Friday links

Full of holiday and year-end stories today. What will you be eating during the holidays in the next week or so?

The year in food

Healthy holiday snacks  and holiday foods to avoid and eat instead

Or a little less healthy, the New York Times curated a holiday dessert pinboard.

And looking ahead:  South Florida Beer Week is coming!

And again, if you follow me or know me, you know I love comedian Aziz Ansari AND food travel. He loves food and loves eating and talking about it. I know I just posted a video of him eating a few weeks ago, but this is in New Orleans. New Orleans, people!

Happy holidays!

Fat Tuesday: Muffaletta and Abita

Veggie muffaletta at Central Grocery

In October I went to New Orleans and had some amaaaazing food and drinks. I loved everything I had, but one that stuck out was the vegetarian muffaletta from Central Grocery, the birthplace of this New Orleans specialty. I could not stop thinking about this salty, crunchy sandwich. Upon returning home and craving the sandwich, I figured I could replicate it pretty darn close.

I got all the key components to the sandwich in order and piled them in order. I closed my eyes, took a bite and really believed I was back in that beautiful, magical city with my husband and friends, sittings on the banks of the Mississippi River.

Since it’s Fat Tuesday, I thought I would share my rendition of this great Crescent City classic.

Components

Giardiniera

I’ll start with giardiniera because it takes  three to seven (or more) days to prepare.  Giardiniera is a variety pickled vegetables (cauliflower, carrots, celery and peppers) in oil and vinegar and seasonings. You can by it in the store, but everything I’ve seen is a brown-green mushy mess, and it’s so darn easy and tasty to make your own (and you can control the salt, seasonings, peppers and crunchiness).  I used this giardiniera recipe from the New York Times, and it worked perfectly. I let the veggies meld for four or five days and it was perfect. It makes 2 quarts, but it goes fast and is great on sandwiches, salads and on its own.

Olives

I used a mix of green and kalamata olives, but any mix you like will work. Slice ’em up.

Bread

The exact New Orleans muffaletta bread can be hard to find, I was warned on websites. Similar to focaccia bread, but less dense, it is a large round loaf (almost 12 inches), with sesame seeds on top. I found some recipes to make a similar bread, but decided on a really nice and fresh sesame roll at my local Italian market that is the perfect single-sandwich size.

Cheese

The key is to use not too hard or too soft a cheese. Provolone is a must and you can go from there, either a Swiss or mozzarella cheese. If you want to add meat or have an (ahem) spouse who would, the meats are salami and capicola, or ham.

My take on the muffaletta with sweet potato chips and an Abita Turbodog

ASSEMBLY

Slice the bread in half. On the bottom half place the cheese (and meat, if using). This sandwich isn’t a time to count calories or be stingy. Get a nice, hearty layer of cheese going. On the top half put a thick layer of olive spread. On top of that put the giardiniera, making sure to get a variety of veggies and seasonings. Give the top half a few minutes to let the oils soak into the bread. Carefully put the two halves together, squish down a little to let everything mingle, and eat. So. Darn. Good. I paired my muffaletta with sweet potato chips and a great New Orleans beer, an Abita Turbodog.

New Orleans eats

Bill and I went to New Orleans  for our wedding anniversary (four years) and milestone of when we met (10 years). While there we had a lot of good food and drinks, met up with friends for a day and saw a lot of great sights. This post is about the great food we had in the Big Easy, but we also had some wonderful drinks on our trip.

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We arrived in New Orleans around lunchtime and the weather was perfect. We started at the French Market, on the east side of the French Quarter, and walked through it, making our way to Central Grocery for muffaletta. Unfortunately it was closed that day, so we kept walking around, taking in all the sights and sounds of a city we hadn’t seen for ten years.

Being a vegetarian in a food-oriented city full of meat stocks and broths, I did some research before we got there and had a short list of vegetarian-friendly restaurants. Near the top of that list was the Gumbo Shop, a small restaurant near Jackson Square. We headed over and sat in the courtyard. Still buzzing from just arriving in this great city full of so much meaning, we dove in with two New Orleans specialties. I had vegetarian gumbo with a NOLA Blonde beer, and Bill had a po-boy and one of the restaurant’s specialty rum punches. The gumbo was great with a good balance of rice, beans and spices. The beer really played off it well, adding great flavor. Looking back, we kept loving that meal and talking about it.

The next day we knew Central Grocery was open, so we made a point to go there. Central Grocery is home of the muffaletta sandwich, and they make it awesome. They have an awesome olive mix on white bread with sesame seeds, lots of cheese and three kinds of meat (obviously I kept that part off).

We waited until the line had “died down” and we still waited almost half an hour. You stand in a line that weaves through the old-school Italian market and can look at all the wonderful and unusual ingredients they stock. When you get to the counter you order a half or whole muffaletta (even the half is huuuuuge), if you want Zapp’s potato chips or a drink, or any of the few other items they have at the deli counter. I sheepishly asked if I could get my sandwich vegetarian (that’s right, I didn’t even know if it could be done!) and the old man behind the counter said “yes” in the most monotone, stern voice I had heard. I didn’t care, it was worth it. That salty, carbo sandwich was mine! We walked across the street to the Mississippi River and ate the awesome sandwich.

We liked Napoleon House so much, we went twice: once for drinks and a snack (awesome fruit and cheese platter, which turned into a fun game of guess the type of cheese) and once for lunch. At lunch I hoped to try the ratatouille calzone, which sounded amazing with roasted seasonal veggies, a Dijon vinaigrette and cheese, but they were out of it that day. So in haste I ordered the organic sandwich, which was also good. But I was really hoping for one last Southern/New Orleans specific dish.

However, Bill had a bit better luck in New Orleans since he isn’t vegetarian. He had oysters, a few different po-boys, the original muffaletta and jambalaya to name a few things, all of which he liked.

And no trip to New Orleans is complete without a stop at Cafe du Monde. Bill had never been, so we had cafe au lait and beignets hiding under a mountain of powdered sugar while sitting outside listening to wonderful jazz music.

And when we had a little time to kill before heading to the airport, we stopped for one last treat: Pinkberry. It was our first time trying it and we figured when on vacation, why not have one last treat. It is frozen tart and sweet yogurt with a toppings bar. I really liked it that it wasn’t sweet and the toppings ranged from fruit to nuts and granola to sweet treats and sauces. Very unique idea. Even Larry David likes it! (And, yes, some guy in line had to mention this episode from “Curb Your Enthusiasm” to the employee, who probably had heard this a thousand times.)

New Orleans drinks

Bill and I went to New Orleans  for our wedding anniversary (four years) and milestone of when we met (10 years). While there we had a lot of good food and drinks, met up with friends for a day and saw a lot of great sights. This post is about the great drinks we had in the Big Easy, but I also wrote about the wonderful food we ate.

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Last time I was in New Orleans was two weeks after my 21st birthday. Needless to say, the drinks were mostly hurricanes and daiquiris. Not that they aren’t great, but I this time expanded my drinking.

My first drink was a NOLA Blonde at lunch with a delicious gumbo. The flavors played off one another really well with crisp, spicy drinks following a bite of gumbo. When on vacation I try to drink either local beers or beers not available in South Florida. This trip I also had a Lazy Magnolia N’Awlins Ale and an Abita Amber, two other solid beers. I was hoping to try more Abita, but it didn’t work out.

I will admit I had two different hurricanes while in New Orleans, including (only) one at Pat O’Briens, which is home to this sweet rum drink. I know the rum can sneak up on you in these drinks, so I stuck with one and opted to spend time catching up with friends who met us in New Orleans for a day.

Speaking of rum, we took a tour of the Old New Orleans Rum distillery, which was pretty cool explaining how rum is made. It was liberal with the samples, but I’m older and wiser to this town now, so I kept myself in check. I disliked the 10-year rum (tasted like whiskey!) and really liked the warming (not hot) taste of the Cajun Spice rum.

We had the best drinks our last night in New Orleans. We went to the Napoleon House, an old bar that had a great atmosphere, and sat in the courtyard. (I love the courtyards in New Orleans!) There we tried the house specialty Pimm’s Cup, which is gin, lemonade and a splash of citrus soda with a cucumber. It’s very refreshing after a day of walking in the sun. We also tried the sazerac, which is considered the oldest cocktail in the America, first made in New Orleans. Sazerac has a very specific preparation method and ingredients, including rye whiskey, absinthe, bitters, sugar and a twist of lemon. It. Was. Amazing. I was very surprised I even liked it since it has whiskey and absinthe, but all the flavors played well and balanced it out into the perfect drink. I still can’t stop thinking about it or wanting another. This was the perfect way to end such a perfect trip.

Have you  ever been anywhere where the drinks help define the location as much as New Orleans? I’m always interested in specialty drinks for specific locations.