Monday, February 29, 2016

Shaya, New Orleans

Arguably the hardest restaurant to get a decent reservation at in town, Shaya serves modern Israeli cuisine by Alon Shaya and John Besh. Yes, this restaurant probably has reservations lined up so that you can next get a table Monday evening at 4:30 in June. I may be exaggerating, but not by too much.

TL;DR -- great food, better pita. 

So, was it worth it? Let me tell you. Nestled in the back of a white building adorned with ocean blue gas lamps on Magazine Street is a wood burning oven that spits out steaming hot pita bread that is constantly refilled for your pleasure and gluttony. (Warning: I will be praising this pita incessantly throughout the rest of this post.) I heard that the pita was good, but I didn't expect it to be that good. Every time our waitress brought us over a fresh loaf, I swear it was fresher and fluffier than the last. I even complimented the oven master (I made that up) on his amazing job and asked him what temperature I needed to get my oven at home to replicate this bready ambrosia -- the answer is 650 - 700F. Anyways, good thing I planned the meal around having amazing bread and veered away from all the carby menu choices. 

Henok is not the strictest vegan in the book, but vegan enough that eating out in New Orleans/ Louisiana/ the south tends to be a challenge. So thank goodness for ethnic cuisine that doesn't have cheese or pork bits intermingled in every recipe. There were more than enough options on the menu that are both vegetarian and vegan friendly here at Shaya, making us both happy campers (I gave up eating a lot of different animals for Lent). Here's an overview of what we had on the table:
  • tabouleh - a rather green and roughly chopped tabouleh made with lots of slivered almonds
  • lutenitsa - a smoky Bulgarian spread of red pepper, garlic, eggplant, and tomato
  • Moroccan carrots - served warm, generously spiced, and my favorite of the sharing plates
  • roasted cabbage - a flavorful and tender whole quarter head of cabbage prepared sous vide then roasted served with muhammara, a creamy roasted red pepper dip, drizzled with tahini and hazelnuts
  • crispy halloumi - I can never resist halloumi when it's offered because it honestly remind me of my favorite childhood snack, Cheez Doodles. It was fried and served over a creamy bed of caramelized celery root and greens. 
  • Moroccan mint tea - this is my favorite thing to enjoy at shisha bars, and Shaya's was served generously in a large French press. However next time I'll ask them to hold the lemon. It came out way more citrusy (and sweetened) than mint! 
As expected, everything paired perfectly with the perfect pita. It was made for dipping, tartining, and sandwiching. The thick, warm, airy pita makes me reminiscent of Luzzo's cloud-like pizza crust because it is simply that amazing. Good thing we didn't order more dishes because we left that night with half the cabbage, letenitsa, and two thirds of the halloumi to go (yay, leftovers!). When I come back, and I most certainly will to get more of this life changing pita (am I starting to sound like Katniss yet?), I will try it with the curried fried cauliflower and black garlic butternut squash hummuses. Yup, I already got my next meal here planned. 


fried cheese FTW

4213 Magazine Street
New Orleans, LA

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Oyster fried rice + choy in oyster sauce

When you're running a Chinese kitchen, you are bound to have a pantry filled to the brim with a variety of dried goods ranging from flowers to medicinal herbs to seafood. Over Chinese New Year, my mom prepared dried oysters and seared them with soy sauce and honey to offer to the heavenly beings and deities. With that of course comes all the leftovers you can imagine, so I found myself with an excess of honey soy glazed oysters in my fridge back down here in New Orleans. After days of eating whole dried oysters, it honestly got monotonous and textures and flavors were starting to become overwhelming. In my usual fashion, I decided to remake my leftovers into something way more glamorous: oyster fried rice. 

There are several key factors to making irresistible fried rice that I can eat several bowls of at a time.
  • THE RICE! Like I mentioned before, it's got to be overnight rice.
  • Start with browning garlic, scallion, and ginger: the Cantonese holy trinity. 
  • Always finish off with a splash of sesame oil 
And because I'm a dietitian and actually try to eat as nutritiously as possible, you'll see that #myplate is half filled with vegetables. The lady at the Crescent City Farmers Market told me that it was bok choy, but it must be some southern / American variety that I'm unfamiliar with. Either way, it tasted delicious simply sauteed and topped with oyster sauce. 

What an easy meal that I have been eating leftovers for days of! 

Oyster fried rice
6-8 whole dried oysters, pre-soaked and diced
1 tbs dried shrimp, pre-soaked  
3 tails scallion, diced 
1 knob ginger, diced
6 cloves of garlic, diced
2 cups of brown rice, cooked 
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp garlic powder 
3 tbs canola oil
1 tsp sesame seeds
1 tsp sesame oil

1. Brown scallion, ginger and garlic. Sautee with oysters and dried shrimp. 
2. Once everything is slightly browned, add the rice and stir-fry until rice is fragrant. Rice should be slightly harder to the bite, yet still retain some degree of moisture. (This should take 5-10 minutes depending on the heat of your stove top.) 
3. Season on salt and garlic powder. 
4. Mix in the two beaten eggs and keep the rice moving in the wok until the eggs are fully cooked and dispersed throughout. 
5. Finally, add the sesame and make sure all ingredients are mixed evenly. 
6. Remove the fried rice from the heat and add the sesame oil. Mix well.

Optional: top with XO sauce - spicy dried scallop sauce 

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Strawberry almond filled King Cake

Yes, I realize Mardi Gras is over and now it's full blown Lent, but I can still enjoy my King Cake if I didn't give up sweets, right?

I had a particularly eventful Valentine's Day weekend this year not only because I had plenty of this healthily-filled King Cake leftover from Mardi Gras, but also because I was fostering the sweetest pitbull, Snow. On Valentine's Day, Henok and I had a lovely mid-morning picnic at the park with fresh strawberries, navel oranges, and homemade King Cake while Snow had a great time frolicking / charging around the dog park.

Henok made the King Cake from the classic Mam Papaul's box mix with his own touch. The King Cake came out more bread-like than flaky pastry-like, which is fine with me because I can eat cinnamon bread every day, which I have done the past week. And though the real secret to his King Cake is TLC, I was really impressed by the creativity in his filling. Instead of the usual cream cheese, he simply substituted with fresh local strawberries, raw almonds, and no sugar added muesli. Both of us have outgrown our sweet teeth, so I was very grateful that he went light on the icing.

What a great Mardi Gras present that stretched through Valentine's Day! And hey, maybe if you start hanging out with a dietitian long enough, you'll start thinking like one, too!

It spells LINDA, but it got kind of smushed

Strawberry, almond, muesli filling

My real Valentine, Snow, after a jaunt in Crescent Park

Friday, February 5, 2016

Willa Jean, New Orleans

Willa Jean's King Cake

It's Mardi Gras season! And with that comes endless amounts of King Cake! With so many bakeries in town making such a variety of flavors, no doubt that newcomer Willa Jean would have their own very unique twist.

I went to the new bakery /restaurant by John Besh last weekend for an early brunch (it gets too crowded on the weekends at actual brunch time) and saw their decadent King Cake in the window. Not only is it covered with salted caramel, it's filled with bananas and marscapone and topped off with gold flakes -- fit for any royalty. The slice they brought to the table was gargantuan, but justified when I saw I was charged $10 for it. It was a touch too sweet for my taste, and King Cake purists would simply brush it off as not King Cake, but it was nice and flaky and very filled. Not a King Cake I would go for year after year, but I must say that I'm glad I tried it!

As for their regular menu, Willa Jean has a list of biscuit entrees that are worth trying. Since their opening week, they have most definitely refined their recipe to a wonderfully golden brown, flaky, buttery biscuit. Have it with the fried chicken or as a breakfast sandwich! For sure a crowd pleaser.
I like bringing guests who are in town here when we have to get an early breakfast. The seating is ample and the ceilings are high. They also serve fancy coffee that would please any New Yorker and have a temptingly mouthwatering bakery selection.

Chicken biscuit

Eggs in purgatory 

Willa Jean
611 O'Keefe Ave.
New Orleans, LA

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Yes, I make my own cat food.

Meet Luna, my lil' mama. She came into my life a few months ago and has unquestionably changed it for the better. As a dietitian, I morally cannot be feeding myself whole nutritious foods as my beautiful Siamese cat is stuck eating cat food or what I like to call, cereal. Think about it this way. You like cereal with milk, right? But what if you had to eat it every meal for your entire life? Yes, you'll be getting the majority of your nutrients and duh, it tastes great, but in the long run, all that sugar could cause a lot of problems chronic problems to your body. Excessive carbohydrate intake means a lot of the sugars become stored as fat and a potential for developing diabetes. It works the same way for our feline friends. 

Cats biologically do not have a strong thirst. They tend to get a majority of fluids from eating fresh killed prey, which is comprised of 70-75% water. Dry food is... dry. It has only about 5-10% water content. By feeding cats only cereal, they have a higher chance of developing kidney and bladder issues. Though your cats may seem to be drinking an adequate amount of water, that amount still does not necessarily compensate for the lack of fluid in the dry food. 

Now, making cat food I understand is not for everybody. I confess that I'm a crazy cat lady and spend a couple hours a month chopping up chicken and turkey for my little lady. If your cat at home is eating predominantly cereal, I'd recommend transitioning to canned wet foods several times of week. Canned food has ~75% water content and is much higher in protein than cereal! 

Also, cats should mostly be eating chicken/ turkey/ rabbit. It's most similar to what they would be catching if they were outdoor cats (small rodents, birds). I give Luna sardine with bones (canned in water) about 2-3 times a week with her raw poultry meal. This gives her healthy fats and calcium. Don't choose salmon or tuna too frequently, for those fish tend to be higher in mercury. Think if your cats were doing their own hunting. Would they be catching wild salmon or deep sea tuna?  

So, what do I feed my cat? I feed her raw meat. Cats requires a high protein diet and get their calcium from eating bones. There's a limited if null need for carbohydrates, but I throw some whole grains in there due to conflicting articles that I've researched. I also make sure she has access to plenty of fresh water! When I first started making cat food, I was neurotic and weighed everything out to the gram. But my cat is not a body builder, so now I estimate the portions (like I do with my own diet) to form a balanced meal for her. 

This is not based entirely on scientific research. I'm no veterinarian. I just love my cat and want to give her the longest healthiest life I can. Let me know what you think! 

HOMEMADE RAW CAT FOOD (lasts 10-12 days, 2 ~2-3 oz servings / day)
- 2 lb chicken thigh / turkey, ground or sliced thinly (depending on your cat's willingness to eat raw meat, I started with ground and transitioned slowly to small chunks) 
- 4 oz chicken liver
- 3 oz chicken gizzard / heart
- 4 oz sweet potato / pumpkin, mashed 
- 3 oz omega 3 oil blend (for a healthy coat) 
- 3 tsp calcium supplement (cats eat their prey whole with bones, that's how they naturally get their calcium! - my supplement recommends 1 tsp per pound of food, I've been using less since introducing bones into her diet) 

1. Mix together
2. Serve at room temperature 

It's a work in progress! Luna now eats a combination of the chicken, whole cornish hen, and no salt added sardines throughout the week. A diet fit for a queen!