Archive: New Orleans

Three Cookbooks I'm Excited About

The UPS guy and I have become pretty good pals, and I owe it all to cookbook publishers. There’s hardly a day that goes by that I don’t receive a review copy of a new kitchen-appropriate title, an embarrassment of riches that requires constant upkeep. It’s a tough job, but somebody’s gotta do it, even when a book doesn’t speak to me or goes promptly into the donation pile. Here are three titles that have passed the “looks good” test and have earned a time slot on the recipe-testing calendar at the Casa. (Courtesy Clarkson Potter Publishers) “Real Cajun” by Donald Link I’ll admit, New Orleans has a spiritual hold on me, so it didn’t take much to win me over with Donald Link’s book about the food of his native Acadiana, the heart of Cajun country. I was expecting all the classics -- etouffee, gumbo, jambalaya -- which are...

 

By Kim ODonnel | May 13, 2009; 07:00 AM ET | Comments (8)

Meatless Monday: Green Gumbo

Almost as soon as the last piece of King cake is inhaled and the Mardi Gras beads are hung up to rest, so begins Lent, the Christian season of abstinence and reflection. If you’ve ever been to New Orleans, you know all about gumbo, a stew in both the gastronomical and historical sense; its role is beautifully summed up in “The Trout Point Lodge Cookbook”: “Gumbo evolved not only from the city’s history of trade and commerce but also from the interaction between aristocratic and slave cultures. Black cooks, unable to find ingredients they had used in Africa, substituted others closer to hand in a process that produced new culinary sensibilities in a new world. When you taste gumbo, it is like tasting history.” (Kim O'Donnel) Now, gumbo being a stew meant it became whatever the cook (or the family) had on hand --- one day, it might be...

 

By Kim ODonnel | February 23, 2009; 07:25 AM ET | Comments (13)

King Cake Fit for a Queen

(Kim O'Donnel) Mardi Gras, the last night of revelry before the Christian season of Lent, is just a few days away, and to celebrate the final days of the pre-Lenten carnival, I’ve baked y’all a King cake. A tradition dating to medieval Europe, King’s cake (aka Gateau de roi) is served on January 6 -- Twelfth Night, also known as Epiphany. In Christianity, Twelfth Night commemorates the visit of the three Kings to the baby Jesus 12 days after his birth. This day also marks the beginning of Carnival season. Traditionally, King cake is ring-shaped and ornately decorated, often filled with nuts and/or dried fruit, heavily iced and just too darn sweet. Typically, a trinket is inserted inside the cake, usually a bean, a gold coin or a baby figurine, which is said to represent the baby Jesus. It’s said that good luck comes to the trinket finder --...

 

By Kim ODonnel | February 19, 2009; 07:45 AM ET | Comments (9)

Staring Gustav in the Eye

I found Meghan Gordon on Twitter, where she's been posting Hurricane Gustav tweets from New Orleans. On Twitter, Gordon is known as "Sazerac Attack," the same name of her blog, a collection of random thoughts about the town she's been calling home for the past five years. When she isn't tweeting,Gordon, who grew up in Texas, is reporting for The Times-Picayune, covering politics in New Orleans's West Bank, where she lives. I caught up with her via e-mail yesterday, just hours after the storm had passed. How did you prepare for the storm in the way of food and drink? Food and drink are typically low on the list when it comes to stocking the hurricane supply chest. I hit the grocery before hysteria starts to build to avoid insane lines and fill a cart with snacks that don't require heating or utensils, bottled water and caffeine of some sort....

 

By Kim ODonnel | September 3, 2008; 08:44 AM ET | Comments (0)

Hurricane Evac Breadcrumb Trail

For a man whose motto is "rebuilding New Orleans --- one plate at a time," leaving behind his beloved city on account of another hurricane must have been incredibly painful for chef Frank Brigtsen. Chef Frank Brigtsen at the stove in June 2007. (Courtesy Gerald San Jose) But as Hurricane Gustav inched closer to the Gulf Coast threatening Category 5-like damage rivaling that of Katrina, getting out of hurricane dodge is exactly what Brigtsen, his family and kitchen staff did over the weekend. Miraculously, I was able to track down this native son of New Orleans just before he and his group of 20 evacuated in the pre-dawn hours of Sunday. Below, our e-mail exchange before and during the storm (and before the power went out in Natchez, Miss.). As to be expected, Brigtsen is cooking to keep hope alive; I was there last year to hear him utter the...

 

By Kim ODonnel | September 2, 2008; 07:21 AM ET | Comments (2)

Are You Game to Gumbo This Mardi Gras?

"Rebuilding New Orleans -- One Plate at a Time" is the tag line in the signature field of chef Frank Brigtsen's outgoing e-mail messages. No doubt these words would look good on a bumper sticker or a t-shirt, but what I love most about this message is that Brigtsen really means what he types; this is a personal mantra and mission statement that oozes out of his pores like whiskey sauce on top of bread pudding - strong, passionate and unforgettable. Day 3 of Frank Brigtsen's gumbo and it keeps getting better. (Kim O'Donnel) I met this disciple of the great Paul Prudhomme during a week-long volunteer chef stint last June. To say that I fell in love with his food is not telling the whole story; I fell in love with this man's infectious passion and determination for the city of his birth, of his life, and he hopes,...

 

By Kim ODonnel | January 31, 2008; 08:20 AM ET | Comments (0)

Real Iced Coffee

My friend Nan is from New Orleans. When I met her nearly 20 years ago in Philadelphia, she talked endlessly about the iced coffee of her hometown, that it was simply the best and that we dopey Yanks had no clue. I tried turning her on to iced Americanos at our favorite coffee shop, but it never quite did the trick for my pal. Could it be "clouds in my coffee"? (Kim O'Donnel) When Nan and her beau, Mig, got hitched a few years later at the The New Orleans Botanical Garden, I had a chance to taste what she had been talking about all this time -- creamy, chocolate-y iced coffee that held up even over ice. She was right; we dopes had been drinking lame-o brown crayon water disguised as iced coffee. Flash forward to June 2007, when I'm back in the Crescent City, volunteering as a chef...

 

By Kim ODonnel | July 9, 2007; 10:49 AM ET | Comments (55)

An Unexpected Lunch With Dad

Father's Day came a little early for me this year, yet I haven't celebrated Father's Day in 24 years. There are no coincidences. My father, John O'Donnel, all decked out for grilling, circa 1968. In 1982, my father died way too soon, at the age of 37. It happened so fast. Before bed, he was debriefing me on my first date, an evening at the Bala movie theater ("The Wall" -- the Pink Floyd movie) with local boy Jimmy Bramson; by the next morning he was already gone, just a shell of the man I adored, my confidant, my teacher, my debate partner. It was truly painful to say goodbye, and at the age of 16, it felt terribly unfair and cruel, yes. Over the past two decades, I've wondered what things would be like if he were still around to witness important events like graduation, marriage and heartbreak or...

 

By Kim ODonnel | June 15, 2007; 08:44 AM ET | Comments (14)

Seat-of-the-Pants Noodles

A welcomed rainstorm arrived late yesterday afternoon, casting a gentle gray pallor on the skies. It was moody weather appropriate for reflection. Earlier in the day, I told Mister Mighty Appetite I'd cook dinner, but forgot about the part that the fridge was bereft of fresh veggies. With my bags still unpacked and a house in newly-moved chaos, I was stumped on what I'd fix for dinner, a little low in the kitchen inspiration department. Improv noodles to a last-minute supper rescue. (Kim O'Donnel) A quiet moment of meditation took me back to the Emergency Communities kitchen, where my CulinaryCorps colleagues and I were tasked with cooking four meals for 300 people with limited ingredients and under challenging rustic conditions. Dinner on the first night was prepared by Kelli, who teaches kid's cooking classes in North Jersey, Grace, a culinary student in Buffalo, N.Y., while moonlighting at UPS, and Sandy,...

 

By Kim ODonnel | June 13, 2007; 11:06 AM ET | Comments (0)

A Stew of Hope and Despair

My plane touched down at National Airport just last night, and I'm still digesting all that I experienced during my 10-day stay in New Orleans. For many years, I have been traveling outside of the country, particularly to Africa, so as to better understand how others live and make sense of the world. The awakening tore through me like a bolt of lightning during my first trip to South Africa in 1992, a period of strange and historic transition towards a democratic election. Doorway of despair in the Lower Ninth Ward. (Kim O'Donnel) The poverty and the squalor that I saw first-hand in the black townships was nothing short of astounding and life-changing. It was a call to action. I vowed to continue visiting places and meeting people whose lives were compromised by lack of food and shelter. In my own way, I have told their stories and kept them...

 

By Kim ODonnel | June 12, 2007; 11:32 AM ET | Comments (0)

New Orleans Little Black Book

New Orleans, 7 a.m, 77 degrees. It was a full but easy-going weekend, a chance to catch up on sleep and spend some money to help boost the local economy. After a week of intense physical labor in the kitchen, I treated myself to a massage at Balance Hair and Body Studio (536 Bienville St., 504-522-3318), where Mary worked out the kinks and restored my aching back. I'll definitely be returning. We parked ourselves at the Dauphine Orleans, a reasonably-priced hotel in the heart of the French Quarter, with a swimming pool, complimentary breakfast and a neat old bar. From there, we played tourists and ventured through the Quarter and as well into other neighborhoods. All breadcrumbs led me to the Kitchen Witch (631 Toulouse St., 504-528-8382), a cookbook shop unlike no other. An eye-candy feast of kitsch, old and rare cookbooks, tchotkes, amazing music and a few cats and...

 

By Kim ODonnel | June 11, 2007; 09:49 AM ET | Comments (0)

Bites of New Orleans

The Culinary Corps part of my trip is over; our group parted ways early this morning, and instead of flying back to Washington toute de suite, I'm continuing my stay through the weekend, with Mr. Mighty Appetite in tow. Below, a few spots our group hit along the way to restore our spirits and recharge for the next day. This is just the beginning; stay tuned on Monday for more nibbles. Earlier this week, we had lunch in the French Quarter at the Creole cottage that is Bayona, domain of chef Susan Spicer since 1990. We took advantage of the $20 lunch special that included three small plates, sweet or savory, from at least 20 different dishes. The food here combines traditional Creole dishes with global twists. You'll see Thai, Vietnamese, Indian, Moroccan notes, to name a few. A most romantic spot, particularly in the enclosed courtyard. Wednesday evening, we...

 

By Kim ODonnel | June 8, 2007; 05:27 PM ET | Comments (0)

Waiting for Oysters in Pass Christian

"Katrina isn't just about New Orleans." This is a statement I heard repeatedly yesterday during a visit to Pass Christian, Miss., a Gulf coast town that was nearly wiped out by the storm. Pre-Katrina, some 6,000 people called Pass Christian (pronounced kris-chee-ANN) home, but a storm surge of at least 30 feet, leveled most of the town's buildings and homes up to half a mile inland. Aboard the Mississippi DMR conservation boat (Kim O'Donnel) The debris is gone, but remnants of the storm are everywhere. Lots where homes once stood are now empty, save a few bricks indicating someone's front steps; the surreal empty space continues for blocks, indicated by strips of paved road. Nearly two years later, the once-thriving beachfront town is still without a supermarket or its own fire department. It destroyed the Bay St. Louis bridge, which connected Pass Christian to the neighboring town of Bay St....

 

By Kim ODonnel | June 7, 2007; 11:10 AM ET | Comments (0)

Cookin' at the Goin' Home Cafe

Thirteen cooks. Three hundred hungry people, give or take a few. Four meals in just under 36 hours. These were the known parameters of our assignment at the Emergency Communities relief site in the Lower Ninth Ward. Yours truly in the EC kitchen (Courtney Knapp) What we didn't know is what we'd find in the way of ingredients, so our fearless leader Christine suggested that we think of the experience as an Iron Chef competition of sorts. What we didn't expect is a malfunctioning refrigerator/freezer truck and enormous amounts of expired meat and rotting perishables. Collectively, we agreed that we would completely disinfect the kitchen and washing areas before any cooking would commence, and that we'd have to cough up the bucks to replace the vast majority of the ingredients we'd need for dinner, breakfast, lunch and dinner. Clearly, the state of the facility put a wrench into menu planning...

 

By Kim ODonnel | June 6, 2007; 08:30 AM ET | Comments (7)

The Forgotten Lower Ninth

A block of ravaged deserted homes in the Lower Ninth Ward taken by Katrina, still a common sight 22 months later. (Kim O'Donnel) We had been forewarned: It will be dirty and dilapidated at our next destination. But nothing could have prepared us for the conditions we were about to witness in the Lower Ninth Ward, arguably the poorest neighborhood in New Orleans and the hardest hit by the storm. Over the past 15 years, I've traveled to four different countries in Africa, and the concentration of poverty and despair I've observed in the Lower Ninth over the past few days is either equal to or worse than anything I've every seen in Africa. As the second anniversary of Katrina approaches, there are few signs of rebuilding in this bedraggled neighborhood, where FEMA trailers and desolate, empty houses waiting for their owners to return are more the norm than...

 

By Kim ODonnel | June 5, 2007; 09:29 AM ET | Comments (0)

Cooking With Holy Angels

A cancelled Northwest Airlines flight kept me marooned in Memphis airport for several hours on Friday; there was more than enough time to walk the airport from end to end and to discover that there are at least four places for travelers to get a pulled pork sandwich and not one but two places to listen to live music. Now that was a first -- live music in the airport. Residents of the Upper Ninth ward enjoying brunch at Holy Angels Convent. (Kim O'Donnel) After a rerouting to Houston, I finally arrived in New Orleans at midnight, weary but relieved to be on the ground. As tired as I was, though, I couldn't help but notice the smell of mold as I entered the terminal, an inevitable lingering remnant of the storm that turned this city on its head 22 months ago. There was enough time to catch about fours...

 

By Kim ODonnel | June 4, 2007; 09:55 AM ET | Comments (2)

Kim's Excellent Adventure to NOLA

There's a big suitcase nearly filled to the gills causing traffic in my bedroom. Instead of cute outfits and light reading about my intended destination, my bags are packed with kitchen garb and gear -- chef's coats and baggy pants, clogs, do-rags, a heap of crusty T-shirts, a knife kit, plenty of Vitamin C, and if there's room, a portable burner. This morning, I am headed for New Orleans, where I will be joining 15 other cooks whose luggage contents will be nearly identical to mine. We are flying in from all points around the country to cook for others in need and to cook up awareness for a city still recovering and rebuilding, nearly two years since Hurricane Katrina. For the next week, we will collaborate as members of Culinary Corps, a new organization dedicated to bringing culinary professionals into the fold of community service. It is the brainchild...

 

By Kim ODonnel | June 1, 2007; 10:09 AM ET | Comments (6)

 

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