NOLA – Palo Alto

I flew into California and had a great day talking books and food with friends. We rounded out our evening by going to Kepler’s Books to enjoy a lively and informative conversation between authors Lucy Jane Bledsoe and Emma Donoghue about Emma’s new book, Akin.

Prior to the event, we had to fuel up. Dar recommended NOLA Restaurant in downtown Palo Alto and I’m very glad she did. The place is a tribute to New Orleans that adds a California flair to the food. The cocktails were creative and delicious, the walls were covered in Southern art and the food was as good or better than the best Creole and Cajun I’ve had the pleasure to eat.

We focused ordering nearly all their small plates. I had cornbread plus their BBQ shrimp and grits with garlic bread. Big shrimp with a richly flavored sauce over savory, stone-ground grits. The garlic studded bread was good and, as you see from the picture, a lot for such a tiny skillet.

Luan offered me her Mamma’s Mac and cheese for the picture and I got a bite of it as well. Very smooth and generously cheesy, with just a hint of spice over the plump, well cooked pasta. My mama doesn’t make it that way but I sure wish she did.

Karin had the shrimp as well and also ordered a flight of fried green tomatoes. They came with a couple of sauces but the crunchy, cornmeal coated tomatoes needed no boost of flavor as they tasted divine. Not sure they needed the sprinkling of greens but we are in California, so they are par for the course.

Their chef had the patience and keen eye and nose to get a deep mahogany roux on the seafood etouffee that Peggy ordered. Complex layers of flavor and full of scallops, crawfish and shrimp, this dish was good to the last bite.

Just look at the meat in this flank steak salad that Maria ordered! Sure there were noodles and greens and edamame but the marinated meat was tender and flavorful. Salad isn’t usually food in my world but for this I’m willing to make an exception.

I didn’t get pics of the ribs that Dar ordered* but she did give me a bite and it was meltingly tender to the tooth. I did snap a picture of the large boiled shrimp in the bucket of ice she also ordered. I’m not sure what we were supposed to with the celery but the shrimp easily found their way into our mouths.

I also neglected to get pictures of the cornbread.** It was sweet but with a very nice crumb. The plate had two large pieces and came with a rosemary honey that was good enough to sip out of the container. The nice server also brought us some butter to slather on it.

The servers in the lounge and in the restaurant were attentive and the cocktails sized generously. I’m glad we had reservations because the bar and lounge were packed at 5pm. The place is set up with many small areas in two stories around an open courtyard so groups could get raucous (not my group, of course, we were the height of decorum!) without disturbing others. Each place setting came with Mardi Gras beads and that helped get everyone into the right festive mood.

A good atmosphere, excellent service and just the right amount of spice to the eclectic menu makes this a restaurant I would return to in the future. I recommend it.

NOLA
https://www.nolas.com/
535 Ramona St.,
Palo Alto, CA 94301
650.328.2722

Author notes and corrections:
*note – correction Luan ordered the ribs
** the server took our picture and the cornbread can be seen next to me (after Dar and Peggy). Here it is:

Dar, Peggy and I and the cornbread

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Spirited Puddin Pops

I’ve posted before about the chocolate pudding mix that Michelle makes for me and about how you can make delicious puddin pops with it. After a long Labor Day weekend acknowledging the contributions and achievements of American workers, it is time to celebrate with an adultifyied version.

I used RumChata in place of some of the milk. I love their blend of rum, cream, cinnamon and vanilla in drinks and baking and, now I’ve learned just how well it goes in puddin pops.

So good I chomped instead of licked!

So yummy and oh, so refreshing.

I’m thinking the next batch will be made with amaretto. Or maybe crème de menthe.

Spirited Puddin Pops

1 cup chocolate pudding mix (or 1 – 4 ounce box cook and serve chocolate pudding)
1 1/2 cups milk
1/2 cup RumChata
1 cup Cool Whip whipped topping

Place the pudding mix and milk in a saucepan over medium heat, stirring constantly. Once it begins to thicken, add in the RumChata and continue to cook until it comes to a boil

Scrape pudding into a metal mixing bowl and place over a large bowl of ice and water and stir to bring the temperature down. Once the bottom of the bowl containing the pudding is cool to the touch, mix in the Cool Whip. Stir until completely incorporated.

Pour into molds and place in the freezer. It will take at least five hours to freeze.

 

Grilled Lemon Pepper Chicken

For my Labor Day weekend grilling, I’m taking advantage of the local sales on whole chickens and bags of lemons.

I’ve always been a fan of lemon pepper seasoning on seafood, especially fish and shrimp and my dad loves it on his steaks, whether venison or beef. But don’t forget that it also goes really well on chicken, too. You can buy a jar of the seasoning from the store or make your own. I use this version when making my own.

Because Michelle made a special request, I’m serving the chicken with a broccoli casserole and some grilled zucchini with lemon salt. Recipe for the zucchini was found on the Pioneer Woman’s website.

Grilled Lemon Pepper Chicken

4-5 lb chicken
4 lemons, divided
1/4 cup olive oil
4-5 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons lemon pepper seasoning, divided

Butterfly chicken by cutting out the backbone and the wings. Reserve the backbone and wings for stock. Place remaining chicken in a zip top bag.

Zest two of the lemons and then place the zest and juice from three lemons in a bowl. You want to have about a 1/2 cup of lemon juice. Whisk together with the olive oil, garlic and 1 tablespoon of lemon pepper seasoning. Pour the marinade over the chicken and seal the bag. Marinate in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours and up to 8 hours, occasionally turning the chicken to make sure it is fully covered.

Remove from marinade and pat dry. Sprinkle both sides with remaining tablespoon of lemon pepper seasoning.

Set up the grill for indirect cooking. Place chicken on the cool side of the grates with the legs facing the coals. Grill chicken for approximately 60 minutes or until a thermometer registers 165 degrees F. Let rest 5 minutes before carving.

For the last 15 minutes of grilling, place the final lemon, cut in half on the grill. Once you’ve plated the chicken for serving, squeeze some of the grilled lemon on each piece for a bright hit of lemon flavor.

Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars

Growing up, we called these Congo bars. Like chocolate chip cookies but with more chips and a gooey texture. I had some recently that added coconut, so I know they are still popular at potlucks. These aren’t blondies – the butter/shortening is melted before adding the sugar instead of creaming the two together. Here is a link to my blondie recipe.

Below is the version I’m using these days. The original recipe was in mom’s handwriting and called for oleo or shortening but I’m using about half and half butter and shortening. Using all shortening, you lose some flavor and the cookie bar crumbles. Using all butter, makes them too dense. Combined is the best of all worlds.

I’m also using bittersweet morsels instead of semi-sweet but put your preference in – heck, I’ve seen these with a mix of white and dark chocolate.

Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars

2 1/4 cups flour, sifted
2 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/3 cup shortening
2 1/2 cups brown sugar
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup nuts, roughly chopped – I use pecans
1 package chocolate morsels – I use bittersweet

Lightly butter a 9×13 pan.

In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking powder and salt.

Melt butter and shortening in the top of a double boiler. Stir in brown sugar until well mixed. Allow to cool slightly before transferring to the bowl of a stand mixer.

Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Mix in the vanilla. Add dry ingredients, then nuts and chocolate.

Pour into greased pan. For a prettier presentation, I scatter a few whole pecans and some extra morsels on the top before baking at 350 degrees F for 30 to 35 minutes. It should be golden brown all over, with the edges a slightly darker brown.

When almost cool, cut into finger length bars or squares (my preference).

Mom’s recipe says it comes from the Milwaukee Sentinel newspaper, dated February 22, 1942. Google helped me find the link to the advertisement in the comics section of that paper.

Scotched Eggs

Taking bulk breakfast sausage and using it to envelop eggs is my new favorite thing. They’ve got all sorts of goodness going for them – creamy eggs, lots of hearty sausage, lovely seasoning and a crunchy coating.

They can be made to the breadcrumb stage and stored for later cooking or cooked and the leftovers rewarmed in a mix of microwave and toaster oven (to recrisp them).

When making more than four at a time, I recommend placing them in a muffin tin to bake. Otherwise, they will be okay on a rimmed baking sheet.

I used Grey Poupon Country Dijon Mustard but any good stoneground mustard will work.

Scotched Eggs

6 eggs, divided
1 lb bulk breakfast sausage
1 tablespoon stone ground mustard
flour, for dredging
1 cup breadcrumbs

Place 4 eggs in a saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil and turn off heat. Let sit for 5 minutes for slightly more than softboiled eggs or 9 minutes for hardboiled eggs. Run cold water over the cooked eggs and peel them, rinsing them again in cold water to stop the cooking.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Use your hands to mix the sausage and the mustard. Divide the sausage into 4 equal pieces. Wet your hands, and then take up one portion of meat. Pat into a thin patty from your fingertips to palm. Roll the egg in flour and then set near your fingers and fold the sausage around it, pinching the ends to seal it completely in sausage. Continue until all are enrobed in sausage

Beat remaining two eggs in a shallow dish. Dredge sausage balls in flour, then in beaten eggs and then in breadcrumbs. For an added crunch, use a breakfast cereal like Rice Krispies or Corn Flakes instead of the bread crumbs.

Set on a rimmed baking sheet or in a muffin tin. Bake for 30 minutes until crisp and golden.

 

Skillet Chicken Mushroom Pot Pie

I wanted some comfort food, so I decided to make a pot pie for dinner. My version includes chicken and onions and mushrooms and seasonings but none of those pesky peas, confounded carrots or other vexing vegetables. My version, in other words, is awesome.

I used large portobello mushrooms, sliced but most any mushroom would do. Make sure they are in bite sized pieces.

For this recipe, I’m using a Pillsbury Pie Crust for the topping. It is easy to thaw and unroll and tastes great.

Skillet Chicken Mushroom Pot Pie

2 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
1 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup cornmeal
1 small onion, diced
8 ounces mushrooms, sliced
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon all purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons rubbed sage
1 cup low salt chicken stock
2 tablespoons sour cream
1 roll of pie dough
1 egg, beaten with a teaspoon of water

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

Dice the chicken breast into bite-sized cubes. Stir them with the Worcestershire sauce and then toss with the cornmeal to coat. Set aside to marinate for 15 minutes.

Heat a large cast iron skillet over high heat and add in some oil. Turn the heat down to medium and sear the diced chicken until browned on all sides. Remove the seared chicken with a slotted spoon and place on a large plate.

Keeping the pan over medium heat, add in the onions and sauté until translucent, about 5 minutes. Toss in the sliced mushrooms and sauté until the mushrooms have reduced in size and given up their liquid. Remove from the skillet to a bowl.

Melt butter and stir the flour in the skillet over medium heat. Cook the roux for 5 minutes to make sure the raw flour taste is cooked away. Stir in the pepper, salt and sage. Pour in the chicken stock and turn the heat up to high and bring to a boil, scraping up any brown bits on the bottom of the skillet. Stir in the sour cream. Return the onions and mushrooms to the skillet and stir to coat with the pan sauce. Return the chicken to the skillet. Cook and stir until the mixture has thickened. Turn off the heat.

The pie crust should be about the size of your pan. If not, roll it out until it is just a little bigger than the pan, then place it over the filling, using a wooden spoon or scraper to push the edges down into the sides. Cut slices in the top to allow steam to escape during baking.

Brush the top with the beaten egg and bake for 20-25 minutes, until the pastry is golden-brown and the chicken juices are bubbling and overflowing.

Let the chicken mushroom pot pie rest for 5 to 10 minutes before cutting and serving.

Yummy!

Old School Puddin Pops From Homemade Chocolate Pudding Mix

Michelle makes me a cook and serve chocolate pudding mix that I store in quart jars and make whenever the urge for rich, creamy chocolate hits. This is better than the box mix as it is 1) cheaper and 2) a deeper chocolate with the high quality cocoa in it.

But, when August is panting her fetid breath on the back of your neck and you want more than just pudding, you can use the mix to make puddin pops. I have very fond memories of that creamy frozen dessert that can beat Fudgsicles for depth of flavor.

Alas, puddin pops are no more in the store but they can be in your home. For richest results use whole milk. While 2% will work, any less fat makes for a thin pudding and not the best texture puddin pops.

These are so good, they taste like I should make more. Good thing she made me a whole recipe of pudding mix!

Chocolate Pudding Mix

4 cups nonfat dry milk powder
2 2/3 cups sugar
1 1/3 cup corn starch
1 1/3 cups Hershey’s Special Dark cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

Mix all together and store in airtight containers.

To make pudding: Whisk 1 cup chocolate pudding mix into 2 cups milk in a saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Pour into a glass dish or bowl and cover the top with plastic wrap to keep a skin from forming. Refrigerate until cool before serving.

Once you have your pudding mix, it is time to cook the pudding for puddin pops.

Puddin Pops

1 cup Chocolate Pudding Mix
2 cups milk
1 cup Cool Whip Whipped Topping

Place the pudding mix and milk in a saucepan and bring to boil, stirring constantly. Scrape pudding into a metal mixing bowl and place over a large bowl of ice and water and stir to bring the temperature down. Once the bottom of the bowl containing the pudding is cool to the touch, mix in the Cool Whip. Stir until completely incorporated.

Pour into molds and place in the freezer. It will take at least four hours to freeze.