Are you like me? I love the holidays but don’t mind when they’re over…one can only have so much rich food and fun, right? I feel like it would take an austerity program for a few weeks to balance everything out.
So our “back to work and healthy eating” meal on the last night of our 2+-week vacation was Glover Gardens Chili. While it might seem counter-intuitive to call chili healthy, our recipe is high in fiber and low in fat. There are three kinds of beans, and these days, I make it with ground turkey instead of ground beef. Fresh chiles amp up the spice component.
said the Grill-Meister as he fired up the outdoor burner to cook bacon in 5° weather.
It was also snowing.
We don’t cook bacon inside because our tiny cabin will retain the smell for days. That marvelous aroma that warms your cockles when it’s freshly cooked and ready to eat becomes your worst enemy later, don’t you think? The Grill-Meister was definitely “taking one for the team” when he fried up the bacon on the snowy porch.
Simple food tastes really great in the mountains: scrambled eggs with peppers and sausage, bacon and drop biscuits were a New Year’s breakfast fit for royalty.
Lots of the meals at Glover Gardens are graced with some kind of yummy bread, and this recipe from the Café Christina blog showcases the perfect approach to garlic bread. When someone has done such a good job documenting a fundamental recipe, I’m happy to share rather than try to create my own version. This is the stuff, y’all!
Photos from the Café Christina blog; recipe below.
If I’m making garlic bread, (which isn’t very often) I’m going all out. I’m not skimping on the salty butter or the chunks of garlic. I want this bread to be swimming in an …
I promised to share the recipes with you, and here’s an easy one: Golden Onion Dip. Its slightly sweet onion flavor is reminiscent of the onion dip in the plastic container served alongside potato chips at backyard barbecues, but it also has a jazzy, sophisticated taste and mouth-feel from the fresh yellow onions simmered to golden perfection and a dash of vermouth (which cooks off).
This texture of this dip is really more like a spread, because of the cream cheese. It is fresh, creamy and easy to make, and is good with chips, crackers or fresh vegetables. It serves admirably as the requisite dip in an appetizer buffet. It makes a very nice spread for a turkey or roast beef sandwich – think holiday leftovers! My recipe is a riff on this one from Food & Wine magazine, which is also quite good (but slightly bland).
Make the Golden Onion Dip it the day before you plan to serve it, if possible, because the onion taste develops nicely overnight as the flavors “marry”. This recipe makes enough for a crowd and can easily be halved; the amount in the picture below is about a third of a recipe.
2 tablespoons butter
3 large yellow onions, thinly sliced (I use the slicing disk of the food processor)
1/8 cup dry vermouth or vodka
pinch of white sugar
1 1/2 cups sour cream
1 8 oz. log of cream cheese
1 tsp. onion powder
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
2 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley
1/2 tsp. Worcestershire
1 tsp. salt
freshly ground pepper
Set out the sour cream and cream cheese so that they can get to room temperature.
Melt the butter over medium heat in a skillet large enough to sauté the onions, then add the onions and cook until they are golden and very soft, stirring to prevent sticking and ensure even cooking. This will take more than 20 minutes, and you may need to reduce the heat. When the onions are done, add the sugar and vermouth, turning the heat up slightly, and cook until the vermouth has evaporated. Set the pan aside and let the onions cool.
Once cool, coarsely chop the onions, either on a cutting board or in your food processor. (If you use the food processor, it will only take a couple of pulses; be sure not to puree the onions.) In a bowl large enough for all of the ingredients, add the onions, sour cream, cream cheese, parsley (reserving a little for the garnish), onion powder, garlic powder, salt and Worcestershire and stir to mix well. Add pepper and taste, adding more salt if necessary. Garnish with the reserved parsley, cover and refrigerate until about a half hour before you are ready to serve; the dip tastes better if it isn’t refrigerator-cold.
Note: yellow onions are the perfect choice for this recipe; white onions are a bit too sharp and red ones would mess with the color.
This spread-like dip has a rich and heavy texture from the cream cheese, making it perfect for fresh veggie dippers; but beware, a potato chip would break in it. You can substitute 1 1/2 cups of sour cream (for a total of 3 cups) for a looser, smoother dip that’s more like the traditional onion dip in texture if you’re planning to serve it with chips.
That’s the onion dip from the party on the bottom right (above); I didn’t get a good picture of it in the party spread before we started diving in! Next time… or, if you make it, please send me your photo!
Culinary experiences are high on my list when I travel. The only eateries I disdain are chains. Unusual foods, new restaurants, out-of-the-way places that only locals go, famous places that I’ve read about- and salivated over – for years, tiny little spots that offer perfect renditions of traditional ethnic dishes – bring ‘em all on!
So many taste experiences, so little time…
So when I get a recommendation from someone on my internal Trusted Buds List (buds as in ’taste buds’ as well as the traditional sense of ‘buddy’, a person who would never steer you wrong), I try hard to make it happen.
That’s how I had the delightful experience of dining at tiny and wonderful Comptoir Vietnam in Paris last month. A Glover Gardens blog friend who has traveled the world a time or two (or three) recommended it on one of my previous Paris posts, just as I was heading out to a workshop there with several colleagues. He had found Comptoir Vietnam by accident years earlier while taking a walk in the City of Lights. He loved it. He went back. He took loved ones there on later trips. Most importantly (to me), he paid it forward by telling me about it. And now I’m telling you.
You need to know about Comptoir Vietnam. It’s that good.
My colleagues are game for anything, and on the night before our return to Houston, they accompanied me on the very crowded, fairly hot, hour-long Metro ride during rush hour to get to this stellar little place. We weren’t sorry! It was everything we expected, and more.
I’ll set the stage for you. It was overcast and rainy, as Paris often is. (How is it that overcast and rainy in Paris doesn’t ruin the mood, it adds to it??) The Metro experience was a little different than usual as we got close to our stop, with elevated, above-ground tracks that provided a great view of sudden and unexpected street art, a number of huge and intricate murals on the buildings.
We alighted from the Metro and found ourselves in the 13th arrondissement, an area of Paris that was previously unknown to me. A couple of turns down wet, gray streets that were mostly residential but dotted with neighborhood businesses and restaurants (primarily Asian) took us to the humble front door of Comptoir Vietnam.
The interior was very small, with only six or eight tables. The menu was delightfully notin English. This ain’t no tourist trap!
Noticing that we weren’t French or Asian, one of the patrons struck up a conversation with us immediately. She wanted to know how we found the place, because “usually only locals come here”. She helped us interpret the menu and decide what to order, and reinforced what we already suspected: this was going to be a great meal.
Oh my goodness!
We had dumplings that took a little while to arrive, because they were steamed to perfection after we ordered them – three different kinds (shrimp, pork and beef). There were piquant dipping sauces that someone back in the kitchen probably made that day.
Two of us chose Bo Bun Nem, a dish I had never heard of. It was a big bowl of beef and incredibly rich broth and vermicelli or rice noodles and fresh things like cilantro and cucumber and chile peppers and cucumbers and bean sprouts and whole pieces of some kind of crispy spring roll and a deep, oniony sauce – oh my! “This is North Vietnamese food,” my friend had said. “Nothing like we usually eat in the US.” Umm-hmm. And in addition to being super-delicious, it was cheap!
We didn’t talk much at Comptoir Vietnam after the meal arrived, except to revel in our good fortune. So I’m sharing it with you in case you get to the 13th arrondissement of Paris one day. You should.
As for me, I’ll be back in Paris this week, and I really want to go back to Comptoir Vietnam. And if I can’t make it on this trip, then I will on the next one. It’s that good. And there are soooooo many other dishes to try!
Looking for lunch on a recent trek home from New Orleans, we took the long way along the coast and found a treasure (and I do mean treasure) in the backroads of southern Louisiana. Suire’s Grocery and Restaurant has been serving delicious Cajun food to hungry travelers, locals and hunters since 1976. It was magic: the food, the ambience and especially the people. The Grill-Meister and I were enchanted.
An Experience, Not a Pit Stop
You know it’s going to be a memorable experience instead of a quick bite right when you pull up to the unassuming white building. The menu is painted on the outside, along with a faded but very friendly-looking alligator to welcome you.
Inside, the feeling that you’re in a unique place is immediately reinforced. The walls are crowded with a fascinating collection of Louisiana kitsch, safety awards, family and local memorabilia, and articles from publications ranging from the New York Times to the Houston Chronicle. Referencing the authenticity of the food and the popularity of Suire’s with hunters and locals, the articles point out different dishes and dining experiences from the individual viewpoints of the writers, but they all have one thing in common: glowing reviews.
Menu Choices Galore
We didn’t stop to read the articles at first, though. The menu above the counter where you order at the back of the store draws you in and amplifies your hunger. And that’s only a portion of what’s on offer: there’s also a printed menu with so many choices! There are selections that you rarely find outside of Cajun Country, like turtle sauce picante and three kinds of pistolettes (deep-fried rolls stuff with crawfish, shrimp or crab), and just about every Cajun menu staple you can imagine: alligator, boudin balls, shrimp or crawfish étouffée, twelve different po-boys, multiple fried seafood platters, red beans and sausage…you get the idea. And then there are salads, burgers, sandwiches and sides like Cajun fries, potato salad. Oh my goodness!
A Very Satisfying Meal
It was difficult, but we finally made our selections. The Grill-Meister and I had been in New Orleans for 3 days celebrating a milestone anniversary and had enjoyed numerous Cajun and Creole dishes, but we were happy to continue the trend at Suire’s. He chose the shrimp poboy, and I had the shrimp and crabmeat gumbo plate. They were both spectacular: fresh, delicious, perfectly balanced. Humble ingredients transformed into permanent taste memories.
The Sweet Smell of Baked Goods
House-made baked goods are everywhere, tempting you while you wait for your meal. This is NOT fast food. There’s time to take in the abundant ambience and ponder your dessert choices while the Suire’s kitchen prepares your order. A huge selection of old-fashioned favorites make it really hard to choose. Peanut butter balls or fig cake? Heavenly hash or rice krispy treats? Brownies, cookies or fruit-filled tarts? And who can resist homemade pecan pie??? After some soul-searching, the Grill-Meister chose the fig cake. I know that he loves me, because he gave me a bite.
A Freezer Full
A further temptation is the freezer full of Suire’s specialties, fulfilling the promise painted on the front door:
Don’t feel like cooking? … Frozen Foods – Ready to Eat – Just Heat and Serve
We just happened to have an ice chest with us. (No self-respecting foodies would go on a road trip to Louisiana without a way to bring some of the goodness home.) The ice chest got a little fuller.
Dry Goods and Groceries, Too
I’ve been gushing about the restaurant and the ambience, but shouldn’t ignore the other side of Suire’s – the grocery store. I’m from a very small town in Southeast Texas, and I know that the local grocery store can be the center of a small community, the place where people go to chat and get news, and the source of that one missing ingredient for the big dinner you planned to make.
Saving the Best for Last: the People of Suire’s
The most enchanting thing about Suire’s was the people. We had the great fortune to meet and chat with Joan Suire, who co-owns and runs the business with her sister, Lisa. Happy to chat, she pointed out some of the more interesting articles and photos on the walls and provided backstories. For example: behind the signed celebrity photos from the 1940s was the tale of a relative who worked at the Waldorf-Astoria, met and married a Rockefeller, “and never worked again”.
Jean tells her stories with a charismatic, wry smile and an excellent sense of timing. We could have conversed with her all day; her pride in the family business is evident and irresistible. She told us how here parents had started the business when she and her sister were teenagers, and that she’d never married but has had a great life at the counter of Suire’s. Joan shared a recent testimonial from a customer, a Baton Rouge native who’d just found Suire’s:
Your food resurrected my mother!
Taste memories. They’re important.
It was early Sunday afternoon when we visited, and there was a steady stream of locals picking up to-go orders. Jean knew everyone’s name and asked after their families with a genuine interest.
Southern Hospitality: “It’s My Treat!”
But it’s not just the proprietors that are special at Suire’s, it’s also the customers. One struck up a conversation with me, sharing that a new porch was being built at her house that day, so she was picking up lunch from Suire’s for everyone. A lovely young woman, she almost glowed as she gushed about the food, saying that the crawfish fettuccini was the absolute best. As she was paying for her order, she gestured for me to come up to the counter and said, “Do you want to try the crawfish fettuccini?” I thought she meant a little bite from some big vat of the wonderful stuff back in the kitchen, but no – she was offering to buy us a meal! We had already ordered, so I declined, but she insisted:
I’m going to buy you a frozen one, then. It’s my treat. You have to try it!
So there you are. An absolute stranger bought us a local delicacy because it’s that good. I think her name was Caitlyn and wish I had written it down so I could thank her properly. (Lovely young lady, if you read this and I got your name wrong, please correct me!) Whenever I think about southern hospitality from now on, this experience at Suire’s will come to mind.
Another Road Trip
The Grill-Meister and I are already planning another road trip, this time with the express purpose to soak up more of that Suire’s magic. Wanna come?
Note: some of the articles I read when I was preparing this “restaurant rave” post suggested that the 2002 New York Times article put Suire’s on the map and made it famous. I disagree. It might have increased awareness about this little gem, but it’s clear that Suire’s has always been famous with the people of Southeast Louisiana and the the travelers, hunters and fisher-people who visit.
Epilogue: Anthony Bourdain was Here
We didn’t know when we found Suire’s two weeks ago that Anthony Bourdain had visited in February of this year for his Parts Unknown series. Wow. The episode, Cajun Mardi Gras Recap, aired soon after his tragic death. The photo below, taken on Ash Wednesday, is on the Suire’s Facebook page and features Anthony with owners (and sisters) Joan and Lisa. “One of the more awesome locations I’ve ever found,” he said of Suire’s. Indeed.
Traveling for work, I was out of town on Mothers’ Day this year. I arrived in London at about noon, very tired, as I can NEVER sleep on the plane.
I believe in soldiering on when traveling to Europe, rejecting all impulses to nap and staying up until bedtime in the local time zone to get acclimated, but I was so. very. tired. So I decided to eat lunch somewhere close to the hotel and maybe take a teensy snooze afterward.
A “genuine British pub” was close by. There were signs about the “Sunday Roast Special”, which was supposed to be especially special on what they call “Mothering Sunday”. The proprietor recommended the Sunday Roast Special, especially.
“When in Rome”, right!? So of course I ordered it. And of course it was a monstrosity.
Mushy, overcooked vegetables sat alongside dry, shoe-leather meat smothered in tasteless gravy served with tough, dry Yorkshire puddings. Wow.
At the next table, only about 18 inches from me, two ladies ordered the same meal. One was obviously visiting, hailing from another city or even a foreign land (from her accent and looks). The “local” was a woman in middle age, talking about her grown sons and where they lived and worked. When their meal was served, she became rhapsodic about it. Her voice lowered, and almost in a singsong she murmured:
It’s just like my Mum served. Oh, you would have loved it so. The whole family at table, the Yorkshire puddings all puffed up and proud, everyone fighting over the extra gravy. A Sunday Roast Dinner is the best. This takes me back home to Shropshire in my youth.
And so. While I disdained the meal from my own perspective, I reveled in eavesdropping on the taste memories emanating from the next table.
We all have our beloved family comfort foods, and the memories they conjure more than make up for the lack of taste, sophistication or spice. It was a special time for me to reflect on that while eavesdropping on the British lady at the next table on Mothering Sunday in London.
I succumbed to the urge for a nap after that. Don’t judge – you would have, too.
I still think of myself as a little girl from a small town who is constantly surprised by her life, and sometimes find it hard to believe that I have a “favorite Italian restaurant in London”. In my 20s, that sentence would have been alien to me; I didn’t even make it to Europe until I was 34. This post is about that favorite little restaurant, and its fame-worthy Spaghetti Carbonara.
It’s Not Just My Opinion
Da Corradi’s carbonara was fantastic!
I think that was the best Carbonara I have ever had.
Spaghetti alla Carbonara with fresh ham is the best you’ll ever eat.
Online reviewers of Da Corradi, a tiny, family-run Italian restaurant in London’s Mayfair district tucked back in the Shepherd Market, agree with me about their Spaghetti Carbonara: it’s the best.
My TripAdvisor review from way back in 2010 when the Grill-Meister and I visited was titled Marvelous – so good we went twice in one week, proclaiming:
The Spaghetti Carbonara is the best I have ever had – even compared to the same dish in Italy.
It’s true. I’ve never had a better carbonara, and I’m fairly sure I never will. It’s that good. Just the right balance of rich creaminess from the egg and cheese, saltiness from the ham, and al dente spaghetti, with a liberal sprinkle of freshly ground pepper. Close your eyes after taking just one bite and you’ll expect to find Northern Italy when you open them. I try not to eat heavy food like this very often, but there’s never even a question that I’ll order anything else at Da Corradi. The only question is how much of it I can consume, and the answer is always: more than I thought!
The food at Da Corradi is hearty-homestyle rather than Mayfair pretentious, and the prices are very reasonable. More reasons to keep coming back!
The Peeps are as Fun as the Food is Good
The staff at Da Corradi are a big part of the overall experience. They’re cheeky and flirty (in a family-friendly way) and their banter with each other betrays an affection and respect that is charming. They collaborate to ensure that your experience with them is fun, filling, and fulfilling. You don’t exactly have a waitperson, you have a wait-team.
A Celebrity Hang-Out (or Hide-Out?)
In its 40+ years of serving great Italian food, Da Corradi has attracted a lot of admirers beyond this Texas gal and the online reviewers I quoted above. The wall overlooking the tiny main floor dining area sports photos of celebrity diners who must enjoy the carbonara and cheeky charm as much as I do. While high-end Mayfair is swarming with tourists and beautiful people, Da Corradi’s exact location within Shepherd Market is a little off the beaten path, a perfect place to avoid the madding crowd. Shepherd Market’s web site says, “This unique little enclave is tucked away between Picadilly and Curzon Street, in the heart of London’s Mayfair. A hidden gem known for its wonderful relaxed village-like atmosphere.”
They Trust Me, They Really Trust Me!
I am blessed with a wide network of friends and foodies in many locales across the world who feed me, enjoy sharing a restaurant meal together, send me their food pictures for the blog, and give and take restaurant recommendations. I love love love it when someone trusts my choice of a restaurant; it’s like setting friends up on a blind date and having it work out (only better because there’s no chance of divorce or blame). It feels good to influence where someone has dinner halfway across the world…just call me the restaurant matchmaker!
Tiramisu and Espresso
Enjoying the carbonara
Holding up the menu for the photo to send to me
Life is good. And so is the Spaghetti Carbonara at Da Corradi in London.
If you’ve been following Glover Gardens this week, you know that it is really cold here. Freaky cold. Snow and ice and sleet, oh my! It just makes you want to stay inside, drink hot chocolate by the fire and have comfort food for all your meals. One day I said to the Grill-Meister, “Wouldn’t tomato soup and grilled cheese be the perfect lunch today?”
Less than an hour later, I got this text and photo from my friend Nancy:
Channeling my inner Kim with grilled cheese with red onion, tomato, and fresh basil— along with tomato/basil soup!
A sleety celebration with jazz accompaniment!
Can you believe it?! While I was daydreaming about the perfect cold-weather lunch, Nancy was making it, and chilling out (pun intended) with some jazz! The Grill-Meister and I laughed and laughed — and we would have crashed her sleety celebration if it wasn’t too dangerous to be on the roads.
It’s probably obvious that Nancy and I go way back. Waaaay back, to our days in the Old Sugar Land when we were semi-young moms of young sons, and getting together and talking helped us figure out the world and our places in it. (Actually, getting together and talking still helps us figure out the world and our places in it.) One of the many things Nancy and I enjoy together is making and eating wonderful food, and I’m not surprised she knew my perfect snowed-in meal. I celebrate our friendship in this haiku.
Haiku: Sleety Celebration
she’s channeling me tomato soup and grilled cheese comfort food friendship
Brrrrr! Extraordinary winter (for this area) continues here at Glover Gardens. We’re breaking out the soups to warm up from the inside out. I’ve had a hankering to make an old classic from my parents’ cookbook, Cauliflower Soup.
I have great memories of making Cauliflower Soup with my Mom, of developing the recipe together, in fact, but when I looked back at the cookbook she created for my Dad’s real estate company years ago, that version was … well … unenlightened. Literally. It had twice as much cream and half the chicken stock, plus extra butter. As an adult, I’ve been making a lighter version, although not lately, because the Grill-Meister is NOT A FAN of cooked cauliflower. He proclaims that he hates the cooked version of most vegetables, but I’ve been working on him for the decade we’ve been married and we’re starting to see that it is OVERCOOKED vegetables that he hates.
I had all the ingredients for Cauliflower Soup when Winter Storm Inga dropped in on us this week, so I took on the Grill-Meister’s cauliflower contempt as a challenge. This warming soup comes together quickly, so on Sunday afternoon I whipped it up and took him a small portion as a late afternoon snack / taste test (I was afraid to plan on it for dinner in case it got two thumbs down).
He liked it! He told me to be sure and mention that he was a cauliflower hater so you’d understand the significance of his appreciation. The Grill-Meister’s biggest compliment (in his opinion) was: “It doesn’t even taste like cauliflower!” We had cups of this creamy goodness for dinner the next night with a simple green salad, and I’m pretty sure he had two servings.
So, now that I have the Grill-Meister’s Seal of Approval, I’m sharing this recipe with you. Cauliflower Soup is easy and quick, warm and comforting, and yet surprisingly elegant. You can serve it in shot glasses as a fun party appetizer, as a first course for a fancy meal, or paired with a salad and crusty bread for a quick weeknight supper. It can be produced as a vegetarian soup with the substitution of vegetable broth for the chicken stock, and vegan if you do that and also use coconut or almond milk instead of the cream / half ‘n’ half.
Cauliflower Soup (serves 6-8)
1 head of cauliflower, washed and separated into florets
1 bunch of green onions (about 8), chopped into 1-inch lengths
1 shallot, diced
3-4 cups of chicken stock, preferably homemade (enough to cover the cauliflower
and onions in the saucepan but not more)
1 cup of heavy cream (substitute half ‘n’ half for part or all of the cream for a lighter version)
1/4 – 1/2 tsp. white pepper
1/2 – 1 tsp. salt
1/8 – 1/4 tsp. nutmeg, freshly grated, if possible
Optional garnishes (you can mix and match)
sour cream (dollop)
green onions, thinly sliced
toasted nuts, chopped
Combine the cauliflower, shallot, green onions and chicken stock in a medium saucepan, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to maintain a good simmer for 10 minutes or more, until cauliflower is soft. Remove from the stove, transfer to a blender and purée. You can also use an immersion blender. Be very, very careful with the hot mixture and make sure the lid to your blender is on tight. The purée should be as smooth as possible.
Place the purée back in the saucepan over medium heat and stir in the cream or half ‘n’ half. Bring to a simmer and then reduce to medium low, cooking at a gently simmer until thickened as desired, for 5 minutes or more. While it is simmering, add the minimum amounts of salt, white pepper and nutmeg, then taste and adjust seasonings, if necessary.
Serve hot, garnished (see options above). My minimum garnishes for this lovely and comforting soup are a generous dollop of sour cream, some green onions for crunch, and a dusting of nutmeg.
Read more about the old cookbook, Great Tastes from the Texas Coast, here