Tuesday, September 4, 2018

9 Places You MUST Eat in New Orleans


Every year, my husband and I find some reason to visit New Orleans. While we never have gone during the most popular time of year, Mardi Gras, there is still so much to do, see, and EAT in this incredible city.

I love my new city of Austin, but New Orleans is quickly finding a place in my heart as one of my very favorite cities. I hope to live here someday, but in the meantime I treasure these yearly trips.

Here are my suggestions for the BEST food in town!

Killer Poboys
219 Dauphine and 811 Conti (inside the Rose Bar), New Orleans, LA 

Poboys are one of those things you'll find EVERYWHERE in New Orleans, so it's hard to know where, exactly, the best ones will be. You won't be disappointed if you stop into Killer Poboys. It was suggested to me by multiple trusted sources, and it did not disappoint on the first and second visit, and it wasn't until much later that I realized my friend was close buddies with the owner! What I liked best about Killer Poboys was that there were options that weren't deep fried, but just as tasty. Definitely my go-to spot in the quarter for Poboys.

8324 Oak Street, New Orleans, LA 

This was the first "upscale" restaurant we ever visited in New Orleans. On our first trip, we wanted authentic Cajun/NOLA food, and we got it. When we arrived I was a little concerned by the decor--it was a $30/plate kind of place and it looked really kitschy--but as soon as we got our appetizer, I was sold. The Alligator and Shrimp Cheesecake SOUNDS ridiculous, but it is one of the best things I've ever eaten! The stuffed porkchop and seafood bouillabaisse were also excellent. There are NO reservations here, so make sure to put your name in right as they open!

741 Royal St, New Orleans, LA

On our second trip to New Orleans we had the most amazing crawfish etouffe at a place we only vaguely could remember the name of... and after a few missteps (Antoine's is a whole other restaurant, need the pere!) we finally found it. Since crawfish season had just passed, the etouffe wasn't QUITE as good as we remembered, but it still was pretty delicious.

We started with the fried cheese and a few potent bloody marys. This is an older place, and I feel like it could definitely benefit from a facelift of sorts, but it is still our favorite lunch spot in NOLA. Stick to the seafood and you'll be quite happy.

Tropical Isle New Orleans
Various Locations on Bourbon Street in New Orleans, LA

If you're going to get one of these iconic bright green drinks, you might as well get them at the original bar! The Hand Grenade® packs a boozy (and sugary!) punch, but my favorite thing about getting one of these drinks here specifically, is that they have a "Skinny" version that cuts a lot of the sugar and calories while still giving you that Bourbon Street Buzz. Bonus--the kitschy decor is pretty adorable and their upstairs patio gives you a great view of Bourbon Street.

 Cafe Beignet New Orleans600 Decatur St, New Orleans, LA 

Now that we've been to the city a few times, we can skip the touristy spots like Cafe du Monde and check out the more hidden gems for our favorite local NOLA fare. While Cafe Beignet isn't quite "hidden" as it's a ways up the street from the French Market and right near the harbor (with other locations in town as well), the few times we popped in it wasn't nearly as busy as its more famous counterpart. The beignets are just as good, and this place serves drinks while live music plays. If you're looking for a tasty treat without the long line, Cafe Beignet is your place.

514 City Park Avenue, New Orleans, LA

Did you know that New Orleans has one of the largest Vietnamese populations in the US? This is something we only recently discovered, and sadly haven't had the time to indulge in more than our one trip to Mopho's. I encourage y'all to try a few more authentic spots first (Tan Dinh and Ba Chi came highly recommended!) but eventually do make your way to Mopho's for some incredible fusion cuisine. This shrimp and grits used red curry and coconut grits and it was simply amazing. I also very much enjoyed my boozy bubble tea!

Bevi Seafood Co
236 N Carrollton Ave, New Orleans, LA

This is now our must-stop seafood spot in New Orleans, as recommended to us by our friends who have lived in the area for about 5 years now. Killer Poboys is still my favorite Poboy spot, but Bevi has a solid Poboy menu themselves. What I really love here is the crawfish. Even though we rarely end up in the city during actual crawfish season, Bevi's seafood is still mighty tasty. My first taste of crawfish was in Texas, at a Vietnamese-style joint that cooks the mudbugs in BUTTER. Sooo I'm always a little disappointed when the traditional boils don't come drenched in the stuff. Not at Bevi--their spice blend is so perfect that I don't even miss it. 

Pythian Market
234 Loyola Ave. New Orleans, LA

We specifically ate at Frencheez, Fete au Fete, and 1908 for drinks. But you'll find literally ANY cuisine you could possibly be craving with the 14 different vendors under one roof. I was extremely pleased with my Nola Trio Sampler that let you taste three New Orleans favorites: red beans and rice, shrimp and grits, and their famous (and fabulous!) Crawfish Poutine. The poutine was the clear winner, and I'll be dreaming of that dish until we visit again next year. The drinks at 1908 were expertly made, and my bloody mary was perfectly spicy. They even have virgin cocktails if you're not up for getting your drink on at the time. 

J's Seafood Dock At the French Market
2 French Market Pl.New Orleans, LA

Finally, this is another spot I always need to stop at in New Orleans. Fresh oysters, shucked right in front of you as you take a break from shopping the French Market. The "Bad Motha Shucka" will sing and entertain as he cracks open fresh Gulf oysters. These things are perfect, with just a little bit of horseradish and lemon they go down quite easy. I tried them on a cracker for the first time and that added a nice little crunch for those unsure of the texture of a fresh live oyster. I get a half dozen for lunch and leave NOLA a happy lady.

Have you ever been to New Orleans? Where are your go-to spots to grab a bite?

Monday, August 27, 2018

Late Summer Dinner Ideas - Roasted Gazpacho with Shrimp and Corn


Guys, we're in the final throngs of summer. School is starting to ramp up--and while I am not of school age nor do I have children, I'm noticing the telltale signs of increased traffic during my morning commute. Meaning, children are being dropped off, and those who work at the many colleges in the area are making similar commutes.

The heat isn't letting up any time soon, though!

Around this time, when I lived in Massachusetts, I'd start getting super sad. I love fall, but hate winter, so it was always very hard to deal with the end of lovely, warm weather.

BUT NOW I LIVE IN AUSTIN! So it won't get brisk until late November, and won't get COLD pretty much ever.

While it's still hot in your neck of the woods, this roasted gazpacho is a great light summer dinner. It does require some roasting, so late summer is the perfect time to make it, as you won't be in the high heat of mid-summer turning on the stove.

Roasted Gazpacho
4 large plum tomatoes
1 garlic bulb, top trimmed off
1 red pepper
1 jalapeno
1 cup corn
1 cup spicy V8 juice
1/2 cup small cooked shrimp
2 tbsp hot sauce
2 green onions, for garnish
salt and pepper, to taste

-Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

-On a well-greased pan, lay out the veggies (minus the corn) and drizzle with oil. Bake until blistered, about 20 minutes or until dark black spots are seen on them. Let cool to room temp, then peel and seed all of the vegetables.
*Tip: roast the garlic in its own foil pouch, drizzled with olive oil, until soft and fragrant.

-In a hot, nonstick skillet over high heat, toast the corn until blistered.

-In a blender, combine all the veggies, the V8, and half of the corn. Add hot sauce, salt and pepper to taste.

-Serve chilled and top with remaining ingredients.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Every Potluck's Favorite - EASY Cold Taco Dip


Behold: My most popular recipe. Unfortunately, the thousands of pins are currently leading NOWHERE since it lived on my old blog that I allowed to expire.


So, here it is again. With much, much better pictures.

It's funny though, I think the horrible pictures might be exactly what made the original pin so popular in the first place. Pretty pictures make people think the recipe is difficult. Crappy pictures make people think "hey, someone just like me who can't take pictures made this, I can make it too!"

Anyways, this is my favorite potluck offering. It's cold, tasty, and is so easy and inexpensive to put together!

This taco dip is my stepfather's recipe (he wanted to make sure if I was blogging about it he was given due credit). Along with his meatloaf and strawberry pie, it's one of my favorite things he makes and is his most requested item for parties.

Famous Cold Taco Dip
  • 1 can (~ 2 cups) refried beans
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1/2 cup mayo
  • 1 package taco seasoning
  • 1 cup cheese
  • 1 small tomato, diced
  • 2 green onions, sliced
  • 1/8 cup sliced black olives

-Mix together the sour cream, mayo, and taco seasoning. Add the seasoning slowly and taste as you go to season to your liking.

-In a large, shallow dish spread the beans. Top with the sour cream mixture.

-Top with cheese and the veggies. Put in the fridge until ready to serve.

-Serve with tortilla chips.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Unicorn Poop Marshmallows


Fresh, sparkly unicorn poop, straight from the magical horse's butt. This was inspired by Nomageddon's Poop Peep Recipe!

What little kid didn't adore unicorns? I remember I was desperate for any "proof" that these majestic creatures existed. I watched The Last Unicorn hundreds of times, doublechecked every horse I encountered for the trace of a horn, and wished on every shooting star that I'd someday see one.

Why are millennials obsessed with unicorns now? I see it on all sorts of fashion and decor, even moreso than on children's clothes and toys. Could it be because we're nostalgic for a simpler time? Or we're waiting for the magical unicorns to visit us again and bestow some magic upon us (possibly to make our student loans disappear?)...

Well friends, look who I caught in the act:

That's a real, live unicorn, folks. And he has the nerve to not only poop on my table, but sniff his own butt nuggets! What a creep! Maybe the magic of unicorns is something we should keep in the past...

He ran away before I could get a better picture (unicorns are jerks, who knew!) but something about these pretty little lumps piqued my curiosity. After all, how often does one come across a magical beast's dung? So I had to have a nibble. You would have done it, too.

Did you know that unicorn poop tastes of strawberries? It's true! I carefully recreated the flavors for you here, in case you don't have the good fortune of a unicorn pooping on your own table. These Unicorn Poop Marshmallows are the perfect gift for your favorite desolate millennial, or wide-wondered child with an awesome sense of humor.

Unicorn Poop Marshmallows
(Adapted from this recipe for homemade peeps)
  • 1 packet gelatin + 1/3 cup water
  • 1 cup sugar + 1/4 cup water
  • 1 tsp strawberry extract
  • 3 drops neon pink food coloring
  • 3 drops neon blue food coloring
  • 3 drops neon purple food coloring
  • Sprinkles, edible luster dust, and candy hearts for garnish

-In the bowl of a stand mixer, gently whisk together the gelatin and water. Let sit while you prepare the sugar.

-In saucepan over low heat, combine the remaining water with the sugar.  Using a candy thermometer, heat over medium heat until it reaches 238 F.

-When it's reached the proper temperature, take off the heat and pour into the mixer with the gelatin, add the strawberry, whisking gently until smooth. Let cool for 5 minutes.

-Turn the mixer on high and mix until fluffy and peaks form. The peaks should hold together slightly.

-Transfer mixture to three bowls and distribute the colors until they're to your liking. Tip: I did them all in one bowl to get a marbling effect, but it's hard to keep them from fully incorporating so I suggest the bowls if you're a beginner.

-Immediately transfer to large piping bag. Give it a couple minutes to get slightly sticky. When it's ready to pipe into your poop lumps, the mixture should hold shape with just a little bit of falling.

-Let dry until just barely tacky and cover with sprinkles of your choice.

What You MUST See/Do/Eat in Costa Rica! - Part 2


Originally, I was just going to round up what to eat in Costa Rica, but I've been gushing about this trip to anyone who will listen so I decided to dedicate a post to activities as well.

Looking for what you MUST EAT in Costa Rica? See my first post!

Horseback Riding - You'll find Horseback Rides just about everywhere, for any skill level though there's definitely a focus on beginner. The horses are well-trained and chill, so you'll have a leisurely stroll through the gorgeous countryside. In Arenal, it's the best way to get as close to the volcano as possible for those incredible pictures! Taking into consideration the uneven terrain and length of the hike, it's a lot better to have a horse that can do the hard work for you. This is the tour I took, through the hotel I stayed at.

The Volcano! - Arenal is famous for their volcano, and the entirety of what you can do and see here pretty much revolves around it. We were lucky enough to stay close enough to see the volcano from our hotel room. While you can't actually climb it, you can get pretty close (see the horse riding tip above!) and it's pretty breathtaking just to be near.

Thermal Pools - These are in Arenal. Being a volcanic area, these are in no short supply. Luckily for us, we had them right in our hotel area! They were not quite "natural" but still used hot thermal water heated by the volcanic activity under the ground. Our hotel even had a swim up bar, which was pretty cool. We found that it was a great way to relax after a day of adventuring. There are a number of spas in the area that have their own thermal pools in every price range. Our hotel was the Arenal Pariso and we loved having it all right there.

Ziplining - You will see billboards for these EVERYWHERE but the best ones will be in Monteverde, where the rain forest is the most lush. We shelled out for the photography of our first zip and got some pretty good pictures. The guides are energetic and the views are to DIE for. Flying hundreds of feat above the canopy is a memory I won't soon forget. Even my husband, who is terrified of heights, had a blast. In his own words "you go so fast, and there's so much adrenaline, that there's no time to be scared." Plus, you're strapped in and typically flanked by little kids who have no fear--so it's hard to be scared. Click here for the ziplining tour we took in Monteverde.

Rainforest Night Hike - Most of your favorite rain forest critters are actually nocturnal, so a night hike is your best way to get a peek at them. We took two tours: one in Arenal that focused on frogs, and one in Monteverde that focused on mammals. Both had their charm and we saw a ton of animals at both! The best part of the Arenal tour was that it included a meal cooked by the family that owned the land, though it probably ties with seeing three sloths on the Monteverde tour! Here is the one we took in Arenal (with dinner included), and Here is the one we took in Monteverde.

Coffee/Chocolate Tour - We took this tour on a whim because our hotel in Monteverde (the Heliconia) had a deal with them. And let me tell you, it was one of our favorite things we did! You get to sample chocolate in every stage of its transformation from bean to bar, and learn the process of making coffee and sample different roasts. It was all on a working farm with an incredible tour guide that gives you the entire history of coffee. Check out the Don Juan tour we took here!

The Beach! - My one regret about our trip was that we didn't set aside enough time for the gorgeous Costa Rican beaches. While I have heard that the Carribean-side beaches are the best, I was only able to check out the Pacific side. Namely, Jaco. And I have to say, it was AWESOME. I loved it. It was a bit touristy, but the beach was absolutely gorgeous. We walked a bit past the main strip where the hotels are and had our own private little stretch of beach that looked straight out of the movies.

What do you think of this list? Let me know in the comments!

What You MUST See/Do/Eat in Costa Rica! - Part 1


At the beginning of July, my husband and I (finally!) took our honeymoon. Since we got married in Massachusetts last year and used up all our vacation time, we decided to make this our one-year-anniversary trip.

When I was researching for our trip, I found a lot of suggestions on what to DO, but not a lot on what to EAT! So I thought I'd do a roundup of both for my blog. This is specifically for the area we visited, Arenal and Monteverde, during the rainy season.

First up (of course) is what you MUST EAT when you visit Costa Rica.

While most of the food in Costa Rica is what you'll find throughout most of Latin America, there are a few unique dishes I came across that I immediately fell in love with. For the most part, the food here is so good because it's all super fresh, local, and not buried in seasoning so the bright flavors come forward.

Chifrijo - If there is one thing you must eat in Costa Rica, this is it. I need to make my own version because I keep thinking about this dish! It's a classic bar food but so incredibly tasty. Rice, beans, pork, salsa, served with chips. It sounds so simple, but it is SO. GOOD. It's one of the few totally Costa Rican dishes I could find and it was hands down my favorite. It's typically an appetizer, but I ate it as my dinner at least twice. It's filling!

Casado - Casado is a Costa Rican meal made up of rice, black beans, plantains, salad, a tortilla, and a protein like fish, chicken, or beef. It's a simple dish but you can find it everywhere and it's a meal you know will taste good. You can eat it separately or use the tortilla to make your own taco. Nothing is over-seasoned, and the freshness of the food stands out.

Arroz con Pollo - Chicken and rice. Or beef, or pork, or whatever else but chicken was the most popular. Rice is a staple here, so low carb diets will have a lot of trouble avoiding it. My advice? Don't avoid it. Indulge. It's worth it. The rice isn't soaked in sauce or cheese, but the flavor is worth it. Slightly spicy with fresh veggies, this was a whole meal in and of itself.

Salsa Lizano - This stuff is like ketchup in Costa Rica and it is DELICIOUS. Tangy, only slightly spicy, and so perfect on everything from rice to eggs to every meat. I brought home two huge bottles and am consuming them by the teaspoonful so as to make it last as long as possible.

Breakfast! - We filled up every morning with the generous breakfast buffets at each of our hotels. I feel like this is where America comes up short--our continental breakfasts (crappy make-your-own waffles included) honestly suck. Costa Rica had amazing breakfast spreads with all sorts of breads, meats, eggs, and more American options like cold cereal. Gallo pinto (rice and beans), fried cheese, and fresh fruit.

Fresh fruit juice - Every hotel and restaurant we went had their own fruit punch or fruit juice, as did every restaurant. The fruit here is plentiful and fresh so it's easy to find just about everywhere! Strawberry and Pineapple were my favorites, but Sour Guava was a surprisingly tangy juice we loved, too!

Chocolate and Coffee - You'll find these together at souvenir shops since they're two of Costa Rica's most popular exports. The best place to grab these are straight from the farms themselves, as you'll be guaranteed local, fresh products. However, if you want to save some money you'll find excellent options at grocery stores as well.

What did you think of this list? Let me know in the comments!

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Creamy Boozy Dairy-Free Fudge Bars for Summer!


At this point in my blogging life, I've made a number of popsicle recipes. But not just any popsicles... BOOZY ONES. 

Specifically, Creamy Boozy Dairy-Free Fudge Bars for Summer! What's better than a cool treat that gives you a bit of a buzz? A friendlier diet recipe! By removing the dairy and cutting down on sugar, this is way better than your typical cocktail, and definitely better than your typical popsicle.

Coconut Cream Fudge Bars
  • 1 can coconut milk, cream separated (upside down in the fridge over night, cream scooped off)
  • 1/4 cup Bailey's or other Coffee Cream Liquer (use dairy-free for a fully tummy-friendly recipe, or omit for booze-free)
  • 1/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 3 heaping tablespoons agave nectar or honey
-In a stand mixer, whip the coconut cream until fluffy. Fold in the cocoa powder and agave. Add about 2 tablespoons of the coconut water (leftover from the can) and the Baileys, if using. If you want softer pops, less coconut water. More firm, more water.

-Adjust cocoa and agave until desired taste is reached. Side note: at this point it's a LOVELY chocolate mousse if you just want to eat it.

-Fill popsicle wells and leave about one finger width headspace. Freeze until firm, preferably overnight.

-Note: the pops will be soft, so remove gently from wells once frozen.