Enjoy the flavors of New Orleans after you've packed up your beads and gone homeBy Carol Penn-Romine
Once in New Orleans, when eyes-bigger-than-tummy syndrome overcame us, my husband and I found ourselves stuffed to the gills with mufuletta, and only halfway through the sandwich. The remainder of that gargantuan New Orleans specialty, a round of Italian bread filled with layers of salami and cheese and laden with garlicky olive salad, was too good to leave behind. Since we were heading for the train station to board The City of New Orleans and go home to Memphis, we decided our leftovers would make an excellent dinner. So we bundled up the other half of the sandwich for the return trip.
As our train trundled north through Mississippi, we unwrapped our muffuletta and savored a final zingy delight of New Orleans. Everyone who walked by cast longing glances at our meal as they returned from the dining car with their sad prepackaged sandwiches and wilted salads.
Who says you can't take it with you? The flavors of this city's cuisine are too fine to relegate to wistful memories. Try these tips for enjoying New Orleans' specialties after you've packed your beads and headed homeward.
Whether you're flying, driving or taking the train in and out of New Orleans, pack a meal from one of the city's eateries to enjoy on your return trip. Considering the abysmal quality-or complete lack-of food on airplanes these days, one good sandwich can put you in a whole new Mile High Club of pleasure and make you the envy of the other passengers.
Pick up a muffuletta at any of the restaurants that serve this behemoth of a sandwich. We got ours at Johnny's Po-Boys, 511 St. Louis St., in the French Quarter. For authenticity, buy one at Central Grocery, 923 Decatur St., in the Quarter, the very establishment where the sandwich was created about 100 years ago. Add a package or two of New Orleans' legendary Zapps potato chips and a freshly-made praline, and you're set for a great meal.
If you're driving, pack a cooler with ice and carry away a couple of go-containers of gumbo, etouffée, jambalaya or some other favorite New Orleans treats to enjoy at home. (The Gumbo Shop, 630 St. Peter St. and Acme Oyster House, 724 Iberville St., both in the Quarter, have a great selection.) We've done this too, once when we opted for the car over the train. Not only did we enjoy a great meal after we got home, but we weren't obliged to rush our road-weary selves right back out to the grocery to restock the kitchen immediately on our return. And make a little space in the cooler for some tasso, so you can cook up authentic cajun and creole treats. It's more than worth the fuss.
Pick up some Café Du Monde beignet mix from one of the three Walgreens locations in the Quarter. It's the same as what you'll find in the tourist shops, but at a fraction of the cost (so you can buy extra!). Then after you've exhausted your supply, get busy finding and perfecting the beignet recipe that pleases you most. And don't forget to grab some CDM chickory coffee, too. There's nothing like fresh beignets and chickory coffee to take you back to that quiet morning idyll in the mossy, flower-strewn courtyard of your hotel.
"Settle for" are two of the saddest words you can use in the kitchen. Just a couple of mouse clicks will send authentic ingredients whisking to your door so that you never have to make substitutions again. Tasso, andouille, boudin, fresh crawfish, filé powder and Louisiana hot sauce (those hot sauces you find in the southwest and on the west coast are inadequate substitutes) are just a few of the goodies you can order from New Orleans and southern Louisiana purveyors.
Whether you want the basic ingredients to do the cooking yourself or you'd rather have your cajun and creole foods pre-prepared, check out CajunGrocer at www.cajungrocer.com. You'll find everything from spices and seasonings to king cake, turducken and fresh alligator meat. Frugé Aquafarms at www.cajuncrawfish.com can fix you up with fresh shrimp, crawfish, cajun meats and all the rest. And while you perfect your praline-making skills, order Loretta's Authentic Pralines from http://lorettaspralines.stores.yahoo.net/ or Aunt Sally's Original Pralines from www.auntsallys.com to sample the best.
For some top-notch, authentic recipes, consult Chuck Taggart's Gumbo Pages, http://www.gumbopages.com/food/basics/, not only for the recipes but also for a thorough indoctrination in the food lore of this culinarily wealthy city. Taggart's knowledge of and passion for the food and beverage of his hometown will ignite in you a similar excitement.
Then select your recipes, order your ingredients, cook up some specialties and Laissez les bons temps rouler!