The Delta Grill, NYC

Eating at a New Orleans-style restaurant north of the Mason-Dixon Line is always a gamble. Plenty of cooks think they can make good Southern food, and when it's good, it's really good, but when it's bad, well, you know. How many times have we gambled and lost, suffering our way through runny red beans, pale gumbo, dried out cornbread, rubbery chicken-fried steak?

Lucky for us, our gamble on Saturday paid off. On a weekend getaway in New York City (yes, New York City), while driving into Times Square, we passed a corner joint that looked like something straight out of the French Quarter:
The Delta Grill. Pink and green on the outside, belt-driven ceiling fans and Mardi Gras flags on the inside, the atmosphere was comfortable and classic NOLA. A quick browse of the menu made our stomachs flip with pleasure - red beans, andouille sausage, crawfish pie, gumbo, jambalaya, etoufees, muffulettas, blackened fish, Abita beer, and more. All the Cajun and Creole specialities were there. They even knew how to make a Sazerac (C's latest cocktail craze). All the bases were covered. Now, let the games begin.

With so many things from which to choose, how could I possibly? I ordered a cup of the "chicken and smoked pork andouille gumbo," a slice of crawfish pie (photo above), and a side of red beans and rice, accompanied by a pint of Abita's Restoration Ale. Chris settled on a fried oyster po-boy (photo below), dressed, with a Sazerac. Each bite took us back to NOLA. It was spot-on in every way, perhaps even surpassing some meals we've had in the actual French Quarter! The gumbo was dark like chocolate, deep and rich, and full of tender morsels of chicken and smoky andouille. The red beans were creamy and flavorful, with just the right amount of heat and herbs. The real star, however, was the crawfish pie, a rare find indeed - peppers, onions, and lots of crawdads with plenty of seasoning. The oyster po-boy was humongous, served on crusty French bread with lettuce, tomato and just a hint of mayo, as it should be. The briny oysters were dredged in seasoned cornmeal flour and cooked to perfection. A few shakes of hot sauce and a side of sweet potato fries rounded out C's meal. Laissez le bon temps rouler!!!

To sum up, yes, we spent the weekend in New York City. But the day after our awesome Southern lunch, the Saints won the NFC Championship and are headed to their first Super Bowl (Who Dat!!). Mardi Gras is right around the corner, then perhaps, a trip to Jazz Fest is in order. We (heart) NY, but we're in a New Orleans state of mind.

Delta Grill on Urbanspoon


A Medley of Meringues

After making a semi-freddo for a brunch dessert, we were left with eight egg whites that we would not let go to waste. It was a bit rainy out and we were having fun in the kitchen, so I thought of my grandmother's recipe for meringue cookies. That recipe calls for three egg whites, so we broke another egg and proceeded to make "A Medley of Meringues." These crisp yet airily fluffy cookies are one of my favorites, and they are also fat-free!

The basic recipe is this:
3 egg whites, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 375 for 15 minutes only. Beat egg whites and sugar until stiff, glossy, peaks form. Fold in vanilla and chocolate chips. Drop by tablespoon onto a parchment-paper lined cookie sheet. Place in oven and keep oven on for only five minutes. Turn oven off and leave cookies in for 6-8 hours WITHOUT OPENING OVEN DOOR. Store in an airtight container.

But we had three times as many egg whites to work with. So we tripled the amount of sugar to match the amount of egg whites and beat it until it formed stiff, glossy peaks. But we had only 1/2 bag of chocolate chips. So we split the meringue-sugar mixture into thirds and made only one batch of the classic vanilla and chocolate chip meringues. These came out perfectly and grandma would have been proud.

With the remaining mixture, we experimented a bit with some ingredients we had around the house. Our second meringue in the medley, therefore, was almond. We substituted almond extract for the vanilla, left out the chocolate chips, and stuck a roasted, salted almond on top of each cookie in that batch. The taste was excellent, but the almonds sank, making holes on the top but leaving a surprise nut inside the cookie.

Finally, our third meringue was lavender. We ground some edible lavender buds to equal two tablespoons' worth and substituted that for the extract. Again we left out the chocolate chips, and we topped each cookie in that batch with a pinch of lavender. Unfortunately, because our oven is small, we put these toward the bottom of the oven, and the bottoms burned. However, the tops tasted great and the cookies smelled fantastic.

What did we learn from our endeavor? That my grandmother's basic meringue recipe leaves a lot of room for creativity and experimentation, which is awesome, because if it's one thing we love, it's experimenting in the kitchen (obviously!). But also that meringues need to be done in small batches and shouldn't be crowded into the oven. So next time we have that many egg whites, we'll put a few in the freezer to save for another rainy day.


Champagne Brunch (with recipe for Muffin-tin Potato Gratin)

When one of our (many) nieces turned 21, she exclaimed how much she loves champagne, while holding up a bottle of Asti Spumante. It was then that we, politely but firmly, explained in our best teacher voices, that Asti is not champagne by any stretch, and invited her and her boyfriend to our house at some point for champagne brunch. It took a year, but last week, the four of us had brunch, accompanied by an educational tasting of champagne ("real" champagne, from the champagne region of France) vs. cava (Spanish sparkling wine) vs. prosecco (Italian sparkling wine). (Asti was not invited).

We started prepping the night before by making dessert (photo above),
Anne Burrell's lemon semi-freddo, minus the fruit salad (as we had planned a fruit salad to go with brunch already). The recipe was a bit labor-intensive and time-consuming, but the result was worth the effort. Smooth, tart, and creamy, this half-frozen custard-and-cream concoction ended up being the perfectly light ending to our meal. (Bonus #1 - even after serving up four generous slices, we had some leftover for the following night!) (Bonus #2 - we had all those egg whites leftover so we whipped up some meringue cookies with those - post and recipe forthcoming.)

With our guests arriving at noon, we spent the morning cleaning up and getting our
mise en place together so we wouldn't be stuck in the kitchen all day. We split the bagels and put them in a basket, and we mixed up a fruit salad of cantaloupe, green grapes, sliced strawberries and star fruit (photo above). We cooked the slab bacon and sweet Italian sausage and put those in the oven on low to stay warm. We made individual potato gratins (in a muffin tin) and allowed those to cool a bit. Then we got our ingredients together for the frittata. By the time they arrived, the table was set, the wines were chilled and all we had to do was cook the frittata - everything else was set to go.

Everything was delicious, especially accompanied by the "flight" of sparkling wines. The frittata was nice and fluffy, filled with fresh, light ingredients of chopped basil, shredded Italian cheeses, and halved grape tomatoes. The sausages were plump and moist, and the bacon was thick and crisp. But everyone's favorite item was the wonderfully rich individual-sized potato gratin (photo above, recipe below); we ate them all. The potatoes were bathed in cream and layered with Gruyere cheese which melted between the layers and oozed out to crisp up the sides and the top. Scrumptiously classic. Here's our recipe:

2 large russet potatoes, peeled and sliced thinly on a mandoline
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons white pepper
6 ounces grated gruyere cheese
1 3/4 cups heavy cream
2 ounces grated parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease the cups of a 12-muffin muffin tin. Layer each cup with slices of potato topped with salt, pepper and cheese. Continue to layer in this way until each muffin cup is full. Add two tablespoons of cream to each cup. Cover loosely with aluminum foil and bake for 20 minutes. Remove the foil and top each stack with the parmesan cheese, dividing evenly. Return to the oven and bake for an additional 20 minutes. Allow to cool before removing from pan.

And by the way, their favorite "sparkler" happened to be our favorite, the real champagne, Veuve Clicquot. Lesson learned.


Foodie Book Friday: Food Rules

Michael Pollan, the author of the food-centric titles In Defense of Food, and The Omnivore's Dilemma, has written a new book, Food Rules: An Eater's Manual. His conversational tone, concise writing, cleverness, and reliance on traditional wisdom and common sense make this an invaluable book, one that every American should read.

After a few pages of explanation by way of introduction, the book is split into three parts: 1) What should I eat? (Eat food), 2) What kind of food should I eat? (Mostly plants), and 3) How should I eat? (Not too much). Each section contains the "rules," for a total of sixty-four, that Pollan defines as "personal policies" meant to guide the modern eater toward making better decisions about food. There is one rule per page, making the book easy to read as well as easy to follow as a day-to-day guide.

It took about an hour to read the book, and after I put it down, I thought to myself, "This should be mandatory reading for every person in America." While he starts the book by saying, "Eating in our time has gotten complicated," Pollan says it comes down to only seven words: "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." It is on these words, and the food traditions of a variety of cultures throughout the ages, that Pollan says we should base our diets. By following even some of the rules, we will start to move beyond the bad-for-us Western diet of heavily processed foods (called "edible foodlike substances" in the book), and move toward a healthier, more traditional diet of foods our great-grandmothers would be able to recognize. In fact, Pollan dedicates the book to his mother, "who always knew butter was better for you than margarine."

This is not a complicated diet based on carb-to-fat ratios or glycemic indices, but rather a compendium of useful, sensible, realistic rules for better, more informed eating. And there is nothing bad about that.


Roasted Barley Tea

Back in June, during our trip to LA/Pasadena, we visited an amazing little tea shop called Bird Pick Tea and Herb. We are both big tea drinkers and love to browse tea shops for unique tea blends, teaware, snacks, or even just a bit of tea-education. This particularly shop was special - it had a little bit of all of the above, with a vast selection of herbs thrown in, and it was just the kind of place we would love to own (in our other, tea-shop-owning life, that is).

One tea carried by Bird Pick was new to us, and we were able to try it then and there as samples of it, iced, were being offered by the friendly and knowledgable shop associates. It was roasted barley tea, or
mugicha. It was wonderful iced (very refreshing), and, among many other things, we purchased a small tin of it to take home. We browsed, then shopped, then lingered over a pot of brew, and we are still enjoying the fruits, (or should we say, leaves) of our visit.

In fact, we finally tried the mugicha hot for the first time last week, while the financial advisor was on his way over (always a bit stressful, but particularly so these days). The barely-there color, toasted nut flavor and velvety feel on the tongue were unique and wonderful. We were told that mugicha is supposed to have stress-relieving properties, and we both admitted to feeling calmer after drinking it. Overall, we loved it and we'll certainly be buying more of it. Try it yourself by visiting Bird Pick online and dropping a tin in your shopping basket. When it comes, open it, steep it, sip it, enjoy it and rel-ahhh-x.


Simple Shrimp Pasta

Sometimes we shop for something specific, perhaps we have a certain recipe in mind, or we want to satisfy a craving. Sometimes we browse through the grocery store and let the food whisper to us, inspire us, much like we do at the farmers market. On this particular day, it was less inspiration than economization - one-pound bags of frozen jumbo shrimp were two-for-one, and at $14, that's a deal.

Shrimp in basket, we wandered back to produce. Coming off the holiday eating season, we thought we'd do something light, and ended up grabbing a small potted basil plant, a head of garlic and a pint of grape tomatoes. Those ingredients, with a few others we had at home, and we were set to enjoy a simple shrimp pasta. The fresh basil picked up the flavor in the basil olive oil and gave the dish a nice herby freshness that contrasted well with the spicy heat of the red pepper flakes and the tang of the garlic. This was a quick and easy, light and tasty weeknight dish. Best of all, we have another bag of shrimp in the freezer waiting for another new recipe.


1 pound jumbo or large shrimp, peeled
2 cloves garlic, sliced thinly
8-10 basil leaves, chiffonade
1/2 pint grape tomatoes (or more to taste)
2 teaspoons lemon juice
4 tablespoons basil olive oil (regular olive oil would work fine)
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
salt to taste
1/2 pound angel hair pasta

Mix the garlic, basil, tomatoes, lemon juice and olive oil in a bowl and allow the flavors to marry for at least 15 minutes. Boil water for the pasta and prepare it according to the package directions. Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Put the tomato-basil-oil mixture in the skillet and add the shrimp to the skillet. Cook, tossing or stirring often, until the shrimp turn pink and the tails start to close in, about 4-5 minutes. Drain the pasta. Put the pasta in the skillet with the shrimp and toss well. Serve with basil garnish.


A Tuscan Feast Featuring Porchetta

Although we had seen our respective parents on Christmas Eve (mine) and Christmas Day (his), we like to invite them over for some alone time, albeit together, now and then. That is to say, Chris and I consider ourselves lucky in the in-law department. We both get along with, dare I say even love, each other's parents, and they in turn, get along with, even love, each other. Which is a rare blessing, in our opinion, one for which we are grateful (and no, we're not just saying this because they are readers).

To show our gratitude in our own special way (the kitchen!), we invite our parents over a few times a year to share a good meal. Last week, the meal was a Tuscan Feast, an inspiring choice since we're in the beginning stages of planning a family trip to Italy. For hors d'oeuvres, we put out crackers with cheese and
chianti-infused salami (available at Trader Joe's). The first course was a bowl of our Tuscan White Bean Soup (blog post and recipe here).
After Chris took a quick trip to the E.R. to take care of a minor immersion-blender accident (be careful with those things!), we moved on to the main event, the "superstar" of the dinner, porchetta. It was our first porchetta, and we followed Anne Burrell's recipe, with a slightly adapted list of ingredients (below), to make porchetta with roasted root vegetables. We butterflied the pork, made a garlic-herb paste to rub into the meat, and rolled it up to roast over the vegetables.
All agreed that the porchetta was incredible - crispy brown skin covering tender meat that was seasoned really well with powerful flavors. My father, notoriously anti-veggie, dove in for seconds of the roasted vegetables. His father, a old-school Irishman, devoured the (Italian-style) roast pork, and (so we're told) was still talking about it for days afterwards. Guess it was a success!

Italian cookies and espresso finished off a meal that was a memorable one, not only for the food, or for what's sure to become a scar on Chris's left hand, but mostly, for the wonderful company.

Our List of Ingredients:

(The Pork)
1 "picnic" shoulder of pork, boneless
1 bunch fresh rosemary, finely chopped (about 3 tablespoons worth)
1 bunch fresh sage, finely chopped (about 4 tablespoons worth)
10 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon crushed red pepper flakes
olive oil

(The Vegetables)
1 Vidalia onion
10 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
2 pounds fingerling potatoes, skin left on but cut lengthwise
1 bulb fennel, cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 celery root, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice
2 carrots, peeled, cut into 1/2-inch dice
2 ribs celery, cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 bottle dry white wine
salt and black pepper to taste
1 bundle fresh thyme
10 bay leaves
2 quarts chicken stock


Rosemary-Infused-Milk-Braised Pork Chops

Three center cut pork chops sat on the counter. They weren't as thick as we would have liked, so cooking them right was essential. Discussion ensued: "What would be the best cooking method to ensure tenderness?" "How about braising?" "But it's already 6:15 and I'm so hungry!" "But a quick braise in the right liquid would work." "What's the right liquid?" "Isn't pork sort of like veal? And veal is tender because they feed the calves milk? How about milk?"

And there you have it. The conversation that was the basis for our newest concoction, Rosemary-Infused-Milk-Braised Pork Chops. We seasoned and browned the chops, then braised them in (fat-free) milk with a sprig of rosemary thrown in. Surprisingly tender pork chops with a hint of herby flavor was the achieved result. A side of steamed green beans and we had a pretty easy, quick, delicious dinner.


3-4 center cut pork chops
2 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 teaspoon butter
1 1/2 cups milk
1 sprig rosemary

In a shallow bowl, season the flour with salt and pepper. Coat the pork chops in the seasoned flour and set aside on a separate plate. Whisk the milk into the remaining flour and set aside. Heat the olive oil and butter in a large skillet and brown the pork chops over medium heat, about three minutes each side, then take them out and set them aside. Set heat to low and allow the skillet to cool before adding the milk/flour mixture to the skillet. Stir well then return the chops to the skillet. Cover and cook over low heat for twenty minutes. Turn the chops and cook for another twenty minutes, covered. Remove the cover and cook for an additional ten minutes so that the liquid will reduce slightly. Remove the rosemary sprig and serve the pork chops with your favorite vegetable or starch.


Happy New Year!

Clearly preparing for the holidays got the best of us and we used our week off to be "off," that is, we relaxed, played video games, did some post-holiday shopping and spent time with family and friends. We cooked quite a bit, but we didn't get on to the computer for work or play, which is why we're a bit late in wishing everyone a Happy New Year. We have notes and photos of some of our recent culinary adventures and will continue to share throughout 2010. May it be a blessed one for all of us.