Friday, January 25, 2013

New Orleans, Day 1 - Bananas Foster

I just got back from a short culinary tour of New Orleans.  I've always wanted to go to New Orleans and my main criteria was timing: I knew I didn't want to go during Mardi Gras, Superbowl Week, jazz festival or hurricane season (either too crowded or too risky, weather-wise).  So when I saw this trip advertised in the Sur La Table catalog as Tasting New Orleans and that they were offering the 4-day, 3-night tour in January, the timing was perfect and I jumped at it.

It was actually more like a 2.5 day tour.  Our first event was Monday night as a meet and greet at St. Marie Hotel's Vacherie Restaurant.  We got a horse-drawn carriage ride around the French Quarter from our hotel on Bourbon St to Vacherie where Elizabeth Pearce, a culinary historian who gives culinary and cocktail walking tours of New Orleans, told us about the official cocktail of New Orleans, the Sazerac.  I don't drink but always find culinary history interesting and Elizabeth did a great job making the story come alive.  We all got tastings of the sazerac.  I took a sip just to try it and that was more than enough for me.  I'd really come on the trip for the food.
A tasting of the Sazerac and spicy pecans
After that initial cocktail hour, we were on our own for the evening.  I had already arranged to meet a friend I had gotten to know from my old online fitness board.  Jen lived in New Orleans and was the perfect person to give me the inside "locals" scoop on where to go and what to eat.  Plus, from our exchanges online over the years, I also knew I'd love to meet her in person and knew I'd like her in person as much as I did online (and I was right).  I had emailed her a list of foods I had to try (mostly desserts, of course) while I was in New Orleans and one of them was Bananas Foster.  Her husband suggested Palace Cafe which was owned by Brennan's, the restaurant that invented Bananas Foster in 1951. How could we go wrong?
My steak and shrimp entree
Jen's rotisserie chicken entree 
Turns out we couldn't.  We met at Palace Cafe on Canal St and got a front table by the window overlooking the street.  Later on, we saw some of the Mardi Gras floats being transported in preparation for the upcoming parade.  I got a steak and shrimp entree but truthfully I was looking forward to dessert.  It didn't disappoint.  The waiter prepared the Bananas Foster table-side - heat the skillet, melt the butter and brown sugar, add the banana liqueur then the bananas until they caramelize but are still firm.  Of course, the whole point of getting Bananas Foster is setting the dessert on fire once you add the rum.  Although alcohol's not my thing, I have no problem with it being set aflame for a cool-looking dessert.  The Bananas Foster was amazingly yummy.  It was a great way to start off a culinary adventure.
Our waiter was used to getting photographed by tourists
Melting down the butter and brown sugar

Add bananas and caramelize
Add rum and set on fire
Eat and savor every bite
 Jen was also kind enough to bring me some treats from my must-eat list from Gambino's Bakery, where a former boss once gave me their red velvet cake for Christmas.  She brought me a slice of King Cake, doberge torte petit fours in caramel and lemon and an almond white chocolate and a chocolate petit fours.  Stay tuned as I write up the rest of the trip in all its delicious, worth-every-calorie detail.

Recipe from Brennan's
  • ¼ cup (½ stick) butter
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ¼ cup banana liqueur
  • 4 bananas, cut in half
    lengthwise, then halved
  • ¼ cup dark rum
  • 4 scoops vanilla ice cream

    Combine the butter, sugar, and cinnamon in a flambé pan or skillet. Place the pan over low heat either on an alcohol burner or on top of the stove, and cook, stirring, until the sugar dissolves. Stir in the banana liqueur, then place the bananas in the pan. When the banana sections soften Bananas Fosterand begin to brown, carefully add the rum. Continue to cook the sauce until the rum is hot, then tip the pan slightly to ignite the rum. When the flames subside, lift the bananas out of the pan and place four pieces over each portion of ice cream. Generously spoon warm sauce over the top of the ice cream and serve immediately.

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