1.13.2015

Back from Our New Orleans Weekend

It was especially hard to come back to cold Missouri this past Sunday night, after spending three wonderful days in The Big Easy. I just love New Orleans. The history. The food. The architecture. The sweet Southern charm mixed with dark Southern Gothic. The French Quarter feels like a slice of another country, right here in the good ole USA. I wish we could have stayed even longer and explored more, but alas, real life beckons.

I'm not complaining — I rarely dread Mondays — but I'm itching to explore more of the city. Dan and I have been before together, and I've been one time previously with my family. Neither of those trips were particularly long, so I know there's still so much for us to discover. I have a feeling we'll be back again in 2015...

The catalyst for our weekend away was the Eric Church concert on Thursday night. He's one of our favorite musicians (surely our favorite country artist), and we'd already been to the St. Louis and Kansas City stops on this year's world tour — but seeing him in another city sounded fun. It was a good excuse to get back to NOLA.

We arrived Thursday afternoon and after checking in at our hotel on Canal, we walked to Peche Seafood for lunch. This was by far my favorite meal of the trip and one of the best meals of my life. We each had a NOLA Blonde draft (delish!) and started with raw oysters. They were the best oysters I've ever had — huge with a rich, fresh taste. But the best was yet to come: We both ordered the Louisiana Shrimp Roll, a local twist on the Maine Lobster Roll, and it was absolutely divine. Probably the best sandwich of my life. No, this is not hyperbole! It set the bar exceedingly high for the rest of the trip. Thank you to my sorority sister Tyler for recommending Peche!

After lunch we walked around before heading back to the hotel to get ready. We may have squeezed in an episode of Serial too because, well, we're obsessed. Then the time comes to shower and... the shower won't turn on. Oops. We call for maintenance and they don't come for far too long. It wasn't like we'd run a marathon or anything or skipped that morning, so we made it work but it was a tad ridiculous, so I scored us a $100 hotel credit. Room service was now in the cards. Silver lining.

The concert was only a short cab ride away at Smoothie King Center. Dan spoiled me with great floor seats and — no surprise — the show was amazing. Eric played some songs he hadn't in the other cities and put on a fiery show. We loved every second of it.


We finished the night by walking around the surprisingly quiet French Quarter streets and grabbing a few drinks along the way. We had a late-night dinner at Oceana Grill, and it was surprisingly great for a place that seemed like a tourist trap upon first impression.

On Friday we slept in and headed out around lunchtime. We went to Felix's with more oysters in mind (another recommendation from Tyler, seconded by our friend Teddy) and had a great lunch. I highly recommend the char-grilled oysters and jambalaya. The bland shrimp po boy? Not so much. We kept some room for coffee and dessert with Cafe du Monde in mind. I had been craving beignets for weeks in anticipation of this trip. It turned into a cold and rainy afternoon, so the cafe was the least busy I've seen it — no line and lots of tables to spare. Of course, the beignets were divine and the cafe au lait just right. Dan bought a box of the beignet mix, so I can attempt to recreate these powdered pieces of heaven at home.


With the weather turning on us, we nixed our plans for outdoor sightseeing in a nearby neighborhood and decided to test out some new bars in the French Quarter. First up: Pat O'Brien's. I admit, I've been to the touristy outpost of this chain in Cancun, and I usually turn my nose up at cheesy, characterless places like that. But this Pat O'Brien's is the original and I heard it's pretty cool, so I dragged Dan there for some signature hurricanes. I was pleasantly surprised. The courtyard is wonderful — we sat out there under an umbrella to enjoy the scenery despite the rain. Inside, the place is split into two — one bar room, dark and wood-panelled with walls covered in framed photos from yesteryear. The other side was a dining room with tables and a stage for live music; a pianist was playing while we were there. We'll definitely be back when it's warm to soak up more patio time.

After our requisite hurricanes, we referred to Yelp for our next spot; we wanted a dive. Just a couple doors down we found Boondock Saint. It fit the bill perfectly. The quaint bar had character and felt like a spot where locals might go. The lone bartender was super outgoing, the music was good, and the drinks were cheap. We stayed for a while before heading to another dive nearby, Molly's. After a couple drinks there, we realized that our ghost tour time was fast approaching, so we headed out and picked up a hot chocolate and Rumple Minze at Cafe Pontalba to keep warm on the nighttime walk. Yes, it was that cold. And, I mean, any excuse for spiked hot cocoa, right?


Dan reserved us spots on the ghost tour with Free Tours by Foot. My last ghost tour in NOLA was amazing and I wanted Dan to experience the best, so I was a little wary of a free tour... but it was a great experience. I would highly recommend it; I'd like to try their other tours on our next trip, too. Most of the tour's stories were new to me, which was great, but it also included my favorite NOLA ghost story — about the LaLauries. (Their mansion is pictured above.) It was perfect. Afterward we went for a late dinner at Olde N'awlins Cookery (solid B) before hopping from place to place on Bourbon Street. As cheesy as it was, I had so much fun dancing at The Beach on Bourbon. The dance floor was packed and they played fun music for what seemed like hours. It was a late night!

We definitely needed to sleep in the next day... And get room service breakfast. It's a must-have hangover cure. We needed some recovery time. Late afternoon we headed to Cafe Beignet, one of my favorite spots, for another round of beignets and cafe au lait. It hit the spot. Afterward we wandered down Royal Street, stopping every so often to listen to the buskers and take in the sights. It was sunny and much busier around the French Quarter than the previous days. We decided to finally explore a new-to-us neighborhood called Faubourg Marigny. It's just east of the French Quarter. It's a little more bohemian and hipster. We walked up the famous Frenchmen Street and stopped at Bamboula's to listen to live music and have a drink. We walked through the residential parts of the area and saw cute house upon cute house; I would love to get a peek at all the vintage charm behind closed doors. My favorite was a mint, pink and black house we spotted (pictured below).


We made our way to Mimi's in the Marigny, another recommendation from Tyler. We loved the bar and wished we could go back at night. It was a cool space with a huge vintage bar, exposed brick, high ceilings, and huge windows with lots of light pouring in. We had a couple drinks there, before heading back to the French Quarter for a snack. We ended up at Yo Mama's Bar & Grill, which was exactly what we needed: the small, first-floor bar was a dive with old wooden booths and a huge projector playing the Patriots game. We ordered up some food, two large drafts, and settled in for the remainder of the game.

Afterward we headed back to the hotel to change for dinner — and we ended up falling asleep. We slept through our reservation at Muriel's, which really bummed me out, but we decided to make the best of it by trying Acme Oyster House — we saw a line out of the door on Friday afternoon and figured it had to be spectacular. Spectacular it wasn't, but it was decent food. We preferred the char-grilled oysters at Felix's. We walked over to Bourbon after dinner, because I wanted to try an Irish bar Tyler recommended: Erin Rose. This was one of my favorites of the trip. They're famous for their Irish coffees, specifically frozen Irish coffee. It tasted like a Jamocha shake! If you don't know, that is high, high praise in the Straka household. We started with one frozen and one hot between us, and we both agreed the frozen was the clear winner. The Irish pub is hole-in-the-wall dive with a very narrow front room dominated by a wooden vintage bar and walls covered floor to ceiling in cheeky signs and memorabilia. Apparently there are po boys served in the back, so I imagine there's more breathing room back there as well, but we didn't move from our perch at the bar. We happened to walk in at the right time and scored two seats just as a couple was leaving. The rest of the place was packed.


We took two frozen Irish coffees to go and starting walking away from the bustle of Bourbon Street. It's funny how just a couple blocks away, the debauchery fades into the background and the French Quarter streets get eerily quiet. We walked around with no destination or direction in mind, just exploring hand in hand. We talked a lot about what it might be like to live here and stopped whenever we saw a realty sign to investigate the astronomical real estate prices of the often-tiny French Quarter apartments. It was a perfect way to end our trip. There's no one I'd rather spend a night getting lost with than Dan.

We stumbled across Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop, a bar I'd read about earlier, so we decided to pop in for a drink. Apparently this is the oldest bar in America, so of course, I wanted us to say we'd been there, done that. The bar is in an old blacksmith's shop, as the name indicates, and the atmosphere was almost perfect. It's a pretty small place, with just one bar, a quaint hearth, and mishmash of tables. There's little overhead lighting, just candlelight from each of the tables. If they had stopped there, the atmosphere would have been perfectly moody — a cozy den dimmed just so that you feel you should be sharing hushed secrets in the arms of a beautiful stranger. But then they added a piano. And a "piano bar" crowd. Tucked away in the back corner was a piano player, flanked by a drunken crowd of revelers, blaring all those generic singalong crowdpleasers and crass covers of old classics. It totally took away from the otherwise salon-like atmosphere of the place. We finished our beers and hit the streets again.

Before we left town on Sunday, there was one last stop: Southern Candymakers. I can't go to New Orleans and leave without a box of my favorite pralines. These pralines melt in your mouth. I had never experienced pralines before visiting NOLA for the first time, and now they're one of my all-time favorite indulgences. I'm tempted to try my hand at making them at home, but they'll never be as divine as the originals from Southern Candymakers.

It was sad to leave New Orleans. We really love the culture of this city and we only hit the tip of the iceberg on this trip. Here's hoping we get to visit again this year.

First trip of 2015 is in the books!

1.07.2015

Easy Low-Fat Turkey Chili Recipe


I got inspired to try out a new recipe this past Monday night, and I wanted to share it here, because it was quick and easy, but more importantly, absolutely delicious.

I stumbled across a video of Jessie James Decker — my current girl crush — making chili while I was geting lost in a YouTube blackhole on Sunday night; her recipe looked so easy, and I knew I could put my own spin on it with some simple ingredient swaps and additions.

This low-fat turkey chili took less than 30 minutes to make, and it was scrumptious. It was a big hit with my boyfriend. Chili is the perfect complement to a cozy night at home (especially one spent watching The Bachelor premiere!). This is my modified version of Jessie James Decker's chili recipe:

How to Make Easy Low-Fat Turkey Chili

Ingredients:
  • One package (20 oz.) of extra-lean ground turkey meat 
  • 1 onion, finely diced
  • 1 green pepper, finely diced
  • 1 can of vegetarian chili
  • 1 can of diced tomatoes and green chillies
  • 1 packet of chili seasoning mix (I used Mrs. Dash's low-sodium version)
  • 1 - 2 tablespoons of cajun spice, like Louisiana Cajun Spice or Slap Yo Mama
  • 2 cups brown rice (For ease, I used Uncle Bean's microwaveable 90-second rice)
  • Shredded cheddar cheese
  • Crackers

Steps:
  1. Coat the bottom of a large pot with a thin layer of olive-oil cooking spray. Add the ground turkey and brown the meat on medium heat — make sure to break up clumps as the meat cooks.
  2. Once the turkey meat is no longer pink, add the finely diced onion. Stir so the onion and meat are well-combined and allow to cook together for a minute before adding the finely diced green pepper. Stir the mixture together.
  3. Add the can of vegetarian chili and can of tomatoes and green chillies. Stir until well-combined.
  4. Add chili seasoning packet and cajun spice. Stir until combined.
  5. Cover the pot and turn up the heat to medium-high (6-7). Allow to cook for 8 - 10 minutes.
  6. If you're making rice on the stove, you'll want to start that early, at the very least now once the pot is covered. I used 90-second rice, so I waited until I had about 2 minutes left on my pot timer.
  7. Once the rice is done cooking, add it to the pot and mix well. 
  8. Time to serve! Add a sprinkle of cheddar cheese on top and some crackers, if desired.

Making this chili is simple, fast and foolproof! Whip it up on a cold night and get cozy.

P.S. Did anyone watch The Bachelor on Monday night? Who was your favorite? I can't believe Chris kept some of the hot messes around, like the woman who was so drunk she couldn't stand still at the rose ceremony. And the nutty onion girl! Dan and I always do a bracket competition, and I have Britt and Ashley I. in the lead as my final two. (No spoilers, please!)

1.04.2015

How to Make Texas Roadhouse Butter

This post may seem random and outside of my wheelhouse, but I have been completely obsessed with this butter recipe lately, so I thought I'd share. Because it is delicious and so darn easy! You'll thank me later.

I am usually anti-chain when it comes to dining out, but I have a weakness for Texas Roadhouse; it's my guilty pleasure. If you've been, you know: Those rolls! THAT BUTTER! The butter alone is worth the trip. It's a sweet honey-cinnamon butter that just melts in your mouth, especially when paired with their signature soft, buttery rolls. (Pardon me while I wipe the drool from my keyboard.)

A few weeks ago I was hardcore craving Texas Roadhouse butter — but I've been trying to cut back on my spending and dining out, so I decided to take a whack at making the stuff myself. And guess what? It's crazy easy! And cheap! I will never spend $20 on an impulse steak dinner again just to satisfy my butter craving. (And yes, I know how ridiculous that sounds.)


This is valuable life hack, people. Here's how to make Texas Roadhouse butter at home —

Supplies:

  • Medium mixing bowl
  • Electric handheld mixer or stand mixer
  • Rubber spatula
  • Glass or plastic container for storage

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 stick unsalted butter 
  • 1/8 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/8 cup honey
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon

DIY Texas Roadhouse Butter Recipe:

  1. Add the butter to your mixing bowl and using your handheld mixer (or a stand mixer with a whisk attachment), beat the butter for approximately 30 seconds until it's pale.
  2. Add the sugar, honey, and cinnamon to the bowl and beat until well-combined. The mixture will be light and fluffy. This takes 1 to 2 minutes.
  3. Use the rubber spatula to transfer the butter to your container for storage or serving.

That's it! This whole process takes less than 5 minutes and is foolproof.

Bake up some rolls and prepare for your world to be rocked.