This is how we roll: Nouveau Stuffed Cabbage

Ever heard a serious intellectual utter the saying “This is how I roll?”

The term can not be found dating back nearly a millennium, originally written as a grand piece of poetry categorizing the “great men of yore” and their subsequent indulgences. The Kaiserchronik is a 12th-century chronicle of emperors. Though much of the material is legendary and fantastical, suggesting that large sections were compiled from earlier works, most of it is made up of short biographies, full of striking truths and even more striking similarities. For example the succession of the Romans from Julius Caesar (possibly the inventor of the 44 B.C Salad) all the way through Conrad III, the first king of Germany of the Hohenstaufen Dynasty all had an affinity for meat and grain, encased in leafy green biennials. On his deathbed, King Conrad might have used his last breath of sweet, sweet air to make a declaration of complete cabbage dependence as the last crop had finally been bitten by frost. He would have said something slong the lines of ” Countryman…if it is so that my meals have ceased from being presented in a totally tubular manner, then let me die. This world has nothing left for me. This is how I roll”.

I would have to say about 50% of my meals are not planned. They are wonderful accidents made up from scraps and remnants of other groceries, searching for purpose.

For example, on one late afternoon, we started getting hungry and did the old rapidly open and close the fridge trick. Hoping that every time we took a peek, something worth eating would magically appear, such as a pair two-inch thick ribeye’s and a 1905 Salad. Then maybe we might mosey up next to the oven to find a batch of buttery Potatoes Anna, blissfully bubbling while browning under a white-hot broiler. It wasn’t going to be that easy. What we did find was a perfectly suitable dinner for any man-child or world ruler. I give you a gift, in the form of an updated version of every child’s nightmare, the cabbage roll. No longer will you be subjected to grainy ground beef, mixed with maggot-like, gloopy rice, let alone the actual cabbage part of a cabbage roll. Usually when I have eaten this dish, the cabbage turns out to feel more like fresh skin peeled off a leprosy victim. Hungry yet?

Cabbage Rolls

To make this more appealing, we made a sort of mousse with chicken thighs, brown rice, and a ton of spices. And we didn’t pre-cook the cabbage leaves like some Bulgarians I know. If you roll your filling with raw cabbage, you might actually end up with a palatable texture. Lastly, we made a light tomato sauce to cover the rolls, using organic tomato bisque, lemon, and some heavy cream and butter from grass-fed cows. It makes a difference! This is really easy as you only have two stages of throwing stuff together and then some rolling. That’s it.

Try it tonight. While you’re at it, why don’t you challenge me to update one of your least favorite dishes from the olde country.

Preheat Oven to 375º F

Chicken Mousse (to be made ahead of time):

1-1/2 cups cooked brown rice

6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs

5 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped

3 green onions, quartered

1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. sweet paprika

1/2 tsp. ground black pepper

1/2 tsp. ground sage

1/2 tsp. ground coriander

1/2 tsp. dried parsley

Place all ingredients in a food processor and blend on high for about one minute or until everything has been pulverized! Cover with plastic and set aside.

Cabbage Roll Process

Peel off 10-12 whole cabbage leaves from a good-sized head. Cut out the thick part of the rib and discard. Set aside leaves.

Tomato Sauce:

1 17.5 oz container of tomato bisque or a can of high quality tomato soup

1 stick of salted grass-fed butter

The juice of one lemon, plus zest

2 small tomatoes, finely diced

1 small onion, finely diced

3 garlic cloves, finely chopped

Salt and pepper to taste

In a large saucepan on medium heat, put everything in and cook until well incorporated. Set aside.

To roll the Cabbage, take a nice scoop full of the Chicken mousse (about 1/2 cup worth) and put on one side of the cabbage leaf. Roll once, then tuck the sides in and finish rolling up. Place seam side down on a 9×13 baking dish, no need for toothpicks youngster. Repeat process. Pour the tomato sauce over rolls and cover with foil. Bake covered for 30 Minutes, then uncover for a last 15.

They will be as hot as magma so give it a couple of minutes to pull itself together before noshing. If you have leftovers, it’s pretty amazing to eat one heated up on a buttery toasted sub roll with a little homemade garlic aioli. Just sayin’.

Oh and for an added bonus if meat wrapped in moist cabbage isn’t your thing, Cabbageman himself Mr. Crumpton whipped together some chicken and rice patties which were then pan-fried until golden! You can thank him later.

Chicken & Rice Patties

Dough – Tampa, FL

“You could search for decades to find a boss bakery. You could eat rich buttery croissants…or die trying. That’s one of my boss rules. It feels good to eat some Bruuuu-Lay” – Not Rick Ross

I’ve walked around this state for so long, looking for something. I’ve been searching for yeasty keys on the road map of life, with the belief that there are treasures to be unearthed in the form of breads and danishes. My journey has taken me so very high into the rolling hills of Britton to the deepest depths along the Atlantic coast. Until about six months ago, nothing could sate my hunger for water bagels. There weren’t enough layers of buerre to pacify my passion for a perfect patisserie. Could doughnuts exist that are as good, if not better than Mark Israel’s? I may have experienced traumatic expulsive iridodialysis with vitreous prolapse , because my mind’s eye was blind to its usual logic. Because there I sat, full of doubt that even the most enticing storefront would ever match the love I feel for New York City baked goods.

Then I found Dough.

dough_logo

Well it kind of fell in my lap due to the popularity of its big brother next door. The Tampa Bay area had been proofing for months, awaiting the unique concept of a high quality bake shop. A bake shop to sway attention even from those with an affinity toward fructose.

My friend is all business. He likes to keep his Oakley’s perched on top of his head at all times. He’s known around the office as the guy who wears his Oakley’s perched on the top of his head at all times. He keeps things professional in every respect, and only pays with a debit card that earns him rewards. His breakfast choices tend to be straightforward with a dash of pink Himalayan sea salt.

Dough Spread

Naturally, he went right for some breakfasty breads that he could savor for hours as he lay motionless, splayed across the length of the oddly shaped desk that resides in his makeshift office. He chose a percariously thin personal sized baguette, completely stuffed with pork sausage seasoned with Herbes de Provence. He followed it with a smart, all in one breakfast puck. A bacon encapsulated over-easy to medium egg, cooked into a cross between a crumpet and focaccia, with a little Vermont white cheddar. He made smart choices that day. Stories will be told of his courage and quick decision-making in the face of infinite pastrybilities.

Sausage Bread "Breakfast Puck"

I’m a wild stallion. Like Miley Cyrus, I can’t be tamed. I admit it, I’ve got a sweet tooth that goes deep into the nerve endings of my molars. Guys like me need a little walkin’ around money. We stress eat and don’t want our wives knowing every single food purchase we make. I enjoy having cash on hand at all times, just in case a food truck parks in my general vicinity or a less than legal restaurant likes keeping things less than legal by only accepting cash or exotic trades.

Creme Brulee & Guava Cream Cheese Doughnut

En route to the car, we made a pit stop over at the coffee counter so my pastry partner could forfeit any possibility of work for the rest of the day by summoning a bacon latte, laced with strands of luscious smoked belly renderings. What seemed like hours passed, but in the real world it couldn’t have been longer than a two minute wait. We were parking lot bound, our little white boxes full of priceless goods secured so well, not even Mama Fratelli could steal our treasure. Sorry lady, these pastries were worth more than a fifty dollar bill. My box opened first, my hand reaching for the guava and cheese fauxnut (a.k.a. cronut a.k.a. 1/2 donut 1/2 croissant). My teeth sunk in, cutting through the layers of pastry like a hot knife through foie.

Guava Cream Cheese Bite Creme Brulee Bite

I’ve displayed halfhearted admiration for Dominique Ansel, the proclaimed inventor of the cronut for ages. Years before he struck gold with 2013’s most celebrated invention, I would always recommend his flagship NYC store as a destination not to be missed. Sadly, no one except my loyal partner here at Eat a Duck ever took me up on my suggestion. Now you’ll have to wait hours just to get a sniff near the door. My sob story all leads to this, he is a master. I recall it took months to come up with the perfect formula to create the beloved mutant hybrid. I can’t imagine how much trial and error it took to re-create a masterpiece of these proportions. Just so you know, they pulled off a fine rendition. Truth be told, the fauxnut wasn’t even the best thing I ate that day, but it was definitely an impressive feat of modern food science.

If your going to match yeast strains with a titan such as The Doughnut Plant, you have to go no holds barred. Dough did so with style, grace and copious injections of pastry creme. The creme brûlée donut need not be dissected. It only requires a heralding as a textural wonder. Two layers, in stark contrast to each other, a pillow soft squared out yeast dough, and a not so paper-thin crust of crackly torched sugar, served as a liason for two servings worth of rich creme custard. There were only two words, “Holy crap”, and then I quietly put it down and had a moment of reflection.

Dough Patisserie Display

Oatmeal Creme Pie

Learning how to make some of these creations is a task I’d rather pay to enjoy than engage in myself. You might have heard a chef say that it takes a special kind of person to go into pastry, because it’s an exact science. If this the case, then consider Dough, the Bill Nye of Tampa Bay bakeries. Science rules!

Datz Dough on Urbanspoon

The Bazaar by José Andrés – Miami Beach, FL

A short time ago, I discussed the importance of remembering the old timers, the stalwarts of the food world who have been executing their traditional specialties for decades. Well today, I’m serving up the antithesis, the cutting edge, the new. I had the incredible fortune to make a new friend, in the accomplished and well-traveled food fanatic, Mr. Todd Sturtz. He happened to be visiting South Florida for a few days and needed some company for his supper time jaunt. To my delight, he had chosen The Bazaar by José Andrés, a place that has been on mine and Logan’s list for years.

bazaar-interior

photo: www.honestcooking.com

For those of you who don’t know him, José Andrés is one of the most well-known practitioners of molecular gastronomy. Todd gave the waiter and I a quick schooling on the subject, the trend was started by Ferran Adria, and made famous here in the states by Wylie Dufresne. I’ve eaten at Wylie’s, now famous, WD-50, and while The Bazaar shares some techniques, I found the meals to be on two different ends of the spectrum that is molecular gastronomy.

Neither of us were planning on drinking, a useful trick for anyone who wants to try as many edible items as possible without throwing money at alcohol. However, when we spotted the $7 liquid nitrogen caipirinha, (yes it was really $7, we asked) we couldn’t resist. It may be a cliché, but I’m a fan of tableside service. Our man arrived with a bowl, a bottle of caipirinha solution, pre-mixed and a bottle of liquid N². If you’ve ever seen Terminator 2, you know what liquid nitrogen can do. In this case, it freezes the sugar, lime juice and cachaça into a sorbet. The best part is, when it starts melting it doesn’t water down your drink. The result is an extra stiff cocktail that delivers that refreshing caipirinha flavor, with a slight liquid nitrogen burn to the tongue.

Liquid N2 caipirinha

Both Todd and I had a pretty good idea of what we wanted to have before we arrived. The menu is split into two, one side focusing on new school molecular gastronomy, the other offering up traditional Spanish dishes. As we read our choices aloud, we both let out “oh definitely”, or “yup, uh huh”. The first of nine courses in our seafood-centric feast arrived, the Japanese tacos. Three dainty cucumber skins filled with grilled eel, shiso, wasabi and crispy pork chicharrones lay in a section of corrugated aluminum. The grilled eel was the star, savory and tender with a slight ocean twinge.

Japanese Taco

Liquid Mango Nigiri

Following close behind was the liquid mango nigiri. Normally, seeing fruit and sushi pairings on a menu will scare me off right away, but this is José, I knew I could trust him. A translucent block was set before us with three sheets of nori, topped with a tongue of uni a little bubble of liquid mango, shiso and pickled sansho peppers. The briny uni was perfectly paired against the slightly acidic sweetness of the mango liquid. The untreated nori kept the flavors distinctly Japanese, and gave the uni some context, delicious.

We swerved off Ocean Ave. for a moment with the wild mushroom soup with Idiazábal cheese and egg yolk. We both agreed, if you wanted to make the perfect rendition of the traditional mushroom soup, this was it. The soup was gently poured over the cheese, egg yolk and wild mushrooms, and we were instructed to mix the ingredients. It was nice to see a dish with seemingly no fancy science behind it. This was mushroom soup, expertly crafted, and it held its own against its more techno savvy menu mates.

Wild Mushroom Soup

The next dish was reminiscent of one Logan and I shared at Joël Robuchon a few years back. Playfully named “Not Your Everyday Caprese”. It appeared to be a simple arrangement of cherry tomatoes and mozzarella on a bed of walnut pesto. We were advised to handle the mozz gently as it was actually liquid in a very thin membrane. The ideal bite included a cherry tomato, liquid mozz ball and a slathering of pesto. As it entered my mouth, the mozzarella immediately burst and coated the other components in a rich and creamy coating. This was quickly cut by a tomato flavor, so intense, it made my eyes widen.

Not Your Everyday Caprese

Like Madison in Splash, we returned to the sea with the arrival of the sea urchin cream. It was described to us as more of a yogurt, paired simply with a light ponzu and seaweed foam. This dish was Japan in a cup, wonderfully sweet uni swathed in almost literal sea foam. I imagine José dreamt this one up after a day spent downing uni on the shores of Hokkaido.

Bazaar-sea urchin cream-bao con lechon

The second in a flurry of dishes landed, the bao con lechón, Chinese buns with pork belly. These were unreal, fatty pork belly with a slice of what may have been daikon. They were simple and packed with flavor.

Our last seafood dish was smoked oysters with an apple mignonette. A smoke-filled dome was lifted to reveal five perfect little oysters. The mignonette came in the form of a foam dabbed on each bivalve. The first flavor was one of intense applewood smoke, I had flashbacks of sitting by a campfire. The sour foam seemed to expand in my mouth as the sweet oyster coated the tongue.

Smoked Oysters

Next up was one of my most anticipated plates of the night, the foie gras PB&J sandwiches. They arrived with a warning that they tended to explode, not unlike Kramer’s Dominican crêpes. Sure enough, the first bite caused the bread to rupture in a fountain of foie. No issue there. It was a delightfully informal dish, the perfect thing for a big kid with grown up taste. A lot of restaurants would skimp on the foie to PB&J ratio in an item like this, not here, I was completely satisfied as foie was easily the dominant flavor.

Foie Gras PB & J

To finish off the night, bone marrow with Caribbean white truffles, Florida citrus and fried capers. If I’m honest, this was the disappointment of the night. Of course that’s all relative, at another restaurant this may have been the best thing. Here though, after that parade of wonderful flavors, this fell flat. First, the bone marrow was lost among the other more pungent ingredients like the citrus and caper (which for me was the star here). Second, the server shaved an insane amount of hearts of palm over the dish. It added a crunchy texture but not much else. Bone marrow is a very delicate protein and needs to be treated simply for it to stand out.

Bone Marrow

Even though we ended on a slightly bitter note, it didn’t diminish the amazing meal we’d enjoyed. The most profound thing I took from the dinner was how markedly different José’s take on molecular gastronomy is from Wylie’s. While WD-50 strives to disconnect your eyes from your tongue by using clever disguises and pairing seemingly incompatible ingredients to create completely new and delicious flavors, The Bazaar uses new techniques to re-imagine classic dishes in totally new ways. I have to say, I’m a big fan of both.

The Bazaar on Urbanspoon

Subs ‘n Such – Lakeland, FL

It was an extra hot day, such is the norm in Florida in June. A day that made me sweat so grotesquely that it was leaking into my eyes and stinging me like a squirt of sriracha to the face. I was getting ready to leave for my next stop on my route, sorting things out and trying not to faint, when a couple geezers drove up next to me while I was in the middle of road. I’m no street-walker, I’m a business man. Nevertheless, I found myself approaching the car with trepidation. They had just pulled out of the newest antique shoppe and almost hit a closed eyed squinter man on a bicycle selling roof insurance. It was clear to see they were out of sorts. Lost in a sea of unknowing. Neither of them resembled Nicolas Cage as they didn’t seem to have any answers to their own questions. The driver rolled his window down and asked if I could give him directions to a new convenience store that boasted an array of submarine sandwiches, sweet tea and sundries, the likes of which have never been seen by our naive Floridian eyes. I literally could have thrown their frail, flaccid bodies across the main drag and right into the coveted halls that house Subs ‘n Such. I said, as I was blinded by the sun flares bouncing off the hood of his late-model Mercury Grand Marquis, “Sir, the best sandwich in town is literally across the street.” (Pointing toward the direction that shates the name of Kanye’s baby… Northwest.)

Obviously I’m not receiving information from the same media sources as these two people, but what kind of nincompoop is giving glowing reviews to a gas station sandwich?

Subs ‘n such doesn’t need technology. It doesn’t need press. All they need to keep the locomotive plowing down local competition, is testimony from all the die-hard repeat customers they have served over the last 37 or so years. You most definitely don’t need a schmuck like me attempting to recreate and describe in detail the anatomy of a well produced sandwich. Instead, I’d like to share a visual timeline from my countless visits to this little piece of Lakeland’s gastro-heritage.

Subs 'n Such Spread

There you have it. A serious shrine to Lakeland’s best sandwich shop. There’s one in every city in the country. Some are better than others. Subs ‘n Such is never to be missed. You got that old man?

Subs N Such on Urbanspoon

Joe’s Stone Crab – Miami Beach, FL

Making new friends is a wonderful thing to be sure. It’s exciting to discover their hidden talents, to understand their unique personality quirks, the things that drew you to them in the first place. But it can be easy to forget about your old buds, the ones you’ve counted on countless times, the ones who’ve been there for your consistently, without fail for years, decades, possibly even a century. Ok, well most friends don’t stick around that long, but every so often, a restaurant does. However, doing so requires a staying power that can prove elusive, even to the hardiest of establishments. We’re talking Mick Jagger level, Paul McCartney even. There aren’t many dining halls that ever achieve such a feat. They fall for one reason or another, to any number of unforeseeable occurrences.

Joe's Menu

Somehow though, Joe’s Stone Crab has managed the impossible. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the legendary crab house, started by the humble Joe Weiss back in 1913. I’m not sure if Mr. Weiss had any idea what his lowly lunch counter would become a century later, but I have to imagine he’d be proud.

Joe’s, as it sits today is an icon, an institution in every sense of the word. It wouldn’t be too far of a stretch to say that every other stone crab joint in South Florida owes a little something to Joe’s. Understandably then, there’s an incredible demand for tables on a nightly basis. As you arrive and wade into the hungry mass, you’d better hope you know someone who knows someone, or you’ll be in for a long and tiring night standing at the bar. Joe’s doesn’t accept reservations, but don’t let that deter you. The crab is easily worth the wait. If you’re really in a hurry, there’s a take-out window next door, but for the full Joe’s experience, get a table.

Let me give you a little background on these choice crustaceans. Stone crabs are, as the name suggests, as hard as a rock. Therefore they arrive at the table pre-cracked, so you have easy access to the sweet flesh within. My favorite tidbit about these little guys is their Wolverine-like healing ability. As the claws are harvested (only one at a time so that the crab still has some defense against predators) they grow back, reaching full size again in 1-2 years.

stone-crab-wolvie1

But enough learning, let’s get to the food! When you finally reach your table, waste no time with the rest of the menu (unless you’re allergic to shellfish, in which case, what the heck are you doing here?) strap on a bib and order yourself a couple dozen claws. They come in four sizes: medium, large, jumbo and colossal. Obviously the price jumps relative to the size, but honestly, you can’t go wrong. There are few events that can bring joy to an entire table like that of a platter of enormous stone crab claws being plunked down, ready to be devoured.

Stone Crab

If you’re in the mood, jump for some sides like fried whole belly clams, golden onion rings, or my personal favorite, Joe’s roasted tomatoes. They don’t get cute with fancy ingredients here or goofy gimmicks, just great food, traditionally prepared and executed to perfection. Like their key lime pie. Even I, whose love for key lime pie would barely nudge the needle past lukewarm, can appreciate a cool slice of their signature dessert.

Rings, Clams, Tomatoes, Key Lime Pie

My dad has eaten at Joe’s since I was born and thanks to him the rest of us have enjoyed warm welcomes and rock star treatment on every visit. When I was young, I foolishly refused the restaurants namesake, turning my nose up at crab in general. I’ve since learned from errant ways and have come to appreciate just what Joe’s represents. They’re a stalwart of tradition, loyally continuing in the path Joe Weiss blazed 100 years before. It’s no wonder then, that Al Capone and his goons made Joe’s a daily ritual. If it’s good enough for Scarface, it’s good enough for you, and it doesn’t get any more “Miami” than that!

Joe's Stone Crab on Urbanspoon