April 29, 2008

Gumbo, Day Two- GUMBO by Guest Blogger Mimi Nunu!

As I mentioned in my last post, I decided to try my hand at a homemade pot of gumbo largely due to not-so-subtle hints my brother had dropped. The first thing that needed to be done was to make a roux. This is described in previous my previous post.

Next I chopped up about what is often referred to as “the Trinity” of New Orleans cooking – celery, green pepper and onion. I used about 2 cups of onion, 1 cup of celery and half cup of green pepper. Most recipes called for more green pepper, but I am not so found of green pepper so I reduced the amount.

I fried the trinity in the roux for a few minutes and then I added 8 cups of chicken broth to the trinity/roux combination.

I decided to add 3 proteins to my gumbo– shrimp, andouille sausage and Cornish game hen. Many recipes said to use either seafood only or sausage and chicken. You can really put whatever you want in it, it’s your gumbo.

I read that game hen would flavor the gumbo better and I had one in the freezer, so I roasted it, shredded it, and added the hen and the drippings to the pot.

I also fried a 12 ounce pack of Aidell’s andouille sausage in olive oil for about 5 minutes, just enough time to carmelize it a bit, and added that to the pot as well.

I then steamed a pound of medium size shrimp in a pot with a handful of chopped celery and Zatarain’s concentrated shrimp and crab boil. You only need to add a drop of this stuff! To say it is spicy is an understatement. Once the shrimp was cool, I removed the shells, chopped into bite-size pieces, and added the shrimp stock and the shrimp to the pot.

Now that all of the proteins were added to the roux/trinity/chicken broth combination, it was time to add some spices. I did not measure any of these I just eyeballed each – fresh parsley, paprike, thyme, oregano, basil, worchestshire, and garlic.

I let the pot of gumbo come to a boil, then lowered heat to a simmer and cooked for about 2 hours.

Finally it was time to eat!

I prepared some ordinary white rice, ladled the gumbo over top of the rice, and added a few splashes of hot sauce to my own individual bowl (my brother, mom and dad also added hot sauce) and we all dove in.

The whole thing was a fairly long process but well worth it. Everyone said it was great and I got my brother’s stamp of approval. He said I can make him gumbo anytime but I think this might be a once a year meal!

Gumbo, Day One- ROUX by Guest Blogger Mimi Nunu!

I am fortunate to say that I have known one person in my life who is as passionate about food as I am! We call her Mimi Nunu, and this is her guest blog:

My brother lived in New Orleans for about 5 years. He moved back home to Philadelphia after Hurricane Katrina. He misses lots of things about NOLA, but one thing he often mentions is that he has not had a good bowl of gumbo since 2005. I’ve thought about making a gumbo for a while now, and I just finally got up the courage to give it a shot. All of the recipes that I read said the same thing - to make a good gumbo, you have to “start with a roux.” Let me start by saying, I have never made a roux before. I didn’t even know what a roux was. A roux is just equal parts of a fat – vegetable oil, butter, or lard - mixed with flour. So I spent a lot of time on the internet, reading about how long it would take and the process. I read a lot of conflicting information – cook it on low for over an hour on stove, bake it for 30 minutes, it should be the color of peanut butter, it should be brick-colored, or the shade of a penny. I combined all of my internet reading with some advice from my brother and a friend who lives deep in Cajun country in Opelousas, Louisiana, and decided I would go with the theory that for gumbo “the darker the roux the better.” The problem is, to get the roux to the required brick shade, you must CONSTANTLY stir it, and I mean CONSTANTLY. If you don’t continue to stir, you run the risk of burning it and you must throw it away and start over. I read that if you burn it, you will see black flecks, it will smell scorched, and it will completely ruin the taste. Let’s just say I am not the most patient person in the world. I had to go against every grain of my normal hot-head personality and step into the mindset of someone else to prepare this roux!

I used vegetable oil as my fat of choice. I mixed 1 cup of all purpose flour with one cup of vegetable oil in a pan.

I combined the flour and the oil in a pan and stirred until all of the flour had dissolved.

I turned the burner on low and just started stirring. After about 30 minutes, it still looked pretty lightly colored, and my patience was starting to go. I had to talk myself out of giving up. All in all I stirred the pan of roux for 70 minutes. But I was very proud of myself for achieving a great brick color without burning it. Patience is key!

After the color looked just about right, I immediately removed from the pan and heat and put in Tupperware to cool. This was probably pretty stupid, since it a burning hot concoction of oil that is often referred to as Cajun napalm, but I didn’t want to dirty any more dishes. It is advised to pour the roux onto a baking sheet or some other heat safe container to cool. My gumbo would be a two day cooking affair. My plan was to prepare the roux on day one, and put together the gumbo on day 2. After 70 minutes of stirring and a very tired arm, I decided to stick with the two day plan. I kept thinking to myself, all of the effort to make this roux better be worth it…

April 28, 2008

South Beach's Miss Yip Chinese Cafe- Skip It!

Since the reviews for Miss Yip have been positive, we couldn't pass up this chance to try it for the first time. It was a picture-perfect day on South Beach when we stopped by Miss Yip for lunch.

Chicken lettuce wrap. Good but not much flavor. As much as I hate to say this, the lettuce wraps are better at P.F. Chang's.

Shrimp won ton. Fine, but not special. Shrimp in won tons and fried. Served with mayo for dipping.

Hot & Sour Soup. JAM said it was delicious, some of the best he has ever had. Had taste and a spicy kick.

Mongolian beef. Run-of-the-mill dish. Nothing interesting enough to order again.

Orange Peel Beef. Good texture. Nothing wrong with it but, again, nothing made it stand out in any way.

We also ordered a Mama Yip Platter, which consisted of steamed dumplings- two pork, two shrimp, two mushroom and two vegetable. They were okay, just not memorable. The pork dumplings outshined the others.

The service was slow and a bit confused despite the fact that we were the only table in our section for a good 15-20 minutes.

Overall, you couldn't say the food was necessarily bad, but it wasn't very good either. Nowhere near as good as Tropical Chinese, and the difference in the cost is negligible. I am suspect as to when the previous reviewers ate at Miss Yip- was it when it first opened? Has there been a change in chefs? I won't go as far as to say I would never try it again- just in case it was an off day, but I'm not in a rush to do so.

After we read our fortunes, we were off to enjoy the rest of our day in the sun. The good company made up for the lackluster food. Hope to have better luck next time...and the eggs.

Miss Yip Chinese Cafe in Miami Beach

April 23, 2008

Big Mama's Pulled Pork is Worth the Trip!

I had to set aside my biases and go against my gut instincts as I walked up to this black and gold hole-in-the-wall. I am fairly certain I am the only Eagles fan who has ever dared to set foot in this Pittsburgh take-out restaurant. I felt like I was crossing a picket line--just look at the building- it's a little too much. But the smell of barbeque overcame me, making me throw all reason out the window. If this wasn't worth the whole trip to Pittsburgh, it was definitely worth the trip downtown in Friday rush hour traffic.

We set out to try Mama's ribs, but they weren't ready, so we sampled pulled pork and chicken with several sides. The pork is to die for- it's juicy and spicy without having to add any hot sauce.

The chicken was delicious, also spicy- we loved the flavors. Most restaurants stick a bottle of hot sauce on the table and leave it up to you. Mama's food comes out already hot, which was a hit with our crowd. The taste of the meat was enhanced by the sauce, and the spice was just enough to give it a good kick, making you crave that next bite!

The sides were all good, but nothing could hold a candle to the pulled pork. This only made me long to try the ribs, which I'll do on my next trip. CBS recently featured Big Mama's on The Early Show as part of the Small Businesses, Big Rescues story. It looks like after a rough first year, Mama and her team got some training and publicity, a little luck, and are here to stay. Mama dreams of making the restaurant a sit-down eatery, and even a restaurant/jazz club.

Mama's cooking does come from the soul, as you'll find out after one bite of any of her dishes. This isn't food that is whipped up without thought and care-- the savory, smoky flavors, secret "Steel City Soppin' Sauce" ingredients and slow cooked barbeque are comforting and deeply soulful. I do pray Mama sees her dream and is able to move to a new location with a sit-down restaurant/jazz club, I just hope that the outside of the building has a better color scheme...and the eggs.

Big Mama's House of Soul in Pittsburgh

April 16, 2008

Tropical Chinese! Finally!

My search is over. It took almost 4 years, but I have found fabulous Chinese food in Miami. JAM's birthday was quickly approaching. JAM is my brother in law and fellow food enthusiast- and the lack of decent Chinese food had been a recurrent conversation topic between us. A trusted co-worker recommended Tropical Chinese and just in time for a birthday dinner!

The Dim Sum:

Ground pork, shrimp and vegetables. Almost the texture of a matzo ball- light, but bursting with flavor. Steamy and soft. Magical. These were my personal favorite.

Shrimp dumplings. Delicious, perfect texture- how do they make these so right, not gummy? I could have stuck to the dim sum and wine for the rest of the meal.

Crispy shrimp roll. Hands down the best spring roll I have ever tasted. The inside was pure shrimp. At this point, I was already looking at my calendar and picking a date to come back to eat only dim sum (during lunch hours, 7 days a week).

Our first entree was Peppercorn Spiced Prawns. Dusted with pepper salt sauce, flash fried and wok tossed with fresh jalepenos. The peppers were so spicy that they flavored the shrimp enough without having to even eat them- but of course, we did.

Shredded Pork in Spicy Szechwan Sauce. Not spicy enough but very good- TLMM and JAM both declared this their favorite entree...

...and my favorite entree- Sizzling Black Pepper Beef. Amazing. Could have been spicier, but maybe I was spoiled by the jalapenos in the shrimp dish.

The wine list has something for all tastes and price ranges. Among the menu items are such delicacies as shark's fin soup, abalone, several duck dishes and roast squab (which must be ordered 2 days in advance). They have hot pots, a long list of vegetarian specialties and all kinds of noodles, including lo-mein, pan-fried and chow fun noodles. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend this restaurant to anyone! It was one of the best Chinese restaurants I have ever had the pleasure to patronize (I have been to hundreds- everywhere from Corpus Christi, Texas to Richmond, Virginia to Eilat, Israel.) It is often said that when a Jewish family moves to a new town, they find a temple first and a Chinese restaurant second. In my family, we found the temple first only because my father is a Rabbi, and it would have been his new place of employment.

As fortune would have it, Mayor Carlos Alvarez and his party were seated at the table next to us just as we were served.

We're going back for Dim Sum- the date has already been set! This restaurant has my highest recommendation of any so far- Four Golden Eggs. Or, in this case, Four Thousand-Year Old Golden Eggs...and the eggs.

Tropical Chinese in Miami

April 12, 2008

Baking for Passover

This has been a busy week, and next week promises to be busier. If I had the luxury of time, I would make three of my mother's Passover recipes for you. Since I don't have time, I am going to give you the recipes. The recipes conform to Ashkenazic dietary laws for Pesach. They're tried and tested, delicious Passover foods. From a Nice Jewish Girl.

Passover Chocolate Chip Cookies

1/2 cup margarine
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 cup cake meal
2 tablespoons matzo meal
1 small package chocolate chips

Cream together shortening and sugar. Add eggs 1 at a time. Add cake meal and matzo meal. Fold in one package chocolate chips. Refrigerate for at least one hour. Drop on greased cookie sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 12-15 minutes.

Blueberry Pesach Muffins

1/2 cup shortening
1 scant cup sugar
1/2 cup cake meal
3 eggs
1/4 cup potato starch
1 cup blueberries
1/4 teaspoon salt

Beat shortening. Add sugar. Beat well. Add eggs one at a time. Add vanilla. Add dry ingredients mixed together (cake meal, potato starch and salt). Lightly grease muffin tins (regular size tins). Bake at 350 for 35-40 minutes.

Pesach Fruit Pudding

8 medium eggs (add 1 at a time)
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup oil (vegetable)
1/2 cup matzo meal
can of crushed pineapple & fruit (medium sized can)
3 sliced apples
1x 12 ounce box cut up prunes
1/2 lb. dried apricots

Beat eggs, sugar, add oil, matzo meal, canned fruits with juice and last 3 fruits. Bake in 350 degree oven for 45 minutes or until top is light brown.

My mother has been famous in each community where we lived growing up for her baking skills, and she did not disappoint at Passover. My personal favorite is the fruit pudding- it's one of those unexpected culinary surprises.

Enjoy your seders and Happy Passover to everyone. If you try any of these, my mother and I would love to hear how they turn out. She'll probably make them- but I will have to live vicariously through you...and the eggs.

April 7, 2008

Bethenny Frankel's Ratatouille

One of my guilty pleasures is a little addiction to reality television. I'm not so much into Idol and Dancing as I am into getting to "know" people and seeing human interaction as caught (and edited) on tape. My favorite Real Housewife of New York City is, of course, Bethenny. Bethenny likes to cook, bet on the ponies, play with her dog and tell it like it is. She has a website here- Bethenny Bakes. I recently clicked on the recipe link and decided on ratatouille, with a few minor adjustments based on the vegetables I had on hand.

1 large eggplant (I used 3 small), cubed
2 medium zucchini, sliced
1 large yellow onion, roughly chopped
3 spring onions, sliced
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
3 small ripe tomatoes
toasted pine nuts (as many as you like)
pinch of basil and crushed red pepper (if you like heat)
salt to taste
pepper to taste (I used white pepper)
olive oil

Coat high heat pan with olive oil and add onions. When that gets going and the onions start to turn opaque, add eggplant. Add garlic and zucchini, let it cook for awhile until everything begins to soften. Add tomatoes, and basil, red pepper, salt and pepper.

Let it cook over medium high heat for about 8 more minutes until everything just starts to carmelize. If the ratatouille is your main course, you're finished! It's ready to serve.

I had a pork loin roast to use- and was in the mood for mustard sauce.

1 pork loin roast sliced in half (or two pork tenderloins which they didn't have at Publix)
olive oil, kosher salt and fresh ground pepper

Season pork with kosher salt and pepper, and place in pan coated with olive oil over high heat. Sear on all sides- about 10 minutes.

Cover and turn heat to medium-low and set timer for 20 minutes. Turn a few times during the 20 minutes. Meat should be cooked to an internal temp of 150. Remove from pan and cover loosely with foil.

Reserve juices in pan, and after 5 minutes, add any additional juices from the plate where you put the pork. Heat juices in pan to medium. Add 1/4 cup whole-grain mustard, 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard and 2 tablespoons of sour cream. Whisk until heated through but do not let it boil.

Slice pork and spoon mustard sauce on top!

The flavor and texture of the pork was perfect- the mustard sauce had zing and spice-exactly what we like. The sauce would also be tasty on beef (if you like mustard, which I happen to love).

Back to Bethenny-- her recipes are tweaked to be healthier versions of classics and to be realisitic recipes we can all make with our busy schedules and available ingredients. The ratatouille was delicious, full flavor and satisfying enough to be a vegetarian main dish. Her recipe did not include highly specific instructions (the recipe calls for 1 large eggplant but does not tell you how to slice it), but that works for some recipes because it gives you the opportunity to tweak things the way your family likes them. For example, I added white pepper and spring onions. I think I will test her lychee martinis next...and the eggs.

Birthday Fun!

We celebrated TLMM's birthday over the weekend with old favorites. On Saturday (the actual anniversary of the blessed event) we had dinner at Samurai, which is owned by Benihana. Birthday Japanese steakhouse dinners are quickly becoming a family tradition. It's guaranteed fun for people of all ages! TLMM's brother, JAM, had the most unique dish- it was calamari- but at Samurai they cook it with asparagus and fresh tomato right on the hot sizzling grill. Definitely different from other Japanese steakhouse fare, and quite delicious. Thank you for dinner, JAM.

TLMM asked for fondue for her birthday meal- it was one day late but the triple threat of cheese fondue, hot-pot with filet mignon and Key West pink shrimp followed by chocolate fondue was definitely worth the wait. See my early January post here for the recipes. The combination grass fed/grain fed filet mignon was like butter. We took our time, moving from one course to the next and taking our time with a glass or two of Shiraz. By the time we moved on to the chocolate course, it was all we could do to find room. She loved it! Happy Birthday, TLMM- here is to another fantastic year to come...and the eggs.