

He recently started his own blog and wrote a very sweet post about kitchenplay. I just have to share...

A Special Sponsor is a very nice website hosted by a dear friend and gives awesome recipes for food. I've looked at it since January when it all started. It goes from peppers to chicken in the recipes but either way you go it's a recipe for a full stomach. If you don't know what to eat tonight just take a peek at

Thank you Cellis!!!

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

I'm a Pepper!

As a kid, I loved Dr Pepper. I don't drink soda much these days, but one sip of Dr Pepper takes me back to the soda machine at the Community Arts Center in Wallingford, PA, on break from a rehearsal or a making-fresh-bread-and-turning-it-into-art class.

But childhood adoration aside, I recently realized how little I know about Dr Pepper. For instance, what IS Dr Pepper? Who was Dr Pepper? And I also didn't know that the home of Dr Pepper is none other than Waco, TX, on the way to Austin from Ft. Worth.

So I decided to make a stop at the Dr Pepper Museum, determined to finally learn the secret behind the taste.

I learned nothing.

I did learn that it is definitely not prune flavor, as some have proposed. It is a combination of 23 flavors concocted in the late 19th century to reproduce the smell of the soda fountain, as told to me by the animatronic founder of Dr Pepper, Charles Alderton.

The name is also something of a mystery. Legend is that Charles Alderton was in love with a girl and wanted to impress her father, so Alderton named the drink after the man. Originally, it was known as a Waco.

Before getting back on the road, I had a really good Frosty Pepper: a vanilla ice cream float with Dr Pepper. At the museum's soda fountain, they make the drink with carbonated water and Dr Pepper syrup, with a couple puffs of compressed air. It was delish.

Monday, June 2, 2008


While I have spent the past month blogging about New Orleans, in reality I have been living and working in Ft. Worth, TX. And I have been eating, of course. Here are some highlights...

The Love Shack

The Love Shack is a casual burger place in the heart of the Ft. Worth Stockyards. The menu is simple: burgers, fries, onion rings, shakes, Abita root beer on tap.

In the name of research for kitchenplay, I ordered the Dirty Love Burger, topped with crispy bacon, cheese, Love Sauce and a fried quail egg. Love Sauce is a Texan twist on McD's special sauce: mayo and ketchup with rib seasoning and chopped pickles. The burger was good, with tasty, peppery beef. They grind their beef daily, a 50/50 combo of prime tenderloin and prime brisket. It was cooked medium, though, and I'm more of a medium rare kinda gal. The egg is a fun addition, but it didn't contribute much to the overall flavor.

The best thing about the meal was stealing my friend's onion rings: shoestring onion rounds in a light, crispy batter. The best onion rings I have ever had.

And the atmosphere is great... seating is outdoors spread out amongst three levels. Live music was on the stage and misting fans made the heat more bearable.

Paleteria La Flor de Michoacan

Paletas, Mexican popsicles, are great- fresh tasting and always offered up in fun flavors. I've been to two paleterias in my life, here and in Durham, NC. Both were no-frills settings with large stand alone freezers. I chose rice while my friend got strawberry crema. The rice paleta was totally awesome, with soft grains of rice and tons of cinnamon. The paleteria didn't close for another 20 minutes, so we went back for more. For round two, I got coconut and Cynthia got pecan. The pecan was disappointing, too sweet and without enough nutty flavor (though the layer of fresh pecans at the bottom of the popsicle was a nice touch). But the coconut was really good, creamy and rich, just like a coconut popsicle should be. But the rice paleta was definitely the winner.

La Playa Maya

La Playa Maya is where Cynthia, a Ft. Worth native, said I could find real Tex-Mex. And with the exception of a seafood cocktail appetizer, everything was delicious. The cocktail was ceviche and octopus in a ketchup sauce. Asise from being a ketchup sauce, it was also an overly sweet and thick ketchup sauce. I also ordered Cowboy Enchiladas, marinated beef enchiladas with queso. Those were great.

By the way, queso is awesome, and nothing back east quite compares to the real thing. Yes, the consistency is eerily similar to Veleveta, but the taste is closer to real cheese- a great combination.

Top that with deliciously seasoned rice & beans and $2 frozen margaritas, and you have my new favorite spot in Ft. Worth.

Up Next: Bats, Barton Springs and BBQ in Austin, TX

Saturday, May 31, 2008


I don't think it's possible to rhapsodize about New Orleans without mentioning the effects of Katrina. The Ninth Ward is still recovering; we passed by tent cities on our way to Jazz Fest; FEMA trailers are still called home by many.

But I also don't think you can bring up Katrina without pointing to the resilience of New Orleans. The city finds solace and strength in its traditions. It's doing what it does best: celebrating the present by connecting to the past, whether its with the food they eat or the music they dance to. And New Orleanians love to share.

I really can't wait to go back.

And if you are planning on heading to New Orleans, here are some things you should check out. And you should go. Tourism is the foundation of New Orleans' economy. It certainly isn't dead post-Katrina, but it is not as strong as it once was. Go to New Orleans. And definitely eat in New Orleans.

Eat Me

Play With Me (Andy Vaught's theater company)

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Chapter 5: Odds & Ends

A trip to New Orleans is not complete without a trip to Cafe du Monde, the 24 hour cafe specializing in beignets and cafe au lait. It's an institution, a place praised by locals and tourists alike. So naturally Daniel and I went there. Twice.

Beignet is French for bump. It's a square piece of fried dough doused in powdered sugar, hence it's nickname, the French doughnut. They come out of the kitchen in a set of three and still hot, very hot. Unlike a doughnut, beignets are surprisingly light... airy on the inside and crispy crunchy golden on the outside.

And the coffee was delish. Cafe du Monde is also known for its chicory coffee. The addition of chicory to coffee was used by the French during the civil war to bolster their meek coffee resources. I drank it black on our first trip and then had a cafe au lait the next day.

I love pizza; it doesn't matter what style... thin crust, deep dish, fancypants gourmet style, greasy NY style. It just needs a red sauce. And I wasn't expecting to find amazingly good pizza in New Orleans. The restaurant is La Vita, by the Jazz Fest fairgrounds. We got the La Vita pizza: tomato, salami, pepperoni, green peppers, black olives, mushrooms, light mozzarella cheese and tomato sauce. The veggies were super fresh, the olives were whole kalamatas, the sauce wasn't too sweet, and there was lots of gooey cheese.

In New Orleans, you can come across a cooler full of crawfish, potatoes, and lemon halves just by walking down the street.

One thing we didn't get to try over our three day trip was a muffuletta. But we did peek inside the Central Grocery, known as the home of this New Orleans variation on the Italian hoagie. The smell of the place was a delicious meal in and of itself.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Chapter 4: New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival

Music festivals are rarely known for the quality of their food... not the case with the New Orleans Jazz Fest. In a city that takes it's food as seriously as its music, it shouldn't have come as such a surprise.

Much like the festival roster, the food showcases the diversity of New Orleans. We saw dixieland, zydeco, hip-hop, country/rock, jazz vocals... we ate shrimp mache choux, alligator pie, cochon de lait po-boys, crawfish beignets, snowballs...

Stalls staffed by local caterers and restaurants offered up classic Louisiana cuisine. The mache choux was delicious, a corn and shrimp chowder, with a nice kick. The alligator pie was awesome. I can't say what was in it, but it was damn good. The crawfish beignets were actually disappointing, too much breading, too little actual crawfish.

The cochon de lait po-boy deserves its own spotlight. Recommended to me by an old friend I happened to run into at the festival, cochon de lait is shredded suckling pig that has been seasoned and slow-roasted in a BBQ pit for up to 12 hours. The po-boy is the specialty of Wanda Walker, a New Orleans caterer. Like most po-boys, it's a french bread sandwich, but this one is dressed with fresh cabbage and a homemade horseradish sauce. The warm, tender meat and cool, crunchy cabbage was perfection.

The whole day was great. Daniel and I saw excellent music, the weather was close to perfect, and obviously, we ate very well. The Zydepunks were as cool as their name, Leah Chase is a dynamo, and Allison Krauss makes some beautiful music with Robert Plant. A complete list of the musicians we saw is below.

The Original Dixieland Jazz Band
The Zydepunks
Leah Chase
Allison Krauss & Robert Plant featuring T. Bone Burnett
Ozomatli featuring Chali 2na of Jurassic 5
MOOV of Martinique
Buckwheat Zydeco

And please forgive the lack of photos... it was rather hard to take pictures while walking with a po-boy in my hands.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Chapter 3: Making SPEC Proud

As some of you may recall, I belong to a cocktail club back home, SPEC. At one of our "meetings," we had Sazeracs, a New Orleans classic. Honestly, I wasn't a big fan, but was set on having one in its native home.

As luck would have it, Andy Vaught has a friend who bartends at Luke. Luke was a runner-up in the NYT article on important new U.S. restaurants. And our new friend Blake promised us a Sazerac worth remembering.

An absinthe coated glass. Sazerac rye whiskey. Peychaud bitters. A spritz from lemon zest. A curled lemon rind. I drank it fast, not because I wanted to finish it, but because it was one of the smoothest, tastiest cocktails I've ever had.

Then I revealed to Blake my favorite cocktail in the world. The French 75. Instead of gin, he mixes champagne with brandy, adding a brandied cherry that beautifully sinks to the bottom of the glass. It was a bit heavier than the gin-based version, though very good.

And of course, Daniel and I had to have mint juleps while we were down south. And the place to do it was Columns, a beautiful old hotel with a grand front porch, known as the setting for the Brooke Shields film, Pretty Baby.

The setting was lovely, as we watched the streetcar travel up and down St. Charles. And maybe we were just spoiled after our cocktail extravaganza at Luke, but the mint juleps were a bit light, almost watered down. I drank this one quickly as well... only because I wanted to move on to our final meal in town... crawfish mountain at Frankie and Johnny's.


SPEC was profiled in Philadelphia Weekly's Lush Life column a few weeks ago. The author, Mara Zapeda, learned about the club from kitchenplay.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Chapter 2: Cochon, A Restaurant That Matters

The Menu
Crawfish Pie
Fried Alligator with Chili Garlic Aioli
Fried Rabbit Livers with Pepper Jelly Toast
Louisiana Cochon with Turnips, Cabbage and Cracklins
Rabbit and Dumplings
Strawberry Cobbler with Sweet Ginger Biscuits
Dulce de Leche Ice Cream

It was a New York Times article on some of the best new restaurants in America that led me to Cochon. The article came out on February 27th. On February 28th I made reservations.

I'm just going to let the above speak for itself.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Chapter 1: Frankie and Johnny's

Thank God for Andy Vaught. Besides being an all-around great person, Andy Vaught is the reason Daniel and I actually had a place to stay in New Orleans (hotels during Jazz Fest are few and far between...). Andy Vaught is also the reason for our first and last meals in NOLA, at Frankie and Johnny's.

About a mile from Andy Vaught's house in the Garden District, Frankie and Johnny's is a neighborhood place, with a down-home menu, bar and video games (Ms. Pac-man!).

For our first meal, almost immediately upon arriving in town, Daniel chose the red beans and rice with hot sausage; I was craving my first po-boy, with shrimp. A po-boy is a french bread sandwich; get it with dressing, and that includes lettuce, tomato and pickle. The tiny shrimp were delicately fried (though not deveined, which I tried to overlook). Daniel was happy with his meal, though beans and rice is rarely something I get excited about.

What I did get excited about were the mountains of crimson crawfish coming out of the kitchen every few minutes. We were going to have to make a return visit to Frankie and Johnny's.

And we did, three days later. For our final meal in NOLA, I had to had to had to get some boiled crawfish. Daniel wanted crawfish too, but of the fried and in a po-boy variety. We also had our first taste of Boudin balls, a mixture of rice and boudin sausage that is then fried.

The Boudin balls were tasty, slightly spicy, mushy on the inside, crisp and golden brown on the outside. They were served with some kind of creamy dressing; I think it was a horseradish sauce.

The crawfish were amazing. Spilling out of their red basket, and topped with empty paper baskets for the shells, they were intimidating, to say the least. Neither Daniel nor I knew exactly what to do with them, but the waitress gladly gave us a demonstration: separate the head from the tail, suck out the juice from the head (if desired), pinch out the meat from the tail, eat.

The crawfish were spicy, and the juice was so good. Like any good seafood, it was of the sea, but not too fishy. By the end of my 2 1/2 pounds, I was something of a pro, pinching the tail and sucking out the meat simultaneously (and while I think that food can be really sexy, boiled crawfish does not fall under that particular category of food.)

Daniel was fine with his po-boy, but we both decided that po-boys don't really do it for us. Too much bread, not enough meaty goodness.

Up Next... Chapter 2: Cochon, A Restaurant That Matters

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

New Orleans: Prologue

It's been a while since my last post... work in Texas has been great, though a hotel room with only a microwave and mini-fridge doesn't lend itself to great cooking. And I've been eating some good food, though nothing beats what I ate over three days in New Orleans.

New Orleans... a city of extremes... raucous nights, sleepy days... fatty food, salty food, delicious food.

Strong drinks too...

I'm going to spend the next few days finally posting about New Orleans... dinner at Cochon (one of the 10 new restaurants in America that matters, according to the New York Times); po-boys and alligator pie at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival; 2 1/2 pounds of crimson crawfish; the perfect Sazerac at a burnished wood bar.

So stay tuned, enjoy the posts, and please, try not to be jealous...

Saturday, April 26, 2008

The List

What Daniel and I have consumed in New Orleans since Thursday... more to follow...

Abita amber beer
Alligator, fried with chili aioli
Alligator Pie
Cafe au lait
Cheese grits
Chicken livers, fried with mint pepper jelly
Cochon du lait po-boy
Cochon du lait with turnips, cabbage and cracklin
Crawfish beignets
Crawfish pie
Dulce de leche ice cream
French 75
Rabbit and dumplings
Red Beans and Rice with Hot Sausage
Shrimp mache choux
Shrimp po-boy
Strawberry cobbler with ginger biscuits

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Oh 'bama!

Montgomery, Alabama has been full of surprises. First of all, there really isn’t much to do here. Secondly, some of the best food in town isn’t regional southern cuisine, but Korean, thanks to the large Hyundai plant in town. Thirdly, and maybe this isn’t much of a surprise, there is no actual gay bar! So much for the BBQ/Gay Bar Tour of the South…

But our friend Melanie, clerking for a judge and the primary reason for our stop in Montgomery, took us to the kind of place that people expect in the south, the Davis CafĂ© and Lounge. A hand written menu told us our options, like chicken fried steak. I suggested getting a few things and sharing. Melanie was certain that she only wanted the fried chicken and wouldn’t want to share. That seemed like a solid recommendation.

It was seriously amazing… you could actually see the black pepper and other spices rubbed on the chicken beneath the skin. It wasn’t as moist as Mrs. Wilkes’ chicken, but the seasoning was definitely better at Davis. The sides were fine. In an attempt to be “healthy,” I got fresh butternut squash and rutabaga. The rutabaga was solid; the squash was pureed and tasty like it was cooked in gravy, amazing. Their cornbread muffins were quite nice, with a crisp brown outside and moist inside. And, amazingly, all that food plus sweet tea was just over $7.

Yes, I ate fried chicken two days in a row.


Our first night in town, though, was a departure from traditional southern cooking. Melanie said that Korean and also Thai food are quite good in Montgomery. She took us to a Thai restaurant with some of the best red curry I've ever tasted: full of basil, coconut and lemongrass flavor. I actually ordered the pad Thai, which can so easily be bland, but this was quite good. Sadly, we won't get a chance to sample any Korean while in town.


Tonight Daniel and I are cooking dinner for Melanie as a thank you for her hospitality. I'm making a simple salad and Deborah Madison's Pasta and Chickpeas dish, and Daniel is making a chocolate cake. Recipes are below and photos will be forthcoming...

Pasta and Chickpeas with Plenty of Parsley and Garlic
from Deborah Madison's book, Vegetarian Suppers

from kp: I've made this twice before and it is always a hit, though I never would have suspected pasta and chickpeas would make such a good pair. Tonight though, I am veering away from the dish's vegetarian roots and adding fried prosciutto. It's a flavor I've always wanted to include. Also, the inclusion of some kind of acid is a nice touch. I've diced tomatoes in the past; tonight I will be grating lemon rind and adding a smidge of fresh lemon juice.

- makes 4 servings -

1 tablespoon olive oil, plus extra to finish
1/2 large onion, diced
A few pinches of hot red pepper flakes
1 1/2 cups cooked chickpeas or 1 15-ounce can, preferably organic, liquid reserved
1 big bunch of flat-leaf parsley, the leaves stripped from the stems
3 plump garlic cloves
Small handful of sage leaves
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
3/4 pound whole wheat pasta shells
Freshly grated Parmesan

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil for the pasta.
2. Heat the oil in a wide skillet and add the onion and pepper Hakes. Cook for a few minutes, then add the chickpeas. While they're warming, chop the parsley, garlic, and sage together, then toss a third of it into the pan. Season well with salt and pepper, add a little water or chickpea broth to the pan, and cook slowly, adding more liquid as it cooks away.
3. Salt the pasta water and cook the pasta. When done, drain and toss it with the chickpeas, the rest of the parsley mixture, and extra olive oil to taste. Taste for salt and season with freshly ground pepper. Grate some cheese over the top and serve with additional pepper flakes.

Azo Family Chocolate Cake
from The New York Times (February 2006)

from kp: Daniel has made this before and says its easy and super good.

Time: 40 minutes, plus 3 hours for cooling
8½ ounces (2 sticks plus 1 tablespoon) unsalted butter, more for greasing pan
7 ounces bittersweet chocolate (50 percent or higher cocoa), chopped
5 large eggs, separated
1 cup sugar
½ cup all-purpose flour
Pinch of salt
Whipped cream for serving (optional).

1. Place rack in top third of oven and heat to 400 degrees. (For best results, use a separate oven thermometer.) Butter a 9-inch springform pan and set aside. In a double boiler or microwave oven, melt together 8½ ounces butter and the chocolate. Stir to blend.
2. In a medium bowl, stir together egg yolks and sugar. Stir in flour. Add chocolate mixture and stir until smooth. Using an electric mixer, whisk egg whites and salt until stiff but not dry. Fold whites into chocolate mixture just until blended. Pour into cake pan.
3. Bake for 25 minutes. Remove cake from oven and allow to cool for 1 hour. Wrap with foil and refrigerate until cake is firm and cold, at least 2 hours. Two hours before serving, remove cake from refrigerator and bring to room temperature. Slice (center of cake will be fudgy) and serve, if desired, with whipped cream.
Yield: 8 to 10 servings.


And for those of you keeping count…

Sweet tea: countless
Fried chicken, corn bread, rutabaga, squash, BBQ: twice
Pad Thai, mac and cheese, collard greens, biscuits, fresh strawberries: once