Saturday, February 20, 2010

Taking Matters Into My Own Hands

One thing I just can't seem to find in California is a proper pulled-pork sandwich. And man, a good one is so hard to beat. It's one of those foods I eat every chance I get when I'm back South. The tangy, luscious meat . . . the cool, creamy cole slaw . . . the crunchy sour pickles . . . the warm bun. . . . .Ugh, I'm completely salivating now. Cruel, cruel, cruel.

Out here, there are a few spots where I can find a "Hawaiian" pulled-pork sandwich which is often smothered in BBQ sauce and topped with pineapple and slaw tossed in poppy seed dressing, but that understandably doesn't cut it. At times, I just can't wait until my next trip home for my fix, so must take matters into my own hands.

While nothing can beat a pig slow-roasted over a pit, this crock pot version is much more manageable. It's one of the easiest and tastiest recipes I make. No matter how much meat I make there is literally not a trace leftover. People are constantly asking for this recipe so I figured it's high time to share it with you.

In the South there's often a great debate on what constitutes proper BBQ. Those in South Carolina would assert that chopped pork with a mustard sauce is the only way to go, and my friends in Texas would vote for sliced beef brisket in a tomato-based BBQ sauce. Well, where I'm from it's absolutely pulled-pork dressed in a pepper vinaigrette. I'm not here to start a fight, but I am here to tell you that this is delicious, if not addictive, no matter how you define BBQ.

If you don't believe me, cook up a batch of this meat and then layer it on a bun with French's mustard, cole slaw (honestly, KFC has some of the best), and dill pickles. Perfection in your hands. Just make sure to have plenty of napkins around! Oh, and don't plan to have any leftover.

Southern-Style Pulled-Pork

5 lb pork shoulder or butt (boneless is fine)
2 cup white vinegar
1/2 cup ground pepper
1 cup water
Bottle of favorite BBQ sauce
Hamburger buns
French's mustard
Dill pickles

Place the meat in a crock pot and add 1 cup vinegar, 1/4 cup pepper and enough water to fill half of the crock pot. Cook on low for 6-10 hours (or on high for about 4 hours). The meat should easily pull away from the bone or shred if there is no bone.
Pour off all liquid, transfer meat to a chopping board, and shred the pork, throwing out the pure fat sections. Return meat to the crock pot and add 1 cup BBQ sauce, 1 cup vinegar and 1/4 cup pepper. Cook on low for another 2-3 hours (or on high for an hour). As long as there is enough liquid in the pot, it's virtually impossible to overcook the meat.
To make your sandwich, spread mustard over the bun, pile on some pork, and add pickles and slaw on top. Yields: 8-12.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Naked Chef All Grown Up

I was an early fan of Jamie Oliver, way back when he was known as the Naked Chef. Sadly, he earned this name not because he cooked sans clothing, but because he cooked very simple, "naked" food. For many of us, we spend our 20s and early 30s struggling to find our true identity and purpose. I think Jamie would agree he's been through the same process, albeit he's been very successful hosting a range of cooking shows, publishing several cookbooks under a variety of monikers, and opened some restaurants. But now, he's all grown up! He's finally found his calling. And for that, he was named the 2010 TED winner.

Obesity intervention is something I'm proud to say I've been entrenched in for the past 8 years. I've had the great fortune and honor to work with amazing companies and doctors focused on finding viable solutions for people suffering from obesity. It's a complicated disease — not to mention deadly and expensive. It's an epidemic that threatens to bankrupt our nation. And many countries around the world are in teetering on the same precipice. The thing is, though, we (that's the collective "we") are responsible for this. The good news is we can fix it.

I'm not going to pretend I don't understand the obstacles in front of us, but with efforts like Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution and the recognition this program has received, I feel like there's real hope. Yes, he's a talented chef with lots of swagger, but what he's teaching doesn't require a culinary degree . . . or a cute accent. The school kids he met in Huntington, WV (and I'm not picking on WV! I think they represent mainstream America) couldn't identify a fresh tomato. Surprisingly, they couldn't even identify a potato. I guess potatoes only come sliced and fried as far as they're concerned. It's one thing not to be able to identify states or countries on a map, but truly horrifying and tragic to me that kids don't know what food is. I mean you need it to stay alive. And yet they have no concept of what it looks like, let alone what your body needs to be healthy or how to prepare it.

Jamie's mission is simple: To create a strong, sustainable movement to educate every child about food, inspire families to cook again, and empower people everywhere to fight obesity. I'm touched at the deepest level by this. Eating is fundamental to life — and pleasure. Although the task is daunting, I think the Naked Chef is up for the battle. He's got a plan but it requires change. And change is hard. But if we feel an emotional connection to the motivation for change, our chances for success are great.

We've always been a world leader. Today, we're currently the leader in the wrong category: Percent of our population that's obese. As a nation, we now have the opportunity to become a world leader in overcoming obesity. Jamie's mission dovetails with Michelle Obama's Let's Move, an initiative to fight childhood obesity. But any journey begins with a single step. And it often begins at home.

If you want to help be a part of the solution:
1. Watch this video.
2. Sign this petition.
3. Offer your help.
4. Post your ideas on this blog so we can all benefit!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Gumbo Glory

I know we're already on to the Olympics but I'm still riding high from the Saints' Super Bowl win. My parents and my 90 year-old grandmother (famous for her biscuits) flew in from New Orleans in time to catch the second half and eat some gumbo. I wanted to cook something special for them and something representative of New Orleans to show my team spirit. I'd like to claim that my gumbo was their lucky charm but I heard from many friends and family that they too made gumbo so perhaps it was power in numbers.

Usually a pot of gumbo is cause for celebration in of itself, but as the Saints marched on to victory there was extra celebrating to do. Except for my mom, who is a staunch Colts fan. She may not have been a part of Who Dat Nation but she did manage to join the rest of us for dinner. It was gumbo after all.

Gumbo is a very personal thing. Everybody's is different and everybody's is the best. It's not rocket science to make, but I would say it's not for the faint at heart. It requires courage and willingness to take a risk if you want your gumbo dark and rich with flavor. It can take all day, which is perhaps why it tends to call up a unique vibration of festivity.

There are two secrets, though, for making good gumbo. First, you gotta love to do it. You have to enjoy spending hours in the kitchen focused on the task at hand. I'm well known to multi-task while cooking, but that business is banned from the kitchen when you've got roux on the fire. Flat out there is just no rushing or shortcuts to gumbo-making. So turn on some good music, take a deep breath and embrace the process. The second secret is the roux itself. A good roux has to be taken to the edge of darkness, requiring constant whisking for 30 minutes or more. You lose 5 lbs from standing in front of the hot stove for that long (so wear minimal clothing, even in Winter — and even though it seems idiotic to stand in front of a scalding hot substance with much of your upper body exposed) and your arm feels like it's about to fall off. If you're an adrenalin junkie, then gumbo-making may just be your thing. You get a rush from bringing the roux to the brink of disaster — the horrifying, looming chance of scorching the roux, which I can tell you right now is impossible to remedy. You just have to wipe away the tears and start over.

While the roux and the holy trinity (chopped onion, green bell pepper and celery) are the cornerstones of gumbo, there are infinite variations on gumbo. Some with seafood, some with okra, some with tomatoes, etc. Find a recipe that calls to you and go for it. Cooked with love and patience, you can't go wrong.

And then invite some friends over to celebrate!

LuLu's Gumbo
By Lucy Ann Buffet (aka LuLu)

Note: Lulu's is one of my family's favorite restaurants in L.A. That's Lower Alabama not Los Angeles! If you happen to find yourself down in Gulf Shores, do visit.

2 large onions, coarsely chopped
2 green bell peppers, coarsely chopped
1 medium head of celery, coarsely chopped including leaves
3/4 cup vegetable oil or bacon grease
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 1/2 lbs frozen cut okra, thawed (or fresh and cut into 1/4-inch pieces)
1 28-oz can whole tomatoes, coarsely chopped in their juice
2 lbs medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 lb lump crab meat
1 whole rotisserie chicken, meat picked and shredded
1 lb andouille sausage, cut into 1/8-inch rounds
8 cups chicken stock
2-3 tsp salt
1 Tbsp black pepper
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
2 Tbsp dried thyme
4 bay leaves
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried basil
2 Tbsp creole seasoning
2-3 Tbsp pepper hot sauce (go for 3 if you like things really spicy)
2 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
2 cups green onions, finely chopped
1/2 cup fresh parsley, finely chopped
1/2 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice

Place chopped onions, bell pepper, celery and okra in separate bowls and set aside.
To make the roux, heat vegetable oil or bacon grease in a 10-quart heavy stockpot over medium-high heat. When oil is hot, gradually add flour, whisking continuously. Continue to whisk roux, adjusting heat as necessary to keep from burning. This may take 25-30 minutes or until the roux is a dark mahogany color.
Carefully add chopped onions to the roux and continue stirring with a large wooden spoon for 2 to 3 minutes. Onions will sizzle and steam when they hit the hot roux so caution is advised.
Add bell peppers and continue stirring for another 2 to 3 minutes; add celery continuing to stir constantly for another 2 to 3 minutes. The mixture should now resemble a pot of black beans.
Add tomatoes, chicken and sausage and stir well. Then slowly add the heated stock. You can just pop this in the microwave to bring the temperature up.
Add salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper, thyme, bay leaves, oregano, basil, creole seasoning, hot sauce and Worcestershire sauce. Stir well. Bring gumbo to a boil and continue boiling for 5 minutes. Reduce heat to maintain a low simmer, uncovered, for about 1 hour.
Add okra and bring back to a boil for 5 minutes. Reduce heat again to maintain a slow simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes or until the okra has list its bright green color and is cooked down like the other vegetables. If gumbo gets too thick, add a little water. If too thin, continue to simmer uncovered.
Add the green onions, parsley, and lemon juice. Cover and cook 15 minutes. Add the shrimp and crabmeat and mix well. Cover and turn off heat. Let sit for another 15 minutes while seafood cooks. It will stay hot for a long time. Adjust seasonings and serve over cooked white rice.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

All Saints Day

Today is the Super Bowl - and my birthday. As such, I was treated to breakfast at the only "southern" restaurant in Santa Barbara. In honor of the New Orleans Saints, I ordered the apple beignets with creme anglaise. It's hard to beat fresh from the fryer beignets from Cafe du Monde but these certainly are a wonderful substitute.

I can take no credit for these lovely treats other than eating them, which I did with aplomb. It was a great way to get ready for the game. We'll be eating gumbo, of course. More on that later. . . .

Geaux Saints!