Saturday, April 23, 2011

Tenacious Place: Mother's, New Orleans

Mother's Restaurant, New Orleans, LA:
New Orleans has to be one of my favorite southern cities to visit. Having been 6 times so far, mostly for fraternity functions, I have gotten to see a lot of quintessential NOLA. I have had my fair share of trips up and down the notorious Bourbon St., walked along the river in the historical French Quarter, had my palm read at Marie Laveau's house of Voodoo, eaten at the famous Commander's Palace in the Garden District, and listened to scary tales of ghouls and ghosts by some of New Orleans's expertly trained tour guides. Needless to say, I'm pretty much past the typical tourist haunts by now. 

Just last weekend, I packed up my bags and headed West on the long stretch of I-10 highway to the coastal city. It was my very best gal pal from high school, Larkie's, bachelorette party and I couldn't pass up the change to see her and one of my beloved cities. 

The Bachelorette & Great Friends :)
After a couple of long, but very fun nights out on Bourbon, we needed a good meal to set us right before parting our ways a traveling back to our respective homes. One of the girls in our group, Laura, suggested that we head to a place right around the corner from out hotel on Canal St. that would be sure to satisfy the lingering effects of the weekend's festivities. I had never heard of the place so I was intrigued to discover what this down home eatery had to offer. 

Just a short walk across Canal St. and we arrived at Mother's, situated in the bottom of an old three story building. From the outside it doesn't look like much, but there was a decent line forming from outside of the front door that made me want to know what all the fuss was about even more! Finally, we made it inside, where menus were shoved in our hands and we were directed to another line, the order line. The place was certainly a buzz with locals talking loudly over heaping piles of grits, tourists standing awkwardly off to the side, waiting for their queue to take a seat, and servers passing between tables with pipping hot plates of Mother's famous ham as if it was a grand choreographed dance. The atmosphere was busy but exciting, reminiscent of the soda fountain and diner days of the 50s and 60s. 

Mother's first opened its doors in 1938, serving up the famed po' boys to working men, laborers and lawyers alike. Owners Simon and Mary (Mother) Landry and their large family, quickly made Mother's a hot spot for hearty home cooked meals and a great place to socialize. It has since become a true staple in New Orleans, surviving through Hurricane Katrina and finding a spot on the 2008 City's Best list. The spirit of Mother's is certainly seen in every employee and in the flavors of their food. As per Mother's website, the restaurant serves up in a year:
  • No less than 175,000 lbs of ham and roast beef
  • A staggering 30,000 lbs of homemade sausage
  • A quarter of a million biscuits and even more eggs
  • AND, as many pies as their are ships that pass through the port of new orleans

Offering breakfast, lunch, and dinner, seven days a week from 7am till 10pm, Mother's is definitely a New Orleans tradition that cannot be missed. They even host parties and provide take out to those who request!

Once we made it through the order line, we grabbed our drinks and navigated through the jungle of different rooms, searching for an empty table that could seat all of us. Finally we found one and quickly took a seat. Our food was literally out in a flash and the servers couldn't have been more helpful with extra butter, the forgotten slices of toast, and another refill of OJ. 

Waffle with Blueberry Sauce

Though I usually am very mindful of what I eat, I took this opportunity to throw up my hands and surrender to the waffle. Thank goodness I did because that had to be one of the best waffles I've ever had. It was the perfect fluffy consistency and the blueberry sauce that it came with was dense and decadent like a pie. Other offerings that our group of girls got to taste were the shrimp omelette etouffee,  a delicious play on the traditional cajun specialty, and the homemade biscuits with "debris". Debris, as they call it, is the bits of roast beef that fall into the gravy during the carving process. Needless to say, Mother's has definitely found its way onto my list of "must sees" in New Orleans and I will definitely be back for round two on my next trip to this beloved southern sea town. 

Friday, April 8, 2011

Bacon Jalapeño Grilled Cheese served w/ Fire Roasted Tomato Soup

A Rainy Day Favorite:
Crappy weather should never mean a crappy meal. In fact, I love to cook those all-day type meals like braised short ribs, a pork shoulder, or pot roast on a rainy day. I can usually be seen standing over a big pot of something simmering, in sweat pants and slippers, at hours of the day when that outfit is typically a faux pas. However, we all don't have that kind of time or risk-taking fashion sense to take on these types of meals on any day other than a Sunday. So, here's an easier and quicker-cooking meal that packs a ton of flavor and none of the added gloom from the weather! Just one bite will not only awaken your taste buds, but give you a warm and soothing feeling that makes you feel like you're in your favorite sweats, snuggled up on a couch somewhere, watching your favorite movie. Try this perfect soup and sammie combo when the storms are setting in and you've got a good friend or loved one to share it with!

What you'll need: The Sammies
  • 4 slices of crusty hearty bread
  • 1 medium sized yellow onion
  • 1/4 cup of red wine 
  • 1/4 cup of chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup of shredded reduced-fat milk sharp cheddar cheese
  • 2 tablespoons of low-fat cream cheese
  • 1 tablespoon of diced jalapeños
  • 6 slices of low sodium bacon (and low fat if you can find it!)
Sammie Recipe: Makes 2 sammies 
  1. Slice onions into thin rings and place in a heated pan over medium, coated with olive oil or cooking spray
  2. Add wine and chicken broth and bring to a low boil
  3. Reduce heat and allow the wine and broth to completely cook out (evaporate) 
  4. Remove onions from heat once fully caramelized and set aside
  5. Cook bacon in same pan over medium heat until crispy, a few minutes on each side, then set aside
  6. Wipe down pan to remove the bulk of the grease, but leave the bottom of the pan still relatively coated for extra flavor
  7. Reheat pan to medium-low with a little extra cooking spray
  8. Assemble sammies as such (spread cream cheese on each slice, add cheese, jalapeños, bacon slices, more cheese, caramelized onions, remaining slice of bread) and place in pan
  9. Allow the cheese to melt but watch carefully so as not to burn the bread
  10. Flip to cook on other side, then remove from heat, slice in half, and enjoy!

What you'll need: 
  • The Soup1/2 small yellow onion, diced
  • 1 teaspoon of minced garlic
  • Olive oil
  • 1 14.5 oz can of diced fire roasted tomatoes
  • 2 8 oz cans of pureed tomatoes or plain tomato sauce
  • 14.5 oz of chicken stock, measured using tomato can
  • 1 tablespoon of butter
  • 1/4 cup of chopped fresh basil
  • 1/4 cup of half and half
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon of pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 teaspoon of sugar
  • Hand held immersion blender if you want a silkier texture
Soup Recipe: Serves about 4 full bowls of soup
  1. Heat small amount of olive oil in deep sauce pan over medium heat
  2. Add onion and garlic and cook until translucent
  3. Add cans of tomatoes and sauce as well as chicken broth
  4. Elevate heat to high and bring to a boil
  5. Add salt, pepper, basil, butter, sugar, red pepper flakes, and half and half
  6. Reduce heat to medium-low and let simmer for 10 minutes
  7. Remove from heat and let cool for a few minutes before using the immersion blender
  8. Reheat and enjoy!
Tenacious Tips:
  • I use fire roasted tomatoes in this recipe because they give a smokier cooked-all-day type flavor that is fantastic. But, regular diced or crushed tomatoes would work too. If you happen to have extra time, roasting your own tomatoes in your oven would be a nice homemade touch!
  • I found Cabot Cheese has lots of hormone free, all natural, reduced-fat varieties that work great for the sandwich. I used the 1% vermont white cheddar and the 2% sharp cheddar. They even have a reduced-fat jalapeño cheese too!
  • Although I just got a Vitamix last Christmas, I am still in love with my hand-held immersion blender. KitchenAid's version is super nice with lots of attachments, but on the pricey side at about $129. But, Better Chef makes a stainless steel one that is dishwasher safe and only $30 on Amazon or eBay. 
  • If you are wanting to make a vegetarian or vegan version of the sandwich, use an imitation bacon product like Smart Bacon from Light Life. Or if you just want a lighter option, try turkey bacon or sausage!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Tenacious Place: The Cake Shop

The Cake Shop, Tallahassee, FL:
When it comes to cupcakes, I am quite the connoisseur. I have been to an innumerable amount of different bakeries and specialty cupcake shops all over the country and have also made quite a few of my own. I have been to Sprinkles, Baked by Melissa, Magnolias, Gigi's, Lucy & Leo's, and numerous grocery stores. I love cupcakes so much that I even thought that one day I would own my own shop and call it MonkeyCakes, having developed a slew of super unique and tasty recipes of my own over the years. So when I say, "this is by far the absolute best cupcake I have ever eaten in my entire life", I really mean it. 

Every year for my birthday, as far back as I can remember, my mom has made or had made a red velvet cake. My absolute favorite recipe is my grandma "Nanny's" and she truly is the only one that can make it right (I've tried a few times and failed sadly). Because my Nanny lives all the way up in Newton, NC, my favorite red velvet cake has only made a few appearances on birthday celebrations, as I usually get a slice during holiday visits. So, each year my mom has either attempted her recipe or outsourced to a restaurant or bakery. They have all been wonderful, but none quite as good as Nanny's. This was all until two years ago at my college graduation/birthday dinner at a lovely restaurant in Tallahassee called Cypress. My mom had made a reservation for me, my family, my boyfriend, and a few friends but the only problem was their pastry chef did not make full-scale cakes. Thankfully, the nice people at Cypress knew of a great bakery not far down the road that could make a mean red velvet cake perfect for our gathering. And boy were they right! Not only was our whole table blown away at how delicious the cake was, my mom actually whispered to me, "Goodness Shea, this might actually be better than Nanny's". 

Several slices and a few days later, I just had to find out where this cake had come from. After doing a little research and talking to a couple locals, I thought I had nailed down the place. Me and my roommate decided to go in and grab a cupcake to see if it matched the taste test. Sure enough it was a dead ringer. Not to mention the box the little cakes came in was identical to the one my cake came in several weeks earlier. So now every year for my birthday or other special occasions (or maybe just when I need to satisfy a little sweet tooth) we head to The Cake Shop.

My boyfriend surprising me in Atlanta with a Cake Shop
red velvet cake

"Happy Birthday Monkey"
The Cake Shop is located on the Northeast side of town in Tallahassee and honestly doesn't look like much from the outside. But every time I stop by, there are always several people crowding in just to get a taste of their decadent cakes. And The Cake Shop isn't just limited to the fluffy goodness of cake but also make some pretty incredible cookies, brownies, and bars. 

Because I always default to my favorite red velvet cake, one of my best friends, Ashley, and I stopped in recently so I could taste a few of their different flavors. Ashley also had never been to The Cake Shop and I just couldn't let her be in the dark any longer about this incredible little place. 

Though they don't boast incredibly unique or hundreds of different flavors, they stick to what works best, simply delicious and moist cakes. We tried snickers, espresso, caramel cream, red velvet, chocolate dipped strawberry, raspberry cream, and the elvis, a banana cake topped with creamy peanut butter frosting, a new favorite!

Caramel Cream
Who would have thought that the best cupcake in America would be in little old Tallahassee, FL? If you ever happen to be passing through Florida's capital city, do not miss the chance to stop in at The Cake Shop. Their staff is always incredibly nice and helpful. They even gave my boyfriend a dozen cakes for free because it was the end of the day and they were closing! That certainly tells you something about the true baked fresh every day mantra. Please also visit their website and check out all the amazing flavors of cakes as well as bars, cookies, and brownies!