Monday, September 21, 2015



Monday, May 30, 2011


"A good gumbo does for the soul what a pretty woman does for the heart, if it’s that good, its gotta be bad." unknown

There are as many theories about the origins of gumbo as there are recipes but one thing is certain, whether its Cajun or Creole, spicy or not, vegetarian (z’herbes) or venison fish or fowl gumbo is king and the crown belongs to America for gumbo is truly an American Classic as elegant and robust as it is delicate and home spun.

Gumbo Filé is a thinner, darker gumbo than its country cousin Okra Gumbo and the difference may be a clue to the origin and ultimate evolution of this iconic one pot meal.

The word gumbo, likely a variation on the Bantu word for okra (kingombo), would have described the natural thickening okra imparts to any dish. Okra, common in Africa, was not native in the Americas so early settlers learning from local peoples used the sassafras tree, found only in North America and Asia to thicken their stews. The powdered leaf or filé is added after cooking and gives Gumbo Filé its slightly “stringy” texture.

As successive waves of French Canadians, French, Spanish, West Indians and Africans merged along the deltas of Louisiana their rich blend of heritage cooking became synonymous with good food, good times and good people.

Shrimp and a shellfish alternative
1 Package extra firm tofu
1 Tbs Old Bay Seasoning
Drain the tofu then place on a clean paper towel in the bottom of a strainer. Place a small pan on top of the tofu filling it with water to act as a weight and let stand for 30 minutes to press excess water from the tofu. Cut the tofu into wedges.
Add Old Bay Seasoning to 2 cups of water and bring to a boil. Add the cut pieces of tofu reduce heat and simmer 30 minutes, set aside. Reserve the seasoning water.
Add 2 Tbls of butter to a heavy skillet set over a medium high flame add the tofu pieces and sauté until lightly browned. Return seasoned boiling broth to pan and cover. Continue cooking on low for 15 minutes or until broth is evaporated. Set aside.

Browned sausage, beef cubes or chicken
Using the same heavy skillet crusty pieces and all, add sliced sausage (andouille is a favored Louisiana style sausage), pieces of lean beef or chicken cut into 1 inch cubes and sauté until lightly browned...or, this is gumbo - why not add all three.

Alternatively seafood gumbo suggests an equally rich variety of shellfish, ocean and fresh water fish combinations.
(Most grocers now carry a variety of non meat alternatives to traditional beef, sausage pork and fowl for vegetarians who want to indulge their gumbo ya-ya)

The “Trinity”
I/2 cup each of onion, celery and green bell pepper chopped coarsely, set aside.

1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup of vegetable oil
1/2 cup cold water

Again, using the same heavy skillet, crusty parts and all, heat oil over a high flame and add the flour; now you need a wooden spoon. turn the flame down to medium and stirring constantly let the mixture turn a dark chocolate brown, about 15-20 minutes.

Various shades of browning determine the flavor of the roux; the longer you cook and stir the darker the roux becomes and richer. A white to nutmeg color is great for country cooking with chicken and turkey. A darker cinnamon color works well with pork and a darker roux compliments beef dishes. The darker the color the thinner the roux will be until it’s almost a broth consistency and then with a little onion and good merlot you have a great base for French Onion Soup.

Gumbo servi style Cajun 

Now for the flavor and goodness - hence the name, add the “Trinity” mix to the bubbling roux, turn down the flame and continue cooking up to an hour.

Once the flavor is in add the browned meat and continue cooking on low heat covered for another thirty to forty-five minutes adding water if it becomes too dry.

Serve over rice with a little filé powder to season. Never add filé to the cooking pot, it will turn bitter over constant heat.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Got Key Lime Pie

Living in Florida is its own reward, sun and surf, beautiful sunsets, bikinis and, as if that weren't enough, now and then a delight for the palate. I'm speaking, of course, about Key Lime Pie that rare combination of citrus from tiny, tart Key limes and the silk-smooth, creamy richness of sweetened condensed milk.

Each year hoards of tourists arrive in Florida and devour hundreds of tons of this amazingly simple but oh so tropical dessert. The dessert is made easily, by combining a couple of cans of sweetened condensed milk with eggs and the juice of a dozen or so Key limes. Pour into a graham cracker crust and refrigerate for several hours. Serve with mounds of sweet whipped cream.

So we set about to create a traditional yet vegan Key Lime Pie

Turns out the question arises, what is sweetened condensed milk and moreover why does it exist? Useful, of course, for many desserts sweetened condensed milk doesn't seem to have any other purpose. So we did a little digging.

In 1856 Gail Borden a tinkerer and inventor submitted his patent for Eagle Brand Sweetened Condensed Milk. By extracting the water from whole milk and replacing it with sugar Borden was able to preserve canned milk and thus make it portable in a world without refrigeration. Milk spoils in hours left unrefrigerated and "milk disease" in the mid 1800s was a serious public health issue. With Borden's invention mothers could now send canned milk to school with their children and city folk could count on safe milk for their meals far away from the source, the dairy farm.

Diseases and illness related to milk products are historically so prolific that whole societies have created laws to govern the consumption of milk. Kosher law strictly forbids serving milk and dairy together or even sharing food vessels and utensils for fear of cross contamination.

Lactose intolerance is considered by many as the single most widespread allergy in the world today. Many countries have banned the use of recombinant bovine growth hormone or rBGH, which is used in cows to accelerate their growth, citing insufficient research concerning the impact on human consumers.

Finally, in the early 21st century milk has come under suspicion by UK researchers as a likely vector for Mycobacterium avium paratuberculosis (MAP) bacteria the principle causal element in Crohn's disease, the human equivalent of "Mad Cow."

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Cinco de Mayo, but who's counting

I came across this poster on a recent outing to scout vegan Cinco de Mayo venues and we were reminded that not all habits come without risk.

If you're out celebrating this 5th try a little restraint and go for the gold in moderation. It's all vegan after all as long as you avoid the worms although, truth be Gold (verdad for all you gringos) that's really 'mezcal' and a whole other blog.

Celebre Cinco de Mayo, and please drink responsibly.

Monday, December 31, 2007

Wild, fresh and kind salmon

This recipe blends classic eastern flavors, wild rice and native northwestern salmon equally suited for either the grill or stove top.

When native Americans first combined wild rice collected from marsh lands in what is now the boarder between Minnesota, Canada and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan with fresh salmon from the cold waters of the Northwest the pairing was a perfect combination of delicate textures and strong flavors.

We've recreated that simple, fresh and wild combination with a simple, surprisingly flavorful twist; we've substituted grilled tofu for the salmon. Easy and quick, this recipe makes a perfect first night meal for family or friends who share a taste for freshness and a compassion for all things living wild.


The Rice:
1/2 cup wild rice 3/4 ounce (about 20 medium) dried shiitake caps
2-3 scallions, thinly sliced (keep white and green parts separate)
1 cup short-grain brown rice 2 to 3 teaspoons Japanese soy sauce (shoyu or tamari)

The Vegetables:
1 cup fresh broccoli florets
2 large carrots washed, sliced diagonally
1 medium onion quartered
2 stalks celery sliced diagonally

For the Salmon:
8 ounces extra firm tofu sliced into 4 steaks
2-inch chunk fresh ginger, peeled and cut into eighths
2 large cloves garlic
2 teaspoons sesame oil
2 tablespoons Japanese soy sauce (shoyu or tamari), plus more to pass at the table
1 teaspoon molasses
Peanut oil, for frying
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 teaspoon “Old Bay Seasoning”


Finely chop the ginger, garlic and scallion whites. Add the soy sauce, sesame oil, molasses, Old Bay and blend well to create a marinade. Drench the tofu slices with the marinade cover and refrigerate one hour.

Bake or grill the marinated tofu salmon at 350º Fahrenheit for 30 minutes turning once, set aside. Reserve the marinade.

Soak dried shiitake in water until the shitake are soft, about 15 minutes. Cut the caps into strips 1/4-inch thick and return them to the soaking water.

To prepare the rice: Bring 3 cups of water to a boil in a medium pot. Add wild rice and cook at a gentle boil, uncovered, until the rice is tender and some of the grains have burst open and curled, 45 to 60 minutes. Drain well and set aside.

10 minutes before serving add 2 tablespoons of water to a hot skillet, sauté the carrot, onion, celery and broccoli 3-4 minutes covered. Add the mushrooms, soaking liquid and reserved marinade; continue to sauté another minute, remove from heat.

Heat 1 teaspoon of peanut oil in a large skillet over high heat until sizzling. Spread ½ of the reserved marinade (glaze) onto one side of each steak. Set the steaks, glazed-side down, in the skillet. Reduce the heat to medium-high and cook uncovered for 1-1/2 minutes. Spread remaining glaze on the top side of each steak, and flip over. Turn the heat to medium-low and continue cooking an additional minute.

Serve on a bed of wild rice sprinkled with additional marinade. Garnish with slivered scallion greens.

A 2006 California Sauvignon Blanc from Kendal Jackson is the perfect pairing with this dish. The creaminess and sweetness of the sun soaked grapes highlight the sweetness of the glaze while its tang stands well with the eastern spices and woody flavors of the mushrooms and vegetables.

Serves 4

Here’s cooking at you kid, Rick

Friday, October 26, 2007

Shopska Salad

Shopska or Shopi is a regional reference to the inhabitants and the cuisine of the region of Shopluk (Шоплук, Šopluk) located in central Western Bulgaria (around Sofia and the adjacent areas).

Shopska salad photo: Snezhana Simeonova
A la Galadrielle

The region and its people have much in common with the inhabitants of central eastern Serbia (around Pirot) and the Republic of Macedonia (around Štip, Kratovo, Gevgelija and Strumica); called Bulgarians, Serbs and Macedonians respectively, they share a common history, culture and most importantly a preference for the great local traditions of simple foods, which are both hearty and satisfying.

Our friend Zena, an expatriate from the region shares her family's Shopska Salad, a classic by any standard.
здрав съм


  • 4 tomatoes
  • 1 small cucumber
  • 0.5 kg fleshy peppers
  • 1 onion /or two spring onions/
  • 1 cupful of grated white cheese
  • 5 hot peppers (optional)
  • a small bunch of parsley
  • a coffee cup full of vegetable oil
  • salt

Wash and clean the vegetables. Remove the stem and the seeds of the peppers (raw or roasted and peeled). Slice them. Cut the tomatoes and the cucumber into small cubes. Chop the onion and the parsley. Mix everything, add salt and mix again. Shape the mixture into a "hemisphere" in the salad dish. Add the vegetable oil. Cover with an even layer of grated white cheese. You may put an olive, a tomato rose or several leaves of parsley on top of the salad. Add a hot pepper to each portion.

If you have a classic family recipe you'ld like to share send it to "Classics" at Rick’s Place, we'd love to hear from you.

Here's cooking at you kid, Rick

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Thai won on Build a Better Burger Contest

Sweet-Hot Thai BurgerWe couldn't resisit the double entendre and we definitely couldn't resist trying the winning entry, the Sweet-Hot Thai Burger by Karen Bernards. Karen's delicious blending of the two worlds of American grill classics and Thai cuisine turned taste buds in Napa valley and captured the $50,000 Grand Prize yesterday in Sutter Home Winery's annual Build a Better Burger Contest.

The contestants, all winners, grilled up some amazing versions. To see all the recipes and get some of the inside commentary from Colleen go to the BBBBlog.

We've been following the lead-up to this cook-off all week along with Mike at The Naked Vine who has the wine list so now it's time to try out the winning burger recipe for ourselves. Seems like the burger is once again finding its ancient Asian roots.

By the way, you can catch Karen and her recipe Monday morning on NBC's the Today Show.

While waiting for the burgers to cook we enjoyed a Thai wine from Monsoon Valley Shiraz Special Reserve; the red wine grapes are grown in the hills of Pak Chong where the cooler climate is more favorable for the Shiraz and Colombard grapes.

It's a full bodied, fragrant, spicy wine that makes a perfect pairing with the sweet-hot chili background in Karen's burger. The wine finish is smooth with just a hint of cedar layered over an intense, rich taste of plums.

Here's Karen's original recipe

Sweet-Hot Thai Burger


Cilantro Mayonnaise

    • 1 cup mayonnaise
    • 1 tablespoon lime juice
    • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
    Thai Salad
    • 1/4 cup fresh lime juice
    • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
    • 1 tablespoon Colavita Extra Virgin Olive Oil
    • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
    • 2 teaspoons bottled Thai sweet chili sauce
    • 1 tablespoon peeled and grated fresh ginger
    • 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
    • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
    • 1 English cucumber, cut into matchsticks
    • 1 red bell pepper, cut into matchsticks
    • 1 1/2 cups fresh bean sprouts


    • 2 pounds freshly ground chuck
    • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
    • 3/4 cup bottled Thai sweet chili sauce
    • 4 green onions, sliced
    • 1 cup Spicy Thai Kettle Chips, placed in a bag and smashed slightly
    • 2-3 tablespoons vegetable oil, for brushing on the grill rack
    • 6 good-quality potato hamburger buns, split


Prepare a medium-hot fire in a charcoal grill with a cover, or preheat a gas grill to medium-high.

To make the mayonnaise, whisk the mayonnaise, lime juice, and cilantro in a small bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside.

To make the salad, whisk the lime juice, garlic, olive oil, salt, sweet chili sauce, ginger, cilantro, and basil in a small bowl. Combine the cucumber, red pepper, and bean sprouts in a large bowl. Toss with the dressing to coat. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside.

To make the patties, combine the chuck, salt, sweet chili sauce, green onions, and chip pieces in a large bowl, handling as little as possible. Shape into 6 patties to fit the buns. Loosely cover with plastic wrap and set aside.

When the grill is ready, brush the grill rack with vegetable oil. Place the patties on the rack, cover, and cook, turning once until done to preference, 5 to 7 minutes on each side for medium. Place the buns, cut side down, on the outer edges of the grill rack to toast lightly during the last 2 minutes of grilling.

To assemble the burgers, spread a generous amount of the cilantro mayonnaise over the cut sides of the buns. On each bun bottom, place a grilled patty, followed by equal portions of the Thai salad, add the top bun and serve.

Makes 6 burgers

by Harlan Weikle