Saturday, October 27, 2012


The King is here! King Cake that is.....


King Cake
 Now that the holidays have past and Mardi Gras is just   around    the corner, thoughts here in New Orleans turn to King cake. In t this article we will take a brief look at the history and tradition of King cake and I'll give you a neat trick for preparing the cake in under 20 minutes!


King cakes date back to the 1660's. They are found in Latin, Spanish, and French origins but all have the same meaning. It's a celebration of the Epiphany and named after the three wise men that visited the baby Jesus on the eve of his birth.

King cakes are traditionally a cinnamon sweet dough cake,
Baby Figurines
baked in a circle and glazed with colored sugar crystals.

Before baking, a small plastic baby figurine is hidden inside the cake.  The tradition is the person who is served the slice of cake with the baby is to have good fortune for the rest of the year. One other thing, they are also responsible for supplying the King cake for next years party.






Cake Ingredients 




Now, here's a neat trick for easily preparing a King cake. You won't even need a mixing bowl!



1)     Open the roll of Cinnamon buns and separate them. Gently, un-roll each individual bun producing a long strand of cinnamon dough.

2)     Using three strands of dough, braid them their entire length. Repeat until all strands have been braided. Now, hide the baby in one of the strands.

3)     On a parchment lined sheet tray, place the braids in a circular pattern and pinch the ends of the braids together to produce one continuous circle.

4)     Bake in a preheated 350 degree until golden and when tapped, produces a hollow sound, generally around 16-18 minutes.

5)     Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly. Glaze with icing and decorate with the colored sugar crystal.  Now that was easy!

King Cake


Enjoy the Mardi Gras season and have a slice of King cake for me!


Ciao,
Chef Joe


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Grand Concourse, Pittsburgh, PA - facebook.com/GrandConcourse

Gandy Saloon, Pittsburgh, PA - facebook.com/GandyDancerSaloon

Meriwether's, Southfield, MI - facebook.com/Meriwethers

River Crab, St Clair, MI - facebook.com/RiverCrab



  

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Ever Wonder How Tabasco Sauce is Made?



Well, I did. So I decided to take a field trip to Avery Island. That's the home of the McIlhenny plantation and the Tabasco factory. This is a must do for foodies that have a passion for spicy foods and new ingredients  The tour is fun and educational, the island is beautiful but the real fun comes when you get back to your kitchen with some of your new found souvenirs.  More on that later.


Edmund McIlhenny was the master mind behind Tabasco.  In the 1860's, he received some seeds of the beloved capscium pepper from an associate from Mexico or Central America. He planted the seeds and when they were the perfect ripeness, he picked them and began experimenting with a pepper sauce recipe. 



Believe it or not, people of that era complained that the gulf coast cuisine was very bland. He gave the sauce to friends and family and everyone raved. McIlhenny quit his job as a New Orleans banker and started a new business.  The rest is hisory...

The Process Behind the Treasure!

Introducing the capsicum pepper. The pepper was officially renamed by the U.S. Government in 1917 as the Tabasco pepper. 


Capsicum Pepper
 When they are at the peak of ripeness, the peppers are hand picked and are immediately ground with a small amount of salt. Next, the "mashed" peppers are placed in oak barrels and sealed.  The lids of the barrels are then drilled with several holes. Afterwards, salt is packed on the lids. The holes allow gasses to escape during the fermentation process while the salt prevents air from seeping into the peppers.

Aging Tabasco Mash
Remember the song "Time in a bottle"? Nothing could be more true of Tabasco pepper sauce.  The mashed pepper are aged in these barrels for over three years! When they are removed the peppers are mixed with vinegar, Avery Island sea salt and a few other secret ingredients. That mixture goes into large vats and is stirred constantly for 30 days.

Assembly Line
Think about this. In his first year of business, McIllhenney made 658 bottles of Tabasco pepper sauce. Today, the company produces over 700,000 bottles a day. 




Vinegar Truck

That being said, I asked how much vinegar do the buy. The tour guide pointed over her shoulder and said, "Here one of today's deliveries now!" That's a lot of vinegar!!



The Country Store
The Tasting Counter
After the tour I visited the Tabasco Country Store. Here you can by everything Tabasco. They have clothing, glassware, Christmas ornaments, books, nicknacks and most exciting to me... a wealth of different foods. There is a full line of different pepper sauces, BBQ sauce, pepper jellies, chips and so on. 



What's more, there is a tasting counter where the let you try experimental items. I tried Tabasco Coke and it was great. Sweet and spicy make perfect culinary sense.  I also tried the Tabasco ice cream.  That was very good as well.

Tabasco Mash

Now for the best part. In the back of the store, there is a large reach-in refrigerator. Inside were bags and bags of my new found treasure! When the vat of mashed peppers and vinegar is strained, the juice is bottled and the solids are bagged and put into this refrigerator. I love this ingredient!! I've been playing around with different recipes using Tabasco "mash" as a flavoring agent.  It makes a great addition to sauces and marinades. I gave some to Gary, a friend of mine and he came up with an interesting idea.  He has become quite the expert at beef jerky. His first batch of Tabasco mash jerky could have melted the plastic bag he put it in.  Moral of the story...a little mash goes a long way.  The second batch of Tabasco jerky was a home run!!

One of my favorite uses is in marinades. Below is a recipe for Avery Island Marinade. I've used this on everything from shrimp to chicken to redfish and all are superb. After marinating,  just throw the item and the grill and cook as you normally would.  The result is a wonderful flavor of peppers, vinegar and salt. Try it! You can't go wrong.

Avery Island Marinade

Extra Virgin Olive Oil - 1/2 cup
Garlic, minced - 1 tsp.
Red Wine Vinegar - 2 tsp.
Kosher Salt - 1 tsp.
Tabasco Mash - 1 Tbl.


Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and mix well.  Great for marinating chicken, shrimp and fish.



Avery Island Shrimp, Andouille & Pepper Jack Mashed Potatoes, Smoked Tomato Gravy


 Ciao,

Chef Joe


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Tuesday, March 27, 2012




The History of Barbecued Shrimp
    Introducing Pascal Manale's

In the early 1900's, a young Italian man and his family decided to emigrate to the United States.  Their final destination, New Orleans. In 1913, he opened his namesake restaurant, Pascal Manale's. This restaurant is an icon in the hospitality field of the city.  What's more, it's credited for creating New Orleans Barbecued Shrimp. To this day, this dish remains a mainstream delicacy found on menus throughout the city.

Now, this is not what you would typically think when the word "Barbecued" appears in the title.  It is far from grilled shrimp basted with a zesty tomato sauce. Instead, it's a wonderful concoction of broiled shrimp in a very flavorful butter sauce. Intrigued with the history, I decided to go exploring to experience the roots of the dish first hand.     


Pascals Manale's 

Driving to the restaurant was a bit of an experience. Manale's is located in what is known as "Uptown", New Orleans. At first, I was certain that I either had the wrong address or at the very least, I was lost.  You see, Uptown is a residential neighborhood. Seeing large city homes one after another on this thoroughfare lined with large oak trees, this is the last place I expected to find a fabulous restaurant.  Then low and behold, it was in front of me.  It appears that back in the time of its inception, many entrepreneurs used part of their home for their business.  And that's just what this looked like, someone's home.

Getting into the restaurant was harder than I thought. Not that it was overly crowded; there was no front door!  The entrance is actually a side door and when you cross the threshold, you find yourself standing in the middle of a large barroom. Along one wall was a long antique bar.  The personable and very professional bartender served me a local beer and as I turned to survey the room, my eyes lit up. On the opposite side of the room was a very inviting marble raw bar.  I was in the mood for some great Gulf oysters.  I inquired with the bartender about the oysters. He said "Just tell me what you want, I'll ring it up, you get a token, then go make yourself at home". It was just that simple but beware, it's cash only when your in the bar.


Uptown T
As I approached the raw bar, I could tell the shucker was a real pro. I slide my token across the marble bar and the attendant introduces himself as Thomas, but he said "everyone calls me Uptown T".  It was a casual and friendly environment with lots of camaraderie.  More importantly, "T" was very good at his trade. 

The Oyster Bar
He shucked oyster after oyster with proficiency. They were plump, salty and just what I was in the mood for.  One curious thing though; when standing at the raw bar, there are no plates.  As "T" shucks, he just sets them right on the bar in front of you.  But that didn't deter me in the least! After I whet my appetite, it was off to the dining room to see the star of the show.

The dining room was large and well lighted. The tables were cover in white linen and the servers were in formal attire.  After surveying the menu for a moment, I decided on the Insalata Manale and the signature BBQ Shrimp.

The Salad
The house salad was a generous portion of crisp baby greens tossed in a traditional Italian vinaigrette (made with exceptional olive oil, red wine vinegar and herbs). The dressed greens were garnished with slices of ripe Roma tomatoes, olives, diced provolone cheese and pepperoncinis. All was lightly dusted with freshly grated Parmesan cheese. A delicious salad but in my humble opinion, a bit steep at $9.50.
  
After finishing my salad, one of the back waiters quickly removed my plate without me hardly noticing. Next my server arrived wearing a big smile and holding a large white bib.  As she stood behind me, securing it around my neck, she stated it was "required equipment". Only later would I know what she meant. 

And now, the moment for which I was waiting.  The server quickly returned with a large white bowl teeming with colossal head on shrimp, swimming in a rich butter sauce.  In addition, she delivered a loaf of freshly baked crusty bread, another piece of "required equipment" for the meal.

My guess is that the shrimp were 8 count, meaning there are approximately 8 shrimp per pound. I counted 14 shrimp in my order and they were perfectly cooked. The butter sauce was very interesting.  Very flavorful but not "burn the house down" spicy. There were favors and aromas of lemon, pepper (both cayenne and black), garlic, herbs and Worcestershire sauce.  The butter was not a creamy sauce but rather a separated butter with most of the flavorful ingredients sinking to the bottom of the bowl: cue the crusty bread.  I was now starting to figure out the "required equipment".  I eagerly peeled the shrimp, swirling them in the butter to pick up all the flavors before eating them. As I worked through the shrimp, I occasionally stopped to break bread for dunking. After I finished, my plate was removed and I now understand the reason for the other piece of "required equipment". There was butter dripping down my front and my place setting was something you might find after a 4 year old ate.  Butter drips and bread crumbs everywhere!

This was a real treat and the entire experience was wonderful.

Now, all that being said, I'll let you in on a little secret. We prepare Barbecued Shrimp at Landry's Seafood.  Although different in a couple of aspects, I'll put our dish up against Pascal's anytime. Here are the differences.

First, our version is an appetizer. If you want to try something new, you don't have to bet your whole meal on whether it's your cup of tea or not.  Secondly, our shrimp is peeled.  No need for a bib and a little more user friendly.  Lastly, our butter sauce is a creamy homogenized sauce so all the flavors and ingredients are suspended through out the dish. Not sure if Pascal Manale's will share their recipe with you but I'm happy to share ours. Give it a try. I'm sure you'll become addicted.



Pascal Manale's BBQ Shrimp
Landry's Seafood BBQ Shrimp



   


New Orleans BBQ Shrimp 
Serves 2

10 each   Large Shrimp (16-20 count), peeled, deveined, tail on
2 pieces French Bread, 6" in length
4Tbl. Garlic Butter
1 oz. (v) Clarified Butter
1 1/2 tsp.  Minced Garlic
2 Tbl. Green Onion, cut 1/4"
1 oz. (v) Worchestershire Sauce
1 oz. (v) Heavy Cream
3/4 cup New Orleans BBQ Butter
chopped parsley for garnish

1.  Using a serrated knife, cut a shallow pocket in the French bread approx. 5" long. Spread 2 Tbl. of garlic butter in the dug out section of each piece of French bread. Place the bread on a baking tray and bake in a pre-heat 375 degree oven until toasted and golden, approx. 5 minutes

2.  In a large sauté pan, heat the clarified butter over medium high heat. Add the shrimp and sauté for 1 minute, turning the shrimp frequently.  Add the garlic and green onions and sauté for an additional minute, stirring well.

3. Deglaze the pan with worchestershire sauce and heavy cream.  Bring to a boil and reduce the liquid by half.

4. Turn the heat to low and add the BBQ butter. Using a spoon, swirl the butter into the pan liquid as it melts forming a creamy butter sauce. Allow the shrimp to poach in the butter sauce until firm to the touch and cooked through, approx. 2-3 minutes

To plate:
Place one toasted bread "boat" in the center of each plate.  Using tongs, evenly divide the shrimp between the two loaves of bread, arranging the shrimp in the cavity. Pour the pan butter sauce evenly over and around the shrimp on each plate. Sprinkle chopped parsley over the shrimp.

New Orleans BBQ Butter
1 lb. Unsalted Butter
1 Tbl. Crystal Hot Sauce (or substitute Tabasco Sauce)
2 Tbl. Cajun Seasoning (such as McCormick's or Tony Chachere's) 
1 Tbl. Lemon Pepper Seasoning
1 tsp. Dried Rosemary
juice from half of a lemon

Cut the butter into 1" cubes. Place in a mixing bowl and allow to soften at room temperature. Add the remaining ingredients and mix until all ingredients are thoroughly incorporated. Transfer to a suitable storage container, cover and refrigerate until needed.


 Ciao,

Chef Joe


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Meriwether's, Southfield, MI - facebook.com/Meriwethers

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Friday, February 17, 2012

 At Last……….Crawfish Season is Here!!


My Daughter Maggie
Due to last year’s drought in the Southeast, this year’s crawfish season started off slowly……and pricey.  Thankfully, due to recent warming weather and plentiful rain, the season is picking up nicely and expected to be better than average. When the weather warms, “mudbugs” move and eat more, making them grow larger and sweeter.


Crawfish pond in Eunice, Louisiana

From just a few experimental ponds in the 1950’s, Louisiana’s pond acreage has grown to nearly 200,000 acres today.  Wanting to learn more about this wonderful resource, I decided to go to the source. I had a very informative conversation with Jude Andrepoint of Lafayette, Louisiana.  He’s a wealth of information on crawfish.  Click on the link below and I hope you enjoy the interview! After the conversation has completed return to this page using ONLY the back arrow at the top of the page, otherwise you will close out the blog.
Carrying on from Jude’s comments, here are a few fun facts about crawfish and his recipe for a true Crawfish Boil:

  • Crawfish, also known as crayfish, crawdads and mudbugs, are members of the super family Astacoidea. They are a fresh water crustacean resembling small lobster to which they are related.
  • Louisiana produces 98% of the US crawfish 
  • market.

  • 85% of crawfish production comes from man made ponds. The balance is fished “wild” from the regional bayous in Louisiana.

  • In 2010, 1,202 producers sold 110.9 million pounds of crawfish from ponds. That represents $168.5 million dollars in revenue. In the wild, 1715 fisherman harvested 16.6 million pounds worth and estimated $13.3 million dollars.

  • There is no defined season for crawfish but the best of the season is expected from March to July.

  • With the warming weather in June, crawfish mate and then burrow in the mud. Come August, females lay their eggs. During this time, fresh rains are crucial for a proper hatch. As the weather cools in October, crawfish leave their burrows, begin to eat and the growth cycle begins.

 Jude’s Traditional Crawfish Boil







Jude's Crawfish Boil

3 gallons         Water
1 lb.                   Swamp Dust
1/2 lb.               Salt
1 cup                 Lemon Juice
10 lbs.              Crawfish, purged (see note below)
6 ears               Corn, shucked and cut in half
6 each              Onions, peeled and quartered
12 each             New Potatoes
12 each             Large Mushrooms (optional)
1 lb.                   Andouille Sausage, cut into 4" lengths
1 lb.                   Brussels Sprouts 
1 cup                 Swamp Dust (this is in addition to the 1lb above)

In a large stock pot fitted with a perforated bucket, bring the water, Swap Dust, Onions, Red Potatoes, Salt and Lemon Juice to a boil for 10 minutes.

Add the Sausage and boil for 3 more minutes.

Add the Corn, Potatoes, Brussels Sprouts, and optional Mushrooms. Boil for 3 minutes.

Add the Crawfish, stir well and cook for 4 minutes. Shut off the fire and let soak for 2 min

Remove the basket from the stock pot and allow excess liquid to drain.

If you are cooking more that one batch, place in an ice chest to keep hot

Pour the contents of the basket onto a paper lined table. (Old newspaper works great for this, that is if anyone still reads the actual paper news paper anymore. If not go get one of the free weekly papers, this is the best use for them anyway.)

Sprinkle 1 cup of Swamp Dust over the cooked Crawfish and Vegetables.

 Cook's Note - To purge Crawfish, fill an empty ice chest half full with cold water. Add 1/4 cup of salt to the water and stir well. Add the Crawfish to the ice chest, gently stir and allow to sit in the salted water for 10 minutes.

Remove the Crawfish from the water and drain.

Drain the ice chest  and rinse the Crawfish well with cold water.  The Crawfish are now ready for cooking.

 Dip Recipe -  Mayo, seasoning, ketchup and tiger sauce, mix all to your spice level, dip is good for veggies and crawfish. 

Now get dirty, there is no way to eat crawfish cleanly, don’t be shy you will get juice on your cloths, so wear something old. And don’t for get the cold beer. Can’t eat crawfish without cold beer




 Ciao,
Chef Joe


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Sunday, February 5, 2012

Baking Caneles



Move over gourmet cupcakes………….. 
there’s a new sheriff in town.



The Art of Baking Caneles

 In recent years we have seen resurgence in cupcakes. Whether driven by TV shows or boutique bakeries, cupcakes have reached new heights. Well gourmet cupcakes…….move over, there’s a new sheriff in town.

My Daughter Maggie
Ladies and gentlemen, meet the canele.  This small pastry from the south of France is making a true come back. Today we’ll look at the history and lore of the canele. In addition, I’ll share a sure fire recipe for success as well as some helpful cooking and handling tips.

A traditional canele is a small hand held pastry with a deep caramel “shell like” skin.  This crisp shell is a wonderful contrast to the creamy custard center, flavored with vanilla and rum. The shell is developed by baking the pastry in a special copper mold lined with tin. These molds are crown shaped and generally 2 ½” in diameter and 2” in height.

Canele

The canele dates back over 300 years to the Bordeaux region of France. Many foods don’t have a story behind them; the canele has several.

First, it is rumored that the nuns from the Convent of Annonciades  (Convent of Mercy) developed the recipe using egg yolks donated to them by neighboring wine maker’s.  The wine maker’s used egg whites for clarifying their wines but had no use for the yolks. There have been several archaeological digs at the site of the Convent. No records indicate ever finding the traditional copper molds use for baking the pastry. Most likely, this is not the genesis of the canele, but the next tale may very well be.

The second story goes like this. Residents living along the docks of Bordeaux would gather low protein (cake) flour that was spilled when unloading boats. They would use this flour to make a batter, pour it into copper molds and bury them in the embers of a fire to bake. The resulting pastries were given to the poor children for nourishment.

And now for a bit of history.

As I mentioned, first records for the canele date back 300 years to Bordeaux. As recently as 30 years ago, caneles began sprouting up in other cities such as London, Singapore and Los Angeles. These versions we often alter with non-traditional flavorings such as coconut and mango.

To protect the integrity of their national treasure, 88 bakeries in Bordeaux formed a consortium in 1985. The original spelling of the pastry was with two “n”s. The consortium decided to drop one of the “n”s from the original spelling of the pastry to differentiate their cake from the bastardized versions.  To this date, the recipe is a closely guarded secret.

The basic premise for preparing caneles is to pour cold batter into cold copper molds and bake them in a very hot oven for a very long time. This produces the crisp skin.  They are best consumed after one hour of preparation.  After 5-6 hours, they can become soggy but bakers have devised different tricks to bring the pastry back to life.

Caneles  are good anytime of the day. For breakfast, or as a mid day snack with a cup of coffee and a perfect way to end dinner with a glass of great red wine.

I hope you enjoy the treats!

Inside the Canele



Caneles              Yield: 10 cakes

2 cups                 Whole Milk
2 Tbl.                  Unsalted Butter, chilled and cubed
¾ cup                 Cake Flour
Pinch                  Salt
1 cup + 2 Tbl.   Granulated Sugar
4 each                 Large Egg Yolks
1 Tbl.                   Dark Rum
1 tsp.                   Pure Vanilla Extract
as needed          White Oil*


Heat the milk to 185°

Place the flour, butter and salt in the work bowl of a food processor.  Pulse to mix and create a coarse meal. Remove the lid, sprinkle the sugar over the surface of the mixture, replace the lid and pulse once or twice to mix.

Add the egg yolks and process until a thick mixture is formed.

With the motor running, quickly add the milk in a steady stream.

Strain the mixture through a fine chinoise. Add the rum and vanilla, mix well, cover and store refrigerated for 24-48 hours.

 Six hours prior to baking, lightly brush in the inside of the molds with warmed white oil.  Invert the molds on a paper towel to allow excess oil to drain. Place the molds in the freezer for a minimum of 30 minutes.

Pre heat the oven to 400° (if using a convection oven, set the temperature to 375°)

Remove the batter from the refrigerator and stir well.  Fill the molds nearly to the top and bake on the lower rack of the oven for 1 ¾ - 2 hours.

Remove from the oven. Using oven mitts, unmold the cakes as quickly as possible and allow to stand for 1 hour before serving. If the cakes stick to the mold, return to the oven for another 5 minutes.

*White Oil
1 oz. (w)             Bee’s Wax
As needed         Vegetable Oil, (approx. 1/3rd cup)

Place the bee’s wax in a glass bowl and melt in the microwave with medium high heat.

Once melted, stir in the vegetable oil until a slightly thickened, white liquid is formed. The final consistency should lightly coat the back of a spoon.

Note: Canele molds can be found on line from JB Prince and Company, New York, New York

 Ciao,
Chef Joe


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Grand Concourse, Pittsburgh, PA - facebook.com/GrandConcourse

Gandy Saloon, Pittsburgh, PA - facebook.com/GandyDancerSaloon

Meriwether's, Southfield, MI - facebook.com/Meriwethers

River Crab, St Clair, MI - facebook.com/RiverCrab