Burt Wolf's Table: Miami - #213

BURT WOLF:  Miami, Florida, the spot where millionaires built their winter castles.  We'll tour the art deco paradise of South Miami Beach, visit a five-star hotel in Coconut Grove, and make a batch of cookies that you'll really get a kick out of.  This is the land of surf and turf, the return of Miami Spice.  So join me in Miami at Burt Wolf's Table.

BURT WOLF:  The first people to move into the Miami area were members of the Native American tribes who came here from Alaska.  I guess that made them the first snowbirds.  They lived wherever there was fresh water and had a pretty good life.  The idea of fun in the sun was attractive even fifteen thousand years ago.  The first European to pop in was Juan Ponce De Leon who showed up in 1513 looking for the Fountain Of Youth, a fantasy that still attracts people to the neighborhood.  The English and the Spanish fought over the area until the early years of the 1800's when it became part of the United States.  But not much really happened around here until the very last years of that century.

The railroad finally arrived in Miami in 1896 and that really started heating things up.  Miami became America's sun porch; the rich and famous started coming down from the north and building their winter homes.  Land speculators sold everything they could think of, including thousands of acres that were actually under water.  During the Second World War, Miami became a major training area for the military.  One out of every four officers in the air corps trained in Miami.  And when the war was over, many of them headed back.  During the 1950's it was the hottest vacation spot in the Western Hemisphere.  There were some difficult times in the 70's and 80's, but Miami has bounced back.

Get a good look at how Miami Vice has turned into Miami Nice, Al Guthrie of International Helicopter Service is giving us the grand tour.

I first saw Miami Beach during the 1940's and it was quite a piece of work.  My hotel faced out on a beach lined with palm trees.  The Atlantic Ocean was right in front of my door and I was swimming while my classmates back up north were bundling themselves up against the cold.  My Uncle Maxwell had taken me here for a Christmas vacation and I loved it.

During the 50's Miami Beach became one of the world's great centers of excess.  Hotels turned up their air conditioning as high as possible, so guests could wear their mink jackets to dinner.

The biggest names in the entertainment world played the clubs, and “The Great One,” Jackie Gleason, broadcast his weekly TV series from a Miami Beach studio.

JACK BENNY:  Let me tell you what he had for lunch, you won't believe it, he had a shrimp cocktail, right?  He had a little small green salad...


JACK BENNY:  ... and ...  and an apple, isn't that right? 

JACKIE GLEASON:  Positively right. 

JACK BENNY:  Of course, the apple was in a pig's mouth...

BURT WOLF:  In the 70's things began to decline and Miami Beach fell into a state of tragic deterioration.  Miami Beach, however, has had more comebacks than Peggy Lee and it’s in the middle of one right now.

Today South Miami Beach is known as So Be, developers are calling it the American Riviera, and the celebrities are coming back.  Hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent to renovate the hotels and apartment buildings in the area.  Oceanfront cafes are packed, and the restaurants are the hottest on the East Coast.  One of the most important maitre’ds in New York City came down and opened up Cassis.  This is a community that eats out every night.  Of the city's top ten restaurants, half are on the beach.  A number of major modeling agencies have moved in and the entire area has become a set for photographers.  In 1979, a hundred and twenty-five block area was designated as the art deco district and entered into the National Register Of Historic Places.  They are the only twentieth-century buildings to be given that honor.

The art deco style got started at the turn of the century; the objective was to blend together the designs of decorative artists with the technology of mass production.  A lot of the details were taken from ocean liners that were popular during the period.

Over five hundred art deco buildings were constructed on Miami Beach; almost all of them went up during the Great Depression of the 1930's.  Part of the objective of the designers was to make people feel better about their environment.  Pastel colors were used, lots of racing stripes.  Round windows like those on ships.  Decorative designs that reminded everyone that they were in the tropics.  The particular style used on the beach became known as “tropical deco” and it feels as good today as it did back then.

Miami Beach is surrounded by the warm waters of the Atlantic.  Home for bathing beauties, boating enthusiasts, and some of the world's best seafood. 

The most famous local speciality is probably the stone crab.  Stone crabs are found all along the East Coast from North Carolina to Mexico.  But they're only taken commercially in Florida.  Stone crabs have an amazing ability:  they can lose a claw and grow it right back.  It's an adaptive survival process; when an enemy grabs ahold of a claw, the stone crab just gives it up and takes off.  But each of those claws can exert over thirteen thousand pounds of pressure per square inch.  They use that pressure to crack the shell of oysters, which is their favorite food.  When Florida fishermen harvest stone crabs, they bring them up, break off a claw and toss them back.

The restaurant that put stone crabs on the gastronomic map is called Joe's Stone Crab.  And it sits on the southern tip of Miami Beach.  It's only open from October to May, which just happens to be the stone crab season.  The restaurant serves almost a ton of crab every day.  Because the meat is so rich, there are only three to five claws to a serving.  And that's more than enough.  They come with a light mustard sauce, cole slaw and fried sweet potatoes.

Joe's Stone Crab is the oldest restaurant on Miami Beach.  It got started in 1913 when Joe and Jenny Weiss moved here from New York City.  They bought a bungalow on South Beach, cooked inside and served on the front porch.  Today it's in its own sprawling building, one of the most successful restaurants in the world.  And it is now training the fourth generation of Joe's family.

Steven Saurwitz is Joe's great-grandson and he's working with me to adapt for home use their famous recipe for key lime pie.

Start by mixing together one and quarter cups of crushed graham crackers, a quarter cup of sugar and a third of a cup of melted margarine.  Press that into a nine-inch pie pan to form a crust.  Bake that for 10 minutes in a preheated 350-degree oven.  While that's baking, mix together 28 ounces of sweetened condensed milk, five egg yolks, one cup of lime juice and the zest of one lime.

A couple of lime tips:  these days we raise our limes for shipping qualities as well as juicing qualities.  But when you get them home they're usually kind of tough.  What you want to do is squeeze them and break up the inside fiber or roll them on a hard surface.  If you do that you will get about twice as much juice out of them.  Also when you're zesting them, you want just the green outside surface, it’s a very thin skin.  If you get the white connective tissue right under that skin, it will be bitter.

Take the crust out of the oven, pour the filling into it, then back into the oven for 10 minutes more.

When it comes out of the oven, it goes into the freezer for at least one hour and then it’s ready to serve.

Just south of Downtown Miami is an area known as Coconut Grove.  The first settlers came in before the Civil War, but not much happened until the late 1880's, at which time Miami's very first hotel opened for business.  The prestigious Biscayne Bay Yacht Club came into existence.  James Deering, the man who made his millions with the International Harvester Company, built himself a seventy room Italian Renaissance mansion which he called Vizcaya.  These days it’s operated as a museum for Deering's collection of fifteenth and sixteenth century art.  Coconut Grove has one of the oldest homes in the area, built in 1891.  Its called The Barnacle, because its steep hipped roof is shaped like a barnacle.  Coconut Grove has been able to hold onto its past while incorporating the latest fashions.  The main street is lined with sidewalk cafes and boutiques and has much if not more street life than any other part of town. 

Coconut Grove is the site of Miami's first hotel and these days, its also the site of Miami's most elegant hotel, the Grand Bay.  Its the first of the CIGA hotels in the United States.  CIGA stands for The Italian Company Of Grand Hotels,  which is a pretty good description.  CIGA operates some of the grandest hotels in the world, including the Danielli that opened up in Venice in the 1300's.   You know, when you've been in business for 700 years, you pick up these little tips that make your hotel special. 

The Grand Bay in Coconut Grove is true to the tradition.  It’s the only Mobil five-star hotel in Florida.  Shaped like a Mayan temple, it looks out on beautiful Biscayne Bay.  A bright red Alexander Liebermann sculpture marks the entrance.  The public rooms are decorated with a collection of art and antiques, and the staff has been trained to the top European standards of CIGA.  The penthouse is occupied by Regine's Nightclub, which is available to hotel guests, as well as its private members.  For me, one of Grand Bay's most unique and valuable works is Katsuo Sugura.  Nicknamed Suki, he was chosen by Food and Wine Magazine as one of America's top new chefs.  Born in Japan and trained throughout Europe and the U.S., Suki makes art to eat.  This is his recipe for grilled Florida shrimp.

Jumbo Florida shrimp are peeled and cleaned. 

SUKI:  Well, shrimp is not very difficult to peel it, but not many people realize there is an end of the tail, there is a very pointed end to the shells.  I always take it out and because this is safer and sometimes hurting people for infected fingers.

BURT WOLF:  A marinade is made from a half cup of vegetable oil, the zest of an orange, the zest of a lime, a tablespoon of minced basil, thyme and parsley and a tablespoon of minced garlic.  All that gets mixed together and the shrimp get set into it for two to three hours. 

While the shrimp are resting in the marinade, Chef Suki sautes a few vegetables.  Slices of fennel, zucchini, hearts of artichoke, a little crushed garlic.  Slices of red bell pepper and a little salt and pepper.  Finally a splash of balsamic vinegar.  That cooks down for a minute, a vinaigrette sauce is made from a little oil, orange juice concentrate.  Grapefruit concentrate.  Lime juice, honey and mustard.  The shrimp come out of the marinade and are grilled for two minutes on each side.  The vegetables go onto the plate, then the shrimp, a little of the vinaigrette sauce on top.  Chef Suki's choice of Florida shrimp for his recipe is part of a long tradition in this state. 

Seafood is a billion dollar business in Florida with fisherman bringing in over a hundred different varieties.  Each area along the state's coast has a different seafood character and each has worked to the advantage of the seafood lover.  Commercial fishing is actually Florida's oldest industry.

The original Spanish colonists to arrive here in he 1500's started the practice.  They caught the fish in the waters around Florida, dried them, salted them and sold them to Havana and the other Spanish colonies in the West Indies.  Their biggest season was lent, when the Spanish Catholics gave up eating meat.  But the biggest breakthrough for Florida fishermen didn't come until 1950 when they discovered pink shrimp in the deep waters of the Tortugas.

The quality of the product is so high that it is almost always the first choice of chefs.  It’s also a good choice for a heart-healthy diet.  Shrimp is low in overall fat as well as saturated fat. 

Shrimp has some cholesterol, but remember, scientists are telling us that it’s fat, particularly saturated fat that's a problem.  Prepare your shrimp with a low-fat recipe and you're in good shape.

Florida's seafood industry goes back to the Spanish colonists of the 1500's.  And so does its involvement with cattle.  The state has a five hundred year history in surf and turf.

When the Spanish explorer Ponce De Leon made his second voyage to Florida in 1521, he brought the first cattle onto land that would eventually become part of the United States.  Which makes Florida the oldest cattle-raising state in the country. 

It's still a major cattle producing area, but the cattle that's being produced these days reflects the desire of the cattlemen to meet the interests of the consumer. We all want a diet that's lower in fat, so the cattlemen are using breeding and feeding techniques that produce an animal that's lower in fat.  But the cut of beef you choose in the market has a lot to do with the fat content.  The easiest way to remember which cuts are low in fat, is to remember the words “round” and “loin.”  The butcher might mark the package “round tip” or “eye of round,” or “top round.”  Loin could be “top loin,” or “sirloin,” or “tenderloin.”  As long as you see the words “round” or “loin,” you are buying a lean cut of beef with about a hundred and eighty calories in a three-ounce serving.  Beef is one our best sources of iron, which is the nutrient most often lacking in the diets of adult women and young children.  Its also a good source of zinc, niacin and vitamin B12.

When someone's described as “a real Florida cracker,” it usually means that they are country folk, or that they were born in the state.  But the phrase “cracker” actually goes back a couple of hundred years to the early Florida cowboys.  When they would move their herds around, they were assisted by an eighteen-foot-long rawhide whip.  They would use that whip to make a cracking sound and the cracking sound would scare stray animals back into the herd.  The cattlemen of Florida have been raising cattle for almost five hundred years, and the chefs in the state have the recipes and the skills to prove it. 

Chef Suki at the Grand Bay Hotel makes the point with grilled beef tenderloin.  First the marinade is made.  Three tablespoons of oil go into a bowl, some minced onion, fresh ginger, curry powder, lime juice and honey.   Small medallions of beef are sliced from a tenderloin and placed into the marinade for about thirty minutes.  While the beef is marinading, a sauce is made by heating together a little vegetable oil, some chopped shallots, white wine, pureed mango, sugar water, and beefstock.  The tenderloin is removed from the marinade and grilled for a minute on each side.  The steak goes onto the plate, a little candied fresh ginger on top and finally, the sauce.

Chef Suki made good use of the honey in that dish, which fits in perfectly with Florida's agricultural history.

Florida is the top honey-producing state in the nation, with beekeepers producing about twenty-one million pounds of honey each year.  And when you realize that one hive of bees has to fly over fifty-five thousand miles and tap two million flowers just to product a single pound of honey, you're talking about some serious activity.  And yet the average worker bee can make only one-twelfth of a teaspoon of honey in her entire lifetime.  And just in case you're concerned about American competitive productivity, I want you to know that the worker bees in Japan don't make any more honey.  We have about three hundred different varieties of honey, and what variety it is, is dependent on what kind of flower the bee drew its nectar from.  Some of them are clear, almost colorless and they have a very mild flavor.  They range all the way to a very rich dark brown and they have a much more robust taste.  The beekeepers of Florida produce two of the country's most unusual premium honeys.  Orange blossom and Tupelo.  Tupelo is a tree that grows in the northern part of the state and gives a mild and mellow taste to the honey.  One of my favorite uses for honey is to make a honey mustard yogurt sauce.  Its great for meat, fish, poultry and vegetables .  I take a quarter of a cup of honey, a quarter of a cup of mustard and I mix it together with a full cup of low fat yogurt.  Taste great, low in fat;  it’s a honey of a sauce.

The Bible describes the Promised Land as a place flowing with milk and honey.  And milk and honey are often coupled together in ancient myths.  One of the reasons for this is that of all the foods that we eat, only milk and honey are produced by other animals as food for their own species.  And milk and honey are probably the two foods in ancient times that were eaten and did not destroy life when they were eaten.  Whether it’s flowers or fish, once we eat it, the life is over. 

Bees have been producing honey for over fifteen million years.  And people have been eating honey for over three million. 

Paintings on the tombs of the Ancient Egyptians show that they were skilled beekeepers.  They treasured honey, and actually used it to pay their taxes.  Egyptian bridegrooms were required to give large amounts of honey to their brides at the time of their wedding.

The association between honey and marriage goes back for thousands of years.  The Ancient Babylonians made a drink called mead.  It was made from fermented honey and water, and it was the official drink at Babylonian weddings.  After the wedding, the parents of the bride were required to supply the newlyweds with a sufficient amount of mead to last them a lunar month.  And that's where the word “honeymoon” comes from. 

Man's three-million-year-old love affair with the honey bee is not just based on sweetness.  Honey bees pollinate our crops and make much of our agriculture possible.  The United States Department of Agriculture estimates that one third of the food that we eat in the United States  benefits from pollination.  Ralph Russ is a beekeeper here in the state of Florida; an expert on pollination and an expert on honey.  How does this work?

RALPH RUSS:  Well Burt, today we're going to look into a colony of bees and see where this comes from.  We put a little smoke on them.

BURT WOLF:  Why do you do that?

RALPH RUSS:  Well that calms the bees. They think they're home’s on fire, and they gorge their stomachs with honey.

BURT WOLF:  That slows them down?

RALPH RUSS:  That ... that slows them down.

BURT WOLF:  Yeah, my kids slow down when they're gorged too.

RALPH RUSS:  Now this is called a honey super, this is where they store their surplus honey.  Inside we find these frames.  They're covered with wax caps and their each little cell is like a little container.

BURT WOLF:  The honey is their food?

RALPH RUSS:  The honey is their food.  And we'll go into the ... we'll call this a brood chamber.

BURT WOLF:  Wow.   Look at that.

RALPH RUSS:  Look at the bees.

BURT WOLF:  How many bees are on there?

RALPH RUSS:  Well there's about thousand bees on this side.


RALPH RUSS:  And this is the baby bees here, we call that brood.  Here's the queen.

BURT WOLF:  Right.

RALPH RUSS:  See here she's bigger than the others.

BURT WOLF:  And she has that yellow dot.

RALPH RUSS:  (OVERLAPPING) And ... and I put that dot on her so I can find her when I go into the colony.

BURT WOLF:  How do you get the honey out?

RALPH RUSS:  Put it into a centrifuge and spin it out.

BURT WOLF:  It spins around, shoots the honey out.

RALPH RUSS:  Throws the honey off of the wall and it drains out into a container.

BURT WOLF:  The Miami Dolphins are one of the most successful teams in the National Football League and a big reason for that was their superstar punter Reggie Roby.   He continues to rank as one of the top ten kickers in NFL history.  But Reggie also gets his kicks from his own line of cookies.

BURT WOLF:  How did that cookie come about?

REGGIE ROBY:  I'm sort of what you'd call a cookie monster, what my wife calls me.  I asked her to make me cookies one night, she didn't want to do it.  So I got up and I made a cookie recipe and it came out good.  And I said, well you know, I ... I could probably do this, you know.  So what I did, I called my mother back in Iowa and got a plain sugar recipe, I took that recipe and I came up with four different type of cookies over a ... maybe a two month period, and since then I've got rave reviews from everyone.  I assume they like it, maybe they don't, they do, maybe it's because of my size, they don't want to insult me.  But I figured, you know, they like it well enough.  So it turned out pretty good.

BURT WOLF:  Okay, Reggie -- let’s get out there and bake!

Alright listen up -- here's how this one works.  Flour straight in, sugar straight in, brown sugar in behind it, baking soda in behind it, eggs in behind it, butter straight ahead, sour cream back here, chocolate chips back here, vanilla out on the flank, you got it?

Okay, here's how we handle it.  First out of the huddle and into the bowl, flour, two and a half cups.  Take your regular all-purpose approach, you know what I mean.  Next, white sugar, three quarters of a cup and mix it up in there, mix it up!  Third down:  brown sugar, again three quarters of a cup.  Pack it tightly, tight until the end.  And make the move to the baking powder -- make it gently, it's powerful stuff, a teaspoon's enough.  That should open up the center for the eggs, send them right in, two of them, one high, one low. Then the butter shoots in, three quarters of a cup.  (WHISTLE)

REF:  Fifteen yard penalty, unnecessary use of saturated fat.

REGGIE ROBY:  You've got to be kidding!  It’s a cookie!

BURT WOLF:  Hm.  Good point Reggie, everything's okay in moderation.  Alright, a quarter of a cup of sour cream comes in from the right flank, a teaspoon of vanilla develops the play’s flavor and we break free with twelve ounces of semi-sweet chocolate chips.  Huh?  Great idea.  Pile that batter onto a cookie sheet, but watch out for your spacing -- these guys spread out like crazy.  You don't want any unnecessary contact.  Then ten minutes at 375 degrees, and it's all over but the chewing. (CHEERS)

For over twenty years the coach of the Miami Dolphins has been Don Shula.  He's led the team to over three hundred victories and is the winningest coach in the NFL still on active duty.  And he's not just a coach, he's a culinarian, with two restaurants in Miami Lakes, Florida.  The latest to open is Shu's All-Star Cafe.  The theme of the cafe is “The Winning Edge,” and the Historical Association of South Florida has put together a collection of winning moments in South Florida's sports that hang on the cafe's walls.  The Chef, Dan Harry, is a good sport too; he's even willing to share his recipe for blueberry purses.       Blueberries are simmered together for five minutes together with some allspice, orange zest and juice.  A little water and cornstarch are added.  Four sheets of phyllo dough are buttered, layered together and cut into quarters.  A little cinnamon, mascarpone cheese and the blueberries go on.  The dough is shaped into a little purse and twisted at the neck to stay closed.  Onto a baking sheet, into a 375 degree oven for five minutes, out, onto a serving plate with a garnish of powdered sugar.

Miami is a sub-tropical city; it's as close to the equator as the Sahara Desert.  You know, for many years Miami was thought of as a gastronomic desert.  Things have changed.  Today the food in Miami is as interesting, varied and exciting as the food in any U.S. city, and it has a lot to show us about the relationship of good food to good health. 

Please join us next time as we travel around the world looking for things that taste good and are good for you too.  I'm Burt Wolf.