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Rustic Tomato Sauce

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Our favorite homemade tomato sauce has simple ingredients, doesn’t take too long to make, and amplifies the flavor of our basic Italian dishes. It will be the star of your pizza night, pasta night, dunking night (wha?), and more. After making this sauce, store it in airtight gallon size ziplock bags in the freezer for later use.

Here it is in action:

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Tomato Sauce
Prep Time: 5 min. Cook Time: 30 min.

Ingredients:

1 can (28-oz.) san marzano tomatoes, whole peeled
1 medium red onion, diced
5 cloves garlic, sliced
1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
1/4 cup white wine
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Optional additions:

1 pinch red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

Preparation:

Heat a dutch oven over medium heat for about a minute. Add the olive oil and onion. Add a pinch of salt and pepper and continue to saute onion for a few minutes until it starts to brown. Add the garlic and stir until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add Italian seasoning and wine. Scrape the bottom and sides of dutch oven to incorporate any brown bits. Reduce for one minute.

Slowly add the can of tomatoes with juices and crush with your spoon so they open. Add 2 cups of water and turn heat to high. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer for 30 minutes uncovered.

After 30 minutes, blend with a stick blender until smooth.

 

Travel Post: Who dat? (New Orleans)

This was my spring break…

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And this…

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And this.

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I have a really special, really rare group of girlfriends. I know that a lot of people lose touch with their high school friends after graduation, but God has put these lovely ladies in my life for a long time. This is a whole other blog topic, but I’ll surely revisit it in a future post. One of these lovely ladies is Lauren. We met in first grade. And she’s still one of my best friends. Lauren lives in NOLA, serving her city and community, and educating the movers and shakers of the future. This spring break, my appetite and I hopped in the car and away we went to visit Lauren (sadly, Neil couldn’t join this trip).

This post will feature the culinary hot spots I visited.

First up, Atchafalya (bless you). It’s pronounced (at-cha-fa-lie-yuh) and oh man, it’s good. The lighting here was super dim, so my pictures didn’t turn out well, and I don’t like to post bad pictures. It’s like going out into public without mascara. If I have to do it, I will, but I’ll feel awkward.

Naturally, we started off with the gumbo. Warm, savory, and with just the right amount of heat from the andouille sausage, this was a great dish to welcome me to the south. Their menu changes seasonally, but there are a few popular dishes that stay on it, such as the shrimp and grits. That’s what I ordered, and they were the BEST shrimp and grits I’ve ever had. Served heads-on, these shrimp were huge. The grits were creamy and fluffy. But the broth…oh, the broth. I can’t even begin to describe the savory deliciousness of the smoked tomato based broth. So good.

My friend ordered the roasted chicken that was accompanied by a fennel pancake and it was succulent and bursting with juicy flavor. The skin was crisp, and it was a hefty portion. I also tried my first Sazerac here, a New Orleans classic, which is rye whiskey, simple syrup, Peychaud’s bitters, herbsaint, and lemon peel.

The next evening we got .50 oysters (yes, .50. Do you know how much a raw oyster costs in Missouri? 3.50. At least.) and homebrew from Lüke by John Besh.

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Located in the Central Business District, they have the best happy hour around. It is the place to see and be seen after work. Even though happy hour starts at 3, you might want to make a reservation. We went at 5 and were lucky to be seated since another couple canceled. The fries here are light, crispy, and terribly addicting.

Then, went to Maurepas, a local favorite that features flavors of New Orleans and all locally sourced ingredients. The food is good and the prices are affordable. Their cocktails were innovative and delicious. Check out the lemon peel stars in my drink…

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Stealing that idea! I tried the goat tacos with harissa. I really enjoyed the four hot sauces served with the tacos. We split the sauteed greens with oatmeal gnocchi, which was just okay. But then…

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…the homemade mint ice cream with a fudge ribbon came to our table with homemade chocolate graham cracker-like crisps and mini chocolate chip cookies. This place is worth visiting if nothing else, JUST for this dessert.

Of course, no trip to New Orleans would be complete without a stop at Café du Monde.

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Light, pillowy, hot fried dough piled HIGH with powdered sugar and a café au lait. It was a beautiful sunny day and I took my time eating these delightful wonders and soaking in the atmosphere as I listened to a jazz trio nearby.

Then, we went to Cochon by Chef Donald Link and Chef Stephen Stryjewski.

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The earliest reservations on a Wednesday were for 9:30pm. I’ve heard such good things about this place- Bourdain went there on No Reservations AND The Layover. At 9:30, the place was PACKED and they were turning away people who did not have reservations.  We got there well before 9:30, so decided to wander around a bit. Right behind Cochon is Butcher, owned by the same team.

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A charcuterie lover’s dream, this meat market features various house cured meats, sausages, sandwiches, wines, beers, and more.

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It was awesome. Neil would have loved it! Okay, finally, 9:30 rolls around and we’re seated right on time next door at Cochon. We started off with the fried alligator bites with chili garlic mayonnaise.

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Oh man these were great. Alligator has a similar texture to chicken, but is a must in NOLA. I had the Louisiana cochon with turnips, cabbage and cracklins. It was out of this world delicious.

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I could tell it had just been soaked and soaked in broth, and served in the same broth which was crazy flavorful. My friend had the smoked ribs with watermelon pickle, which were sweet, sticky, and falling off the bone.

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She also had their mac and cheese casserole, served in a cast iron pan and full of sharp cheesy goodness.

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We tried to get the farmers cheese and meyer lemon pie, but they were fresh out. So, we went for the chocolate peanut butter pie. The crust is to die for, and the pie was gone in about 30 seconds.

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March is the start of crawfish season, and people in New Orleans go crazy for these little guys. Magazine street is the place to go if you’re looking for good food and funky shops. It’s also the place to go if you’re looking for crawfish. Check out Big Fisherman Seafood.

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Don’t expect to sit at a table… because there are none. This is a straight up fish market, and they just happen to boil amazing crawfish, too. So, grab a pound or three, and eat them on the stoop outside the Walgreens across the street.

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The spices in the boil were savory but with just the right amount of heat. What an unforgettable lunch!

Walking back to my car, I found Sucré, a darling sweet shop that also has gelato.

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The red velvet gelato is to die for. It’s very cream cheesy and packed with flavor.

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Whew. It was an awesome trip. I focused on food in this blog post (because hey, this is a food blog), but really if you haven’t had the chance to visit New Orleans, it is well worth your time. The food, the music, the people, and the culture were unlike any that I’ve experienced in other cities in America. New Orleans does it’s own thing, it has it’s own vibe, and I loved it. It’s a city adorned with detail-oriented architecture, hanging gardens, European-like narrow streets, excellent museums, gorgeous parks, a rich jazz history, and of course, unforgettable food. I’m already planning a return visit to indulge in this city again.

Have you been to NOLA? If you have, where is your favorite spot?

Chocolate Stout Cupcakes with Irish Whiskey Buttercream

Oh. My. Leprechauns.

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Although only a wee bit of Irish blood flows through these veins, every March 17th my inner Lord of the Dance ensemble member seems to come out. This year, I’m celebrating St. Patty’s in a most delicious way…

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These cupcakes are unreal. They’re bursting with luxurious chocolatey goodness and topped with a sweet and buttery Irish whiskey frosting. I decided to go for mini cupcakes for two reasons and two reasons only: 1) portion control 2) they’re adorable.

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Your family, friends, and coworkers will be extra lucky this year if you make these boozy cupcakes for them.

Disclaimer: I’m sure that some of the alcohol in the cupcakes bakes out, but the alcohol in the frosting does not, so DON’T eat these if you can’t or shouldn’t have alcohol.

Chocolate Stout Cupcakes with Irish Whiskey Buttercream
Prep Time: 25 min. Cook Time: 14 min.
Adapted from Bon Appetit and Smitten Kitchen

Ingredients:

For the cupcakes:

1 cup stout
2 sticks unsalted butter
4 oz. dark chocolate, chopped
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 cups all purpose flour
2 cups sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup brewed coffee
2 eggs
2/3 cup sour cream

For the Irish Whiskey Buttercream Frosting:

3 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup whole milk
1 cup butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons Irish whiskey

Preparation:

Preheat oven to 350°. Line a mini muffin tin with seasonalLy appropriate liners. Bring 1 cup stout and 1 cup butter to simmer in a saucepan over medium low heat. Add the 4 ounces of dark chocolate and cocoa powder and whisk until mixture is smooth. Add coffee and continue to whisk. Once smooth, set aside chocolate mixture to cool.

In a separate large bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

Beat the sour cream and vanilla together in another large bowl, or in the stand of an electric mixer. Add eggs one at a time, beating after each addition. Add the cooled chocolate mixture to the egg mixture until just combined.

Add the flour mixture 1/2 at a time, beating the batter on low between additions. Using a spatula, fold the batter the rest of the way and pour into muffin tins, filling each 3/4 of the way. Bake 14 min. until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Transfer to wire rack to cool.

Once cupcakes are completely cool, make the frosting. Beat all ingredients together until creamy and smooth. Frost and enjoy.

Makes 72 mini cupcakes.

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