Tasting New Orleans Part 1: Everything You Think It Is

Instead of going back to Miami, I decided to venture to a city that I have never visited. Everyone I know that had visited this city would talk about how great the food is so I had to experience it for myself. And yes, New Orleans is everything they say it is and more.

I am going to take you on a visual tour of the restaurants I experienced in NOLA:

DayONEKingfish

Pimento Cheese Fritters @ Kingfish
Pimento Cheese Fritters @ Kingfish
No. 10 - Crawfish & Green Tomato Galette with Sweet Corn & Red Bean Relish topped with a Poached Egg @ Kingfish
No. 10 – Crawfish & Green Tomato Galette with Sweet Corn & Red Bean Relish topped with a Poached Egg @ Kingfish

DayTWOThe Original Pierre Maspero’s

Shrimp & Southern Fried Fish Platter @ The Original Pierre Maspero's
Shrimp & Southern Fried Fish Platter @ The Original Pierre Maspero’s

DayFOUR

Café Du Monde

Beignets & Café Latte @ Café Du Monde
Beignets & Café Latte @ Café Du Monde

The Palace Cafe

Pomegranate Mimosa @ The Palace Cafe
Pomegranate Mimosa @ The Palace Cafe
Crabmeat Cheesecake @ The Palace Cafe
Crabmeat Cheesecake @ The Palace Cafe
Bleu Cheese Salad with Crawfish @ The Palace Cafe
Bleu Cheese Salad with Crawfish @ The Palace Cafe

The Praline Connection

Stuffed Crab Plate @ Praline Connection
Stuffed Crab Plate @ Praline Connection

DayFIVE

Mother’s Restaurant

Seafood Half & Half (Calamari & Oysters) @ Mother's Restaurant
Seafood Half & Half (Calamari & Oysters) @ Mother’s Restaurant

Pier 424 Seafood Market

Pecan Crusted Gulf Fish @ Pier 424
Pecan Crusted Gulf Fish @ Pier 424

DaySIXMr. Ed’s Oyster Bar & Fish House

Charbroiled Oysters with Garlic & Parmesan @ Mr. Ed's Oyster Bar & Fish House
Charbroiled Oysters with Garlic & Parmesan @ Mr. Ed’s Oyster Bar & Fish House

I could go on about each dish and each restaurant; but I won’t. I wish I would have saved Kingfish for last. The flavor combinations & creativity blew my tastebuds away. The unique Crabmeat Cheesecake at The Palace Cafe and the Pecan Crusted Gulf Fish (served with roasted mirliton, sweet potato andouille hash, and sauce meunière at Pier 424 Seafood Market did not disappoint either. Every meal I ate was great.

What was very interesting also is that three of the restaurants I walked into because I liked the menu, are owned by Creole Cuisine Restaurant Concepts. Go figure. The three restaurants are: Kingfish, Piere 424 Seafood Market, and The Original Pierre Maspero’s. Each restaurant has its own style while offering great food and good service (The Palace Cafe wins the best service award for this visit.)

And yes, I ate pralines. There are so many company’s that sell pralines in New Orleans. My favorite of all the pralines I tasted is Pa Pa Praline located in the outlet mall located along the river walk named (The Outlet Collection at Riverwalk).

And to cool off on the super humid & hot days, I went to The French Market for snoballs.

Peach Snoball @ The French Market
Peach Snoball @ The French Market
Kiwi & Cream Snoball @ The French Market
Kiwi & Cream Snoball @ The French Market

And no I didn’t skip DayTHREE. Number three will be part two of my foodie vacation 🙂

Branca Menta Chocolate Float

I had some Branca Menta left and I needed to do something with it. I just couldn’t let is sit in the cabinet and just age away. I am a firm believer that you should treat yourself from time to time. With a little chocolate sauce and some French vanilla ice cream, I made the perfect chocolate float by adding a few ounces of Branca Menta. The Italian mint liqueur gives your chocolate float a smooth and sexy taste

Chocolate Float with Alcohol
Branca Menta Chocolate Float

You know you want a sip 🙂 Check out the recipe below to make your own indulgent float.

Branca Menta Chocolate Float

2 Tablespoons Chocolate Sauce
1 to 3 Scoops French Vanilla Ice Cream
2 ounces Branca Menta

ONEIn a small glass that is about 8 ounces, add 1 tablespoon of chocolate sauce.
TWOAdd 1 scoop of ice cream.
THREEAdd 1 ounce of Branca Menta.
FOURRepeat adding the ingredients in the order above until you have a scoop of ice cream on top ensuring you end with a drizzle of Branca Menta.
FIVEAdd a straw and sip with joy!! Happy Summer!!

Celebrating National Iced Tea Month

June is National Iced Tea Month and what better way to celebrate is with a refreshing new recipe. Don’t settle on adding water to a dry mix. Whip out the tea bags to make a batch of fresh brewed tea. Did you know that fresh brewed tea makes the simplest meal taste that much better?

When the weather is hot, I love to snack. Veggies, hummus, crackers, and cheese are my favorite past time munchies. Add turkey sausage with other turkey based cured meats and you can create your own customized charcuterie platter.

Branca Menta
Good Times with Branca Menta

I added fresh fruit and the refreshing taste of Branca Menta. Branca Menta is a Mint Liqueur made in Italy. The smooth herb minty flavor is the perfect addition to fresh brewed iced tea.

Fresh Brewed Tea

4 Mangoes, cut in cubes
1 Pineapple, cut in cubes
8 Black Tea Bags
1 cup Sugar
1 gallon Water
1 cup Branca Menta (optional but suggested)

ONEAdd water to a pot.
TWOBring gallon of water to a boil.
THREEAllow water to cool down for about 5 minutes.
FOURPour water in pitcher.
FIVEAdd sugar & stir until sugar has dissolved.
SIXAdd tea bags to pitcher.
SEVENStir in Branca Menta.
EIGHTPlace pitcher in refrigerator for at least 4 hour or until cold.
NINEServe with fresh fruit. NOTE: To not water down your drinks, serve iced tea with frozen fresh fruit instead of ice cubes.
TENEnjoy!!

Branca Menta Iced Tea
Branca Menta Iced Tea

Vegetarian Enchiladas

I was craving tacos all week. But instead of making tacos, I had planned on breaking from the norm and make a pan of enchiladas. After my run today, I was crazy hungry. Guess who forgot to take the ground turkey out of the freezer to thaw. If you answered me, you were correct. Instead of throwing the idea of enchiladas out the window, I found a can of black beans and turned everything around.

Vegetarian Enchiladas

1 15-ounce can reduced sodium black beans, rinsed
2 small zuchinni squashes, chopped
1/4 cup onions, chopped
1/2 green pepper, chopped
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon ground cumin
2 tablespoons fresh chopped cilantro
1 pinch of salt
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 pinch ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 10-ounce can red enchilada sauce
5 or 10 corn tortillas (If the tortillas are thin, double up the tortillas.)
1 teaspoon canola oil
Cooking spray or olive oil in spray bottle
1/4 cup your favorite shredded cheese (I used extra sharp cheddar & prairie breeze cheese.)

Preheat oven at 375 degrees.

Sauce

ONEAdd enchilada sauce, ground cinnamon, and cayenne pepper in a small sauce pan.
TWOCook at low heat for 15 minutes, occasionally stirring to ensure sauce does not stick.
THREESet to the side.

Filling

ONEAdd canola oil to skillet over medium heat.
TWOAdd zuchinni, onions, green pepper, chili powder, salt, and garlic powder to skillet. Sauté mixture for about 10 minutes.
THREEAdd beans & cilantro. Continue to cook for about 5 minutes.

Enchilada Filling
Enchilada Filling

Tortillas

ONESpray oil on both sides of each tortilla.
TWOWrap in paper towels.
THREEHeat up in microwave for 30 seconds

Assembley

ONEAdd about a 1/4 cup of sauce to a small non-stick baking pan or casserole dish.
TWOOver to the side, add about 1/2 cup of filling to the tortillas and roll up. Place enchilada with seam side down in the dish.

Rolled Enchiladas
Rolled Enchiladas

THREECover with the remaining of the sauce.

Sauced Enchiladas
Sauced Enchiladas

FOURTop with cheese.
FIVEI added cilantro & black beans to the top.

Dressed Uncooked Enchiladas
Dressed Uncooked Enchiladas

SIXBake for 20 minutes or until cheese is melted & not burned.

Vegetarian Enchiladas
Vegetarian Enchiladas

SEVENENJOY!!

Vegetarian Enchiladas
Vegetarian Enchiladas

Restaurant Review: Franco’s Cucina

About thirty miles northwest of Chicago’s city limits, you will find an authentic Italian restaurant that will make you forget about any chain Italian restaurant that you may patronize. The other day I had the pleasure of experiencing Franco’s Cucina located at 1550 Bourbon Parkway located in the suburb of Streamwood, Illinois.

Twenty years ago, Emily and Franco Iacciano with their son John, decided to open Franco’s Cucina after operating a successful bakery business. The Iacciano family poured their passion for food into their Italian deli and bakery.

Their passion for food can be found in each bite. From the very first bite of Chicken Vesuvio, I could tell that this visit was going to be a most memorable one.

Chicken Vesuvio
Franco’s Cucina Chicken Vesuvio

At Franco’s massive counter, you will be greeted with a welcoming smile by a member of their friendly staff. You can order piping hot daily specials, sandwiches, salads, and pizza at one end of the counter. At the opposite end, is a vast selection of sweet indulgences that made me forget about my New Year’s resolution.

I blew my New Year’s resolution in less than an hour. The Tiramisu was amazing. The Cannoli was spectacular. It was my first time experiencing Zeppole. The custard was light and airy. Biting into the Zeppole felt like I was biting into a sweet satisfying unforgettable cloud.

Franco's Cucina Cappuccino
Franco’s Cucina Tiramisu
Franco's Cucina Cannelloni
Franco’s Cucina Cannelloni
Zeppolli
Franco’s Cucina Zeppolli

In my book, Franco’s Cucina cannot do anything wrong. They even create the perfect cup of Cappuccino. I didn’t even add sugar to this beautiful work of art. Whether it was paired with a Biscotti or a Lemon Knot, the rich taste of the Cappuccino remained smooth.

Cappuccino
Franco’s Cucina Cappuccino

Remember to take your appetite when you go to Franco’s Cucina. The flavors are huge and so are the servings. According to owner, John Iacciano, “Go big or go home”.

Daily Specialss
Saturday Daily Specials

I now know why Franco’s Cucina has been around for 20 years. Happy 20th Anniversary to Franco’s Cucina. I wish them twenty plus more years to come 🙂

Additional Photos from Franco's Cucina
Additional Photos from Franco’s Cucina

NAEN: Buttered Almond Bourbon Ice Cream

NAEN stands for No Additional Equipment Needed/Necessary. I have 2 ice cream makers and I AIN’T use either one. I didn’t feel like freezing bowls or going out in below zero temperatures to find rock salt.

One day I was watching The Cooking Channel and this woman was making coffee ice cream without eggs and an ice cream maker. The woman is Nigella Lawson and her show is “Nigellissima”. I am not a fan of coffee ice cream so I decided to use her technique, but with a different flavor.

I had almonds and liquor. I chose bourbon from the bar. How can I go wrong with almonds and bourbon?

Buttered Almond Bourbon Ice Cream
Buttered Almond Bourbon Ice Cream

And I didn’t go wrong. I think this will be my go to method for making ice cream.

Buttered Almond Bourbon Ice Cream

1 14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk
2 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup unsalted almonds (slivers or crushed)
1 tablespoon butter
1/4 cup bourbon

ONEMelt butter in a skillet at medium heat.
TWOAdd almonds to melted butter. Stir for about 2 to 3 minutes. Set to the side. Allow to cool.
THREEAdd heavy cream to a medium bowl. Whip heavy cream until soft peaks are formed. The mixture will thicken.
FOURIn a separate large bowl, combine buttered almonds, bourbon, and condensed milk.
FIVEFold in whipped heavy cream into bowl with buttered almonds, bourbon, and condensed milk.
SIXPack mixture into an airtight freezer container. TIP: I reused plastic pint containers that I had saved. For the leftover mix, I used freezer safe storage bowls.
SEVENFreeze for at least 6 hours. I froze mine overnight.
EIGHTEnjoy 🙂

Buttered Almond Bourbon Ice Cream
Buttered Almond Bourbon Ice Cream Part II

A Favorite with a Twist: Smoked Cheddar Macaroni & Cheese

Macaroni and cheese is one of my favorite dishes to eat. I can eat macaroni and cheese every other day. I can eat it as a side dish or as an entrée. You can add meat and vegetables. You can use one cheese or a variety of different cheese: American, Meunster, Cheddar, Gruyère, Parmesan, Romano, and the list goes on and on.

I like my macaroni and cheese simple. Give me pasta with great cheeses and I am winning. Check out how I made Smoked Cheddar Macaroni & Cheese:

Smoked Cheddar Macaroni & Cheese

1 cup milk
3/4 cup half & half
2 tablespoons flour NOTE: I used garbanzo flour.
2 tablespoons melted unsalted butter
2 cups smoked cheddar cheese, shredded
1 cup extra sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
1 cup smoked cheddar cheese & extra sharp cheddar cheese, shredded mixed for topping
1 cup garlic panko bread crumbs (recipe below)
pinch salt
1/2 teaspoon cracked pepper
4 cups cooked pasta, drained

ONEPreheat oven to 375 degrees.
TWOCombine milk, half & half, melted butter, and flour in a sauce pan. Whisk over low heat until mixture thickens.
THREEAdd salt & peeper.
FOURGradually stir in cheese (Be sure to not use the cheese set aside for topping.) until mixture is completed melted.
FIVEAdd cooked pasta to casserole dish, baking pan, or cast iron skillet coated with oil or cooking spray.
SIXStir in cheese sauce.
SEVENTop with shredded cheddar cheese mixture.
EIGHTTop with garlic pinko bread crumbs.
TENBake for 25 to 30 minutes or until golden brown.

Garlic Panko Bread Crumbs

3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon butter
1 cup panko bread crumbs

ONEMelt butter in a skillet over low heat.
TWOAdd chopped garlic. Sauté garlic for about 3 minutes or until garlic is fragrant.
THREEAdd panko bread crumbs.
FOURIncrease to medium heat & stir mixture for about 5 minutes being careful to not burn the bread crumbs.

Mac & Cheese
Smoked Cheddar Mac & Cheese