Sunday, November 30, 2008
Hey, here's a great idea: see if you can slow smoke meat in freezing temperatures. Well, it turns out you can. Quite well, actually. The key was the larger smoker a couple friends (Kansas!) let me use in return for a crack at the finished results. Seriously, this thing was a fire-breathing beast. But while the meat was cooking (three hours), my ass was freezing. Check out the goods at DCFoodies.
Thursday, November 20, 2008
Look at that. That's why where I come from is better than where you come from. Unless you come from where I come from and then it's just as good as where you come from.
Anyway, I haven't lived in the great state of Florida in a decade, but a few times a year, I'm lucky enough to get down there for a few days. My recent trip was an early Thanksgiving excursion for the missus and me. We visited with her family, had lunch with mine, saw a few friends and attended a football game (OK, we attended two, but the first one will not be spoken of ... ever. Stupid college football team.).
And, of course, we ate. Most of us love the food and flavors of our youths (although not everyone - you know who you are). The mere thought of fried grouper sandwiches, gumbo, pressed Cubans, raw oysters and deep fried fritters can elicit a Pavlovian response from me. I imagine that if I'd remained in Florida, I would've grown tired of many of these things by now, or at least indifferent, but the distance causes them to loom large in my memory.
So meals weren't just meals. They were reunions. Touchstones. The best of performances of everything good about Florida cuisine.
Lunch at the Waterfront on Pine Island included fried grouper sandwiches, raw oysters, just-in-season stone crab claws and thick-cut onion rings. We washed it all down with a beer the restaurant just got in on tap, Hook & Ladder. That night, we found a small ice cream shop serving fresh key lime pie. The next day I was lounging in a pool while it was snowing in D.C.
Back in Tampa, we spent the weekend tailgating with my old college friends, their spouses and their friends and their friends' friends and on and on. Before Saturday's cluster fuck of a football game (God damn South Florida), my buddy Carl cranked out egg and sausage breakfast sandwiches like a short-order cook. The ladies had them with mimosas and pomegranate champagne cocktails. The guys drank beer (Don't know how alcoholics and the Germans do it. Beer at 10 a.m. is just plain odd).
That night, the missus and I spent the evening with Red, Veggie and their kid, Uma. They were thrilled to have us for the night.
Uma's a beautiful child, but always seems to have a vaguely stern look on her face. Cute nevertheless.
In exchange for putting us up for the night (and what I would later do to their bathroom ... y'all need a fan), I whipped up grilled bone-on pork chops stuffed with smoked mozzarella, fresh basil and sun dried tomatoes for Red, the missus and me. For Veggie, the missus put together roasted acorn squash stuffed with a savory mixture of goat cheese, fresh basil and sun dried tomatoes. All of it turned out pretty good, which just goes to show that a few quality ingredients are all you really need.
Sunday's Bucs game was my turn at the tailgate grill. In honor of my hometown's most famous sandwich, I made Cuban burgers and grilled potato wedges.
I've seen Bobby Flay do these burgers a couple times and decided to throw them together from memory. Now looking over Flay's recipe after the fact, it appears I was pretty damn spot on. The only ingredient I missed was roasted garlic in the mayo (that's just gilding the Lilly) and I didn't use any heavy objects to press the burgers.
The only other time I made these burgers, I busted out my heavy cast iron pan to play sandwich press. The result was crushed burgers. They were good, but awfully beaten up.
This time, I pressed down a bit on the burgers with the lid of the portable camping grill, but generally left them alone. And while the sandwich tastes great with the ham, Swiss cheese, pickles, mayo and mustard, the genius of it is the aluminum foil. After the burgers are built, they're wrapped in foil before being pressed. The foil holds the heat and steam in, warming the bun and reducing the cheese to a melty, stringy state of perfection.
Red's wife, Veggie, baked a hummingbird cake for dessert. I've never heard of the cake before, but it tastes like what banana bread must evolve into. It was good cake.
There were other meals after that. Steak on the grill. Pork tenderloin on the grill (see a trend?). Mexican burritos and a chicken wrap at a restaurant where I once got food poisoning. The missus and I even got a chance to check out Tampa's newest beer bar, World of Beer. It's a great joint that the city's beer scene sorely needs.
Now we're back, it's cold and there's a chance of snow flurries tomorrow. I miss Florida.