Tag Archives: sweet potato

New Orleans – a humid Harvester

20 Jun

Work took me to New Orleans last week. I had some pretty romantic pre-trip notions about what the city and its cuisine would be like. In the end none of those notions turned out to be true.

Creole cooking, at least the version we get in the UK, is not subtle at the best of times, but it’s flavoursome and unique. This was not a budget trip, so I expected I might be surprised about what the real thing presented.

My first exposure was ‘biscuits in sausage gravy’. This was not a dish that I was queueing up for. Actually technically speaking I was, but I was intending to skip the biscuits and go for the stack of pancakes at the end of the buffet. A US colleague had no intention of letting me play safe. ‘You gotta try the biscuits,” he said. “It’s a Louisiana tradition.”

I noted that he was not loading up on this dish himself, but as a good guest I obliged.

The biscuits in question are actually a fairly tasteless scone. It’s a good job that they are tasteless because the ‘gravy’ is not. Salty and sausagy, this stuff was a breakfast nightmare – a real heart attack on a plate. I honestly could see no appeal in this stodgy mess. Oh, how I wished I had stuck to my guns and hit the pancakes.

I’m aware that McDonalds incorporates local specialities into its menus around the world (it draws the line at roast pudding burgers in the UK) but I didn’t expect to be walking past a Lousiana MickeyD’s the next day and see the dreaded biscuits and gravy advertised for a dollar fifty. I didn’t drop by.

So, breakfast was hit and miss. Global breakfast conventions one, Southern specialities nil.

Later that day I had the opportunity to visit a New Orleans institution – K Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen in the French Quarter. Made famous by chef Paul Prudhomme,this place is a fine dining introduction to Creole and Cajun. It has a waiting list. It has a dress code. When I told people where I was going there were gasps of jealousy.

Before I get to grips with the food, I need to make a few points.

1) I was pleased to get the chance to visit K Paul’s

2) I loved the atmosphere

3) The service was fantastic

4) Perhaps I just don’t get it

The starter I ordered was popcorn battered crab fingers. I was used to US sized portions. I offered to share it with my dining companions, fully expecting that I would struggle to finish it.

Where on earth did they dig up these crabs? You know the soldier crab, the one with one huge claw and one tiny one? K Paul’s crab fingers have left a huge number of soldier crabs wandering around with one large claw left attached. They really were tiny. (Disclaimer – I have no idea what type of crab it was. K Paul’s is not mutilating soldier crabs and then abandoning them to their fate.).

They were tasty, although the dipping sauce helped, but I was ready for my main course. I would have been ready even if I hadn’t given half my dish to my colleagues.

I chose blackened fillet and sweet potato mash. The waitress sold me on this in no uncertain terms. “It’s just….oh. Just….oh.”

I asked for it rare which was possibly a mistake. It was rare to the point of bleu. However, what distinguished it from your average rare steak was the thick layer of charcoal that encased the raw meat. This was blackened fillet after all, but had I been served this in any other environment I would have been unimpressed with the contrast. This could only be achieved by a grill set to nuclear.

Having said those uncharitable things there was a lot to like about this dish – notably the obscene amounts of beef on the plate, but in particular the delicious sweet potato mash. Yams are rapidly becoming my favourite vegetable.

I obviously hadn’t had enough of them because I ordered a sweet potato and pecan pie for dessert. I expected a large portion and I got a large portion. My dining companions looked on in pity and I struggled to down this monster slice of pie. Every bite was great, but the sheer volume created an ordeal. This was Man Versus Food, UK style.

Food in New Orleans is like the city itself. Exuberant, slightly sleazy and something you either love or hate. I was much closer to hating both than I expected. Spending a few days there was like being trapped in a giant US version of Harvester, only without the salad bar.

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Spicy lamb burgers with sweet potato chips

13 Feb

Spicy lamb burgers and sweet potato chipsEvery Sunday night an illogical event occurs at Gastronone Towers. Mrs G sits at the computer for 30 minutes or so completing what is known as ‘doing the order’. This involves lots of swearing, threats made to the well-being of the MD of a well-known supermarket and lots of purchasing decisions that seemed like a good idea at the time.

Yes, Sunday night is the night we put in our online supermarket shopping order for the week. What makes it illogical is that the Gastronome family have an equitable, but not always successful split in the responsibilities for feeding ourselves. To whit, she shops, I cook.

Although I am, in theory a fully complicit partner in this operation, my heart is not fully in the task on a Sunday night and when I am asked to submit meal ideas for the week, I’m generally bereft of inspiration. It seems that unless there is the real possibility of eating what I’m thinking about in the next hour or so, I don’t want to think about it at all. We often start the week with a full fridge and the head chef havingl no idea at all what to do with it all.

So, it’s Monday and the weekly shop has just arrived. Tonight’s meal, as suggested by Mrs G, is ‘something like lamb burgers’. There is some lamb mince in the freezer, so this seems like a good opportunity to not only make ‘something like lamb burgers’, but actual lamb burgers. I would absolutely rock at the Masterchef invention test.

The signs were not auspicious. My microwave has what it describes as a defrost setting. This is unlike any other defrost programme known to mankind in that it actually has two settings. The first setting appears to involve 10 minutes of the frozen block of food rotating away without any discernible change in its temperature. The second setting, which it flicks into without touching the controls at all, results in the food going straight past defrosted and into totally cooked in about 2 minutes flat. There must be a point in there at which defrosting is complete but cooking has not yet commenced, but blink and you’ll miss it. And tonight I blinked.

So my lamb burgers started life as a pretty well cooked block of lamb. What I discovered though is that this didn’t seem to matter too much, although I wouldn’t recommend it.

The lamb burger recipe I selected was this one from BBC Good Food. My eyes were drawn immediately to mango chutney on the ingredients list. Mango chutney in, not ON, a burger? This I had to try.

The accompaniment was sweet potato chips. I had a job lot of yams left over from my sweet potato and ginger mash meal last week and I’d caught a glimpse of an enticing looking recipe via Twitter a few days back.

Unfortunately I couldn’t find said recipe, so I hunted around and settled on this one instead.

Making the burgers was simple. I stuck fairly rigidly to the recipe at half quantities – I was limited by the amount of mince available. Forgetting to make the accompanying dipping sauce until it was a little late to take much care I threw together some yoghurt, cucumber, tomatoes, ground coriander and lime.

The sweet potatoes suffered from having to start their cook at a lower temperature than strictly necessary and never actually crisped up, but they showed good signs of getting there.

The end result was delicious. The mango chutney made the burgers slightly sweet which was wonderfully reminiscent of a fruity middle-eastern tagine. This was complimented by the sweet potato chips which, although not crispy, were pretty good and well worth the upgrade from potatoes.

This was a great lamb burger recipe and in my mind, so much better than the more obvious lamb and mint combination that seems ubiquitous.

Oh, and the pre-cooked mince seemed to have no impact on the end result. I wouldn’t recommend it, but next time I won’t need to panic.