Words on Fire: A gourmet’s guide to what’s happening with food and wine in the city


Susan Spicer’s long-anticipated cookbook “Crescent City Cooking: Unforgettable Recipes from Susan Spicer’s New Orleans” will appear on shelves at the beginning of November. “It wasn’t supposed to take this long,” Spicer recently remarked, “but then this little hurricane popped up…” Fans of the nationally-renowned chef/owner of Bayona will be glad to hear that the wait was worth it.

A conversational biography at the beginning of the book introduces readers to Susan, who was born in Key West and moved to New Orleans when she was seven. It was here in the Crescent City that her offbeat, left-of-center nature finally found a home. A section entitled “The Spicer Pantry” catalogs staple items that she uses to give her food its unique personality. Seemingly ordinary items get a little extra attention here, provide insight and reward. For instance, instead of just mentioning soy sauce, she goes a bit further, recommending (for some applications) a sweeter Indonesian brand called Conimex Ketjap Manis. She further explains how to approximate it using molasses if you can’t find the sauce at your neighborhood grocery. It’s tips like these that the home cook will appreciate.

Bayona devotees will be glad to see that her famous grilled shrimp with black bean cakes and coriander sauce recipe is in the book, along with tips for expediting its preparation by preparing the bean cakes in advance. Also included is her silky and complex cream of garlic soup, which she cites as being “her first true culinary creation.” This recipe is notable also for how it seamlessly melds techniques from different cuisines. An extensive salad section opens with a selection of easily adaptable dressings, then proceeds from lighter to heartier recipes: a light summer salad of sweet crabmeat, carrots, basil and lime gives way to heartier cornmeal-crusted oyster and black-eyed pea salad with jalapeño dressing.

A section on “Sauces and Spreads” offers a slew of recipes for accoutrements that can quickly add punch to main courses. Among them are a lavender-honey aioli, recommended for lamb or chicken, and a pumpkin-seed pesto, which goes great with pork or grilled shrimp. More adventurous eaters will get a kick out of her sweetbreads recipe, which comes with detailed instructions on how to properly clean and prep the tasty glands.

You will get your money’s worth with this one—the comprehensive book includes more than 170 recipes. Susan’s unpretentious and humorous voice winds its way consistency throughout the text, and over 80 color photographs jazz up the visual appeal of the book.

(“Crescent City Cooking: Unforgettable Recipes from Susan Spicer’s New Orleans,” by Susan Spicer with Paula Disbrowe, Alfred A. Knopf, Publishers)

Spa Cuisine at Home
Cal-a-Vie, the ultra-luxe spa resort nested in the hills outside of San Diego, has recently released the “Cal-a-Vie Living: Gourmet Spa Cuisine,” which includes more than 140 healthy and delicious dishes cooked up by the spa’s chef of 15 years, Steve Pernetti, and his staff of culinary experts.

Health-conscious eaters will be pleased to note that all the dishes in the cookbook adhere to the nutritional philosophy and guidelines of the Cal-a-Vie spa.

The low-fat, low-sodium approach is enlivened by fresh herbs, vegetables and
fruit from the garden. Balance plays an important role, and these chefs have worked closely with nutrition experts to create enticing dishes that are healthy as well as delicious.

The shrimp stack, featuring poached shrimp, mangoes, avocado, lemon juice, cilantro and a bit of jalapeño for heat, is one tropically inspired dish that uses natural flavors in lieu of salt or refined sugar for pizzazz. Snacks such as the gorgonzola cheese gougères would work well for any cocktail party, and heartier entrées like Kalamata olive-crusted California lamb would tempt those not typically inclined to spa foods. The breakfast items are particularly appealing, with praline pancakes and ricotta-stuffed crepes draped with warm berry compote among some of the choices.

Desserts are also creative, with interesting contrasts and ingredients taking over the role of sugar as the pleasure-provider. A spearmint and pear granita with mixed fruit is one option, along with maple and vanilla-bean flan. It should be noted that the decadence does get ratcheted up a notch with a chocolate fondue and a petite Cal-a-Vie cheesecake.

The menu is structured around spa stays, so the book is organized around a
sampling of dishes typically served on the specific days of the week. Additionally, readers will appreciate how each dish is accompanied by detailed nutritional information including the amount of calories, carbs, protein and fat per serving. Great art design and high-quality production values make this an attractive,
gift-able coffee table book as well as a practical cookbook. Information about the spa, owned by former New Orleanians Terri and John Havens, is placed throughout the book, providing an armchair overview of the spa experience.

(“Cal-a-Vie Living: Gourmet Spa Cuisine,” 866/SPAHAVENS, www.cal-a-vie.com)

The Bistro is Back
The Bistro at Maison de Ville (733 Toulouse St.) has reopened under the auspices of longtime chef and new owner Greg Picolo. The historic restaurant has long been a New Orleans institution for both diners and chefs, with generations of local talent having honed their skills in the kitchen in the back.A recent lunch at the Bistro provided plenty of reasons for return visits. Picolo has a deft touch with his frog legs, a delicacy not seen very often on local menus. His grilled vegetable Napoleon will surprise carnivores with its substantive nature. Asimple but tasty tomato soup was garnished on top with a tiny grilled blue-cheese sandwich, a nice touch that added both a quotient of comfort food and a sharp tweak, ingredient wise, with his choice of cheese. Another dish of house-smoked salmon rillette with frisee, poached egg and citrus vinaigrette was punched up with a dollop of emerald-hued wasabi tobiko. The bistro is in good hands now, and Picolo describes his new role as owner as a “dream come true.” Look for more of his original creations to grace a menu that already has won a place in the hearts of many Crescent City locals.
 
Try This
The dessert boutique, Sucré (3025 Magazine St.), has recently expanded its menu to include soups and sandwiches. Try the five-spice pork tenderloin with apple chutney on a mini-baguette. For lighter appetites, the cashew chicken salad on a homemade croissant is a good way to go.

Categories: Restaurants, The Dish