Food

Food: Cooking it up in The Big Easy

IMG_5415I recently spent a week on my own in New Orleans. Greg was attending a conference there and I tagged along so I could see the city and we could enjoy evenings together. That left me with full days to explore whatever I wanted to see. Of course, there was a stroll through the Garden District and the obligatory sightseeing in the French Quarter. I wandered along the Mississippi River as it approached flood stage after massive rains upriver. And I decided to take a cooking class.

beignetsNew Orleans is known for certain foods. There’s the beignet, a little ball of deep-fried dough drowning in a generous pile of powdered sugar made famous by Café du Monde. Someone said I had to try a muffuletta, an Italian sandwich with meats, cheeses and a pickled olive and vegetable spread. I was told the best ones were at Central Grocery on Decatur Street near the French Market. muffalettaAnd of course, there is Cajun and creole cuisine. I had checked out my options on line before heading south to the Big Easy, but didn’t book anything. Then on Tuesday as I was strolling through the French Quarter I popped into Crescent City Cooks!. It’s a cooking school with a store front selling cute cooking accessories and New Orleans souvenirs.

I asked about the classes and availability for the next day. The lovely lady behind the counter informed me there was a class in the morning for $30. WOW! That was a lot less than the $150 I’d seen online. I was skeptical and asked what it involved.  As she described the class I realized it was a demonstration class instead of hands-on. I asked about the hands on class. Yes, there were openings and it cost $120.

Hmmm, still less than the on line price. I reserved a spot for the Wednesday afternoon class and set my sights on learning how to make gumbo, etouffee and bananas foster.  bananas foster

When class time rolled around, I learned the other five people worked together and were using the class as a team-building exercise. They would be split into a group of two and a group of three. I would be cooking on my own.

We got right to it, chopping and dicing onions, green peppers, red peppers, scallions, and garlic. The instructor walked us through making a roux – the essential building block of both the gumbo and the etouffee. I was having a blast as he walked over to check on all three pots. Mine seemed to be perfect, which I attributed almost entirely to beginner’s luck.

We made the gumbo first so it could simmer while we whipped up the etouffee.  Once that was done, we set our burners on low to allow the etouffee to simmer while we made the bananas foster – including setting it alight in the classic style. What fun!

Finally, we sat down to eat our dishes. I even had enough to take some back to the hotel to Greg. In fact, there was so much gumbo, I was able to give a container to our concierge who kindly told me the next morning that it was some of the best gumbo he’d ever had, adding he was from New Orleans and had been eating gumbo his whole life. I realize he was probably being nice, but it was the perfect thing to say and a crowning jewel in my New Orleans cooking experience.

Food is such an important part of any culture. When you’re traveling, taste the flavors of where you are. Try the local dishes. It’s not just about SEEING a new place; it’s about experiencing it, too. Remember, there’s a whole world out there just waiting to be explored … and sometimes that involves your taste buds.

The World A to Z

N is for Nürnberg

Christmas in Germany is magical, at least for me. The Germans are the best at Christmas markets and somehow walking around a market square sipping gluhwein and shopping for seasonal specialties feels very Christmas-y.with gluhwein

That’s why we decided to head to Nürnberg for the “N” trip. The Christmas market there is known around the world and the idea of spending a piece of the season in Bavaria evokes thoughts of snow and gingerbread and sounds of “O Tannenbaum” ringing in my head.red ornaments

Sure enough, the sights and sounds of the season did not disappoint us. Our boutique hotel just two blocks from the world-famous Kristkindl Markt was an easy train ride from Munich and a 10 minute taxi ride from the Bahnhof in Nürnberg.

cathedral

 

We arrived just in time to get checked in, change and refresh and head out to the market where the medieval atmosphere and architecture added to the festive spirit in the air.aisle markersThe main Christmas market is row upon row of classic German gifts and treats.

wooden ornamentsThere are ornately carved wooden ornaments.

gingerbread heartNürnberger gingerbread hearts hang from stalls and offer greetings.

Some of the stalls showed off unique items …like the Nürnberg angels …nurnberg angels

angela twist on the classic German angel Christmas tree topper.

window box

 

Window boxes, filled with brightly colored flowers much of the year, are filled with greenery and ornaments.

 

 

 

night market

Daytime in the market is festive enough, but when the sun sets, the lights go on and the entire market square is illuminated for the holidays.

 

 

reflected bridge

 

But Nürnberg is more than just the Christmas market. The city really is ancient.

 

 

medieval reflection

 

The river that runs through the town is crisscrossed by charming walking bridges reflected on the still,
gently flowing water and dotted with charming views that transport you back to ancient times.

grilling bratsWhen it’s time for a break … there’s nothing better than a German bratwurst … hot off the grill. brat and pretzel sandwichThat is unless you opt for another German delight … the pretzel sandwich (in my case stuffed with ham, cheese and German pickles.)

I rave a little about Germany. Living there as a teenager has always given me a bit of comfort about traveling throughout the country. I feel a bit at home there.  That’s a lot of what draws me there during the holidays, but it’s a beautiful country year round. If you get a chance, go and visit. Drink a beer. Eat a bratwurst. Sample the culture. Remember, there’s a whole world out there. Go see it.

Alexandria, Food

Food – The Pines of Florence in Alexandria

Greg and I realized recently that we don’t talk much about our town. Alexandria, Virginia, is an amazing place to live. There’s always something going on; it’s a short metro ride from Washington, DC; it’s incredibly walkable; it’s loaded with history; there’s fun, eclectic shopping; and best of all, there are restaurants EVERYWHERE.  So we’re making an effort to get to more of the restaurants that we usually just walk right past. We live here, we should put a little more effort into eating here … and at more than just one or two favorites.

We actually started a couple of weeks ago. Friday was new restaurant #2. (No, I’m not going to keep count – ha). After a relatively short day at work, we hopped off the metro at King Street and wandered down to The Pines of Florence. This restaurant has been around a long time, judging by the well-maintained, but obviously been-there-forever sign out front and the equally well-maintained-but-old decor inside. There’s nothing shiny or flashy about this place. You get good, clean, comfy, cozy atmosphere as you are surrounded by a staff that is not only friendly, but makes you feel like you’re among family the entire time. They are not related – we overheard a waitress tell the couple seated behind us, “no, he’s not my father” when asked if the gentleman who was obviously in charge was her dad – but you’d never know it.

Menus arrived with a delightful, not pushy, but charmingly suggestive recommendation that we take a peek at the specials on the back page. We asked if there was any one of the half dozen or more that he recommended. He suggested the chicken and mozzarella. We quickly sized up the wine list and ordered a bottle of Montepulciano D’Abruzzo (our fave), and he nodded approvingly and headed to the bar to get the bottle and give us time with the menu.

By the time he came back (oh so perfect timing), we had chosen an appetizer of mixed fried seafood. He poured the wine and popped off to the kitchen to put in our appy order. Leaving us alone with the wine and menus while he and the others tended to several other diners, we chatted about our day and relaxed. By the time the appy arrived we had decided to split the chicken and mozzarella special he had suggested. (Side note: we almost always split a single entree because we are fortunate to have the same food tastes and they are always too big to be called a “single serving”)

The “frito misto” (mixed fried seafood) was piping hot, perfectly cooked and downright scrumptious. The batter used to coat the mussels, calamari, shrimp and zucchini was light and airy with just the right amount of crunch. A dish of tomato sauce for dipping added a fun splash of flavor. It was a huge pile of seafood and we both agreed it was perfect for sharing.

Our water glasses stayed full as we nibbled and chatted, never feeling rushed or watched. A large group had come in while we were eating and was seated near the back of the restaurant, but we never heard them. The couple behind us were clearly regulars judging from the comments to the staff. Another duo nearby were work colleagues chatting about business but not loudly. We caught an occasional snippet of their conversation.

After a well-timed pause between courses, the chicken and mozzarella arrived. Our waitress put the bowl between us and offered a large spoon to let us divvy up the portions onto the two plates provided. We opted to share the bowl as the table for two was the perfect size to allow it. The ziti in the dish was perfect. There’s nothing worse than overcooked pasta in my mind and this had just the right amount of bite. The two-bite chunks of chicken were tender and juicy, the asparagus was blissfully slightly crunchy, the light coating of sun-dried tomatoes and olive oil added a beautifully sweet tang to the bites and the diced mozzarella (which we immediately stirred into the hot dish to get it melting and gooey) was just right.

If you’re looking for a great, family feeling, home style Italian meal, The Pines of Florence NAILS IT!

Diversion

Diversion – Perry’s in Paris

Editors Note: We’re baaaacccckkk! Judy and Greg have been in major wedding planning mode for several months and as a result, we’ve failed to post some blogs written MONTHS ago. So we’re playing catch-up. Join us as we journey back in time…to the summer of 2014…

August 30, 2014

We’re going to take a diversion from our traditional diversions to talk about a “diversion” that’s a regular place for us, Paris.

Tennessee.

And this diversion is spelled “BBQ.”  Let me explain.

Paris, Tennessee, is like a second home for us.  Here, Judy’s best friend and her mum live and it’s one of the most comfortable places we go. So comfortable, in fact, that we got engaged here and we’re having a wedding party here. So today’s adventure was to check out Perry’s BBQ, which we had heard had the best BBQ in town, and which we hoped would “cater” the party.

Located in Paris’ historic downtown a block from the courthouse (one of the wonderful things about old Midwest towns is that they ALL have a courthouse square), we almost missed it.  In fact, we drove right past it because I had the address wrong and it was on the side of the street opposite to where I was looking.  But we got our bearings and the big iron smokers on the corner in front of a red and white hut gave it away.

We ordered a rib platter (available only on Fridays and Saturdays) and a pulled pork sandwich with mild sauce.  There weren’t any tables, so we ate off the hood of the rental car.

All we can say is, “WOW.” Not just wow, but WOWEEEWOWOWOW! It is absolutely worth going way out of your way to Perry’s for their BBQ.  The rib meat fell off the bone. It was droolingly tender. The dry rub gave the meat perfect flavor and didn’t overpower. The pulled pork — equally delicious! We weren’t big fans of the mild sauce; next time, we’ll try the hot sauce.  But, just THINKING about those ribs is making my mouth water again!

You have to WANT to go to Paris.  It’s in the middle of nowhere…a good 45 minutes or so from any major Interstate (I-81 and I-24); a good two hours north and east of Nashville.  It’s mostly known for being the home of the World’s Biggest Fish Fry and its easy access to Kentucky Lake and the area known as the Land Between the Lakes.  But if you’re anywhere close, DON’T miss Perry’s if you appreciate BBQ.

Links:
Perry’s Facebook Page