sisterBetween 2011 and 2014 we lived in Houston, Texas for a new job for my husband. While we were there we made many friends and reconnected with old ones. I actually grew up in the Houston area, from the time I entered 5th grade until I married in 2000.
During my 5th and 6th grades years, my sister June and I attended a small Christian school where I had a classmate, James Fitts. I don’t remember a whole lot about my time during those two school years, except a project we were assigned to do on different countries. James and I were paired up and decided on Egypt. James’ mother is Egyptian. Needless to say, our project was a success with the help of Samira, James’ mother. We had to create displays depicting our country, along with foods for tasting. You know me, this was right up my alley! Samira volunteered to make some authentic Mediterranean dishes and we were well on our way. At the time as an 11 year old, I hadn’t experienced foods of many cultures, so I wasn’t impressed with food at all. In fact, I hated it. Oh little me. Now I’m a huge fan!
Fast forward almost 30 years when I’m all grown up and moving back to Houston (the place I said I would never live again). Never say never, right? After being in Houston a few months, Quinton and I were at a fundraising event and were introduced to Samira Fitts. I couldn’t believe it. After all these years meeting up with that beautiful Egyptian woman again. Samira has the blackest hair, dark almond shaped eyes and a beautiful smile. She looked just as beautiful as I remembered. This time though as an adult, I was able to get to know her better. Over the three years we spent in Houston, we went to lunch with Samira several times – always to the same place, Peli-Peli. Samira loved this South African Fusion restaurant.
This upscale restaurant not only has innovative cuisine, it has a meaningful story. Chef Paul Friedman is deeply spiritual and not afraid to share his story. His story is a tale of devastation, despair, searching for God and redemption. He made a vow that if God brought him through a dark time in his life that he would dedicate the restaurant to God, and boy does he! In the center of the dining area is a 30-foot tall illuminated metal Acacia Tree that represents the Tree of Life. Around the dining room are modern representations of the 12 Tribes of Judah. Chef Paul frequently visits tables and visits, and it feels like you’ve known him forever. He is very animated and seems to be so full of joy for what he has and what God has done for him in his life. It’s an incredible, inspiring story.
One of my favorite dishes there is the Cape Town Skillet: HUGE Tiger Prawns, Scallops, Peli Peli Shrimp, Mussles, Sautéed Calamari and South African Rice. Oh my word it’s good. On one of our date nights at Peli Peli, Quinton and I placed our order – me not wanting to veer from what I know is good, ordered my favorite dish. When our food was served, the waiter told me that Chef Paul was there and would be out shortly to talk to me about my dish. I was kind of nervous. What did I do? Was I in trouble? No, he just wanted to tell me all about it, show me how to shell the enormous prawns and tell me how it’s eaten in South Africa. What an experience! I felt so special and treated so well that night. I was so impressed with his love for his career and his care for his customers. Smart man.
Where was I? Yes, Samira. She went to Peli Peli with us about three different times, and as she would have it, we couldn’t leave without having her favorite dessert, Sticky Toffee Pudding. I’ll try just about anything, but to tell you the truth, I wasn’t so sure about it. I’d seen Sticky Toffee Pudding on menus over the years, in books and on cooking shows, but nothing really wowed me about it or made me compelled to try it. I am so glad Samira insisted! Peli-Peli’s Sticky Toffee Pudding is now in my very top favorite restaurant desserts. It was served warm with a delicious warm toffee sauce and vanilla bean ice cream. I had to try to make this myself! Chef Paul graciously gave me a copy of his book “From a Jew to the Stew: Can you Trust a Skinny Chef?”, which has the recipe.
One more thing about Samira. I don’t know if I’ve ever met a kinder person in my life. She was a nurse for many years, and after retirement has spent her time as a volunteer at MD Anderson Cancer Center. She truly is an inspiration and an amazing woman. I am so thankful we were reconnected after so many years.
This Sticky Toffee Pudding recipe has been adapted from Chef Paul’s Book.
- 1 cup plus 1 Tablespoon all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1½ cups chopped pitted dates
- 1¼ cups boiling water
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- ½ stick salted butter, softened
- ¾ cup packed light brown sugar
- 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 Tablespoon espresso powder
- 2 teaspoon vanilla
- Cooking Spray
- 1 stick salted butter
- ½ cup heavy cream
- 1¼ cup packed light brown sugar
Vanilla Ice Cream, for serving
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Spray a 10-inch round or square baking dish, or extra large 6-cup muffin tin or ramekins with cooking spray; set aside.
- Sift flour, baking powder, and espresso powder onto a sheet of waxed paper.
- Finely chop the dates. Place in a small bowl and add the boiling water and baking soda; stir and set aside.
- In a large bowl, beat the butter and brown sugar with an electric mixer until light and fluffy.
- Add the egg and vanilla; beat until blended.
- Gradually beat in the flour mixture until the dry ingredients are incorporated.
- With a rubber spatula, fold in the chopped dates until blended.
- Pour into prepared baking dish.
- Bake until the cake is set and firm on top, about 35 minutes.
- Remove from the oven and allow to cool on a wire rack.
- Melt the butter, in a heavy saucepan.
- Add the brown sugar and heavy cream, and heat to boiling over medium-high heat, stirring constantly.
- Boil gently over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until mixture is no longer grainy, about 2 to 3 minutes.
Right before serving:
- Preheat broiler.
- Unmold cakes (if using tins) and spoon about ⅓ cup of toffee sauce over the entire cake, spread evenly. (Spoon individual amounts if using tins).
- Place under broiler until the topping is bubbly, about 1 minute - do not burn.
- Serve immediately with a scoop of ice cream and drizzled with additional warmed toffee sauce.