Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Shrimp Creole

A dish from the Deep South
So my latest endeavor was Shrimp Creole, a dish originating from the Deep South, with an eclectic taste reflecting French, Spanish and African Cuisine. The benefit of Creole cooking, from what I've learnt is that it’s a recipe that you can add to for personal taste.
The core elements consist of cooked shrimp, diced tomatoes, onion, celery, bell peppers, heated with Tabasco sauce and other warming spices like cayenne. This dish is cooked to achieve a nice thickness, served over rice. I wanted to find a very traditional and timely recipe, one that required hours of stewing and a whole lot of herbs.
I decided not to take any short cuts. Paula Deen had a really watered down version that didn't really use any spices or herbs and looked bland. I’ve never been the South, I want to go mostly for the food. Researching and understanding how a full body of flavors interact for any given recipe is important, especially when you’ve never cooked anything similar before; it will help you create and understand the meal and its origins. So don’t skip on anything!
 It seems to be a very popular dish, but lots of people point towards the diminished quality available in the States. This is mostly I guess because Creole cooking remains so that you can really add whatever spices and vegetables you have in your kitchen. I had a certified Southern food expert to dinner and the approval was given!

If you don’t like spicy dishes, half the quantities of Tabasco, cayenne and pepper! My mouth went up in flames, but it was all well worth it.

Serves 4 – 6 people

1.5 pounds of large unpeeled Shrimp
3 Celery Sticks (diced finely)
5 Vine Ripened Tomatoes (diced finely)
1 Large Onion (diced finely)
1 Green Bell Pepper (diced finely)
2 Cloves of Garlic
3 tbsp Butter
3 tbsp Tomato Paste
1 tsp Brown Sugar
½ cup Port Wine
1 tbsp Tabasco Sauce
1 tbsp Worcestershire Sauce
3 tbsp Parsley finely Chopped
2 Bay Leaves
1 bunch of Fresh Thyme
2 cups Jasmine Rice

Creole Seasoning

½ tbsp Onion Powder
½ tbsp Garlic Powder
½ tbsp Dried Oregano
½ tbsp Dried Basil
½ tbsp Dried Thyme
½ tsp White Pepper
½ tsp Black Pepper
½ tbsp Cayenne Pepper
1 ½ tbsp Paprika
1 tsp Salt

Shrimp Stock

Shrimp Skins and Tail
½ Lemon
¼ cup White Wine
1 tbsp Butter
½ Stick Celery
1 Small Onion
1 tbsp Sea Salt
¼ Teaspoon of Creole Seasoning

We’re going to recycle the skins from the prawns earlier and make our own stock. The soup stock should be warm and not too over powering, so we’re going to balance the intensity out with some lemon and thyme.

NOTE: Cook the stock in advance for a much bolder taste and to save yourself becoming manic. Combine ingredients and cook on medium heat for 1 hour. Also cook the rice as per usual, but with salt, 2 bay leaves and some butter for rich warm rice.

As any good meal starts, melt the butter in a pan, add the onions, garlic and brown sugar and let them caramelize until they are golden brown. Then add the celery and bell pepper and combine with half the Creole seasoning. We are gradually adding vegetables in stages to allow each to cook appropriately. Once everything starts to wilt, we are going to add the tomatoes.  At this stage feel free to add kosher salt to let everything break down and cook better. Add tomato paste and cook until it has browned, and then follow by adding the port and cooking until the alcohol has evaporated.  We now have our base!!

Continue by adding pre-,made stock and stir well. Now adjust the stock to the base of the dish to meld the flavous better. At this point, also add remaining Creole seasoning, Tabasco and Worcestershire sauce. Tie the bay leaves and thyme in twine and place in the middle of  dish.

Let the dish cook on a low-medium heat until it thickens, adding the shrimp to cook for the last 10 minutes. Enough of the taste from the shrimp is captured in the stock, so we are essentially just trying to cook the shrimp until they are tender and soft.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Brooklyn Brussels and Salad

A sweet and savory adaptation of brussels. 

Despite my disliking of the American green grocer and it's questionable (and unknown) quality, one vegetable that I have taken such a huge liking to is brussels. I never really grew up eating them and I never really remember seeing them much in grocers, but they always had the stigma of being unsavory - 'eat your brussels', force feeding children. Here they are plentiful, cheap and delicious. Every second restaurant will serve them seasonally. Seasonal foods are all the rage. They are cooked many delicious ways, so when I spent time unemployed I learnt to cook well with them. A complete matter of trial and error. Undoubtedly, brussels must be cooked in good butter. Try it and die. But from this platform you can really start to play with sweet and also savory to build an amazing brussels dish. 

I have named my brussels Brooklyn Brussels because I've spent a great deal of time cooking them out here, and also enjoying them at so many restaurants. I died when summer came round and they had been ripped from all of the menus around the city. But now as winter comes round, they are again everywhere and even more delectable. 

I've cooked brussels as I always do and then added them to a salad that you can have warm or cold, served with mixed nuts and fruits, rice and egg.

Serves 4 – 6 people

1 Pound of Brussels
3 tbsp Butter
2 tbsp Pickapeppa Sauce ( a Jamaican Worcestershire)
2 tbsp Light Brown Sugar 
2 tbsp Worcestershire Sauce 
3 tbsp BBQ Sauce (smokey)
1 tbsp Burnt Sugar
Cumin (sprinkle)
Salt and Pepper (to taste)

In a hot cast iron pan, melt butter and start to cook the brussels. Using a cast iron pan will help brown and cook the brussels immediately. You want them to brown well before adding the sauces

Once they start to brown, add the wet ingredients, mixing well and follow with the dry ingredients. Turn down the heat from high to low and cook until the sauces really meld and cook through with the brussels. The smoky BBQ sauce will add a wonderful taste paired with bitter brussels and salt, the combination of all of the sweeter ingredients works wonders. These can be enjoyed as is, or as a side dish. 

Brussels and Salad
This is to make more of a hefty meal, or a larger side serving. It's great for dinner parties, cheap and most of all, it's all senses engaging dish. Looks, smells and tastes good. The texture of the dish is curious too. 

1/2 cup Mixed Fruit and Nuts
Balsamic Marinated Chicken
2 Eggs 
1 cup White Rice

While cooking the brussels, add the mixed nuts and let them heat and soften. Once done, combine with cooked white rice and toss. For some color and texture add 2 diced hard boiled eggs, keep the yoke soft if you'd like. It's runny and will mix beautifully through the salad. Serve either hot or cold. 

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Braised Beef in Red Wine and Juniper Berries

Having had an overheated summer and a half working oven, I've really put cooking with the oven on the back burner. I decided to give the old cooker a go and success, she works! Kind of.. So I decided to cook a dish that always gives me comfort when it's cold.

Proper braised beef, not the quick cooked, readily available, over saturated market option at every second restaurant in New York, is a well kept diamond. 

Two VITAL non negotiables for braising beef are anchovies and juniper berries. The anchovies soften, dissolve and enhance a strong flavor in all meats, especially beef. Juniper berries on the other hand almost create a nostalgia without even knowing it. The berries when cooked with the beef give a woody, bitter sweet taste that takes you to a time of wholesome, hardy eating. It makes you feel like you're eating around a fire in middle of the woods, on a cold winter night. Over the top? No.

So here's what you need to get started, 

1 Pound of Topside Beef
1 TBSP of Juniper Berries
1 Brown Onion
3 Carrots
4 Anchovies
5 Garlic Cloves
3 Bay Leaves
½ TSP Cayenne Pepper
½ TSP Chilli Flakes
3 Parts Red Wine
1 Part Beef Stock
Salt and Pepper to taste
1 TBSP Butter

The quantities above will vary depending on how many people you’re cooking for and or taste preference. I personally like my wine darker, garlic and anchovies more plentiful and the robust heat from the cayenne.
Two notes before cooking;

     Dry beef with a paper towel before browning – the beef won’t brown as nicely
2.            It is important to smash the juniper berries and garlic cloves to release flavors

Start by browning the beef in a pan, making sure all sides are sealed and well browned. After, keep the pan hot and pour one cup of red wine over it. The wine hits the heated pan and collects all of the wonderful flavors. Pour the stock immediately into a baking pot and the follow with the rest of the above ingredients. Dice the carrots and onions as you like.

I’d like to say three hours is fine for braising, I baked at 350F and achieved a wonderfully soft meat. If you've got time, continue to bake until the meat melts. It’s also important to make sure that if you’re cutting the beef into cubes that each piece is of equal size, to help braise at an equal rate.

Back in Sydney I used to buy whole topside, cut through the middle and stuff it with watercress, mustard seeds and garlic, it was a dream in a tagine.  Cooking meat in a tagine makes for amazing braising. One of the best culinary investments ever made!

After an hour and a half, bake your accompanying vegetables. I chose baby beets, potatoes (skin on), carrots and garlic. Covering all the vegetables in hot mustard seed oil and salt, bake for an hour and a half, the potatoes respond really to baking when the skin is intact with a little olive oil and the beats and carrots keep their sweetness in the center and are wonderfully soft on the outside.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Paul Smith Marrying History, Business Savvy Strategy and Design

With Sir Paul Smith growing his business against a struggling economy, his menswear collection for Spring/Summer 2013 reflects an industry champion status.

Menswear is headed for brighter pastures, literally and Paul Smith’s coming collection captures spring in a bottle. With a nostalgic color pallet throwing minds back to the cinematic feats of Grey Gardens and Edward Scissor Hands, kodachromatic color was key. Weaving this with whimsical holidays with the Kennedys in muted pastels, Smith creates an escape from the cold before it has even begun.

While the collection has been praised as wonderful and wonderful as it may be, the overall color pallet is nothing entirely new to the market. We have seen bright pops of color and toned down pastels for many seasons. Fueled by the brand’s signature tailoring, the collection is a market pleaser and will surely sell itself. I personally found the fall/winter collection much more original and inspiring, despite average reviews. The collection was based on the world of The Deep Blue, with pops of neon to reflect bio-luminescence and coats inspired by sailors of the turn of the century. The concept was beautifully executed and evident through all product categories in the collection and in store. Although not to everyone’s liking and an underwhelming market response, it had character.

With spring/summer pre-collection hitting stores already, the response has been overwhelming and a welcomed changed from the bleakness of winter fashion. Consumers are enjoying bright pops and pastels and once again hailing the color block. The decision to compromise clear inspiration for people pleasing pastels isn't extremely apparent to the market, but most definitely seems like a tactical to draw in sales during economic downtime and a strategic linchpin for business expansion measures. The spring/summer season is aligned to the brand’s design DNA, but by no means is it a measure of innovation and market leadership. The collection coming stands to represent market demands instead. Furthermore it represents business tact and success.

In closing, I think Paul Smith is more than just a designer; he’s a strategist and understands the weigh off between design, inspiration and business. 

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

A Cloisters Inspired Feast

Baked sweet apple & salted pumpkin stuffed with pork, bacon & anchovies, drizzled with salted caramel.

After taking an escape trip up to The Cloisters, I was left feeling inspired to create the perfect dish to welcome the season and an onslaught of fall eating. While sitting up at a beautiful wine bar in the surrounding park gardens, I penned together a sumptuous dinner to share with friends on a cozy fall’s night.  I have never had a festive American fall before and wanted to have an inaugural feast, marking the occasion. The meal had to embody all of my favorite comfort foods but also reflect fall.

I have included a few photos from the day to paint the picture. I took up a picnic of baguettes and apples and found picturesque places to rest and soak up the surroundings.

The Recipe

The recipe serves for an average of four people.

2 Fuji Apples
1 Pie Making Pumpkin
1/2 Pound of Minced Pork
6 Rations of Bacon
4 Anchovies
2 Cloves of Garlic
A Bunch of Baby Spinach
A Handful of Arugula
4 Field Mushrooms
1/2 tsp of Cinnamon
1/2 tsp of Nutmeg
Salt and Pepper
1 tbsp of Salted Caramel
1/4 Cup of Olive Oil  

Salted Caramel
1/2 Cup of Raw Cane Sugar
2 tbsp Molasses
2 tbsp Bacon Fat
1 tsp of Balsamic Vinegar
1 tbsp Honey
Salt to taste


Start by preheating the oven at 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  I have chosen Fuji apples because of their sweetness and even more so for the quality when baked; you are always left with a firm, but sweet treat. The choice of the pie making pumpkin came by accident, but worked for the best. I initially wanted a pumpkin you could eat entirely. However the firmness of the pie making pumpkin provided for extra heat and insulation when baking. 
Start by coring the pumpkin and then covering the outside with salt and olive oil. Rubbing the outside will help heat and cook the insides evenly. Take both apples, wrap them in baking paper and tie a piece of cooking string around the middle. This will help collect and contain the juices the apple releases.

While baking, make the stuffing. Start with frying up the bacon. The use of bacon provides lubrication and needed oil for the stuffing. Fry until crisp and chop into small pieces to add to the minced pork. I always like to add anchovies because they provide a natural saltiness to any meat dish without overpowering. The anchovies eventually dissolve and meld into the meat. Dice them with garlic, mushrooms and arugula and add to the mixture. Finish by adding the baby spinach, cinnamon and nutmeg and mix well. This must always be done with hands, as to achieve a finer melding of flavors. Sit the stuffing aside to marinate.

Bubbling Salted Caramel 
On a low heat, melt a small knob of butter. When heated, add cane sugar and cook until a dark syrup has formed. Soon after, add the remaining ingredients and continue to cook on a low heat until the mixture thickens. I chose to include polar opposite flavors to create a caramel to reflect how sweet and savory fall can really be. It works extremely well against the pork stuffing too. Leave it to sit and meld also. 

After baking the apples for 20 minutes, take them out and core them, leaving ample room for the stuffing. Stuff tightly and place excess on top. Leave to sit for 10 minutes, and then remove the pumpkin after 35 minutes of baking in total. Stuff the pumpkin and place both apples and pumpkin back in the oven and bake again for another 25 – 30 minutes. Always check with a thermometer or a skewer to test the inside of the pumpkin, as there is double to cook.

Stuffing Semi Baked Apples
When cooked, place all three items on a thick chopping board to plate. Reheat the salted caramel and drizzle generously; allowing the caramel to pour over and cover the skins, it looks magnificent. Don’t forget to replace the pumpkin top after you drizzle the beautiful caramel.

This fall platter should be served with something lighter, to create a balance against such a rich center piece. I cooked traditional Brussels with Worcestershire Sauce and cane sugar on a bed of arugula. This fall feast should be enjoyed with a beautiful pinot noir, again something warm, but light against sheer decadence.   


Marty Tsang

Brussels Ready!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Product Sub-Branding - Fad, Trend or Strategic Betterment?

Creating sub branded products to reflect personality, people and places reduces costs and lets the clothes do the CRM, to a degree. But how viable is this practice in such an uncertain, growing market?

As the fashion market continues to expand and chain stores seek to close the gap between themselves and the luxury market, what are the current key points of differentiation used by big dollar brands to keep themselves a mark above the rest?

Many key retailers in today's market have turned to better consolidating core ROI products to reflect resonating names and personalities. These products are often cash cows and have remained so for consecutive seasons earning themselves a place on the brand's trophy shelf. To keep the large volumes moving and to help brand building, retailers invest and integrate the products into marketing strategy, weighting each spend on prior and foretasted success.
 describes this simply as an ‘Identification Label’. Fashion retailers have however evolved this notion to what we know better as sub-branding, as loyal followers grow and emotional connections develop with the product.

The move to personal product resonance (as I like to call it) is nothing new and is often key to strategy used by FMCG businesses to a different degree. It could almost be viewed (by competitors) as a sign of brand maturity and integrity. Investing in personality creation reflects a loyal following and a top seller, to be sure. The execution and appropriateness on the other hand, is where the real elbow grease is required and many brands lack the lacklustre delivery to see it through long term. The contribution of the sub branded products long term, will also serve as a cost reduction method, with little design work required from season to season, bulk buys and recycled marketing materials.

Australian high street chain store Marcs has been a successful market leader with humble beginnings. For many years the company has kept a core product offering that has remained consistent from season to season and has over many years gained propulsion and a loyal following. The two core products are the Brando and the Arnie.

Both are two basic tees that gents come back for after many years of successful association and conditioning of the customer. The ability to guarantee consistent sell through is a core strength and a developed competitive advantage. It suggests great consumer insight and an understanding of the brand. Costs are kept to a minimum with large buys and a shelf premium that ensures these core items never hit sale, ensuring maximum GP. The marketing material remains in store each season with small appropriations made in seasonal campaigns. Following the success of the Arnie and Brando portfolio, Marcs has since aimed to adopt the strategy across the board, mostly until something resonates with consumers and an investment decision can be made to move forward with repeating and to further develop the strategic role. 

The brand now names 70% of all products after places or people, for quick association and as mentioned above, for market testing for potential long term champions. As Derrick Daye writes on humans and brands alike are emotional and an ‘emotional wrapper’ is needed to drive sales. With such a large stretch of products now being named, not overcrowding the consumer’s mind must be a tentative initiative, as to not remove the initial purpose, which was resonance.

Banana Republic, chain store wonder is adopting a similar strategy naming their cash cow ballet flat ‘Ashley’, giving her flair with more than 15 colors, patterns and textures. The sell through will be undoubtedly astronomical, they are also graced with the benefit of being cheap market substitutes to competing chain store and luxury labels. Banana Republic seems quite confident to invest in order to sell, increase ROI and also to brand build through their trending product popularity.

Luxury retailer Coach has taken this approach to strengthen their sales but more importantly, to strengthen their brand heritage. Their handbags have remained a core product and competency to the business and by moving back to classic, named and established styles, the brand aims to consolidate clients, past and future. The Penny, a style from the 70’s Coach Era has been reborn with new features and benefits, just to name one in their portfolio. Coach gives us insight into one of the many ways sub branding can help a brand financially and emotionally. 

 A broad adoption of names and personalities to fish in the market for winning cash cows seems to be a trending strategy in a highly competitive and expanding market. A brand with maturity and a level of market dominance will be fit to roll out such strategies, however basic marketing can provide as a checklist to prevent derailment.
  • Always check project performance against objectives. Be consistently aware of the strategic purpose of sub branding initiatives.
  • Premium pricing strategies. If branding is as much a priority as ROI, these core products should be held at a premium without compromising with end of season sales, retaining the customer and the brand integrity.
  • Imitation may be the best form of flattery, but it will not allow you to copy a core competency and something that has become inherent to the brand essence. Many retailers will seek to execute similar strategies within the same product category. To be sure, core branded products must be aligned with the brand and make emotional sense to the consumer.
Personal sub-branding is growing in popularity and diversity, but by ensuring self-awareness and knowing a brand's capabilities, brands may move this strategy from short term fad status to a strategic mold of the business.