Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Big Easy

Last week, I took a little trip down to the South. Well, I am not sure that southern Louisiana technically qualifies as 'the South'. In fact, I am pretty sure it is its own country entirely. My ancestors, les Allemands, landed in New Orleans in the early 1700s and settled in Bayou des Allemands, south of la Ville (and don't try to be too French, Emmanuelle. It is pronounced 'd-es all-monds', like the nut). My dad grew up near there and last week, I went back to my roots.

And what better way to get in touch with my past than eating authentic Cajun cuisine? Below is a little photo tour of how I ate my way through Louisiana.

Let the good times roll...

It started in New Orleans, where there was of course oysters and crawfish:

(and yes, this is a trough).

And when in New Orleans, there obviously has to be chicory coffee and beignets at Cafe du Monde:

Enjoyed a shrimp po-boy and some Dixie at Oak Alley Plantation:

Then onto the bayou, for fresh caught crab, shrimp, and crawfish:

All in all, one delicious trip...

Friday, June 26, 2009

So easy to be decadent

The night before I went out of town last week, I realized that I had half a carton of strawberries that were going to go to waste if I didn't act fast. Scrambling for desserts, I contemplated sprinkling them over ice cream, but then inspiration struck... Why not dip them in chocolate? So decadent and elegant, yet somehow light and healthy. Chocolate dipped strawberries have to be an almost perfect dessert.

Chocolate Dipped Strawberries
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
10 strawberries

Fill a medium sauce pan with 2 inches of water. Bring to a simmer over medium heat. Turn off the heat. Pour the chocolate chips in a heat proof bowl. Place the bowl with the chocolate chips over the water to melt. Stir until smooth and glossy.

After the chocolate has melted, remove from heat. Dip the strawberries into the chocolate, lift and twist, allowing any excess chocolate to fall back into the bowl.

Place on a parchment or wax paper lined baking sheet. Let cool for 30-45 minutes, or until the chocolate hardens.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Italian Ice Cream Sundaes

Another graduate student and I often do dinner and a movie. The food is always Italian and the movie is always old. Tonight, I was in charge of dessert, and I wanted to do something that was easy, light, different, and delicious. I have been intrigued at the thought of incorporating a Balsamic syrup into a dessert for some time now, so I thought I would give it a try.

Before I made my reduction, I did quite a bit of research on Balsamic vinegar. What we buy in the grocery store is not 'real' Balsamic vinegar. 'Real' Balsamic vinegar is marked 'traditional' and costs upwards of $60. In lieu of spending a pretty penny on the 'real' thing, you can reduce grocery store Balsamic to create something a bit closer to the liqueur-like consistency and complexity of 'real' Balsamic. While there is no real substitute, I could not be more pleased with my reduction. It took no time at all and my syrup was outstanding: the flavor was rich and complex (my friend said it was "almost like chocolate"), and the texture was like velvet. What better topping for an ice cream Sundae?

Italian Ice Cream Sundaes
Serves 2

1/2 cup Balsamic vinegar
6-8 strawberries
1 tsp sugar (or to taste)
Vanilla Ice Cream
Chopped roasted, salted almonds

In a small sauce pan over medium-low heat, simmer Balsamic vinegar for 9-10 minutes, until the consistency is thick like maple syrup and coats the spoon. The vinegar should reduce to less than 1/4 cup. Let cool.

An hour or two before serving, sprinkle strawberries with sugar, to draw out their juices.

To assemble, scoop ice cream, sprinkle with strawberries and almonds. Drizzle with balsamic syrup.

The Balsamic syrup combined with the sweetness of the strawberries, the saltiness of the almonds, and the creaminess of the ice cream made for a perfect Italian ice cream Sundae.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Playing like a vegetarian

Recently, in a seminar, someone asked, "Is anyone a vegetarian?" My immediate response was, "I'll play one." To which another grad student replied, "I want to know what the means because my girlfriend plays one too."

So, what did I mean when I said I would play a vegetarian? I have nothing against meat; I find it delicious. But, lately, all I want to do is buy, cook, and eat vegetables. I have eaten salads and other raw vegetables most of my life. But, I must confess, I had no idea how wonderful it would be to cook, roast, and puree vegetables. And, now that I have started, I can't stop. All I want to do is play vegetarian.

Emmanuelle will have to forgive my wonder in the face of this new delicious world, as she has been dedicated to vegetables for as long as I have known her. Hopefully she can extend some of her experience my way.

One way I have decided to play vegetarian is by cooking most of the vegetable recipes out of my Barefoot in Paris cookbook. Tonight: Haricots Verts

French String Beans-- Haricots Verts
Serves 6

1 pound French string beans, both ends removed
Kosher salt
1 red onion, large diced*
1/2 red pepper, large diced (I used a whole red pepper because I had it on hand)
1/2 yellow pepper, large diced (I used a whole yellow pepper because I had it on hand)
Good olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
Herbs de Provence (my addition)
1 garlic clove (my addition)

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Blanch the haricots verts in a large pot of boiling salted water for 3 minutes (Ina calls for 4, but I like my haricots verts crunchy-er). Drain immediately and immerse in a large bowl of ice water to stop the cooking. When they are cool, drain and set aside.**

Meanwhile, in a large bowl toss the onion and bell peppers together with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and sprinkle generously with salt, pepper, and Herbs de Provence. Place in a single layer on a baking sheet and roast for 15-20 minutes, tossing with a spatula from time to time to be sure the vegetables roast evenly.

Just before serving, reheat the haricots verts in a large saute pan drizzled with a little olive oil and a minced garlic clove. It will take about 5 minutes for the haricots verts to reheat. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and spoon the roasted vegetables over the haricots verts. Serve hot or at room temperature.

And, voila! I thought the colors were absolutely fabulous.

And the taste, oh my, the roasted vegetables compliment the haricots verts ever so well.

*If Emmanuelle has any tips on how you large dice a red onion, I would love to know, as I butchered it.
**I find that blanching vegetables and then sauteeing them is a great way to keep the crunch and give them a lot of flavor.