Saturday, March 5, 2011

Coffee and Beignets at Cafe Du Monde!

Right on Decatur Street in the French Quarter, across from Jackson Square is the famous Cafe Du Monde! We stopped by several times to enjoy their coffee and beignets over the course of our 4-day stay in New Orleans! We always left there over-caffeinated, with bellys full of fried dough, and powdered sugar all over our noses and pants :-P But we kept coming back for more! Sooooo delicious!

The beignets come out warm and covered with powdered sugar. There is no real way to eat them without ending up covered in powdered sugar, but it’s definitely worth it! It’s almost reminiscent of funnel cakes that you would get at amusement parks, except in the shape of warm dough balls. The outside has a crisp crunch to it, while the inside is warm and soft. Heaven!

I had my beignets with black coffee, though I think most folks order the cafe au lait. In New Orleans fashion, the coffee is served with chicory, which suits my tastes just fine!

The cafe itself is actually a pretty cool place to chill out and relax on lazy afternoons. You can sit in the covered patio, safe from the sunlight, or for Chicagoans like us visiting in February, there are plenty of park benches nearby you can sit on to soak up the sun. It’s definitely a nice place for people-watching, as it faces Jackson Park, which is often populated with artists, musicians, and carriages.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Central Grocery, Home of the Original Muffuletta

Honestly, I’d never even heard of a muffuletta until I landed in New Orleans! As we were meeting up with friends who’d flown in the night before, we decided the first order of business was to eat since we were starving from our flight. Our friends told us lunch definitely had to be muffulettas at Central Grocery. When we got there, I finally found out what this meant: ginormous circular sandwiches the size of a pan pizza on circular, sesame-seeded Italian bread, filled with various Italian deli meats, Swiss & provolone cheese, and a unique olive salad. Apparently they’re the THING to get when in New Orleans!

That’s when my skepticism kicked in. It looked like a small, family run grocery store with a deli counter, the type of place that would get confused if you asked for any modifications of their traditional-style offerings. However, I was told that this was a FAMOUS family run grocery store, home of the ORIGINAL muffuletta (it even said so in big signs everywhere) and that I HAD to have one even though I don’t eat meat. Since this was a trusted friend, I let him & another friend handle the situation as he sent the rest of us off to find a table in the back.

About a minute later, the helper friend came back with a giant package:

….which apparently had a giant, meat-filled sandwich inside:

She said they were still making the vegetarian one, so our other friend was still at the counter waiting for it. A good 10 minutes later, he finally came back bearing my sandwich (sorry for the poor picture quality; the lighting was not that great inside the store, but the pictures using flash looked even worse):

Apparently the sandwich assembly line was so efficient at making regular muffulettas that it was a big disruption in the production process to tell them not to put the meat in. My friend said that the counter guy who took his order had to go back there an make it himself, hence the long delay!

The sandwiches were so big, we comfortably split the two sandwiches between four people. Honestly, though, I can’t say I was all that impressed with the sandwich; however since they had to take out a main component, I won’t blame them that my sandwich was lacking. They compensated for the lack of meat by adding extra cheese, which, being mildly lactose intolerant, would not have been my number one choice for substitutions. I definitely would have preferred more of the olive salad instead! I can tolerate a slice or two of cheese just fine, but this much cheese in my sandwich makes me a bit queasy:

However, I definitely see the appeal of those sandwiches and would be curious to see what a better approximation of a vegetarian muffuletta would taste like. My sandwich definitely would have lacked the flavor and substance of an “original” since the salty Italian meats were merely taken out rather than substituted with something similarly substantial & salty. Perhaps in a future cooking challenge, I’ll have to make this sandwich myself with the arsenal of vegetarian deli meats I have at my disposal! Of course, I would have no clue where to find muffuletta bread in Chicago, so this might actually also become a baking challenge!! And let’s not forget the the olive salad, which I felt was probably the most unique thing about the sandwich, taste-wise. I personally hate olives, but didn’t mind them at all in the sandwich.

So yeah, if I do decide to take on this muffuletta-making challenge, it looks like I’ll have my work cut out for me, as a lactose-intolerant vegetarian who doesn’t habitually eat bread and hates olives!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

An Urban Foodie Does the Big Easy

Laissez les bons temps rouler!!

I'd mentioned a few weeks ago that I was taking a trip down to New Orleans with some tri club friends to do the Mardi Gras Half Marathon, with one friend doing the full marathon! While the race wasn't my best, I had a great time while down there and got to indulge in some of the food and culture of the Big Easy!

Since it was my first time down there, I was left at the mercy of friends who knew the city. It was definitely fun trying out some of the more well-known establishments, but I'll admit it that without being in control of where we went, was hard finding vegetarian-friendly options that weren't completely boring. Plus, since the trip was centered around a long-distance race, it was also harder to be adventurous with food choices, especially the day before the race.

If I come back to do the race again in the future, I would definitely consider planning a week-long stay post-race so that I can more thoroughly explore and enjoy the city and its cuisine without fear of ruining race day! It would also be nice to explore the city again now that I'm more familiar with the layout. With more time, I would also be able to explore more veg-friendly restaurants (assuming they exist!)

Since this blog is supposed to document the "Adventures of an Urban Foodie", I thought this might be a good opportunity to take a short break from recipe-posting to blog about my Urban Food Adventures in a different city! Food definitely tends to be the center of most cultures, and I've found one of the best ways to explore a new city is to immerse yourself in its cuisine! So for the next few posts, I'll take you on my Urban Adventures in the deep south exploring the heart of the Big Easy via its stomach :)

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

A Crisper, Drier Papas Bravas

This batch of Papas Bravas turned out much better than our first attempt! I thought the texture was more on par with what I’d expected, though it was still less crispy than I’d seen at restaurants. The flavor was delicious! Funnily enough, it wasn’t the overwhelming type of delicious where you know the second you put it in your mouth... Instead, it’s the kind of delicious where you take a bite, appreciate it for what it is, then realize later that you’ve been snacking on them all evening and can stop yourself from going back for more! For that, I’m certain we have the spice blend nailed down.

The only shortcomings we still have to address are the mouth-feel and the appearance. While firmer than our last batch, this one still didn’t have the crispiness we wanted. Also, the spices look like they burned on the outside of the potatoes. We think we can address both these issues by first roasting the potatoes in just oil and salt at a lower temperature until tender, then coating them in the spice mixture and broiling them briefly to crisp them. Hopefully this will give us both the taste and texture we’re looking for!

Papas Bravas, Take 2

1 lb 2 oz baby new potatoes
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp paprika
2 tsp chili powder
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp sea salt
1 tbsp finely chopped fresh parsley


Preheat the oven to 400 F.

Place the potatoes in a strong plastic bag and bash with a rolling pin to crack them. Add the oil, paprika, chili powder, cumin, sea salt, and parsley to the bag, then shake well to mix.

Empty the potatoes on to a baking sheet and spread out into a single layer.

Roast for 40 minutes, shaking the tray occasionally, until cooked through and nicely browned.