New Orleans 031 (Working for my dinner – Longfellow Evangeline State Park, LA)
 

“Noncooks think it’s silly to invest two hours’ work in two minutes’ enjoyment; but if cooking is evanescent, so is the ballet.” – Julie Child 
 
The “GYPSY KITCHEN” is the traveling culinary adventure of John and Cindy Hughes who are cruising the backroads and forgotten highways of America in a 36–foot motorcoach searching for wonderful, interesting regional foods and delicious culinary treasures…Please come and join us!

For information and/or directions for any of the places we’ve visited, please visit our interactive “GYPSY KITCHEN Tour ‘09 Map.  Make sure to log onto www.the-gypsy-kitchen.com and subscribe to receive FREE weekly recipes (this week’s recipe: “Motorcoach Beignets”) and a chance to win a 3–course dinner for 10 guests performed by the GYPSY KITCHEN in the comfort of your own home.

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It was an interesting drive along the Gulf Coast through Biloxi and Gulfport, Mississippi to see the new roads, new houses, new businesses and then the stark contrast of New Orleans, still with complete neighborhoods vacated from Hurricane Katrina with house after house boarded up with plywood, holes still visible in rooftops, rusted out automobiles lining city streets.  I won’t stand on my soap-box and rant about the current state of American politics in this blog – but it is amazing to see the visible contrast between teaching someone to fish as compared with simply handing someone a fish…Remarkably sad, totally disheartening but true.

 

We could not visit New Orleans without a trip to Cafe du Monde for morning cafe au lait and beignets.

 Beignets  (Beignets and coffee  –  Cafe du Monde, New Orleans, LA)

Now my intellectual brain knows that beignets are nothing more then fried dough coated with an overwhelming amount of powdered sugar – a glorified doughnut…but my creative brain goes into over-drive whenever I taste these little jewels and my taste buds dance and sign for what seems like hours.  Cafe du Monde is world famous for their beignets and their New Orleans coffee with chickory.  This early Monday morning was no exception and the place was bustling with locals and tourists alike.  Thank god we had parked the car about a mile away as I definitely needed to burn off a few calories. 

Service at Cafe du Monde is fast and attentive, but one would hardly call it formal or friendly…polite – yes, friendly – no.  Cafe du Monde has packaged beignet mix ready for purchase for those that can’t be bothered mixing a few dry ingredients together.  For the more adventurists, this weeks recipe is for what I am calling “Motorcoach Beignets”, they are fairly simple to make and take less then 20 minutes from beginning to table.

Cafe du Monde (Cafe du Monde, New Orleans, LA)

 

Cafe du Monde” rates: Spoon3for a delicious Louisiana breakfast.

Directly across from Cafe du Monde is Jackson Square and the beautiful St. Louis Cathedral which is well worth a leisurely stroll before you experience the true “beat” of the “French Quarter”.

New Orleans 005  (Jackson Square with St. Louis Cathedral behind – New Orleans, LA)

After our much needed walk back to the car, Cindy and I headed out St. Charles Street to visit Tulane University and Audubon Park, this is a lovely section of the city and well worth a visit by anyone traveling through New Orleans. 

On Tuesday, we made our way over to Lake Fausse Pointe State Park, located near the town of New Iberia, LA.  The drive to this park was an interesting one to say the least as our GPS kept directing us to travel upon this old Army Corp of Engineer’s levee roadbed which was not paved and only about 7 feet wide – remember that we are in a diesel motorcoach which is about 8 1/2 feet wide, 36 feet long and weighs over 28,000 pounds.  We opted to not follow the directions be given to us by the GPS so we had to find our way around Lake Fausse which is huge.  This will sure prove to be a memory that we will often look back upon and simply chuckle! 

Wednesday found Cindy and I heading down Route 14 to Avery Island, LA to visit the Tabasco Pepper Sauce Factory and Country Store.  In a little over an hour, we had learned so much about Edmund McIlhenny, his family and company he started back in 1868.  We also learned that Avery Island is not really an island – but rather a huge dome of rock salt, 2 1/2 miles wide and 3 miles long and sits 152 feet above sea level. The island is surrounded by marshland and the Bayou Peiti Anse and was formed when an ancient seabed evaporated, depositing pure salt, which rose up and pushed the ground into a hill.  The hot “Tabasco” peppers are picked by hand as soon as they ripen to the perfect shade of bright red. On the same day the peppers are picked, they are mashed, mixed with a small amount of Avery Island salt, placed in white oak wooden barrels, and allowed to ferment and age for up to three years. When ready the aged mash is then blended with a natural, high grain white vinegar and placed in larger oak vats and stirred for 28 days. Then and only then, the pepper skins and seeds are strained out and the finished sauce is bottled and labeled “TABASCO”.

Tabasco workers (Tabasco workers “mashing” pepper sauce, Avery Island, LA)

The tour is free, is a fun time and is very informative – but the real treat is in the adjoining “Tabasco Country Store” where you can taste almost everything “Tabasco”… Tabasco cola (tastes a bit like Dr Pepper) and even Tabasco Ice Cream in two flavors “Habanero” and “Sweet & Spicy” (these were actually much better then I expected – don’t know if I would want a full Tabasco Ice Cream Sundae – but a little taste of each was rather refreshing).

Country store tasting (Tasting table at Tabasco Country Store – the ice cream tasting is on the far left, Avery Island, LA)

New Orleans 024 (Tabasco Country Store – Avery Island, LA)

The Tabasco Country Store also sells a few “Cajun” and “Creole” dishes on a daily basis.  On the day of our visit the menu consisted of “Red Beans and Rice with Andouille”, “Crayfish Etouffee” and “Boudin” (a pork and rice sausage dish).  Cindy and I decided to try one of each and we really liked the “Red Beans and Rice”, the “Boudin” was okay but neither of us really cared that much for the “Crayfish Ettouffe” as the crayfish flavor was so overpowering that you could not taste anything else.  We choose not to finish this last dish and instead offer it to the dogs who both actually turned their noses at it as well!!!  Despite the Ettouffe, we had a great deal of fun on Avery Island and the Tabasco Pepper Sauce Factory – well worth a day trip.  *There is a $1.00 toll to entire Avery Island, although the tour and tastings are free.

 

Thursday morning we packed up camp and traveled north to the Longfellow Evangeline State Park near St. Martinville, LA.  Longfellow Evangeline is home of both a “Creole Plantation” and a “Cajun Farmstead”.  Here visitors learn the distinct differences between the Creole and the Cajun cultures as well as the similarities.  I could not help but see so many correlations between the Cajun culture and the Acadian culture of northern Maine and Nova Scotia, which is where the Cajun+’s originate from.  

New Orleans 026 (Creole Plantation – Longfellow Evangeline State Park, LA)

 

New Orleans 043 (Cajun Farmstead – Longfellow Evangeline State Park, LA)

After our visit to Longfellow Evangeline, we headed further north to have lunch at “Mulate’s Original Cajun Restaurant” in Breaux Bridge, LA.  This place is more of a band/dance venue then a restaurant with pictures of famous musicians and celebrities adorning the walls.  A cup of Shrimp Gumbo proved good, especially after adding some of the Ms. C’s Cajun Spice Blend.  Cindy enjoyed the Blackened Catfish with a side of Jambalaya and Corn Bread.  I had a really nice Muffeleta Sandwich with an accompaniment of Red Beans with Rice.  We finished with a nice Bread Pudding laced with a strong pour of rum.

 

Mulate’s Original Cajun Restaurant” rates: Spoon3Make sure to pick-up some of Ms. C’s Cajun Spice.

 

New Orleans 089 (Rosedown Plantation – St. Francisville, LA)

After lunch it was back on the road up to Rosedown Plantation which is a beautiful park complete with lovely manicured gardens and the fully restored and stunning plantation home of Daniel and Martha Barrow Turnbull, Rosedown was built in the 1830’s and stayed in the hands of their descendants until the 1950s.  In it’s hayday, Rosedown encompassed over 3,400 acres and employed over 450 slaves and trades-people.  The plantation was so large that the Turnbull’s had a full time doctor on staff as well as a doctor’s office.  Today, Rosedown is still a large property of almost 375 acres. 

 New Orleans 099 (Kitchen building – Rosedown Plantation – St. Francisville, LA)

This is a “must visit” if you ever find yourself anywhere near St. Francisville, LA.  Tours of the main house are given on the hour by knowledgeable, friendly volunteers.  There is so much to see and learn and the gardens offer such a lovely reprise – highly recommended.

New Orleans 095  New Orleans 100  New Orleans 102  New Orleans 093 (The gardens, Rosedown Plantation – St. Francisville, LA)

It was a full day as we pulled the motorcoach into the Riverview RV Park & Resort in Vidalia, Louisiana – just across the river from Natchez, Mississippi.

For dinner, we went into the lovely town of Natchez and dined at the Magnolia Grill, located on Silver Street.  From the very moment we spotted this little eatery I wanted to love it as it is the oldest continuously operated restaurant found in the “Under the Hill” historic section of Natchez.  The dining rooms  are minimalistic with exposed brick and old wood beams, the tables made of golden oak with the now popular parchment paper on top, we where seated on the enclosed deck which overlooks the Mississippi River.  To start, we opted for a bottle of La Crema Pinot Noir as we looked over the menu.  I was a bit surprised to find that the vast majority of the menu consisted of sandwiches and salads – what I would expect for lunch but not necessarily for dinner.  Cindy and I decided to share a cup of the Shrimp, Chicken and Okra Gumbo – which was delicious (we both felt that it was superior to the Gumbo we had at Mulate’s earlier in the day).  Cindy selected the Magnolia Shrimp with garlic, scallions and mushrooms over angel hair pasta.  The shrimp were properly cooked and the dish had a nice, well balanced flavor.  I was in the mood for steak but was less then inspired by the choice of either the grilled Filet Mignon or the grilled Ribeye steaks – which neither had any sauce or interesting accompaniment – so I inquired if the chef could melt some Bleu cheese over the grilled Ribeye and the server assured me that the kitchen could handle the request and stated that he thought it would taste “fantastic”.  It arrived cooked to a perfect medium-rare with a huge amount of Maytag Bleu which was broiled to a lovely golden-brown color.  This dish was delicious and I couldn’t help but think that the chef should add the Maytag Ribeye selection to the menu.  Entrees come with your choice of one of the sides; Stuffed Potato, Baked Potato, Steamed Broccoli, Curly Q’s, Sweet Potato Fries, Mixed Vegetables, or Magnolia Salad.  Overall, we had a very nice meal at the Magnolia Grill although I would have expected a somewhat more creative menu but with that said – we enjoyed ourselves and ate every morsel.  Our server was pleasant, friendly and fairly attentive, I did have to request a steak knife when my entree arrived.

Magnolia grill  (Magnolia Grill – Natchez, MI)

The “Magnolia Grill” rates: Spoon3Good, comfortable dining choice.

After dinner we were definitely ready for a good nights sleep as the next day marked the beginning of our drive up the Natchez Trace – one of the prettiest roads in America (actually, the Natchez Trace is a “national scenic trail” and maintained by the U.S. National Park Service).

 

Remember that this weeks recipe is a tribute to the wonderfully sinful New Orleans beignets, my rather easy Motorcoach Beignets…you can get it, and others by simply subscribing to our GYPSY KITCHEN Family.

Have a great week, please keep sending those suggestions and comments along – We really are using them as guiding posts for our adventure.  Also, please tell your friends about our wacky travels and have them join our growing family.

Remember to support your local restaurants and let them know that their hard efforts are appreciated.  No government stimulus programs are going to help these tireless soles out and they really do rely on us for their livelihood and right now so many independent restaurants in America are offering some great, wonderful and tasty “Special Offers” to entice us with! 

Until next week,

Chef John
in the “Gypsy Kitchen”

www.the-gypsy-kitchen.com

john@cookwithjohn.com

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For information and/or directions for any of the places we’ve visited, please visit our interactive “GYPSY KITCHEN Tour ‘09 Map.  Make sure to log onto www.the-gypsy-kitchen.com and subscribe to receive FREE weekly recipes (this week’s recipe: “Motorcoach Beignets”)  and chance to win a 3–course dinner for 10 guests performed by the GYPSY KITCHEN in the comfort of your own home.

 

Ratings Scale:

BrokenSpoon= Hopeless, Would Definitely Not Return (A new addition to the rating scale)

Spoon1= Needs Work, Most Likely Would Not Return

 Spoon2= Good Basic Find, Things Could Be Improved, Would Probably Try Again

 Spoon3= As Expected, Good Choice, A Few Things Could Be Better, Almost Certainly Visit Again

 Spoon4= Better Than Expected, Great Choice, Would Definitely Revisit

 Spoon5= Totally Blown Away, Every Point Exceeded Expectation, Would Drive Out-Of-Way To Revisit

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