Recipe: Spaghetti Carbonara

Posted in Eat, Entrees, Recipe with tags , on 8 January, 2010 by la fille

It’s cold right now in New Orleans.

After a couple weeks of fruitlessly trying to get my bedroom warm enough to where I don’t wake up with a frozen nose at 3am, I’ve finally decided it just ain’t gonna happen. I live in a raised shotgun and, although the house has central heat, my room is in the back, has a 12-foot ceiling, and is drafty as hell so it will take a lot more effort than I’m willing to make to warm it up. The front room, however, remains nice and toasty so I’ve migrated to the couch for the remainder of the winter.

In an effort to warm up, I’ve also turned to some tried-and-true comfort foods, including chili, mac and cheese, and pho tai. The first two I made at home, but the craving for pho was strong enough to lure me out of the house and across the river, despite the chill. Oh, Pho Tau Bay, how I love you.

Another dish I tend to crave when it’s cold out is spaghetti carbonara, although I’m not sure why. Maybe I subconsciously know all those fattening ingredients will provide the additional layer of blubber needed for me to make it through the winter.

I know lots of people in the U.S. make carbonara with cream, that just seems to cross the line of decency, you know? Bacon, egg, cheese, oil, and cream? No way, Jose Giuseppe. Italian style for me.

Spaghetti alla Carbonara

serves 2-3

INGREDIENTS

1 lb spaghetti

1/3 lb bacon, pancetta, or comparable salty pork product, chopped

1 medium onion, chopped

2 egg yolks, beaten

1/2 c. grated Parmesan

salt and lotsa freshly-ground black pepper

RECIPE

1. Begin cooking the bacon in a large skillet. Once the fat starts to render, throw in the onion, season with black pepper, and cook until bacon is done and onions have softened. Set aside.

2. Cook the spaghetti (make sure you salt the water) al dente and drain.

3. Heat the bacon and onions back up and add spaghetti. Once all that junk is nice and mixed, pour the egg yolks over it and toss to coat the pasta (be sure to do so vigorously to avoid having scrambled egg in your pasta). Then add the Parmesan, black pepper and toss it some more! If you think it’s too dry, you can always add a little olive oil or some of the water you cooked the pasta in.

4. Serve and devour, preferably while wearing a Snuggie, buried under a mountain of blankets, sitting in front of a fireplace. Maybe with a cat curled up against you.

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Abject Failure

Posted in Eat on 6 January, 2010 by la fille

I cooked a spaghetti squash last night, but it wasn’t very good (my preparation, I mean– I have nothing against spaghetti squash itself), so you don’t get a recipe today.

Too bad for you.

Well Hello, Lover.

Posted in Coffee, Imbibe, Reviews with tags on 31 December, 2009 by la fille

My roommate got a Chemex coffee pot for Christmas. “Chemex” seems to me an awful name for something not designed to clean toilets, but damned if it doesn’t produce a fantastic cuppa.

Designed by chemist Peter Schlumbohm in the 1940s, the Chemex design is based on a bunch of science-y stuff dealing with filtration and extraction to eliminate bitterness in the coffee. The result is simple and elegant.

(photo of Schlumbohm and the Chemex from this Gourmet article)

It’s an all-in-one contraption– the only other thing you need is a special kind of filter that’s thicker on one side than the other. This makes for easy cleanup! All you do is pick up the filter and throw it away.

I usually prefer my coffee with a fair amount of milk, precisely to cut the acidity and any bitterness there may be, but there is no need to do so with the Chemex brew. It’s smooth, flavorful, and beautifully balanced with no accouterments whatsoever. I tried it with milk, too, and ended up dumping it out because it just watered down the wonderful flavor too much.

The only complaint I have with Chemex coffee stems from a personal preference of not really liking any type of drip as much as I like press pot or pressure extracted brew. I like a muddy cup of coffee that leaves sediment in the bottom of the cup, but if you don’t, I strongly recommend trying Chemex out. The process can be time consuming, as you pour water over the grounds incrementally, but there’s an element of ritual to it that’s pretty satisfying.

Here are the instructions from the website:

1.  Open the Chemex-Bonded Coffee Filter into a cone.  One side should have three layers.  Place the cone in the top of your coffeemaker with the thick portion toward the pouring spout.

2.  Using Regular or Automatic Grind coffee only, put one rounded tablespoon of coffee per 5 oz. cup into the filter cone.  If you prefer stronger coffee, use more; there is never any bitterness in coffee brewed using the Chemex® method.

3.  When the water is boiling, remove it from the heat until it stops boiling vigorously.  It should now be at about 200ºF, a perfect brewing temperature.  Pour a small amount of water over the coffee grounds, just enough to wet them without floating.  This is important because it allows the grounds to “bloom,” so the desirable coffee elements can be released.

4.  After this first wetting simply pour more water, soaking the grounds each time, but keeping the water level well below the top of the coffeemaker.  Once the desired amount of coffee is brewed, dispose of the spent grounds by lifting the filter out of the coffeemaker.

Grapevine Cafe, Donaldsonville

Posted in Eat, Entrees, Restaurants, Reviews, Sweets with tags , , , on 30 December, 2009 by la fille

After returning from The Frozen North on Christmas Eve and watching movies ’til my brains turned to mush on Christmas Day, I found myself restless on Boxing Day.

I decided to take a drive up River Road with no real destination in mind, just to see what I could see. I crossed over the Huey P. and went up on the Westbank, through the weird combination of plantations and industry. There were lots of neat things to look at. I was treated to some good advice:

I ended up in Donaldsonville, which has a quaint little downtown area, but was super dead that day, due to it being both Sunday and the day after Christmas. The Grapevine Cafe was open, however, and seemed to be doing a brisk business.

Here’s a blurb from their website:

Grapevine Cafe and Gallery’s award-winning cuisine has earned rave reviews from food writers and local residents for its authentic and original South Louisiana fare.

Our recipes draw from the diverse cultures that have made Louisiana the unique treasure it is. With the perfect blending of Cajun, Creole and African traditions, we are proud to offer you the best in Louisiana dining.

The restaurant resides in a 1920s storefront on the main drag of town and features high ceilings, brick walls, and displays by local artists. I sat by a side window that looked out at a lovely alley-way garden, complete with a cat sitting outside on the sill. “A” for atmosphere!

I knew that the place was famous for Chef Cynthia Schneider’s white chocolate bread pudding– which she served at the James Beard Awards Dinner in 2006– so I was sure to order light to save room for it. I got a cup of seafood gumbo and a grilled crawfish tail appetizer.

The gumbo was good; not as thick as some I’ve had, but it came with a side of rice that solved the problem. It was also accompanied by a scoop of potato salad that was heavy on the relish or pickle juice or something, but tasty nonetheless.

I found myself slightly disappointed in the crawfish tails. The seasonings didn’t add a whole lot of flavor, and the tails themselves tasted like they’d been sitting for a bit before winding up at my table–not very warm. The remoulade tasted like the same pickle monster made it who made the potato salad. Again, not bad, but a little overwhelming.

So. Mediocre fare thus far, but I wanted to stick with it through dessert, which did end up salvaging the whole meal. That’s some damn fine bread pudding, as Dale Cooper would say. Spongy and warm, with a subtle flavor to showcase the stellar white chocolate sauce that it was drenched in. Not to mention the fact that the serving was more than generous.

I’ve read nothing but phenomenal things about the Grapevine Cafe, so I’m guessing I just chose poorly from the menu. If I ever get back to Donaldsonville I’ll give the place another try, this time for dinner, though, since the lunch menu is truncated.

Here’s a copy of Chef Schneider’s bread pudding recipe (via):

White Chocolate Bread Pudding

8 Servings

Stale French bread, sliced 1/2-inch thick
3 cups whipping cream
2/3 cup milk
2/3 cup sugar
2 cups chopped white chocolate
2 large eggs
8 large egg yolks

1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Lightly spray the bottom of a 4-by-8-inch baking dish and place a layer of bread slices.

2. In a saucepan, scald the cream with the milk. Add the sugar and white chocolate. Remove from heat and stir until smooth.

3. In a large bowl, whisk the eggs with the yolks. Gradually whisk in the white chocolate mixture until blended. Pour half the mixture over the bread and let it stand until absorbed. Cover with another layer of bread and pour the remaining mixture on top, making sure each slice is thoroughly soaked.

4. Cover the dish with foil and bake for 45 to 60 minutes, or until the center of the pudding puffs up. Uncover and bake 5 more minutes. Let cool until set, about 15 minutes. Scoop the bread pudding into bowls with an ice cream scoop or serve in squares, topped with warm White-Chocolate Sauce.

White Chocolate Sauce

1 cup whipping cream
1 cup chopped white chocolate

Melt the white chocolate in a double boiler. Whisk in the whipping cream until smooth. Serve warm.

The Grapevine Cafe and Gallery

211 Railroad Avenue

Donaldsonville, Louisiana 70346

(225) 473-8463

(225) 473-8486

(interior photo courtesy of grapevinecafeandgallery.com)

Recipe: Mango Yellow Curry

Posted in Eat, Entrees, Photos, Recipe with tags , , , on 29 December, 2009 by la fille

I spent some time waiting tables at a Thai restaurant when I was an undergrad, and while I absolutely despise waiting tables, I did get some positive things out of the experience. Primarily among those things was an unmitigated and abiding love of Thai food. I’m on a quest to find good Thai food here in New Orleans (episodes recounted here and here), and have yet to find a place that satisfies, so I’ve taken to cooking a lot more of it than I used to (here, for example).

All Thai-style curries rock balls, but yellow curry is by far the yummiest. It’s sweeter than green and red due to inclusion of cinnamon and cardamom, which I think provides a perfect balance with the spice. Of course, one varies ingredients depending on the curry, and here’s a list of stuff that’s awesome in yellow curry:

Onion

Potato

Carrot

Chicken

Shrimp

Tofu

MANGO

Almonds

Yellow bell pepper

Cauliflower

Sweet potato

Last night, I made a big batch to take to work for my lunches this week, and I included potatoes, carrots, onion, and mango.

I make a lot of yellow curry, not just because it is my favorite, but because New Orleans is the first place I’ve ever been able to find yellow curry paste in a grocery store and I am so excited about it. They carry it at Hong Kong market on the Westbank, which, if you haven’t been, IS THE BEST PLACE EVER. This is the shit you want to get:

Mae Ploy makes a great curry paste–if you aren’t making it from scratch, go with that brand. They do most kinds: yellow, green, red, massamun, panang, etc.

Although the traditional Thai accompaniment is jasmine rice, last night I used brown rice instead and was very pleased with my decision. I will probably be doing that from now on.

Ok, ok, on to the recipe.

Yellow Curry

Serves 4

INGREDIENTS

2 c. brown rice

1/4 c. yellow curry paste

1 19oz. can of coconut milk (DO NOT USE “LIGHT” COCONUT MILK. IT IS DISGUSTING. GET FAT. IT’S WORTH IT.)

2-3 tbsp. fish sauce

1/3 c. sugar (Usually you’d use brown sugar, but I was out. You probably need less if you’re using brown sugar.)

1/2 c. water

Veggies, meat, fruit, cut into chunks or slices. For example, I used:

2 mangos

1/2 a large potato

1 medium sweet onion

2 medium carrots

Red pepper flakes or Sriracha if you want more spice

RECIPE

1. Cook rice according to instructions on bag. Brown rice takes longer to cook than jasmine rice, to plan accordingly. It usually works that you can start your rice cooking and by the time it’s ready, the curry will be also.

2. Combine curry paste and coconut milk in a wok or giant skillet on medium-high, and stir until the paste is blended in. Bring to a simmer, stir in sugar, fish sauce, and red pepper if you’re adding it. This would also be the time you add a protein if you’re using one, like chicken, and cook that.

3. Add ingredients based on time they take to cook. So in go the potatoes, carrots, and onions first. Simmer, stirring often, until they soften (15 minutes or so).

4. Toss in the mango and any other quick-cooking stuff and simmer for 5 more minutes. Serve over rice!

Also, go to Hong Kong Market!

925 Behrman Highway
Gretna, LA 70056-4569
(504) 394-7075

Grocery Stores as Cultural Microcosms

Posted in Eat, Imbibe, Photos, Words with tags , , , , , on 24 December, 2009 by la fille

Nothing gives one a sense of a new geographical area more than a visit to the grocery store. Okay, maybe that’s hyperbole, but you know what I mean. So much of a culture is wrapped up in its food that a trip to pick up some groceries tells you a lot about both the history and the present of a place.

Of course, we all know that New Orleans is a phenomenal example of this, but even in a place not so completely defined by its cuisine—like, oh, I don’t know, New Jersey—there are myriad regional differences.

First and foremost–bagels!

They just aren’t the same outside of the Northeast. One could argue that they aren’t the same outside of Manhattan, but my bagel standards aren’t quite THAT rigid. Shop-Rite had a whole WALL of bagels: plain, everything, sesame, garlic, blueberry, poppyseed, onion, raisin. Yum. Someone told me that climate has a huge effect on how one’s bagels turn out, and comparing NJ bagels with NOLA bagels I might believe it. Rusty’s bagels from The Bagel Factory are tasty, but they’re dense and too tough to enjoy unless you toast them. The Shop-Rite bagels in Jersey have attained the Golden Mean of pastries—nice and chewy, but fluffy on the inside, and delish toasted or no.

The seafood section’s another part of the store where you can get a real sense of place. Of course, nowadays everyone gets flash-frozen salmon, tilapia, and shrimp from halfway around the world, but there are still always fresh regional offerings. Naturally, there was not a crawfish to be found in Jersey, and the oyster selection was dwarfed by the choices of clams and mussels. (They don’t call it New England clam chowdah for nothin’.) I saw lots of little silver fish, too, like anchovy and smelt, and then there was this:

Fresh eel. Now I know you can find eel in NOLA, especially at the Asian markets, but I get the impression it’s probably a different kind—this seemed distinctly regional to me. Maybe I’m wrong, though.

As I turned away from the fish case, I noticed a bunch of prepackaged fish fillets that were just sitting on a table, not being refrigerated. “That’s weird and unsanitary,” I thought. Turns out it was salt cod, which I suspect is not only a regional thing, but a seasonal one as well. I figure it hearkens back to the days when you had to cure your meat to ensure you had enough to make it through the winter. Or, you know, to take on your whaling ship.

Regional differences tend to show up in the fresh parts of the store—bread, seafood, meat, veggies—but here’s one I found in the soda section:

Dr. Brown’s in a 2-liter? For $1.19?! Dan Stein, are you listening?

Beyond the food selection, and I never thought I’d say this, a trip to Shop-Rite in New Jersey is even more harrowing to a trip to Rouses on Carrollton. Although the patrons of Rouses are just as inconsiderate and oblivious to my existence as those at Shop-Rite, at least in New Orleans they’re slow about it. I have time to see that someone has no intention of moving to accommodate me and adjust my route accordingly. Everyone moves so quickly Up North that I don’t have time to get out of the way before being run over.

If you want to get a sense of a place, visit a grocery store.

New Jersey = bagels, clams, rock salt, fast-moving, no eye contact.

And no one asks about my mom and ‘dem.

Snow Cream

Posted in Eat, Sweets, Words on 23 December, 2009 by la fille

Since my weekend trip up to the Northeast has turned into a weeklong winter break due to a massive snowstorm, I figured I might as well take advantage of the situation and do something I hadn’t done in probably fifteen years—make a batch of snow cream.

I vividly remember one winter when I was still in elementary school that a blizzard hit my part of Tennessee and we were out of classes for over a week. I spent much of that vacation hanging out at my parents’ restaurant, entertaining myself as well as I could. Now, said restaurant was a fine-dining establishment that was only open for dinner, so during the day I had my run of the place as long as I stayed out from under the feet of the prep cooks. In addition to sledding down the hill out back on a giant baking sheet and reenacting epic battles between dinosaurs and My Little Ponies in the dining room, I made a lot of snow cream. Since I had a whole kitchen to work with, I experimented with ingredients from mint to orange juice who knows what, but the simplest recipe is ultimately the best as far as I’m concerned. The combination of snow, heavy cream or half and half, sugar, and vanilla yields a treat that will forever produce a sense memory for me of winters in Tennessee.

When I started writing this, it was with the mind of telling NOLA readers about something they don’t really have the opportunity to enjoy, being that the main ingredient is a bit difficult to procure, but I’m realizing that the closest thing I’ve ever had to snow cream that wasn’t made from actual snow from outside my door is the New Orleans sno-ball. The texture is very similar, with real snow cream being of an only slightly grainier consistency due to the inability for the sugar to dissolve completely in the cold mixture. That super-thinly shaved ice, though, is VERY close to real snow, and with some vanilla syrup and condensed milk you have a pretty darn close approximation of the real thing.

Granted, the experience of eating a dripping sno-ball in the middle of a sweltering summer afternoon is vastly different from the insanity of giving yourself brain freeze from a food when you could just as easily step outside the door and do the same thing. Sno-balls are for cooling off; snow cream is for eating while bundled up in a blanket standing over a heater, watching the sun glint off the icicles on the window frame.

Which, if you’ll excuse me, is exactly what I’m going to do right now.