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Friday, January 29, 2010

Gumbo Saturday at Death Valley

The final tailgate party of the 2009 LSU football season clearly prompted people all over campus to break out their large pots and make a gumbo to feed the loyal fans.  My Gumbo Saturday got off to a splendid start at the Ford Family Tailgating party where Jeremy kindly shared a little Jameson Irish Whiskey with me.  While Jameson isn't my favorite Irish Whiskey (try Powers if you never have had it before), it still tastes just fine on the rocks.  It has a smooth taste and a crisp bite to make for a very refreshing wakey whiskey, or for a nice drink at any other time of day.  

Jameson Irish Whiskey on the Rocks

The day's first gumbo came from Mama and Papa Ford.  In their large pot they cooked up a turkey, chicken, and sausage gumbo that tasted brilliant.  Turkey meat is very seldom found in Cajun gumbos, but this being two days after Thanksgiving, it only made sense.  The gumbo itself had an earthy roux that was more light brown than chocolate in color.  I added a little hot sauce to mine and got after it... two bowls worth of getting after it over the span of an hour, I'm pretty sure.

The Ford Family Tailgating Gumbo in the Pot and in the Bowl

After a few more hours of tailgating at FFT, the time had come for me to migrate around campus before the Tigers kicked off in Death Valley.  My next stop came at the Speyrer and Friends tailgate party where Nick had been cooking up another spectacular pot of gumbo.  Sometimes you just can't get enough delicious gumbo served over Louisiana rice... and this was one of those days!

Speyrer Gumbo in the Pot and in the Bowl

As can be seen from the pictures, the Speyrer gumbo had a slightly darker roux for its base.  Nick used only chicken and sausage in his flavorful gumbo and I scarfed down another bowl and a half at his place before falling into a gumbo coma.  The dark roux made this gumbo richer and thicker than the Ford gumbo, though I certianly wouldn't say that either one was better than the other.  The great thing about Cajun gumbos is that they can all be cooked differently and taste differently, but still be just as good as the others in their own unique way.  If it was a contest, maybe I'd pass some judgement, but since Gumbo Saturday was really about sharing some good food at tailgate parties with some good friends, I'd prefer to say that both gumbos made me very happy.  It's days like this when I'm especially glad to live in Louisiana!

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Monday, January 25, 2010

Oscar's Pizza & Ice Cream Joint

A new restaurant recently emerged on Perkins Road in Baton Rouge, so Eusebio and I decided to give it a try.  Oscar's Ice Cream and Pizza Joint combines an original pizza place with Louisiana flair and a ice cream parlor that serves home made frozen goodness.  It is a combination that can hardly go wrong!


Oscar's Ice Cream & Pizza Joint

Once inside Oscar's, Eusebio and I had a seat at the bar where we took a glimpse of their booze selection.  Oscar's offers several beers on tap and a number of wines by the glass or bottle.  The bartender alerted us to a deal, so we obliged.


At the Bar in Oscar's

I'm not usually a big Heineken fan, but it is hard to argue when they are two for one, so we each ordered a pint, took a sip, and let out a sigh of appreciation for the cold, refreshing brew.


Two for One Heineken

The chef at Oscar's kindly brought us a couple cups of their duck and sausage gumbo to sample.  The soupy cajun concauction came served with rice and topped with green onions.  The roux was dark and rich, flavoring the gumbo well as the duck and andouille sausage also added to the terrific taste.  I scarfed down my cup of gumbo and readied myself for some fresh and unique pies.


Duck and Sauage Gumbo

Eusebio and I knew we couldn't eat it all, but it only made sense to order two large pizzas.  The price point is much more favorable when ordering the large, though overall these pizzas aren't cheap.  We wanted to try at least two varieties, so ordering only one pizza was not an option.  Our choice were made before the chef brought us out some gumbo, but I don't think it would have changed our mind since the gumbo was fantastic.  Our pizza decision: "D and A Gumbo" and "Perkins Pesto."


Large D and A Gumbo Pizza

The D and A Gumbo Pizza (Duck and Andouille, much like the actual cup of gumbo) screamed originality and declared its Louisiana flair.  This is the first time that I've ever seen or heard of a gumbo-flavored pizza, and it did not disappoint.  The pie began with a home made, hand tossed dough that baked to a soft and chewy crust on the outside while leaving a thin layer under the toppings on the inside.  Generously layered on the crust sat the smoked duck, alligator sausage, andouille sausage, and green onions with a roux based tomato gravy as the sauce.  The pizza had great, non-traditional flavor and added the right amount of Louisiana flair to an ordinarily Italian dish.


Perkins Pesto Pizza

Eusebio and I chose the Perkins Pesto as pie number two.  Strewn all-over the hand-tossed crust with a pesto base were plentiful portions of shrimp, sun-dried tomatoes, goat cheese, and toasted pecans.  This pizza offered a true medley of flavors that came together on one tantalizing bite after another.  If the D and A Pizza tasted great, the the Perkins Pesto tasted triumphantly amazing.  The pizza contained every bit as much pizazz and flair as the first one while providing just as interesting of an array of toppings.  Every shrimp gave a seafood kick, the sun-dried tomatoes provided a hint of sweetness, and the goat cheese changed things up a bit while the toasted pecans provided a clever texture that I had never experienced on a pizza before.  Unique and delicious... hard to go wrong!


Assorted Ice Creams

We couldn't go to "Pizza and Ice Cream Joint" without trying delightful frozen desserts.  Every cream that Oscar's serves is churned in house with quality ingredients to make even the pickiest ice cream critic happy.  The chef brought out three flavors of ice cream for Eusebio and I to try out, so try them we did!  Our ice cream assortment consisted of cookies and cream, buttered pecan, and banana nut.  Up front is Oscar's version of cookies and cream.  The flavor of the cream stood out, but there was a lack of cookies mixed in, especially when compared to the mixes of the other ice creams we ate.  On the top right is the banana nut ice cream that had a great banana-pudding-like flavor and came loaded with large pieces of walnuts.  Being a big fan of banana pudding and banana nut bread, this ice cream hit the spot.  Finally, in the top left we have the buttered pecan.  Buttered might have been and understatement.  This ice cream exploded with a buttery taste and was loaded with pecans in every bite.

All in all Oscar's won me over with both their pizza and ice cream.  The pizzas strayed away from traditional toppings with their mixture of specialty pizzas which made my mouth water just from reading about them on the menu.  There were plenty more to choose from, so there's no doubt I'll be back soon!

Oscar's on Urbanspoon

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Thursday, January 21, 2010

Thai Kitchen with Megan

Thai Kitchen stands tall on the list of Baton Rouge Thai restaurants, though there are several other places that I like equally well for different reasons.  Thai Kitchen is the larger, more corporate feeling Thai location that always has a crowd and serves what I thought was consistently good food.  They are not a hole-in-the-wall like Rama and they do not offer a buffet like Thai Pepper.  Instead, Thai Kitchen serves their sushi bar and Thai cuisine in the well-known Southdowns Shopping Center, right next to Spectrum Fitness and around the corner from a popular watering hole, The Bulldog.  The tables at Thai Kitchen are made from carved wood with an Asian flair that matches the rest of the decor, and they also feature karaoke bar which is prominately advertised around the building.  Megan accompanied me on a recent trip to Thai Kitchen to see what we could find to satisfy our appetite. 



Neau Nam Tok

For an appetizer, our knowledgable server recommended the Neau Nam Tok.  This marinated and charbroiled beef came out sliced thin and seasoned with Thai herbs, hot pepper, and fresh lime juice.  The beef and herbs were served with crispy cabbage to make "cabbage wraps" out of the dish.  I have to say that this was my favorite part of the dinner (It was almost better than the company, but not quite!).  Not to say that everything else tasted bad, but rather, this appetizer is one that I can see myself getting over and over again.  The tender slices of tasty beef oozed with juices that brilliantly blended hot, sweet, and sour all together into one outstanding bit.  The hint of lime, the spice of pepper, and the tang of the herbs mixed in a symphony of flavors that orchestrated my taste buds.  Yeah, I'm getting that again!



Singha, Thai Lager Beer

Naturally when I eat at a Thai restaurant, I like to get a Thai beer.  For the selection available around here, it doesn't get much better than Singha.  Singha is a light lager beer with a sweet, distinguishably Oriental taste that is common in many East Asian beers.  The head quickly disappears from the glass and it can easily be mistaken for cheap American swill with many of the same tendencies.  All in all, the beer is good, but I don't really drink it except for when I'm eating Thai food.


Panang Curry

One traditional dish in Thai cuisine is curry.  Megan and I shared the panang curry with shrimp.  The dish featured a panang curry paste with coconut milk, green beans, and Kaffir lime leaves served with steamed white rice.  The panang curry is rather mild and the coconut milk and lime flavors stood out and very much complemented the shrimp.  I thought it was pretty good and would certainly recommend it or eat it again.


Pad Thai

The other quintessential Thai dish that you find in America is Pad Thai.  The popular dish at Thai Kitchen has stir fried rice noodles with shrimp, bean sprouts, scallions, tofu, ground peanuts, and eggs.  This particular Pad Thai did not impress Megan and I much at all.  I like Pad Thai a lot, but the taste of Thai Kitchen's dish on this night seemed a little off.  It remained edible, but not the special, delightful dish that it usually is.  Oh well, I guess you can't win them all.  I'm sure that I'll still go back and when I do, you can bet that I'll order the Neau Nam Tok.

Thai Kitchen on Urbanspoon

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Monday, January 18, 2010

Yule Tide Joy and Holiday Cheer

The holiday season of 2009 brought many reasons to celebrate the joyous tidings of family and friends.  Starting with Friendsgiving and Turkey Day, the holidays then carried on to Christmas and ringing in the the New Year at Jay's Bay.  I guess it is time to make sure I capture the Christmas bites and boozes on the blog, so here is the best of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day!


Maker's Mark Mint Julep

The Yule Tide Joy got started on Christmas Eve at Mama and Papa Ford's house.  It was rather quiet compared to many Christmas Eve parties at the Ford's, but I still got to see most of the family, including Brayden for his first Christmas.  Collin introduced me to Maker's Mark Mint Julep, a Kentucky Bourbon with mint julep flavors already mixed in.  All I had to do was serve it over ice and enjoy!  Having had authentic mint juleps, I was fairly impressed by the bourbon and the taste that it delivered with no extra mixing.  Strong, yes, but also very tasty.  The mint julep reminded me of Christmas and it sure seems like it would make for a great drink any time of year!


V. Sattui Vintage Port

This Vintage Port came from one of my favorite wineries that we visited in Napa Valley in 2008, and Collin kindly shared with the group for Christmas Eve.  The V. Sattui Winery makes a lot of spectacular vino, and this Port is no exception.  Having been to Porto, Portugal and tasted the real stuff straight out of the barrel, I can say that V. Sattui knows what they are doing when it comes to making fortified wine.  This beverage is delightful when sipped by itself, along many different food pairings, or as a savory dessert itself.


Christmas Goose Before and After

My main contribution to dinner was this Christmas goose that we killed during our duck and goose hunting trip earlier in the month.  I brined the goose over night in some great flavors then Christmas morning I seasoned the goose inside and out with sea salt, black pepper, white pepper, brown sugar, and a couple other spices.  I also used a lemon and an orange to help add some flavor to the goose.  The juice from the fruits got squeezed out all over the goose and then I stuffed the cavity of the goose with the remaining citrus.  I covered the pan in foil and put it in the oven at about 250F for several hours until the meat became tender and started to pull from the bone.  Not bad wild game, if I may say so myself.


Kendall Jackson Cabernet in a Third Row Wine Glass

My father supplied our Christmas dinner with a selection of wines from Kendall Jackson.  Certainly not my first choice, but I'm rarely picky when you put something in front of me.  I drank the Cab until it ran out and then switched to Merlot.  Both were very drinkable, though much like a macro-brewed beer, it was nothing to rave about.


Uncle Rush Slicing the Prime Rib

Uncle Rush kindly cooked an entire ribeye for the dinner and sliced it at the house.  The medium-rare beef had a magnificent marbled consistency and a tender taste that was every bit as mouth-watering as it was beautiful to look at.


Christmas Plate... We're So Classy that We Used Paper!

Yes, the Ducote family is clearly a protein and starch group!  I'm glad I also cooked up a little asparagus to add the slightest amount of green to an otherwise plate of pink and tan hues.  In addition to the previously mentioned goose and prime rib, Travis also cooked up an entire smoked ham for us to enjoy.  We were also graced with Dana's mac and cheese, some sweet potatoes, and several other items that are buried under the mountain of meat.  But like any of our family's holiday meals, it would not be complete without Granny's cornbread dressing!


Granny's Famous Pecan Cake

If there is one thing that Granny does better than cornbread dressing (okay, two things because I'd put her pecan rolls up there too), it is her famous pecan cake.  This traditional, moist, yellow cake is layered with a homemade pecan icing that brings me back to my childhood.  Every bite is a perfect combination of cake and nutty-sweet flavor that I find myself craving between holidays and birthdays.

I certainly ate and drank well over Christmas thanks to my family and friends.  Feliz Navidad!

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Thursday, January 14, 2010

Lunch with Amanda at T-Bone Tom's in Kemah

After the New Year started at Jay's Bay, I met up with Amanda on my way out of Houston to have lunch before returning to Louisiana and the typical daily grind.  Having recently bought a house near the Space Center, Amanda lives a short drive away from Kemah where we decided to go for a sampling of Texas barbeque at T-Bone Tom's

T-Bone Tom's in Kemah, Texas

T-Bone Tom's is a gastronomic establishment with stereotypical Texan charm.  There is a giant cow on the sign out front (seen above) and a patio outside for live music and dancing.  Inside the restaurant sat clusters of tables with chairs that had advertisements on the back, but somehow not in a way that screamed commercial sellout, but rather a bit of marketing genius!  Amanda and I had a seat at the bar, I ordered a tall glass of Texas sweet tea, and we glanced over the menu while catching up on life.

Smoked Sausage Plate with House-Made BBQ Sauce

We began with smoked sausage plate that came with bowl of T-Bone Tom's tangy home made barbeque sauce.  The sausage had a rich smoke flavor that tremendously complimented the sauce at the end of a toothpick spear. 

The sausage worked up an appetite for more barbeque so I ordered the three meat plate to get a trial run at the best of their smoked meats.  The plate contained brisket and spare ribs smothered in sauce and jalapeño pulled pork on the side of the other two.  I also added some baked beans and potato salad for good measure and T-Bones threw in a Texas-thick slice of white bread for squeegeeing the remaining sauce off the plate.

Three Meat Plate - Brisket, Ribs, and Jalapeño Pulled Pork, Beans, and Potato Salad

The beans had a good texture and were not turned to mush consistency like some baked beans are, which I liked.  The potato salad tasted fine but didn't blow me away.  The brisket pulled apart and melted in my mouth just like it was supposed to.  The texture was right on, but the flavor didn't do anything special for me and seemed like it wasn't smoked long enough... certainly not bad, but not the greatest ever either.  The jalapeño pulled pork intrigued me and lived up to the modest expectations.  The pork itself was moist and tender and pulled perfectly into stringy bite sized pieces.  The jalapeño flavor added quite a kick to the pork and at times I found it a little excessive and overpowering.  The actual pickled jalapeños tasted fine, but I wanted jalapeño pork, not porky jalapeños.  The highlight of the meal, other than Amanda's company, was by far the ribs.  The sweet sauce attempted to cover up the flavor of the pork but the zing of the rib shined through as it pulled off the bone and left my taste buds with the smack that they so desperately craved.  Man, I love a good rib.

T-Bone Tom's Meat Market on Urbanspoon

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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Capital City Grill with Boo!

One of downtown's nicer dining establishments is Capital City Grill's Shaw Center location.  There you can find lunches and dinners served up daily in a business-casual atmosphere.  Their menu has a Louisiana feel to it with crab claws and gumbo as starters while serving fried seafood dishes and poboys for lunch and dinner.  Capital City Grill also offers standard American upscale dining fare like gourmet steaks, pork chops, chicken breasts, and salads.  Not too long ago I met my brother Eric (known to many simple as Boo!) there for lunch to check the place out.  We took a couple seats at the bar, though couldn't order any booze, and started our meal out with some seafood queso.

Seafood Queso and Chips at Capital City Grill

The seafood queso proved to be every bit as interesting as it was good.  The melted cheese base flourished with lump crab meat, bits of shrimp tails, and spinach.  It came served piping hot with some decent, toasted tortilla chips for dipping.  Judging by the way we gobbled it down, the seafood queso must have been pretty good!

For my meal I ordered the fish of the day lunch special.  What I got was a grilled filet of tilapia topped with a toasted pecan glaze and served with steamed veggies and wild rice. 

Grilled Tilapia with Toasted Pecan Glaze, Squash, Zucchini, and Wild Rice

As a midday fish special at a downtown grill, this meal turned out to be sensational.  The grilled tilapia had a smooth texture that perfectly parted under the edge of a fork.  The toasted pecan glaze gave the fish some sweet and nutty flavors that accented the dish very well.  The addition of steamed squash and zucchini along with some rice made the meal not only extremely tasty, but also rather healthy.  The price ended up being more that I normally spend for lunch fare, but they have cheaper options on the menu as well.  All in all I left satisfied and I might not go back often, but I'd certainly be willing to return to Capital City Grill on occasion. 

Capital City Grill Downtown on Urbanspoon

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Thursday, January 7, 2010

Jay's Bay X: Winter Games for New Year's 2010 with a Fish Fry and Gumbo!

Jay's Bay X: Winter Games turned out to be a roaring success despite the absence of our dear friend Chetan, who happened to be frolicking around on the other side of the globe instead of living it up at Jay's Bay with his boys.  We dearly missed Chetan, but his spirit stayed with us as his picture from our high school days joined us everywhere we went.

John, Tyler, and the Spirit of the Sweet Indian Prince

Most of what happens at Jay's Bay stays at, well, Jay's Bay.  However, this being a food and drink blog, I thought it would only be right to feature some of the wonderful food that got cooked up over the New Year's weekend.  Thursday evening brought New Year's Eve and, along with it, an amazing fish fry.

Hushpuppies in the Oil and Slap Ya Mama Battered Catfish Filets

For any of you who have never had Slap Ya Mama fish fry I suggest you try it, and soon. They make an amazing blend of corn meal and spices that adds just the right amount of flavor to season the fish without overpowering it. Tyler and Lauren helped me cut the fresh catfish filets into strips. We then dipped them in whisked eggs and milk, followed by giving them a coating them in Slap Ya Mama fish fry, before dipping them into the hot oil. The fish turned out crispy, moist, and delicious. To add to the fish we also fried up a couple batches of hushpuppies. The guys from Texas brought some jalapeño hushpuppies and I found a bag of homemade corn balls at Southside Produce back in Baton Rouge so we did a little taste test. I liked the jalapeño spice from the Texas puppies but the Louisiana spheres had more overall flavor and pizzazz. They definitely won the show so I'm glad that I found them at the local produce stand.

Jay Doing the Frying, Showing off the Feast, and some Remains of the Finished Products

New Year's Day brought on my efforts to try to watch football... and gumbo!  I brought everything that I needed from the bayou to the bay so that I could make a duck, chicken, and sausage gumbo for the gang.  The ducks were killed during our duck and goose hunt near Jennings, La.  You can click here to see the blog post and video from the hunt. 

Step one for the gumbo was to roast to the chicken and ducks for a few hours to get them cooked to the point that I could pull the meat off the bones. The night before I cooked the gumbo, Tyler helped me liberally season the birds inside and out with fresh sea salt, cracked black pepper, cayenne, onion powder, garlic powder, and thyme. We let them sit in the fridge overnight and then in the morning I covered them in foil on a roasting pan and put them in a 350 degree oven for an hour and a half to two hours. I let them cool for a while after pulling them out of the oven until the temperature lowered enough to get my hands dirty. I pulled off all the meat from the birds and placed the shredded chunks of goodness into an appropriately sized mixing bowl. All of the skin, fat, and bones from the poultry were placed into my large stock pot to be rendered down even more for the stock. I also poured a little bit of the liquefied duck and chicken grease into a sauté pan for later.

Two Ducks and a Chicken after Roasting, Stock Simmering in the Pot

While I messed with the avian proteins, Tyler graciously cut up my vegetables.  He diced two medium yellow onions, two green bell peppers, and 4 stalks of celery (known as the Holy Trinity of Cajun cuisine).  I also had him press six or seven cloves of garlic to mix in with everything.  All the vegetables and garlic were blended together in another large mixing bowl.  I took several handfuls of the vegetable medley and added them to all of the chicken and duck leftovers in my stock pot.  I then added about 3 quarts of water (that's a guess) and let the stock simmer for another couple of hours while I watched football on TV.  It was New Year's Day, after all, and the Tigers were playing.  That's all I'll say about that!

When the football game ended I returned to my wild game in the kitchen to get the full gumbo in the pot.  I turned the burner off on the stock and removed the lid to let it cool.  I then heated the sauté pan that I put a little extra duck and chicken fat in and added the remaining onion, bell pepper, celery, and garlic to start cooking it down.  The veggies were stirred while the stock cooled until the onions started to turn clear.  Fortunately there was no shortage of large bowls and pots at Jay's Bay.  I poured the stock through a strainer into another pot.  The strainer collected all of the bones and skin segments for me.  However, it also had all of the cooked down vegetables that I placed in with the stock, and I didn't want to waste that flavor.  After shaking out all of the liquid, I placed the strainer over the trash can and started picking through the solid remains.  The bones and skin that I found were moved to the trash can while the rest of the tender meat that fell off the bones, as well as the soft and translucent Trinity morsels, made their way back the pot. 

Back at my now empty, original stock pot, the time had come to add all of the ingredients together.  I started with the freshly cooked down vegetables and garlic, then added all of the de-boned meat that I had placed in the fridge.  Oh, and don't forget the two pounds of Manda Cajun sausage the John sliced up for me.  All of that was covered with the stock that I had previously strained into the other pot.  I added more garlic powder, onion powder, salt, black pepper, and cayenne, threw in a couple bay leaves, a few shakes of gumbo file, and several heaping tablespoons of previously made roux, stirred the pot real good, and let everything simmer for a few more hours while we sat by the fire that Chad and Ashley made outside and told stories.  When the time was right the gumbo got served over some fresh Louisiana rice that I also picked up at Southside Produce (where all of my vegetables came from) and some potato salad on the side. 

The finished product tasted amazing:


Jay's Bay Video: Duck, Chicken, and Sausage Gumbo and Fireworks!

Now I'd like to share a brief booze story.  There was plenty of booze flowing throughout the weekend including several types of bourbon and whiskey, unique flavored vodkas, and an assortment of St. Arnold's beer out of Houston.  However, for NYE, Katie and company brought a couple bottles of sparkling wine to celebrate the occasion.  Having seen several celebrities open Champagne and sparkling wines with a knife or sword on TV, I thought that this would be a perfect time for me to give it a try.  It took an old heavy knife out of the kitchen drawer and went out to the back porch with my buddies.  Taking the back end of the blade, I struck the bottle just under the rim.  Success!  The cork, along with a portion of the glass from the neck of the bottle, shot off into the yard like a baseball shoots off of Albert Pujol's bat.  Liquidy delight bubbled out of the opening that I created, and we were ready to toast 2010!

Jay with the Cut-Off Sparkling Wine Bottle, Bottle and Toasting Glasses Ready for Midnight

I love Jay's Bay.  There aren't many annual or semi-annual trips that I look more forward to.  Getting together will all my old high school buddies has never let me down, although I do wish Chetan could have been there.  I'd like to give a special thank you to Chad, Ashley, John, Lauren, Tyler, and Katie for the great weekend at Jay's Bay and all your help and friendship along the way.  And Johnny, if you are reading this, I'd love for you to come next summer as well!  Until then, have a great 2010, and I'm sure there will be plenty more Jay's Bay trips in the future!

Duck Meat on FoodistaHushpuppies on Foodista

Gumbo on FoodistaFried Catfish on Foodista

Sausage on FoodistaWhole Chicken on Foodista

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