Wednesday, July 25, 2012

WeekDAY Rations: Blueberry Cake

How it begins...
Sometimes when you work in an office like I do, surrounded by amazing home cooks and bakers, you're faced with a conundrum... Do I eat this delectable piece of yummy baked goodness in front of me now and possibly regret the calories later; or do I eat this now and enjoy the hell out of myself while  the yummy goodness is still available?

Lucky for my taste buds and general well-being, I choose the latter quite often. One day I walked into the break room to find a tupperware container full of 'Blueberry Cake' made by one of my co-workers.

What follows is the moist, sweet-but-not-too-sweet, nowhere-near-healthy recipe for this scrumptious bundt cake.

Blueberries have antioxidants, just remember that.

Blueberry cake, an efficient way to ingest a serving of fruit. ;)
(as published in the St. Charles Parish employee newsletter)

1 box yellow cake mix
3 eggs
3 tbsp. sugar
1 (8 oz.) package cream cheese, softened
1 stick of butter, melted
2 cups Louisiana blueberries

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a bundt pan. Mix together cream cheese and eggs; beat well. Add butter and sugar. Add cake mix and mix well. Fold in blueberries. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes. Frost as desired when cooled.

In my humble opinion, this needs no frosting because it's just that good on its own...

Monday, July 16, 2012

June 9, 2012: Rivershack Tavern

The request was, "Let's go somewhere that's been on "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives."

That and the fact that the Hale Boggs Bridge was closed this particular weekend was how we ended up at the Rivershack Tavern on River Road near Ochsner Hospital in old Jefferson.

GUY FIERI: A good-food guru?
There staring at the back of my head via a poster on the far wall was Food Network host Guy Fieri's signature sunglasses and platinum-blonde-with-roots countenance. 

(Between all the other junk tacked to the wall, from the obligatory old license plates to the zydeco washboards, to the blue-wigged half-mannequins to the... let's just say there was a lot to look at. It's a Cracker Barrel on, well, whiskey and smokes, I guess. This is, after all, the self-proclaimed "home of the tacky ashtray.")

The first distraction was the aforementioned 'ambience.' Was it supposed to a bar? A restaurant? A music venue? A party place? All I know is that one entire wall of the large dining room was lined with an open bar, and it was smoky. (And not from barbecue, if you know what I mean.) And in the other corner – tables, chairs, a bustling wait staff and families with small children. They've basically got a permitting nightmare going here, but I guess this 'vibe' gets people in the door. 

Maybe the food Chef Mike Baskind made for Mr. Fieri was awesome. (Not that I'd be able to know; I don't eat rabbit for moral / ethical reasons.) But the food we ordered in this joint-with-an-identity-crisis wasn't exactly camera-ready.

The cool thing about Rivershack Tavern? Not the food so much. But
check out the old-timey painted ads and signage that adorn the building.
The story goes that they were hidden under an old layer of paint and
discovered by one of the building's owners. Photo courtesy
I wasn't necessarily looking to eat healthy, but the healthy option was really one of the only interesting, out-of-the-ordinary (read: not fried) items on the menu – a grilled portabella mushroom on sandwich thins topped with grilled onions, tons of sun dried tomatoes and feta cheese with a side of steamed vegetables. 

The major requirement for anyone to find this dish edible is a love of sun dried tomatoes. I happen to really like them, so I thought it was actually pretty good. It wasn't a burger and shouldn't be compared to one. 

That being said, something about the feta mixed with the onions had a really meaty texture, even 'meatier' than the already 'meaty' mushroom. It was weird, but I liked it. Overall this was the most flavorful dish at the table, including the greasy fried pickle appetizer.

Milt tried the "Fresh Catch" – a pan-seared mahi sandwich. The review went something like this: "Well, it's a fish sandwich, on bread." A step up from the Filet-O-Fish I'm sure, but nothing to necessarily salivate over.

And then there was the burger. Tyler, our connoisseur, was excited to try the 'boiger' (the 'Classic 1/2 Pounder') at such an obviously hip-n-happenin' joint. (So happenin', in fact, the place was about to commence a seafood boil / party right outside the building after that afternoon's thunderstorm.)

The Rivershack Tavern has a long history as a local meeting place. It's
pretty neat that the current owners have kept up with it. Photo courtesy
the Rivershack Tavern website.
But it was a swing-and-a-miss. He reports a bland patty, almost seeming to come out of the freezer section at Winn-Dixie. Again, nothing special.

After our meal we discussed how a place that seemed so down-home and interesting on TV could fall so flat in real life. I suppose anyone as in-your-face and entertaining as Mr. Fieri could take a funky little dive with a bit of interesting Jeff Parish history and make audiences crave a taste of the Shack.

I mean, who wouldn't want to eat at the "home of the tacky ashtray" at least once in his life, am I right?

Monday, June 18, 2012

WeekDAY Rations: Refrigerator picklefest!

A few weeks ago my boss brought part of his bumper crop of homegrown cucumbers in to work to give away. Apparently it was a good year for cucumbers in Destrehan.

I'm not the biggest fan of straight-up raw cucumber, but I don't dislike them in salads, doused in dressing, of course. I picked one up and took it home thinking I would probably just end up staring at it over the next few days, wondering how long I had to force myself to eat it before it went bad.

Then it hit me... DUH! Make some pickles out of that thing!!

And as much as I find Pinterest bad for my obsessive-compulsive personality, the glorified bookmarking site was of course the easiest place to go to find a decent refrigerator pickle recipe.

Spearing cucumbers... muhahaha!
I resolved to make the pickles. But before I could, I ended up finding kosher dill pickle mix in Lowe's, of all places... Apparently mason jars, canning supplies, pectin and other mixes are an appropriate upsale in the garden department. They must figure that by now all those folks who bought vegetable seeds and plants from them in early spring are looking for things to do with their produce... You know, if the plants survived and all.

So I gathered enough extra cukes (since we're so close now, I can call cucumbers by their nickname) to make two 32-ounce mason jars worth of pickle spears – one using the pickle mix powder and the other using the homemade 'use-whatever-spices-you-have-in-your-pantry' recipe from Pinterest.
In a week you'll be edible... :)
Both are done pretty much the same way: You boil the specified amount of water, vinegar and salt (kosher, obviously), just enough so that the salt is dissolved. With the mix, you place the contents of the bag into the brine while it's cooking. With the homemade version, you simply stuff and/or pour whatever fresh or dried herbs you desire into the jar with the speared pickles.

The last step is to pour the hot brine over the jar, filling it almost to the top. Then simply screw the lid on, place the jar in the fridge and wait.

These pickles were sour. So much so that you had to watch the placement of the back of your throat while eating them. That's the best way I can describe it. Eat one of these babies the wrong way, and they had the potential to make your mouth burn. Not in a 'spice' kind of way but in a 'wow-that-was-acidic' kind of way. 

That being said, they were also delicious. I did find that the pickles that sat in the store-bought mix solution stayed a little crispier. The secret ingredient for this purpose is apparently calcium chloride. But the homemade pickles were just as tasty and offered a little bit of a different flavor thanks to the interesting amalgamation of herbs I packed inside the jar (including fresh dill, Italian seasoning, cumin, garlic powder and black peppercorns).

Did I add enough spice?
Check back on Sunday to find out!
Those first two jars having been decimated over the last couple weeks alongside grilled cheese sandwiches, I decided to make more. (After all, I did buy a dozen of those big mason jars...) This time the suspects also included some cukes from my dad's garden in Hahnville. 

I went with a different recipe this time; which can be found here. (Thanks, Google.)

I subbed the dry spices and peppercorns with a half tablespoon each of pickling spice (found at WalMart), garlic powder and fresh dill. I also omitted some ingredients I didn't have, like the serrano peppers and fresh garlic.

The most important thing with these recipes is the ratio of salt to vinegar to water, obviously. Note that if you have to use table salt instead of coarser kosher salt; be sure to cut the amount used in half.

Check back on Sunday when I crack open my latest experimental batch. (And yes, you must let the cucumbers marinate at LEAST seven days, no cheating!)

PRO TIP: To avoid poisoning yourself – no joke – consume refrigerator pickles within three months.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Dessert Spotlight: Sucre

Sucre is a virtual wonderland of clean, genius branding and petite, gourmet dessert offerings.

I emphasize the "branding" aspect first, because it's the beautiful look of the store, the modern packaging and the gorgeous plate design that makes your brain think it's OK to spend $7 on a chocolate bar or $2 for a tiny French macaron.
Some of Sucre's macron options.
The Weekend Rations crew visited Sucre Lakeside on June 9 specifically for their awesome gelato. (Sucre is actually an all-in-one sweet shop / bakery / ice cream parlor / coffee house / designer dessert bar / chocolatier.)
Sucre's gelato case. NOM. Photo courtesy Sucre's Facebook page.
Just like everything else at Sucre, the display case is uber-enticing and colorful. They'll allow you to sample every flavor until you've found the right one; I know this because I asked if it could be done.

In the interest of self-control and portion-control, I got a small serving of the almond gelato. They serve it in a small plastic cup with a tiny plastic spoon / shovel type  eating instrument. This is clever because as you shove these small amounts of gelato into your face, it creates the illusion that you've eaten a lot more than you actually ordered. Which is great, because a small serving will set you back $3.75.

At least one of these flavors is inspired by a popular sno-ball.
Touche', Sucre, touche'.
I know it may be strange for me to say this about a food item from a place that sells almost exclusively dessert, but the thing I liked most about the almond gelato was that it wasn't very sweet. The almond flavor came through without a lot of "sucre" (sugar)! Every now and again I would get a crunch from bits of real almond in the gelato.

On a previous trip I tried the pistachio gelato, which was also a hit. (I'm thinking next trip I'm going to break out of the nut-centric gelato selection...) I probably give the pistachio a slight edge in the flavor department, since I like the actual pistachio taste better, and I just love green ice cream; I think it's funky.

Tyler, ever the chocolate fanatic, stuck with the triple dark chocolate gelato. Good for those who really dig chocolate flavor almost going over to the bitter side of things.

The things I had to go through for a free king cake!
Before I sign off I also want to mention that Sucre seems to be "with it" on the whole social media thing. And because of their smart social media promotions, I've actually gotten some free stuff from them.

Back during Mardi Gas season Tyler and I were on our way to the Jeff Dunham show at the New Orleans arena. While eating dinner what pops up on my Facebook news feed but a surefire way to win a Sucre king cake: Simply photograph yourself with any Sucre product, post the photo on their wall and walk into the store with proof that you'd done so. We walked into the Lakeside store, I took a photo standing next to a 'macaron tree,' posted it right then and there, and bam... I guess you can bet what we ate after the show!

On our latest visit, guests could get a free macaron just by checking in to the Sucre store on Facebook. I was darn well gonna take advantage of that. The chocolate macaron was yummy.

There's a lot to explore at Sucre, so I would suggest looking at the menu before you go to avoid buying one of everything. In particular, the fancy dessert plates ("entrements") look very interesting and are a must-try on future visits.

(By the way, all the food-safe glitter used on the desserts is actually called disco dust and can be bought online for home use... Then maybe you as well can charge $4.25 per cupcake!)

Saturday, June 16, 2012

June 16, 2012: NOLA Restaurant

NOLA Restaurant in NOLA.
Ah, how great is the influence of Food Network in our daily lives? Without it, I would never have been introduced to just how great pork fat is, or that using the word 'BAM' during cooking somehow makes food taste better. (Thanks to the fact we used to watch "Emeril Live" religiously back when I was in high school.)

We don't know whether any exclamations were made during the preparation of our food today at NOLA, one of chef Emeril Lagasse's three restaurants in the Big Easy; but let's just say there were.

New Orleans Style Crab Cake
New Orleans Style Crab Cake with Spicy
Corn Relish and Crystal Butter Sauce.
Photo courtesy UrbanSpoon.
This was actually Tyler and my third time dining at NOLA, the first being for our first wedding anniversary in 2009 (same night the now-defunct Krewe of Boo rolled through the Quarter); the second being before we saw Lady Gaga on her "Monster Ball" tour at the New Orleans arena.

We sat in a secluded corner of the restaurant's first floor and filled up on an appetizer, three entrees and a dessert for under $80. Not too bad for a semi-fine-dining-tourist-trap restaurant such as NOLA. (Of course, these are lunch prices, too.)

Tyler is obsessed with crab cakes. Well, I say "obsessed." I probably mean... It's one of the few foods he likes across the board... I don't blame him, because how could any dish with the words "crab" and "cake" in the name be bad? So we ordered the 'New Orleans Style Crab Cake with Spicy Corn Relish and Crystal Butter Sauce.'

Considering how spicy the garnishes were, I can only imagine they meant 'Crystal (HOT SAUCE) Butter Sauce.' I'm not complaining. But it did have a very interesting, mustardy flavor. The bacon jam was intriguing, but the pungent mustard flavor kind of overpowered it. No bacon flavor for us. :(

The crab cake had a lot of crab meat in it, which is really the only requirement for a decent-tasting specimen. Tip for those in a group: This may be an $11 appetizer, but there's just one cake on that plate! Moving on...

Our entree selections included: Shrimp and Grits, the NOLA Burger and Grilled Atlantic Salmon.

Shrimp and Grits. Photo courtesy UrbanSpoon.
Tyler gave the burger two thumbs up... A good sign coming from the man who will order a burger at every restaurant conceivable as long as they offer one. It included house cut fries with parmesan cheese on top; I thought that was a great touch.

The Shrimp and Grits were delicious, obviously fattening and had great -- my new favorite word here -- "mouthfeel." It was like eating barbecue breakfast food because of the char on the jumbo shrimp. The crimini mushrooms cooked with applewood smoked bacon sitting in a well of cheddar grits... So amazing. Bacon and mushrooms are definitely a combination I'm going to try outside of a burger sometime soon.

For dessert there was the Warm Ooey Gooey Cake, sort of a mashup of chocolate cake, s'mores and macaroons. There were marshmallows, toasted coconut and coffee ice cream involved. It was completely rich and decadent. We split it three ways... (OK, I ate most of it...)

One other intriguing menu item for another time was a house salad that included marinated grape tomatoes, goat cheese, pistachios and balsamic vinaigrette. All these food items are on my top 100 foods in life list. (Well, I mean I'm sure they would be... The list has yet to be composed actually.) I am going to make this salad at home and report back...

"Milt, look a little happier!"
We had a great time goofing off in our corner of the restaurant as we usually do; and the parking situation to get to NOLA is very hassle-free for being in the Quarter. Park at the Omni Royal Hotel garage valet, then get your card validated. Simple! We were shocked by the number of tourists out today in the heat.

Now we're looking forward to the next adventure which happens to fall on Tyler's birthday weekend! Vote in our poll and let us know where we should eat next... Or leave your thoughts and suggestions in the comments.

(Disclaimer: Winning restaurant may or may not be vetoed by Tyler's actual birthday pick.)

Welcome to the weekend...

The Quarter. Where it happens.

Here's the deal. We like food. Well, OK, we *LOVE* food. But exactly how many times can a person eat at Applebee's before they start wanting more? We live exactly 30 miles from what is arguably one of the culinary capitals of the world (New Orleans).

Hence, the challenge: Try a new restaurant one of us has never eaten at each weekend. Don't stop until all options have been exhausted. So far we are five weeks in.

We thought it would be fun to let Internet denizens in on our little food exploration / experiment, so we created this blog.

I'm Renee. I write most of the blog content. Along for the journey are Tyler, my husband; and Milt, my brother. They'll chime in every now and again when I'm not trying to get inside their heads *for* them.

Check back often as we take you on a tour (and point out the good, bad and ugly) of our new WEEKEND RATIONS!