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po-boy festival 2011, and your own private po-boy party

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By Jen White · November 21, 2011 · 0 Comments ·

The other day I was behind a lady buying two full loaves of po-boy bread, and the check-out guy said, "You making some po-boys?" And she said, "Naw, I'm gonna feed the ducks."  You should've seen the sad look on that man's face.  But I started dreaming about duck po-boys...because I had Po-Boy Fest on the brain!  Seriously, I'd been waiting for it for months, because I'd never made it out to that particular fest. The whole thing lasts a mere 9 hours, so you've got to get up and get yourself there, and the earlier the better, before the booths sell out.  I went looking for po-boys I don't see on menus, for some new experiences.  I could only handle two, but they were mighty tasty. Below, One's pate and pickled vegetables (rich & vinegary):

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by-heart mac and cheese

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By Jen White · October 3, 2011 · 0 Comments ·

Most of us have a soft spot for good old macaroni and cheese, and personal preference usually depends on what we grew up eating at potlucks, church dinners, or our grandmother's table.  Some folks insist on American cheese being the only cheese that can meld with macaroni, and some profess a strong affinity for a crispy breadcrumb topping that crunches up in the oven.  Me?  I'm a pretty straightforward, white-sauce-meets-pasta kind of gal, though I'll put just about any kind of cheese into the sauce (anything that grates, anyway--no brie or fresh mozzarella).  I like an extra layer of cheese over the top, and I've developed a tendency to add a dollop of grainy Creole mustard to the sauce before I stir in the macaroni; it sparks the sauce a little bit, just the way I like it.

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triple complete rainbow: my favorite stir-fry

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By Jen White · July 26, 2010 · 0 Comments ·

Everybody's rainbow talkin' these days, and I have to admit I say "Double complete rainbow!" at least once every 48 hours.  (If you haven't heard of the Rainbow Guy yet, watch the video at the bottom of the post.)  Now I'm shamelessly stealing one of his most charming phrases for the title of a stir-fry of three proteins and three colors of vegetables.  It might be cheesy, but it's exactly what I said when I was deciding what to add to the three proteins we'd purchased (catfish, shrimp, and chicken) and standard stir-fry sauce-building trinity of garlic, ginger, and scallion: "...and then if I have red bell peppers, carrots, and green onions, it'll be...it'll be like a triple complete rainbow!"  And you know what came next:  "All across your plate!"

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in need of comfort: pan-fried catfish with black-eyed pea salsa

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By Jen White · May 29, 2010 · 0 Comments ·

I have to be honest:  I'm a little down these days. It's normally a great time to be in this wonderful city--festivals, sno-balls, seafood everywhere you look--and of course, that's the reason for the blues.  The seafood.  No fried oyster po-boys, no raw oysters in some spots.  Fishing folk shuttling executives out to the rigs instead of pulling in hundreds of pounds of shrimp.  It's a crying shame.

I haven't even felt much like cooking lately, though I've been desperate to eat something homey and comforting.  I just couldn't think of what that was.  So yesterday I started scribbling, doodling, trying to get down to the basics of what would make me feel better, and I came up with one of my favorite childhood meals:  fish sticks, peas, and mac and cheese.  Have you ever had this, or something like it?  With a little ketchup on the plate, it looks beautiful, in a Crayola kind of way:  crunchy golden fish sticks, a big splotch of red ketchup, bright green peas (cooked from frozen in nothing more than salted water), and orangy-yellow mac and cheese from the blue box.  Every time my mom pulled the ingredients out for this feast, I got so excited.  It was happiness in one of its purest forms:  looking forward to something.  Plus, I liked the challenge of getting one of those straight macaroni on each of my four fork tines before I took a bite. 

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You Are My Sunshine

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By Jen White · May 19, 2010 · 0 Comments ·
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Last Sunday, we went to the Gulf Aid benefit concert with some dear friends. It was an enchanting, oh-so-New-Orleans kind of event: walking through Mardi Gras World, where hundreds of floats and float adornments are created and stored; sampling soundly delicious seafood creations by some of the city's best restaurants and caterers; watching the tugboats and barges troll along the Mississippi; listening to heartfelt, intensely dedicated performers like Tab Benoit call us to attention, lest we forget whom we need to help; chanting "Who Dat?!" spontaneously, like a family, because we are a family.

Singing "You Are My Sunshine"--our state song--a capella, at the tops of our voices.  You hardly ever hear the final Louisiana-specific verses, and we didn't sing them either, but here they are, in all their sweetness:

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jazz fest '10

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By Jen White · May 2, 2010 · 0 Comments ·

The day we chose to go (to see Van Morrison) was a wet one, but we still got in some good eats.  Plus some Juvenile and some awesome music in the gospel tent.  Here are some photos of folks enjoying the food--including some damp, dedicated crawfish peelers.


We got the combo on the sign below: potato salad, creole stuffed crab, and catfish almondine.

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parts of a whole

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By Jen White · March 8, 2009 · 0 Comments ·
I wouldn't call myself a fan of green beans. There's something about them I just don't really care for--too much "green," too much "bean," too much of each of those combined. And green beans and potatoes? There seem to be many calls for these two items together, in curries, stews, or pasta dishes, and I just don't get excited. For whatever reason, though, I can abide them both in a good, solid niçoise. Perhaps it's the way, in a niçoise, they are two components among several others which are all considered important and equal. Perhaps it's the relentless individuality they retain when grouped this way, much like the way people on a team know, deep inside, that even though there's no "i" in "team," there's a "me."
A niçoise is a pretty forgiving square meal. It's meat (traditionally, tuna), veg (green beans), and potatoes, along with various accompaniments that kind of add up to a plate of hors d'oevres, and it's meant to be served at room temperature, which is always a comfort when you're not really up to finishing several different cooking times at once. There are some steps, but they're basic as basic can be: boiling, steaming, baking, and vinaigrette making. It can be served over greens or not, tossed or not, and made expensive or not (one of the perks of living in New Orleans is freshly caught catfish). It can even be seafoodless and still be very satisfying. There's hardly even a recipe to follow, once you've got the basic idea down.
A More Local Niçoise
  • 4 portions of seafood (something inexpensive and local, if possible): shrimp, scallops, catfish, crawfish, tuna, salmon, bass, etc.)
  • 12 small red boiling potatoes, scrubbed but not peeled
  • 2 big handfuls green beans, trimmed
  • 1 large ripe tomato, or 1 pt. cherry tomatoes
  • 3/4 cup pitted olives (preferably niçoise, but kalamata are fine too)
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 lemons
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • a few teaspoons of wine vinegar (white, red, or champagne)
  • 1-2 teaspoons Dijon or grainy mustard
  • salt & pepper
  • salad greens (optional)
  1. Make the vinaigrette first, which is the unifier of this dish: Mince the garlic and place in a bowl or measuring cup large enough for a whisk to move around in. Juice the lemons and add the juice to the garlic. Shake in a little wine vinegar and plop in the mustard. Start whisking this mixture with one hand, and with the other hand, slowly pour in the olive oil. This doesn't need to be perfectly emulsified; you'll keep whisking it every time you use it. Taste it, and add salt and pepper and additional vinegar until it tastes like a strong salad dressing. I like it slightly overseasoned, because the potatoes and beans are going to break it down a little.
  2. Potatoes: Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and boil them whole until a knife will almost go into the center of one easily. Take them off the heat, drain, and return to the pot and add the lid. Let them steam in the pot (no fire underneath) for another 10 minutes to finish cooking. Let them cool for a bit, then quarter or halve them, depending on size. Toss them in a bowl with some of the vinaigrette and set aside.
  3. Green beans: Put about 1 cup water in a medium saucepan, salt it, and bring to a boil. Add the beans and cook them the way you like them: really crunchy, slightly crunchy, soft, or cafeteria-soft. Drain them, cool them for a long minute, then toss them in a separate bowl with some vinaigrette.
  4. Seafood: Decide how you want to cook it: bake, broil, grill, saute, poach, etc. Season it with salt, pepper, and anything else you like (I used catfish & some seafood grill seasoning I had on hand). Drizzle it with a bit of olive oil (or another kind of oil) and cook it the way you like it (I baked it at 400 for about 12 minutes) and let it rest for about five minutes for most of the heat to leave.
  5. Eggs: Hard-boil, cool, peel, and halve.
  6. Tomatoes: Cut into 8 wedges (if you have cherry tomatoes, you can halve them or leave them whole) (as you might notice in the photo, I forgot to buy tomatoes).
  7. Olives: Snack on a few and then just keep them at the ready.
  8. Greens (if using): Make these ready to use as a bed for the other ingredients: wash & tear the greens and toss them with some of the vinaigrette, as you would for any salad.
  9. Compose: On each plate, place greens, potatoes, green beans, two egg halves, two tomato wedges, several olives, and a portion of seafood. Drizzle a little more vinaigrette over the whole dish and serve.

Serves 4.


taking the long way: Casamento's

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By Jen White · January 4, 2009 · 0 Comments ·


If you want to eat some good seafood, and you want to eat it at a NOLA institution, Casamento's on Magazine Street fits the bill. I fell in love with this place the minute I saw it, though we had to find something else to do with ourselves while we waited for it to open. It was so worth the wait.

The problem was that we arrived too early. Tip #1: they open for dinner at 5:30, Thursday through Saturday only.

So we headed toward the track, to visit Liuzza's, famed for its po' boys--a tip from Davey and Gracie. BBQ shrimp po' boy? Garlic oyster po' boy? Yes. But along the way, we got distracted by the idea of stopping on St. Charles for a drink somewhere, then got even more distracted by a new route which ended up taking us downtown. We decided to land in the Quarter. I found my first-ever parking place on Bourbon Street (a very big deal). Since we were there, we thought, "Frank's"--we'd heard great things about it. Alas, our stay was short. Under pressure from our waiter, we ordered crab-stuffed mushrooms, which were highly flavorful, but $10 for three? Ouch. Tip #2: Frank's is tasty but priced for tourists. Luckily, we mustered the courage to brave the rain and the traffic and head back to the car, by way of Molly's. Tip #3: Molly's is a cozy little place, but it gets real fratty on Saturday night. Back uptown, we returned to our starting point at 7:00 p.m., which was just in time to beat the crowd.

Casamento's was established in 1919 and still inhabits the same location. It's small, tiled, and bright, and you walk through the miniscule kitchen to get to the restrooms. I absolutely love walking through restaurant kitchens. More!

At Casamento's, the sandwiches are "loaves," which differs from a po' boy by bread. The bread for a loaf isn't the light, fluffy New Orleans French that you expect when you order a po' boy. It's thick-cut white toast, the type I normally call "Texas." Somehow that doesn't feel right anymore. I guess I'll start calling it "loaf." I think there's a little garlic butter spread on this bread. Your basic NOLA "dressing" of mayo, tomato, and lettuce, and then the lightest, freshest fried catfish you can imagine. Oh my.

The menu is small but complete. Everything you could want in a New Orleans seafood joint is there: seafood gumbo (a tomatoey version), fresh, juicy raw oysters ($9 a dozen! $4.50 half dozen!), fried trout and catfish, softshell crabs. The star, to me, was the catfish loaf I ordered--the best-tasting sandwich I've had in this city, bar none. I'm a fan of Casamento's for several reasons, but their "small prices"--the choice you have of ordering a full-sized dinner for $12 or a half-sized dinner for $6.75--are the most important, for me. I'm a taster. I don't need a huge plate, and I usually don't even want it. I respect a restaurant that does something to keep me coming back: excellent food, fair price.


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