Monday, June 24, 2013


Lester taught me how to make Gumbo.

During my first try at running a small kitchen, (Blue Bird CafĂ©, circa 1990), a scrawny, loud mouthed, burned out character who weighed a buck twenty holding a sack of quarters was washing dishes while I prepped.  I paid him little mind.  Why should I?  The average tenure of a dishwasher back then was two weeks (pay day to pay day).

“You need some halp, chief?”  Lester insisted he knew a thing or two about cooking, and was relentless with his nagging, so I gave him a chore.

“Cut me a mirepoix.” 

For those of you unfamiliar with the term, it means two part onion, one part celery and carrot cut into quarter inch dice.  And yes ladies, size does matter. A perfectly cut mirepoix makes the dish you are cooking, better.

So I was shocked when Lester handed me a bowl of the most gorgeous mirepoix I had ever seen.

“What is your deal?”  I asked.  It turned out; Lester had done some serious time in some serious restaurants in New Orleans, including K-Paul’s.  We got to chatting about all foods Cajun and he promised to teach me how to make Gumbo the next day.  That he did.  Lester was a no show the day after payday, though he did phone me that night, apologizing through his slurred words he was sorry he couldn’t make it in.  It would be my only lesson this chef got from his dishwasher.

According to Lester’s scripture, it was all about the roux. A dark roux that is.  One needing the time and attention you would give a two month old.  Let’s make some Lester Gumbo.

For the roux:

2 cups flour
1 ½ cup canola or peanut oil
½ cup  Cajun Spice
1/3 of the Trinity ( see below )

For the Gumbo

2 medium onions (cut like Lester would)
1 ½ red pepper ( same )
4 stalks of celery ( you guessed it )

If this looks like a mirepoix, its New Orleans version called the Trinity.  They substitute peppers for carrots since they won’t grow there.

For the rest of the Gumbo

6 slices bacon, cut into strips
1 T garlic pasted
2 cans diced tomato
1 cup okra ( optional )
1 jalapeno, sliced
1 quart chicken stock or water with 4 bullion cubes

This is more roux than you need for this amount of gumbo.  Use what you need and freeze the rest.  It will make the next batch of gumbo a breeze.  Pour the oil into a pan and get it as hot as you are comfortable with.  If you like skydiving and other adrenaline sports, take it to the smoking point.  Be careful, no updating facebook cover shots here, a hot roux can burn a hole in your hand.

Carefully add your flour and whisk to incorporate.  Get comfy because you are going to be stirring for a spell. You’ll soon understand why I had you make a double batch.

Your welcome.

Here is the roux blonde. 

By the way, how do you sink a submarine full of blonde rouxs?   You knock on the door.

Here is the roux getting darker.

And darker

And we have arrived at our destination. Thanks for flying Delta. Now turn off the heat and add one third of the Trinity and the spices.  Four things are going on right now. One, the roux just got flavored, the Trinity is getting cooked, we’re trying to cool the roux, and you are thinking, “holy hell this lava is hot”.  

Relax, keep it stirring and ask your assistant to hand you a baking sheet.  I like to transfer the roux to a sheet because it will cool faster.  Place it aside.

Inevitably, someone in the household will come by and mistake this for something sweet and chocolatey.  Let them do it, the expression is priceless.

The hard part is done.  In a pot, sweat the bacon until it gives up a little fat.  Add the rest of the Trinity, garlic, okra, and let it cook a little.  Then add the tomatoes, the stock and bring to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes.

Feel free to use whatever combination of meats you see fit.  Just make sure it includes some Andouille Sausage.  After that, I like chicken and shrimp.  If you have cooked chicken, add everything at the end just to warm a cook the shrimp through. If you are using raw chicken, add it now and simmer until it’s cooked.

It’s time to add the roux. This will thicken the Gumbo once it hits the boiling point.
Once you have the desired consistency, add the sausage and shrimp and cook until they are ready. 

  Here it is just after I added the shrimp and sausage. Look at that deep mahogany color. Beauty. 

Serve this gumbo over rice, with some cornbread, and just enjoy.

Thanks Lester, wherever you are.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Advertisement 2

Turned 50 the other day and still not surprised.  Not by life, and certainly not by birthdays.  You see, my lovely wife had been planning a surprise trip for my half a hundred, and for six weeks she kept it under wrap.  Then, some ten days out from the big one, while driving into town together, she has a Lucille Ball moment and in mid thought from the passenger seat comes this “….da da da, and while we’re in New Orleans…..da da da”.

My head turned to her at about the same speed as the Carousel Bar downstairs at the Monteleone, “Did you really just tell me where we’re going for my birthday?"

It was a great time.  Except for my little run in with the boys. 

The day after my birthday we were strolling the Quarter.  As I was trying hard not to peer into something called the Stiletto Lounge, I got bum rushed into the back of a van, and minutes later I’m hanging upside down from a third floor balcony as some bald headed hatchet man is shaking me by my ankles. 

“Let me guess,” I said, “it’s time for a blog about the Space Downtown.”  The big guy concurred.  And minutes later I was back on the street, no worse for wear, hugging a hurricane and contemplating how many quarters of a Muffaletta I could throw back.

So if you can wait a week, we’ll talk Gumbo, but for now, let’s look at some photos.

All photo credits to my daughter, Devan Burgess , who will be going off to college soon and leaving this blog in ruins.

We recently did a wine dinner with noted wine maker Randall Grahm, of Bonny Doon winery.  We love these events because the winemaker brings the wine and we have creative freedom with the food. Hold my hand and I'll step you through the process of how we put together this meal.

We start with some passed apps. Here are prosciutto wrapped local spring asparagus. 

another look

miniature pizzas ( actually puff pastry dough )

Here is our smoked salmon martini.  Vincent smokes it in house, using Walnut dust from some trees he had cut from his property.  How's that for recycling? Also there is a green olive cracker (of course we make it!), vodka cream, and some micro greens.

and finally tempura soft shell crabs with an avocado caper salsa

Getting hungry?  Good, it's time for the first course.  This is confit red and yellow tomatoes, a goat's cheese panna cota with chives, and a pan roasted artichoke heart.

another look

The next course starts with a smoked eggplant puree.  I had this a couple years ago in Florence and set forth to duplicate it from that moment on.  I'll save those details for a later blog.

That's a little arugula oil for an accent.  Next comes a red quinoa with garden zucchini and basil.

And finally, the Halibut.

For the next course, we chose some local dry aged beef from Sherwood Farm.. Here it is seared and resting.

Staying with the season, we garnish the beef with a pea puree and roasted purple potato.

Not one to ever throw anything away, Vincent came up with this little smoked bacon wrapped pea pod filled with ricotta.
 I think I ate about ten of those.  Finally, here's the beef.

another look.

For the final course, they asked for cheese instead of sweets.

That's Tarentaise Spring Brook, Spanish Goat's Cheese, and Gruyere Emmi for those keeping score.

Here's the cheese plate, we added some sweet almonds and house made pineapple sage jam.

Proud papa 1                                                               

    and 2

Miss this dinner?  Don't worry, they'll be more coming.  Oh yeah, here's a little secret between the three of us.  Ever heard of a pop up?  It's a restaurant that only opens to the public every now and then, and yeah, you guessed it, we're going there. Stay tuned to the face book page and our soon to be redesigned website for more details.

Until then,


Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Fried Chicken

“Do you mean to tell me a white man fried this chicken?”

Compliment of the year as far as I’m concerned.  You see, we did a UVA graduation party a couple weeks back and we cooked our Southern Buffet which features

Pulled Pork Barbecue link
Homemade Buns
Creamy Wasabi Slaw
Tomato, Basil and House made Mozzarella
Tangy Haricots Vert
Scallion Biscuits
Black Pepper Cornbread

and last but not least

Fried Chicken

Safe to say the Fried Chicken was a hit.  I sure hope so.  I don't think there is a single food I take more pride in preparing.

So when my own daughter and step daughter graduated high school last weekend, I figured I best once again bring the love. The love being, fried chicken.  You see, I was expecting up to 40 people, and it wasn’t exactly a nuclear family type of gathering.

Here were the cast of characters

My wife
My ex, four of my kids
My wife’s ex, his wife, their four kids, her parents, his sister and husband, her 2 sisters and husbands
My mother
My mother in law and boyfriend

Add a host of other graduating teens and a smattering of kids who I had no idea who the hell belonged to who and a handful of other adults with no relation to any of us and we had ourselves all the ingredients for a powder keg.  One in which I was more or less bear hugging. Luckily for me I brought the love.

You see, no one is going to argue when there’s fried chicken around.  When Jimmy Carter got Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin to shake hands and sign that treaty in 78, I bet you there was fried chicken involved.  Jimmy was from the south.  I’m certain that’s why there is so much tension in the Middle East, they don’t have it.  We need to stop wasting time with traditional ambassadors for that area and send some cooks to teach those folks how to fry some chicken.  Soon enough they’ll all be eating chicken and breaking biscuits together not giving a toss about the Gaza Strip.

I might be reaching a bit but maybe not.  Above all the Tiger Woods/Fried Chicken slurs one thing remains constant, everyone loves Fried Chicken. So race, creed, gender here, is not an issue.

Its all about love.

Let get to making some love, I mean, Fried Chicken.  I cut up my own bird but you can probably buy the chicken already cut.  You may have to do some additional cuts get the 12 pieces I like.  Oh yeah, no chickens over three and a half pounds!  The pieces are too big and we lose the balance of meat to crust.  
I cut each breast into two, separate the wings, cut the thighs from the drumstick. Twelve pieces.

It all starts with the brine.  It is the key to making the meat flavorful and juicy.  In a saucepan, bring to a boil the following.

1 gallon water
1 cup kosher salt
2 lemons
1/3 cup honey
10 bay leaves
3 large sprigs rosemary
5 cloves garlic

Allow the brine to cool.  Then add the chicken.
 Place in the fridge overnight or for at least 6 hours.  Now remove the chicken and discard the brine.  Put the chicken in a container and cover with 2 cups of buttermilk.  Let it sit in the buttermilk for a couple hours.

 Now prepare the flour mix.

5 cups flour
¼ cup garlic powder
¼ cup onion powder
2 T salt
2 T black Pepper
2 T paprika
1 T cumin
1 T cayenne

 Here's another key step.  Ladle some of the buttermilk into the seasoned flour and mix until it resembles course sand.  This will give the fried chicken that "extra crispy" crust.  

 Now take the chicken from the buttermilk and roll in the flour until well coated.

 Do this for all 12 pieces. They should look something like this.

 Now for the frying.  At work, I have the luxury of a deep fryer which none of you have.  A fry daddy type of gadget will mimic it okay, but for this session I'm going old school and using a cast iron skillet. Grandma Elva would be so proud.

Fill the skillet with a half an inch of Canola Oil and turn the heat to medium.  We are looking for a temperature of 325 so if you have a kitchen thermometer use it here. Heat the oil to around or about 375.  Once we add the chicken, the temperature of the oil should drop to where we want it.

Pay attention to the oil because

1) oil can catch fire
2) which could in turn burn down your house
3) And I don't need that on my conscious
4) most importantly, you'll ruin the fried chicken

Here goes. With your oil now at temperature, slip the chicken pieces into the skillet. Give them room, no crowding the love making here.  No shaking the skillet, no going off to do laundry, and no watching the Mad Men episode you DVR'd Sunday.  Just let them fry slowly. When the bottom is nice and brown, carefully flip the pieces over until everything is nice and brown.  We are not cooking  the chicken through here, just getting them nice and crispy.

If you have to do the chicken in batches, so be it. We're only halfway through the process.  When the pieces are nice and brown, transfer to a baking rack over a sheet pan like this

Your oven should be at 325. Once the chicken is done browning, place them all on this rack and place in the oven for about 45 minutes.  

Its helps to have a themometer at hand to check the donesess.  We're looking for 160  degrees for the pieces to be done. 

Once you are there, drop the oven to low low and allow the chicken to rest.  This gives you time to prep the rest of the meal. Make some yeast biscuits, whipped potatoes (blog coming), kale, green beans, whatever your fancy.  Your love is in the oven and just getting better with time so enjoy your time with the fixings.

 And oh yeah, if you have leftovers, cold fried chicken for lunch is money.


Sunday, June 2, 2013

Pan Roasted Artichokes

The other morning I noticed a very long text message on my wife’s phone. 

“Is that a text or did she cut and paste the first chapter to Richard Ford latest novel?  You know we have that book.” It was a text.  Women do that. Write long messages using their finest prose, while expressing their innermost  feelings, even writing in complete sentences. 

Men don’t.  If the text requires more than five words we’re hitting the call button.  Why waste the time? When we do text it’s usually in a caveman dialect, “can’t find wallet” or “eat out 2nite”. 

Not my wife. She holds her phone and works her thumb back and forth the mini keyboard, like a peach colored cobra striking with deadly accuracy.  Why she doesn’t send an email I’ll never know, at least she’d have 9 more digits on payroll helping to get the message across.

How about those texting arguments? That’s a one way street.  Hey guys, ever get a text that makes you cock your head, squint your eyes and mutter, “did she really write that?” Somewhere around the fourth or fifth unanswered texts you’ll get the patented “So you’re not going to respond?”

Respond to what? It’s not a fair fight.  It’s like Russian cage match between a lion and a groundhog.  A bloodbath. We men just lie on the ropes, waiting for Georgette to punch herself out (that’s a boxing reference, girls. You tube Ali-Foreman, it’ll go along way explaining how men argue).

I do like texting pictures of food. 

I did that last week.  What do you call that?  Not that, that is pan roasted artichokes and I’ll get to that in a minute.  I mean texting food pics.  When Congressman Weiner was texting photos of his, well, surname (oh the irony) to his mistress, we called that sexting. We need a name.

In the meantime let me show how to cook artichoke hearts.

There's the line up.  Artichokes, lemon, and fresh thyme.  You'll also need a couple cloves of garlic and a little white wine.   First, prepare some lemon water. Cut one lemon in half and juice it into
water, like so. Slice another into thin slices and set aside.

This keeps the hearts from browning.  Let's back up a bit and get to the heart of the matter. Ha. Start by cutting off the stem.

And then the outer leaves.

Continue cutting

Lop off the top

Finally, this is what we are looking for

We still have one more thing to do.  See the fuzzy center there, we'll need to take that out. Cut the heart into quarter, then take your knife and scrap out that center fuzziness.

Once all your hearts are ready, remove them from the lemon water and pat dry.  Line a saute pan with olive oil and add the hearts.

(We're putting a lot of heart into this cooking blog) The corn meter is red lining. Now add the garlic and lemon slices

Add the thyme ( we're putting a lot of thyme into this.....) 

Let them get nice and brown

Splash some white wine in and scrap up all those tasty bits.  The artichoke hearts are ready when you insert a knife and it goes through without resistance.  You can add a little  water to help them about, but by no means have them simmering in water.  You want the flavor of these little gems to be concentrated.
Oh my. Artichoke hearts are like crack, addicting and expensive (that shit will make you broke). Every now and then you have to pony up and buy these.  Serve like that or with a nice piece of fish on top.  I like them with fresh white anchovies
Enjoy these while you try to come up with a name for texting food photos.