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Cooking With Myra: Eating our way through New Orleans

By By Myra Starkey
April 29, 2014 at midnight
Updated April 28, 2014 at 11:29 p.m.

Tian with vegetables

Tian with Vegetables

(A layered vegetable dish)

• 1 large eggplant*

• 2 yellow squash

• 2 zucchini

• 3 tomatoes

• 3 Tbsp. olive oil

• 1 medium thinly sliced onion

• 3 cloves garlic, chopped

• 3 eggs

• 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese

• 1/2 cup cream

• 1/2tsp. thyme

• Salt, pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9-inch pie plate with oil. Slice vegetables into 1/2-inch rounds similar in size. Heat oil in iron skillet and fry eggplant for five minutes, turning when golden. Drain eggplant on paper towels.

Sprinkle all vegetables with salt and pepper and dust with thyme. Layer all vegetables, making a pinwheel pattern or alternating colors of vegetables, packing tightly. Sprinkle with garlic.

Whisk eggs, cream and grated Parmesan. Pour over vegetables. Bake for one hour or until egg custard is set. Serve from dish. Garnish with basil.

*All vegetables should be cut crosswise in same size circles, so purchase similar size vegetables.

Cafe Du Monde, August, Doris, Mothers. All of these are new additions to my list of favorite restaurants.

Oh, and I almost forgot one of my old, best places, Mister B's, for their delicious barbecued shrimp.

Last weekend, we had an opportunity to go to New Orleans with friends. They had purchased a couple of things at an auction there awhile back and wanted to go pick them up.

It was mostly just an excuse to go to the Crescent City for a fun-filled weekend of eating. My heart and taste buds are Cajun, and every time I get to go to Louisiana, I seize the moment.

When I was growing up in Lake Charles, everything we ate was spicy. If it did not burn your tongue or cause you to ask for water, it wasn't worth eating.

My mother was an excellent cook, even gourmet by the standards of '60s housewives. She believed in teaching her three daughters to eat everything on our plates and that there was no vegetable we were allowed to dislike.

She cooked Cajun, French and everything in between. She left the home cooking to my Maw Maw while she fussed over spinach fettuccine and jambalaya.

Cajun food was spicy, but throughout the years, this food of my youth has morphed into a subculture of its own with distinctive flavors, particularly influenced by the recipes of the southern part of Louisiana.

The food in New Orleans has also come a long way as the chefs have raised the bar, making the new Creole cuisine healthier and more sophisticated.

New Orleans used to be known mostly for late-night parties and Bourbon Street. It has become a major stop on the foodie journey through the south.

New Orleans is a different sort of place because of the influences it has had from its inhabitants throughout the last 300 years. It was founded in 1718 by the French as a trading post.

Because it is on the south end of the largest river in North America - the Mississippi - it has long been a port town of great culture and commerce.

In 1763, the French lost the city to Spain, who controlled it until 1801 when the French resumed possession.

The United States obtained it in 1803 as part of the Louisiana Purchase, and at that point, there was a great influx of both blacks and Americans of English descent.

So needless to say, New Orleans is a true melting pot of settlers from many countries and who have greatly influenced its food and architecture.

The area most popular with tourists is the French Quarter. To me, it looks very much like an old European city, and it is a great place to stroll around.

We arrived Friday in time for lunch and went to Mr. B's. I had been there before, and it always has great Creole dishes such as gumbo, jambalaya and etouffee.

We shopped for antiques that afternoon because the area is full of shops. Unfortunately, the prices are high, so we didn't do any actual buying. We walked for miles, and were plenty hungry by the evening.

We happened upon August - the restaurant, not the month - just as our legs were giving out. That was probably the best of our gourmet meals.

The highlights were the trout Pontchartrain and the snapper court bouillon, which had lump crab and sauteed shrimp over jasmine rice. These were so rich and well-spiced that I cannot even begin to describe how tasty they were.

That evening, we went to an opening at an art gallery. I couldn't resist this great piece of textile art of a girl holding a big bunch of flowers under a starry sky by a female artist named Chris Roberts-Antieau. It is super colorful, and it makes me smile just to look at it.

On Saturday, we got up early for breakfast at Stanleys. Its specialties are eggs Benedict and banana pancakes with generous amounts of strong coffee.

It's in an old building at one corner of Jackson Square, which is the most famous park in the French Quarter. This is a well-manicured square block with a Parisian-style garden built in front of the beautiful St. Louis Cathedral (1850).

In the center of the square looms a large equestrian statue of Andrew Jackson.

After walking off that meal, we took a taxi to the Garden District, which is full of quaint shops and impressive homes from the 1800s. And we ate at another tasty restaurant for lunch in the shade of a large tree on the back patio. We knew that summer would soon be upon us, so we took the opportunity to dine alfresco, which means we ate outside.

To work up another large appetite, we walked around for another four or five hours. After all, our main goal in New Orleans was to eat. That evening we went to Doris Metropolitan, which had some of the best dry-aged beef I have ever had. It was melt-in-your-mouth tender and so full of flavor.

Our final day in the Big Easy started with the traditional breakfast of beignets and cafe lattes at Cafe Du Monde, which has been serving this same simple combo since the 1860s in the old French Market next to the river.

After our final walk through the French Quarter and a tour of the interesting Ogden Museum of Southern Art, we had lunch at Mothers, which is famous for its home-style po'boy.

I thought I would have surely gained about 10 pounds on this trip, but it appears that all the walking we did allowed me to escape with almost no accumulation. That's what I call a great trip.

Myra Starkey lives in Victoria. Write her in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901, or email myra@vicad.com.

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