Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Cooking the Book – Real Cajun – My Hot Sauce

With the end of November and the arrival of December, cold weather has come to Mississippi. That means a lot of late season harvesting from the garden, particularly the pepper plants. The real question is, what can I do with so many peppers? Sure, I could make lots of chili, but I thought I’d go for something a little longer lasting, hot sauce. Isn’t it convenient that one of my new favorite cookbooks, Donald Link’s “Real Cajun” has a recipe titled “My Hot Sauce”?

There’s no better place to start than with a box full of fresh produce.

Obviously there’s more than one type of pepper in here, but I thought I’d go for broke and try using habaneros.

It took some time to weed out enough habaneros to make 3 cups, chopped.

But with a little perseverance, I soon had a little more than 3 cups of chopped habaneros.

The next step seems a little odd.

After measuring out 1 cup of kosher salt, the salt and the peppers were added to a container.

Everything was mixed together, sealed and left to sit at room temperature for 4 days.

Four days later, I was ready to continue with making hot sauce.

First all the salt is rinsed from the peppers and the peppers are then left to drain.

In the meantime, I went to prepare the rest of the ingrdients.

Into a saucepan went ¼ cup of sugar.

½ cup white vinegar

1 cup of cider vinegar, I used apple cider vinegar

Next to last was 2 bay leaves and 3 cloves of garlic.

The peppers were the last into the pan.

Now the recipe calls for the mixture to be brought to a boil over medium heat.

The heat is then reduced to low and the batch is left to simmer for about 15 minutes.

When the simmering was done, the mixture was left to cool.

A little bit of the water has evaporated but there’s still a good amount of liquid in the pan.

Before I put everything in the blender, I had a hard time deciding on the bay leaves. Link never says to remove the bay leaves, but I’ve always been told to take them out of food before serving.

I erred on the side of caution and took out the bay leaves.

It took just a few second in the blender before I had a tasty looking hot sauce.

Of course blind heat isn’t everything. I was surprised at the flavor when I tasted the results. You start with the sweetness of the sugar, then the bitter of the vinegar, and finish and linger with the heat of pepper.

Naturally, I couldn’t leave well enough alone and immediately started a few more attempts at homemade hot sauce.

Why not a batch of banana peppers?

Or a strained batch of habaneros?

And just for the hell of it, a batch of bell peppers.

After more days of salting, simmering, blending and pouring, I was finished.

Oddly enough, that isn’t all of the hot sauce.

In the end, I had 8 separate batches of hot sauce, but pictured are a batch of strained habanero, regular jalapeno, regular bell pepper, and regular banana pepper. It never hurts to have a little variety.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Domilise's - New Orleans

It might have taken a few months, but I’m in New Orleans and I’m finally going to try Domilise’s. Like most of the restaurants I try in New Orleans, this one came by recommendation. Supposedly Domilise’s has the best roast beef po-boy in town. Even though the roast beef at Parasol’s is near and dear my heart, I set any preconceptions aside and went in with an open mind.

Of course, this meal couldn’t start without a setback. As soon as we put in our order, I asked if they took credit cards. Not till next week. Fortunately, the good people at Domilise’s were nice enough to go ahead and make our po-boys while we walked to an atm.

After a chilly walk to the atm, I was happy to see a bounty of po-boys on Leidenheimer bread. Hungry and wanting to try a couple, I had ordered two small po-boys, a roast beef and a fried shrimp, dressed of course. First up was the roast beef.

With the first bite, there’s that familiar crunch of po-boy bread.

Unfortunately, it was downhill from there. The roast beef was cold and dry, but the gravy was hot and pretty tasty.

Once I got a bite with some Creole mustard, everything started to work. However I was still surprised at how lackluster the roast beef was.

Hopefully the shrimp po-boy can rectify the situation.

You can’t criticize Domilise’s for the quantity of shrimp, granted there aren’t as many as on a Parkway Bakery po-boy, but still plenty to spill out of your sandwich.

It was painfully obvious that these shrimp were pretty poor on their own, but with the mayo and cocktail sauce, they worked well in the po-boy.

Even with a few shortcomings, the shrimp was much better than the roast beef po-boy.

The sad news is that I missed out on what was probably the best choice at Domilise’s, the oyster po-boy. At the very end, Jon and I switched sandwiches and I definitely got the good end of that bargain. While I wasn’t really sold on the shrimp and roast beef po-boys, I’ll be heading back to Domilise’s if only to get a full taste of the oyster po-boy.

Domilise Sandwich Shop & Bar on Urbanspoon

Dante's Kitchen - New Orleans

Without Frank Brigtsen, I would have no idea that Dante’s Kitchen existed. How? It’s as simple as location. When I started going to Brigtsen’s, I couldn’t help but notice the restaurant across the street, Dante’s Kitchen. Naturally, I decided to do a little research and found nothing but glowing reviews. So, Dante’s Kitchen quickly went on my list of places to try in New Orleans.

Fast forward to a cold, rainy December night, Jon, Liz, and I were trying to decide something for dinner. With a few clicks on my phone, we had reservations at Dante’s Kitchen.

Once we arrived and we seated, the three of us began the arduous task of picking out dinner. With a locally sourced and captivating menu, it’s hard to narrow down the selection.

Even though we were still deciding, our first course arrived.

Spoonbread might seem like just another boring bowl of bread, but this was something else.

Each bite was warm, rich, and simply delicious. It didn’t hurt that each piece was dripping with honey butter.

I don’t remember who ordered it, but it’s hard to turn down shrimp and grits, especially when it’s grilled shrimp and stone ground grits with an andouille red eye gravy.

The shrimp were plump, juicy, and very well seasoned, not to mention, quite large. However, if you were able to get a little bit of shrimp, grits and gravy on your fork, you were in a real treat. I know it’s a small detail of the dish, but I was happy to see chunks of andouille in the gravy.

It was a forgone conclusion. As soon as I saw charcuterie plate on the menu, I knew one would be coming to our table.

Featuring a pork terrine, duck liver mousse, and a duck rillette, this was going to be an introduction to some new foods for one of our party. The rillette was very smooth and fully of those meaty duck flavor. Working left, the duck liver mousse was next. Like the rillette, this was a very good dish, but I don’t think Liz appreciated the heavy iron taste. Last was the terrine, and this was the most plain Jane of the three. There wasn’t anything exceptional to the dish, but it was solid choice. Together the three items made a very nice charcuterie plate, but relatively plain one.

With our appetizers finished, we were able to appreciate the neighborhood atmosphere of Dante’s Kitchen. I love how so many restaurants in Nola are converted shotguns. However, it wasn’t long before we were enjoying our entrees.

The next dish seems incredibly out of place for December, but we had a tomato sample plate.

Served with 3 kinds of sea salt (Hawaiian red, fleur de sel, and chardonnay), we were told these tomatoes had been picked morning. It was a little annoying that the waiter couldn’t tell us all the varieties, but the green were supposedly zebra and the yellow were called lemon bombs. Regardless of the name, each tomato was bursting with flavor, and it was a treat to see how each tomatoe paired with the three sea salts.

Even though we had the plate of tomatoes, I thought it wouldn’t hurt to order something else from the Perique Farms vegetable part of the menu.

I wasn’t sure what to except with the black tuscan kale with black eyed peas and Italian sausage, but this doesn’t look too appetizing. However, don’t let its looks fool you. The black eyed peas were a little mushy, and the kale was lost in the fray. At least there was plenty of Italian sausage, it seemed like every bite I took was full of spicy sausage.

It had taken a fair amount of deliberation, but I had decided on the duck pot pie for my appetizer. Described as a seared confit duck leg, ratatouille, and buttermilk biscuit crust, I was very excited for the dish. Once the dish actually arrived, I couldn’t help but laugh.

I love that the buttermilk biscuit crust is a giant biscuit, and a tasty one too. Well buttered and delicious, the biscuit was just too big to enjoy.

Underneath was the duck and ratatouille. Since I think of ratatouille as a summer dish, I was a little worried about this December version, but it was heavy, spicy and perfect for the cold, damp night. The duck was no slouch either. Well spiced and smooth from the confit process, the duck and ratatouille was a match made in heaven. Outside of the absurdly sized biscuit, the only downside to this dish was that it came at the end of the meal. I was too full to enjoy it all.

While waiting for our check, we discussed Dante’s Kitchen and its cross-street (rival? Companion?) neighbor Brigtsen’s. Jon and Liz had both enjoyed Dante’s Kitchen, even though there were a few longs lulls between visits from our waiter. I, too, thought Dante’s Kitchen was exceptional and another one of them New Orleans gems. However, if I were forced to choose between Brigtsen’s and Dante’s Kitchen…….I couldn’t. Obviously I need to do some more research. That means more trips to Dante Street for me.

Dante's Kitchen on Urbanspoon

J’anita’s – New Orleans

Jon is completely to blame. It was Jon who told me to first go to J’anita’s on Magazine Street and to try their redfish sandwich. That was before I started this endeavor so there aren’t any pictures or reviews to reference. However in August, the sad news came that J’anita’s had closed, but there was light at the end of the tunnel. An anonymous reader informed me that J’anita’s had moved to the Avenue Pub on St. Charles. With that in mind, Jon, his sister Liz, and I were in New Orleans a few weeks ago and Jon was dead set on eating at J’anita’s.

It’s hard to walk inside a pub and not have a drink.

Lazy Magnolia’s Jefferson Stout is apparently made from sweet potato cream. I had no idea that Lazy Magnolia made a stout, and a pretty decent one at that.

Being a cold day outside, at least for New Orleans, I wanted something meaty and filling. With pulled pork, beef brisket, and bbq slaw, the swamp reuben seemed to fit the bill nicely.

I had opted for a side of gumbo too.

Even with a nice touch of heat, cayenne I think, this was a disappointing, watery gumbo. Sure there were big chunks of sausage and veggies, but there was no depth of flavor.

The first thing you’ll notice about the swamp reuben is a lack of bbq slaw. My rationale is that a reuben traditionally features sauerkraut, so why mess with a classic by adding bbq slaw? I know it’s faulty logic, but I really just wanted a meat sandwich. To begin, the bread was both deliciously buttery and crunchy and inside was a metric ton of pulled pork and brisket. There wasn’t anything exceptional about the bbq here. There was no smoke ring, no huge smoke flavor, but it all just worked and it worked well.

Jon might rave about the redfish sandwich, but I’ll have to recommend the swamp reuben, it’s up to you if you keep the slaw on top. Either way, I’m sure I’ll visit J’anita’s again soon.

J'anita's at The Avenue Pub on Urbanspoon