Showing posts with label Cooking Video. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Cooking Video. Show all posts

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Cold Weather, Hot Plantains, Delicious Costa Rican Patacones

As a remedy to rain, snow and cold temperatures, patacones, a Costa Rican treat, will brighten up a meal. Warm, crisp and savory, patacones are one of many ways to prepare plantains.


I was intimidated by plantains. Having eaten them in Latin American restaurants, I knew they were good when served with roast chicken, rice and beans. But seeing them in the market, I had no idea how to cook them.


A trip to Costa Rica changed all that when a chef demonstrated how plantains are easy to prepare and delicious.

Plantains vs. Bananas

Unlike bananas, their ready-to-eat cousins, plantains need to be cooked before being eaten. Naturally fibrous and a good source of potassium, while they look like fat bananas, they are starchy when green and become sweeter as their thick bark-like peel turns black.


Delightfully easy to cook, plantains are used to create side dishes and desserts.

Available all year round and grown primarily in the southern hemisphere, plantains are cooked in a great many ways. Steamed, deep fried, sautéed, boiled, baked and grilled.

The first time I visited a Mexican market in Los Angeles, I noticed what I thought were bunches of very large bananas with mottled yellow and black skins. I thought the fruit was spoiled. In fact, those were plantains not bananas. I subsequently learned that when the peel turns from green to yellow and finally to black, the starches in the plantain have converted into sugars.

Patacones - a Costa Rican Treat

In his kitchen at Villa Buena Onda, an upscale boutique hotel on the Pacific Coast in Costa Rica's Guanacaste Provence, Chef Gabriel Navarette demonstrated how to prepare patacones.


Plantains are easy to make, I cook them all the time. The only difficulty is finding a market that sells them. Not available in supermarkets in most U.S. cities, it is best to find markets serving the Spanish-speaking community. Those markets, usually mom-and-pop businesses, are also a good source of mangoes, papayas, tomatillos, chayote, fresh chiles, Latin spices and a good selection of dried beans and rice.

Navarette demonstrated how to prepare plantains three ways.

He stuffed green plantains with cheese and baked them in the oven. He flattened green plantains and fried them twice to make patacones, thick, crispy chips served with pico de gallo, black beans, guacamole or ceviche. And, he caramelized yellow plantains to serve alongside black beans and rice for the Costa Rican dish called casado which always has a protein such as chicken, fish, pork or beef.


Villa Buena Onda, known locally as VBO, is an intimate destination with eight rooms. Feeling more like a private home than a hotel, a stay at VBO includes all three meals. Having a personal chef during the stay makes the experience even more luxurious. Navarette and his fellow chefs make each dish to order.

Navarette studies at Instituto Nacional de Aprendizaje, a prominent school training professionals in many fields. He worked in resort and hotel kitchens, moving up the ranks from server to line cook, then as a sous chef and finally as the head chef at VBO for the past ten years.

What attracted me to his food, as well as that of his cousin Chef Diego Chavarria on the weekend and Chef Rosa Balmaceda in the morning, was that each dish tasted home cooked, plated in the most beautiful five-star way.


Aided by translator Céasar Allonso Carballo, Navarrete was happy to show me how to cook plantains. I was amazed at how easy they are to prepare.


Cooking black plantains to serve as a dessert is the essence of simplicity. Peel each plantain, heat a half-inch of safflower or corn oil in a carbon steel pan over a medium flame, cut the plantain into rounds or in half lengthwise and cut into 5-inch long sections.  Fry on both sides until lightly browned, drain on paper towels and serve. All that can be done in five to eight minutes. The sweet plantains are an excellent way to end a meal.

Crisp and savory patacones are slightly more complicated to prepare, but not much more so.

Patacones from the kitchen of Villa Buena Onda

Yellow or black plantains should not be used to make patacones because they are too soft.

In the VBO kitchen, Navarette uses a deep fryer to cook patacones. That is fast and easy so he can keep up with the orders, but I discovered at home that by using a carbon steel pan I was able to achieve a similar result using less oil with an easier clean up.

The oil may be reused by straining out cooked bits and storing in a refrigerated, air-tight container.

Enjoy the patacones with an ice-cold beer and, as the Costa Rica's say, Pura vida! Life is good because everything is OK.

Prep time:  5 minutes

Cooking time:  10 minutes

Total time: 15 minutes

Yield:  4 servings

Ingredients

2 green plantains, washed

8 cups corn or safflower oil in a deep fryer or 1 cup oil in a sauté pan

Sea salt and black pepper to taste (optional)

Directions


1. Cut the ends off each green plantain. Using a sharp knife, carefully cut along the length of the tough peel being careful not to cut the flesh of the plantain. Pry off the peel and discard.

2. Preheat oil in a deep fryer to 350 F or a half-inch of oil in a large sauté pan over a medium flame.

3. Cut each plantain into 5 or 6 equal sized rounds.


4. Place the rounds into the deep fryer for 3 to 4 minutes or until lightly browned. In the sauté pan, turn frequently for even cooking, which take about 5 to 8 minutes to brown.


5. Remove, drain on paper towels and allow to cool.

6. Prepare one round at a time. Put the round on a prep surface. Place a sturdy plate on top of the round. Press firmly in the middle of the plate until the plantain round flattens. Work assembly-line fashion until all plantains are flattened.


7. Place the flattened plantains into the deep fryer for 2 minutes, or 4 minutes in the oil in the sauté pan as before. Turn as necessary to cook until lightly browned on all sides.

8. Remove from the oil, place on paper towels to drain and cool.

9. Season with sea salt and black pepper (optional).


10. Serve at room temperature with sides of black beans, pico de gallo, sour cream or ceviche or all four so guests and mix and match.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Holiday Baking - Sfogliatella - the Best Italian Pastry You Can’t Pronounce

Growing up in Los Angeles, and this was many years ago, the closest I got to an Italian meal was opening a can of Chef Boyardee SpaghettiOs. Only when I moved to Providence to teach at Rhode Island College did I experience authentic Italian cuisine. Living close to Federal Hill, the historic center of the city’s Italian community, I had easy access to Italian delis that imported cheeses, pastas and charcuterie directly from Italy. Every block had a small bakery making cakes, pies, cookies, breads and pastries according to recipes handed down for generations.

I discovered cannoli filled with ricotta cheese studded with flakes of bittersweet chocolate. Twice baked biscotti with almonds. Pastry cream filled zeppole, a fat doughnut of sugared dough, baked or deep fried. I loved them all, but my favorite was a seashell shaped pastry, the deliciously crisp sfogliatella.
What makes this Tuscan pastry so famous is a crunchy flakiness outside and a sturdy, sweet ricotta cheese filling inside. Imagine the best croissant with a thick custardy filling.  And, by the way, the “g” is silent, so sfogliatella is pronounced “sfo-li-a-tella.”

Holiday baking

Some recipes are best saved for the holidays or special occasions when helping hands are available to join in the cooking. Making tamales on your own isn’t easy, but at holidays when you are joined by friends and family, the repetitive work becomes social and fun. The same for making Chinese dumplings filled with savory ground pork and spices.

For me, I’m making sfogliatelle with my family. Happily the pastry can be made in stages, so the work can be spread out over several days. The dough and ricotta filling can be made on separate days and refrigerated. Assembling the sfogliatelle can be saved for yet another day. And, the completed, unbaked pastries can be kept in the freezer for months, available on a moment’s notice to brighten an afternoon tea break or a weekend dinner party.

Executive Pastry Chef Federico Fernandez

For years I searched for an easy-to-follow recipe without success. When I was told that Executive Pastry Chef Federico Fernandez would demonstrate making sfogliatelle in his kitchen at the Four Seasons Los Angeles at Beverly Hills, I jumped at the opportunity.
Born in Buenos Aires, Fernandez is a worldly student of South American, French and Italian cuisine. His pastries have been served at some of the world’s most elegant hotels, the Park Hyatt, the Marriott Plaza, the Fontainebleau and now the Four Seasons. Before we met, I admired his work on Instagram. His elegantly beautiful pastries are amazing.
Making sfogliatelle requires patience, muscle work and an attention to details. Demonstrating how to make sfogliatelle for the YouTube video on Secrets of Restaurant Chefs, the very affable Fernandez showed how the process can be fun. I enjoyed the passion he puts into baking. He is an artist with a soul and a good sense of humor. While he worked, he filled my head with technical details about the art of baking and fed me samples that put me into culinary heaven.

Sfogliatelle

All-purpose flour could be used, but that would be a mistake. Fernandez uses bread flour because its higher gluten strength gives the dough more elasticity. That allows the dough to be worked repeatedly to create sfogliatelle’s characteristic flaky layers.

In the video, Fernandez uses a recipe to make 50 sfogliatelle. Not that he bakes that many at one time. He freezes the unbaked pastries, taking out each morning only the number he needs for the hotel’s breakfast service. Freezing does not diminish the quality of the sfogliatella which are freshly baked before serving.

To make his sfogliatelle, Fernandez includes semolina flour in the dough to add color and texture. He also uses semolina in the filling because that is a traditional ingredient and because Semolina gives the filling density as well as its characteristic yellow color. By contrast, pastry cream which is not as dense would melt when the sfogliatelle are baked in a hot oven.

Fernandez uses a room-sized Rondomat sheeter machine to flatten and stretch the dough. “Little by little,” as he says in the video, the dough softens and thins. At home you will use a rolling pin and a lot of elbow grease. Have friends help with the process or take breaks. If you want to rest, place a damp kitchen towel over the dough.

Creating multiple layers gives the pastry its distinctive crispy, flaky quality. This is the most labor intensive part of the process. The result is worth the effort.

If you do not have a small rolling pin, pick up a ½ - ¾ ” dowel, 5-6” in length from a lumber yard or hardware store. When you get home, sand the dowel and treat with a light film of safflower oil. Dry and clean before using.
Special equipment

2 large, sturdy rolling pins

1 small rolling pin or ½ - ¾ ” dowel, 5-6 long

Wooden spoon

Wire whisk

A large work surface

A heavy duty electric mixer

1 metal ring, 3 ½” 4 in diameter, the ring of a small spring-form pan will do nicely

Parchment paper or Silpat sheets

Yield: 10 -12 sfogliatelle

Time: 4 hours + refrigeration overnight for the dough

The Dough

Sfogliatelle are famous for being deliciously crisp. Three things create that wonderful quality, a dozen+ paper thin layers of dough with fat between the layers and using bread flour with more gluten to create thin, stretchable sheets of dough.  

For the fat, unsalted butter can be used, but Fernandez recommends an equal mix of unsalted butter and Sweetex Z or Crisco because butter melts too easily. Please note that Sweetex is an artificially sweetened fat. Fernandez uses a different product, Sweetex Z which has zero trans fats.

Even though fat is essential to making the sfogliatelle's layers crisp, in the heat of a 400F oven, the fat all but disappears.

Ingredients for dough

4 cups bread flour
2 cups semolina flour
3 teaspoons kosher salt
1 ½ tablespoons honey
1 cup + 1 tablespoon water
4 cups unsalted butter, room temperature or 2 cups unsalted butter + 2 cups Crisco or Sweetex Z
½ cup all-purpose flour for dredging when assembling the sfogliatelle
¼ cup powdered sugar for dusting before serving
Ingredients for ricotta filling

2 ½ cups whole milk
½ rounded tablespoon fresh orange zest, avoiding all the bitter white pith
1 ½ cups white sugar
1 ½ cups semolina
5 egg yolks
1 ¾ cups cow’s milk ricotta cheese

Directions

Before making the dough, whip the unsalted butter or unsalted butter and Crisco or Sweetex Z in a mixer for ten minutes using the paddle attachment so it is very soft and fluffy. Use at room temperature.

Making dough with layers using a simple fold

In a mixer fitted with a hook, combine the two flours, salt and honey. Blend on a low speed to mix well, then slowly add water. Continue blending on a low speed about 10 minutes. Increase the speed and blend another 2 minutes.
Touch the dough in the bowl of the mixer. If it feels too dry, add a small amount of water. Turn on the mixer and incorporate the water. Be careful not to add too much water. If the dough becomes soggy, you cannot add more flour. 

Transfer the dough from the mixing bowl to a work surface. Work the dough with your fingers until it is in the shape of a fat log. Wrap the dough with plastic wrap and let rest 10 minutes on the counter. Do not refrigerate.

After resting, remove the plastic wrap. Dust the work surface with bread flour and position the log in front of you, the long way. Use the rolling pin to roll the dough away from your body. The log of dough will flatten and elongate.

To create layers, fold 1/3 of the dough from the end closest to you onto the middle. Fold the other 1/3 from the opposite end on top of the first fold. This is called a “simple fold.”

Roll out the dough. Flip the dough over and rotate it clockwise a quarter turn. Press down on the folded dough with your hands. Roll out the dough again. Allow the dough to relax a minute or two before making the next simple fold.

After folding, rolling out, flipping and rotating the dough 15 times, you will have created dozens and dozens of delicate layers. Cover the dough with a damp kitchen towel. The dough needs to rest and so do you. Take 10 minutes and have a cup of tea.

Making fat dough thin

Now that you have created layers and made the dough softer, the dough needs to become thinner.

Fernandez uses a Rondomat dough sheeter. He can handle a large recipe because the mechanical rollers do the physical work of rolling out the dough into a sheet almost thirty feet long. In your kitchen, you will use a rolling pin and a lot of upper body strength. But even though you are using a smaller recipe, your sheet will still be quite large. As you roll and thin the dough, it will spread in length and width so clear your counter for this step. You will need the space.

Sprinkle bread flour on the work surface. Make a simple fold one time, then roll out the dough. Because the sheet will become too large for the work space, you will wrap the dough around the second rolling pin.

Once you have rolled out all the dough and accumulated it on the second rolling pin, check the thickness. If it is not yet paper thin, roll the dough out again. You may have to do this step several times until the dough is paper thin. Once all of the paper thin dough has accumulated on the second rolling pin, you are ready for the next step.

Adding fat for crispness

In order to create croissant-like flaky layers, a fat is required. Using your hands, apply a thin film of room temperature butter or the mixture of butter-Crisco or Sweetex Z on the work surface.
Place the rolling pin with the sheet of dough on the back of the work area.

Keeping the sheet attached to the rolling pin, pull forward on the dough and lay a length of the unbuttered sheet on the work surface. Use a sharp knife to trim off and discard the rounded end of the dough so the edge facing you is square.

Spread a thin layer of fat onto the sheet of dough on the work surface.

Start a new roll. As Fernandez shows in the video, use your fingers to lift the end of the buttered dough off the work surface and roll it away from you.

To unwind another length of dough from the rolling pin, lift the roll of buttered dough and bring it back toward you.

Continue that process, pulling dough from the rolling pin onto the work surface, spreading on fat and adding that length to the buttered roll, until you have buttered all the dough.

As you create the buttered roll, the ends will become untidy. No worries. You will trim those later.
When you have applied fat to all of the dough, the roll will be in the shape of a large log. Give the entire log a final coat of fat, seal with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

Ricotta Filling

You can make the sweetened ricotta filling and refrigerate in an air-tight container for up to three days until you are ready to assemble the sfogliatelle.

Directions

Combine whole milk and white sugar in a pan over low heat. Whisk to combine. Add orange zest. Increase the heat.
When the mixture boils, add semolina all at once and whisk well. The mixture will thicken quickly. Cook 2-3 minutes, stirring frequently to combine. Avoid burning.

Switch to a wooden spoon when the filling becomes paste-like. Continue stirring. Reduce heat. Cook another 3-4 minutes. Remove from heat.

Use a spatula to transfer the thickened mixture into the mixer bowl. Be certain to scrape off all of the batter that has accumulated on the sides and bottom. Allow to cool for a minute.

On the mixer, use the paddle attachment to aerate the filling. Run the mixer at a low speed for a minute. Increase the speed and run for another 2 minutes.
To prevent splattering, before adding the egg yolks, stop the mixer and lower the bowl.  Add yolks. Change the mixer speed to low. Mix for a minute. Increase the speed and run another 2 minutes.

Once the filling is creamy, use a spatula to scrape the sides of the bowl and incorporate all of the mixture. Run the mixer again at higher speed.

Add ricotta using the low speed and, once incorporated, increase the mixer speed to high. Scrape the sides of the bowl and mix again for 10 minutes on medium to aerate the filling.

Once the filling is creamy, allow to cool. If not using immediately, place in an air-tight container and refrigerate for up to three days.

Assembly

When you make the individual sfogliatella, work in batches of four. Plastic wrap and refrigerate the other sfogliatelle so the fat doesn’t soften.

Organize an assembly line on the counter with the four sfogliatelle rounds, the bowl of ricotta filling, the small rolling pin, the metal ring, a large spoon and all-purpose flour in a bowl.

The mini-rolling pin makes flattening out the dough faster and easier but if one is not available, use your fingers to stretch out the dough.

Directions for assembly

Preheat oven to 400F.

Remove the buttered dough from the refrigerator and unwrap.

Lightly flour the work surface. Use your hands to press, stretch, roll and reshape the log. Roll the log back and forth and squeeze with your hands, keeping the shape round until the diameter is reduced to 2 ½”.

Using a sharp chefs knife, remove 1” of the uneven dough on both ends and discard. Cut the log into ½” thick rounds.  At this point, the slices can be plastic wrapped, refrigerated and stored for a day or two.

Working with one piece at a time, shape the dough into a round with your fingers and lightly dredge in the all-purpose flour.
Place the dough on the work surface. Use the small rolling pin to flatten the dough until it is half again as large as it was. If the layers come apart, press them back together.
Adding the filling is easy. Use your fingers to soften and slightly stretch the middle of the dough. Make a circle with your thumb and index finger. Lay the thin round of dough over the opening between your thumb and finger. Create a cone shape by gently pressing the center of the dough into that opening.
Spoon two large tablespoons of ricotta filling into the cone and center of the dough. Fold the dough over the filling. Press the edges of the dough together and create a conch-shell shape. Lay the sfogliatella on the work surface.

Use the metal ring to trim the ragged front edge of the dough.
Line a sheet pan with a piece of parchment paper or a Silpat sheet. Place the sfogliatelle on the sheet pan with ½” spacing between them.

Baking

If you want to save any of the sfogliatelle for later use, refrigerate or freeze them as described below.

Directions for baking

If serving right away, place the parchment paper covered sheet pan in the preheated 400F oven and bake 35 minutes, checking that the sfogliatelle brown but do not burn.
Allow to cool. Dust with powdered sugar before serving.

Refrigerating and Freezing

If reserving for use within 72 hours, keep the sfogliatelle on the parchment paper covered sheet pan. Lay another parchment paper on top and seal the sheet pan in a plastic bag.  Place in refrigerator.  Remove before serving and bake as directed above.

If reserving for even later use, place the plastic bag covered tray with sfogliatelle into the freezer. Once frozen, remove the sheet pan. Put the frozen sfogliatella into an airtight bag. They will keep up to six months in the freezer.

Baking After Freezing

Remove from the freezer the number of sfogliatelle you want to bake.

Place on a parchment paper lined sheet pan, cover with parchment paper and seal in a plastic bag. Refrigerate for one day so the sfogliatelle defrost slowly.

The next day, bake as described above.


Friday, December 27, 2013

New Year's Eve Treats: Salmon with Crispy Skin and Buckaroo Cookies

Where does time go? Last I looked, it was almost Thanksgiving. Now it's almost New Year's Eve. 2013 was a good year. Wishing everyone a great 2014.

On New Year's Eve we're having friends over for a late dinner and an evening of movie watching. We've seen most of the movies in Oscar contention and we have our favorites (HerNebraska Philomena and Fruitvale Station). But we have more to watch so we'll enjoy the evening with food and films.

Two of the treats I'll make include holiday cookies and salmon filet with crispy skin.  A few months ago for my oldest son's birthday party, we had a dinner at Napa Valley Grille in Westwood. Franklin likes farm fresh food, simply prepared, not fussy. We sampled the menu and the food was delicious. The chef stopped by to see if everyone was happy. A friendly, nice guy, chef Taylor Boudreaux sent out a pasta dish with truffles as a gift to the table. What a nice thing to do.
One of the dishes we had at the dinner was  a salmon filet with crispy skin. It's a simple dish but I've never been able to get the skin right at home. Chef Boudreaux agreed to do a video demonstration.
The interview and video are on Zester Daily. He makes it look so easy. He shared the magic. I tried it at home. It worked! So cool.

Chef's Secret To Crispy Skin For Pan-Seared Salmon Filets

Alana Vague, a friend of a friend, was baking cookies as holiday gifts. She put them in little brown paper bags, nicely tied with a ribbon.  They are delicious and Alana says they're easy to make, a recipe from her great-grandmother. They'll be perfect to snack on while we're watching movies.

Alana's Great-Grandmother's Buckaroo Cookies
Yield: a lot

Ingredients

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
3 cups quick oats
1 cup butterscotch chips
2/3 cup chocolate chips

Directions

Cream butter and sugars
Add eggs and vanilla
Add dry ingredients
Stir in oats and chips
Drop by tablespoon on cookie sheet
Bake at 375 degrees for 7-9 minutes
(I bake them for 7ish then let them rest on the cookie sheet for 5 minutes or so)

Sunday, October 21, 2012

What's Cooking in New Orleans

Mention New Orleans and anyone who's been says, "The food's so great. And the music. If you go, you'll love it."
I hadn't been so when I was able to stay for a three day weekend in early October, I jumped at the chance.

With so few days in town, I asked for suggestions on Facebook and Twitter, read guide books and got recommendations from friends who are NOLA aficionados.

Certain restaurants appeared on multiple lists:

Acme Oyster House (724 Iberville Street, New Orleans 504/522-5973) in the French Quarter (for oysters although I was advised the place is so crowded, a good workaround to get in is to sit at the bar between 3:00pm-4:00pm).

Donald Link's restaurants are popular, especially Herbsaint (701 Saint Charles Avenue, New Orleans 504/524-4114) and Cochon (930 Tchoupitoulas Street, New Orleans 504/588-2123) I made it to the latter, but more about that in a minute.
Fried chicken at Willie Mae's Scotch House (2401 At. Ann Street, Seventh Ward, New Orleans, 504/822-9503). Not close to anything, tucked away in a suburb, but well worth the 10 minute cab ride or 30 minute walk from the French Quarter.

Open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, the original Cafe du Monde (800 Decatur Street, French Quarter, New Orleans, 504/525-4544) in the French Quarter for a morning or afternoon cafe au lait and beignets.

In the jackets-preferred Commander's Palace (1403 Washington Avenue, Garden District, New Orleans, 504/899-8221), Antoine's Restaurant  (713 Saint Louis Street, New Orleans 504/581-4422) and Galatoire's Restaurant (209 Bourbon Street, French Quarter, New Orleans, 504/525-2021) for an upscale version of Creole, Cajun and New Orleans cooking.

We didn't have time to use the St. Charles streetcar, travel on a Mississippi riverboat, take a ride in a horse drawn carriage through the French Quarter or visit the Audubon Zoo.

Because the city is on mostly flat ground, riding a bicycle is a great way to get around town. My wife took an early morning bike ride. Leaving the Hotel Modern (936 St. Charles Avenue, New Orleans, 504/962-0900, 800/684-9535) where we were staying, she spent two hours happily riding around the Garden District's stately homes and the hauntingly beautiful cemeteries.
We missed many of the recommended places, but we did have a drink at the Carousel Bar in the Hotel Monetleone (214 Royal Street, French Quarter, New Orleans, 504/528-1019), which made me dizzy even though we were sitting safely in the nearby large lounge. Changing my seat improved the experience so instead of watching the slowly spinning bar, I watched people on the street walking by and riding in horse drawn carriages.
We heard music everywhere, in bars, on the street and in parks.
Our first night in town, arriving late because our Southwest flight was delayed, we walked into the French Quarter for something to eat. Surprisingly, given New Orleans' reputation as a party town, all the restaurants were closed by 10:00 PM.

After asking around, just off Bourbon Street we found Oceana Grill (739 Conti Street, French Quarter, New Orleans, 504/525-6002) which stayed open later than most restaurants.
Not on anyone's list, we enjoyed our meal of Cajun seafood gumbo, blackened red fish with red beans and rice and bread pudding with whipped cream. Even though it was close to 11:00 PM, the food tasted freshly made, the crab was sweet and delicious, the red fish with Creole seasoning was moist and spicy.
A Manhattan-up-with-a-twist was made with the local Sazerac Rye. Very nice.

On our short trip, we started a list of places we would happily recommend and look forward to visiting again.

We made a pilgrimage to cash-only Cafe du Monde for coffee and a breakfast beignet. Given the crowds morning-noon-and-night, it's surprising they have such a limited menu. Basically it's a riff on the SNL cheeseburger-cheeseburger-cheeseburger joke. Only here it's cafe ole-beignet-orange juice.
The beignets--better than any I've eaten anywhere else--arrive thickly coated with powdered sugar on tapas sized plates. There's no way you'll eat your beignet and NOT get sugar on your shirt and pants.
The coffee is great and goes perfectly with the airy-suggary beignets. Even though the place is crowded, the turnover is quick so even if there is a long line to get in, you can sit, eat and even read the newspaper without feeling guilty.
A kitchen the size of a large closet accommodates dozens of waitstaff and kitchen help. With exquisite choreography, servers carrying large trays loaded down with silverware, stacks of paper napkins, water glasses, coffees and beignets leave the kitchen passing by others returning tray-fulls of empty glasses, dirty silverware and plates.
Meals at Herbsaint and Cochon were good. Finding fresh vegetables that haven't been steamed, stewed and fried isn't that easy in New Orleans. Donald Link treats his veggies with respect even as he celebrates all things meat, especially pork at pig-centric Cochon where I had a crust-perfect serving of short ribs on a bed of vegetables and creamy faro.
Since I love good fried chicken, Willie Mae's was a lot of fun. One of my fondest memories growing up was our trips to the beach with containers filled with potato salad and fried chicken. Admittedly the fried chicken was soggy after spending the night in the refrigerator, but I loved it none the less.
At Willie Mae's, there is no such thing as soggy fried chicken. The chicken that arrives on the plate is as crisp as can be with the meat, hot and moist.

For $10.00, you get a wing, thigh and leg, a corn muffin and a choice of sides, which in my case was not a "side" but a second course of red beans and rice served in a large bowl. I loved the fried chicken and the red beans and rice. The beans were thick with flavor and a touch of heat.

The best meal of the trip started with an interview with Austin Kirzner, executive chef at Red Fish Grill on the edge of the French Quarter. Kirzner sat down with me over a cup of coffee in the morning before the restaurant opened and described the kind of cooking he learned to do in Louisiana and New Orleans.

To illustrate what he was talking about, he showed me how to make a New Orleans classic: BBQ Shrimp. The video lays out all the ingredients and the techniques required to make an easy-to-make recipe that any home cook could prepare.
The heads-on shrimp were delicious. And his creamy cheesy grits were as good.
At night my wife and I came back for a tasting of Red Fish Grill's menu.
Kirzner showed us his favorites: the BBQ oysters which were actually deep fried and served with blue cheese dressing, raw oysters on the half shell and Louisiana blue crab cakes.
A crispy whole redfish looked as if it could still swim but this time in a river of vegetables and a filet of hickory grilled redfish was topped with sweet lump crabmeat.
Several delicious desserts appeared on the table, including a fat slice of pecan pie with whipped cream and an over-the-top triple chocolate bread pudding that could barely contain itself in its silver bowl.
When we weren't eating and listening to music, we walked around the city, admiring signs, graffiti and architecture that was unique, distinctive, traditional and modern, with a sense of humor and a delight in bright, vibrant colors.










Brighten Up a Summer Corn Salad with Mexican Elote Spices

With an abundance of corn this summer, I've been grilling and salt-boiling corn on the cob. Seasoned with sea salt and black pepper...