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The Big Easy in Review: Eating Our Way Through New Orleans

Gentle Readers, there is nothing better than eating the food of the natives on home turf. In the words of TPCs Jr, why go somewhere to eat someplace you can find anywhere? We were in full research mode this past weekend, on my first post-Katrina trip to New Orleans. I found a city greatly changed but not broken.

Cafe au lait and beignets from Cafe Du Monde: iconic for a reason.

Cafe au lait and beignets from Cafe Du Monde: iconic for a reason.

And food culture marches on there. Having spent so much time in NYC and on the West Coast recently, it was refreshing to eat for less than a mortgage. I quickly renewed my relationship with cafe au lait, and may not recover from the discovery that there are Cafe Du Monde locations with drive-thrus.

I discovered that muffulettas make a great breakfast! The whole from Central Grocery.

I discovered that muffulettas make a great breakfast! The whole from Central Grocery.

Without further adieu, here are my top 5 reasons to eat in New Orleans:

1. Not everything will kill you. For me, life in the land of shellfish is a bit of a culinary minefield. Other people may fear the Fried. It’s not all made of butter here. Yes, there is large and deadly (looking at you crayfish) food to be found, but there is also sharing a muffuletta from Central Grocery or a plate of beignets at Cafe Du Monde, or gumbo and even tofu.

It is possible to eat healthy here: breakfast burrito with black beans and spinach from Canal Street Bistro.

It is possible to eat healthy here: breakfast burrito with black beans and spinach from Canal Street Bistro.

2. Beignets and Cafe Au Lait. It’s a classic, and that’s justified. I feel like there must be kickbacks in the confectioner’s sugar market, but if you can move past that excess, the concept of doughnuts and coffee is made of win. They come in orders of 3, just take it easy. They’ll make more.

There is so much natural beauty in Louisiana--try a swamp tour if you've never gone!

There is so much natural beauty in Louisiana–try a swamp tour if you’ve never gone!

3. Po-Boys. I had a couple of amazing catfish po-boys, and a very respectable roast beef one as well from a little dive called Russell’s Short Stop Po-Boys. This is working class food, and it speaks to my own cooking home base. To be fair, there was nary a vegetable in the place, unless you count the two pieces of lettuce on the sandwich, but it was filling and good.

The roast beef po-boy from Russell's Short Stop.

The roast beef po-boy from Russell’s Short Stop.

Catfish po-boy!

Catfish po-boy!

4. Innovation in the field of breakfast. Some of the most outstanding food I had was breakfast. I’ve eaten a lot of grits in my time, but the Geaux Grits I had at the Canal Street Bistro were noteworthy. Great atmosphere, generous portions, healthy options, biscuit on the side, what’s not to love. This was ordered by the Youngest Practical Cook, who is a big carb fan. She plowed through this like it was her job. Topped with cheese, bacon, and eggs, I say yes.

Geaux Grits! Yes, that's bacon.

Geaux Grits! Yes, that’s bacon.

5. Desserts. Perhaps I compensated for the fact that many of the protein options are genetically designed to kill me (shellfish, shellfish everywhere), but getting my calories from dessert. From king cake to a delightful white cake with chocolate frosting, to a peanut butter pie  from Russell’s Short Stop that I’m still dreaming about, dessert options were plentiful. We didn’t make it for a traditional snoball, but that’s for next time. We opted instead for the noveau gelato, perfect ending to a hot day.

Leftover wedding cakes FTW!

Leftover wedding cakes FTW!

Peanut Butter Pie and I shut my mouth.

Peanut Butter Pie and I shut my mouth.

In conclusion, there are endless places to try and infinite choices. There are options from healthy to not so much, but the fusion tradition marches on. Need to heat things up? There’s a hot sauce for every palate. This trip made me want to go back and eat more, always a good sign. New Orleans has changed, and it is still recovering, but there are a lot of bright spots on the horizon.

Home of Tabasco, hot sauce is a New Orleans staple. Try this at your own risk.

Home of Tabasco, hot sauce is a New Orleans staple. Try this at your own risk.

What’s your favorite Southern food? Post a comment below, or Tweet my way!

Amazing omelet from Katie's Place (as seen on Diner's Drive-ins and Dives).

Amazing omelet from Katie’s Place (as seen on Diner’s Drive-ins and Dives).

Send beignets, hot sauce, and good times to practical cook at gmail dot com. Connect on Facebook: The Practical Cook Blog. (Thanks in advance for spreading The Practical Cook Blog word. Press “like” on Facebook today! Also, follow the food pictures on Instagram @amylewi.)

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Coming up Sunday, Weekly Menus, NYC Style!

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Filed under Fried, Restaurant Reviews

Make a Meal from My Freezer: Reader Challenge!

Gentle Readers, is there anything better than a challenge? I think not. Long-time reader Blended Familia came to dinner the other night with this list in hand:

The Practical Cook Freezer Challenge: What Can I Make With This?

The Practical Cook Freezer Challenge: What Can I Make With This?

And a request. What can I make out of this? Delightful! First thing to note, there are warring camps here, as there always are. She is eating healthy and feeding an army of meat eaters. Not that meat isn’t healthy, but everyone runs differently. She needs a little, they want a lot.

BF is also looking to streamline the food budget, and meat, especially from the farmer’s market, is not cheap. How to blend these requests as seamlessly as her familia? Read on.

The Practical Cook Freezer Challenge: 5 Meals

1. Paella. This will use 1/2 a sausage and one package of chicken thighs and makes a lot. The onions and garlic are part of the recipe, combined with rice and tomatoes, you can make a lot. Great to make and freeze in portions if you’re cooking for something less than an army as well. Another bonus, this recipe lends itself well to the addition of hot sauce at the table. Add paprika and saffron in the process, but let people season to their level of fire.

2. Sausage and Greens. Bow to the meat eaters and make a bratwurst with whatever greens are in market at the time: kale, beet, mustard, etc. Simplify your life with a package of pierogie, stretch with applesauce, or make some mashed potatoes or hash browns. When I make this for The Practical Cook’s Junior, I eat double greens and let them have the extra sausage. Everyone’s happy.

Sausage, greens, and pierogie

Sausage, greens, and pierogie

3. Chorizo Burritos. The beauty of this one, you can use 1/2 package, or brown the whole thing and let everyone decide how much to add to their burrito. Stretch the meat with pinto beans, sweet potatoes, avocados, lettuce, rice, etc. I love chorizo for its intense flavor, and find a little bit goes a long way.

Hello beautiful sweet potatoes.

Hello beautiful sweet potatoes.

4. Gumbo. Another great way to use chicken thighs and sausage. Don’t fear okra, I beg you.I don’t want to hear about the slimy factor, not if you like Jell-O.  If you are unable to face it, add spinach or something else green here, even butterbeans, but do include tomatoes, onions, and rice.

Non-horsey Okra Pods

Non-horsey Okra Pods

5. Pasta Toss. For what I think is Italian sausage, this is ideal. You can cook it in slices separately with peppers and onions, and let people toss with red sauced pasta to taste. That way, you can go more veg if you choose. The big box Italian restaurants are doing this, take a page from their book. We do a lot of pasta bars, letting everyone choose their own taste adventure. Serve with a salad and call it a day.

The Joy of Self-Service: Pasta Bar

The Joy of Self-Service: Pasta Bar

Mission accomplished. These meals are set up to cook once but customize at the table. Meat can be featured in the quantities you prefer, and ingredients are used to stretch the whole thing.

What’s in your freezer? If you’d like to take the Freezer Challenge, post a comment below, send me an email, or tweet #freezerchallenge in my direction. I promise you, I can make a meal out of it.

Send your freezer-burned pictures, challenges, and bright ideas to practical cook at gmail dot com. Connect on Facebook: The Practical Cook Blog. (Thanks in advance for spreading The Practical Cook Blog word. Press “like” on Facebook today!)

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On Friday, Ham and Cheese Tea Sandwiches (a recipe).

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Filed under Can this supper be saved?, Punt!