**Took this trip before all the #socialdistancing began at the end of 2019. Wrote it up and totally forgot to post it. Hope you gives you something to look forward to...when we can eat cheese and drink wine face to face...not just during #virtualhappyhour**
Colee, Vanessa, and I have been friends for 20+ years. When you have been a relationship that long you gotta find ways to keep the relationship spicy. Right? So how do we do that? Obvi, it had to be a: Girls trip! (airhorn sound)
Sonoma was on the bucket list for Vanessa so I said we “gotta go and drink wine.” All three of us booked tickets and an Airbnb and then I immediately started researching the quintessential “Things-to-do-in-Sonoma” phrase. Winery Tour. Check. Lists of local eateries to try. Check. Then I was stopped in my clicking tracks.
A food tour? Tell me more. Sonoma Food Tour. A three hour walking tour that includes food, wine, and history. You had me at food. Since I would be getting into CA before my friends, I needed an activity. Eating sounded like a totally valuable way to spend my time.
Take me to the 3 hour tour.
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First Stop: Vella Cheese
I was running a little late since I had to wait for a ride share from the Airbnb, but luckily when I got there my tour group hadn’t started eating yet. I mean, you know how much I love hanging out with my best friend, Cheese.
The tour consisted of the tour guide, Abby, an older couple and myself. A small but mighty group. Armed with a bottle of water, my food note-taking journal (yes, I am one of those people now) and my appetite, I was ready to start shoving all of the cheese into my mouth.
Vella Cheese is a sustainable, locally owned business that hand makes its cheeses and is renowned for its jack cheese recipe. We started with a sampling of seven different cheeses, all cow’s milk.
1. Toma- a wonderful melting harvarti
2. Mezzo Secco- a partially dry Monterey Jack
3. A dry jack that is aged for 12-24 months
4. Golden Bear- extra dry aged jack
5. Pesto jack
6. Habanero jack
7. Sharp cheddar
All of the cheese tasted wonderful, but my faves were the Golden Bear and the habanero jack. They weren’t kidding about their jack recipe. The Golden Bear was almost like a parmesan and had so many flavor crystals- I love that extra crunch and pop in my cheese. The habanero had a good kick to it without being scary spicy. There was a slight minty taste to it as well. Which had a refreshing effect on your palette.
We toured the quaint cheese shop and, yes, I wanted to buy everything...but with more than 2 hours to go on the tour I felt like it would be unwise to carry around cheese on my person in the nice, warm California weather. But! Then I found out that Vella Cheese vacuum seals their cheese and can stay fresh for 7-10 days WITHOUT refrigeration. So, I mean...what choice did I have? I had to buy some cheese. What better way to welcome my friends to #winecountry than with a cheese plate. I bought some dry jack and the pesto jack because I thought it would be the most pleasing for everyone. I rounded it out with some crackers and some dry sausage. This tour was officially starting out great!
Next, we walked to Mission San Francisco Solano, the last mission to be built on the El Camino Real. I love a little history lesson. Did you know that the curved shape of the Spanish tiles that are used on roofs are originally from monks slapping them against their thighs? So not all the tiles on the Mission are the exact same shape.
Oh, and I made a friend as we were exploring the naturally occurring peppercorns!
Third Stop: Figone’s Olive Oil
But first, some yummy olive oil. The Sonoma food tour specifically showcases local and family owned operations. Which I love! This olive oil has got roots, baby. It started with the owner’s great-grandfather planting a few olive tree saplings from Italy in the San Joaquin Valley and from there the delicious olive oil is produced from descendants of these trees today. They don’t even sell the olive oil in stores because they can’t maintain the standard of quality that they would like. Don't worry! They have a subscription membership so you can enjoy this delicious olive oil even if you don’t live locally. But wait, there’s more! They have delicious vinegars (as well as olive oil lotions and soaps). I left the tasting with a subscription membership to Figone’s Olive Oil. My first delivery will be a couple of bottles of the Blood Orange Olive Oil and the White Balsamic Vinegar.
Seriously, you can taste the quality in these products. I loved everything we had during our tasting. The flavors ranged from pesto to habanero. And the balsamics were delightful as well. I had never tasted a white balsamic but I am a believer now. It has a great viscosity- which I think makes for a great mouthfeel. But the flavor just pops in your mouth! Thanks to Figone’s, my current go-to snack is some burrata and avocado with a little red pepper flake, salt, pepper, with a drizzle of EVOO and this white balsamic. TRY IT!
During the tasting the facilitator commented that I have a good palette (I mean… I know. JK) and my tour counterpart said “She’s more savvy than she looks...and I just met her.” Uh... Thanks? I think it was a compliment…? I’ll just be over here drinking olive oil.
Head over to Figone’s Olive oil website and check out their products and get some delivered to your house! Because I am more savvy than I look.
Next up we have a 2-for-1. Bump Cellars with eats provided by Sunflower Caffe.
Bump Cellars is a small winery started by a husband and wife team. Their tasting room is a contemporary, modern space and was, at the time, doubling as a silent auction art venue. Mieko, one half of the husband and wife team led our wine tasting. What’s great about it being a small winery is that they can really focus on the wines that they produce. They had a few reds in stock which were very good. The tasting consisted of a couple of pinot noirs and a red blend. I am generally not a huge fan of red blends (Maybe I’m just being stuck up) but I ended up buying a bottle of theirs, plus a Pinot Noir. If I was going to prepare a cheese plate for my friends, I was going to provide the wine too. Obviously.
To go with our delicious varietals, The Sunflower Cafe provided a Smoked Roast Duck and gruyere sandwich. Served with caramelized onion and on a homemade baguette. It was the perfect companion to all the reds we were tasting. I mean homemade baguette? Duck? Gruyere? I am there!
I kept my earlier promise to myself and sauntered off to Sign of Bear and Basque Boulangerie as the last of the chocolate dissolved on my tongue. No cheese plate is complete without some bread. Sign of the Bear was temptation city. SO. MANY. THINGS. I needed...ok wanted for my kitchen. But since I didn’t check a bag on the flight, it prevented me from buying too much. However, I did get some cute SF/Sonoma coasters. Perfect for perching my glass of Bump Cellar wine upon.
I headed back to the AirBNB to await my friends. Complete with cheese, wine, and truffles.
The rest of the weekend was spent in the company of good food and good conversation...and falling asleep to movies while drinking wine (as you do in your 30s). A few more highlights:
The girls and I rounded our trip with a private guided tour and tasting at Quintessa. Have you seen the movie Wine Country on Netflix? It’s full of funny ladies and wine. Quintessa was one of the wineries that is featured in the movie. The scene where they are harmonizing in the cellar. I HAVE BEEN THERE. I felt cool, at least for a little bit.
Movie aside, if you have the chance go to Quintessa. Go there! Ask for Evan to be your guide. He was knowledgable and AWE-SOME. Mainly because he put up with our shenanigans. The ambience and the wine was delightful. Colee got to try grapes off the vine. We all got to sip wine and take in the views. And you get a delightful flight of wine paired with some cheese and snacks. Read: a lot of wine. After the tour, we took ourselves out to lunch with a view at Auberge du Soliel. Another great view with lunch, where Vanessa had the pleasure of eating her first bone marrow. That made me happy because I love roasted bone marrow. Rich and yummy. (Scroll down for my pics of food. We also enjoyed a leisurely dinner at the Fairmont one evening. )
I’m thankful that I got to spend time with these gals that have put up with me for soooo long. And I am thankful that I will have some great wine to sip and delicious olive oil to eat when I get home. Thanks for being such a good host, Sonoma. See you soon.
If you are a Sonoma county local and have suggestions about where I should visit next time I am there. Let me know! I’ll have more fresh blog posts coming out soon.
Until then, Happy Baking. Happy Eating. Happy Repeating.
(P.S. We got to hit one of my favorite spots in SF - Joe's Cafe. I used to walk there for Bacon, Avocado Omelettes and pancakes when I lived in the city. Perfect last meal to perfect Girls' Weekend.)
In case you hadn’t heard: I host a vegan food show. Wait, what? I know what you are thinking, “Dana, you eat blocks of cheese and love rare (extra rare) steaks. You aren’t vegan.” True. I am not vegan, but I am definitely vegan friendly. I have friends that are vegan. I enjoy avocado and almond cheese sandwiches (seriously, so good). Also, I am food friendly and besides, isn’t vegan food JUST food?
We just released our 10th episode (!) and our season finale on YouTube. Subscribe and never miss an episode right here. Back in August my friend, Mehul, asked me if I wanted to create this show with him (He’s the vegan in this pairing) and I promptly said yes. Because eating.
Basically, it’s two friends sitting and sharing a meal. It’s a fun, casual exploration of food and we give honest opinions from the perspective of a vegan and non-vegan.
One of the benefits of hosting this show is that I have gotten to explore more of Austin (#ATX) by going to all these vegan eateries. I mean, it IS called ExploreVeganATX. I am just a few months shy of living in the Lone Star State for two years. And in case you didn’t know, Texas is a big A$$ state. Even just getting to know Central Texas is a feat in itself. But when I think of weird Austin (#keepAustinweird), I would never think of it as a vegan hub. I mean, I have discovered it is THE place for brisket and queso, but vegan?? I thought, “how many vegan spots could there be?” Well, my friends, there are a TON of places to chow down on meat substitutes and non-dairy options.
In our first season alone we went to 10 different vegan spots: Cool Beans, Sweet Ritual, Bruja Brew, Sassy’s Vegetarian Soul Food, Dolce Bacio, Counter Culture, Nissi Vegmex, Milky Way Shakes, Fat Cats, and Citizen Eatery.
What I love about hosting a food show (besides the eating...that’s a given, duh) is that I get to sit down with the owners and talk about how, why, when they started. We get to hear their stories. I have always loved how people come into the food industry. It’s not for the faint hearted. Coming from a background in family-owned restaurant, I know that. I am instantly drawn to people and their stories of running a restaurant. I love finding out what they are trying to say through their food. I have found out that our owners have come to the vegan lifestyle for a myriad of reasons and want to share great food that happens to be vegan to prove that VEGAN FOOD IS JUST FOOD.
Ok, let’s talk about the food. What I find amazing is the amount of vegan products on the market nowadays. I remember back in my youth (sigh) I would experiment with vegan cooking or baking and it was hard to find substitutes for things. If you are thinking that vegans just sit around eating raw cabbage all day - you are wrong. Vegan cuisine has grown at an astonishing pace and most of these products are available to the “regular” person at almost any grocery store. I mean just think about the varieties of milk on the shelf! I still haven’t tried oat milk, but it’s Mehul’s fave.
So many of the things I have gotten to eat for this show have blown my food mind: egg substitute that actually made me think I was eating chicken eggs; the best fake bacon that I have ever put in my mouth; the most delicious ice cream; and a bean burger that haunts my dreams because it was so good. Seriously. Watch for yourself by clicking on the button below and don't forget click that SUBSCRIBE button.
But the thing that really astounds me most of all is the vegan baking. What?! As an avid homebaker, I know how hard baking can be. It’s so easy to have a bad bake day and you have no idea what happened. Was the oven set at the wrong temperature? Did salt make it into the bowl instead of sugar (ala a couple of the bakers from GBBO)? Were the baking gods angry for some reason? It can really be very frustrating to be a baker. And of course we want things to taste and LOOK good. So when I meet people who are making their bakes look and taste good despite not using dairy, eggs, gluten, or sometimes anything processed (ie. food colorings or soy products), I want to learn everything I can from them. My baking brain seriously goes into overload.
I can’t talk about any food scene in ATX (vegan or not) without talking about the food trucks. The food truck game is strong here. Again, I had no idea! There are food truck parks throughout the city (and the surrounding metropolitan area) and you can easily find some new favorite eating spots there. It’s been so fun to roll up to a place and find out that it’s a food park. Not only are there food truck parks but there are VEGAN ONLY food truck parks! How does that story go? A non-vegan walks into a vegan truck park...
So now I know where to get my vegan treats including, kombucha, “chicken” flautas, and cupcakes. I hope when you visit #ATX you will use the videos as a guide to find all these good eats. Season 2 is going to be filled with more food, more eating, and laughing as we do. Join us on IG & FB @exploreveganatx and subscribe on YouTube. We have enough episodes and bonus content to keep you hungry until we release Season 2 (coming in early spring 2020).
Stay tuned for more things I do. Until then, Happy Baking, Happy Eating, Happy Repeating.
And enjoy a video of me eating (and then almost choking)
We all know that I love food. I love to cook it. Eat it. Share it. I have talked about my best friend, Cheese, many times and my love of a good steak (rare, please). But my love of food means I am excited to explore all types of food. I experiment cooking and baking for a variety of different lifestyles: vegetarian, vegan, paleo, gluten free...you get the idea. I just love food.
So when my friend, Mehul, asked me if I would be interested in co-hosting a food show about vegan eateries, I said yes! I am still a relative newbie to the Austin area, that I thought it would be a great way to discover the city through eating. Never miss a chance to eat.
Mehul has been a vegetarian his whole life. He has never eaten MEAT or a meat product. To me that seems crazy. But then again, maybe someone thinks it’s crazy that I have eating meat my whole life. He has been vegan for about four years… even though, self admittedly, he is a #cheagan sometimes (cheating vegan). When I ply him baked goods (full of butter and eggs) he eats them. And he does occasionally eat queso because we are in ATX, afterall. The queso game is strong here.
That’s what you will be getting from this food web series. A perspective of a vegan and non-vegan.
I am a food monster that hopes to try as many foods as I can in my life time. So why not explore all that the Austin vegan food scene has to offer. After all, vegan food is just… food, right?
Don’t worry, Cheese, you are still my BFF.
(Our awesome logo art by Alisha Olson.)
Subscribe on YouTube: ExploreVeganATX. Season 1 starts NOV 7! With new episodes every week.
Instagram @exploreveganatx and Like us on FB on our ExploreVeganATX page.
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Bread, bread, bread week. Like I said in my previous GBBO post, I was really looking forward to #breadweek. I never thought in my baker’s life that I would enjoy making bread, but I find it to be a very therapeutic experience. You can definitely work out some anxiety as you knead that bread! The "PROOF" is below. (Get what I did there?)
For my filled loaf I decided that I should bake my first Babka. A babka is a filled loaf that is generally sweet and comes from Eastern European origins. At different times in history the babka is referred to as a babka cake because it can be prepared in a Bundt pan instead of a loaf tin. Historically, the filling of a traditional babka has been seeds and nuts. Later on chocolate was added as a delicious filling of choice and now chocolate and cinnamon are regular filling components. Because CHOCOLATE and CINNAMON.
The yeasted dough of the babka itself is sweet. To me the dough felt like a cross between a brioche and challah bread. I had two main goals for my practice babka: (1) was to get a feel for how long I needed to work the dough in order for it to rise and handle the filling and (2) was to figure out baking time.
This was after the first proof and rolling it out into a rectangle.
I used some tips about shaping from King Arthur. I didn’t actually snap many pics as I was making the dough- mainly because I was sweaty from kneading and it took the dough a minute to come together (and plus, I forgot...oops). I chopped up semisweet chocolate and mixed it with cinnamon and butter and spread it over the dough. I was careful not to spread the filling mixture all the way to the edges so that it wouldn’t spill out. I left about a ½-1” of room so that the dough would roll up as neatly as possible. I added some of my espresso sugar to the mixture- ya know, to make it special - that I got from NOLA — see NOLA post here.
After filling comes the shaping and second proofing. I think I did pretty decent on the shaping, however, some of the bread came apart in sections when I cut into it. The sections separated at the filling and dough borders. I am not sure if this is because of baker error or due to the shaping.
The Next time I make a babka…
Time to Fill That Loaf
With a pretty good outcome on my very first babka, I felt more confident to make a showstopper loaf. Every time I make bread, I learn for the next time. It’s very rewarding in that way. Even though, I had decided that my #showstopper loaf would be a savory one (I was still deciding on the flavors), I learned from the babka to be patient on the proofing!
I rewatched the GBBO episode to get ideas for how to shape a loaf and decided I wanted to shape the loaf into a ring. As for the flavors, I was STILL stuck. Normally, my cheese-loving self would opt for a cheese filled loaf...because cheese. But I really wanted to do something different...stretch my abilities to work strong, good flavors. But what flavors??
Husband to the rescue! He suggested that I dig into my Chinese roots and infuse some of those flavors into the filled loaf. Ok. Good advice, husband! What flavors do I want to infuse? Of course the obvious culprits ran through my brain: soy, ginger, and scallions. But I wanted to get some protein into my loaf. Infusing just some herbs or light flavors wasn’t gonna cut it for a showstopper. Then, DING (sound of lightbulb in brain) duck. Duck is one of my favorite proteins. Why not use it, I asked myself...I had no good reason not to.
Peking duck is one of my favorite things in life and it was always a special treat to get to eat it. I grew up in a small town in Iowa...not exactly a bustling hub for Chinese fare. I would only get duck when I traveled to San Francisco or Houston… or when family friends would visit from Omaha or Des Moines (both cities were a couple of hours drive from my town). Peking duck is juicy, has a delicious sauce and is covered with crispy skin. Therefore for this challenge, I must roast my own duck.
I really didn’t want to roast a WHOLE ENTIRE duck because while I am ambitious, I am not crazy. Also, I don’t have one of the home rotisserie things or that roaster thing that can keep a half dozen ducks hanging and slow roasting (what is that thing called anyway?). After reading through a couple of recipes and speaking to my own personal chef google, Thomas (a professional chef and fisherman who makes bomb ass poke and friend), I came up with a game plan. I would get as close as I could to a Peking duck, but it would fall somewhere between a Chinese roast duck and a Peking duck.
The plan was to get duck breasts and thighs and roast them with a recipe that I found in this “Chinese” cookbook- that, ironically enough, I got from Ikea. Who knew?
Of course there were a couple of modifications I had to make to this recipe. I don’t know how or where I would hang a duck overnight to dry out. I don’t think my husband would be stoked about hanging duck carcasses in our living room or luring Texas wildlife to our back patio if hung outside. Cue flashbacks of my mom making lap chuerng, or Chinese bacon, by curing strips of pork belly by hanging them on dowels in our garage or out on our deck in the winter (neighborhood dogs really liked our house). I was the weird Chinese kid with meat hanging in our garage, but damn it if it wasn’t so tasty. Fun fact: my mom still makes it to this day.
I decided that my duck breasts will have to settle for drying out for few hours in a roasting pan. Because I had to roast the duck and bake the bread AND get to an audition...my #actorlife and baking day would have to start early and go all day. First, I needed to get the duck marinated. I needed to baste the duck in a solution of vinegar and honey. Guess what...another edition of The Pantry Caper almost happened, but my friend the golden syrup was there to save the day. I was like 120% sure that I had honey in my pantry...didn’t I buy some organic something-or-other at the store...but it wasn’t there. Yay! for the golden syrup. I basted the duck, rubbed hoisin sauce into the skin, chopped up some ginger and scallions, and threw them into a vacuum sealed bag to get as much flavor as possible into the duck. Vacuum sealing to marinate always works for the contestants on Chopped, so why not me? Another fun fact: my chef friend, Thomas, had given me that food sealer as a gift.
Doubling down on pro-DUCK-tivity,(you read what I did there? Punny)...I got a workout in as the ducks marinated. Before I went to my audition, I took the ducks out of the vacuum sealed bag and laid them out to “dry” on my roasting rack. Fast forward a couple of hours… I start my bread.
I decided to use a challah recipe that I have been baking pretty frequently. I used strong bread flour and kneaded until my face was sweaty and my arms were tired. The “window pane” test was a success! A window pane test is when you take a small section of bread dough and stretch it while holding it up to a window to see if you can stretch it enough and see through it without breaking the dough. A successful window pane test lets the baker know that the gluten has been built up enough.
As my bread went through its first proof, I got to roasting the duck. I added some Chinese five spice, soy, and rubbed a little more hoisin on the duck and popped it into the oven at about 300-325 for about an hour.
As the duck and the bread are doing their thing… I chopped up some scallions and cilantro. I took the duck out and let it cool for awhile and then removed the skin to save as a topping on my loaf. I chopped the duck meat in small pieces and tossed it in some more hoisin, salt/pepper, sesame oil, and added in the scallions and cilantro. Mixed everything until it was well coated. Then there was nothing to do but wait for the bread to finish its first proof.
I brushed the top of the slashed half with hoisin sauce for a glaze and color. Since I was using the duck skin as a topping, I wanted it crispy. The duck skin had been sitting out in a bowl for a bit and had become soggy. I threw it in a pan with some of the duck drippings (for extra flavor) to sear in an effort to add some crispiness. My loaves had been resting no more than a couple of minutes, when I realized that I had nothing to hold them in their ring shape. Thank the baking gods that I rewatched the bread week episode recently, because I noted how everyone was using different apparatuses to keep the shape of their dough.
I went to my baking supply cupboard and pulled out a couple of larger ramekins, sprayed them with some oil, and fit them into the bread holes. I had to wiggle them around and make sure they weren’t pinching any of the dough underneath. Whew! I felt like I dodged a potential crisis.
My loaves doubled in size pretty quickly (took only an hour or so) and I was afraid that it wouldn’t be able to fit into the oven. I topped the slashed loaf with the crisped up duck skin and then popped my whole showstopper loaf, ramekins and all, into the oven for about xxxx. I knew that I would have to rely on my past bread making experiences to make sure that the loaf was completely baked. Raw dough was my worst fear. I can imagine the disapproving look on Paul Holllywod’s face. *SHUDDER*
Since I had hoisin glaze on top of one of my loaves, I knew that the dark color could deceive me about the loaf being baked through. I am going to be totally honest with you, I don’t know how I knew it was done... but I had a gut feeling. I pulled it out of the oven and let it cool for awhile. I tried to check the bottom for the “tap” test, but the loaf was heavy and forking hot...but from what I could tell it seemed baked through.
The next part was extricating the ramekins from the bread holes. Since it was a last minute add, I realized that I should have oiled it better or lined them with parchment. My husband and I had to play a game of bread operation for a minute. Some of the dough did get stuck under the ramekin, but it wasn’t anything that couldn’t be saved with a little tuck underneath.
Yes, that is me squealing in the video... I was afraid it was going to fall on the floor.
Finally, my bread could be transferred to a plate... with the effort of two people. I told you this thing was heavy and HUGE! All in all, I am super pleased with myself. I feel like the flavors come through and the duck was nice and moist. The bread has a good structure and is baked all the way through! It bounces back when pushed against. The bread had good flavor as well. A couple of shortcomings: the not so crispy duck skin and my couronne shape. I realized after I had completed this bake how my twist went wrong. I was very confused reading how to twist the loaf into the shape...but a few hours later it was like my brain had been working it out and I think I know how to do it. I have to try it out for my next loaf and I will get back to you if I am correct. I think I needed to twist in the opposite direction.
I would be more than happy to make this again. Come up with more bread shaping designs. Improve on my crispy duck skin and who knows; maybe roast a WHOLE duck with the stand up rotisserie thing. Or try out some few fillings. Read: CHEESE. Perhaps, I’ll be bringing a showstopper filled loaf to a gathering near you.
Read more about my eating adventures in the next blog. I’ll be practicing for #dessertweek. Up next: self saucing puddings. How saucy.
Until then: Happy Baking, Happy Eating, Happy Repeating.
This is the last entry of my eating series: NOLA Love, where I take you on an eating journey through the wonderful city of New Orleans. If you missed parts 1 and 2...find them here and here. Let’s get to eating!
It’s Monday. I wake up and find myself thinking of all deliciousness that this city has to offer. Lindy has already gotten up and gone off to work. I feel a little guilty for sleeping in. Just a little. I may have a bit of a food hangover. And probably, a GOT hangover. It’s my last full day in the city for all things food and that makes me a sad panda. I’d better get to putting things in my mouth.
For breakfast I decided to dig into my balls. Of cake. (From Bakery Bar).The ones I neglected to eat last night as we were watching The North battle the Night King at Winterfell. I make some hotel room coffee and open my box of cake. Lindy commented last night that the baked goods were pretty “soft.” As I investigated what was left of our cake balls, I tried some red velvet, some chocolate, and some tres leche. Lindy was right, they were all a little...soft. Not just soft in a moist, well-baked kind of way. It actually felt a little too soft. Oddly moist, as Lindy would say afterwards. Even though we bought a wide array of flavors... (red velvet, chocolate and peanut butter, cookies and cream and tres leche) there was no distinctiveness. The soft, oddly moist texture actually overpowered any flavor there might have been. The cake also leaned toward the sweet side, which didn’t help define any flavors, but instead, it just was a sweet and soft ball. Definitely would have passed the test for design and finesse by Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood (of The Great British Bake Off fame), but I think would have scored low marks for the flavors being “a bit muddled.”
Today there was no working out, not even pretending to do the minimum. I am going out on the “Garden Tour.” It’s a walking tour, so that counts for exercise right? Last time I was in NOLA, I did a carriage tour around the French Quarter that also went into some history of Marie Laveau (a voodoo practitioner from the 1800s, who is renowned in Nola) and the importance of the cemeteries in the city. I had wanted to do the Garden Tour but didn’t have time to fit it in. I promised Lindy and a couple of her coworkers that I would deliver po-boys during the day. So basically I was on a mission. Take in more of the city and bring back bomb ass food. My husband was flying into NOLA for work that evening and we were all going to go out for dinner. I would finally meet his boss and wife and Lindy would finally meet my husband. She had never met him in the few years that we have been friends, and she is convinced that he is made up. Tonight was the night to prove that he does exist.
Before I leave the hotel room, I note that there is still a bottle of rose in the hotel mini fridge that is in need of finishing. Must make sure I do that. I travel to the Garden District, which is just West of the French Quarter. Remember, I still have no 2019 mobile technology, so I am off exploring on a whim and a paper map. On my way out of the hotel I visit Lindy who is hard at work. She’s being very important as a stage manager for a conference in the hotel. She takes pity on me and lends me her phone for the afternoon. We devise a plan for her to know that I am not dead as I am out on my walking tour. I will periodically email her from her email. Yeah, you read that right.
Plan in place, I jump into a van taxi. I arrive at the meetup point for the tour at the Garden District Book Shop. One of those locally owned bookstores that just make you feel good. I have a few minutes before my tour starts, so I peruse the books. I see that they have the newest book from George R.R. Martin (Fire & Blood: 300 Years Before A Game of Thrones). I purchase it for my husband (and me) and take off on my tour.
The only photos that I snapped during the walking tour. Cemeteries and Architecture.
Besides the food culture in NOLA, I love that there is always something new to do or see as a tourist every time you visit. NOLA, for me, will be one of those places that I will visit many times in my life and always have something on my to-do list for the next time. Case in point: during the tour, I found my next thing for me to do in between eating adventures: visiting historic slave plantations. Maybe doesn’t sound like a great time to some, but I love learning about the historic and regional culture that makes up a place. That includes all points of history, the pretty AND ugly.
The tour was informative, fun and interesting. It was led by a die hard, born and raised local and she seemed to know EVERYTHING. I felt proud that I was able to answer some trivia questions thanks to our surprise private tour at Antoine’s (Read Part 1, shout out to our back waiter). Having only really explored the French Quarter, like many who visit NOLA, it was fascinating to learn about the gritty past of the entire city and the resiliency of its inhabitants. It is one of the biggest port cities in US and has weathered storms and disease, The Garden District was settled by people coming from farms and The Plains, so the architecture differs from what you find in the French Quarter.
My tour guide was impressed by my eating itinerary and said I was definitely hitting all the right places. I told her that I had initially wanted to go to Domilise’s for po-boys, but felt that it might be a little too far for my limited time, and was going to settle on delivering po-boys from Mother’s to Lindy. My guide said that I absolutely had to go to Domilise’s. Can’t argue with that. Thus, the decision was made. I could walk my happy, food-loving butt down Magazine street to Domilise’s and get delicious po-boys. Which is exactly what I did.
I pop in and out of some artist boutiques and resist the urge to buy treats at every cafe I pass. I keep my mind focused on the po-boys from Domilise’s. I do get Lindy a little present and mentally take note of a NOLA tank top, with the hope that Lindy and I can be annoying and buy matching ones.
I send Lindy an email so that she knows that I have not been Taken (which is good, since I don’t know Liam Neeson). After a few more blocks with substantial thigh rubbing, I arrive at Domilise’s. Tucked off of Magazine St., in a neighborhood, Domilise’s stands on a corner. The only thing that that demarcates that it’s a business is the hand-painted sign.
I see a few people standing around outside and I assume that they have ordered and are waiting for their prized po-boys. Inside this institution was a mix of dive bar and small town diner. It had a lived-in feel...definitely felt historic. And busy! A clump of people were nestled to the side and I noticed they were holding laminated cards with numbers on them. I picked up on the system and searched for the numbered cards. Apparently, I looked like an out-of-towner because after a few moments I was pointed in the direction of the counter (it was literally within one foot of me) where the numbers were being held.
Number 11. Shouldn’t be too bad, I thought. Seems like everyone was waiting for food so I figured that I should be called up in a MacDonald’s minute to order. There were three people bustling about the kitchen and they were working the counter as well. Old school operation with a finely honed system that had been put in place for years. There is no loud speaker or some perky host that comes out to yell your number to tell you that it’s your turn. You have to remain vigilant and pay attention.
Turns out people were waiting not for food but to order. And they were only on number 4. I went back outside since there was no room to wait in the doorway. I watched people walk in and out of the door. Seemed like a mix of locals and tourists. Everyone seemed to know the drill. Grab a number and wait. I eventually started telling people where to grab a number. I felt like I was part of the system.
Some people left after seeing the line. Some people patiently waited for their food before going off to the airport to fly back home. The numbers slowly ticked by and I was happy to stand in the shade, people watch, and wonder if my thighs were going to stop being sweaty and chafing. I made friends with No. 8 so I was able to know when my turn was coming close. No. 8’s wife was from the area and when they are in town they ALWAYS stop at Domilise’s. I was happy that I was going to try a place that was such an icon in the community.
Ok, so after No. 8 left, it seemed like the No. 9 and 10 came around quickly and then it was MY TURN! I am pretty sure I skipped to the counter and I happily handed them No. 11. I knew what I wanted and I wasn’t getting no small size. Mine were all large. Obviously.
Fun fact: I love oysters! And my mind had been set on getting an oyster po-boy in my stomach. I order my oyster and couple of shrimp po-boys to bring back to Lindy and I wait a few minutes longer. The ladies in the kitchen moved around almost hypnotically as they threw breaded seafood into the fryer, sliced, and built the sandwiches. She told me that they have been using the same bread for over a 100 years. It gets delivered fresh every morning. Sacks of bread were piled up against a wall all waiting to be turned into delicious sammies.
She rolled and bundled me up. I asked for directions to the streetcar, got pointed in the right direction and off I went. I clutched the bag of po-boys like my life depended on it. No one was taking these from me! I walked my chafed thighs to the streetcar stop and checked my paper map to make sure I was going in the right direction.
Even though I was hungry and tempted, I waited until I got back to the hotel to eat my po-boy. I am very nice eating friend. I went straight to the conference room to deliver the sandwiches (I kind of felt like an awesome Santa) and sat down to finally eat my treasure! These sandwiches had taken a few hours to procure and I was ready to eat.
The bread was crusty and soft. Not quite a baguette or ciabatta but a bread that was made to be a vehicle for shredded lettuce, mayo, tomato and choice of protein with a little hot sauce. I am not sure if I even breathed while I DE-VOUR-ED my po-boy but I do know it was damn good. I could tell that had it been fresh, it would have amped up the awesomeness of it… it was a little soggy by the time I got around to eating...but hey, No. 11 ain’t complaining.
I ate my po-boy quickly enough to get back to my hotel room to wait for my hubby to call since he was landing any minute in NOLA. On the eating itinerary, I had initially planned for Jacque-Imo’s but the only reservations I could get were for people who were their 20s (9pm) or people in their 80s (5pm) and with a five person party we didn’t want to risk standing in line forever. My hubby’s boss and wife (who are locals) helped navigate eating anxiety and suggested Meril. This is the 11th restaurant by Chef Emeril Lagasse but the 4th in NOLA and named for his daughter. I was excited to compare and contrast two of Chef Emeril’s restaurants.
Note: Due to my neverending technology complications, I don’t have all my usual food photos for this section. I used my husband’s phone for ease and after he shared the photos with me he erased them, but I didn’t get them imported...so, alas, no photos.
My husband and I get there early. We are hungry. Naturally. We decided to order something at the bar while we wait for everyone and to quell our appetites. The ambience was very chic and had a youthful and sophisticated vibe to it. They have classy hand crafted cocktails and a good variety of beer and wine. The menu is set up as sharing plates. Great! One of everything please. Okay, we didn’t order one of everything but there were many plates on the table. There was a mix of proteins, veggies (which my husband doesn’t touch), carbs, and cheese engulfing our table.
This is where you can berate me for being a bad food blogger (hey! I am still getting the hang of it). Since, I don’t have any photos to reference, I am not sure of all of what we ordered. I know, I know. Trust me, I know that I am the worst right now. But let me tell you in an overview how I felt about Meril. I think it was creative and clever. There was a definite distinction between the vibe and food crafted between Emeril’s and Meril. I am not a chef restaurateur, but I can imagine how hard it is to craft a vibe that is authentic while cooking up great food at a multitude of restaurants. I would definitely go back and check out Meril again. While the menu offered fare that was more “southern” or “New Orleans,” they definitely took more liberties to play with the flavors and offered more of a global variety of flavors too. It seems like the menu gets updated pretty often because looking at the menu now (Meril menu), there are about 20 things that jump out at me that I must eat...that I know that I didn’t eat when I was there.
But not all is lost… here is one pic at Meril.
Now it is time for THE LAST LUNCH. It is Tuesday and I am flying out today. But first I get to have one last meal with my friend, Lindy. The place is Cochon. The day is sunny and I am wearing pants so my thighs don’t chafe. I am already winning.
We both agree that lunch was good. Across the board good. It hit all the satisfying foodie checkboxes. Well cooked, well seasoned, comforting, and creative.
Lindy wept tears when I had to leave. Ok, she didn’t say she did, but I know that she was crying in her heart. She actually had the afternoon off to go explore NOLA after I left. Like a good student, she took my advice on the eating itinerary and dutifully chose a place that we couldn’t get to.
She went to Port-of-Call. I went there on my first trip to NOLA in 2011 and I was not disappointed. I was told to get a burger with everything and a baked potato. I told Lindy to do the same. She did (minus the sour cream because she’s a heathen). Still, I was proud of her. Lindy also had an amazing po-boy that was pretty close to our hotel. She is still raving about that sandwich. Now, I will have to go back and hunt it down.
I hope you have enjoyed all the LOVE I have for the food of NOLA. I will definitely be back. To eat. To talk with locals. To eat some more. My husband already has two work trips planned to the Crescent City and I am trying to figure out a way to go ...to eat. As far as more eating food trips with Lindy, we are currently trying to figure out where to eat next. Comment below with your suggestions from your travels or must-eat places in your hometown!
Some photos from around Nola. Including me helping Lindy work and her fabulous po-boy and cheese biscuit.
Thanks so much for reading! What are your favorite things to eat in NOLA? Leave a comment! Connect with me on IG @dana.does.things - would love to hear from you! Next week, we got my first Bread Showstopper - a filled loaf! And then it’s on to Dessert Week and some other (smaller) eating adventures.
Until then...happy baking, happy eating, happy repeating.
P.S. Lindy did get us those matching tank tops...
P.P.S The cross stitch that I got for Lindy as a present (she stitched it herself)
P.P.P.S (Last one, I swear) My hubby does exist.
***Sorry about making you wait for this second part of this series, but summer and vacation AND general procrastination were the culprits of the delay. I won't leave you hanging for this long again!***
This is the second post in my series NOLA Love...love of all food things in The Big Easy. If you haven’t read my first post, find it (here). We got an eating itinerary to get through, so LET’S GOOOOO.
Waking up Sunday in NOLA after our three-dessert-day before, I knew I had to get my butt to the gym. I would like to say that I worked out for many hours and burned a trillion calories, but let’s be real...I did the minimum on the treadmill in order to call it a work out. There was sweat on my face so it counts!
Ok, you may remember that I alluded to some tragedy with my phone in the previous post. That threw a wrench in my plans of discovering a delicious breakfast spot on Sunday morning (while Lindy toiled away at work) and instead I had to trek it to a Verizon store. In an effort to not sound like a whiny (old) millennial, I will briefly recount my phone imploding on itself. It went like this:
Dana gets on plane with a hungry belly. Dana puts her phone in “airplane mode.” Dana reads a magazine and imagines all the food she is going to eat very soon. Oysters. Beignets. Gumbo. Shrimp. Cheese! *Plane is making final descent* Dana is so happy to eat… oh and to see Lindy. (Yes, Dana knows Lindy will be mad when she sees that she comes second to food. But really, so does Dana’s husband.)
*Plane lands* Dana takes out phone to text Lindy that she has landed… Dana sees this:
*Dana gets off plane and tries to figure out how to find Lindy to eat*
Dana is tempted to pick up white courtesy telephone to page Lindy, however she realizes that it’s 2019 and the only phone numbers that Dana has memorized are her family's’ restaurant. In Iowa (that her family no longer owns.) And the house she grew up in (which strangers live in now) and her hometown Pizza Hut. None of these numbers will help Dana locate Lindy. How DO people find each other in 2019, when cell phones implode?
Dana spots a baggage carousel that is promising to bring in a flight from San Diego. Dana posts up and scans all passengers walking into baggage claim looking for a Lindy.
*Dana harasses passengers that look like they may be from San Diego*
Dana and Lindy find each other at baggage carousel one and they eat happily ever after. *Cue Music*
After slightly sweating at the gym, Dana finds herself in an old school taxi on her way to the Verizon store (in Mid-City) where they tell her that her phone has imploded on itself and will never, ever come back to life. The Verizon people will have to send her a new one, but the only option that works is to send it to her house AFTER she gets back from NOLA. Dana will rely on the paper map she picked up the day before to get around to her eating adventures.
Paper map in hand...now we eat.
The eating itinerary: St. James Cheese Company, Emeril’s (BONUS! Bakery Bar)
I found St. James Cheese Company on some internet list that said must-eat-here-if-going-to-new-orleans. I saw a couple of locations and just my luck, one within walking distance of our hotel. It also carries bread from Bellegarde Bakery which I wanted to check out, but unfortunately at the time of my visit they did not have brick and mortar retail store. UPDATE: Bellegarde brick and mortar is officially open!! (@bellegardebakery) Another reason for me to come back. Bonus: if you don't live in the area, you can order a variety of their flours online.
With my analog paper map tucked into my purse, I left the Verizon store and jumped on a street car to go to lunch. I hadn’t had anything in the way of breakfast...I don’t even know if I had any coffee. So you know I am HUNGRY. I sit back and watch the city blocks of the Crescent City go by. Side note: I love taking public transportation. That’s one of the reasons I loved living in and around the cities of Chicago and San Francisco (SF, you are still one of my favorite places on earth). You get to see a city from a whole new perspective, with less stress than driving around and dodging traffic, construction, and confusing GPS instructions. As you pass through the city streets, you can make a mental note of restaurants and cafes for your next eating adventure. Plus, generally cheaper than taking a ride share or an old school taxi.
The street car was efficient (the few times I took it) and clean. I happily jump off at my stop and duck out of the way of foot traffic to check my paper map to figure out which way to delicious food. Remember that city pride I wrote about in my previous NOLA post? I had no less than two offers to help me or walk with me to St. James Cheese because they were concerned that I was looking at an actual paper map. The locals want the tourists to get where they are going so they can keep coming back. Tourism is the number one industry for NOLA after all. Also, the locals gave me a pronunciation lesson. I finally learned how to say this street: Tchoupitoulas (CHOP-uh-Tule-les).
(The video below isn't mine, but you can get an idea of the helpfulness.)
I find St. James Cheese nestled next to a hip looking coffee shop. St. James Cheese looked pretty hip itself and vaguely reminded me of a cafe that you would see in France. I’m early (and hungry) to meet Lindy and the place is fairly quiet. I take a look around at the small market and the cold case of cheeses. I want all the cheese. I always want all of the cheese. I take a seat and peruse the menu. Immediately, I see 5 things that I want. My hunger is getting the best of me as I wait for Lindy. I figure if I order something before she gets here, I am doing both of us a favor, right? Right.
I walk up to the counter and decide today is a rosé kind of day. And it just makes sense to order a whole bottle, since we have a mini fridge in the hotel room. I mean, IT MAKES SENSE.
St. James had a special that sounded like it would go deliciously with rosé. A delightful pimento cheese dip/spread with some pickled cucumbers, red onions on the side and a chutney jam thing. A basket of toasted Bellegarde (!) bakery bread to pile all-the-things on and then to go directly into my mouth. In my excitedness to eat, I forgot to write down what the chutney jam thing was. Figs. Something with figs. Sorry, I was excited to eat.
Lindy is not surprised to find me already eating when she gets there. Since she is on a short lunch break, I briefly take her through the menu and tell her my thoughts on what we should get. Again, Lindy is not surprised that I want to eat everything. We SLIGHTLY narrow down our selections and place our order.
A croque madame, Mac and cheese (add bacon - always), and a delicious baked Brie-like cheese, called Harbinson served with candied walnuts and strawberries. A basket of more Bellegarde bread and some side salads round out our lunch spread. No regrets. The croque madame had all the elements a croque madame should have. Thick buttery bread, covered with ooey-gooey cheese sauce, salty ham, and a perfect sunny side up egg that creates a richness with the runny yolk. Seriously, me on a stranded island and endless croque madames. #welcometomyfantasy
Mac and cheese. I am a sucker for Mac and cheese. I must order it whenever it is on a menu. I need to find the best mac and cheese in the world and test all of the recipes to make the best Mac and cheese in the world. And then I must eat it all. It’s food research, okay? Luckily, Lindy also shares a passion for this quest. Unfortunately, the Mac and cheese at St. James Cheese, fell victim to the No. 1 pitfall in my “Perfect Mac and Cheese Checklist”: soggy pasta. Limp, lifeless, over cooked pasta is not a good vehicle for melted cheese sauce, no matter how delicious. Texture should not be overlooked in the perfect mac and cheese. The pasta should have a bite or toothiness to it and the pasta type should be able to hold its own against the sauce. Next, the cheese sauce...it just wasn’t “saucy” enough for me...I know that I may be a little extreme in my want for saucy mac and cheese (but c’mon, give me all the ooey-gooey cheese sauce!), so I can perhaps let that slide, but the cheese sauce wasn’t well seasoned or very memorable. The bacon was good and pepped up the dish overall, but the mac and cheese overall was not-the-best-mac-and-cheese-in-the-world. The quest continues.
The baked Harbinson cheese was brie-like and a great sharing size and the walnuts and strawberries accompanied it wonderfully. However, It was a little too mild for me. I like my brie-like cheeses to have a funk to them. The bread was delicious with everything and in every form. Thank you, Bellegarde. Can’t wait to visit your brick and mortar soon.
We hungrily devoured as much as could and got Lindy back to work (only 3 minutes late). I stashed our leftovers in our mini fridge and spent the rest of the afternoon walking and doing things around the hotel. Eagerly waiting for our dinner reservations at 7pm.
Lindy and I had planned to walk to Emeril’s together but she was running late with work so I went ahead to make sure we didn’t lose our reservation. I had never eaten at any of Emeril’s restaurant and only know Emeril through his “BAM” persona. I had nothing to gauge his restaurateur status against. We had reservations at the Chef’s counter. Sitting up close and personal in the grill station’s…um, grill, so to speak.
Perusal of the menu as I waited for Lindy, showcased some southern and NOLA classics with a chef’s ingenuity. I was personally intrigued by the whole menu, but even my stomach could only digest so much at a time. I patiently waited for Lindy to arrive and curb my ordering habits. I did ask the grill station master, what was her favorite thing to eat and she replied with the utmost honesty: “I can’t eat any of this food anymore.” I get it. You cook it all day, everyday...it’s hard to enjoy afterwards. But she did say that the BBQ shrimp were definitely a must have. Check. One order of BBQ shrimp.
Lindy arrived. Wearing pants as to not repeat the “shorts-gate” of Antoine’s 2019. My friend had rushed from work and I could tell she needed some food to quell her frustrations. Also, we had to get a move on because Game of Thrones (#GOT) episode 3 of the final season was on this night and we had to get prepared for that.
Lindy and I debriefed about her work and quickly got down to eating business. I told her that we must get the BBQ Shrimp and from my observations, the portions of the Pork Chop were E-NOR-MOUS. Maybe enormous enough for us.
After some delicious amuse-bouche, (according to good ol’ Wikipedia: An amuse-bouche or amuse-gueule is a single, bite-sized hors d'œuvre. Amuse-bouches are different from appetizers in that they are not ordered from a menu by patrons but are served free and according to the chef's selection alone. ) crostinis topped off with something wonderful and delicious...sorry, again, I was excited to eat...we get down to business and order dinner.
As we ate our way through our appetizers, we watched the dining room fill up and dinner orders being crafted in the kitchen. We had a hard decision to make for our entree selections. Do we get the E-NOR-MOUS porkchop? Do we get the fried chicken that looked crisp and juicy and artfully fried? The duck was also calling my name. But after some negotiations we settled on the Grilled Lamb T-Bone and the Lobster Fettuccini. We decided that lamb was the way to go because it isn’t something that we both order much of and the saffron rice that accompanied it sounded like something that needed to be eaten. Lobster. I am a sucker for lobster and we hadn’t had any this eating trip and pasta. I mean, pasta. Enough said.
I often shy away from lamb because based on past experiences of it being too gamey. The couple of times that I have cooked lamb at home, I don’t think that I was skilled enough as a home cook to do it well. For these reasons, sometimes I tend to overlook lamb when dining out. This lamb was juicy and tender, cooked to a nice medium rare/ medium, and the saffron rice and beans complemented it. Not too gamey. The lobster fettuccini, while hearty, was a little lackluster. The lobster was cooked well with the sweetness of the meat coming through, and while the noodles had a decent bite nothing stood out to me. Don’t worry though, we were good girls and cleaned our plates. No doggy bag required.
All in all, I will have to say that I was pleasantly surprised by Emeril’s. Not because I thought he was a chef that didn’t know what he was doing, but since I haven’t really followed his career and I’m not sure about his foundation of food, I wasn’t really expecting much. Watching the kitchen staff, was like watching a well-oiled machine. It was mesmerizing watching food flying in and out of pans, fryers, and hands. The proteins were cooked well and everything had great seasoning. I felt the admiration and respect for creole and New Orleans food in his dishes. It’s funny because my all-around food champion mentor, Anthony Bourdain, also used to give Emeril a lot of guff about his cooking, and Anthony Bourdain had nothing but praise for him when he went to his restaurant. Check out this episode of "No Reservations" (Emeril's segment starts about minute 27).
This may come as a surprise to you, but we decided to pass on dessert. *GASP* But before you get up in arms, we had to honor the eating itinerary. Since we couldn’t fit in Bakery Bar the day before, tonight was the night. Desserts would make a good addition to our GOT viewing. Plus, Bakery Bar was endorsed by our server. So, off we go.
We decided to walk the short distance to get our desserts, to help aid our digestion and walk off some calories. The journey to the Bakery Bar wasn’t that far, however, there were a couple of sketchy blocks. The things we do for cake, amiright? I would suggest that if you were walking to the bakery bar late at night bring a friend or take a ride share.
Bakery Bar was very unassuming. In fact, the first thing we noticed was a large “for lease” sign on the side of the building. We didn’t even think that the building was inhabited. However, upon closer inspection we realized that this was our final destination. When you first walk into the bakery bar it literally is a dive bar with that hipster vibe. Dimly lit, a full bar, and an offering of board games. Lindy and I zeroed in on our goal which was all the baked goods. READ: We came here for cake.
The Pastry case had an assortment of cakes as well as balls. Let me be clear: balls of cake. Cake balls. It’s just so fun to say/write. I have never been one to turn down balls of cake. We decided to get a regular cake slice that showcased even and thin layers of cake and a few balls (of cake.)
There was a lot of options, so we decided to get a few different balls of cake. Our flavors ran the gamut: peanut butter, chocolate, red velvet, cookies and cream, etc. No time to enjoy a cocktail at the bar...we decided that we needed to get back to the hotel so we can settle in and watch Game of Thrones. It was time.
According to my eating itinerary I did demand popcorn while we watched Game of Thrones. But the pickings were slim to find a place with popcorn (and prepped just the way I like it. 80% butter, 20% popcorn). And did I really need to eat more carbs after delicious shrimp, scallops, and lamb? The answer is probably yes, but I decided that the cake balls would have to make do.
We settled into our hotel room happy and full, with a box of cake. I was prepared to watch Jon Snow defend Winterfell against the Night King. Not gonna lie, the intensity of that episode actually made me forget about the box of cake. Obviously, breakfast is what cake is made for.
No spoilers on the episode in case you are still catching up. But it was a very long hour for me and Lindy as we watched it together in the dark. Stay tuned for my next installment of NOLA Love where I will take you on a hike to go get Poboy‘s. Check out @Dana.does.things in Instagram for more content.
I am baking up dessert week in my kitchen for my next GBBO challenges...new posts on that soon.
Until then, happy baking, happy eating, happy repeating.
The Big Easy. NOLA. New Orleans. A city with many nicknames, but known to most as a city with a storied history. To me, it is known as deliciousness. I first traveled to the “Crescent City” (yep, another nickname) in January 2011. I was a young, bright eyed girl, living in the City of Angels (Los Angeles, for those of you keeping track) and going on a “girls weekend” trip. At the time, I had no familiarity of New Orleans, let alone Louisiana. Maybe some vague recollection of learning about the Louisiana purchase in AP U.S. History…
I was working as a personal trainer at the time, and one of my clients was from Louisiana and gave me some tips on N’awlins (yes, that is ANOTHER nickname). On this trip my girlfriends and I traipsed around the Marigny (French Quarter adjacent), rode in a donkey drawn carriage, did the cemetery tour and went to Marie Laveau’s and more importantly, ATE. My young undeveloped foodie self went to Cafe Du Monde, where I had my first beignet and chicory coffee. Chomped down on muffaletta sandwiches that were the size of my head and had burgers at Port of Call with a baked potato with everything. And I mean EVERYTHING.
Even though it was an amazing trip...I was living paycheck-to-paycheck at the time...sometimes paycheck-to-overdrawn. My eating habits had to stick to a budget. Therefore, I was totally stoked when my friend from San Diego (America’s Finest City) asked if I would be her “Food Friend” on a work trip to the Paris of the South (I guess this nickname is shared with a couple of other Southern cities). I was excited to experience The Hollywood of the South as an older and wiser bright eyed girl, with an even bigger appetite.
Take a look at my younger self in 2011.
First course of business: create an eating itinerary. Yeah, I don’t FORK around (#thegoodplace). When I am asked to be a food friend, I am committed and will be the BEST FOOD FRIEND in the entire universe #professionaleater (Hit me up, if you wanna eat;)) With my friend actually working on what I consider her “food trip”, I had to maximize the few times that we would be able to eat together.
In order to create my eating itinerary, I turned to an all-around food culture champion, Anthony Bourdain. I have a reverence for Anthony Bourdain that runs deep. I am reading all the books on his recommended reading list (I mean, have you read “Belly of Paris”???) and, of course, reading the books that he penned. I generally trust any place that he has eaten or recommends- I may do some light cross-referencing with reviews and what not, but if he’s been there- I will get my belly there.
This was the basis of my eating itinerary with a couple extra places I found via the internet strewn in. I also included a couple of places that I really enjoyed when I was there during my first trip. Even though the time on this trip was limited, I had a few contingency food plans in case we barreled through the itinerary. Unfortunately, I couldn’t hit any places on the contingency list, but now I have my NEXT eating itinerary.
See eating itinerary below:
As my friend, Lindy, and I strolled around the French Quarter - my belly patiently waiting - the memories of walking around on my previous trip kept coming back to me. It made me even more excited to see what this present eating trip had in store for me. We stumbled upon The Spice and Tea Exchange. The store was a like a little hidden alcove with a treasure chest of spices, sugar, and tea. I focused on the spices and sugar- my brain went into overload thinking of all the different recipes I could bake and cook. Update: I already put some of them into good use… made a babka for the first time (see @dana.does.things on IG) and put some of the espresso sugar into the cocoa mixture of the babka filling. I am about to experiment a little more making eight self saucing puddings as I continue to bake my way through the Great British Baking Show- can you say butterscotch and mocha???? MMMMM.
So we purchased packets of sugars and spices and felt satisfied that we were going to take a part of NOLA home with us… the most important part: flavors for our kitchens. Next, we popped into the New Orleans Cooking School, to see if there were any classes I could take in between my feeding schedule. Alas, no, but it’s on my list for the next time I visit NOLA. Oh, then I grabbed a paper city map (remember, those?) because my phone imploded on itself on the flight to New Orleans --(I had to navigate the whole weekend without a mobile device like it was the 60s, but more on that later).
Antoine’s. I didn’t know about Antoine’s the last time I was here. And now it was time to discover the deliciousness that is Antoine’s. As you may have guessed, Anthony Bourdain, ate here during his No Reservations show (S4, Ep5). Full disclosure, I didn’t watch the episode before I went, but I did watch it as I typed up this food-memoir-blog (this is what it is right??). His experience was very different from mine. He went a couple of years after Katrina, when the city was rebuilding itself. The Antoine’s that he dined in had the bustle of kitchen staff and tuxedo-clad waitstaff, but the dining room was missing the patrons. Fast forward about twelve years to a time where trying to get a reservation was limited. We had to dine at 6:15pm or not at all. I took the 6:15pm reservation.
We arrived at the restaurant. I see the white table cloths. The hostess in a little black dress and the host in a suit. A smattering of early dining patrons in suits and dresses. Then, somewhere in my memory, I realize I either heard, read or inferred that there is a dress code at Antione’s. I, at least, have a collared shirt on and some trendy, high waisted pants (that my husband hates), but I can pass that I got dressed for dinner. Lindy, on the other hand…
“Oh, I think I remember that there is a dress code here.”
“Dana!” Lindy hisses at me.
“Get behind me.”
As we sidle up to the host counter, I see two dudes in shorts leaving. I say dudes, because they looked like San Diego PB bros… if you lived in SoCal, you know what I am talking about and you know the style of clothing they were wearing. Seeing the dudes that just walked out of the dining room, I felt positive that we were going to eat at Antoine’s despite the slight amount of sweat accumulated on our faces and Lindy’s legs on full display in her walking shorts with an active wear jacket wrapped around her waist in an effort to hide said bare legs... and a tank top. I was determined that shorts were not going to stop us on our eating journey.
When it was my turn to speak to the hostess, I turned on my commercial actor face and spoke with a vaguely British accent (I don’t know, it felt right in the moment) and said:
“Good evening. A 6:15 reservation under Bishop.” Lindy and her bare legs standing directly behind me.
At that moment, the suited host comes up to the hostess in her little black dress and whispers in her ear, behind the menus in his hand. Obviously, they are talking about us. The little black dress hostess replies back in a way that she hopes we won’t hear... but I heard:
“I know. But we already let other people in with shorts, so it doesn’t matter now.” Read: Thank you, dudes in shorts.
By the way, little black dress hostess, hadn’t made eye contact with me during this whole interaction. Perhaps my vague British accent scared her. In any case, we are being shown to our table. The other diners already seated, in some type of eating finery… we in our… casual finery. But we have a table and we sit down. Lindy immediately spreads her white cloth napkin as far it will go across her lap, as she scoots her dining chair as far as it will go under the table to hide her bare legs.
Eating itinerary is back on track. Now we can focus on what we are going to eat! While I do like to peruse menus beforehand if available, I am not a person that pre-chooses all the food I want to order. I check out the menu, if possible, to get a feel of the dining experience. Antoine’s, I did not get to peruse before hand… so I all I knew was to get the baked Alaska.
The restaurant is like walking into an a time capsule, in the best way possible. The main dining room’s walls are strewn with pictures of all the prominent people that have eaten there, newspaper clippings and of NOLA history. The waitstaff in the their black tuxes make you feel extra fancy (even if you are in shorts), and the ornate light fixtures and molding add to the ambience.
While I was tempted to get a Pimm’s cup (I have never had one), I decided to stick to a classy white wine because I am a classy lady. Kind of. In some cases. A bag with an Antoine’s logo filled with warm, crusty, soft bread came out to greet our table with butter. Yes, please. I appreciate having a little nosh while I look at the menu. First up, appetizers. Big decision. It sets the tone of the meal!
I am a HUGE fan of oysters. Raw, in Chinese stew, breaded and fried. Love. Oysters. Luckily Antoine’s offered an array of oysters in a half shell. The waiter could tell I was fretting over the decisions of which one to choose, thankfully, he suggested to get the “Oysters 3 Ways” and that sounded like the best option to me. Bring on the Oysters 3 Ways!
The oysters we got were Bienville, Rockfeller (a secret recipe, kept...uh...a secret), and Thermidor. Given the chance, I would have gotten every single Hors D’Oeuvres. But it’s a marathon not a sprint. Next time I will definitely get Huitres a la Foch -- that’s what Mr. Bourdain had. The oysters were perfect to whet the palate. Warm on a bed of salt with the briny flavor under a heap of herbs and butter or that secret sauce. One of our waiters (our back waiter perhaps, I don’t know the fancy waitstaff name), gave us some insight to the “secret sauce:” Mustard greens. I don’t know the rest of the ingredients… but I can be convinced to go back and order another plate to figure it out.
As we were eating, we got some history of the place from our back waiter. And more bread. Despite not dressing for dinner, we were eating like nobility. The entrees were perfectly enjoyable, but truth be told I do remember savoring the amadine a little bit more. And the potatoes in cream. Just like it sounds: delicious cream sauce bathing potatoes under a gooey cheese blanket.
The dining room filled up during the course of our meal and I am glad that we didn’t try to get a table wearing shorts later in the evening. All patrons seemed to be enjoying their food and company while the waitstuff whisked about here and there. We told our back waiter that we had ordered the Baked Alaska. He told us that he had a couple surprises for us. We didn’t really think anything of it as we finished off our entrees and another bag of bread (no shame). But then he appeared with an Antoine’s gift bag with two Antoine’s glasses and two signed menus for us to take home. Our very own swag bag! Take that, all you people who dressed for dinner.
After the dinner plates were cleared and I restrained myself from eating more bread… our second surprise came: A Walgreen’s Special. That’s what our back waiter called it. And who were we to argue? I think on the menu it is a Meringue Glacee au Chocolat. Vanilla ice cream on a meringue shell covered in chocolate fudge sauce and topped with almonds. I asked our back waiter why he called it a Walgreen’s Special. His reply: I don’t know, but that’s what you call it. I accept that answer.
Ok, this is our first dessert of two. A surprise dessert. A surprise free dessert. Holla. This was one of our FAVORITE things of the evening. Neither of us are huge meringue girls. I have never even attempted to make it before (but I will have to soon for my bake off challenge), but I don’t feel like meringue is really embedded in the American palate besides the occasional meringue topped pie. This Walgreen’s Special had baked meringue. Beautifully baked meringue with no cracks, with just enough bite, with just enough sweetness. Topped off with the chocolate sauce, creaminess of the ice cream, and crunchiness of the almonds… it was how do you say… Perfect. Literally sighing right now at the memory of that dessert. Back waiter did us right!
Now for our second dessert. The dessert we actually ordered. The Baked Alaska or the Omelette Alaska Antoine. A pound cake filled with vanilla ice cream surrounded by meringue and chocolate sauce, flambeed to perfection. Perfect for two. Some people are intimidated when it says perfect for two, but I’m not. Since I am accustomed to eating for a two person appetite. My bake off challenge features a baked Alaska too, so I thought this was a perfect time to eat one. Yes, I have never had a baked Alaska. It’s not something that is on every menu, because I imagine that it is a pain to make.
When that Baked Alaska came out of the Antoine’s kitchen, even I was scared of the size. Literally, the size of an American football and served tableside. Holy moly baked forking Alaska. We had to laugh at our two dessert fortune and the size of our desserts. We were definitely having the best time there. The pound cake added an extra richness and the hot fudge sauce at Antonines was DEE-LI-CIOUS. This was not a two person dessert… it’s a four person dessert. Like, two Danas. We were having such a good time that another lady at different table came up to talk to us. And I insisted that they have some of our baked Alaska, which I brought over to them. They had dessert before their entree.
Even with the sheer size of the baked Alaska and the theatricality of it, I think Lindy and I preferred the Walgreen’s Special and would have gladly had another one. But now I know what I am up against when I have to make my own Baked Alaska for my Great British Bake Off challenge. I guarantee mine will be just as big as Antoine’s.
(Yes, that is me squealing in the background of the video)
After sharing our second dessert and still giggling about the whole dinner, we got another surprise. A little guided tour of the restaurant. A guided tour in our casual finery. The restaurant is a lot larger than at first glance. Different hallways leading to other dining rooms, private dining rooms, wine cellar, an underground tunnel (!), and a MYSTERY room. What was very apparent, is that Antoine’s is firmly rooted in NOLA and its history. The societies that run the celebration of Carnival have their own dining rooms here. The rooms act like a museum, completed with encased jewels and costumes. Fun fact: the underground tunnel was used as a place for drunken sailors to sleep one off before returning to the docks the next day during the time of prohibition.
Our tour complete, swag bag in our hand, and two desserts in our bellies; we ventured back out into the French Quarter feeling very satisfied with our first eating adventure. Now on to the next one! To quote Lindy regarding my eating habits: “I can’t keep up with you.” One of the best compliments I have ever received.
Despite switching up our eating itinerary, we had to still hit up the infamous Cafe Du Monde. I know it’s “touristy” but I think it’s a rite of passage for anyone visiting New Orleans for the first time. Since we had a delicious, early dinner we decided to walk off part of our two desserts before having our third. I think the eating gods were on our side because we were able to catch the last show at Preservation Jazz Hall. Another rite of passage when visiting NOLA. The first time I came, I accidentally stumbled upon the hall and was in awe of the musicians as I swayed to the music while standing in the back. So I was excited for Lindy to experience it and this time we were up close! Front row on the cushions. Right in front of the trumpet and drums. The jazz combo was complete with world class musicians and even a trombone prodigy of thirteen years of age. These guys play like 3-4 shows a night, I have no idea how they can talk or move their mouths afterwards (or their fingers/hands). There is no photography or video allowed during the show, and they won't start until EVERYONE puts their technology away (which wasn't a problem for me). The audiences only job is to enjoy the damn music.
After the show, a certain someone may have been invited to take a picture with the drummer and sit at the kit AND get to hold the sticks!! Ok, yes, that someone was me.
We left Preservation Jazz Hall and explored the area some more and then, finally, made our way to Cafe Du Monde.Beignets and chicory coffee! At midnight, the place was still packed. What I love about this place is that it offers two things and people come from all over the world just for those two things. We only ordered one order (each order comes with 3 beignets), Lindy probably thought I was nuts for suggesting that we get two orders #professionaleater. I gave Lindy a pro tip to not inhale as she took her first bite, since all she would do is choke on the pound of powdered sugar that tops the fried doughnuts of goodness.
If you recall, the eating itinerary also included Bakery Bar. This has to be put on another day- we can't have four desserts in one day...well, I mean, we could...
As we sat there finishing the beignets and drinking iced cafe au laits, I knew that the next couple days were going to filled with delicious foods. I was eager to eat it all! ...After I hit the gym in the morning.
More on NOLA soon! And how I explored the city with no 2019 technology. So many eating adventures were had that I had to split it up. Until then Happy Baking, Happy Eating, Happy Repeating.
Hope you are having a wonderful spring! Food adventures (#adventuresineating) have been in full effect for me and I hope that the spring time gives you a chance to get out and try some delicious food or better yet, BAKE some delicious food.
It’s the continuation of #breadweek. After my long post about rye rolls, this post, in comparison, will be short and sweet. Today we are baking Ciabatta. Ciabatta is a fairly new Italian bread. Being known for pasta wasn’t enough for the Italians, they wanted to make sure they could compete with the French and their famous baguette. Thus, Ciabatta was born out of the oven.
According to Wikipedia Ciabatta was created in 1982 by a baker in Italy, in response to the notoriety of the French baguette. Since then Ciabatta has been baked into various different forms with slight variations in dough. You might know ciabatta from delicious eats such as paninis or from the light, airy structure of the bread. The word ciabatta literally means slipper in Italian. But why would you put these on your feet and not in your mouth?? #getinmybelly
Aside from eating ciabatta, I didn’t know much about it until I watched The Show (The Great British Bake Off is the show of course). As I began this #technicalchallenge, the word “patience” kept repeating in my head. Mr. Paul Hollywood’s infamous words of wisdom during the episode (which, baker Kate heeded, and came in first for the technical (spoiler alert)). I decided that I would be as patient as I could be while I delved into Mr Hollywood’s recipe (from the How to Bake).
Bread making, in general, can cause anxiety. You know... that kneading, that proofing, that I-hope-that-is-a-hollow-sound when you are tapping the bottom of the loaf to check if it is done. Since I was putting ciabatta and baguette on the same plane, I began to get a little nervous for this challenge. I have only made baguettes once (but recently started to feel the urge to make them again, now that I am more learned). However baguettes were the ultimate finicky bread and an exercise in the value of PATIENCE. Ciabatta, the Baguette rival, must be the same way, right?
I was pleasantly surprised when I opened my How to Bake book to the ciabatta recipe and found that it was surprisingly simple. In fact, the recipe called to ONLY use an electric mixer since the dough is a very wet dough. The proofing time listed was 1-2 hours (making sure the dough double or even trebled (oh, those Brits!) in size).
The tricky part is after the proofing, to NOT knock the air out from the dough, as many bread recipes will tell you to do. The air that is created from the yeast is what gives the ciabatta that light, airy texture.
Ok, for those of you that are following along (Thank you!), there is no crazy Pantry Caper during this ciabatta technical bake. Simple ingredients that anyone would have on hand: bread flour, olive oil, salt, yeast. No eggs, no butter. I would definitely spring for some good olive oil to infuse some delicious taste since you oil a square plastic tub to proof the dough in.
Square? The shape is specifically requested by Mr. Hollywood in order to help with the shaping. Well, Paul, I only had a round tub so my round tub will have to make due. I oiled my ROUND tub and felt satisfied.
I followed the directions as listed by the recipe and my dough doubled within an hour so I decided to cut and shape and not wait another hour.
(Patience, out the window, btw).
Definitely a wet dough! I gave it almost an extra 10 minutes of “kneading” in the electric mixer (#kitchenaid, if you are asking...see selfie of me and my mixer on my instagram account @dana.does.things), even though the recipe only called for 5-8 minutes. I decided to add the extra 10 minutes because the dough didn’t look like it was fully “together” and smooth. The kneading time and the round tub were my only diversions from this recipe.
A Bonus look at my delicious lunch :) You are WELCOME.
So, after baking and writing this blog... I rewatched the season 1 Bread episode... and kept my eyes and ears open for more tips about ciabatta. I think when I bake some more ciabatta next time, I will let the first proof go a little longer (going up to 2 hours, if I dare), not in a proofing drawer or overly warm area because I don't want to over activate the yeast, and still let the dough rest a little longer than 10 minutes after shaping. I loved my golden color and the chew of my ciabatta, so I think my bake time was right (less than 20 min), but less stretching for the shaping and keeping with the slipper shape may help me. I'll let you know when . I bake it again. But for now, it's onto the #showstopper.
Ok. I finally got my baking act together and got on the #rye train. I have been super excited for #breadweek, which I found weird, because if you had asked me 4 years ago — There would be no way that I would have said “oh, I’m excited to make bread.” Me, a breadmaker?! Yeah, right. There was NO WAY I would bake bread at home. It seemed like it was too finicky. Too time consuming. Too little reward. In fact, on my wedding registry, I asked for a bread machine and some generous person got one for us (and by that I mean me). So, I began use the machine to make bread. It was the epitome of “set it and forget it.” You press a button and walk away.
Now, I realize how young and stupid I was. Having your house smell like freshly baked bread every week is AMAZING! I am certainly no Paul Hollywood...yet. But I am working on it. It’s so great to create the dough out of a few simple ingredients then knead it and feel it come together. I am getting the feel of how different bread doughs should feel. I am geeking out, I know.
Rye is the issue at hand, however. Now, I have never made rye bread before. I started to consult my Crust and Paul Holllywood Bake bibles to figure what the heck is #ryebread. Rye is lower in gluten protein than in other types of flour (think: AP, Strong bread, Whole Wheat, etc.), which can make it tricky to work with since building up those protein strands during kneading is a very important component of baking bread. Rye seems to be always associated with caraway seeds… and I don’t know why… I tried to find out but didn’t have much luck. Just like a bread made with regular AP or strong bread flour (all the gluten), there are so many recipes out there to make delicious rye bread. I personally love rye bread to be the foundation for a pastrami or ham/cheese sandwich...but I digress. (Here's an article about RYE)
Since I had never baked Rye bread before, I had to get some new additions in my pantry. You guessed it, rye flour! I also decided to bake a couple loaves of rye as practice, in order to get a feel for the dough and to know what to expect. The diligence you need to have as a baker, I-tell-ya! I opted for a couple of recipes out of Crusts: The Ultimate Baker’s Book. First, I made a rye sour. No, it’s not a cocktail, it’s a rye bread starter. Though I do love me a rye old fashioned….mmmm, with a side of ham/cheese on rye…(again I digress)
Since I had never baked Rye bread before, I had to get some new additions in my pantry. You guessed it, rye flour! I also decided to bake a couple loaves of rye as practice, in order to get a feel for the dough and to know what to expect. The diligence you need to have as a baker, I-tell-ya! I opted for a couple of recipes out of Crusts: The Ultimate Baker’s Book. First, I made a rye sour. No, it’s not a cocktail, it’s a rye starter. Though I do love me a rye old fashioned….mmmm, with a side of ham/cheese on rye…(again I digress)
I have seen “sourdough starter” floating around for awhile - in my casual baking research and, of course, on GBBO. I didn’t feel that I bake enough bread to justify making a starter and mostly I have only heard of sourdough starters. How surprised I was was when I found out sourdough starter is not JUST sourdough bread… it’s used in a variety of different breads. *face palm*
A starter helps produce a great leaven and build up yummy, delicious flavors in your bread. And in case you didn’t know, during the proofing stage is where the bread builds up its flavors. That’s why you don’t want to skimp on the proofing time. But a starter has had time to ferment and turn into bubbly goodness and will add a lot of flavor to your dough. Different flours will require different amounts of time to “start” the starter. But then, you can keep it like a little pet in your fridge, and “feed” it when necessary to have some on hand for all your bread baking.
Now it was my turn to make a rye starter. This called for a medium white onion and caraway seeds wrapped in a cheesecloth and submerged into the mixture of flour, water, and yeast. Well, I guess you can add another episode of the "Pantry Caper" to the baking histories, because this baker did NOT have any cheesecloth in the house. But I am nothing if not a great bullshitter...*ahem*... improviser. I had a few reusable linen vegetable bags in my possession...so BADA-BING. I popped the white onion and caraway seeds in the bag and buried it in my mixture. (Side note: I now own actual cheesecloth).
I left my little yeast pet to ferment covered overnight. Then, the next day I removed my ingenious linen bag and “fed” the hungry pet. I definitely could see the bubbling of the fermentation and smell the yeast, onion, and caraway seeds all mixed together.
ONTO THE BREAD
My practice Rye loaves. Again, I turned to my new friend, Crusts: The Ultimate Baker’s Book, for the recipe: Polish Light Rye. With my minimal knowledge of baking rye bread, I decided to follow the directions as best as I could, which is unusual because you know that is not always the case with me.
To start this recipe, you activate the yeast in water with the rye flour, caraway seeds, and sugar.
Ok, time for #bakefail number one: when trying out a recipe for the first time; make sure you read it correctly. Eye roll.
After letting the yeast activate for about 25 minutes, I realized that I did not add the sugar to the mixture. At this point, I opted to the add the sugar to the mixture and let it activate for ANOTHER 20-25 minutes. Did I know that by doing this it would bring the demise of my first rye bread? No. Otherwise I wouldn’t have done it. But again, improvising.
Now, after activating all the correct ingredients together. I realized this is basically the start of a sourdough starter. The recipe had not listed an option to “use a starter, if available,” so I didn’t use my little pet since I was being a good little baker and following all directions. But, I put that in my note to self for my actual #bakeoff bake to put my starter to good use.
Let's get "ROLL"ing
Now, that I had a practice rye under my belt it was time to make my dozen rye rolls. For this I turned to the king of bread himself, Paul Hollywood. In addition to baking my way through GBBO, I want to bake every single recipe in this book too. I might as well utilize any chance I get. #overambitious
Unfortunately, I was not practicing baking rye rolls with different flavors because, well, a girl just didn’t have the time. In rewatching the Season 1 episode, I made sure to note the flavors that the bakers were using. I decided that my rolls would be walnut, apricot, and coffee. In researching rye bread recipes, I have found the addition of treacle or molasses is always an option, but not a must. So I figured this coffee syrup just sitting in the pantry that was begging to used, would be great. Mr. Hollywood’s recipe called for treacle (yummy, yummy treacle) and I felt that the coffee syrup would be a good substitute due to its dark color and the addition of some sweetness.
This time I was sure to use my rye sour that I had made the week prior. I couldn’t just let it sit there and not use it! I decided to use 250g of the starter and then 250g of rye flour since the recipe called for 500g.
As far as flavor goes, my flavor combo works well, but I couldn’t really taste the coffee. And I love me some coffee. I could smell the coffee during the second proof, which gave me high hopes, but the flavor wasn’t there upon tasting. Just like judges in the tent always warn: if you say a flavor is in your bake, it better be IN YOUR BAKE. So next time, more coffee flavor. The texture of the walnuts (which I toasted before adding to the dough) and apricots, was really good. But, I should have chopped them just a teensy bit more… I had a couple of big chunks of both in bites, so it made it seem unbalanced.
Could I really tell that I used a “starter?” No. But then again, I am not sure what I should be looking for in terms of taste. I felt that the rye flavor was abundant and I call that a good sign. My rolls seemed a little small so I think next time making a bigger mixture, and also adjusting proofing times. Also, the steam! While I had steam in the oven… I should have the steam going BEFORE adding the rolls. Darn! Next time. Always learning. As your reward for making it to the end of the blog... please enjoy a video of me eating a roll (below).
Until then, Happy Baking. Happy Eating. Happy Repeating.
I feel so accomplished in FINALLY finishing my first biscuit showstopper. I am not going to lie, I was feeling a lot of resistance to doing this bake… even though I practiced this biscuit bake, which is not always the case.
The reason I was feeling a lot of resistance to this, is that I am just not that kind of baker. You’ve heard me write about it before but I am not that strong at decorating in detail. And I think contributed to the anxiety of this showstopper.
But the good news (!) is that I feel like I learned a lot by doing this bake. And I learned a lot about myself as a baker.
Things I learned:
I knew that my constructing skills were going to be pretty rudimentary, so I decided to take some pressure off of myself and do A SECTION of Hogwarts, instead of trying to do a whole silhouette. I even thought at one point I would do the same section on the front and back so you would see it either way… but I realized that I wouldn’t have enough biscuit dough to do that. And honestly, I didn’t want to make more (and I didn't have the time).
I decided that I would fake some relief work and cut out windows and such and paste them on the sides of the sculpture so it would add a little extra somethin-somethin to it. Confused by the syntax of "relief work?" This is what I mean: Relief is a sculptural technique where the sculpted elements remain attached to a solid background of the same material. The term relief is from the Latin verb relevo, to raise. To create asculpture in relief is to give the impression that the sculpted material has been raised above the background plane. (Brought to you by: Wikipedia). Can I just tell you how cool meringue powder is?! Totally awesome to use as a edible and delicious (and highly sugared) glue. Helping my “relief work” to stay in place.
You can find the recipe I used for the royal icing below as well. I opted for a recipe that did NOT use corn syrup because... gross. And I did not have any corn syrup in my pantry (I definitely did not have time for another Pantry Caper). As I was doing research about royal icing, because that is what one does when embarking on making a 3D sculpture scene, I learned a trick to keep royal icing from drying out: place a damp paper towel on top of the icing when not in use and (!) add coloring before thinning out to decorate so that you don’t over-thin the icing. Love learning #bakehacks. I kept my royal icing pretty thick as I was using it to paste together biscuits. I had enough left over for any decorating that I would need to do. In theory I would have then added a tablespoon of water at a time to thin the royal icing out, but... I didn’t need it for further decorating (keep reading). But I stored the rest of the icing in a mason jar so I can use it on some cookies (that I WILL NOT be making a sculpture out of) later.
Not only did I get to learn some #bakehacks but I also got to use my new baking toys: my rolling spacers! These are the ones that I got and I think they worked great! I felt that my biscuit thickness came out really even… I am super excited to use it while rolling pastry. More excuses to bake. #bakerproblems
You can see in my video documenting my construction, the moments when I was trying to figure it out on the fly. There are a lot of those moments. Also, see if you can pinpoint the actual moment when I just decided to say "good enough" to figuring out what to do with the inside of the structure. If you don't blink you can see when I pop a little biscuit in my mouth too. :)
Confession time. By the time I was done with constructing it… I honestly was like, “I’m good” and I didn’t even bother with making cream cheese frosting to do some decorations. I had a notion to make it Hogwarts in winter because who doesn’t love Hogwarts in winter?! Instead, the end product is a little more like a vague representation of a castle made out of edible things. To paraphrase a classic movie: "It's a little like a Monet...looks good from afar, but up close it's a bit of a mess. #clueless.
BUT I AM STILL PROUD. Remember all the anxiety I had about doing this bake. Well, I did it! Do I wish that I had the follow through to make it as pretty as it could be? A little. Do I feel bad about it? Not really. I know that I have grown as a baker and I know that I don’t ever want to do a 3D biscuit anything again… but I am excited to have the holidays roll around again so I can make awesome gingerbread cookies with treacle and the cream cheese frosting...mmmmm.
In case you are wondering...the biscuit structure is STILL standing 24+ hours later. It didn’t collapse! No, I am still not going to eat it. But I do feel like making more shortbread biscuits (perhaps, blueberry shortbread?!) and those I WILL eat.
Bread Week is next. Until then, Happy Baking. Happy Eating. Happy Repeating.