Around Town: Gambit Food Revue 2

Last year, Gambit started a little thing called the Food Revue. You may remember we told you all about it over on You know the all you can eat and drink event that let’s you sample food from the places Ian McNulty’s been writing about? Apparently plenty of you headed our advice and set out for it for yourselves, as Gambit has decided to renew the Food Revue’s contract (if only Loomis and Drew would do the same already!).

While the participating restaurants have changed significantly, prices have not: tickets are still $45 and VIP (1 hour early admittance) are $65. We’re typically not ones to splurge on VIP tickets for most stuff, but we did last year. And let me tell you, I found the extra $20 totally worth it. The pre-hour preview is perfect for this event. We were able to stroll around, try all the places we were interested in and even talk to a few of the chefs at our own pace. We almost didn’t appreciate what we had until the general admission folks started swarming in. Our little private affair quickly became like a miniature NOWFE Grand Tasting, tons of people making for huge lines around everything you want to taste and tying up people to talk to. Fortunately, we had tried almost everything we wanted by then.

Even if you don’t go VIP this year, here’s who’s showing up to dish out samples of their work:

Mandina’s, G.W Fin’s, Cowbell, The Rib Room, Manning’s, The Bombay Club, The Irish House, Carmo, Bayou Hot Wings, Fat Hen Grocery, Banana Blossom Thai, Parasol’s, New Orleans Ice Cream, Panchita’s, La Petite Grocery, Grand Isle Restaurant, Little Chinatown, Crescent Pie & Sausage, Heritage Grill, Katie’s, High Hat, Theo’s Pizza, Saffron Nola, Brazilian Market & Cafe, Taceaux Loceaux, Courtyard Grill, LOLA, Mayas, Liberty Kitchen, Cafe Abyssinia, Fatoush, Cordina Mar-Go-Rita’s, Redemption, Sylvain and K-Paul’s

Seeing a few new and mostly new places on the list makes me happy, as it will give us a chance to preview the place with no commitment. Hopefully we’ll see you there!

Gambit Food Revue 2
March 7, 2012
City Park Pavilion of Two Sisters
7-9 pm (6 with VIP entry)
For tickets, click here.

What’s Cooking: King Cake Cupcakes

The other day, Cupcake made the suggestion of some king cake cupcakes. I thought it was a great idea, until I figured out that she wanted me to make them and not her. But with a weekend of king cake experimentation upon me, I figured the cupcakes wouldn’t be too difficult and they weren’t.

I used the same basic recipe that we’ve been working off of (see here) and took it down to the step where it was time to braid the king cake. This was where I learned how easy the cupcake would be compared to the real deal, as no braiding is required. You see, before I learned this lesson I tried to painstakingly braid a tiny king cake that I would then slip into a muffin tin. It took numerous tries before I finally had a perfectly braiding mini-king cake ready to drop in to the muffin tin. Then I realized it wouldn’t fit!

As usual, Cupcake stopped by at that moment to casually provide me with the solution to my problem, “why not just make knots? You get the appearance of the braid on top with minimal work.” As per usual, her analysis was spot on. Making a knot was simple. Roll out a single strand, which is like making snakes in pottery class.

After you’ve brushed with butter and sprinkled with the cinnamon/sugar mixture simply tie a knot in the middle of the rope. Fold the ends up underneath the know and place in muffin tin. If you so choose, add in a cherry piece before sticking in the oven.

Now set you cupcakes aside (covered) to let them rise a little longer (~45 minutes). While they’re rising, pre-heat your oven to 375. Drop them in and pull them out when they start to turn golden brown on top. This should take about 15 minutes (but ovens do vary wildly). As they are cooling, make the glaze per the same directions (but cut all amounts in half). When cool, glaze and decorate.

For more pictures of the king cake cupcake process, check here.

What’s Cooking: Bacon Jam

You read that right, bacon JAM! I eyed this recipe for a while before I took the leap (with an eager nudge from my bacon loving sister-in-law) and decided to try it out around Thanksgiving. There was no doubt in my mind that $1.25’s sister would love it, but I was pleasantly surprised to see that everyone else in our family loved it too. But really, what’s not to love about this sweet, savory, spreadable bacon??

Not only is bacon jam delicious, but it is also very easy to make. It takes about 4 hours in the slow cooker so make sure you give it some time. The bacon jam also keeps really well in the fridge for at least a month…if you can pace yourself that long!

Here’s what you’ll need:

2 lbs good quality bacon, cut into small pieces

2 sweet yellow onions, roughly chopped

3 cloves of garlic, peeled, smashed and/or roughly chopped

3/4 cup fresh coffee

1/2 apple cider vinegar

1/2 cup dark brown sugar

1/4 cup pure maple syrup

And here’s what you do:

Cook the bacon in a frying pan over a medium-high heat. (Quick tip: I found that a serrated knife works better than a chef’s knife for slicing the raw bacon.) Then, pull the bacon out of the pan with a slotted spoon and allow it to drain on some paper towels. Reserve about 1 tablespoon of the bacon drippings and pour off the excess. Then saute the onions and garlic in the reserved drippings until the onions are translucent. Add in the remaining ingredients and allow it to come to a boil. Combine the onion mixture and the bacon in the slow cooker and cook on high for 4 hours. It will be much thicker and sticky when it’s done.

Transfer the mixture to a food processor (in batches if necessary) and pulse until coarsely chopped (don’t overdo it!!). Let the jam cool and refrigerate in airtight containers….or just dive right in! The bacon jam is AWESOME on biscuits and it also makes a really unique appetizer on some crackers or baguettes. As I type this, $1.25 is testing a crazy off-the-wall recipe using the bacon jam, so be on the lookout for the big reveal of his super secret bacon jam project. (Want a hint? It’s got purple, green and gold sprinkles on top.) In theory it sounds amazing, but it also has the potential to go oh so wrong…sorry, husband, but it’s true.

Update: it did indeed go wrong. We tried to make a bacon jam stuffed king cake, but it really didn’t work. To be fair, I think the actual bacon jam was a little overcooked, so maybe that was the problem, but I think we may have just gotten a little overzealous. King Cake is good, Bacon Jam is good, but they’re not all that good together.

Around Town: NOLA Brewing Pub Crawl and Krewe du Vieux

As you’re certainly aware, it is carnival time once again! That means king cake, doubloons, and beads are all returning to the local consciousness. While Mardi Gras has officially started, for most it really kicks off this Saturday, February 4, with the irreverent parade of Krewe du Vieux. NOLA Brewing has also chosen this Saturday to kick-off the release of their Mardi Gras themed Spring seasonal Flambeau Red Ale with a pre-Krewe du Vieux pub crawl. I’m excited because I like the Flambeau Red and I love pub crawls. Best of all, the NOLA Brewing folks have orchestrated the crawl to get you in perfect position to catch Krewe du Vieux. Here’s the line up:

1:00 pm — R-Bar (1431 Royal St)
2:30 pm — Balcony Music Club (1331 Decatur St)
3:45 pm — Turtle Bay (1119 Decatur St)
5:00 pm — Molly’s at the Market (1107 Decatur St)

Each bar will be serving the Flambeau Red for $3.00 a pint while the crawl is there (~1 hour). The Krewe du Vieux Parade starts at 6:30 and will stroll right by Molly’s, so you’ll be in prime viewing territory. One word of advice, unlike most everything else in town, I’ve been informed that this party will run on time. So don’t be late.

Think you can hang all day and all night? You may want to check out the Krewe du Vieux Doo after party. Just be sure to get tickets in advance, because they won’t be available at the door.

Around Town: Mixing Up Some Magic

One of the greatest things about this town that we highlight constantly is the ability to eat and drink amazing things all in the name of charity. Mixing Up Some Magic is one of these events. A four-course meal, complete with pre-dinner cocktails, from Commander’s Palace. Sounds good, right? How about doing that all in the name of charity? Even better! Mixing Up Some Magic is a partnership between Commander’s Palace and Liberty’s Kitchen to help support Liberty’s Kitchen’s programs.

Liberty’s Kitchen “provides at-risk youth, ages 16-22, with the opportunity to build a better future by increasing their ability to change their situation and engage in a supportive community where they learn life, social and employability skills in a culinary setting. The intensive training program combines hands-on food-service training with classroom instruction, individual case management, education programs and job placement services and/or a return to an educational setting.” To put this in more perspective of recent events in the city, Liberty’s Kitchen provides some of the most vulnerable youth in our community the tools to become productive and successful members of society rather than a statistic or news report. This is a cause we can all get behind.

Now that we’ve gotten the who, what and why out of the way, it is time to get to the Where, When and How:

Mixing Up Some Magic
Sunday, January 29
6:00 pm
Individual tickets are $95 per person ($25 is tax-deductible)
Tickets available here.

Spot at the Bar: Bénédictine D.O.M.

A bottle of Bénédictine D.O.M. proved to be a little more difficult to obtain than you’d think. I figured walk into any liquor store and you could score a bottle easily. Not the case here in New Orleans. You’ll certainly find Bénédictine in just about every liquor store, only you’ll be getting it in the form of B&B, Bénédictine and Brandy. After I was able to finally score a bottle from Vieux Carre Wine and Spirits, the tasting was on.

Bénédictine is, at least superficially, reminiscent of Chartreuse: It was initially created by French monks, uses a ton of herbs, and said monks ran into a heap of trouble along the way. But that is about where the similarities stop. Bénédictine blends a mere 27 herbs to Chartreuse’s 132, which I found noticeable in the complexity on a head to head tasting. The Benedictine monks had their monastery destroyed in the French Revolution and their property plundered, while the Carthusian monks got expelled and their property seized.

Although not quite as complex as Chartreuse, Bénédictine is still a complex liqueur with a strong herbal smell and flavor. It is also rather viscous. This thickness and the pronounced flavor make Bénédictine a likely companion to mix with “stronger” liquors, Scotch, Brandy, etc. Bénédictine is a popular ingredient in many a classic cocktail, such as the Vieux Carre, the original Singapore Sling, Bobby Burns, etc.

I’ve found that a Bénédictine on the rocks isn’t bad, but it certainly takes a little getting used to. Of course, I’d recommend sticking to mixing this spirit.

Since the traditional Bénédictine cocktail recipes are pretty easy to find, here’s one I’ve created which I call Last Rites.

Simply add equal parts Luxardo, Gin, Bénédictine and lime juice (sounds pretty familiar? It is a Last Word subbing the Chartreuse with the Bénédictine)

Normally, I’d have made this with fresh lime juice, but Cupcake needed the limes we had on hand for dinner. Which means it was time to improvise: enter a bottle of Nellie and Joe’s Key West Lime Juice. While a nice fix in a pinch, I find that fresh lime juice makes this a better drink.

Nellie and Joe’s is a great back up system to always have on hand. It will stay fresh in the fridge for about a month and provides you some great versatility. No time to juice limes or simply no limes at all? Break out the bottle, but when you can go with the fresh squeezed stuff. When making drinks for people, I find it is important to be flexible and always have a backup plan!

It certainly gives you a different flavor profile than a Last Word would and, in my opinion, isn’t as nicely balanced (due to Bénédictine’s strong presence). But that doesn’t mean it isn’t a tasty drink.

Opening Today: City Greens

Now that football season is (pretty much) over and there is a slight lag before Mardi Gras kicks in, many people around town will try to get to those resolutions to eat healthier and lose weight they made a few weeks ago. Today, City Greens in the 909 Poydras building (the First Bank and Trust Building), joining a bevy of recent restaurant openings in the area and makes meeting those goals a bit easier. According to the press release:

Most of the lettuce served at City Greens comes from a hydroponics farm located in Florida, which is owned and operated by Kazenmaier [one of the co-owners].
“By growing our own lettuce, we’re offering a higher quality of organic greens to customers,” says Kazenmaier, Co-Founder. “We’re able to maintain a consistent high standard of product throughout the year instead of the ups and downs related to seasonal growing conditions. City Greens only serves the freshest ingredients. If there are products that do not meet our standard of freshness then they will not be served to customers.”

If City Greens can stick to their promise to provide nothing but the freshest greens, I think it will be a welcome addition to downtown dining. City Greens derives its name not just from the salads they serve, but also their approach to eco-friendly operations.

City Greens uses Eco-products, which makes serving containers, utensils and cups made of recycled materials. All salads, soups and wraps are served in these eco-friendly to-go containers. “We made a conscious decision to supply eco-friendly products in an effort to reduce our carbon footprint,” Birtel [the other co-owner] says. “Not only do we want to create better lifestyles for New Orleanians, we want to encourage a healthier environment as well.”

To really capitalize on the eco-movement and helping New Orleans, I’d love to see them move that hydroponic farm into the metro area and outside of Florida.

City Greens is open Monday through Friday from 7:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m. and will offer light breakfast to go with the salad/soup menu.

If anyone gets a chance to check it out before we do, please let us know what you think in the comments

What’s Happening

Usually we save our these kinds of posts for Fridays to give you slackers some ideas for the weekend, but thanks to insane work issues we don’t have much else to talk about right now. So here is a run down of what looks interesting to us:

1. The opening of Manning’s–January 19. Manning’s is the Harrah’s/Archie joint venture that’s been going up by Ernst Cafe. I think Celeste over at Bouillie has this adequately covered for us (here). Here’s the menu.

2. Prospect 2–Through January 29. Some of you may remember Prospect 1 from two years ago and Prospect 1.5 from last year. Well this weekend is your second to last weekend to go see some cool contemporary art at Prospect 2. Prospect is the premier biennial of international contemporary art. What’s that mean exactly? It means every two years a bunch of world-renowned contemporary artists descend upon New Orleans to bring together a collection of contemporary art that is likely unrivaled by anything in the world. The history of biennials is pretty cool. In 1895 a bunch of people in Venice didn’t quite think they had enough great art to look at in Italy, so they invited artists from around the globe to display their works at the world’s first international art exhibit, the Venice Biennale. That Prospect hit the ground running and almost instantly established itself as the US’s premier contemporary art biennial makes this just another kick ass thing in New Orleans that is underappreciated. So, do yourself a favor and check out some art this weekend or next before its gone. Ticket info is here.

3. Dat NOLA Race–January 21 at 3:00pm. When you live some place, you’re often going to put off doing and seeing some of the coolest stuff the city has to offer. I saw this frequently during my time in the nation’s capital. Inevitably when a friend was moving to a new city, they would spend their final week or so rushing through every museum and every monument in DC that they had never bothered to go see. To help combat that problem, the folks at Dat NOLA Race have created what is “part adventure race, part scavenger hunt, and all FUN. Use your wit to solve clues, your charm to get help from the locals, and your speed to overcome your competition and conquer the course in the least amount of time” With the average course covering between 2 and 4 miles, this is a good way to see more of the city and stay true to your resolution to exercise more.

4. Hogs For the Cause. While Hogs for the Cause isn’t until March 24, they’re releasing the important information on Friday. When I get my hand on it, I’ll put it up here.

The Epiphany: Homemade King Cake

Today is the Feast of the Epiphany or Twelfth Night or King’s Day in many corners of the world, including this one. For me, it is the day that you can finally eat king cake. As with many a New Orleanian, my childhood memories of king cake were McKenzie’s or disappointment. While McKenzie’s are still available (in a manner of speaking) from Tastee Donuts, they just aren’t the same. But the classic McKenzie’s style of no icing, no filling is still my go to. Last year, I undertook making my own king cake, and will undoubtedly do so again this year. The process is really easy (if not a bit time intensive), the proof in that is that I’ve been able to pull it off multiple times with success. If I can do it, you can bet your ass you can.

I started with this recipe posted over on Chef’s Lagniappe and through some tweaking by Cupcake (through her excellent baking knowledge) and myself (through totally screwing things up by accident) we came up with what turned out to be a nice light, fluffy king cake. So without further ramblings, here’s the recipe (which was, in fact, posted last year):

Ingredients for king cake:
1/2 cup warm water
5 tsp active dry yeast
1/2 cup plus 2 tsp sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups cake flour
1 tsp nutmeg
2 tsp salt
1 tsp lemon zest
1/2 cup warm milk
3 large eggs
2 egg yolks
4 oz unsalted butter plus an additional 2 tablespoons of butter plus extra for greasing the bowl and baking sheet
A few tablespoons of cinnamon and sugar
Marischino cherries (optional)

Ingredients for way too much icing and decorations:
1 lb powdered sugar
2 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp vanilla extract
Milk, enough to make a glaze
Purple, Green and Gold sugar
nonpareils (the rainbow sprinkles–optional)

1. Combine the warm water, yeast and 2 teaspoons of sugar in a bowl and set in a warm place until the yeast begins to bubble (around 10 minutes, but may wildly vary–yeast is tempermental).

It is always good to see that the yeast is alive and kicking. Sometimes the store-bought stuff is DOA.

2. Combine the yeast mixture, both flours, the remaining sugar, nutmeg, salt and lemon zest in a mixer. Add in the warm milk, the eggs and yolks, plus the 4 ounces of butter (melted). Beat that bad boy with a dough hook on medium until the mixture is smooth.

3. Once the dough is smooth, throw some flour on the counter and knead the dough. Add flour as needed until the dough is no longer sticky. Keep on kneading until the dough is nice and stretchy.

4. Transfer dough to a greased bowl. You can use any number of things to grease a bowl when baking, melted butter, Pam, olive oil, etc. Cupcake says it is best to pick something that matches what is in the recipe already to keep a consistent flavor profile (unless you are deliberately trying to introduce another flavor). Flip the dough so the top of the dough is greased. Cover the dough and set aside until doubled (hour and a half/two hours or so).

This is a great magic trick, cover the dough mixture and in about 90 minute it doubles in size!

5. Push the dough down, then transferred back to a lightly floured countertop. Separate the dough into three strands for braiding.

6. Once you get the three strands separated out, create a cinnamon/sugar mixture (50/50 is about what we went with). With your mixture made, melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter. Brush the butter on the first strand and sprinkle with the cinnamon/sugar mixture. No need to go overboard, just enough to give a little extra sweetness and flavor to the bread. Repeat for the remaining two strands and braid the three together. NOTE: If you would like to add a filling to your king cake, we would add it as you braid.

7. Place your undoubtedly beautiful braid on a buttered baking sheet, and make it into an oval. Pinch the ends together to seal closed. Cover the braided oval and let rise for another 45 minutes. Depending upon how long it takes your oven to pre-heat to 350, you’ll want to start that sometime during this step.

8. If you want to add in the McKenzie cherry piece to your king cake, you’ll want to add the cherry pieces into the dough just before dropping it into the oven.

9. Bake until golden brown. This could range anywhere from 25 minutes to 45 minutes depending upon the oven. Once golden brown, set aside to cool.

10. While the king cake is cooling, make the icing. If you’re going for a traditional McKenzie’s like we do, you’ll be able to significantly reduce the amount of icing you make. Mix together the sugar, cinnamon and vanilla. As you’re mixing, mix in just enough milk to get a glaze. Like pornography, you’ll know it when you see it.

11. Once your king cake has cooled, glaze and decorate with alternating purple, green and gold sugar sprinkles. If you added the cherries, use the nonpareils around the cherries. We use just enough glaze to act as a “glue” to keep the sprinkles attached to the king cake. If you lean more towards the icing king cakes, go hog wild. As you can see below, my skills at aesthetically decorating a king cake are pretty abysmal. Of course, pretty has no impact on taste. Just ask the praline.

Spot at the Bar: New Amsterdam Gin

I was first introduced to New Amsterdam Gin at a Tales of the Cocktail event hosted at MiLa. The gin hadn’t particularly made it onto my radar, but we had been to plenty of special dinners at MiLa and have always been pleased, so we figured we’d give it a shot.

As far as gin’s go, New Amsterdam falls into that catch-all category of New American (or New Style) gins, which basically means it isn’t a London Dry, Genever or Plymouth gin. That New Amsterdam is unlike most any other gin you’ve had is obvious from the get go. While not all gins are dominated by juniper flavors, New Amsterdam basically forsakes it all together. The result? A citrus focused gin that boasts the ability to be enjoyed straight. While few outside the frat houses would typically have the desire or fortitude to take a slug of warm gin, new Amsterdam’s smooth candied orange flavor actually make this an accomplish-able feat for most people (of course, not that you should). Best of all is New Amsterdam’s low price, we were able to pick up a liter bottle from the Rouse’s for a mere $19.99.

This isn’t to say that New Amsterdam is the kind of gin you go looking for to use in classic gin based cocktails. It isn’t. But it is a great change of pace to vodka in many citrus driven cocktails and as an easy re-introduction for those who have sworn off gin entirely. I’ve found it the New Amsterdam to bring in rave reviews for cosmopolitans and, in most instances so far, preferred by vodka drinkers instead of their normal vodka cosmo. At such a cheap price, its basically a no-brainer.

My New Amsterdam Cosmopolitan
1.5 ounces New Amsterdam Gin
.75 ounces Cointreau
.25 ounces fresh squeezed lime juice
1 ounce cranberry juice (I prefer to use the tarter 100% cranberry juice, if you prefer a sweeter drink go with the cranberry cocktail)

Shake over ice, strain into a chilled glass. Orange peel for garnish. Enjoy!