Monday, February 25, 2013

South Beach Bites and I Want Some More!

Doreen and I with Chef Daniel Boulud, in his Miami restaurant
The Food Network’s South Beach Food and Wine festival has come to Miami and it is an invasion of visitors, celebrity chefs, and oh yes, food. Quite frankly, it’s an event that I historically steer away from. Thousands of people standing in line in eighty-degree weather to sample a morsel from a booth manned by a chef-in-training while the celebrities hob nob with each other and pose for photographs.

BUT MY WORLD CHANGED  and I take it all back! 

My best buddy and fellow foodie invited me to a wine dinner at the JW Marriott Marquis in Miami as an unofficial part of the week-long SOBE experience. Christies (the auction company) hosted the dinner with featured wines from Chateau Palmer. The setting was db Bistro Moderne, Chef Daniel Boulud’s restaurant in the hotel lobby.

The chef prepared the food himself – from his hands to my mouth. From the first sip of bubbly to the last crumb of madeleine cookie, the meal was stunning in presentation and flavor. I won’t tantalize you with every exquisite course, but I will mention delicacies like Grilled Portuguese Octopus, Oven Baked Branzino with Bone Marrow Crusted Sweet Potatoes, Roasted Squab with (my personal favorite) Foie Gras and Roasted Venison Loin with (get this) Cocoa Bean Shavings. The food experience was way, way over the top.

And the wines…….. a 2009 Chateau Palmer Blanc that cannot be found anymore (it’s been drunk through) to the Chateau Palmer 1988. Those in the know refer to it as “THE ‘88” and even I was throwing around that phrase by the end of the evening…!

The good news, is that the restaurant is available to all of us at any time we’d like. The bar d├ęcor  is contemporary, yet cozy. The tables in the restaurant are arranged in traditional bistro style: square four tops set just close enough to each other, that you  have to keep your voice down, which adds to the intimacy of the room. The servers are well trained, professional and just haughty enough to remind you that you are in a French bistro.

The entire dining experience was so much fun, that I’m actually thinking about driving to Miami’s infamous festival this weekend to stand in line in eighty-degrees heat to see what other morsels might be available from a chef in a tent that will someday be as important and as delicious as Daniel Boulud. 

Join me?? Maybe at the next SoBe Fest in 2014!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Fast, Fresh… and Delivered!

Every once in a while, rather than offer up a recipe, I enjoy serving up insights into what’s trending in today’s kitchens. Several young moms have turned me onto new food delivery services, like Blue Apron and Hello Fresh, catching on fast with lots of age groups. These are online companies that let you order a week’s worth of individual meals from a restaurant style menu that include absolutely everything but the cook. You plan the meals on Friday and a huge box arrives at your door on Tuesday, with step-by-step instructions and pre-measured ingredients, right down to the 2 tablespoons of olive oil for sauteeing. If you need a single parsnip, 6 sprigs of rosemary or a ½ cup of lemon juice, it’s all right there. You chop that parsnip, snip the herb, and juice that lemon yourself. The idea is that any hassle, waste or mess has been eliminated. It costs around 10 bucks a plate and the meals last 3 to 5 days in your refrigerator.

Another food trend we’ve begun to lean on is practiced at Dream Dinners. This is a successful franchise that lets you come in, cook with a crew in a fully stocked assembly line of would-be home chefs—and prepare a week to month’s supply of yummy dinners that are immediately packed into coolers, brought home with you, and stored in the freezer for no fuss, no muss dinners later on.

It feels like cooking, looks like cooking and tastes like cooking!
I asked my foodie friends what they thought of all this. One or two admitted to using such a service, while others dismissed it as “a good idea for budding chefs, but a bit pricey.”
There is a reason that these services are popping up. While Americans watch a whole lot of Food Network TV, we begrudgingly spend just 27 minutes a day actually cooking! That’s less than half the time we spent in the early 60s. Sure Julia Child was popular then, but not a decade later, there came the advent of drive-through restaurants, and before we knew it nobody wanted to spend their time deboning a duck or baking their own bread. Let’s face it, when Gen X Moms were toddlers, their moms were burning their bras and buying designer briefcases; they had freed themselves from traditional women’s roles and created the slippery slope to where we are today: microwaving a pizza and calling it cooking—or simply eating out too much.
But now, with the help of these meal delivery services, the tide may be turning. Right now, there are LOTS of consumers, weary of being overcharged for so-so restaurant experiences and finger wags from the American Heart Association. There is, after all, a whole lotta sugar, salt and fat going into our collective tummy, compliments of restaurants like…well, YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE! How attractive that makes “eating in” for a change sound! At home you have complete control over what you’re putting into your body. It also tastes better, costs far less, and you get that cozy, family ambience without having to grease the palms of a lackadaisical wait staff.
I wouldn’t call cooking a lost art; I’d call it a longed for art—with people trying to get back to what we were, before we were too busy to cook like we care.
So why don’t people rediscover the joy of cooking at home? Is it because current surveys reveal that only 1/3 of Americans claim they know how to cook? As much as 51% say they lack the time to shop for ingredients, or the skill to manipulate said ingredients into the perfect meal.
Perhaps a fresh food delivery service is the perfect way for the novice to learn the cooking process. At the very least, it is the answer to serving up home-cooked dinners in minutes. Now that’s a trend I want to follow!

Saturday, February 9, 2013

It’s a Foolproof Food Day!

One Reader Shares His Memory of World’s Best Gumbo and How to Recreate It

Foolproof Food Days are a lot of fun on my site. They expose my readers to new ways of thinking about and preparing the classics, so when a self-described “Southerner” and fan of mine (he shall be known here as Jon A.) offered to share his gumbo recipe, I looked forward to retelling the charming story behind it. This version of gumbo is based on Jon’s trip to New Orleans, roughly 1 year after Hurricane Katrina. There had been a wedding and the groomsman’s family—who lived in the Metairie district within ear shot of the trolley—was still having a great deal of problems inside the house. Parts of the city were still without electricity, and the kitchen had flooded so badly, that the wedding party chose to eat outside. The gumbo was prepared on a grill, right next to the family’s pool. Today’s Foolproof Gumbo recipe is written for the kitchen stovetop; however, it’s a carbon copy, ingredients wise, of everything that this wedding party enjoyed on a crisp cool night in 2006.

With Lent on the Way, This Dish is Perhaps the Most Perfect Use of Leftovers

For many home cooks, gumbo is a way to get rid of leftovers, and this recipe works well using that same notion; this version has the same trinity of meats that the best New Orleans style gumbo has: Andouille sausage, chicken and crab, but frequently uses leftover roast chicken in the fridge, or tasty remnants of last night’s crab boil. If those ingredients aren’t around, and the household still has a hankering for wedding-party gumbo, why then canned crab and chicken are used, but give any chef his druthers and it’s fresh all the way.
There’s always something fun to learn when you’re cooking, and in the case of this Foolproof Food story, the lesson learned was that coriander is the secret ingredient in recreating the gumbo from Metairie, Louisa, circa 2006. And that makes sense when you think about it. Coriander is mentioned in the ingredients on crab boil kits, so consider that next time you’re wondering what dash of spice works the best on slow simmering seafood dishes. As to seasoning, the original gumbos used an extract from sassafras leaves that give the taste that recognizable fire; you can recollect that fusion of flavor—sassafras, cayenne pepper and caramelized onions with Tony Cachere’s Original Creole Seasoning

Happy Mardi Gras, Everyone!

I’m told that this Foolproof Gumbo was a hit on the night it was served and photographed on the eve of Mardi Gras weekend in New Orleans.  I understand that the family enjoyed it around a fire-lit bracero on an unseasonably cold night—even for February!

Have a recipe you’d like to share? Send it to me, and we’ll chat about its background and inspiration and do a Foolproof Food post that encourages our tight-knit community of home chefs to give it a try. Thanks for reading!

Jon A.’s Gumbo

Serves: 10
Prep Time: About 2 hours
1/3 cup olive oil
4 large yellow onions, chopped (about 8 cups)
4 red bell peppers, seeded, chopped (about 4 1/2 cups)
4 celery stalks, chopped (about 1 1/2 cups)
6 garlic cloves, chopped
2 teaspoons Creole Seasoning
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 cups red wine
1 (15 oz.) can black beans
1 (12 oz. can) corn
1/2 cup chopped fresh coriander leaves
6 bay leaves
2 (28-oz.) cans diced tomatoes with juice
1 (8 oz. can) tomato paste
6 cups vegetable broth
4 pounds andouille sausage, cut into slices
10 ounces chicken breast, shredded
10 ounces fresh crab meat
1 pound okra, sliced (about 4 cups)
Salt and ground pepper

2 pounds peeled deveined medium shrimp

Steamed rice

In a large stock pot, Heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add onions and cook until caramelized, about 6 to 8 minutes. Add bell peppers, celery and cook until soft, about 10 minutes. Add garlic, cayenne, red wine, black beans and corn.  Add coriander, and bay leaves; bring to boil, stirring occasionally. Add tomatoes (do not drain), tomato paste, vegetable broth, sausage, chicken and crab; simmer until chicken is cooked through, about 15 minutes. Add okra and simmer until just tender, about 8 minutes.

Add shrimp to pot and cook to doneness, about 5 minutes. Season gumbo to taste with salt and pepper. Serve in soup bowls on a bed of steamed rice.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Eat Like All Your Rowdy Friends Are Coming Over Tonight

It’s no accident that my awesome league of recipe testers are now reporting back to me with their thoughts on the “Couch Potato Fan Food” section of my new book. Glancing over the list right now is whetting my appetite for the big game this weekend. The Superbowl XLVII is back in New Orleans this year, with the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers facing off at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. If I could be there in person, it’d be sweet for sure, but it would also severely limit my choices in terms of what I can eat. With my kitchen less than a yard behind me, I can make a touch down with a wide variety of gnosh platters that offer everything from wings to quesadillas. You don’t have to be at work on a cookbook to get inspired—you just have to look around!

It’s a tasty time to web surf right now, because anyone who’s a sports fan and a foodie and loves to write about it, has been publishing mouthwatering collages (compliments of a new social media outlet called Photoshake) that shows you the range of spicy shredded pork, sliders and creamy ranch and blue cheese dipping sauces that’ll make us a little more light hearted about Lipitor commercials between plays.

My point is, is there anything better than combining game watching with gnoshing? I think not.   

The list of nail biting nibbles and crowd pleasers I’ll have on tap are all about spicy sauces, beef and beans, blackened shrimp and hot garlicky wings; it’s fun to think that some of what I’ve served at Superbowl parties in the past are an homage to the kinds of food the players’ hometowns are famous for. Take last year when I made my famous crab cakes. Chances are they’d remind a Baltimore Raven about the famed crab cakes that the historic dive bar, “Swallow at the Hallow” has been serving for over 50 years near Towson State.

Yes sir, where the players come from and where they are meeting up bring in many different flavors—you could say that the Spicy Black Bean and Rice Salad I’m perfecting this month add new meaning to the idea of a San Francisco treat. It’s almost a shame to be sidelined on the living room couch at kick-off this year, because if I had tickets and were watching it live in the Big Easy this season, you better believe I’d be sampling my share of King Cake and Craw Fish. I’d probably be too full to notice one way or another if Beyonce is going to actually sing at half-time or start another Lip-Gate.

Suberbowl Sunday is “The Sunday Best” of all game watching Sundays!

Hopefully, my guests at this year’s Superbowl party will be too happy with my buffet table to notice the half-time entertainment on TV. Let me offer you links to my greatest hits at Superbowl parties of old (my Crab Cakes and Buffalo Chicken Lettuce Wraps) and invite you to post your links and comments about the kinds of foods you'll enjoy this go around. I’m sure whatever you eat, it'll be a real winner! 
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