Cocktail Hour: ‘Bowmore Sails Around the World’

Bowmore Sails Around the WorldThe inspiration for this cocktail stems from a lack of gin.  However, the cocktail that resulted from the limited repertoire of ingredients I had on hand turned out to be quite delicious, so I decided to share it with all of you (whoever you might be):

 

 

Recipe (for 2 cocktails):

3 oz Bowmore Scotch (this is a very peaty, smokey single malt, from the Islay region)

1.5 oz Jack Honey

1 oz Rooibos-Pomegranite syrup ( I used President’s Choice Rooibos-Pomegranite jelly, mixed with a little bit of water, and heated- however, another type of sweeter would do…maybe maple syrup or a citrus syrup)

a few wild strawberries (I had them lying around and used them to add some acidity to the drink, but other flavourful berries, or a bit of citrus juice, should work well)

Combine all ingredients in a shaker.  Muddle the strawberries a bit, to release their juice.  Add ice to the shaker.  Shake it up!  Strain into a martini glass.  Garnish with a strawberry, or a twist of whichever citrus fruit you’re using.

Enjoy!

Tea Time: Tea Sparrow Teas

I like the Tea Sparrow concept: premium loose-leaf teas, carefully selected from various sources, are shipped to your door each month, allowing you to taste varieties that you would perhaps otherwise never sample.  Since Tea Sparrow does not sell the tea, they can independently select those teas which they deem truly special, thus garnering exposure for small producers or blenders, whilst sharing the teas they love with subscribers.  The price per subscription, ($20 per month) may seem a bit steep at first…however, these are premium teas, and the quantity of tea in each packet shipped is enough to allow several cups to be brewed (at least 5 cups, I’d say).  Since you will be getting four different sorts of tea, that adds up to at least twenty cups, which is $1 per cup.  I’d recommend that, if you would like to reduce costs and share your experience, you split your subscription with a like-minded pal.

If you’d like to order one of these teas directly from the supplier, simply click on the tea leaves.

My First Eight Tea Sparrow Selections:

Milk Oolong:

Milky Oolong Although this was definitely an oolong, and smelled deliciously sweet, it was curiously listed as a green tea, and, on top of all of this, was not a Milky Oolong (though I think that it was striving for that), as it was made by steaming the tea leaves with milk.  This was most evident in the mouthfeel of the tea, which was not creamy, as is true milky oolong. It is described on Tea Sparrow as a Formosa Oolong…however, Formosa is a general name for tea from Taiwan, and thus, is not particularly descriptive. Its usage stems from the historical Portuguese name for Taiwan, Ilha Formosa or “Beautiful Island”. This tea is available through Aromatica, a BC-based shop which, a bit curiously, sells fine teas and soap. ‘What is the relationship between soap and tea?’, you might ask. Well, they use green tea to make their soap since it is good for the skin. To Aromatica’s credit, they do specify that the tea is “not classic Milk Oolong”.

Lemon Zest:

Though I did not find this tea to be especiaLemon-Zestlly lemony, I did appreciate the particularly fragrant flavour supplied, I believe, by the honeybush it contains…it reminded me of a tea that I’d tried previously.  I’m not sure if I’d like to order this tea, or just look for some honeybush leaves, or be on the lookout for other teas containing honeybush. Lemon Zest is available through Joy’s Teaspoon, a Chicago-based company which sells both teas and spices. Their website emphasizes their commitment to the environment, and they do offer some organic and/or fair-trade products.

Cali Persian Organic:

Cali-Persian-Rose-Organic A spiced black and green tea blend. The description of this tea given on Tea Sparrow was copied directly from the seller’s website, which I think is a bit sloppy. Anyhow, on to the tea… The spices are very strong- perhaps too much so!  The cardamom is especially potent.  Other ingredients include rose petals, orange peel, bergamot oil, rose flavour, and jasmine flowers. I think that, since I have access to all of the ingredients, I’d prefer to blend a similar tea myself, so that I could adjust the ingredients to fit my taste. This tea is available through Samovar, a tea lounge in San Francisco. Though visually impressed by their website, I don’t think that I’ll be ordering any tea from them, as prices are a little steep. It is also unfortunate that they don’t sell their teas in smaller quantities.

Blueberry Rooibos:

I do like rooibos, but I’ve never really been Blueberry-Rooibos1a rooibos lover- this blend, however, was really nice and fruity, and was a beautiful colour as well.  It has made me reconsider my opinion of rooibos a bit, and has also made me consider getting my hands on this blend…if the shipping is not exorbitant, that is. In addition to rooibos, it contains blueberries (surprise!), schizandra berries, hibiscus, and natural blueberry and strawberry flavours. I don’t remember ever hearing about schizandra (aka ‘five flavour’) berries before, but they seem to be rather interesting fruits. Not only do they contain the five basic flavours (salty, sweet, sour, pungent, and bitter), hence their name, but they can also apparently ‘reduce hunger, thirst and exhaustion’. The basis of the next energy drink craze, perhaps? In any case, Blueberry Rooibos is available through Rishi Tea, a Milwaukee-based outfit. They specialize in fair-trade and organic teas, and seem reasonably priced.

Champagne White tea :

White-Tea-Champaign-Tea This is classified as a green tea…I’m not sure why tea sparrow seems to make such mistakes so often? I guess they got the champagne moniker from the use of currants?  Otherwise I don’t see many similarities between this tea and champagne.   That said, I’ve never been a white tea fan, but this tea is very nice.  It’s quite fruity without being overly acidic, and thus is very drinkable. Besides white tea, it contains black and white currants, lemon balm, lemongrass, cornflower, and sunflower petals.   It’s available through Tea Desire, yet another BC-based company.

Buddah Bamboo:

I’m not sure whether the bamboo Buddha-Bamboo-Tealeaves add much (or anything) to the flavour of this tea, which I find to be dominated by the lemongrass, with perhaps some fruity notes (though I think that, in a blind taste test, I would be hard-pressed to pick those out).  The tea sparrow description of currant-strawberry-vanilla definitely does not ring true for me. This tea is also available through Tea Desire.

Coconut Milky Oolong:

Coconut Milky Oolong Tea The coconut doesn’t add much to the equation, here, but what’s evident is that this is a true milky oolong, complete with the requisite creamy flavour.  If you are a coconut fan, I would recommend perhaps mixing the tea with some coconut milk, as the coconut flavour is almost undetectable. This tea is available through The Tea Spot, a Colorado-based company which sells tea as well as some interesting ‘steepware’ products.

Thé des Lords: 

A very bergamot-y Earl Grey.  The The-des-Lords-Teasafflower petals seem there just to add a bit of colour. This tea is sold by Le Palais des Thés, a Parisian tea company.  On their website they emphasize the importance of their relationship with their suppliers, as well as their ethically minded tea purchasing policy.

Well, that’s it for Tea Time today.  Until next time…

Cocktail Hour: Ungava Gin

Ungava Martini
Ungava Martini

The first time I saw this gin at the SAQ, I was immediately attracted to it.  ‘A gin made with indigenous Quebec herbs?  How cool is that?’, I thought.  The only thing that would make it cooler would be an organic designation (locally grown corn is used to make the spirit the gin is made with , so GMOs are a concern).  Obviously, being a martini addict, I decided to buy and try it.

Aside from the striking yellow colour of this gin, there isn’t too much to distinguish it from other gins, as it pretty much toes the line, taste-wise.  I am by no means a professional gin-taster, but I would be hard pressed to pick out the differences in flavour the indigenous herbs produce in the final product.  It is very drinkable, and is definitely smoother (and better) than say, Beefeater, while remaining more coarsé than something like Tanqueray (my usual, everyday gin).

The professionals like it, perhaps, a little more than I do, as it won a ‘Best of Show’ award at the World Spirits Competition in March of this year.

It makes a nice martini, and it’s certainly local, but I think that it may represent a bit of a lost opportunity in that the producers had the chance to create something that was even more distinctive, such as Hendrick’s Gin, but instead chose to mimic a traditional gin flavour with non-traditional ingredients.  Nevertheless, I applaud their initiative, and will continue to support it by buying their product.

Ungava Gin Herbs

The herbs used to flavour Ungava Gin are wild rose hips, arctic blend, cloudberry, labrador tea, crowberry, and nordic juniper (without which, of course, it could not be classified gin).  All of these ingredients are gathered in Ungava, Nunavik (Quebec’s arctic region, and the home of the Inuit).

So, more about the botanicals.  Rose hips don’t need much of a description, I’d imagine; they are the fruit of the rose, contain a significant amount of vitamin C, and have a rather tart flavour (as you’ll know if you’ve ever had rosehip tea).  Arctic blend, labrador tea, and crowberry are all members of the Ericaceae  or heather family.  All three are also evergreen plants.  Arctic blend and labrador tea are close cousins, while crowberry is so named for its blue berries.  Cloudberries (which are amber in colour, but otherwise look a bit like raspberries) are what give the gin its colour.  Finally, ‘nordic juniper’ is used to give the gin (from the dutch word for juniper, ‘genever’) its distinctive flavour.  I was unable to find any information on this specific variety of juniper, and it wasn’t among the varieties listed on Wikipedia, but according to the Ungava gin website, it is ‘found growing in sandy areas along the coast of Ungava and in dry rocky soil’.

Ungava Gin (English)

Ungava Gin (French)

 

 

The Producers

Ungava gin is made by the same people who produce Pinnacle ice cider.  Interestingly, they have decided to market the product differently in french, putting an emphasis on ‘indigenous Quebec herbs'(French labelling), as opposed to ‘botanicals from the Canadian North’ (English labelling).  While I understand the reason they would choose to emphasize Quebec as opposed to Canada when marketing their product here, I do not necessarily understand the need to completely eradicate any mention of Quebec from both the English label as well as all  promotional background information available on the English version of their website.  Does the rest of Canada (and the world) really hate us that much?  Yet another reason to drink, I suppose…

Anyway, ’til next time…

How to Grow a Kombucha Scoby- From Store Bought Kombucha

Why Grow a Kombucha Scoby?

I do enjoy the occasional kombucha…but at about $4.00 a pop, they’re not exactly cheap.  Combine a financial incentive like that with the fact that I like to do things myself, and you can see why I’ve wanted to try my hand at making kombucha for a while.  I only needed to decide was how to go about it-  should I purchase a

Raw materials
Raw materials

kombucha SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast), or should I try to grow one from a bottle of store-bought kombucha?

 

I recently did a search on where to buy real kefir grains- after having come to the realization that the kefir starter from the healthfood store did not, in fact contain them- and came across the website of a woman who calls herself ‘the kefir lady’. This woman sells both kefir grains and kombucha scobies. I’m considering buying kefir grains from her, even though her preferred means of accepting payment is rather bizarre. In any case, if I were to order grains it would make sense to order a scoby at the same time- but if I were to succeed in growing my own, that would, naturally, be unnecessary.

Selecting Your Kombucha

Baby Scoby
Floating in the Bottle

The first thing I did was pick up a bottle of kombucha, which I made certain contained a little baby scoby (about the size of a dime).  A quick google search enabled me to find some instructions on growing it, on a blog called Paprika. I also, however, came across another post on a blog called Food Renegade, which stated that growing a scoby from a store-bought bottle of kombucha was no longer possible, due to the way commercial brands of kombucha in the US had been reformulated in 2010.

Luckily, I don’t live in the US, nor have I seen any brands of kombucha from the US for sale here, in Montreal. So, I decided to go ahead with my experiment.

Step 1: Make a Batch of Sweet Tea

The process is fairly simple.  One must simply make a sweetened tea (using 1 cup of water, 2 TBSPs of sugar, and 1 TBSP of black tea), allow it to cool, then add about half the bottle of kombucha (making sure to include the baby!).  This should be stored in a glass jar, and covered with cheesecloth, some other type of mesh, or a kitchen towel, to keep out flies.  Cover the jar with another kitchen towel

Making Sweet Tea
Making Sweet Tea

to keep the baby warm, and protect it from the light. Within a few days, you should be able to see some growth. After about two weeks, your scoby will likely have extended itself to the edges of the jar, and will be growing thicker.

 

Step 2: Feed Your Scoby

Day 1
Day 1
Baby Scoby
Day 5
After 2 weeks
After 2 weeks
Scoby After 7 Days
Scoby After 7 Days

At this point, the scoby has likely used all (or most) of the food you have provided it with.  It’s time to make a new, larger batch of sweetened tea for it.  Use 4 cups of water, 1/3 cup sugar, and 2 TBSP black tea, again waiting for the mixture to cool to room temperature before immersing the scoby in it. Store it the same way as before, in a bigger jar, if necessary.

Scoby in new home
Scoby in new home
After 3 Weeks
After 3 Weeks

 

 

One Week Later…

After about a week, the scoby had grown quite thick, and I decided to try brewing my first batch of Kombucha.  The process is very much the same, though the sugar/water/tea proportions are a bit different.  I followed the recipe given in Sandor Ellix Katz’s book Wild Fermentation (p.123), which calls for 1/4 cup sugar, 1 TBSP black tea, and 1/2 a cup of kombucha liquid (the scoby-growing liquid, or some liquid from your last batch of kombucha) per liter of water.  I was quite pleased with the result, which was ready in a little under a week (to determine whether it’s ready, just taste it).  I decided to try using 1/2 jasmine tea, and 1/2 black tea for the next batch (one can use only green tea, but according to the Cultures for Health website, which is a great source of kombucha info, it isn’t the best thing for the scoby), and that was quite nice as well.  The jasmine gave it some interesting floral notes.

Jasmine Kombucha
Jasmine Kombucha

The brewing process is quite painless, and it’s easy to simply strain the finished product into bottles, and start a new batch.  I look forward to experimenting with different flavours…but first I’ll have to do a bit more research on what I should and shouldn’t use (for example, it is possible to use Earl Grey tea to make Kombucha, but using it often is not recommended due to the bergamot oil it is flavoured with).

Well, ’til next time, happy fermenting!

Please note: I have discovered a source for Kefir grains in Montreal!  See this post for details.

Also note:  If you’d like to skip growing your own scoby, and get right to brewing, I may be able help you out (if you’re in the area) by providing you 

Jasmine Kombucha
Jasmine Kombucha

 with a nice, thick scoby.  I also have some worms for vermicomposting, if that’s your thing.  Donations will be accepted.

Update 19/04/2016: I have returned to Montreal recently after having been away for a year, and have not yet grown a new scoby. I still have vermicomposting worms, though.

Foraging Fun: Violets, Winter Cress, and Dandelions

Wild VioletIt’s hard to believe that it’s June already…especially since up in Saint-Adolphe-D’Howard, in the Laurentians, there was still snow on the ground until just a few weeks ago!  Spring/summer it is, however, and the land is green, and alive.  My boyfriend and I finally made it out into the woods and fields, and walked around to see whether we could discover any wild edibles to take home with us.

We looked for mushrooms, but didn’t see many; I guess it’s either too early, or too dry for them.  I saw a lot of strawberry plants in bloom, so I guess that in a couple of weeks, there will be strawberries everywhere!

Wild Violets

Finally, on a hill where I once found some wild irises growing, I found some wild violets.  IWild Violets had grown pansies in my garden before, so I found them fairly easy to identify (they are in the same family).  The flowers have a distinctive striping on one or more of their lower petals.  Apparently, these veins are meant to guide bees to their nectar.  The species is, I believe, the viola adunca, commonly called the ‘early blue’, or ‘hookedspur’ violet.  The leaves and flowers may be added to salads, and the flowers can also be candied.

Winter Cress

Winter CressFurther down, at the base of the hill near some water, I discovered some winter cress.  There are, according to Wikipedia, twenty-two different species of winter cress, and I’m not sure which one in particular this one was.  It was, however, also fairly easy to identify, as the leaves which were further down, near the base of the plant, looked exactly like watercress leaves.  As with every plant (or mushroom) I find in the wild that I have the intention of consuming, I did, of course, make sure to look it up in a field guide (in this case, Edible Wild Plants Eastern/Central North America by Lee Allen Peterson) in order to determine if, firstly, it was/could be highly poisonous, and secondly, whether I have reason to believe that I have correctly identified the type of plant.  It is, of course, better to be safe, than be sorry.  After looking it up, and finding no look-alikes (and most certainly no poisonous ones), I tasted a leaf; after discerning a pleasant cress-like flavour, I picked some to take home with me.  The partially unopened flower-heads looked particularly tasty, like broccoli, so I made sure to gather some of those.

Dandelions

Since I now had the makings of a tasty wild salad, I gathered a few leaves from the dandelions which were growing nearby.  The flowers had not yet opened up, so I was hoping that they would be a little bit less bitter than usual.

A Wild Salad…

Winter Cress Head

Upon returning to the house,  I washed the greens and flowers carefully.  I also tasted one of the partially unopened cress flower-heads, and my boyfriend and I both agreed that they were very nice and tasted quite like broccoli.  The foraged greens and some of the violets made a very pretty and colourful  salad, to which I added a bit of (locally grown) radish, since I had some on hand, and a simple vinaigrette consisting of salt, pepper, white balsamic vinegar, and olive oil.

Foraged Salad Foraged Salad Foraged Salad Lunch!

I went on to candy the violets, later on in the evening.  It turned out to be a rather satisfying day, even though we did not find any mushrooms!  Anyhow, I’ll be keeping my eyes peeled for strawberries, which should be appearing everywhere soon.  ‘Till next time, happy foraging!

How to Make Sauerkraut

Fermentation Facination

Okay, so, I few years ago,Cutting the Cabbage I became interested in fermentation (probably as an offshoot of my interest in sourdough?), and came across Sandor Ellix Katz’s website, Wild Fermentation.  After perusing the site, I became so excited that I decided to order his book of the same name.  It’s a very informative book, and it’s also a very interesting read.  One of the things that I found especially appealing about this book was Katz’s advice to ‘reject the cult of expertise’:

Do not be afraid.  Do not allow yourself to be intimidated.  Remember that all fermentation processes predate the technology that has made it possible for them to be made more complicated.  Fermentation does not require specialized equipment.  Not even a thermometer is necessary (though it can help).  Fermentation is easy and exciting.  Anyone can do it. (p. 28)

I also appreciated the philosophical, historical, nutritional, and anecdotal information, as well as, of course, the recipes.

Thus, fermentation newbies, do not despair!  Sauerkraut is perfect for beginners.  It was actually Katz’s book which inspired me to try making it (as opposed to the other way around) since I had never actually tasted the real thing before.  If you have, you’re one step ahead of me, since you’ll know what to look for…while if you haven’t, you’re in for a treat, since I expect everything will go swimmingly, and you’ll soon be pushing your friends and relatives to try your homemade stash (sauerkraut in this case, not booze- though both are fermented products)!

Sauerkraut Recipe:

Okay, so here is the recipe (based on the one in Wild Fermentation, p. 41):

You will need:

2 kilos / 5 lbs cabbage or cabbage and other veg (see #1)(about 1 medium and 1 small head- any type is okay…here I am using 1 red cabbage and 1 regular green cabbage)

3 TBSP salt (Katz specifies sea salt, but I have used pickling salt in this case…any good quality salt will do, but avoid regular table salt)

You will also need:

A suitable 4 L container (here I am using a food-grade plastic bucket, but you can use a ceramic crock if you have one, or a very large jar or another type of large glass container…just avoid metal vessels)

A plate or something else that fits inside your container, as in another container, or a glass or plastic lid, etc.

A weight (here I am using my mortar, but you can use anything that is clean, and not metal, like a jug filled with water).  The weight must also be able to fit on top of the plate.

A cover (such as a pillowcase, or kitchen towel, or one of those cloth bags, or produce bags)

Step 1: Chop or grate the cabbage

It may be as fine or as coarse as you like…or you can even do it in the food processor, if you desire.  As you work place the chopped cabbage in a large container or bowl, and sprinkle the salt onto it so that it mixes in evenly.  If you find you’re running short on cabbage, you can add other vegetables or fruits to your mix…onions, garlic, apples, turnip, celery, carrot…etc.

Step 2:  Add some seasonings

Classic sauerkraut seasonings
Classic sauerkraut seasonings

Here I’ve added some classics: caraway seeds, celery seeds, and juniper berries.  However, feel free to experiment.  Mix these into your cabbage mixture.

 

Step 3: Pack the mixture into your container

You can use either your hands, or some other tool.  Here, I am using my pestle.

Step 4: Weighing down the kraut

Packing the kraut
Packing the kraut

Fit your plate or other object into the crock.  The plate must be small enough to sit directly on top of the kraut.  The goal here is to push the cabbage mixture down, so that, as the brine (which will made up of the liquid the cabbage releases due to the salt you added) rises, the solids will remain submerged.  This will prevent the formation of mold.  Furthermore, if mold does form, it will only be on the surface, and will thus be able to be skimmed off, leaving the rest of the mixture unadulterated.

Place your weight on top of the plate, for the reasons explained above.

Step 5: Cover the whole shebang

Weigh it down
Weigh it down

It is important to do this in order to protect it from flies.  I have covered mine with first a (fine) mesh produce bag (available at Loblaws stores), then a kitchen towel.  The produce bag will serve as a fly barrier, while the kitchen towel will provide extra protection and will also help in the  maintenance of a more consistent temperature.

The froth is not a bad thing-it's just an indication of the fermentation.
The froth is not a bad thing-it’s just an indication of the fermentation.

Okay, we’re pretty much done!  It is, however, important to check the kraut within 24 hrs to ensure the brine has risen above the plate.  If it has not, simply add some (preferably chlorine-free) salt water (Katz recommends 1 TBSP per cup) to the mixture until it does.  After this, it is important to check your kraut regularly in order to ensure that there is still enough brine, as some will evaporate over time.  This will also give you the opportunity to taste your sauerkraut so that you can decide when it has reached its peak.  This will depend largely on when you think it’s sour enough.  Your kraut should be ready in 1 to 4 weeks.  The timeline will depend mostly on the temperature in your kitchen (or the location where you are storing your maturing sauerkraut).

Sauerkraut after 5 days
Sauerkraut after 5 days

When it’s ready, you can portion it into a few mason jars or other containers and store it in the fridge (in its brine), in order to slow the fermentation.

Happy fermenting!

Tea Time: Milky Oolong

My Cup of Tea

My Cup of Tea- Milky OolongI happened to be in Chinatown one day, and came across a nice looking tea shop called My Cup of Tea. My interest piqued, I decided to go in, and encountered a thoughtfully laid out space: a rectangular room lined with shelves showcasing different varieties of tea, most of which were packaged in cute little chinese takeout container-shaped boxes.

There were some samples of the different teas next to their boxes on the shelves, but due to their increased exposure to air, the samples were not that fresh, and thus, not very fragrant, so they did not provide much assistance when selecting a variety of tea to purchase.  The young man working there, however, was very helpful and was clearly passionate about tea.

The company has its own tea farCup of Milky Oolong team in China, which allows them greater control over the quality of their product.  The leaves are also hand-picked, and hand-rolled.  The tea is grown ‘chemical free’, so I guess it is organic (or almost so), though it is not certified as such in Canada, nor does the word appear anywhere on their packaging.

Oolong Tea

Oolong teas are semi-fermented, and are processed almost like black teas.   The difference lies in the degree of oxidation of the tea leaves.  Black teas are fully oxidized, while white teas are barely oxidized at all.  Oolong teas are closer to black teas than any other type of tea in this respect, and are a lovely yellow colour when brewed.  I had tried oolong tea before walking into My Cup of Tea, but their milky oolong really blew me away.

Milky oolong tea leaves
The tea actually stays surprisingly fresh in the paper cup.

 

 

Milky Oolong

Some fascinating information on Milky Oolongs can be found on the Tea Trekker website.  The tea comes from a particular tea cultivar, called Jin Xuan.  Although this cultivar is relatively new (it has only been around since the 1980s!)  it has become very popular, and is now one of Taiwan’s four main tea cultivars.  It has a creamy, sweet flavour like that of no tea I have ever tasted before.  I’m not sure it has an ‘orchid aftertaste’ as is claimed on the box, but it can be infused multiple times, which is pretty cool (and economical)!

I recommend passing by one of their two locations, if you can, but you can also purchase tea from My Cup of Tea online.  ‘Till next time, enjoy your cuppa!

Cocktail Hour- Beet Juice Martinis

Want some vitamins along with your booze?  Well, then, this is the cocktail for you.  Simply take your basic martini and add beet juice, a bit of lime, and voilà- you have a tasty and (sort of) nutritious drink.

 

 

 

Beet Juice Martini Recipe

(makes 1):

2 oz gin
1/2 oz (or less) dry vermouth
1 oz beet juice (available at Loblaws, and bigger grocery stores, usually in the health food section, and at some health food stores)
1/4 lime – juice

Garnishes:  herb sprig (such as marjoram, oregano, chervil, etc.) or celery leaves, twist of lime, olives or cocktail onions or caper berries or pickled beets or anything you like.

Cheers!

The Top Ten Foods You Need to Try While in New Orleans

There are a lot of things to see and do whilst on vacation in New Orleans. However, if you go, you should make sure to try the following culinary delights (listed in no particular order):

1) Beignets:

These simple doughnuts topped with icing sugar

Beignets
at Café du Monde

are way better than anything you’ll find at a Dunkin Doughnuts or Tim Hortons (most likely because they’re made fresh, in-house, using real ingredients)…and they’re available 24/7 at Café du Monde! The coffee’s good too.

 

2) Gulf Shrimp:

Although there are a number of species of shrimp found in the Gulf of Mexico, the majority of shrimp landed in Louisiana are either White shrimp or Brown shrimp. According to the Louisiana Seafood website, the differences between white and brown shrimp, especially while they are small, are slight, so I won’t bother distinguishing between them. The shrimp are slightly sweet with a firm, resilient flesh. Though there are concerns associated with the way these wild shrimp are caught (due to bycatch and such), they are definitely better than any shrimp coming out of Asia.  They are classified by seachoice as a “good alternative”. However, be sure to ask about where the shrimp come from…because although we were told by one restaurant that they ‘don’t do imported shrimp in NO’, another (high-end) restaurant was that we went to was in fact serving shrimp from Thailand.

BBQ Shrimp
at Mr. B’s Bistro

Shrimp in New Orleans are often served “BBQ” style- which there means they are cooked simply with salt and pepper, in a sauce made mostly of their own juices, and are neither cooked on a barbacue, nor grilled. They can then either be served on their own, in their cooking liquid, or in a po boy sandwich or somesuch. The BBQ shrimp that I ate at Mr. B’s Bistro were amazing; they are served in a rich, savoury sauce, which I’m certain contains quite a lot of butter. As they are served in their shells, eating them is quite a production, involving bibs and finger bowls, but don’t worry…the staff will take care of you. I enjoyed the shrimp po boy I had at Luizza’s By The Track as well, in spite of the fact that the shrimp were not deveined (okay, I know that it’s a diner, and they were small shrimp, but is that normal?). There was quite a bit of black pepper on the shrimp,  but besides that, they were simply seasoned, allowing the fresh flavour of the crustaceans to shine through.

Gulf Shrimp Po Boy
at Luizza’s By The Track

On a note related to this post (though sort of unrelated to gulf shrimp), I’m not sure I get the appeal of the po boy sandwich.  Okay, maybe I’m a bit spoiled, since I’m from Montreal and have thus been surrounded by a wide variety of delicious, flavourful, and diverse types of bread for my entire life, but the bread that I ate in New Orleans was pretty unremarkable, including the buns used to make the po boy sandwiches.  It was like a pale, largely tasteless, imitation of french country-style bread.  To make a great sandwich, you need good bread…right?

In addition to the bread problem, the traditional sandwich toppings ( lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, mayo) are not particularly interesting.   At this point, since the bread doesn’t add much flavour, nor do the toppings, if you’re thinking of ordering a seafood po boy (as in one containing breaded deep-fried oysters, or some such) you’re probably better off ordering the seafood solo, because at least then it will likely come with a horseradish dipping sauce, or something.  But enough about that.  On to the next food (or should I say, drink):

3) Bloody Maries:

Okay, so these are more of a beverage…but they do, in New Orleans, at least, contain some food, usually olives and some mean pickled beans.  Damn, they’re good…but they are quite spicy, even when you request medium spice.  So, people who do not like/are not used to

Bloody Mary
at Organic Banana

spice, be warned. The best Bloody Mary I tried while in New Orleans was at Organic Banana at the French Market, and the second best was at Pat O’Briens; since coming home, I’ve tried recreating the drink, using Emiril’s recipe, and that worked out pretty well. I didn’t have any green beans on hand, but I did have some okra, and I quick-pickled it, using a Martha Stewart recipe. It worked out well.

 

4) Crawfish (aka crayfish):

These freshwater crustaceans, which look like mini lobsters, are the symbol of Louisiana.  And if that wasn’t enough of a reason to put them on the top ten list…they’re also delicious (and sustainable)!  The majority of crawfish from Louisiana is produced on farms, and crawfish from this region is a “Best Choice” according to seachoice.org.  During my stay in New Orleans, I tasted them two ways: in a crawfish etouffee, and also boiled, served cold.  I have to say that the crawfish, simply boiled (but with loads of spice) was amazing, while the etouffee was good, but not nearly

Boiled Crawfish
at The Court of Two Sisters (Jazz Brunch)

as memorable.  Also, with the etouffee, you don’t get to have the whole messy head-sucking experience.  If you don’t know how to eat crawfish, don’t worry- most new orleanians will be happy to help you figure it out.  I didn’t have the opportunity to try warm boiled crawfish, but I can imagine it must be a treat! Maybe next time…

 

5) Charbroiled Oysters:

Charbroiled Oysters
at Acme Oyster House

A New Orleans speciality, these are oysters that have been cooked on a hot grill, in their shells, with butter, spices, and cheese (such as pecorino).  I’ve found a recipe that looks good here, on Nola Cuisine. They’re very tasty, and are definitely worth a try.

 

6) Fresh Oysters!:

I wouldn’t say my first taste of a raw oyster was love, but I have always enjoyed eating them.  My shucking ability has certainly improved since then, as has my knowledge of the different types that are out there, and they do grow on you.  If you’re a raw oyster fan, New Orleans is definitely the place to order up a few dozen, seeing as how it’s right on the Gulf of Mexico, and you’re likely to get some fresh and juicy specimens.  Whilst in New Orleans, we had 

Fresh Oysters
at J’s Seafood Dock

fresh oysters at both Acme Oyster House and at J’s Seafood Dock at the French Market.  The oysters were fresh and good at both places, but I found the experience over  at J’s Seafood Dock, where you can sit outside and chill while you dine on your freshly shucked oysters, slightly more enjoyable.  Also, you don’t have to wait in line, as you do at Acme Oyster House.

 

 

7) Soft Shell Crab:

More seafood?  Yes, and there’s still more to come.  Soft shell crabs are crabs that have recently molted their hard shells, and can thus be eaten whole, shell and all.  In Louisiana, blue crab, which is

Soft Shell Crab
at Acme Oyster House

indigenous to the region, is the species used, and happily, stocks are well-managed, making this a pretty good choice sustainability-wise.  They are usually served breaded and deep-fried.  Mmmm….

 

8) Crab Cakes:

Louisiana blue crab can also be sampled in crab cake form. Meals From the Heart Cafe, also situated at the French Market, serve up some nice crab cakes, made with a high proportion of crab meat, and a lot of love.  They offer vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free dining  options as well,  and I have a lot of respect for their dedication to producing good, healthy food, something that seems to be pretty scarce over in New Orleans.

Crab Cake Passion
at Meals from the Heart Cafe

 

 

9) Soft Tacos:

This may not be a food you would typically associate with New Orleans, but, on the other hand, the city was under Spanish rule for a while, so maybe that’s the reason for their taco-making prowess…or maybe that’s completely unrelated.  In any case, both of my soft-taco experiences in this town were both memorable, and pleasurable.  In fact, I have never tasted such amazing tacos!  The night of our arrival in New

Tacos!
at Juan’s Flying Burrito

Orleans, we headed over to SoBou, a tapas-style resto, and ordered, amoung other things, the crispy oyster taco.  Though the oysters were rather underwhelming, the freshness of the taco itself, and the zesty and flavourful accompaniments, made this a memorable dish.  At Juan’s Flying Burrito, the tacos were even better! There were also a ton of vegetarian options. Awesome!

 

10) Gumbo:

Obviously, the place to try gumbo is New Orleans.  This rich stew comes in a number of different varieties.  There are seafood gumbos, vegetable gumbos, and meat-based gumbos (chicken and sausage is a popular combo).  Prior to my trip to New Orle

Seafood Gumbo
at The GumboShop

ans, I had often made vegetable gumbos at home, but obviously, while I was there, I wanted to try an authentic version of the stew.  So, I tried a few different gumbos, both at The GumboShop and at Mr. B’s Bistro. I was impressed by the complex, and rich flavours of the stews at both restaurants, which likely can be attributed to dark rouxes and long, slow cooking, as well as by good stock.

 

Some things you may think are missing from this list:  po boys (which we’ve already been over), alligator, muffuletta, and pralines.  I did try alligator in New Orleans, and it was good.  However, it was breaded and deep-fried, and I didn’t find it particularly remarkable, so, for that reason, I have not included it here.  As for the muffuletta sandwich- well, that’s a meat-based sandwich, and I don’t eat meat, so…I don’t really feel equipped to review the sandwich…try it if you like!  As for the pralines…I did try some pralines while I was in New Orleans, and they were good, but I am not an aficionado, and I actually enjoyed some of the other sugary treats we tried over there more, so…if you like pralines, feel free to try some over there.

Until next time…happy eating!

Homemade Truffles

This year, for the holidays, in light of my new-found free time, and one of my sisters’ requests, I decided to make truffles. Now, having never made truffles before (I know, I can’t believe it myself!), I looked up a recipe online and found one on a blog called My Baking Addiction. The recipe is pretty simple:

Basic Truffles

yield | about 30 truffles

Ingredients

12 ounces chocolate, chopped (semisweet or bittersweet)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/3 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2-3 tablespoons liqueur, optional

Step 1: Make the Chocolate Mix

Stirring Butter into Melted ChocolateBasically, you melt the chocolate, then add the butter, cream, vanilla, and any other flavouring agents you would like. I decided to double the recipe and make six different types of truffles: matcha (green tea), espresso, fleur de sel, chili, Frangelico (a liqueur which tastes primarily of hazelnuts), and Grand Marnier. I made my basic mix, then separated it into six parts, each of which I subsequently labelled.

Chocolate Factory!Seasoning the Truffles

Step 2: Season Your Mix

I then proceeded to flavour my divided mixture with my chosen flavouring agents.  I used instant espresso powder for the espresso mix, matcha from Cha Noir for the green tea mix, cayenne for the chili mix…and- well, I guess the remaining ingredients are pretty self-evident.  I started with small amounts of the flavouring agents, and added more to taste.

Step 3: Shape the Truffles

Even after chilling the chocolate mixture, it’s still difficult to work with because it starts to melt (due to the warmth of your hands) as soon as you try to roll it into a ball.  I tried dunking my hands in ice water to cool them between truffles, but it was still very messy, and I ended up just accepting the fact that a) the truffles are not supposed to be round, and b) my hands were going to be covered in chocolate (there are worse things in life).

Some Thoughts on the Process

I think that the next time I make truffles I may just spread the mixture out on a rectangular tray before chilling it so that I can simply cut it into squares (which would probably be the easiest thing) or use cutters to cut it into little shapes.

I would have liked to differentiate all six sorts of truffles by rolling each type in something different to finish them off, but ended up sticking with the standard cocoa powder for most of them, simply because I wasn’t sure what else to use.  I did, however, roll the Grand Marnier truffles in a mixture of cocoa powder and ground dried orange peel (that I blitzed in the coffee grinder, then sifted), roll the green tea truffles in some matcha, and roll the Frangelico truffles in some crushed toasted hazelnuts.

I had briefly considered maybe rolling the chili truffles in a bit of cayenne, but the flavour would have been way too strong. The same logic applies to the fleur de sel truffles and the espresso truffles and their respective flavouring agents.

The Result

Finished TrufflesI was pretty happy with the results of my endeavour. I thought the truffles both looked and tasted good, and my sister was very happy with her gift.

To go a bit furthur in terms of final flavour analysis, I really liked the matcha truffles due to the way the initially bitter flavour of the matcha powder both complemented and contrasted with the bittersweet chocolate.

I may try a flakier salt for the salted truffles next time to play a bit more with the contrast in textures.

I’d like to try using something other than cayenne to flavour the chili truffles, perhaps a mildly smoked hot pepper powder…?

Anyway, that’s it for now.  ‘Til next time,

Sarah