Monday, May 30, 2005

Awwww We Grillin' Tonight...

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With the weather getting hotter down here in Florida, what could be better than standing in front of a large tray of burning coals for an hour?

I tried a recipe from my new Mario Batali cookbook last night. I'm not really sure why he calls them "beef birds," as the recipe intro provides no explanation. It's simply skirt steak, pounded thin, layered with prosciutto and sage, and then skewered and grilled. Although I skipped the chunks of pancetta that were to be interspersed with the skewered 'birds,' they were still amazing. The proscuitto that got exposed to the high heat crisped around the edges and gave a nice saltiness to the steak. I served them, as suggested, atop a salad of escarole ('schkarole) and shaved red onions, dressed with a little olive oil, salt and pepper. The grilling didn't stop there though. I grilled another skirt steak, straight up, and served it with a Thai-style cucumber salad with lime, chili and mint.

For the vegetarian company, I grilled some zucchini and cherry tomatoes and served them with a feta-sour cream sauce. Props to Gourmet for actually enticing me to make something from their magazine. That's not to say that their recipes are bad. I just never really feel excited about too many of them. Usually, when I do make them, they're always quite good. This was no exception. To finish, I grilled some pineapple, which everyone was too full to really enjoy. I should mention that the meal began with about three dozen gyoza courtesy of Kitchen Monkey. Always a crowd-pleaser. There were also more fresh roasted peppers, olive salad, and Renee's deviled eggs.

I would also be doing a great disservice if I didn't include a picture of Renee's piggy cupcakes. I can't even tell you how excited she was about these-- and rightly so. She even obliged me with an albino pig, as I'm not really down with dyed frosting.

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Saturday, May 28, 2005

Home-grown Rapini

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When I went out to water the garden this morning, I noticed that one of my rapini plants had finally set a flower (see above). I've never grown rapini before, and I'm not sure what the window of time is for eating it, but as it's a bitter green, I figured I should eat it before it goes to seed and becomes even more bitter.

My battery of recipes for rapini is pretty limited. Really all I ever do is saute it with garlic and chilis. Today was no exception; however I also threw in some Italian sausage, some freshly roasted red and yellow bell peppers, and some shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano. It went together like this: (1) Remove sausage from casing and brown with a little olive oil and crushed, dried chilis. (2) Add thinly sliced garlic and saute for another minute or so. (3) Add rinsed and very roughly chopped rapini. It should still be damp from rinsing, and when I say roughly chopped I mean that I cut a large bunch into three segments. (4) Cover and set heat to low until rapini wilts. (5) Return heat to medium high and add chopped roasted peppers. I've used jarred roasted peppers in this dish in the past, but fresh are much better. Just char the peppers under a broiler or over a flame until the skin is completely black. Seal them in a bag or in a bowl to steam the skins off. Peel without rinsing, remove seeds, and do what you like. Lately I've found it even easier to split and seed the peppers before charring them, but I think you loose some of their juiciness that way. Anyway, you can't really go wrong.

I served the whole mess, topped with the parmigiano, over a split, toasted baguette.

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Monday, May 23, 2005

Birthday Dinner

Renee and went to the Beach Bistro for my birthday last Sunday. Since this place is supposed to be one of the best restaurants in Florida, I was, of course, skeptical. Still, it's not like it wasn't my idea to go there in the first place. I guess I'm just skeptical of fine dining in general. I've had some less than stellar experiences at restaurants where, despite the food being good, the staff's attitude toward young diners thoroughly ruined the meal.

Thankfully, that wasn't the case here. Our waiter was about our age, and I think that helped. Also, he was admittedly new to the job and thus eager to please. He only referred to Renee as "the lady" once, and even then it sounded sincere (as compared to that time a waiter said to me, in a less than genuine manner, "And what will siiiiiiiiir be having?").

With that worry out of the way, the rest of the meal was very enjoyable. The small dining room felt a tad cramped, but the fact that its floor to ceiling windows look straight out onto the Gulf of Mexico helped. I guess I've been sort of desensitized to the draw that the ocean seems to have for a lot of people. The view was great, don't get me wrong. It just doesn't captivate me.

And what did we eat? Well, I'll tell you. We started with a cheese course, which included three American cheeses, one French, and one Spanish cheese. The menu said the course was all American cheeses, and honestly I was a little surprised to find that Manchego in there. Next, Renee had a tomato and Maytag soup which I liked more than my spinach salad with duck and bacon dressing. The mixture of bacon with the shredded duck reminded me of pulled pork. For our main courses, Renee had a roasted duck with a raspberry sauce and a pepper sauce. I opted for the punch-bowl sized serving of bouillabaisse, which was probably the best I've had. We passed on dessert, but the staff brought out a praline encrusted round of vanilla ice cream anyway.

Would I go back? Probably, but not for a little while. I'm still trying to reconcile how I feel about fine dining. I think the best method I've come up with is telling myself that the price of the meal reflects how we were treated, which was very well. I guess I just think of food as such a basal thing, created from simple ingredients. Also, some of the best food I've had has been from street vendors and roadside stands with absolutely no pretense. I've had more good experiences there than in fancy restaurants. Maybe that's just because I don't go to too many fancy places. That said, I'm sure I'll continue trying out upscale restaurants. Just not with the frequency that I hit the taco trucks.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Cheese of the Week #6: Jasper Hill Farm Constant Bliss

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A raw milk cheese from Jasper Hill Farm in Greensboro, Vermont, Constant Bliss was very buttery around the edges and slightly more toothsome in the center. I'm not sure which of the textures I preferred, but the oozy, coffee-and-cream-colored edges had a bit more tanginess to them. Again, I'm curious to try some of their other cheeses to see how they compare. This one was a little pricey, and I'm not sure I'd buy it again, at least not for a little while. Still, a good subtle cheese with great textures. Well worth trying.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Another weeknight triumph

Not really knowing what I was after, I stopped at Publix on my way home from work. I came out with some salad greens, corn on the cob, and a strip steak. Needless to say, the corn and the lettuce are still in the fridge. The steak went on the grill pretty much asap. In the time it took for my charcoal chimney to get the coals gray I put together a Thai-style salad with cucumbers, tomatoes, chiles, Thai basil, lime juice, and fish sauce. I've found that you can't really go wrong pairing that with a steak, whether it be hot off the grill or left-over.

As for the steak itself, it was a $6 steak. What can I say. It was decent, but a little grainy in texture. I don't know why I decided to get the strip instead of the t-bone. I guess I didn't want that much steak. If anything, what I wound up with was just the right size.

I'm still sorting through the foot and a half stack of Gourmet magazines. So far the best thing I've found is a recipe for clams casino, which I probably havn't had in about 10 years. It's been far too long. Clams, bacon, butter, some peppers? C'mon.

Sunday, May 15, 2005


A neighbor put about three years of Gourmet (89-91, roughly) to the curb this weekend. There were also a few assorted issues of Food and Wine and Saveur.

Chamomile tea

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For the past month or so, I've been clipping and drying the flowers from the chamomile plant in my garden. The yield wasn't that high, and this morning I finally had what looked like enough to make a cup of tea.

I always try to eat mindfully--although I'm not saying that I always do. But usually, at some point in a meal, I try to slow down and focus on all of the different factors involved in my food getting on my plate--where it was grown, what it needed to grow, and the various people involved. Doing things like planting, watering, weeding, pruning, and collecting these eraser-head sized yellow flowers for a month helped to keep me mindful.

I think the first time I had chamomile tea was when I was five, while staying in a hotel in Antigua, Guatemala. My parents and I would have breakfast each morning on a small stone patio that overlooked a rugged garden teeming with blue and green hummingbirds. The smell of the tea doesn't remind me of that every time, but this time it did. (For more on the Proustian angle, have a look at this.)

As usual, mindfulness gave way to digression for a moment there. Anyway, I brewed the dried flowers in my French press for several minutes, snapping photos and enjoying the smell. That aroma, I soon learned, belied the taste of the tea, which I immediately recognized as the taste that lingers on one's palate after licking an envelope. Repeated sipping confirmed this.

That said, and with space in the garden at such a premium, I just don't think there's a place for that chamomile anymore. Perhaps it would be more comfortable in the compost bin.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Goat do what I please...Goat ride the breeze (Cheese of the week #5)

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So, as if that joke wasn't bad enough, there's this cheese. It was comparitively inexpensive and I guess I got what I paid for--zero flavor and a texture pretty close to melted processed mozzarella. I'd really rather not dwell on this.


The most recent issue of The Snail has a great article about taco trucks in California. Before I'd even finished reading it, I knew I'd be seeking some out in the next day or two. So, for a late breakfast this morning, John and I went to Bianca's on 301 in Sarasota. Although it wasn't a truck, per se, there were tacos. The cumbia was bumping through the store and the small eating area, just a couple of tables pushed together with some wooden chairs, was crammed with guys in lawn crew uniforms, quietly working away at platters or tacos or huge bowls of menudo. Bianca's had a decent list of fillings, including buche, which I learned is pork stomach. I just went for my usual standby of carnitas and al pastor. The al pastor wasn't as spicy as others I'd had, but both were still pretty good. The only shortcoming, I think, was that the tortillas were not as fresh as they should have been. Next to where I ordered and picked up my tacos was a small bar of condiments, such as radishes, cilantro, onions, salsa, salsa verde, pickled carrots, cucumbers, and probably a few other bits and pieces. With a bottle of BOING! mango juice, it wasn't a bad breakfast.

After that, we stopped at Vung Tao for a few grocery items--rice noodles and lemongrass for dinner later, maybe. Finally, not knowing when to quit, we went to Tortilleria Dona Chela. This time the tortillas were excellent, pulled right off the metal conveyor belt, before being filled with shredded beef, cilantro, and onions. The beef, unfortunately, was way too greasy. Still, the tortillas made up for it. The lesson is, go to a taco place for tacos and not a tortilla shop. Next time I make huevos motulenos, though, I know where to get the tortillas.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Ok, for a Monday

I put some of the homegrown sage to use on a pork roast tonight, making a paste out of about a dozen leaves, three cloves of garlic, olive oil, kosher salt, and pepper. I rubbed this over the roast, a shoulder blade boston something or other, and roasted it over some potatoes. There's an exact recipe, which I more or less stuck to, in Bittman's How To Cook Everything. Not to be crude, but it was nothing less than fuckin' awesome. Really, it was. The better part of it is still in the fridge. I got impatient and hungry while it was still in the oven, so I wound up eating my leftover sancocho de cola (ox-tail soup) from Mi Tierra. A good dinner any way you slice it.

I finally found a copy of The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook at Selby Library today. So far, it's proven a lot of fun, the recipes being both cute and very eloquent. I'll be sure to post about anything I cook from there.

For those of you in the Sarasota area, you should go have a look at the May issue of Sarasota Magazine. You'll see my article about eating on the cheap.

I know I've stretched the definition of 'weekly' with this cheese thing, but I promise, there's a cheese waiting in the wings (read: my fridge/my camera) to be posted.