Laurie Colwyn writes in More Home Cooking, "There is something liberating about cooking in a rented house. Suddenly your daily props are gone, and you are in unfamiliar territory. Terrifying as this sometimes is, it is always good for you."
Last month we spent a week in the sweet spot of the Florida Keys, relatively underdeveloped Islamorada, in a gulf coast facing townhouse. I think for most people the joy of traveling includes a vacation from the kitchen, but I tend to get homesick for my own cooking. It's a sad bugabear I fear will only worsen as I get older so thank goodness for vacation rentals.
For me, the most terrifying aspect of cooking in a rented house is the array of cheap knives. I completely understand why a vacation house would not want to keep Wusthof on hand, but if this is what the rest of America is using to cut vegetables no wonder people have stopped cooking! Next time I have to remember to bring my own. (By the way, Ikea makes some very good and affordable knives.)
But the best part of cooking away from home is playing with another climate's food. I contacted Slow Food Glades to find out if there was a farmer's market on Monday when we would be on our way from Miami to the Keys, and sure enough, there's a tiny Monday market in Homstead. I bought mizuna, avocadoes, star fruit, spring onions, herbs, eggs, sour oranges, and even honey from Bee Heaven Farm.
Once in Islamorada we stopped at the Islamorada Fish Company (a restaurant with an adjascent fish store) where I found some local cobia and some dried Keys coconut. We coated the fillets with the coconut and grilled them and then made a reduction with juice from the sour oranges -- revealed to be the sour variety only after we had peeled one to eat on a kayaking trip. Not so tasty as a snack, but the reduction gave a bright, tangy contrast to the sweet, rich coconut grilled fish it. Best meal all week!
I didn't get much more ambitious than that. I made a huge batch of salsa and we spent the rest of the week mostly grazing on that with chips, hard-boiled eggs, and fruit. No regrets -- we loved it.
A guy at the Islamorada Trading Post told me the chocolate-covered frozen Key Lime pie on a stick would be "life changing." I think my life has remained as it ever was, but I will concede the pop is well worth the $4.50.
While in Miami I tracked down what is supposed to be one of the best Cubano sandwiches at Enriqueta's Sandwich Shop. Here we come face-to-face with one of the embarrassing conundrums of our modern American salad bowl of immigrant cuisine. Bogota Bistro here in Brooklyn makes a gentrified version with chopotle mayo, thick pickles, and roast pork, and melted swiss, among other things. It's glorious. The more authentic version is much humbler. Instead of roast pork there was what seemed like thinly-sliced fried pork butt ends (not as good as it sounds, either), but I could be wrong. The bread was lovely, but we were left wondering what the big deal was. Are we jerks? It was fun to eat these outdoors surrounded by the murals of nearby Wynwood Walls, though.
Oh Florida, I miss you today especially when it is dark and rainy here in New York! Just a few days ago I was paddling through a mangrove forest under warm azure sky. I still have some of that shredded coconut and I'm defrosting pork chops. I think I need to bring back a tiny bit of Florida for dinner tonight.
There's a reason why I did not go into recipe development, and it's because I'm undisciplined and lazy. Actually, that's two reasons. Three if you add that I'm more obsessed with food politics at the moment. But the point is, if you do recipe development you actually have to measure your ingredients and make tough judgement calls, like how much paprika. How much paprika? How the hell should I know? More today, less tomorrow, it depends on how I'm feeling. Do I really have to pick one? I cook by instinct on an ad hoc basis. I am totally unreliable.
Nevertheless I have talked a surprising number of friends on Facebook and Twitter into making this cauliflower dish which I cannot stop raving about. I've decided to write it down here. Keep in mind, all measurements are -ish and should be altered to your own taste. For example, my palate favors Italian bar snacks so I use a lot of salt.
I've been craving roasted cauliflower for some reason, not sure why. But I've really hit a wall with the gloppy, muddy-flavored "comfort food" trend and I believe it's worn out its welcome. No more gratin, no more @#$%ing macaroni and cheese, spare me your casseroles. I want warmth and comfort, but in brighter, fresher flavors -- hence the spices and zip of citrus here.
Preheat your oven to 375.
Cut up a head of cauliflower into bite-sized pieces.
Toss cauliflower with:
- 1 T olive oil (or just enough to coat all the pieces)
- 1 T whole cumin seeds, not the powder (ever, ever, ever)
- 1 t paprika (or more, if you don't live with a child who hates "spicy" food)
- Lots of salt. Consider a whole tablespoon and then dump in about 3/4 of that and feel virtuous.
Spread evenly on a pan and roast about half an hour or so, stirring half-way through, until cauliflower is slightly toasted on the outside and soft inside.
Before serving squirt with lime juice. If you don't have lime, lemon will work but not quite so well.
Oh yeah, what I'm doing this week:
Thursday night: Nicole Taylor and I curated a Social Media Week Food Fighters panel with an all-star cast and it filled up lickety-splitly. Follow via Twitter #smwfoodfighters. We will also be attempting livestream on the smw_newyork channel. I'll add a link as soon as I figure that out.
Friday night and Saturday: TEDxManhattan Changing the Way We Eat. I'm going! Should be fun. Lots of viewing parties happening around the city including the BFC Bed-Stuy Food Council party if you want to tune in with friends.
I am completely, 100% over throwing the perfect kids' party with cute, from-scratch treats. This year it was Smart Puffs, Pocky Sticks, and juice boxes, period. (Oh yeah, and a candy-filled pinata.) But I did have to make this cake. Jasper wanted one decorated with the radioactive symbol. The black frosting turned our teeth black but I'm still quite proud of the result.
We sort of had a Tron theme going and used florescent painting tape to make Tron-like stripes on our clothes. Jasper has a disc-holder on his back. Not having seen the movie much of this was lost on me, but one of the kids loved the tape trick so much he wore more tape the next day at school.
I bake about three things. Birthday cake, brick-like rye bread (this must end), and these oatmeal ginger cookies. I use this recipe and add candied ginger and cardamom. They are what all oatmeal cookies should be. That is all.
The phone camera can't do justice to this luscious Flying Pigs ham roast with blackcurrant glaze and rosemary. I based my recipe on this one by Jamie Oliver. We also kept our annual tradition of chard malfatti. Red stems and green leaves make for a gorgeous Christmas Eve dinner side. Christmas morning I browned some apple slices and made David Eyre's golden pancake.
And now here it is, the last weekday of my holiday break (staycation) and the last day of 2010. Lane and I will venture out in search of a scene later tonight while our dear neighbor hangs out with Jasper. Saturday will be another day. Happy new year to you all!