ooooooh, New Orleans! Don’t hate me NYC – NOLA just might be the greatest city in the U.S. It is rich with music, tradition, mystique and food – the best reasons to travel anywhere – and the people know how to party.

Full disclosure: I’ve never been. I have pined for eighteen long years and this February I’m finally getting there. Three days with my Florida family and then four more on my own and I’m not sure how I’m going to pack it all in. I want to venture outside the city making the trek to Avery Island and the Tabasco factory, take at least one cooking class, canoe the Bayou and consume as much food and music as humanly possible.

New Orleans is about indulgence. It’s about letting the local hospitality wash over you. It’s about “laisser les bon temps rouler” or let the good times roll! I’m pretty anal about making lists and optimizing an experience, but my goal in NOLA is to simply let the city happen.

I’ve got a helluva a lot of jazz coursing through me (it’s a disease with no cure – many have tried). The thought of visiting its birthplace fills me with geeky anticipation. Add to that the umpteen other music genres pumping from clubs across the state and I’m positively vibrating. (I’ve dreamed of having a Cajun themed wedding for years now… sorry Johnny!)

… then there’s the food. I don’t know where to start: classic cocktails (I’m looking at you Sazerac), jambalaya, gumbo, po’ boys, beignets and copious amounts of shell fish and hot sauce.

I’ve been tempting/torturing myself by reading George Graham’s beautiful blog Acadiana Table – so many great tips and pictures of stuff I want to put in my mouth – it’s making waiting until February seem impossible. If you’re looking for an incredibly comprehensive list on places to check out and things to eat, he’s got an epic one.

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Do you have a favourite Louisiana cuisine, experience, restaurant or other can’t-miss place? I’d love your ideas…

 

THE CUBAN-ESQUE MUFFULETTA

serves 4

There are some pretty strict rules for constructing a traditional Muffuletta, so what I’m doing here flies in the face of tradition. George Graham’s blog, Acadiana Table, breaks down his 5 Keys to a perfect Muffuletta. My interpretation loosely follows his steps with a few extra layers – the addition of roast pork and pickles are a nod to the Cuban sandwich and my Florida cousin with whom I had my first one. I also added some fresh parsley and spinach in a feeble attempt to be a wee bit healthful.

Since this sandwich isn’t traditional in nature, feel free to substitute with what is available to you or whatever floats your boat. The little buddy in these pictures has roast turkey instead of pork because that was what I had on hand. I also used a whole grain loaf – if you have the option I would go with white because it’s softer and lends better to the preparation, but this worked fine too. George says look for a loaf with sesame seeds for authenticity.

No matter which way you decide to go don’t skip on the squashing. Take the proper time allowing this to marinate in its own goodness – you will only love it more.

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1 drained and chopped cup of mixed pickled and/or marinated peppers, olives, capers, vegetables, etc

1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

1 tsp each dried oregano and dried thyme

1/3 cup olive oil

1 10″ round loaf Italian bread

mustard and mayo, to taste

100 grams sliced swiss cheese

100 grams sliced/shredded roast pork

100 grams sliced ham

1 small onion sliced into rings

2 or 3 thinly sliced pickles

100 grams sliced mortadella

100 grams sliced salami

100 grams sliced provolone cheese

1/3 packed cup spinach

fresh ground black pepper

 

In a small bowl combine your mixed peppers/veg, parsley, dried herbs and olive oil.

Slice your loaf across the middle. Tear out some of the bread from inside the top slice to accommodate your filling, leaving enough to maintain structural integrity. Smear the bottom slice with some mustard and mayo.

Scatter the bottom slice with half the mixed marinated veg. Then layer the swiss slices, roast pork and ham. Layer the onion slices over top, then the pickles, next the mortadella and salami, followed by the provolone. Scatter the other half of the marinated veg and drizzle any remaining oil and herbs. Top with the spinach leaves.

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Smear the top half of your loaf with more mustard and mayo and grind over some fresh pepper. Replace the top and smush everything done really well.

Wrap the sandwich tightly with aluminium foil and place a cutting board or large plate on top. Wait it down with a very large, very heavy cast iron pot or books or something similar. This is an important step – don’t be shy with the squooshing. Let it sit like this at least 2 hours. It’s even better a day later.

Just before you’re ready to eat fire up an outdoor grill on low or heat your oven/toaster oven to 350F. Pop it in for about 20 mins. If using an outdoor grill unwrap the top of the foil for the last 5 minutes to impart some smokiness.

Let sit for a couple minutes before slicing. Serve while still warm or pack up a slice for an on-the-go meal. This little buddy gets better the longer all those lovely ingredients hang out and get to know each other.

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