Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Guess where I went?

An exciting entry filled with beinets and covered in mounds of powdered sugar is in the works. I just have to fix the light levels on the photos--the Cafe du Monde is a dark and atmospheric eating establishment.

Here's a spoiler: the beinets were tasty!
It's strange: the jambalaya at the New Orleans airport, though severely overpriced, was just as tasty as the jambalaya at Cafe Beinet. I couldn't believe it!

The airport jambalaya was actually a bit more flavorful than Cafe Beinet's. It was spicy and oily and so, so delicious. I didn't even need peanuts on my flight back.
I had an authentic--that is, huge--muffaletta sandwich at Cafe Beinet.

It was a dreary morning: it had been raining, and a fine mist still hung shimmering in the air. My friends and I wandered over to the restaurant for a quick bite. The restaurant was decorated with statues of New Orleans music legends; a sign boasted live jazz every night from 6 PM 'til close.

The muffaletta was too big to tackle alone; I had to share with a friend. We split the sandwich (making the meal quite affordable!) and both ordered Earl Grey tea. I poured in some skim cream and stirred in brown sugar. The steam was nice and warm against my cold hands.

As we sat down, it was hard not to notice the birds.

The birds started out beside the trash can. During the meal, they started to inch their way over. At one point, several birds were perch on the table beside us within reaching distance. Birds scurried around underfoot for crumbs, not caring that in a single movement we could squash them flat.

Of course, they jumped in the trash when we threw our food away!

Back to the sandwich.

When I bit into the muffaletta, I first noticed the strong taste of olives. The meat, tomatoes, lettuce--that all came after. It was a nice, hearty meal. I enjoyed the tactile sensation of sitting on a wet chair in a New Orleans café with this huge sandwich in my hands.

(I gotta say, the Earl Grey tea was the greatest idea ever. I walked around with it after the meal, and each hot sip warmed my body for the briefest of moments. It was lovely.)
Oh, how I wish I had better pictures of this meal!

We decided to eat at the Red Fish Grill on our first night at New Orleans. The atmosphere was crowded but cozy. The place was hoppin'--and, yet, they still managed to seat six people within ten minutes. It was definitely impressive.

In the booth, two servers came by to rattle off the specials. Well, let me amend that: the first server took our drink orders, while the second took our food orders. Both hinted at special menu items.

After a long bout of deliberation, I decided to order Redfish Bouillon, Southwest Salad, and Alligator Sausage. (A nice spread, don't you think?) I also had the opportunity to sample a ton of other dishes, including a seared tuna steak and some creamy chicken soup (with mushrooms, alas!).

The bouillon was surprisingly delicious. I'm not usually a fan of seafood, but I like mild fish. The redfish was perfect for me; it was light and flaky and lacked that annoying fishy taste I hate so much. The bouillon itself was thick and red. There was a definite tomato flavor; not only that, but I suspect some red peppers were thrown in for sweetness and color. Because of the bouillon's strong flavor, I couldn't easily pick out any distinctive "notes." As a gestalt, it was fabulous. It even had spice: by the end of the bowl, my nose was tingling.

The salad was fairly average, although there were jicama slices piled atop the lettuce. They were light and crunchy--quite nice! I think my problem with the salad was the sheer amount of dressing! The chef slathered the salad in it. While the vinegarette--house-made, sweet, and quite tasty--was good, I wish I could've enjoyed the crispness of the salad. By the time I finished my plate, the leaves were wilted with oil.

The alligator sausage was my adventurous dish. When I found out that I was coming to New Orleans, I knew that I had to try alligator. It was just one of those things.

The sausage was, surprisingly, anticlimactic. I was expecting some big, meaty difference between alligator sausage and ordinary pork (or even turkey!) sausage. But, honestly? It tasted the same. The alligator sausage had a slight smoky aftertaste, but that was it.

After I ate my meal, I poked around other people's plates. The tuna steak was a bit too rare for my liking--sushi anyone?--and the creamy soup was good despite the liberal sprinkling of button mushrooms throughout the bowl. All and all, I loved the Red Fish Grill. If price weren't an issue, I'd love to eat there again!

If you're willing to spend a bit, I'd recommend it wholeheartedly.
After arriving in New Orleans and settling down at the hotel, my group and I set out for a quick bite at a local eatery.

The appetizer, a spinach and artichoke andouille, was delicious. Although I shared it with a friend, I have to admit that I ate quite a bit of it. The chips were a bit stale, but they still packed a nice corn taste. The small meat chunks mixed throughout the dip imparted a slightly salty flavor. The overall texture was both chunky and creamy.

Before we knew it, the dip was gone.

I ordered red beans and rice for a little authentic New Orleans flavor. Unfortunately, they were completely bland! To salvage the meal, I tried dumping in tons of salt. It didn't really work. The ham added a salty flavor, but it was too sparse on the plate. I couldn't bring myself to slice of a bit of meat for every bite!

It was a bit of a bad run for New Orleans food during my first meal. Luckily, the winds of change were on my side: the food only got better.
To bring in the new semester, I snapped a shot of my first cafeteria meal.

It was a pretty decent menu. We had stuffed shells, carrots, potatoes, and an optional salad bar. Our school offers multiple lines, so there were a few more choices than that. What I ate, however, was the main spread.

The shells were a bit hard. I don't know if it's a matter of the pasta being overcooked or what, but the crunchy bits are a bit disconcerting. Luckily, the ricotta inside the shell was smooth and creamy, with a mild herb taste. The marinara sauce--made with sweet, sweet tomato--paired nicely with the creamy ricotta.

The carrots were nice and firm. They were cooked to perfection, slicing off cleanly at the bite. The potatoes were a great surprise. I couldn't believe it! Normally, the cafeteria cuts costs by serving up bland, warehouse-stock potatoes. This meal, they decided to spice things up with russet potatoes smothered in herbs. (Whew!)

Overall, the meal was pleasant. My cohorts--that is, the rest of the college people--were a bit put-off when I whipped out my camera, but hey! I have a food blog to update!

Coming up: posts on my trip to New Orleans. Oh, yes!
To celebrate the new semester, the suite traveled to a nearby Italian restaurant.

I wanted Olive Garden. I was craving their spicy Zuppa Tuscana. But the drive was too far, and I couldn't convince my roommate to drive us there. So we ended up at a little Italian eatery with a supposedly fabulous reputation.

The food was alright. It certainly wasn't worth the hype. Comparatively, the meal cost more than Olive Garden. I had to buy the soup and salad separately--and there were no refills. This would have been forgiven had the food been excellent. Unfortunately, the soup was bland and the salad was piled high with odd, bologna-like meat. Even the peppercinis were overly salty. To the restaurant's credit, their homemade dressing was nice and piquant.

All and all, it was a pretty ho-hum meal. The only plus side was the great company I kept. It was great seeing everyone again. We got to catch up on our Christmas adventures and talk about the year ahead. That was nice.

I wish this blog could be positive all the time, but sometimes a bad meal has to be called out.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Grocery stores can be great fun. You can find all sorts of weird foods if you poke around hard enough.

This cheap meat--probably a close relative to SPAM and Vienna Sausages--caught my attention with its blocky, graphic look. I tried to imagine what was inside the can. Visions of entrails filled my mind. (Not a pleasant image!)

Of course, that was nothing compared to the pork brains in milk gravy.

The tiny can had a disturbing nutritional label. Though the tin was no more than a few ounces, the brains' cholesterol levels were off the charts. I wondered: would you have a heart attack right after eating the brains? Would your arteries seize from the first bite?

This adorable cupcake made me feel a little better. I was amused by the hamburger decoration. I suppose this is the type of desert a meat-starved vegetarian would eat? ;) Jokes aside, it was well-decorated.

As for weird items, these tomatoes looked pretty ordinary. The only difference was the price: nearly six bucks a pound! I couldn't believe it! At least the padded protection makes sense--such grand tomatoes shouldn't be bruised.

When you have a camera and a bit of curiosity, it's easy to be amused in the grocery store.

Thursday, January 11, 2007


became this

and resulted in this:

The last photo, by the way, is a result of getting pepper oil all in my eye. The right side of my face was throbbing; I couldn't even open my eye. Even now, there are traces of residue under my fingernails. I try to bite my nails--yes, a bad habit--and there the pepper is, ready to kick me the face.

I like pepper pain, but only when it's from ingestion!

The soup, by the way, is tom kha kai. I tried to lower the heat for my mom, but it didn't work. The soup was sour and fiery--just as it's supposed to be. Unfortunately, my table guests were not impressed. Mom opted for canned salmon; Dad ate the soup, but commented that he "wouldn't eat it again." Both were encouraging but unhappy.

Sigh. Not all homecooked meals are sweetness and light, I suppose.

For the record, I didn't have a proper recipe for the soup. I kind of took a mean of all the ingredient lists and just chucked things in. After all was said and done, I thought it turned out OK. I get the leftovers.
There is a Korean-Mexican fusion restaurant that, oddly enough, is best known for its amazing ice cream. For just a little over two dollars, you can get three flavors of ice cream heaped into a big styrofoam bowl. Not only that, but you're allowed to get big, spoon-sized samples before you order.

Today, I ordered ginger, banana pudding, and peanut butter chocolate ice cream. My favorite flavor, bar none, is the ginger. It has little hairy ginger bits mixed into the ice cream itself. The flavor is strong--you can definitely taste the spiciness. Banana pudding was a new flavor. Much like the real thing, crumbled vanilla wafers were mixed into the batch. The crunchiness of the cookies and the smoothness of the banana made for a delicious combination. The peanut butter chocolate, though good, was far too strong. There were curls of peanut butter throughout the ice cream. While this tasted great at first, the peanut butter got to be overkill halfway through. To make matters worse, the chocolate was dark and clingy--you couldn't escape the overwhelming flavor.

At the very bottom, the ice cream blended together to form a chocolately, gingery banana ice cream with a hint of peanut butter. It was a great fusion. (The ginger and banana helped to balance out the sheer might of the chocolate.)

I never had a chance to upload my favorite blood orange photo.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

I love it when blood oranges are in season.

Like pomegranates, blood oranges are not only tart and tasty--they're gorgeous! Look at the red streaks running through the orange pump; see how the red seems to creep through the fruit, giving a measure of truth to the fruit's name.

Be still my heart!
I know, I know. I just cooked curry on Christmas Eve. But in my opinion, you can never have enough curry!

Besides, this was Thai curry, with creamy coconut milk, stalks of lemongrass, ginger, and chiles. I didn't have a proper recipe, so I used a basic recipe for spice measurements (read: how much turmeric, etc.) and then decided to wing it. I threw in a pinch of spice here, a healthy dose of salt there... To be honest, I don't know what all was in this curry.

But it was delicious! It had a fire--small, but present. It would have been hotter if I'd been able to dump in some red curry paste. I had a jar, but it had been in an unrefrigerated area for quite some time; in the concern of safety, I had to toss it. Too bad!

I also didn't have time to cook up any Basmati rice. Instead, I used the boil-a-bag kind. :) For shame, for shame! At least it tasted yummy--it soaked up the curry sauce beautifully. The green side in the picture is a German slaw. I soaked broccoli overnight in a German vinegar called Salata. Salata is amazing in that it transforms any veggie into a superb slaw. The sweetness of the vinegar actually paired quite well with the fire of the curry.

I have a feeling that I'm going to become quite adept at making curry.

The salad was tasty, yes, but I'm more amused that the salad matches the napkins.
Every New Year's, we celebrate by eating a particular meal for dinner. Informally, we dub it "health, wealth, and happiness." But in reality, it's simply Hoppin' John, green veggies, and ham. The cornbread was there for, uh, taste enhancement. ;)

I regret that my picture isn't as awesome as the meal itself.

This year, our green vegetable was broccoli. Though I usually vouch for collards as a New Year's dish, my dad cooked the broccoli so well, I'm positive that we're going to be wealthy in 2007! ;) It was smothered with (good!) cheese--heady and strong--and freshly ground pepper. I couldn't resist stacking up the stalks for a photo shoot.

The ham and Hoppin' John were delicious as well. The ham was plain, but juicy; the Hoppin' John was as good as it always is (I only eat it on New Year's day!). The best way to eat it all was mixed together: the flavors meld so well, and the textures are varied. Mm, New Year's.

For those who aren't aware, the New Year's food breakdown is as follows:

-HEALTH is Hoppin' John, for reasons unknown to me.
-WEALTH is the green vegetables, as both cash and collards are green. :)
-HAPPINESS is ham, which is generally associated with prosperity ("bringing home the bacon," anyone?). It also makes me think of fat, happy pigs.

Happy belated 2007, everyone!

Believe it or not, this is a Wal-Mart donut.

Shock! Horror!

Despite it's ignoble origins, however, this little doughy delight was absolutely delicious. The glaze was sugary--a perfect complement to the mild dough--and fat, blue patches of berry were scattered throughout the donut itself.

(Not only that, but it looked so pretty.)

Wal-Mart, I'm impressed!
For New Year's, the 'rents and I drove to a resort hotel on the beach. We only stayed one night--just enough for a little relaxation. The only positive thing about car trips is the crazy junk food. For some reason, I always lean towards crazy, unhealthy goodies when I'm on the road.

We stopped at a typical gas station to refuel. Inside, there was a huge display of snack foods--cakes with sugary, crumbly frosting; various pickled meats in vacuum-sealed plastic; bags upon bags chips with two parts air to every part deliciousness. I was about to get a bag of "Beach BBQ" chips--it seemed fitting--when my mom spotted the boiled peanuts.

Now, I like boiled peanuts. They make me think of flea markets and hot summer afternoons. However, I didn't intend to part with my chips. I got to the front of the line, my intent clear. I was ready to pay. That is, until I saw... the Cajun-style peanuts!

Heck yeah!

The peanuts' brine was filled with pepper flakes and pungent spices. Normally, I bite my nuts open with my teeth, sucking in the salty liquid inside the shell. But the Cajun nuts? I broke them open with my fingernails. The brine was fairly too salty to handle--although the spiciness added a certain excitement to the mix.

The nuts themselves were soft and lovely. They were also quite large--a pleasant surprise!

In the end, my nose was running; I was sniffling ever so slightly. That's my seal of approval for any spicy dish: if I can get a visceral reason from the food, then it's certainly worth the effort of eating.
Well, instead of posting in a normal and timely fashion, I've built up a veritable stockhold of photos. I've finally gotten around to uploading them onto Flickr; now I can post my entries! I almost want to cheat and backdate everything, but... nah. What would be the point in that?

Be prepared for some serious blogging, folks. I think you'll find many delicious things in store for you--even if the photography's not all crisp and pretty.