Thursday, January 28, 2010

Carnivale Gumbo

 My best friend Lisa is the queen of all things for many reasons and one of them is her culinary skill. This past weekend, she invited me over for some homemade gumbo New Orleans-style in honor of the Saints game.

Having lived in New Orleans for many years before coming back to her hometown in the desert, Lisa acquired not only a love of the football team, but of many things quintessentially of the place like her infamous costume closet lined with boas, baubles and wigs; her knack for entertaining and ability to run small or large scale events, her love of good jazz and zydeco music and her very sassy, Southern-belle diplomacy and true charm. All of this means she hardly ever does anything regularly so when I heard she was making this authentic dish I knew I had to bare my sports illiteracy and head on over for the game.

With a sea of green, gold and purple beads and special carnivale music for the commercial breaks, she served the smoky flavored stew with chunks of french bread and a dollop of white rice to mix in. The recipe, passed on from another New Orleans maven Salle Pavlovich, was insanely good. Full of depth and rich undertones, ("the trick is the roue!", says Lisa), we could barely contain ourselves while waiting for our spoonfuls to cool. Topped off with slices of creamy, chewy and sweet King Cake, this meal was up there in the annals of decadence for the year.

From Salle Pavlovich:
New Orleans Turkey Sausage Gumbo

Makes 8-10 servings
3/4 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups yellow onions, chopped
1/2 cup green bell peppers, chopped
1/2 cup celery, chopped
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 pound smoked sausage (such as kielbasa), chopped
3 boxes (32 oz.) Swanson low-salt Chicken Broth (or make own stock)
Cooked turkey meat from roasted breast (or pre-roasted turkey or chicken from grocery store)
Steamed white rice, accompaniment (can be boxed instant, make as much as you like)
1 loaf French bread, accompaniment
4 Bay leaves

Cooking Directions
Combine the oil and flour in a large cast-iron pot or Dutch oven. Cook over medium heat, stirring slowly and constantly with a heavy wooden spoon for 20 minutes to 25 minutes, to make a dark brown roux the color of chocolate. (will smoke up kitchen-turn on the fan!)

In a bowl, season the onions, bell peppers, and celery with the salt and cayenne. Add to the roux and cook, stirring, until soft, about 10 minutes. Lower the temp if needed. Add the sausage and cook, stirring often, for 5 minutes. Add the broth and bring to a boil.

Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally, for 45 minutes. Add the turkey meat and cook for 15 minutes.

Remove from the heat and adjust the seasoning to taste. Spoon rice into the bottom of large soup bowls and ladle the gumbo on top. Serve with hot French bread for dipping.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Soup Season

The month of January has always been soup season for me. It's the coldest month in the desert and the busiest month for my public relations company as it is chock full of events, galas and charity fetes. This means there is not a lot of time to spend cooking elaborate meals and dinner means heating something up that is warm and soothing to the soul. It is a time of cooking mass quantites of soup to freeze and reheat on demand, and one of my all time favorites for this purpose is the Mexican meatball soup called Albondigas.

What makes the flavor of albondigas soup distinctive is the chopped mint in the meatballs and the combination of whatever vegetables are in season at the time. If fresh mint is not available, you can use a couple teaspoons of dried mint from herbal mint tea. Also, you can substitute ground turkey meat for the ground beef.

Albondigas Soup
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 large garlic clove, minced
3 quarts of chicken stock or beef stock OR water OR a mixture of both (we usually use half stock half water as the meatballs will create their own stock)*
1/2 cup of tomato sauce
1/2 lb of string beans, strings and ends removed, cut into 1 inch pieces
2 large carrots, peeled and sliced
1/3 cup of raw white rice
1 pound ground beef
1/4 cup of chopped fresh mint leaves
1/4 cup of chopped parsley
1 raw egg
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
A dash of cayenne (optional)
1 1/2 cup of frozen or fresh peas
1 teaspoon of dried oregano, crumbled, or 1 Tbsp fresh chopped oregano
Salt and pepper
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
*If using prepared stock, be sure to use gluten-free stock if you are cooking gluten-free.

1 Heat oil in large heavy-bottomed pot (5-qt) over medium heat. Add onion and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook a minute more. Add broth mixture and tomato sauce. Bring to boil and reduce heat to simmer. Add carrots and string beans.
2 Prepare the meatballs. Mix rice into meat, adding mint leaves and parsley, salt and pepper. Mix in raw egg. Form mixture into 1-inch meatballs.
3 Add the meatballs to the simmering soup, one at a time. Cover and let simmer for 1/2 hour. Add the peas towards the end of the 1/2 hour. Add a few pinches of oregano and sprinkle with salt and pepper, and a dash of cayenne, to taste.
Garnish with chopped fresh cilantro.

Serves 6-8.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Dynamo Donuts

Donuts are an extreme no-no typically, not even in my lexicon since my high school days when my sister and I would stop off at the local Winchell's on our way to school to grab a handful of maple bars for breakfast. Or prior to that when my grandfather and I would take long morning walks around a Orange County lake followed by a stop for a dozen sugar donut holes at Dunkin Donuts. Or even prior to that when Sunday mornings with my father meant stopping for a bursting Jelly Donut somewhere while taking long rides on the back of his motorcycle.

So now many years later I blame my sinful escapade back into donut-land on Andrea Rappaport and being in San Francisco; a city with food creativity so high caliber that you simply must try every new and exciting thing that crosses your path. So during an all day cookbook shoot for my client Chef Aaron Kiefer, (at which we were already eating a constant stream of his meals by the minute), Andrea decides to bring over this decadent box of fried carb deluxe from the Mission District's latest rave Dynamo Donuts.

The store is a simple walk up counter where the daily flavors are listed along with traditional coffee and the donuts range from $2-$3.50 a piece. Our box contained meyer lemon and hucklberry and monte cristo jelly which included chunks of ham and gruyere and plum jam. But the winner was the maple glazed apple bacon, which Chef Aaron made me buy more of to bring home on the plane. Flavors change at the whim of the bakers but when I made my second trip there some of the more pleasurable sounding ones were Caramel de Sel (salt and caramel seems to be a flavor San Francisco is currently obsessed by in ice cream, baked treats and everything else), Lemon Pistachio, and Apricot Cardamom. I am thankful that the store doesn't ship donuts to Palm Springs or I would be cardinal sinning too regularly for my comfort.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Leke Mo Bax- "Eating is Good!"

One of my favorite foodie friends is Chef Andrea Rappaport who lives in San Francisco and whom I had the pleasure to meet for the first time while up there on business last week. Andrea helped open Spago in Vegas and has been written up numerous times for her culinary mastery. So I was thrilled when she told me she was going to take me out one night to a restaurant of her choice in the city. She chose to delight me with African tastes at the Senegalese cuisine joint Bissap Baobab.
The colorful restaurant was packed on a Tuesday night late and we started with appetizers. Aloko was a delicious dish of sliced and fried chewy plantains served with a sweet, creamy tamarind dipping sauce. The Avocat Creole was a half shelved avocado stuffed with spicy crab and rice. The Pasteles were an incredibly chewy and savory deep fried pastry with marinated spinach inside. I fell fast for the Senegalese sweetness and mellow mood that permeated each dish as we sipped our exotic African cocktails. My Fleur (mixture of whisky, tamarind and ginger) made everything go down sunny and warm.
But the piece worthy of my lust was my Crevette Coco entree full of sauteed shrimps in cocunut sauce served with rice and roasted potatoes. Like a sweeter version of curry and in the most creamy, orange colored stew. I am now going to add Senegalese food up there with East Indian as one of my mouth's favorite fares.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Coffee and Carb at San Francisco's La Boulange

I am introducing this new sub-series to Unorthodox Foodie called Coffee and Carb in celebration of those times when we travel for work and are outside our regular regimen and on the hunt for a good strong cup and a carb-laden treat to jump start a long and unfamiliar day. I am one of those people who MUST have a cup of coffee in the morning before I am revived from zombie status to living human but I usually drink it with my mother as we watch the morning news and smack about the paper's morning content. I hardly ever eat carbs but if I do it's for breakfast, and I am one of those people who has to watch my carbs so much that I don't normally waste a dive into carb heaven unless it's something special. When I am out of town, I change. My morning ritual becomes all about finding the new caffeine shack and eating something that smacks of homemade and slow food. This recent week in San Francisco I discovered La Boulange and fell in love. Not only is the coffee cheap and loaded with jolt, the glass counters are filled daily with pastry and frittata-esque tarts and criossants laden with whatever luscious fruits, vegetables and herbs are currently in season. The latest object of my desire was this root vegetable tart that was simply the most sinful vegetable breakfast I have had: flakiest, softest phyllo dough crust smeared with a subtle ricotta cheese spread and laden with chunks of perfectly cooked carrots and turnips and mild white onions which combined to make the definition of the word sweet. I am going to dream about this thing, I know it....massive cup of joe and this tart = only $5.00.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Winter Shakes with Chef Penguin

One of my favorite foodie friends is Julian, otherwise known as Chef Penguin. He's not even ten yet but he is an avid follower of Gordon Ramsey, owns his own miniature carving knife, loves raw oysters, and would rather have sushi in his lunch box than processed foods. He doesn't eat at fast food restaurants, enjoys testing the spiciness and pickled parts in condiment sauces, and fancies himself a pro-homemade pasta maker since he's made quite a few batches with his father in his home in San Francisco while wearing his pint-sized chef's coat.

I arrived in San Francisco last night to stay at his home for a business trip and the cherry on top of the night were the special Winter Shakes we concocted after a dinner of Mission Street carne asada burritos. Julian had me running through the aisles of Safeway looking for old fashioned malted milk and strawberry ice cream before we headed home to whip up these frothy delights. Haagen Dazs ice cream is a must, with it's chunks of juicy, real, whole strawberries, as well as the malted milk--can't bypass that rich, hearty barley sweet thick taste!
Winter Shakes ala Chef Penguin
2 shakes

12 oz. Whole Vitamin D Milk
4 tablespoons Malted Milk Powder
6 scoops Haagen Dazs Strawberry Ice Cream

Pour all ingredients into old fashioned stainless steel shake blender and mix till frothy. Pour into two tall glasses and top with whipped cream made from whipping cream and NO sugar.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Memories of Marsala at Capri

From age ten to fourteen, the highlight of my week was the Friday night trip to Capri Restaurant in Desert Hot Springs with my parents and my sister. John and Mindy, the hosts whose parents owned and ran the restaurant, would always seat us at our favorite table in the plain and completely homestyle, non-pretentious place, and bring us the long narrow glass of skinny breadsticks and warm basket of butter-saturated garlic bread. My stepfather, who perpetually encouraged a sophisticated palate in us desert rat kids, introduced us to the veal marsala entree one day after realizing that all we ever ordered was the ravioli with the big fat meatball, and my sister and I completely fell in love. Tender slices of veal that could be cut with a fork drenched in a sweet marsala wine sauce and dotted with thick, plump and juicy mushrooms...and the best part, soaking up all the extra sauce with that insanely-garlic-saturated bread at the end of the dish. Our second favorite thing was the cappucinno ice cream, which was black and dotted with chewy pieces of dark chocolate covered espresso beans. This was our weekly Friday meal for years. The fact that Capri was located in a city known more for its crime and sordid history than fine culinary arts made the restaurant even better: those all over the Coachella Valley who knew about it, considered it their cherished little secret.

Over twenty years later, my friend and client Chef Aaron, discovered Capri and called to rave enthusiastically about it to me. Osso Buco! Grey Goose Martinis! He could hardly contain his excitement and proceeded to visit the place three times in a few weeks. We decided to have our monthly business dinner there and this past week I stepped foot into the small, non-descript, hole in the wall restaurant once again after years of being away. Nothing had changed, and the people were even the same. I reminisced with John a bit, who hasn't aged, probably a side effect of delivering nightly doses of Italian-style hospitality to lifelong patrons, and was pleasantly surprised to note that the veal marsala hadn't changed either.
You know a restaurant is good when chefs want to eat there and when you see the same faces at the tables twenty years later.