Sunday, January 24, 2016

Recipe: Bacon Soup

Do you know how you're scrolling through facebook and catching up on what friends and family are doing and suddenly the most interesting ads or sponsored facebook posts suddenly appear? Recently this recipe for Creamy White Bean and Dry Cured Hickory Bacon Soup from Central Market popped up on my feed so I had to try it.

I'm not going to drive 1.5 hours to the nearest Central Market to buy the ingredients it required. Nor am I ever going to remember to start the recipe the night before. Therefore I made a number of modifications to the recipe that still make it an awesome choice for a cold night in.

Bacon Soup


1 - 15 oz can of cannellini, navy, or other white beans, drained and rinsed
1 - 12 oz package of the bacon of your choice, chopped into 1 inch squares
1 shallot, diced
4 large carrots, peeled and chopped to 1/2 inch pieces
1 celery rib, chopped into 1/4 inch pieces
2 tbsp fresh rosemary, coarsely chopped
2 tbsp fresh sage, coarsely chopped
32 oz chicken or vegetable broth or stock
2 bay leaves
3 tbsp (1/2 a 6 oz can) of tomato paste
4 loosely packed cups kale or spinach leaves, stems removed, and chopped into about 1-2 inch pieces
Salt and black pepper to taste


  1. In a large soup pot or dutch oven cook the bacon over medium heat (10-20 minutes) until the bacon is lightly browned. Do not cook all the way to crispy. Remove the bacon, leaving the drippings, to a paper towel lined plate to drain. 
  2. Saute the shallot in the bacon drippings until translucent, about 5 minutes. 
  3. Stir in the rosemary and sage and cook 1 minute.
  4. Add the stock or broth, beans, carrots, bay leaves, and celery. Add the tomato paste and mix well to completely incorporate. 
  5. Add the bacon and bring the mixture to a boil. 
  6. Turn the heat to low and simmer 45 minutes while stirring occasionally. Add the spinach or kale in the last 15 minutes of the simmer (mix the kale as you add it to the soup - it will fit in your pot). 

Makes 4 hearty servings.

Note: You'll have about half a bunch of kale and half a can of tomato paste remaining after you make this recipe, along with most of the bunch of celery. If you purchased your herbs from the store, you'll likely still have a half of each package remaining. I suggest either doubling up the recipe (use a large stock pot) or making the recipe a second time to avoid waste.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Update on Cocoamoda

An update on the update (added 1/26/16): Cocoamoda is still open for business! Please visit them in person or online and purchase their wonderful chocolates!

An update on Chef Ken: according to their CaringBridge page, Chef Ken's been moved to a long-term care facility in Austin. If you're able, please consider a donation to their GoFundMe to help cover medical expenses. Or go to the Cocoamoda website and purchase some chocolates to help with business expenses. This is a difficult time for the Wilkinson family, but there's no reason you can't enjoy some delicious chocolate while also helping them out.

Original Post (from 1/19/16):

Regular readers of this blog will likely remember Cocoamoda in Calvert being featured on Restaurant: Impossible in the Spring of 2015. You can find the posts under this tag.

Chef Ken Wilkinson had a terrible fall from a ladder last week and is now in the hospital. His injuries are serious. His lovely wife, Jacqueline, has been by his side and periodically updating the restaurant's facebook page with updates on his condition. She has additionally started a CaringBridge blog for additional updates. 

If you feel so compelled, please spare a few prayers for Chef Ken, as well as for his lovely wife and family. There is also a fundraiser at CaringBridge and GoFundMe to raise money for what must already be substantial medical bills. 

If you are in the Calvert area, there is a Get Well Book at the truffle counter of Cocoamoda for people to sign. The restaurant will remain open during normal business hours for the time being, however the weekend dinners are cancelled. 

Myself and The Lovely Spouse wish Chef Ken a fast and full recovery. We also wish Jacqueline and the rest his family and close friends peace and comfort during this difficult time.

Disclaimer: none of this is an endorsement for anything and I don't make a penny off of saying their chocolates are awesome. Chef Ken and Jacqueline are nice people and The Lovely Spouse and I wish them well. 

Sunday, January 17, 2016

The Palace Cafe in New Orleans

On New Years Day, a group of long-time friends and I had a lovely dinner at the Palace Cafe in New Orleans. Located in the Business District on Canal Street, the Palace Cafe is well-known in foodie circles as a go-to place for creole cuisine.

Large windows allow a view of the kitchen.

Our table was on the second floor with a great view of Canal Street.

The cheese plate was absolutely fabulous. From the website menu: "Idiazabal, Saint Agur, triple cream brie, bûcheron goat cheese, pecan fig bread, fig reserve, Granny Smith apple."

The charcuterie plate was equally fabulous. Called the Petite Campagne on the menu: "Niman Ranch prosciutto, lamb terrine, country pâté, venison salami, duck rillettes." 

I got the Andouille Crusted Gulf Coast Fish. Perfectly cooked white fish of the day with a mild, yet flavorful andouille crust.

The Lovely Spouse got the Seared Duck with Confit. Again, perfectly cooked and absolutely succulent. 

Bananas Foster was created by Paul Blange for Brennan's in New Orleans in 1951 and has remained a classic dessert ever since. [Reference] True to its origins, this one was prepared table side and was absolutely delicious. A lovely way to end a most lovely meal.
Dinner at the Palace Cafe was priced for an occasional treat or special occasion. New Years with our friends certainly qualified and the meal and incredible service greatly exceeded our expectations.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

A New Year's Eve in New Orleans

I haven't been posting as much lately. My academic work is writing-intensive so it's often difficult to find motivation to write in my off hours. Rest assured, however, I have content to add to this blog and will continue to do so as I find the time.

The Lovely Spouse and I joined some long-time friends in New Orleans, Louisiana this year. As happens to groups of friends over the years, we have all spread to far-flung corners of the globe with our professional and personal lives. However, this year we decided to meet up someplace awesome for a long weekend of catching up and generally enjoying each other's company. This year that place was New Orleans.

The weekend was the first cold spell to hit New Orleans of the season so it was chilly and grey the entire time. But as you see, the city, especially the French Quarter, is still lovely.

We managed to find a bar on Bourbon Street, full of Aggies, where we watched the Aggies face off against Louisville for the Music City Bowl. The Aggies did far better than expected given the troubles the team had this year. Gig 'em!
Yes, they have Absinthe! Several lovely varieties, albeit not available cheaply. They also had a tasty drink called a Sazerac. I recommend this one for bourbon or whiskey drinkers. [If you don't like whiskey, you'll hate it.]
We visited Pat O'Brien's. Evidently it is THE place for a Hurricane cocktail in New Orleans. I find them overly sweet so I enjoyed a beer from one of the local breweries: Abita.
The flaming fountain at Pat O'Brien's is considered a landmark and meeting place. 
We visited Pierre Maspero's for brunch. 
The Sugar Bowl was evidently in town at the same time. We saw MANY football fans in town. Evidently OSU fans have a chant that they like to whip out on random occasions. 
The Lovely Spouse enjoyed some eggs with andouille. He said it was delicious.
I very much enjoyed my Grand Galette. A pan-fried hash brown cake topped with 2 eggs over easy, grilled tomatoes, bacon, parmesan reggiano and toast points. The coffee was surprisingly good. I don't usually enjoy coffee with chicory but it hit the spot at Pierre Maspero's. 
We visited Marie Laveau's House of Voodoo. Evidently, this is another requirement to any visit to New Orleans. No photography indoors. According to the person who answered numerous calls on the subject while we were there: they don't perform magic or voodoo, they only provide supplies. They also have souvenirs, including coffee mugs,t-shirts, etc. 

We visited the St. Louis Cathedral. It's a major landmark and you can't miss it. 
It is well worth visiting inside the cathedral. It's quite beautiful. If you go, be respectful and quiet as people are praying in there. 

The personal Bible of St. Louis. 

The area around Jackson Square reminds me, in some ways, of the areas around the Piazza San Marco in Venice. Similar shops and areas for people-watching.
We had lunch one day at Pere Antoine's. 

The rice and beans were quite tasty. We got there very early and waited for our group at the bar. The bar staff were awesome and extremely personable. 

The restaurant is lovely, but, as it took us an hour to get our check AFTER we finished our meal, we likely won't return. 

Mule-drawn surreys leave from the river-side of Jackson Square throughout the day. 

A local friend of ours took us to his favorite watering hole.

A nice hole in the wall, off the beaten path place for a few drinks and hanging out with friends. 

An Absinthe, mid-prep. Step 1, pour a few onces of absinthe into the glass. Step 2 put a sugar cube on an absinthe spoon. Step 3 light the sugar on fire then pour a few onces of water over the top. Mix and serve. Absinthe has a black licorice or anise flavor. You want to mix absinthe with water because it has a high alcohol concentration that tastes like burning otherwise. The sugar is to attenuate the bitterness of the herbs in the drink. The fire is for show.
We had some quick snacks at the French Market. We ate upstairs and had some of the best boiled shrimp of our lives. We didn't have time in our trip, else we'd return to have a full meal here. 

Joan of Arc stands guard over the Place de France. 
St. Joan appears to be well-armed, but no match for Sugar Bowl traffic. It was easiest to get around on foot until the game started.

So where did we eat our dinners? The first was at GW Fins. I didn't photograph it for the blog. Was it pricey? Yes. Was it worth it? Absolutely. The Scalibut (halibut poached in lobster broth with scallops) lives up to the hype. Tender, succulent, and indulgent. If they ever post a recipe I'll be the first home cook to try it out. Stand-out appetizers included the pork belly and Firecracker Tuna Tacos. I could easily make a meal of those and be very, very happy. The chicken crackling crusted black drum was also fabulous. At any other restaurant, this would be a star dish. However the Scalibut overshadowed everything with its awesomeness.

Did we make it to Cafe du Monde? No. As much as I love anything involving fried dough, I have little tolerance for waiting in line for it.
We also had an amazing dinner at the Palace Cafe that I did photograph for the blog. It will be the subject for a later post.

Seeing what New Orleans looked like on New Years Eve I can see how it would be absolutely wild for Mardi Gras. We didn't stick around for the dropping of the Fleur de Lis or the fireworks on the river, but instead had a group celebration at the house where we were staying.

On the whole, New Orleans was a great place to spend New Years Eve with a group of friends. There's plenty to see and do. My group also included art collectors who did some shopping in some incredible galleries. There are many independent artists and musicians creating some fantastic art out there.