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the miracle of 5-hour onions

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By Jen White · March 7, 2013 · 0 Comments ·
French onion soup, a la Bouchon, made with 5-hour onions

Paul had been requesting French onion soup for, I don't know, about 2 years? And I kept putting it off, partly because I knew there were so many different ways to make it and I had no idea which to try first. But Paul was pretty adament about trying Thomas Keller's version in the Bouchon cookbook. Two things about this recipe stood out at once: there's no alcohol involved in the cooking--no wine, brandy, or sherry, which nearly every recipe for French onion soup calls for (he does call for sherry vinegar at the end, but that's different).  And the onions for the soup cook for 5 HOURS.  Much, much longer than your typical formula for caramelized onions. But these are not your typical caramelized onions. Oh, no. These are onion butter.

All it takes it about 8 large onions, a stick of butter, a little salt, 5 hours, and a heat diffuser, aka simmer mat or flame tamer. Above is the one I got off amazon.com for about 10 bucks. The heat diffuser is a little disk that you place directly on your burner (gas, electric, ceramic, whatever) in order to evenly distribute the heat, so you don't get "hot spots" in the pot which lead to burned food.  Only with a heat diffuser, and a very sturdy pot, can these onions even withstand the torture of 5 slow, hot hours. Being in the pot without a heat diffuser would be like going on a five-hour bike ride in Joshua Tree National Park and putting sunscreen on only half of yourself. Hot spots.

Start out by slicing about 8 large onions, or 7 quarts' worth. Throw them in a big heavy pot (this is our 8-quart Le Creuset) set on top of the heat diffuser and turn the heat to low. Toss in a stick of butter and a tablespoon of kosher salt. 

The onions will give off a lot of liquid and start cooking down quickly. You'll need to stir them about every 30 minutes or so. This is after about 1.5 hours...

and this is after hour 4.  If by the fifth hour they aren't dark brown and wine-scented, turn the heat up a bit and stir them more frequently. They'll color up and become the richest little devils you've ever tasted.

Like so. The amazing thing is that what started as 7 quarts of onions is now a mere 2 cups, but the same amount of butter is still in the pot.  It's gotten acquainted with the onions and melded together so what you have now isn't really onions. It's like flavor magic.  Truly, these do taste like they were cooked with a bottle of red wine.  At this point, do whatever the heck you want with them. I'm no one to boss you around.  But here are a few suggestions:

Use them on a pizza. We made this one with 5-hour onions, smeared around sort of like a pasty sauce, sauteed squash, prosciutto, and smoked gouda. Oh. My. Goodness.  

Or, use them on a sandwich--they spread like jam once heated up a little bit (if you take them cold from the fridge, they're stiff because of all that butter).  This was the beginning of a beautiful sandwich: 5-hour onions, roasted pork tenderloin, vinegary greens.  Very good stuff.

Or, stick with a more classical use, and make good 'ol onion soup. Thomas Keller's recipe really is pretty simple: Place 1.5 cups of the cooked onions in a pot and sift a tablespoon of flour over them, cooking on low heat for a couple of minutes. Pour in 3 1/2 quarts of very rich beef stock. Add a sachet of 2 bay leaves, 12 peppercorns, and 6 thyme sprigs, tied together inside cheesecloth. Simmer for about an hour or so, until reduced to about 2 1/2 quarts.  Season with salt, pepper, and a few drops of sherry vinegar.  (The complete recipe, including croutons, can be found here.)  You will be very pleased with yourself.

5-hour onions (adapted from Bouchon)

  • 7 quarts peeled, sliced onions (about 8 large yellow or white)
  • 1 stick unsalted butter (8 tablespoons)
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt

  1. Place a heat diffuser over a burner, and a large heavy pot (8 quarts at least) on the diffuser. Melt the butter over low heat.
  2. Add the onions and salt, and cook over low heat for 5 hours, stirring every 30 minutes or so.
  3. Use as your heart desires.

makes about 2 cups.

love and pasta at domenica

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By Jen White · January 24, 2013 · 0 Comments ·
passing the plates at Domenica

I have a serious, life-long, nearly debilitating crush on handmade pasta.  I love its freshness, its tender bite, and the way just a little sauce elevates it into the highest form of art.  When I see it on a menu, at places like La Petite Grocery or August, I'm done. Take the menu away, just bring me the pasta, please. Pronto. So Domenica, whose menu features handmade pasta at every turn, among other authentically prepared Italian delights, naturally holds a place very dear to my heart--my almost Italian, highly dramatic, pasta-loving heart.

Left: octopus carpaccio. Right: tagliatelle with rabbit and porcini

I met the chef of Domenica, Alon Shaya, last year at the Tabasco event I attended on Avery Island, where he proceeded to make fusilli by hand, torture shrimp into a beautiful stock, and generally wow us all with his homemade cured meats and warm olives.  He's a master at his craft, and the restaurant reflects his easy-yet-professional style.  Vegetarians and vegans have nothing to fear here: just tell them, and they'll please most eagerly.

roasted brussels sprouts with pancetta

with your cheese and/or salumi board, you get these savory "beignets", little puffs of crackly, buttery bread

At Avery Island, Shaya prepared a 5-course tasting menu featuring different Tabasco sauces. The meat course was a slow-roasted porchetta, but for the vegetarians, he offered a whole roasted cauliflower.  You can order this at Domenica, along with the most fantastic whipped feta cheese as a sauce.  Hint: try this whipped feta on everything you possibly can.  It never fails!

whole roasted cauliflower with its accompaniment of whipped feta (looks like hummus, but is so not hummus)

This is a great place to bring a bunch of friends and order many small plates so everyone can have a taste of the good life. Be warned that it will be a little on the noisy side, so save your important discussions for another time and place. Also, though they have a wine list, you can bring your own bottles with NO corkage fee.  True!  Plus, they're making some smashingly good king cakes these days.  Check out their happy hour, 3:00-6:00 daily, and be on the lookout for their Seder Menu, which promises to be special.

andouillin' it: spinach, mushroom, and andouille omelet

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By Jen White · January 3, 2013 · 0 Comments ·

Happy 2013! Let's get cooking! 

You might have read this post last year when I talked about a resolution I'd made for 2012, to eat breakfast every day.  For the most part, I kept it up--at least I did MUCH better in 2012 than I had in 2011. It's also a habit I plan to keep for 2013, with even more variety and vegetables in every breakfast.  One of my favorite ways to sneak in extra vegetables is in an omelet, which makes it easy to use small amounts of meats, veggies, or cheese that you have sitting around in your fridge, patiently waiting to be adopted into some interesting concoction.

Omelets themselves can be kind of tricky, but I'm making a "country style" omelet here, which is much easier (in my opinion) than the traditional French style.  If you want to try a French omelette, study this Julia Child video first. Just watch the first 30 seconds, and you'll see how easy it can be. That kind of omelet making is kind of like winning an olympic gold, so if you've got the guts, go for it! Or do it like I do below, which will give you an omelet big enough for two.

It takes a non-stick skillet or omelet pan to make an omelet, and I always use the same pan to pre-cook the filling first. After sauteeing the vegetables, just wipe the pan out really well; no need to wash it.

The filling, sauteed and ready to be tucked into the omelet.  I have to tell you that this melange is really good on its own, and would make a nice dinner tossed with rice or pasta.  

In an 8"- to 10"-skillet, melt the butter over medium heat (closer to medium-high) until the foaming subsides.

Pour in the eggs!

Start dragging eggs from the outside edge toward the center with a rubber spatula. It will seem like you're making too many lumps in the middle, but all the rest of the liquid egg will become the same thickness as those first lumps, so don't worry.

Keep repeating this dragging motion, letting the uncooked egg run under the cooked edges, 

until the top of the omelet has only...

a little runny egg left on top. It should take about a minute and a half to get to this point.

Turn the heat to low and cover the top for a minute, to help set the runny egg whites.

Place two-thirds of the filling on one half of the circle, topped with the cheese.

And carefully, very gently, coax the empty half over the filled half with the rubber spatula. I spy a crack in my omelet!

Yep, that's a pretty big crack! But I'm not worried, because that's what I saved the rest of the filling for:

to help cover mistakes.

spinach, mushroom, and andouille omelet

  • 2 tablespoons butter, divided
  • 1/4 cup diced red onion
  • 1/3 cup diced andouille (remove the casing before you chop)
  • 1/2 cup sliced mushrooms
  • 1 cup (packed) baby spinach
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • Tabasco or other pepper sauce, to taste
  • 5 eggs
  • 1/3 cup shredded swiss cheese (or use 1 big slice, torn into pieces)

  1. Heat a medium (8" to 10") nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, and melt 1 tablespoon of butter in it.  Add the onion and andouille and saute for five minutes, until they start to brown. Add the mushrooms and thyme, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and saute another 3 to 4 minutes, until the mushrooms give up their liquid and turn soft.  Add the spinach, stir until it wilts (about 30 seconds), and remove the filling to a bowl or plate.
  2. Wipe out the skillet well so there are no stuck-on parts of anything left.
  3. Beat the eggs in a bowl with a pinch of salt and pepper to taste, and a few shots of Tabasco if you like it (I do!).
  4. Melt the remaining tablespoon of butter in the nonstick skillet over medium heat (leaning toward medium-high, but not too high).  Swirl the pan to completely coat the bottom with butter--add more butter if you need it. When the butter starts to lightly brown and most of the foam is gone, pour in the eggs.  With a rubber spatula, start pulling the cooked egg from the edge of the pan toward the center, forming large curds of egg.  Do this for a minute, dragging eggs and letting the runny parts cook at the edges, until you have just a little bit of wet egg on the omelet top.
  5. Reduce the heat to low, cover the pan with a lid, and let the top cook for about 30 seconds, until it's just set (it will still be a little wet, but that's totally fine).
  6. Place 2/3 of the filling over one half of the omelet circle and top with the cheese. Carefully, and with a great deal of faith in yourself, use the rubber spatula to lift the empty half of the omelet over the filled half. Keep loving yourself even if there's a crack!
  7. Leave the folded omelet in the pan for a few more seconds, to help the cheese melt. Carefully slide or lift it onto a plate and top with the remaining 1/3 of the filling.

serves 2

5 easy pieces, part 5: mashed potato cakes

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By Jen White · December 2, 2012 · 0 Comments ·
Finally, here's an easy recipe for turning leftover mashed potatoes into something other than soup. These cakes are simple to mix, quick to cook, and will do wonders for your brunchatude (top it with a poached or fried egg, above, and you're in business!).  You can also jazz them up further by mixing in any little bits of cheese you have lying around, goat cheese and cheddar being two excellent choices.

mashed potato cakes

  • 2 cups leftover cold mashed potatoes
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup seasoned dry breadcrumbs
  • butter and olive oil

  1. In a medium bowl, combine mashed potatoes and egg and mix well (it should be a little stiff still).  Season with salt and pepper if you think the potatoes might be a little bland.
  2. With your hands, form potato mixture into small cakes, about 2.5" in diameter and 1/2" thick. You'll have 4 to 5 cakes.
  3. Dredge the cakes carefully in dry breadcrumbs, pressing a little to help the breadcrumbs stick.
  4. Heat a nonstick skillet over medium high heat. Melt 1 tablespoon of butter and 1 tablespoon of olive oil together.  When the butter stops foaming, add the cakes without crowding (you may need to do two batches).  Cook until golden brown on the bottom, about 4 minutes. Carefully turn and cook until the other side is browned, about 4 more minutes. Serve immediately.

makes 4 to 5 cakes

MORE EASY PIECES: smoked salmon breakfast pizza; roasted potatoes and turnips; butter bean hummus; greens with andouille.

5 easy pieces, part 4: greens with andouille

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By Jen White · November 30, 2012 · 0 Comments ·
There's a fantastic recipe called "Voodoo Greens" in The Encyclopedia of Cajun and Creole Cuisine by Chef John Folse that produces the most amazing greens I've ever had.  The recipe calls for no fewer than 6 types of meat and sausage, 8 types of greens, and takes hours of simmering, but the liquor that accumulates in the pot is highly addictive. We've made Voodoo Greens before to go along with a big pot of black-eyed peas for New Year's, and I've seen friends drink the greens juice straight from the bowl.

I want a bowl of meaty greens sometimes without the hours of work, though.  This is a shortcut method for a side dish that works well with fish, pork chops, meatloaf, or chicken, or as something to toss with freshly cooked pasta.  You can also use it as an omelet filling (just make sure you drain off the juice).  Get green!

greens with andouille

  • 1/2 pound andouille sausage, casings removed, sliced in quarter-circles
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 to 4 cups chicken stock
  • 2 large bunches of greens (I used mustard and collards), stems trimmed and leaves chopped or left whole, as desired
  • red wine vinegar, to taste
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • Tabasco or other hot sauce

  1. Heat a large saucepan over medium high heat and pour in the oil.  Saute the andouille for about 5 minutes, until browned.
  2. Add the garlic and stir for a minute. Pour in 2 cups of chicken stock and start adding the greens a few handfuls at a time, until they wilt down enough to all fit in the pot.
  3. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a low simmer, cover, and simmer for 35 minutes to an hour, until the greens are very tender.  Keep checking the liquid level and add more chicken stock if necessary to keep the greens from drying out and burning.
  4. Season to taste with red wine vinegar, salt and pepper, and Tabasco.

serves 4 to 5 as a side dish

MORE EASY PIECES: part 1: smoked salmon breakfast pizza; part 2: roasted potatoes and turnips; part 3: butter bean hummus

5 easy pieces, part 3: butter bean hummus

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By Jen White · November 29, 2012 · 0 Comments ·

I started making hummus from scratch last year, when I discovered the organic dried chickpeas in bulk at the neighborhood Rouse's.  I love to make it, but let's be honest: chickpeas take forever to cook, especially when you want them really soft, for hummus.  But you can make a serviceable hummus out of just about any dried bean or pea: black-eyed peas, lima beans, black beans...and butter beans! While all of these might be tasty, the prettiest ones are going to be made from white or very light-colored beans.  I've made black bean hummus before, and it turns out kind of blue-gray. Not untasty, but not winning any beauty contests.

Butter beans, a.k.a. large limas, are perfect for making a from-scratch hummus because they cook very quickly--just about 45 minutes in gently boiling water.  You can also use canned, of course, just as you would use canned chickpeas for hummus.  I like the fact that butter beans are a Southern cooking staple, too.  Try some! 

Use your own favorite hummus recipe, or if you don't have one, here are some amounts to get you started.

butter bean hummus

  • 4 cups cooked butter beans, drained & liquid reserved (or 2 15-ounce cans)
  • 1 to 2 cloves garlic, peeled
  • juice of 1 to 2 lemons
  • 1/4 cup tahini (sesame seed paste)
  • salt to taste
  • sumac, paprika, or cayenne pepper, for garnish
  1. Drop the garlic cloves in a food processor fitted with the steel blade and process until finely minced. Add the butterbeans, lemon juice, a few tablespoons of bean liquid or water, and tahini, and process until pasty.
  2.  With the motor running, slowly drizzle in olive oil until a creamy mixture is formed.  Season with salt and additional lemon juice, if necessary.
  3.  Sprinkle the top with sumac, paprika, or cayenne, and drizzle with a little more olive oil.

makes 2 cups

MORE EASY PIECES! Part 1: smoked salmon breakfast pizza & Part 2: roasted potatoes and turnips

5 easy pieces, part 2: roasted potatoes and turnips

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By Jen White · November 28, 2012 · 0 Comments ·
There's nothing easier than roasting vegetables, and this is a great combination that yields crispy red-skinned potatoes, caramelized sweet potatoes, and robust little baby turnips whose tops become crunchy after a long baking time.  I love to cook vegetables this way; it's an easy side dish that will go with just about anything, needs hardly any seasoning at all, and will look after itself for most of its oven time.  Sometimes I'll pop a pan of veggies in the oven and THEN decide what the main course will be for dinner, while they're baking.  

You can season roasted roots however you want: salt and pepper, fresh or dried herbs, spices such as curry powder or paprika.  There are no rules! I've never tried a roasted vegetable I didn't like.  Lagniappe: Make a really big batch, then puree the leftovers the next day with chicken stock for roasted vegetable soup!

roasted potatoes and turnips

  • 3 medium red skinned potatoes, cut in 1" chunks
  • 2 small sweet potatoes, cut in 1" chunks
  • 1 pound baby turnips, tops trimmed (or regular turnips, cut in 1" chunks)
  • extra-virgin olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste (plus any herbs and/or spices you like)
  1. Preheat the oven to 400.
  2. In a large, shallow baking pan, combine the potatoes and turnips.  Drizzle with a couple tablespoons of olive oil and season well with salt and pepper. Toss with your hands to coat and distribute the oil evenly, spreading everything out into a single layer.  Add more seasoning if necessary.
  3. Roast for 40 to 60 minutes, until browned and tender, stirring once or twice throughout the cooking process. 

serves 3 as a side dish

See part 1 of 5 Easy Pieces: smoked salmon breakfast pizza

5 easy pieces: smoked salmon breakfast pizza

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By Jen White · November 27, 2012 · 0 Comments ·

Folks, I've got a backlog of food photos I took near summer's end, and even though I don't have time to scratch out full-fledged posts for them, they're still worth sharing. So this week, a stretch of 5 easy recipes to make--so easy they barely warrant a recipe at all, but I'll include one anyway. Check back every day through Saturday for a new post!

This super-easy tortilla pizza is a spin on a quick snack we make often around here, usually with pepperoni and mozzarella, but it makes a tasty breakfast when you've got some lox to rock out.  To make a pepperoni or other kind of pizza, use the tortilla-crisping method described here, then return to the oven after topping the pizza until the cheese melts and everything's hot.

smoked salmon breakfast pizza

  • 1 large (10") flour tortilla
  • extra-virgin olive oil
  • goat cheese, about 1/4 cup, softened
  • a few slices of gravlax or other smoked salmon
  • capers
  • green or red onion slices

  1. Place a baking sheet in the oven and preheat the oven to 400 for about 10 minutes.
  2. Remove baking sheet and lay the tortilla on it. Brush lightly with olive oil, then return to the oven for 5 to 10 minutes, until it's crisped and toasty (it may get some air bubbles in it but you can flatten these with your hand).
  3. Spread tortilla with goat cheese and layer with salmon, capers, and onion slices. That's it!

serves 1 to 2

i'll have another...Milk Bar!

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By Jen White · November 19, 2012 · 0 Comments ·
The Milk Bar, 1514 Delachaise St.

When Paul and I first tried the Milk Bar last spring, we were pretty jazzed: we got two delicious, hot po-boys, with not-your-average-bear fillings, for a very good price. But there was the issue of parking, and driving all the way up to Touro (the original Milk Bar is right next to it), and the fact that it wasn't open on weekends if we wanted to take out-of-town guests there. Those things made it not quite convenient enough of a place to eat, even though I really wanted it to be.

The new Milk Bar, 710 S. Carrollton

Now, the world is a better place. There's a new Milk Bar in the Riverbend! AND it's open Monday through Saturday, 8:00 am to 9:00 pm.  My sandwich prayers have been answered!

There are a few things I want to tell you about this place. It's not your average po-boy shop. In fact,

  • there isn't a fryer, so there are no french fries (though they have Zapp's)
  • there's no fried seafood
  • there's no alcohol

But what isn't average-po-boy-shoppy about The Milk Bar is also what makes it a special place, because it has

  • a full coffee menu
  • extremely delicious milkshakes and smoothies
  • lots of salads--not something Nola is known for, right?
  • out of the ordinary po-boy fillings
  • a couple of breakfast sandwiches
  • free lollipops
  • good prices!

The Milk Bar is owned by an Australian wife and a Brit Husband, and though they don't serve lamb pies (which made Paul a bit cross at first), they do serve roasted lamb in po-boys, sandwiches, and salads. And let me tell you that it is GOOD.  The roast lamb po-boy that Paul has gotten twice now (pictured above) is the best-tasting roasted meat po-boy I've ever had. It's rich and meaty but not overloaded with garlic, and the gravy is present, but it doesn't totally soak through the bread, rendering it unpickupable. This is a 12-incher for $8.00 NOT EVEN KIDDING.

And the Thai Chilli Chicken (above) is delicious. Truly one of my favorite sandwiches ever. It's a little sweet from the chilli sauce, but I've never minded that.  $7.00. For real.

This is the Chicken Parmesan po-boy, which is very tasty, but be warned, not fried. They use roasted chicken in it, same as for the Thai Chilli Chicken. Still, warm and melty with mozzarella and red gravy, it's a good tasting sandwich, and healthier to boot.

As far as I can tell, The Milk Bar has no website. I'm including photos of the menu I got last week so you can read and salivate:

An Al fresceaux Oktoberfest!

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By Jen White · October 30, 2012 · 0 Comments ·

If you can, take this opportunity to eat an Oktoberfest-inspired feast paired with New Orleans beers courtesy of Al fresceaux, an innovative new dining experience.  Here's the menu for Thursday, November 1: 

  • Roasted garlic and lobster bisque, wild mushrooms, shallots, fennel-orange salad
  • Duck pastrami, bremers greens, goat cheese, pecans, sliced pears
  • Wild boar & kobe oxtail carbonara, truffle cous cous, parmesan, fresh basil pesto
  • Black garlic ice cream, nutella crisp, fresh mint, sous vide pumpkin
They still have some seats available for November 1, so why not join the fun? 


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