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Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Norwegian Dawn Repositioning Cruise To New Orleans From Boston

It matters, your rest that is. Everyone needs a break from the day to day, even the day to day is pretty good. The benefits of rest cannot be enumerated, they are just what you need. Go ahead admitted it, "I need a break" see don't you feel better just saying it? Now, do it. 

Recently Dianna took our break, I would like to say annual break, but not so, the last one was four years ago. After those four very trying, hard, difficult years we needed it. For us, our break is to enjoy a cruise.  So we contacted our travel agent (Diana-Lynn at Expedia Cruise Ship Centers) who booked us upon the Norwegian Dawn for a repositioning cruise to New Orleans From Boston.

NCL's first Dawn Class ship, Norwegian Dawn, features 12 different restaurants, nine bars and lounges, a spa, casino, Broadway-style theater, three pools, a fitness center and much more!
There is a wide range of accommodations available on board Norwegian Dawn, from interiors, ocean views and balconies to mini-suites, suites and a pair of humongous Garden Villas that's over 5,000-square-feet in size! All guests staying in one of Norwegian Dawn's full suites benefit from butler and concierge service.

One of the highlights of a Norwegian Dawn cruise is NCL's Freestyle Cruising concept, giving all guests on board this ship the flexibility and freedom that they desire. While on a Norwegian Dawn cruise you'll be able to eat where you want, when you want, and with whomever you want. You'll also be able to dress however you want and, at the end of your cruise, you'll be able to get off of the ship whenever you want.

There are a number of specialty restaurants on board Norwegian Dawn, offering the ship's guests an enhanced dining experience. Most of these venues have a per person cover charge, ($15-$30) but are well worth it. Among the specialty restaurants are Le Bistro (a French restaurant), Bamboo (a Chinese restaurant with a sushi bar and a Teppanyaki restaurant) La Cucina (a Itilain restaurant) Moderno Churrascaria (a Brazilian steakhouse) and Cagney's Steakhouse.

Leaving from Boston (we flew in just in time to catch the ship, and should have stayed a while to see this great city but we will return) the ship would sail for fours before reaching its first port of San Jaun, Puerto Rico. There would be five additional ports before coming to the final port of New Orleans, this other port's included Willemstad Curaçao (Netherland Antilles), Oranjestad  Aruba, Ocho Ricos Jamacia, George Town Grand Cayman, Cozumel Mexico. Each of these have their own Caribbean experience that is very different from the other or can be exactly the same should you desire that. All have the over hyped over priced jewelry stores that the ship also hypes, go to only those that recommend so they get a kick back from the store.  But if you're not shopping for some over priced trinket there is plenty to do on each island or if you prefer to do nothing at all these may be some of the best places in the world to accomplish that as well.

You will experience some wonderful sunrises and sunsets from the ship's deck before you venture on to experience what the remainder of the day has in store. However, this is a food blog so we really should get down to the food and the enjoyment or lack thereof of it. I do however want to begin with the end of the journey and will deal with the beginning and onward within the next writing. 

Mr. B's Bistro, New Orleans' Finest Creole Restaurant

Wow, is a very simple word, yet it is the perfect word to describe Mr. B's. They make the claim of being New Orleans finest Creole restaurant, wow, what a boast. Yet they truly live up to the boast. From a super friendly greeting at the door, reservation or not, to the impeccable service to a cuisine that leaves you wanting more and more and saying at each course, yes you guessed it, WOW.

After a fourteen day cruise, something beyond the food of the ship was greatly desired.  Not that it was bad, it was in fact pretty good given the fact that they had to daily feed a small town. But come on, this is New Orleans, and this is the one US city that has given the world not one, but two inspiring cuisines, Creole and Cajun foods, and yes, they inseparable and yet individual. Those who say they are just spicy food know little of the foods and the rich history behind them. So stepping off the ship I had a plan and an appetite to enjoy the city. Mr. B's was to be the first stop of many in the Brennan family restaurants.  

Located in the heart of the French Quarter at the intersection of Royal Street and Iberville and only two blocks from Owen Brennan's original restaurant, Brennans, (just reopening after renovations) the place to go for a Creole breakfast for more than 60 years.  The Mr. B's managing owner is one of the famous restaurant family members Cindy Brennan.

Ms. Brennan along with her Executive Chef Michelle McRaney  have created a Creole menu which pleases every taste, using the finest local seasonal ingredients. From Gumbo Ya Ya to Creole Catfish you will experience the excitement of the finest in Creole cuisine.  After experiencing other Brennan family restaurants, this one is the star, because they carry the proudly the family name,  the myth that makes a Brennans restaurant is still found in the care and concern placed within the dish served to the customer.  Mr B's lives up to the legend, not so with other Brennan named restaurants which we tried while in New Orleans.

Our meals began with a classic Seafood Gumbo, slow cooked dark roux noir, a medley of flavors perfectly blended in a seafood broth seasoned
just right, Gulf shrimp and crab makes you say (yep) with every spoonful. Served with a French style baguette, crisp and warm.

Next we ordered a signature dish of the restaurant, the Barbequed Shrimp. You can order this dish in nearly every Creole restaurant in the French Quarter, but you will not get a better dish than the one served at Mr. B's.

Barbequed shrimp is a bit of a mystery, said to be a creation of Pascal's Manale Restaurant on Napoleon Avenue in New Orleans  sometime back in the mid 1950's. Barbequed shrimp really has nothing to do with barbequing as most know it, no sweet ketchup spiced sauces, not grilled or hard wood smoked.  The story goes that a regular customer to Pascals had just returned from a trip to Chicago, where he enjoy an entree of shrimp, a lot of pepper and loads of butter simmered into a rich sauce. Chef Jake Radosta promised a dish exactly like the Chicago one, when served to the customer he declared it was not like the one he ate in the north, it was by far better. Once placed on the menu people came from near and far to have it and soon, like many New Orleans creations, every other restaurant was attempting to duplicate the delightful dish. I have no idea if Mr. B's has the original recipe, but unquestionably  they have perfected it. If you purchase their cookbook you can create the exact dish at home as well. But why cook when they will it for you. You will enjoy a large plump gulf head on prawns, slowly simmered in a sauce of butter, pepper, Worcestershire sauce, lemon and Creole seasonings. Again served with the warm, crispy French bread. Wow.

Enjoy your meal with a fine wine which the restaurant has a great selection of and of course do dessert. You leave fed up with this restaurant saying "wow, I just dined at New Orleans finest Creole restaurant".

Chef K's BBQ'd Shrimp Louisanna Style
16 jumbo shrimp (12 per pound, about 1 1/2 pounds), with heads and not peeled
1/2 cup Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon Chef Ks hot sauce
2 teaspoons ground black pepper
2 teaspoons cracked black pepper
2 teaspoons Chef Ks Creole seasoning
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cubed
French bread as accompaniment 

In a large cast iron skillet, combine shrimp, Worcestershire, hot sauce, lemon juice, black peppers, Creole seasoning, and garlic and cook over moderately high heat until shrimp turn pink, about 1 minute on each side. Reduce heat to moderate and stir in butter, a few cubes at a time, stirring constantly and adding more only when butter is melted. Remove skillet from heat. Place shrimp in a bowl and pour sauce over top. Serve with French bread for dipping.

Shrimp & Crab Gumbo
3 tablespoons lard, shortening or rendered bacon fat
3 tablespoon flour
1 each onion, yellow, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
1/2 each green bell pepper, chopped
2 cups tomatoes, peeled and diced
2 cups seafood broth
1 tbsp Chef K's Creole seasoning
1 sprig thyme
Salt and pepper
10 oz. Okra, sliced into small pieces
1 pound shrimp 21-25 count, peeled, de-veined
1/2 pound crab meat
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 pinches cayenne pepper
1 dash Tabasco

In a heavy skillet, add the butter and melt, add the flour and over low heat, cook into a very dark roux (black, roux noir),add and  sauté the onion, celery and green pepper in the roux for a couple of minutes. Then add the tomatoes, broth, Chef K seasoning, herbs, salt and pepper. Simmer for about 20 minutes.Add the Okra and Shrimp and cook for about 5 more minutes, until shrimp are done. Adjust heat with cayenne and hot sauce. Serve over cooked white rice.

Notes on gumbo thickening agents,
There are three primary ways to thicken a great gumbo, all have very faithful followings and will produce an excellent gumbo. 

Okra, actually the word gumbo is an African word for okra, many African stews are thickened with this small vegetable. Mucilage is found in okra pods. Made of sugar residues called exopolysacharrides and proteins called glycoproteins, mucilage's viscosity increases when heat is applied. This is good for thickening dishes. Also known as Lady Finger, okra is cultivated in warm temperate regions and valued for its fibrous pods.  Okra can be fried, served raw, marinated in salads or cooked on its own, and goes well with tomatoes, onions, corn, peppers, and eggplant. 

Filé powder, also called gumbo filé, is an herb made from the dried and ground leaves of the sassafras tree.  Filé can provide thickening when okra is not in season. Added to the soup just prior to serving. First used by the Choctaw Indians from Louisiana bayou region. Today the powder is used to both thicken and flavor gumbo.  Most would remember Hank Williams song Jambalaya on the Bayou, my favorite version of CCR

Roux (roo) this is the basis of most great soups and sauces that require thickening. Simply white enriched flour cooked in fat to differing stages.  The fat can vary from butter, to oils, to shortening or bacon fat, each will have a different stage that will cause it to burn when heat is applied, butter have the lowest point, oil next, then shortening, lard and finally animal fats.
The making of the roux requires one to heat the fat over medium heat, then sprinkle in the flour, cooking it in various stages (colors) depending upon the final desired result.  
Once the roux has achieved the desired stage then and, only then can other ingredients be added, if adding liquid be sure that the liquid is at a much cooler temperature than the hot roux to prevent clumping of the flour.  Use a whisk (whip) to add the liquid slowly to the hot roux. This will vary if you are adding other ingredients before the liquid as in the Trinty mix for gumbo.
White roux:  cook the flour and fat for 4 minutes until the flour has lost its raw texture and taste but no coloring has changed. Use for chowders, cream sauces, Southern white gravy.
Blond roux: Blond, or golden roux, has cooked, approximately 20 minutes to a light, golden-brown shade with an aroma resembling popcorn or toasted bread. This is the most commonly-used roux, desired for the richness and a slight nuttiness it provides along with its excellent thickening power. Blond roux is a good, general-purpose roux to keep on hand for thickening stock-based sauces, soups, stews, chili and wine based sauces.
Brown Roux
Brown Roux  or Walnut roux has cooked, about 35 minutes until it reaches to a walnut brown color. Its aroma is more pronounced and sharper than the nutty smell of blond roux. Cooked to this stage, flour begins to loose its thickening power, requiring more roux to thicken a given amount of liquid.
Dark Brown Roux
Roux Noir is yet even darker than the preceding brown roux, dark brown roux has cooked, approximately 45 minutes until it is the color of melted chocolate. Its aroma is mellower than the strong, roasted flavor of brown roux, and will actually smell a little like chocolate. This stage has the least thickening power of all four; its main purpose is as a flavoring agent with thickening secondary.

Of course, there is the Cafe du Monde in  the French Quarter as a must visit for beignets  and chicory infused coffee.  
You also must have a Praline from New Orleans or you simply have not experienced the real  N'awlins.

N'awlins Pralines
1 1/4 cup white sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
2 cups pecan halves
3/4 cup light cream
2 Tbsp salted butter
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla
Preheat oven to 300 F. Place pecan halves on a baking sheet in a single layer and toast for 10 minutes, turning once. Let cool.
Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside. Mix together white and brown sugar and baking soda in a 3-quart saucepan. Stir in light cream and place over medium to medium-high heat. Cook, whisking occasionally, until mixture reaches 240°F (soft ball stage) on a candy thermometer (about 25 minutes). Slight foaming and occasional bubbling in the mixture (it looks like it’s gasping) are normal at this stage.
Once the temperature reaches 235 F, add the butter and stir until the butter is fully melted and the mixture is well combined (about 1 minute).
Remove the mixture from the heat and stir in the vanilla and pecans until well coated. Using a wooden spoon, beat the mixture vigorously for about 5 minutes. Quickly drop by spoonfuls onto prepared baking sheets. Let cool completely. Work quickly so the mixture does not set on you.
Store in an airtight container for up to 3-5 days.

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