Our third morning began at The New Orleans School of Cooking for a live demo and tasting. Having done this myself, it was really great to relax and enjoy rather than being up in front of the crowd. Our instructor, Chef Michael, was clearly passionate about what he does. While he made a few humorous remarks along the way, Chef remained straight faced and focused throughout. The last people to arrive were forced to stand in front of the entire room, mocked for not being on time, and told they would be the pot washers when he was done. Although that was part of his schtick, you could tell he wasn’t messing around. I felt like I was back in class as a kid! Or better yet, as though I was right out of a scene out of Julie and Julia.
When we first sat down, everyone was given biscuits straight from the oven. Nothing says southern cuisine like a warm biscuit. Here, they were served with Steen’s 100% pure cane syrup, an apparently healthier version of what we’re used to eating due to its natural properties. Then, Sweet Treat was sprinkled over top–their local product which comes in both cinnamon sugar and chocolate sugar varieties. Yum.
Next, we watched Chef Michael prepare his corn and crab bisque. This was by far my favorite thing of the morning. Rather than masking the corn as an afterthought, the whole kernels really stood out and the seafood was flavorful without being fishy. The rich, creamy soup was prepared with their own all-purpose seasoning known asJoe’s Stuff. (That made it through security so I can make this myself…), a very low sodium spice that still required no additional salt or pepper. Spot on. And you know I love creating soup recipes. Especially corn and crab bisque.
Shrimp creole was our second dish, which began with a roux– a staple in most NOLA recipes. I’m sure you’ve made this mixture of flour and butter before (It’s used to thicken gravy, mac and cheese, etc.), and it’s the base of other well-known dishes such as gumbo and étouffée. This spicy, tomato based recipe offered a fiery punch that was filling and delicious over rice. (Hubby actually ordered it in an omelette the next morning for breakfast so it’s versatile as well.) One of the best tips I learned was Chef Michael’s rule of thumb for cooking seafood: Oysters take 6 minutes, frozen fish goes in for 2 minutes and anything already cooked gets added to your sauce or soup at the very end for only 30 seconds. Definitely something to remember!
Before he even began his savory cooking, Chef told us about our dessert. He said guests should always know what to look forward to in case they need to save room. As you know, that’s never been an issue for me with my separate compartment, but I did appreciate his logic. So you can imagine my excitement when we were learning how to make pralines and bananas foster. Although nothing will compare to Brennan’s, this one was great too, and I will certainly be experimenting at home…with the fire department on call during my big flame finish.
The pralines reminded me of the process for making chocolate bark, but with a lot more prep work as you first melt down sugar, butter and milk. They taste a lot like a fudge. While the originals were delicious, I thought their chocolate version was the best out of all the ones I tasted throughout our trip. What I loved most was their use of all natural ingredients, without preservatives. While so many prepackaged versions can sit on the shelves for weeks on end, these are made fresh daily. They even advised customers on when to buy them depending on the day they would be enjoyed. For example, if they wanted them as souvenirs and weren’t leaving until the following week, they would suggest returning closer to their departure so they would be fresh.
After our cooking class we got ready for our next stop: The World War 11 Museum, which I will forever refer to as the “Bananas Foster Malted Milkshake Museum”. You see, Hubby is a history buff. Me, not so much. Having always focused on not living in the past, this was never a favorite subject of mine. Unless of course it pertains to the origin of one of my favorite meals, and then I’m glued. So, as I’m sure you’re not surprised, I did a little research before we left. Was I checking out the memorabilia we would see? Nope. The gift shop? Nah. I was hoping to find out if they had a cafe so I could look forward to ordering. And there it was. The most exciting exhibit of all: the ice cream shop. A gorgeous display behind glass showcasing the many available flavors. There was red velvet, peanut butter and jelly and yes, bananas foster. And they made their shakes malted. So that’s what I got. Oh and the museum was nice too. (In all seriousness though, it really was an incredible place with a beautiful tribute. Utmost respect goes out to all the brave people who made such great sacrifices in the defense of freedom.)
On our way back we stopped at another one of the candy shops (seriously they were everywhere!) for some heavenly hash. Totally sounds like something a college student would make with the windows cracked, but it has nothing to do with how it sounds. Although I did have a sugar high afterwards if that counts for anything. This giant hunk of milk or dark chocolate (I got dark), marshmallow with pecans, almonds and/or walnuts literally tastes like a hot chocolate. It is heavenly for sure. I had never even heard of it before, but I looked it up and realized a few brands actually sell it as an ice cream flavor. Hmmm. It’s certainly very rocky road-esque. Something I will surely be making ASAP so stay tuned.
From then on it was pretty much up to us where we wanted to dine. This was our first evening without dinner reservations, giving us a chance to fill the hours however we felt. Well, Hubby felt like going on a haunted ghost tour. At night. If any of you know me well, this is on my list of things to avoid in general, never mind to sign up for on vacation. But, it falls under the category of stuff you do when you really love someone. Part of our unwritten marriage contract if you will.
So since we were away and the trip was all about new experiences, I didn’t hesitate when he asked me. I was all about keeping an open mind and going with the flow. Besides, if it was that important to him, I knew it would make me feel good to see him happy. I was kind of secretly a bit excited to break through my boundaries, be brave and see what the adrenaline rush might bring. And once we were there, I actually enjoyed it. (Please don’t tell him this though because it will then be more difficult to use as an example when I want to drag him to a chick flick with me in the future.)
This two-hour moonlit walk around the city took us to some spectacular views and spooky places in areas we never would’ve explored otherwise. The scariest part? There was no food involved. This may have been the longest either of us went without eating.
Needless to say when we got out around 10:30, we were hungry. It was a new feeling actually, having not allowed ourselves to get to that point during the entire trip.
“Did you hear that? My stomach actually growled!”
“Mine too, this is so exciting!”
At that time, most of the kitchens had closed, so we went to Chef John Besh’s LÜKE via recommendation from our concierge. It was a fun, bright atmosphere, offering everything from pb&j oysters to slow-cooked rabbit to regional options such as pasta étouffée and jalapeno grits. I went with an exceptionally large plate of Prince Edward Island mussels steamed with garlic and thyme, served with a cone of house-made fries. It was just what I wanted. They tried to warn me it was going to be a lot of food. I sure showed them when I finished the entire serving. Amateurs.
But what we were really after was dessert. The very famous Cafe DuMonde, known for their beignets and cafe au lait (the locals just call it coffee and donuts), is open 24/7. Perfect for night owls like us. This was definitely the best midnight snack–pillows of fried dough covered with an avalanche of powdered sugar. My mother would love it. The combination of the warm, fried pastry mixed with our overflowing iced chicory coffee was incredible.
And for our very final nightcap, we returned to our suite for the routine chocolates and pralines on the pillow. Finally, it was time to lay down and nap until breakfast. We had sweet dreams for sure.