New Orleans Jazz Fest Anticipation: Bayona is a Foodie’s Delight

The fourth post in a series about the New Orleans Jazz Festival covering food (restaurants and recipes), fun, music and travel tips.

In the run-up to our Jazz Fest trip in early May, we are building anticipation by looking back at past good times in New Orleans.  So many wonderful experiences!  Magical and memorable performances by musicians: famous, less famous and not-famous-but-fabulous.  Festival food so good that it inspires poetry.  World-class restaurants run by award-winning chefs that serve dishes so beautiful and tasty you think you might be dreaming (like Dorothy in the Emerald City).  I can’t wait to get back!

On the topic of great restaurant meals, I’d like to start this post with a confession:  I have a “food crush” on New Orleans chef Susan Spicer.

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Susan Spicer at the entrance to Bayona, from the Times-Picayune archives via NOLA.com

Spicer’s career journey is the one I would have chosen if I’d known earlier I’d be in love with food all my life, and if I had more talent, and if I was from New Orleans, and if I wasn’t truly in love with my own career in knowledge management…well, you get the idea.  Who is Susan Spicer, you ask?  Said Chris Waddington of the New Orleans Times-Picayune in a 2015 profile:

Susan Spicer’s Bayona qualifies as a New Orleans culinary landmark. That happens when a restaurant lasts 25 years in the same French Quarter location, when the chef piles up critical kudos, launches new talents, expands on local traditions and pens a well-regarded cookbook.

He’s right, and then some!  She has a James Beard award!  She has been a guest actor on the HBO Show Treme, and is the basis for one of the characters!  I first learned of Spicer’s restaurant, Bayona, while scanning travel guide books during the one-hour flight from the Bayou City (Houston) to the Crescent City.  (This was before TripAdvisor was a thing.)  My friend Nancy and I were on a girls’ trek to Jazz Fest, our first time to make this particular trip together.  We dog-eared restaurants that piqued our interest and vowed to hit as many as we could in our 3 big days in the Big Easy.  Bayona was high on the list – it “had me” at Cream of Garlic soup (see recipe at the end of this post).  The Frommer’s review included this single-word sentence (about lamb topped with goat cheese):  “Heaven.”

img_1098Bayona was beyond perfection when we visited for lunch.  Nestled in a 200-year old Creole cottage in the French Quarter, it is a quiet retreat from the throbbing pulse of New Orleans.  Seated on the patio amidst huge tropical plants protected by surrounding 18th-century brick walls, you are aware from the first moment that you are in for something special.

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Photo from Bayona’s files via USA Today

And then, there’s the food.  I could try to describe it, but…words fail me.  Truly.  The dish below was so good that I had it again the next year when the Grill-Meister and I made the Jazz Fest trek, our first time in the Crescent City together.

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My Grilled Shrimp with Black Bean Cake and Orange-Coriander Sauce – wow!
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Mango Cheesecake Flan, Pistachio Crust, Blackberries, Ginger-Mint Syrup, Mango, and Pistachio Tuile – another wow!
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The cookbook is available on Amazon

When I dragged the (very willing) Grill-Meister to Bayona in 2012, we asked about Susan Spicer’s cookbook, Crescent City Cooking.  They sell copies at the restaurant. I made my “food crush” confession to our (excellent) waiter and we enthusiastically told him to add a cookbook to our bill.  A few minutes later, out came Susan with the cookbook!  She was incredibly gracious and autographed my copy.  The cookbook is wonderful, and my food-love and admiration for her continues.

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My copy of Crescent City Cooking; I just couldn’t resist using the photo with Godfrey meowing (perhaps he’s saying “take me to Bayona!”

Like the rest of New Orleans, Bayona doesn’t take itself too seriously (except for the food). The staff is warm, welcoming, fun, and perhaps a bit quirky.  The interior decor is bright and colorful.

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Quirky good humor on display
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The sign above a big bay window, which keeps the natural light pouring into the dining room
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Nancy and me at that first enchanting lunch in 2010; look how happy we are!

After Nancy and I did the first recon, and then went back the next year, the Grill-Meister was my Bayona date.  He had the Cream of Garlic Soup during his first Bayona experience.  Oh. My. Gosh!  The recipe was published on the internet, so I have repeated it here, courtesy of the Times-Picayune:

Makes 8 servings

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 6 cups peeled and sliced onions
  • 2 cups peeled but not chopped garlic cloves
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme, or 1 teaspoon dried
  • 7 cups chicken stock
  • 1 bouquet garni (parsley stems, thyme sprigs and bay leaf)
  • 3 cups stale bread, torn into 1⁄2-inch pieces
  • 1 cup half-and-half or heavy cream
  • Salt and pepper

Heat the butter and oil in a heavy-bottomed 2-quart saucepan or Dutch oven over medium-low heat. Add the onions and garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until they turn a deep golden brown, 30 to 40 minutes. Add the thyme, 6 cups of the chicken stock, and the bouquet garni and bring to a boil. Stir in the bread cubes and let simmer for 10 minutes, until the bread is soft. Remove the soup from the heat and cool for 10 minutes.

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Copyright 2017, Glover Gardens Cookbook

Creamy Butternut Squash Soup with a Hint of Cumin

It’s fall!  Our local farmers’ market is laden with seasonal vegetables, and I picked up a nice medium-sized butternut squash with the intent to create a soup that even the vegetable-hating Grill-Meister would eat.  (I love the challenge presented by his picky taste buds!)  butternut-squash

If the soup turned out well, it would be a candidate for Thanksgiving and / or Christmas dinner.

I baked the squash first, with some whole garlic cloves and small boiling onions.  Then I puréed it with the garlic and onions and started adding stuff, tasting after every addition and stopping just when it was juuuuuust right.  I was really happy with it, and the Grill-Meister ate it two nights in a row.  Success!

The spices I used were simple:  nutmeg, white pepper, salt and cumin.  They were a perfect complement to the richness of the squash and the heavy cream.  With its hint of cumin, the finished product tastes slightly Southwestern, and I garnished it with a swirl of jalapeño-flavored olive oil and a handful of cilantro.  You could just as easily go with a plain olive oil and Italian parsley, or even mint.  Or get fancy with the garnish – I just saw a recipe that garnished butternut squash soup with chopped, crispy bacon.  Yum!

This creamy soup was a great main course the first time we had it, and worked really well in a soup and sandwich combo the next night.  And it definitely qualifies for a holiday meal.  We’re thinking of serving it as “soup shots” with an aperitif for Christmas dinner.

Ingredients (Serves 4 as a main course, 8 as a first course)

  • One medium/small butternut squash
  • 5 whole cloves of garlic, skins on
  • 4 small boiling onions, peeled and halved, or one small white onion, peeled and cut into 8 pieces
  • 1 tsp. olive oil
  • 3/4 cup water
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper (for the squash)
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2 cups chicken stock / broth (or vegetable stock if you want a vegetarian soup – but not water)
  • 1/4 tsp. cumin
  • 1/2 tsp. white pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
  • 1 1/4 tsp. salt
  • Olive oil for drizzling (I like to use jalapeño-flavored oil)
  • Chopped cilantro (can substitute parsley, mint or other fresh herbs)

Note: like people, squash come in all different sizes, and the ingredient ratios in this recipe were perfect for my individual squash. Have some extra heavy cream and chicken or vegetable stock on hand in case your squash requires a bit more liquid, and be ready to adjust the seasonings.

Cooking Instructions

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Cut the squash in half longwise and remove the seeds.  Cut in half again longwise.  Place cut side up in an ovenproof casserole dish, and then arrange the garlic and onion around the squash.  Drizzle olive oil over the squash, garlic and onions, then season with salt and freshly ground pepper.  Pour water into the casserole dish and place in the oven.  Bake for about 40 minutes until you can pierce the squash easily with a fork, but before it is completely mushy.  Remove from oven, cover with foil and let cool slowly.  (This step can be done up to 3 days ahead of time; refrigerate until you are ready to finish the soup.)

Remove the skins from the garlic.  Use a spoon to scoop the squash out of its skin and place in a blender or food processor along with the baked onion and garlic and puree until very smooth.  Add all other ingredients and blend again until well mixed.

Transfer the soup to a saucepan on the stove and heat over medium/low heat for about 15 minutes; it will thicken slightly.  Taste and adjust the seasonings, if necessary.

Serve hot; drizzle with olive oil and garnish with cilantro.

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After baking
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Pureed squash, garlic and onions
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After the addition of stock and cream
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Heat thoroughly
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The result is creamy, comforting cool-weather soup (my presentation is a bit crude here, but I was in a hurry to get to the eating part!)

 

Copyright 2016, Glover Gardens Cookbook

A Fresh Take on a Classic: Glover Gardens Chili

Glover Gardens Chili

Chili is one of those dishes that everyone loves – but everyone has their own (definite) view of what it should be like.

You can get into a half-hour heated discussion about chili variations here in Texas. Beans or no beans?  To some folks, them’s fighting’ words!

There are so many versions of chili.  Do you prefer long-simmered hunks of beef that melt in your mouth or ground beef?  Should it be a chunky, meaty concoction, or have a juicy, dark-red stew-like consistency?  Is beef even the right meat?  Some folks here make chili with venison, or add pork sausage to their beef chili.  Chili powder or your own spice mix?  Jalapeños and other chilis, or just bell pepper plus spices for the heat?  Serve it with crackers or tortillas?  Top with cheese or not?

So many variations, so little time…

Glover Gardens is still producing a variety of chilis
Glover Gardens is still producing a variety of peppers in late Fall

I grew up with my Dad’s wonderful chili – it has no beans, uses chili powder and is thickened with masa.  It’s really good and perhaps he’ll let me publish his recipe here in the blog sometime.  But as a grownup I have almost always had a garden that is over-flowing with different chili peppers just begging to be used, and have evolved my own chili recipe which puts these peppers front and center in the taste profile.  Even in late October/early November, I’m still harvesting peppers.  And I really like chili with beans.  So – it’s Glover Gardens Chili time.

This chili is simple, healthy, quick and versatile. The heat comes from fresh chiles, which, along with the cilantro added at the end of the cooking time, give it a garden-fresh taste.  And because we really like beans, Glover Gardens chili uses three different kinds:  kidney (dark red), black and pinto.  Be sure to use beans that haven’t had additional spices added so that you can control the flavor of your chili.  I like Bush’s Beans the best, and they are widely available.  Click here to view their variety beans products that don’t have added flavorings.

The leftovers (if there are any) make terrific nachos and can also be used on hot dogs, in stuffed baked potatoes or as a quesadilla filling.

Ingredients (serves 8-10)

  • 2 lbs. very lean ground beef (or 1 lb. of ground beef and 1 lb. of ground turkey)
  • 1 large red onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
  • 2 large bell peppers, any color, chopped (about 3 cups)
  • 1/2 – 1 cup assorted chiles, finely chopped (I use a mixture of serranos, jalapeños and any other chiles I have on hand – increase or decrease to reach your desired heat level)
  • 2 poblano peppers, roasted, peeled, seeded and chopped; click here for instructions, or you can substitute a can of diced green chilis if you don’t have poblanos or have time to roast them (hot or mild depending on your preference)
  • 5 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 28 oz. can petite diced tomatoes
  • 1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes in sauce
  • 1 14 oz. can black beans, drained
  • 1 14 oz. can pinto beans, drained
  • 1 14 oz. can red kidney beans, drained
  • 1 tsp. cumin
  • 2 – 3 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. black pepper
  • Optional: up to 1 tsp. cayenne or ground ancho chili (if the peppers don’t achieve the heat you seek)

    Since the Pico de Gallo uses many of the same ingredients, I like to get it going at the same time as the chili if I'm planning to use it as a garnish
    Since the Pico de Gallo uses many of the same ingredients, I like to get it going at the same time as the chili if I’m planning to use it as a garnish
  • 1/2 cup tightly packed cilantro, chopped (plus additional cilantro for garnish, if desired)
  • Optional garnishes: sliced avocado, sour cream, grated cheddar or jack cheese, cilantro, Pico de gallo (click for my recipe) or sliced fresh jalapeños, diced red onion

Cooking Instructions

I use a small food chopper to get the finely chopped hot peppers
I use a small food chopper to get the finely chopped hot peppers

Chop all vegetables (I chop the larger vegetables by hand for a medium/large dice, and use a mini-processor for the garlic, hot chilis and roasted poblanos to get them finely chopped). Sauté ground beef in a large pot until only slightly pink and drain. Return to the pan and add the chopped onions, peppers, chiles, poblano peppers or canned green chilis and garlic and sauté until vegetables are wilted.

Stir in both cans of tomatoes, then add the beans and stir again. Add cumin, pepper and 2 tsp. salt. Bring to a simmer at medium-high heat, then reduce heat to medium low and cover and cook for a half hour or until you are ready to serve, stirring occasionally. Taste and add more salt, if necessary, along with any extra spice as indicated above to get the heat level you desire. Stir in cilantro, then serve with your choice of garnishes.


I love the process of making chili – the chopping, the smell of the fresh garden vegetables, the virtuous feeling when adding all the beans, the bright vibrant colors…it’s all good.

Add the vegetables to the ground beef in the dutch oven
Add the vegetables to the ground beef in the dutch oven – aren’t the colors appealing?
Softening the vegetables with the meat produces a wonderful smell of onions, garlic and peppers
Softening the vegetables with the meat produces a wonderful aroma of onions, garlic and peppers and gets the males at Glover Gardens into the kitchen asking “When’s dinner?”
Glover Gardens Chili is chock-full of protein and fiber and looks very appetizing with its variety of garnishes
After it all comes together, Glover Gardens Chili is chock-full of protein and fiber and looks very appetizing with its variety of garnishes

Copyright 2015, Glover Gardens Cookbook