Thursday, May 29, 2008

Gambit's "Growing Up Brennan"

Ian McNulty of Gambit continued his review of the cookbook in a blog post that not only shares his thoughts on the cookbook, but also shares some of Ralph's childhood memories.

"Though it was published in the elegant format of a coffee table book, this weighty volume is clearly intended to be used in the kitchen where its thorough advice on seafood selection, handling and preparation will be invaluable to those who weren’t necessarily brought up shucking oysters and catching redfish." - Ian McNulty

Growing up in the Midwest, I fished, but never had the opportunity to shuck an oyster so this is all new information to me. However, McNulty's reference to the books format did bring back some childhood memories. My mother had a stack of Southern photography coffee-table books in our living room. I used to spend hours looking through those books and dreaming about what it would be like to grow up in the South. Just the thought of climbing in the ancient Oak trees was enough to make me consider moving.

If you're going to be a child in the South it has to be pretty spectacular grow up in a culinary family. I think Ian is of the same mind, as he asked Ralph to share some childhood memories. What future foodie wouldn't want to grow up taking day trips with Ella and Adelaide Brennan?

These outings still seem to have an impact on Ralph. Many of his favorite desserts have familial ties and are adult takes on classic childhood sweets. While I sometimes still dream about growing up in the South, somehow I believe that tasting these treats is the next best thing.

Read Ian McNulty's full post on

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Tie-Dye Traveler Reviews Red Fish Grill

Double Chocolate Bread Pudding Named 'Best in the Quarter'

I wrote before last week's New Orleans Food & Wine Experience that anytime is a good time to visit New Orleans for great food.

Reviewing travel and food blog year-round posts about New Orleans cuisine is proof that the cities culinary genius isn't seasonal.

It's my job to bring media into the restaurants to review the food. Since I am pretty impatient it can be hard waiting for reviews to print, but when you get a good one it's definately worth the wait.

That said, I love to come across bloggers unsolicited comments about the restaurants. It's always a treat to here a new perspective on the food, service and such. A great review validates our excitement about the restaurants and the service provided.

Recently Kat Robinson, writer for Tie-Dye Travels posted about her trip to New Orleans. She focused on nine great places to visit in the city and included Red Fish Grill in her list. Read Kat's post to see which eight other locations made the list. Take a minute to enjoy a typical Red Fish Grill meal with her... but save room for dessert!

"You’re doing yourself an injustice if you don’t save room for the Quarter’s best bread pudding -- the Double Chocolate Bread Pudding." - Kat Robinson

Bread pudding is a New Orleans classic dessert, so Ralph Brennan included two versions of this dessert in the cookbook. You can make Ralph Brennan's Bread Pudding with Whiskey Sauce (pg. 277) or Chocolate Bread Pudding with Two Chocolate Sauces & Almond Bark (pg. 280) at home. I promise you will be pleased with both.

Photos: Red Fish Grill sign and Double Chocolate Bread Pudding from Tie-Dye Traveler

Monday, May 19, 2008

New Orleans Wine and Food Experience

At any given time of the year New Orleans is a fantastic place to enjoy great food and wine. That said, one of best times for foodies to flock to the Crescent City is just around the corner. The New Orleans Food and Wine Experience (NOWFE) is celebrating 17 years as one of the South's premier food events.

Suprisingly, this year will be my first year attending the event. However, as I've asked around and realize that I am not alone in this position. Many locals are too busy manning their own restaurants to make it to the official events. Sometimes it's tough to be a host.

However, Ralph and team are regulars and will be amoung the 75 Chefs, 175 wineries and 1,000 wines participating in the five-day event. Running from May 20 - 24th NOWFE brings in more than a half-million dollars to regional charitable organizations.

John DeMers of Delicious Mischief is a regular at the event and gives a great overview of the event on his blog and shares his perspective on NOWFE Ralph's cookbook.

"Each year, it seems, produces at least one dazzling new cookbook devoted to New Orleans cuisine. At this year’s edition of NOWFE, Ralph Brennan’s brand-new seafood magnum opus is expected to be all the buzz."

Thanks for the kind words John, and hope to see catch you at this year's NOWFE.

For those interested in attending event tickets are still available.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Super Chef Selects Cookbook

Super Chef is an online magazine that follows the careers, empires, trends, media, and brands of super chefs in America and abroad. So we were happy to see a review of the cookbook posted on the site.

Acclaimed writer Juliette Rossant, who has interviewed and profiled some of the most renound chefs of our time, reviewed the cookbook and answers the question, "How much influence does a restaurateur have on a restaurant's cuisine if he/she is not the executive chef?"

While Ralph isn't officially a chef, his staff have given him the title "Taster in Chief". And taste is what counts, right?


Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Cooking, New Orleans Style!

Recently added a new online cooking show to beef up their culinary content. "Cooking, New Orleans Style!" takes viewers inside some of the most exclusive kitchens in the Crescent City and provides a real view of restaurants behind the scenes. Several of the Ralph Brennan restaurant chefs and even Ralph himself have been featured on the show.

The show offers a great opportunity for home cooks to see how Ralph Brennan's chefs really prepare the recipes from the cookbook in their own kitchens. Three of the cookbook recipes have already been featured, although Bacco's barbeque shrimp is the Italian twist on the cookbook's traditional recipe.

Check out these videos to see the chefs behind the cookbook.

Baked Oysters Ralph- with Ralph Brennan and Chef Haley Bittermann

Grilled Redfish and Crabmeat with Lemon Butter Sauce- with Chef Gregg Collier of Red Fish Grill

Barbeque Shrimp- with Chef Chris Montero of Bacco

Saturday, May 10, 2008

A Food Writer's Fish Tale

In setting out to create 'the definitive guide to New Orleans seafood' the most anticipated reviews were those from the local community. Ralph Brennan's New Orleans Seafood Cookbook isn't a restaurant cookbook, it's a book to define the cooking of New Orleans most valuable culinary asset- our local seafood.

New Orleanians may have a laid-back attitude a la Laissez ke bon temps rouler, but we take our food very seriously. New Orleans has a competitve and challenging culinary community, which may be why the book took nearly a decade to finish from concept to printing.

Interested to see what local food critic Ian McNulty thought about the cookbook? Did Ralph Brennan achieve his goal to create 'the definitive guide to New Orleans seafood'?

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

A Refreshing Pimm's Cup for a Hot Summer Day

An English import, the Pimm's Cup has been adopted by New Orleanians as ". . . the perfect quaff on a hot summer's day," according to the introduction to the drink in Ralph Brennan's New Orleans Seafood Cookbook on page 402. While controversy exists over the date of the drink's creation (ranging from 1821 to the 1840s -- Ralph Brennan's New Orleans Seafood Cookbook states 1823), it's agreed that the drink's creator was one James Pimm.

According to Wikipedia, James Pimm of Kent, England, came to the city of London in 1823 and bought an oyster bar near the Bank of England. Within ten years, Pimm had five oyster bars to his name catering to the financial elite.

Pimm's beverage was initially offered as a tonic specially designed to accompany the oysters. It was a gin-based beverage with quinine and herbs and served in a small tankard called a No. 1 Cup and intended to be an aid to digestion. The liquor concoction eventually became known as Pimm's Cup No. 1.

The recipe of Pimm's Cup No. 1 is a closely guarded secret. Only six people know the recipe according to The drink is embraced by the upper class of Southern England, being only one of two drinks offered at Henley Royal Regatta and the Glyndebourne opera festival (the other being champagne) as well as being the drink of choice for Wimbledon.

The drink entered the commercial market in 1859 with Pimm selling the business and the use of his name to Frederick Sawyer in 1865. In 1880, future London mayor, Horatio Davies, bought the business with a franchise of Pimm's Oyster House following in 1887. Pimm's No. 1 sold briskly to be joined by other Pimm's concoctions. Pimm's No. 2 (whiskey-based) and Pimm's No. 3 (brandy-based) were introduced in 1851 with Pimm's 4-6 created in the wake of WWII. Only Pimm's No. 1 is still regularly produced with Pimm's No. 6 (vodka-based) only occasionally produced and a version of Pimm's No. 3 called Pimm's Winter Cup produced during the holiday season since 2005. The others were phased out in the 1970s and 1980s.

Pableaux Johnson of describes a well-made Pimm's Cup:
"In the tongue, it's simultaneously fresh and light; spicy and tart. A slight, citrusy acidity complements sweetness from lemon-lime soda or lemonade (barkeep's choice) as the cucumber provides clean, vegetal flavors and a satisfying crunch for the salad-deprived."
Ralph Brennan's New Orleans Seafood Cookbook uses sour mix and ginger ale to create the Pimm's Cup's signature bubbly citrus taste.

Wikipedia: "James Pimm" 10/08/07
Wikipedia: "Pimm's" 03/29/08
" "Pimm's Cup" "In the Cups: Pimm's Cup"
photo courtesy of mooganic, used under this Creative Commons license

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Prepare a Tureen of Turtle Soup Tonite

Turtle Soup is not a dish one sees everyday. Difficult to find outside the New Orleans and Louisiana Coast, most know the dish, potage a la tortue, from the 1988 movie Babette's Feast. In Ralph Brennan's New Orleans Seafood Cookbook, a recipe for Turtle Soup can be found on page 136.

While supplies of fresh water turtles, the only kind lawfully sold as food, are abundant in the New Orleans area to make Turtle Soup, in other parts of the country, the dish is illegal. According to Wikipedia, many turtle species are listed as "threatened" or "endangered" and their hunting and capture is illegal. The loss of an adult turtle can seriously harm populations of the amphibian as breeding adults are difficult to replace. Fortunately for those who don't live in New Orleans, turtle meat can be bought from specialty markets or by mail order. Ralph Brennan's New Orleans Seafood Cookbook has a four-page section that focuses on hard-to-find ingredients ranging from durum flour to seafood starting on page 424. Ordering the meat also solves the problem of dressing a live, snapping turtle.

Soups have a long history. In a piece by Andrew F. Smith at, he states that boiling foods gained steam when reliable water- and heat-proof containers were developed around 3,000 BCE. Boiling was a huge innovation in cooking technique. Boiling cooked a submersed food completely and evenly unlike open air fires where our ancestors had to regularly turn their food in order to cook it. Also, previously discarded animal parts like the bones suddenly became edible, with boiling techniques able to extract the nutritional value of the discards, making broths.

In 1794, Jean Baptiste Gilbert Payplat dis Julien opened a restaurant in Boston that specialized in soups. Nicknamed "The Prince of Soups," gourmands of the era flocked to Julien's establishment including French foodie Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, a politician and gastronome who visited American during the height of the French Revolution. While Julien created Julien Soup, his specialty was the making of Turtle Soup.

Turtle soup entered the American mainstream at the very top. The dish had become popular with the upper classes. With turtle so expensive to import, only the wealthiest could afford real Turtle Soup. Over time, a mock turtle soup was developed that used veal that could be enjoyed by the middle class. Janet Clarkson of states that the soup was a regular item on the menu of the Lord Mayors banquet in London while The Old Foodie recounts that turtle soup was part of the menu for the Corporation of the City of London's banquet for the Allied Sovereigns: the English Prince Regent and future King George IV, Tsar Alexander I of Russia and the King of Prussia,Friedrich Wilhelm III. President Taft so loved the dish that he brought a special chef with him to the White House in order to make it.

The dish was so popular that writer Lewis Carroll praised it in his book, Alice in Wonderland. Gui Alinat of uses the verse to open his article about Turtle Soup:

"Beautiful Soup, so rich and green,
Waiting in a hot tureen!
Who for such dainties would not stoop?"
In "A Seafood Cook's Companion" on page 44, Ralph Brennan's New Orleans Seafood Cookbook discusses the possible scarcity of finding turtle and suggests that some home cooks rely on oxtail or veal as substitutes.

Wikipedia: "Turtle Soup" 04/01/08 "History of Soup"
Kitchen Project: "Turtle Soup and Mock Turtle Soup" 03/01
The Old Foodie: "Turtle Season" 06/18/07 "Home Cooks, Please Don't Mock Turtle Soup" 04/27/05

photo courtesy of qmnonic, used under this Creative Commons license

Monday, May 5, 2008

Cobb Salad: A California Import Given a Creole Twist

Cobb Salad was created at the Brown Derby by the manager Bob Cole. On page 153 of Ralph Brennan's New Orleans Seafood Cookbook is Crab and Shrimp Cobb Salad with Remoulade Sauce. Unlike the traditional Cobb salad that is dressed with chicken and cheese and a special Cobb salad dressing, Ralph Brennan's offering is presented with shrimp, crab and a corn relish with remoulade sauce.

Salad has had a roller-coaster ride throughout culinary history, at some points a desirable and practical dish and at others a suspicious and even potentially dangerous one. Lynn Olver's Food Timeline records that the ancient Greeks and Romans would dine on raw vegetables with a dressing of oil, vinegar and herbs. Greek physicians Hippocrates of Kos (c. 460 BCE-c. 370 BCE) and Galen of Pergamon (c. 129 CE-c. 210 CE) both recommended a diet of fresh vegetables as it was easy to digest. Further they recommended that salad should be the first course of a meal because salad wouldn't create obstructions for the latter courses. Foodies of the era argued that salad should be the last course as the vinegar dressing conflicted with the taste of wine.

Salad is a corruption of a vulgar Roman phrase herba salata meaning "salted herb." The dish fell into decline after the fall of Rome, though western Europeans continued dining on raw vegetables on fast days or for medical purposes. The Byzantine Empire continued the practice of salad and later reintroduced it to Medieval Europe via Italy and Spain, though vegetables would be picked or cooked.

During the Renaissance, the consumption of fresh vegetables simply was not done. It was feared that uncooked vegetables led to illness so vegetables were well-cooked, deriving the plant material of its nutrients. According to, Delmonico's Restaurant in New York began to offer salads to their high-end clients, making the dish a "wealthy" one in popular perception.

Arthur Schwartz of retells the story of the creation of the Cobb Salad as originally told by the Brown Derby itself:
"One night in 1937, Bob Cobb, then owner of The Brown Derby, prowled hungrily in his restaurant's kitchen for a snack. Opening the huge refrigerator, he pulled out this and that: a head of lettuce, an avocado, some romaine, watercress, tomatoes, some cold breast of chicken, a hard-boiled egg, chives, cheese and some old-fashioned French dressing. He started chopping. Added some crisp bacon -- swiped from a busy chef. The Cobb salad was born."
And it has proved popular indeed. According to the Brown Derby Restaurant Group, more than four million of the salads have been sold since 1937.

While not labor intensive to prepare, Cobb salad can be time consuming in order to get the correct taste. Ralph Brennan's New Orleans Seafood Cookbook advises preparing the lettuce three days in advance, the remoulade dressing two days in advance in order to permit the flavors to fully develop, and the remainder of the ingredients the day before serving.

The Food Timeline: "Salads" 03/22/08 "The Story of Salad's Success"
The Food Maven: "Original Cobb Salad"
photo courtesy of CP, used under this Creative Commons license

Friday, May 2, 2008

Flaming Finish to a Fine Meal

After a fine meal of Pecan-Crusted Speckled Trout with Rum-Butter Sauce (pg. 204) followed with Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Pie (pg. 287), what could be better than a well-prepared cup of coffee to accompany that dessert? Ralph Brennan's New Orleans Seafood Cookbook offers a Cafe Brulot Diabolique on page 408. This coffee offers the diner a dramatic finish when the clove-studded lemon and orange peels are set aflame. When preparing this recipe, it's stated that "Because the flames from the burning alcohol typically rise at least 2 to 3 feet, this recipe should not be prepared on a stove with a low hood, nor in a kitchen with a ceiling lower than 8 feet from the floor."

Ian McNulty at writes:
"It ends up tasting like very thick, sweet coffee with the deep citrus and clove flavors mellowing the sweetness. . . It is especially popular as a finale to a big holiday meal, such as the New Orleans reveillon feast. . . It is also one of the most memorable ways to cap off a glorious New Orleans meal."
Coffee has a long history beginning around 850 CE when a goatherd named Kaldi noticed how lively his goats became after eating berries coming from a certain shrub in Ethiopia, according to Cultivation of coffee trees dates to around 1100 CE on the Arabian Peninsula. Arabs making the beverage referred to it as "qahwa" meaning a beverage made from plants. The first cafe opened in Constantinople in 1475. English coffeehouses became the birth place of tipping the staff. In order to speed one's order or improve one's seating, a cup was prominently placed with an accompanying sign that said, "To Insure Prompt Service."

Surprisingly, Lloyd's of London was born of a coffeehouse. Edward Lloyd opened a coffeehouse in London on Tower Street in 1688. According to Wikipedia's history of Lloyd's, the coffeehouse was frequented by merchants, shipowners and sailors who would discuss insurance deals among themselves. Later members of the insurance arrangement formed a committee called The Society of Lloyd's and moved to the Royal Exchange in 1774.

The first coffee plants were brought over from Europe in 1723 by a French naval officer by the name of Gabriel de Clieu who smuggled a seedling that he planted on the island of Martinique. By 1777 it had become a major crop for Martinique, where it would have been easily transported to New Orleans.

The Louisiana State Museum states that New Orleans is the number one coffee port in the U. S with it's 241,000 tons coming from 31 countries. In 1995, coffee shipped from New Orleans accounted more than a quarter of all coffee imported to the United States. As a commodity, it's second only to oil and more than 400 billion cups are drunk annually.

Ralph Brennan's New Orleans Seafood Cookbook states that flaming coffees came via French cooks and waiters in the early 1800s. This is a recipe that produces 10 - 12 1/4-cup servings. According to the cookbook, "If you have a large kitchen, your guests can gather 'round to enjoy seeing you recreate the loveliest of all Creole dining rituals." "Light My Fire: The Spectacle and Tradition of Café Brûlot" 2006
KoffeeKorner: "Coffee History" 03/30/00
Wikipedia: "Lloyd's of London" 03/30/08
Louisiana State Museum: "New Orleans and Coffee" 2002
photo courtesy of Kaleid, used under this Creative Commons license

Thursday, May 1, 2008

The Sweet Potato Vs. The Yam

Ralph Brennan's New Orleans Seafood Cookbook isn't afraid of a little controversy. On page 305, the issue of the sweet potato as opposed to the yam is tackled in the introduction to the recipe "Fluffy Sweet-Potato Pie." While yams are common to Africa and South America, the sweet potato ". . . has been a staple of Southern pantries for generations."

At, the two plants are stacked in a side by side comparison of characteristics. The sweet potato had taken root during Neolithic times while the yam entered the scene at around 50,000 BC. Another major difference is in the health benefits each plant provides. While yams are very low in Vitamin A, the orange varieties of sweet potatoes are quite high. In fact, a 3 1/2 ounce serving of baked sweet potato has 8,800 IU of vitamin A with 141 calories, making the root an excellent choice for those watching their weight.

Peggy Trowbridge Filippone at notes that the sweet potato is grown in the Southern United States while yams are primarily cultivated in Africa, parts of Asia and the Caribbean. The first recorded instance of the word "yam" dates to 1676 and is a corruption of African words njam, nyami and djambi meaning "to eat." states that the sweet potato is native to the tropical parts of the Americas and became domesticated about 5,000 years ago. In 2007, Louisiana contributed 15.9% of the American crop of sweet potatoes, making it third in production behind North Carolina and California. Wiki also recounts this story:
The Frenchmen who established the first settlement at Opelousas in 1760 discovered the native Attakapas, Alabama, Choctaw, and Opelousas Indian Tribes eating sweet potatoes. The sweet potato became a favorite food item of the French and Spanish settlers and thus continued a long history of cultivation in Louisiana.
The Wikipedia entry for yams comments that the tuber can grow to lengths of 2.5 meters or over 8 feet in length. It began to see cultivation around 8,000 BCE in Africa and Asia. They are particularly valued for their storage in West Africa and New Guinea, up to six months without refrigeration, which is important during the annual food scarcity at the start of the rainy season. Surprisingly, yams of African origin cannot be eaten raw due to the natural substances in the tuber that can cause illness. As well, skin irritation from handling raw yams can occur, although a simple bath of cold water can relieve it.

The Library of Congress explains the confusion over terminology neatly:

In the United States, firm varieties of sweet potatoes were produced before soft varieties. When soft varieties were first grown commercially, there was a need to differentiate between the two. African slaves had already been calling the ‘soft’ sweet potatoes ‘yams’ because they resembled the yams in Africa. Thus, ‘soft’ sweet potatoes were referred to as ‘yams’ to distinguish them from the ‘firm’ varieties.

Whether a person calls it a yam or a sweet-potato, it makes for delicious food. Fluffy Sweet-Potato Pie is correctly identified as a "delicious comfort food" in Ralph Brennan's New Orleans Seafood Cookbook.

Plant Answers: "What is the Difference Between a Sweet Potato and a Yam?" "Sweet Potato and Yam Differences" 2008
Wikipedia: "Sweet Potato" 04/29/08
Wikipedia: "Yam (Vegetable)" 04/25/08
Library of Congress: "Question: What is the difference between sweet potatoes and yams?" 03/01/07
photo courtesy of Carl E. Lewis, used under this Creative Commons license