Wednesday, January 14, 2009

First Real Post of the 2009!

Okay, I'm offically having blog withdrawal, so settle yourself in, this is a long one! I still have not found my camera. I'm about ready to resign myself to the fact that it is gone :( But that is okay, I do have a recipe for you, one I have been meaning to post for awhile, and it is a two-fer! Mom and I took pictures in New Orleans, but they are all on her camera, so I'll tell you some about the trip here and post pictures later. Fair warning: in my N.O. narrative I do talk about dairy and eggs, so if you are very sensitive you should skip to the recipe.

New Orleans
As predicted, vegan fare was sparse, to say the least; vegetarian food was not much more available. We stayed in the French Quarter and except for an excursion on one of the street cars, we did not really stray far from that area. Quite frankly, N.O. is not a very safe city, especially outside the tourist areas and since it was just Mom and me we did not feel comfortable getting too adventurous.

We did not get in until nearly midnight on Wednesday night, so not much that night. Mom and I shared a plate of vegetarian nachos (and drinks) at the airport during our layover in Vegas. We slept in a bit on Thursday and then found a place down the street from our hotel where we shared beignets and a veggie omelet. My presentation was that afternoon, so we went back to the hotel so I could finish up my powerpoint and meet my co-presenters. That evening we went to Dickie Brennan's Steakhouse for dinner. Yes a steakhouse. This ended up being one of the best veggie experiences of the whole trip! The cocktails were yummy and we shared a bottle of wine (I fear you will be appalled at our alcohol consumption by the end of this post...). I don't recommend ordering the Tomato-Blu Cheese Napoleon unless tomatoes are in season, an instinct I should have listened to! They have several other vegetarian salads as well. I let our server know that I was vegetarian and he was kind enough to not only provide some guidance on the menu, but also checked with the chef about whether or not they had already creamed all the fresh spinach. They had not, so I got yummy spinach sauted with garlic in addition to the sauted veggies. Mom and I also shared a baked sweet potato (order without pecan butter for a vegan version). To finish we ordered the Banana's Foster Bread Pudding, not vegan and not the slightest bit healthy, but absolutely delicious. Mom enjoyed everything she ordered (definitely not vegetarian).

Friday was the first day we didn't have to be anywhere, so we slept late (again) and then gave ourselves a tour of the south French Quarter. We had breakfast at Cafe Du Monde, beignets and cafe au lait, of course. I'm not big on coffee, but theirs is delicious. We wondered around the French Quarter for the better part of four hours. Nearly half that time we spent looking for a market where we could get fresh fruit. No joke, it was a freaking scavenger hunt. Fresh fruit and veggies are just not pervasive down there. Nope, if you can find them they are smothered in sauce, cooked to death, and/or fried. It was a bit of a shock for this California girl who always eats more than the recommended daily servings of fruits and veggies. We finally found the market and then enjoyed our grapes in the nearby park. After a bit more wondering we stopped at an oyster bar where we both had a glass of wine and Mom had a snack. We eventually made it back to our hotel where we showered and got ready for dinner. 

Emeril's was our pick for dinner on Friday. We got there at about a quarter to six (it was early, but we'd only had a small breakfast and a snack, so we were famished) at which point we learned they didn't actually open for dinner until six. So obviously we had a cocktail at the bar while we waited. When we were seated we saw they had bar seating overlooking the kitchen and asked if we could be seated there. It was a great choice. We ended up staying for three (!) hours, eating, sharing a bottle of wine and watching the chefs. It was SOOO much fun! Anyone familiar with Emeril knows his affinity for all things porcine. The menu at his restaurant reflects this love, with almost every dish containing something pig-based. However, they also make pretty much everything on site and to order, so while eating vegan is tricky, vegetarian is definitely doable since they are happy to accommodate special requests. I had a yummy salad and then for my main course I ordered the appetizer dish of Smoked Exotic Mushrooms with Angel Hair Pasta and Cream sauce (ordered without the ham). It was sublime - complex, smoky but not predominately so, creamy but light. If you are a big eater you'll probably need another dish, but between the salad and dessert it was just enough for me. I want to figure out how to recreate this at home. For dessert we had the chocolate souffle, which while very good was a bit much. I prefer my chocolate souffles to be accompanied by a fruity thing as something of a foil to the richness but this only had a chocolate sauce. Still, not much of a complaint in our fantastic dinner. Again, Mom enjoyed everything she ordered. This was our favorite food experience in N.O. Afterward, we went to a jazz bar down the street from Emeril's for an hour, but when by 10pm the jazz players had not even started setting up (it was just a piano player while we were there), we decided we were both ready for bed so we headed back to the hotel.

Saturday morning we got up a bit early and decided to go to The Courtyard of Two Sisters for their jazz brunch. Don't. In the hour we were there we hear approximately three songs and the food left a lot to be desired. That day we hopped on the St. Charles streetcar and rode it to the end of the line, through the Warehouse and Garden districts and over near the river. We hopped off for a bit and took a stroll through Audobon Park. Impulsively, we decided to go to the nearby zoo for a couple hours (I know many animal rights activist abhor zoos; I have mixed feelings which I won't get into at this time). After taking the streetcar back to the Quarter we walked around a couple more hours, shopping for gifts and trying to pick a place for dinner. We decided to go to Bacco (another Brennan family restaurant) since we both wanted a respite from heavy food and pasta sounded good. We were disappointed, especially after how pleased we had been with their steakhouse. The food was only okay, definitely not very vegetarian friendly, and the place lacked anything even resembling atmosphere. Plus it gave both of us an upset stomach, which meant we went back to our hotel right after, instead of finding some music as we wanted. 

Our flight left Sunday morning at 10:30, which means we ate all our meals that day in airports (more veg nachos and drinks during the lay over in Denver). We both had a boatload of fun. It was our first trip just the two of us and we plan to make it an annual thing, finding a foodie place where we've not been and eating our way through. Eventually we would like to go back to New Orleans and eat some more, although we would both seriously entertain the possibility of eating every dinner at Emeril's!

On to the recipe. This is one I came up with a while ago. I call it a two-fer because you can make it without the optional ingredients and you have a saucy Indian dish, perfect over fluffy brown rice. Or you can add in the optional ingredients and you have a delicious one-pot dinner (the pictures here are of the latter). This is cheap, healthy, and makes use of seasonal veggies for this time of year. According to SparkPeople recipes it is just over 200 calories per serving for the soup variation (about 2 cups). I'll try to remember to put it in MasterCook to see what it says (I really need to remember to be using that program, it is really neat).

Coconut Curry Chickpeas and Kale (and maybe Butternut Squash Soup)
While this dish is definitely spicy the level of heat in this dish is entirely dependent on your curry powder and therefore completely up to you. If you want more heat than your curry powder has simply add some cayenne pepper to taste. 

1 med onion, diced
1 tsp minced garlic (2-3 cloves)
1 tsp minced ginger
2-3 tbsp curry powder (or to taste)
1/2 tsp gram masala powder
1 cup tomato sauce
1 cup lite coconut milk
4 cups water, optional
1 15 oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed (or 2 cups homemade)
1 1/2 lbs butternut squash, peeled, seeded, cubed and cooked (roasted, microwaved, or sauted), optional
1 large bunch kale, stems removed, leaves chopped
salt and pepper to taste

Spray a large saute pan (or soup pot if making the variation) with nonstick spray or a tsp of light oil and heat over medium. Add the onion and sweat until translucent, about five minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the garlic and ginger and cook 30 seconds, stirring constantly. Add spices and salt and pepper and stir until everything is evenly coated.

Add tomato sauce, coconut milk, and water, if using, while stirring constantly to evenly incorporate. Bring to a bubble. Stir in chickpeas and squash, if using, and return to a bubble. Now add your kale. This may require working it in in a couple stages if it doesn't all fit in at once. Stir in, working it down into the liquid until you have it all worked in and wilted. If you are making the first variation simmer until the liquid has reduced to a very thick sauce. If you are making the soup simmer about five minutes, until kale is tender and flavors have melded. Taste and adjust salt and pepper as desired.

Serve hot over rice or quinoa if you made the first variation, or as is for the soup. Naan would be a nice accompaniment for either.

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